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Changing My Relationship with Things

22 Jun

Photo by Annie Mole via Flickr.

Photo by Annie Mole via Flickr.

Hi, my name is Kendal and I’m a Materialist.

I love new things. New clothes, new shoes, new decor, new accessories. I consider shopping a hobby and crave the high I get when I buy something I love. In recent years, however, my attitude about new things has started to change. I’d like to say it’s a natural progression toward maturity, but it’s not — it’s been the result of a conscious effort to enjoy what I already have and save money for less materialistic pursuits that I’ve identified as more important, namely travel and financial freedom.

It’s not been easy and I still struggle with the desire to buy things. To curb impulse purchases, I’ve adopted three primary strategies to help myself focus on my long-term goals.

Focus on what I own vs. what I have yet to purchase.

After reading a book on tidying that prompted me to donate over 50 items of clothing, I found myself content with the clothing that remained. I say “content” because every now and then I feel uninspired by my choices, but feel incredibly good when I create a new outfit I enjoy, anyway. I achieved that feat three times this week and feel a ridiculous sense of accomplishment. Same goes with home decor – when I want to switch things up, I shop other rooms and get creative with items I have around the house to create the look I want so I can decorate for free without adding anything unnecessary to my possessions.

Being honest with myself about what I use.

Intense decluttering requires honesty — there’s no room for “maybes” or “somedays” or “eventually.” As I work my way through my possessions, I’m taking a brutally honest approach about what I use and what I just think/hope/assume I’ll use. I then apply this same discipline when I’m considering a purchase — am I buying this for true utility, or am I buying it because it represents someone I want to be? Typically, the Joneses’ don’t just live next door – they live in your head, and you need to make a concerted effort to keep them out of your decision-making!

Planning my weekday meals better and JUST DOING IT.

I’ve always been a brown-bagger and typically prefer leftovers to any fast food joint near my office. However, when the leftovers run dry, I’m left to making lunch on my own and have recently fallen short. So much so that I’ve been eating out more which means I’ve been spending $6 here, $8 there on work lunches. LAME! I have all the time in the world to meal plan and get food and ingredients prepped for lunch, but laziness has been sabotaging my good intentions. When I kick myself in the butt and get things planned and prepped, I feel a lot better about myself and my week ahead. That’s priceless, and exactly what I focus on when couch time is all I want.

How do you keep yourself from allowing spending to sabotage your financial goals?

That Time I KonMari’d My Closet

23 Apr

krpdrawer
This past weekend, while many of you were being social or enjoying the outdoors, I was holed up in my bedroom, organizing. Specifically, I was applying the KonMari Method, a strategy created by Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo, to my clothes. You see, I’m increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff I own, and I’m turning to self-help literature to get it under control.

After reading the first few chapters of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I’ve been giddy with excitement to get started. I literally kept myself awake at night last week pondering the process, looking forward to the moment I could remove everything from my closets and get started.

On Saturday morning, the fun began. I emptied everything from my drawers and closets and organized them by category on my bed and bedroom floor (stopping half-way through to vacuum so my clothes wouldn’t get overtaken by dog hair and rawhide shrapnel). After everything I owned was in its rightful pile, I counted each garment and placed a notecard with the total on each section.

In total, I had 142 items of clothing to my name.

Honestly, I’m surprised by this number not because it’s big, but because it’s smaller than I thought it would be. In fact, I actually hoped it would be closer to 300 so I could purge 75% of it and feel really good out myself. But, 142 pieces is nothing to sneeze at and I was ready for the next step.

Deciding what to keep and what to donate proved harder than anticipated. I started with the tee shirts and immediately hit a road block. I’ve received several new tees over the last few months, but honestly most of them do not “spark joy” as advised by the KonMari Method. They were comfortable and functional to be sure, but did I feel a sense of pleasure when I recalled the last time I wore them? No, but the idea of parting with them led to guilt, which completely undermined my process. Instead of getting defeated, I moved onto another category in hopes of having more success.

