Too Thrifty Chicks

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Single Parenthood on a Budget

Guest Contributor: Tosha Allen

I’m a single parent raising a 12-year-old daughter, Taylin, who is active in softball and concert band.  When I decided to join “Operation Do Better,” I had to tailor my break from spending to accommodate Taylin’s needs. I first discussed this idea with her in early December over dinner (we love sushi). I informed her that if we were going to Disneyland in December 2013 for her 13th birthday, we needed to cut back and start saving A LOT! Taylin actually agreed, mainly because she really wants to go to Disneyland, and she’s really concerned about our finances.image_1359728611991731

I informed her that since I am the only working person in our household, we really needed to reign in our spending. Taylin understands that being a single parent is difficult. She was 10-years-old when her father and I divorced, so she has seen a big shift in our household. We went from having two incomes to only one. I want to show her that life sometimes deals you a bad hand, but you have to continue to smile and work hard.

As a single parent, I know there are some things I can’t cut out. For example, Taylin has to eat breakfast at school because of time constraints (school starts at 7:30 and her ride comes at 6:45), which costs $1 a day. She does take her lunch, so we don’t have that additional expense. We’re not cutting out sports or band (that includes her instrument). She’s played softball since she was 4 and loves it. Band is also an important part of her education as it helps her with following directions and concentration.

Despite the constraints, we cut our biggest splurges: eating out and shopping. Before Operation Do Better, we spent about $150 a month on eating out and shopping. Taylin knows this means no going out to eat at all for three months (unless it can’t be avoided when I have to go out of town for business). She was a bit concerned because we usually go out for Sunday breakfast, but I had a solution.

I recently started cooking more and decided we would still get our Sunday morning breakfast in…I would just cook it. Taylin was excited about this!  She helps in the kitchen sometimes and especially loves pizza and fried chicken. 🙂  As far as shopping, neither of us will be getting new clothes or shoes in the next three months (with exception of a new pair of softball cleats). After three months, I plan to evaluate our savings and then proceed from there. I hope this helps any single parents interested in significantly reducing their spending.

All in all, I believe this spending cutback is good for us both. It is teaching us that there are things that we just don’t NEED! I will also be able to see actual savings. Both my daughter and I are doing the 52 week savings plan and it is going very well. It started with just a dollar, and each week we add a dollar to the amount that goes into the savings. If (when) we stick to it, each of us will have saved $1378!

For any single parent interested in revamping your finances, my advice is try not to get caught up in giving your children EVERYTHING!!! My daughter is a typical preteen. She wants a lot of stuff, but she already has too much! To stay balanced, I focus more on her needs, and I try to give her some of her wants. Being a single parent and trying to save is hard, but it is not impossible.


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Operation Do Better: Month 1 Update

WE SURVIVED!!!!!!!!!!!

That’s right. We made it through 31 days of no Chipotle burrito bowls, no Domino’s spinach Alfredo pizza, and no Indian takeout. We said no to Happy Hours, Groupon purchases, new fitness gear, and trips to IKEA. No trips to Target or the thrift store and absolutely no dry cleaning.

Based on all of this “NO”,  you all probably think we lived a dreary, no frills, no fun life for 31 days and we’re ready to give up all this no spending money business. But you’d be wrong.

While pinching our discretionary income pennies, we cooked, we brought our lunch, we invited our friends over and we generally stayed at home and drank 3 Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s.

But we took the first deliberate steps toward our financial freedom, though there were some setbacks and missteps along the way.

Here’s a roundup of how we did.

Ricks Month 1

The Good: I set out to pay down debt and save, and I got my first win in January. I paid off a small but lingering Firestone bill, which was nearly $500 and there are funds in the emergency account. The biggest thing is that there are funds in that account and I made it through January without spending that money. I wasn’t even tempted, and that’s a first. But since I didn’t have anything to spend it on, there was no actual temptation.

The Bad: I grossly underestimated what it costs to cook every meal and eat everything I cooked. I certainly thought that $100 a month would be more than sufficient. I was wrong.