Altogether, some categories were easier to purge than others. I struggled most with tees, cascade sweaters and long-sleeved button-up blouses. In fact, after I made my initial selections and had my rejects sitting in bags, I dug through them to retrieve a recently-purchased chambray button-up and v-neck tee. I also paraded around in a mint cascade sweater before wadding it up and throwing it back in the bag.

This is what's left of two closets full of clothes.

This is what’s left of two closets full of clothes.

In total, I filled two garbage bags with clothing rejects, and my husband joined the fun and discarded a full bag himself (though he didn’t take my meticulous approach). In addition to my bedroom closet, I cleaned out my guest room closet which once stored off-season clothing. I also got rid of outerwear from the entrance closet, as did my husband.

Now, the drawer that once contained a mess of wadded up casual clothing is a dream of KonMari-style folded sweaters and loungewear. The guest room closet is free of clothing and the entrance closet has never looked tidier. And my bedroom closet is so empty that I’ve requested a custom shoe, scarf and bag storage system from my husband, the design for which he whipped up in AutoCAD on Sunday.

My biggest regret? Not photographing the process for this blogpost. I was so excited that I powered through the task, partly out of excitement and partly out of fear that I would lose steam if I stopped to snap photos. However, my journey has only just begun and there will be more opportunity to better document my progress. Clothing was the easy part — next up is home decor, books, gadgets, and all the miscellany currently cluttering up my junk drawers and decorative baskets. Wish me luck!

Disclaimer: Ms. Marie Kondo did not pay me or compensate me in any way for this post. I’d love to meet her someday – I think we’d get along swimmingly.

How to Cut V-Day Spending in Half

4 Feb

Photo by me.

Photo by me.

 

So…what the heck happened to January?

The first month of the year evaporated for me despite being totally relaxed compared to the hectic holiday season. It’s already February and I’m busy outlining travel plans for the year and stuffing my face with heart-shaped confections. Does anyone else get excited about holidays purely for the candy?

I was reading the spending estimates for Valentine’s Day the other day and am totally floored by the amount people dish out for Feb. 14 festivities. According to the National Retail Federation, guys will spend an average of $190 on flowers, candy, jewelry and dinner out. Women, on the other hand, will spend about $95. Overall, total spending is expected to exceed $18 billion.

I thought it would be fun to calculate how much typical Valentine’s Day gifts cost and offer ways to cut that cost in half. What do you think? Is this about right or am I totally off base?

FLOWERS
One dozen red roses in a clear vase runs about $55 on 1-800-Flowers. Get it delivered on Valentine’s Day and you’ll add another $17.99. Factor in tax and your total is close to $80.

Cut it in half: Opt for a bouquet of 50 Peruvian Lilies and deliver them on Feb. 12. This way, you avoid the Valentine’s Day delivery fee and provide public adoration for your sweetheart. Use a coupon code for 20-percent off and pay a little over $40 total.

CANDY
A 1-pound heart-shaped box of See’s Candy will run you $30. Add a Hallmark card and supermarket bouquet of flowers and you can increase that to about $45.

Cut it in half: Buy an 8-ounce heart-shaped box for $12.50 instead, which contains plenty of sweet treats and doesn’t sabotage your sweetie’s New Year’s resolutions. Add a dollar-store card for $0.50 to that supermarket bouquet and you’ll spend about $23 total.

JEWELRY
I’ll assume you’re not going to pop the question on Valentine’s Day and opt for something less significant, albeit thoughtful. A trendy bar necklace in white 14K gold, for example, runs about $350 from Jared.

Cut it in half: At Macy’s, a similar style bar necklace in sterling silver is currently priced at $120. Using a coupon code, you can reduce that by 15 percent to just over $100. Meanwhile, Nordstrom offers a similar style for $68, and Etsy offers several hand-made styles for less than $30.

DINNER
The Cupid’s Combo package at The Melting Pot in my area features a four-course dinner with a bottle of either Chardonnay, Merlot or Cabernet, plus a “Touch of Romance candle and petal package dressing the table.” Cost: $125 per couple, or $150 when you factor in 18-percent gratuity.