The Ugly: I believe in reality checks, and I got several in this first month. When you tell the universe that you’re going to do something scary and awesome like, stop spending money on everything you want so that you can pay down your debts and save, stuff happens. Some of it good, some of it not so good. Though I’m going to have another bill pay off victory soon, the next victory will take a bit longer than I’d like to achieve. The reality is the bill is much bigger and even though I want it paid off now, there’s nothing more that I’m willing to give up to make that happen.

Lesson Learned: There will be setbacks and disappointments, but such is life. Go with it. My goal is to not lose focus as I have in the past. If I want to achieve the financial goals that I’ve set for this year, I have the keep the fire in my belly to do this stoked. I’m excited about February and am happy with the progress I’ve made so far.

Reese’s Month 1

The Bad: I’m a graduate student living primarily on a (generous) stipend from the National Science Foundation. My stipend is administered by my university. You’d think after three years they’d be able to get my money right, but alas this is not the case. They’ve messed up and I’m two paychecks behind, which means I’m did not meet the January savings milestones I had hoped, but…

The Good: …all my bills got paid! I still put some money into savings and I stuck to the plan to not spend on frivolous things!  Can I get an amen?! ::insert amen here::

Lesson Learned: I actually consider this (frustrating) setback a blessing. It gave me an opportunity to truly give thanks for what I have. This last 31 days taught me a lot about what I DON’T need. I’m excited about this financial journey and equally geeked about this emerging desire and quest toward simplicity.

Room for Improvement: Collectively, we spent over 400 bucks on groceries this month. Granted, we did cook every meal (that’s a total of  140 lunches and dinners between the two of us. I didn’t include breakfast because neither of us are traditional breakfast eaters). Our original $200 budget may not have been realistic considering what we eat and how much we eat (don’t let these relatively small frames fool you!) but we’re going to do better. We’re armed with coupons for the next shopping trip and a spreadsheet is being developed to keep up with prices at different stores. We have resolved to give up some of our “bougie” eats (sighs) in favor of savings, but since we both love cooking and food, we’re trying to find the right balance for us.

Overall, we’re pleased with what we’ve done. Two months ago, this was just a thought…one that we were not completely sold on. Now, we’re all in and looking forward to every milestone.

Stay tuned…

— R&R


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Tidbit Tuesday: 50 Ways to Spend Smart

Refraining from spending money ain’t easy and what you do after a period of abstaining from something can make you feel like it was all a big waste of time. The reality is when most people finish a fast — whether abstaining from eating, spending or even watching too much TV — they often binge on the the thing that they gave up if they don’t give it up forever, make it a habit, or devise a management strategy.

We don’t want that to happen to us or to you during Operation Do Better. When we get our allowances back, we want to spend. And if we spend, we want to  spend wisely.

We’ve come up with 50 ways to continue to be conscious savers and spenders:

  1. Taking a trip? Book a megabus ticket and stay with friends instead of flying and staying in a hotel.
  2. Cook at least enough for dinner and lunch the next day.
  3. Pack your lunch the night before. This protects you against that inevitable “I’m running late and don’t have time to pick my lunch.”
  4. Take public transportation more and drive less….ESPECIALLY if you’re in a city with excellent public transportation.
  5. At home mani/pedis
  6. Become good at doing your own hair. Ricks had been doing her own hair since she went natural nearly  six years ago, and Reese has given up hair color which is the only thing she regularly went to a salon for. YouTube and blogs are super helpful. And remember: if you mess up, it’s ok. It’s hair. It grows back.
  7. Brazilian waxes are amazing….but they’re expensive. Ditch ’em. Shave.
  8. Eat at home before going out with friends. If they must go and you don’t want to leave have dessert instead.
  9. Drink at home. Depending on the wine, you can get a bottle for the same/similar cost of a glass or two at a bar.
  10. Bust out the iron and some Magic sizing instead of dry cleaning so much (*deep sigh* We both hate ironing).
  11. Get a library card for free books and DVDs.
  12. Take your money out of banks that charge too many fees.
  13. Ask for reduced interest rates on credit cards.
  14. Learn how to clip, use, and save with coupons.
  15. Sign up for free classes at REI or other local stores/companies that offer freebies.
  16. Checkout all the Smithsonian Museums! They’re free.
  17. Instead of immediately buying new things, check with friends and family to see if anyone wants to swap clothes or goods.
  18. If you’re not big on cooking or don’t have as much time, partner with a friend or a neighborhood to do a cooking-share.
  19. Got an instrument you haven’t played in a while? A cheap hobby you’ve let fall to the wayside? Pick them up in your spare time to reduce the urge to go out to the mall or a restaurant.
  20. When shopping for groceries, try the cheapest brands FIRST. If you don’t like them, you can always try something else on the next trip. But if you do like them, you’ve reduced the temptation of falling in love with a more expensive brand.
  21. Give homemade gifts.
  22. Grow your own herbs. They’re easy to grow and maintain, especially in small spaces.
  23. If you have a car, clean it yourself rather than taking it to a car wash or detailer.
  24. Get rid of Living Social and Groupon. Unless you’re a really disciplined person, these discount sites can really bite you in the butt. Most people load up on too many deals and never use them. If you use these sites, set limits on how many deals you can buy.
  25. Use cash. We notice that if we only take cash to the store, we’re more likely to think about what we’re spending. Debit and credit cards are nice, but they encourage overspending because of how easy they are to use.
  26. Cancel memberships and subscriptions you don’t use or need.
  27. When you buy perishable items, make several meals out of them so they won’t go bad.
  28. If you’re having trouble with late fees, set up automated payments to avoid wasting the money and write down on a calendar when you expect a payment to come out of your account and subtract the amount in your check register to ensure that you don’t spend it.
  29. Old t-shirts make great cleaning rags. This can help reduce the amount of disposable waste like paper towels.
  30. Be honest with your friends/family about your budget. If they’re not supportive, they’re probably not people you want to hang with regularly anyway. ::shrugs::
  31. Learn the basics of using a needle and thread to mend your own clothes.
  32. We both enjoy cooking, but we know there are days when we’re lazy and would rather have chipotle. Make sure you have some easy meals on hand that won’t require too much prep or cook time. This minimizes the temptation to go to Chipotle.
  33. Keep a record of your grocery spending. We spent $81 bucks on our last big grocery shop, but we know we can spend less. We wrote the total on a wipe board to remind us that we’re trying to reduce that number.
  34. If you’re giving yourself the freedom to see movies or shows, try to get tickets to the matinee showing. And look for free tickets for advance showings.
  35. Get over Starbucks. It’s expensive, and it’s not that good anyway (that’s what we tell ourselves).
  36. Volunteer at shelters or soup kitchens. There’s something about seeing people in times of distress that remind you to be giving and grateful for what you have.
  37. Crockpots are the bomb.com. Use it often to make cheap meals that stretch over multiple days.
  38. Plan a weekly menu. We plan to do a “big cook” every Sunday where we prepare meals that are more time consuming. We also include a couple quick meals each week that wont require more than 30-45min to prepare.
  39. There are tons of inexpensive ways to make your own beauty products, if you choose. Pure Skin has great recipes for body scrubs, etc. Check it out from your library.
  40. Search meetup.com for opportunities to find free events or activities that you might be interested in.
  41. Look into your local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) options. Sometimes, it is much cheaper than buying fresh produce in the grocery store. But do your research!! Not all CSAs are affordable or well-run.
  42. Unsubscribe from the mailing lists of your favorite stores. I swear Forever 21, City Sports, and Under Armour were out to get us! Had to let them go.
  43. Use Google Reader, or some other RSS feed service, to keep track of blogs that help you stay motivated to save and spend less. It’s a simple way to sort through blog posts that will be help you manage time on your daily grind.  If you need help setting it up, let’s us know. We both use it for professional and personal purposes.
  44. Declutter. If you know what you have, you’re less likely to buy duplicates.
  45. Take an inventory of the cupboards and fridge before going to the grocery store to know exactly how much stuff is already there.
  46. Shop in bulk….if it makes sense for your household. Buying in bulk isn’t always cost effective. Find out what is and only buy those things.
  47. Set up automatic deposits into a savings account.
  48. If traveling and need to stay at a hotel, rent a car, etc., try Hotwire. Sure, you don’t know what you’ll get ahead of time, but you can save up to 80% per transaction.
  49. Set up some type of financial tools and use them. Check them weekly to see where your money went. Reese set an alert on her calendar to check her mint.com account every Sunday. Ricks gets a weekly summary from Mint.com
  50. This is the BIG ONE: continuously work on changing your mindset. You’re not depriving yourself. You’re living within your means.

We started a Facebook group for people who are serious about getting rid of debt, spending wisely, and saving more. If you’re interested in joining it, send us an email or let us know through our Facebook fan page!

Until next time,

R&R


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Food for Thought Friday: Operation Do Better

A new year brings new challenges and goals for many, including the thrifty duo. A few weeks ago we began talking about And Then We Saved Blogger Anna Newell Jones’ , Spending Fast , which helped her pay off $23,000 in debt, and the Spending Diet, which is a modified version of the fast, that helps her spend sensibly after she completed the fast.

The overall concept is simple: only buy what you need, cut out all the things you want. Fast for a weekend or a year, but do it until you reach your goal. No budgets. No cash envelopes marked food, entertainment, thrift store, etc. No reason not to do this!

We love this idea and this week we really committed to it: developing our individual plans, writing down our wants vs. needs and solidifying our end goals. We”ll even say we are excited about this whole thing, despite the fact that we’re giving up some things we’re used to having (like Chipotle 3-4 times a week…yikes!).

We’ve decided to take Anna Newell Jones’ Debt Free Life Pledge and making our financial goals a reality, with some personal modifications of course.

Ricks’ Operation Do Better Plan

The Rundown. I’m going to hit the pause button on spending for 3 months and an upcoming trip to the Big Apple will be my reward for sticking to it. My expectation is that one or two of my bills will be paid off in the next three months. If I’m not happy with my progress in the first three months, or just loving the results, I will reevaluate whether to continue the fast for another three months. If I am happy with my progress, I will switch to a monthly allowance of $100 for wants.

How I’ll Attack My Debt. While Anna Newell Jones (and many other financial gurus) recommend paying off high interest debt first, I prefer the Dave Ramsey Debt Snowball method of paying the lowest balance first and then the highest balance. My interest rates are about the same on my three credit cards, but only one of the balances is high. After I pay off the two smaller balances I will add what I had been paying those two creditors to what I have been paying the third creditor, creating a snowball effect that pays off that bigger balance faster.

The End Game. Paying off debt is my focus, but saving money is too. Any money leftover from my paycheck that might have gone to wants in the past will go straight into savings. The same will be true once I switch to the monthly allowance. I’m almost certain I will return to my spending pause for the last 3 months of the year because of the big reward that we will talk about at a later date.

Ricks’ Needs

  • Food
  • Fuel
  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Cellphone
  • Doctor’s co-pays
  • Renters insurance
  • Car insurance
  • Car maintenance and inspection
  • Medicine
  • Personal hygiene

Ricks’ Wants

  • Eating out. Goodbye Chipotle and Metro 29 Diner. Hello Kitchen
  • Giving gifts, except for cards
  • Fancy running gear
  • Books, electronic or otherwise. Did somebody say library cards were still free?
  • Driving daily.
  • Movies and theater
  • Dry cleaning
  • New camera <—- *crying real tears over this one*
  • New clothes and shoes
  • Thrifted clothes, shoes and furniture
  • New music
  • Groupon and other deals
  • Professional hair removal
  • Mani/pedis
  • New cosmetics
  • Perfume

Ricks’ Exceptions

So this is where the modified part comes in. We’re both runners who do a handful of races each year. For me the races are what I need to keep me running and since I don’t have a gym membership, I’ve got to keep moving. Money will be spent on race fees. Running shoes and gear will have to be replaced. But they won’t be replaced until they are worn out. We also will purchase tickets for planned travel as necessary since purchasing them as early as possible typically saves money.  We also won’t be giving up our Direct TV because the idea is not to create any new bills and it’s a shared luxury.

Since we thrift, dry cleaning often is a necessity, but I can’t lie sometimes I dry clean to avoid ironing. This stops today. Thrifting, the lifeblood of this blog will be curtailed a bit. But don’t fret lovelies, we can power this blog with what’s in our two closets probably for the next three years.  And we share very well. Besides we’ll still thrift, but for me, I’ll do so modestly and on steep discount days! As for new retail undergarments, socks and swimwear will be the only new retail this year and only on an as needed basis.

Reese’s Spending Plan. I am fortunate to not have a ton of debt. I have a couple bills I want to pay off in 2013, but the majority of focus is going towards savings. Being a PhD-in-training has its perks, but the unpredictable job market is not one of them. To be prepared for the unfortunate possibility of being jobless or underemployed once I’m done with this degree, I’m putting most of my energy towards building up a super-duper-emergency fund that will hopefully keep me from having to work at McDonalds. I’ll join Ricks for the three month spending pause, mainly because I spend way too much money eating out. I think three months is a great amount of time to redirect my attention toward cooking more. During these first three months, I will have saved (already claiming it) a quick $2,000 and paid off 60% of the debt I intend to be rid of my the end of May 2013. Why this method? It is really really important to me to immediately build my savings. I’ve seen too many people hit rock bottom after a major emergency, and I am trying to be proactive against that. After the three months, I will give myself a $50/wk allowance for happy hours, eating out, etc.

Reese’s Wants (aka the things I’m giving up)

  • Eating out (especially chipotle, smh.)
  • Cupcakes from Best Buns 😦
  • Candy in the grocery store aisles
  • Random target goodies
  • Fancy tea from Teavana
  • Movies
  • Hair cuts
  • Hair color
  • Tattoos
  • Groupon/Living Social deals with friends
  • Thrift store purchases (example: more blouses that I don’t need)
  • Trail running shoes
  • Purchasing New Books
  • Mani/pedis
  • Spur of the moment trips
  • Happy hours
  • Races
  • Concert/Shows
  • New warby parker glasses

Reese’s Needs

  • Rent/Utilities (need a warm place to live, right?)
  • Car Insurance
  • Car Maintenance
  • Gasoline
  • Personal Hygiene Stuff
  • Groceries (using coupons, compromising on brands when possible)
  • Cell phone

Reese’s Exceptions. Eyebrow threading: I cannot shape my own eyebrows for the life of me. Seriously, I’ve tried and I always look a hot mess, so I’m allowing this exception so that I won’t look like I’m going through hard times. Academic conferences: As a PhD student, these conferences are pretty much non-negotiable. I have selected four conferences to attend this year and have tentatively budgeted accordingly for each of them. Research expenses: Again, I’m a PhD student. I have research expenses that aren’t covered by my department, so I have to be prepared to handle them when they arise. Workout/running stuff: I don’t have a gym membership, so working out at home + running are essential parts of my health and sanity. At some point, I’ll have to buy new running shoes and more weights. Wine: well, I don’t have anything to say about this. It might be a want for you, but in this household, it’s a necessity. ::shrugs::

So there you have it folks. We’ve put our plan out there for you all. We hope you’ll ask questions, cheer us on, and try something like this yourself. Part of our thrifty philosophy has always been about recycling and reducing the amount of stuff in the world. In our minds, this is just an extension of that. The goal isn’t to be ridiculously wealthy. The goal is to be more responsible with spending and more thoughtful and creative with how we spend our time without spending tons of dough.

We’ll post about our successes, failures, and frustrations in the coming weeks. Our prayer is that our transparency will hold us accountable and inspire you!

-R&R