Cut it in half: My husband and I could share an appetizer, two premium sushi rolls and two local craft brews at our favorite sushi restaurant for $50 (including the 18-percent gratuity). We could then head to The Melting Pot for dessert fondue, which costs about $10 per person. Total damage: $72.

How much do you plan to spend this Valentine’s Day?

Paradise Has a Price: The Fun

14 Nov

I know, I know: it’s about time. Part three to my “Paradise Has a Price” series has been a long-time coming. If you’re just tuning in, check out Part 1 and Part 2 for the full experience.

Boats at sunrise. Photo by me.

Boats at sunrise. Photo by me.

 

Everywhere you turn, there are booths and tents and storefronts dedicated to selling you tourist packages. Activities range from ziplining to helicopter tours to deep-sea fishing excursions. Each come with a price, of course, as well as persuasive messaging reminding you that your time in paradise is short-lived. If YOLO were an island in the Pacific, it would look like Kauai.

My practical husband and I weren’t swayed by all the opportunities to experience this island via tour guide. We left Kauai feeling fairly accomplished, having seen and experienced most of what we intended, and even a few things we didn’t. Here’s my not-so-quick guide to saving money and still having fun on Kauai:

Prepare to drive. When we first started planning our trip, we contemplated not getting a rental car. I’m so glad we decided to get one, because otherwise it would have been difficult to explore the island on our own terms. Kauai is relatively small, but each side has its own charm and it’s fun to explore each area. Hanalei Bay offers lush jungle and insane ocean views, while Princeville gives you a glimpse of the high-end perks enjoyed by those with more money than you. Poipu is populated with resorts, rocky shores and tourist shops, while the area surrounding Waimea Canyon is far more open and agricultural than the rest of the island. Getting a vehicle with good gas mileage is key!

Instead of hiring a chopper tour, walk the trail. Helicopter tours offer an unparalleled vantage point from which to see the Napali Coast and other picturesque areas of the island. If it’s in your budget and something you want to do, by all means, go for it! At $250 to $350 per person, it was most certainly not in our budget. So, we opted to hike the Napali Coast instead and experience the scenery from our own two (four?) feet. Aerial views of the water and mountains are great, but you can’t take a dip in the cool-water streams or smell the ever-present guava and passion fruit littering the trails from the confines of a chopper cabin. Just saying.

Napali Coast Overlook. Photo by me.

Napali Coast Overlook. Photo by me.

 

DIY. We passed countless tour buses as we explored the area in Scooter McGoo, and sometimes I wondered how they navigated the narrow roads and tight corners. While you miss out on the history and other educational opportunities associated with tour buses and guides, you are tethered to a schedule. A bus tour for Waimea Canyon, for example, would run about $100 each and last 11 hours. While you’re sure to see all the highlights of the area, this tour does not include food and, in my opinion, lasts far too long. Again, if that’s you scene, no judging, but for us, we like to go when we want, stay for as long (or as briefly) as we like, and leave when we’re ready for something different.

Wing it. We discovered Queen Anne’s bath, the perfect early-morning destination to watch the turtles get batted around by powerful waves and look on as brave tourists and fearless locals splash about in the choppy waters. We also found a tasty taco stand in a local shopping area in Kilauea; a quiet beach area visited by locals (and not overrun by tourists); and a few homes for sale. Looking at the selling price and layout of homes on Kauai was oddly entertaining. One place was composed of 10 acres of macadamia nut trees and featured three properties: a mansion with panoramic views of the ocean and cliffs; a cottage on the opposite side of the property for visitors; and a workshop/studio space. For the bargain price of $12 million, it could be ours.

Queen Anne's Bath. Photo by me.

Queen Anne’s Bath. Photo by me.

 

Splurge selectively. One excursion I wish we would have done was a kayaking trip to the base of a waterfall. Our friends did it and paid $80 (not including tip) for both of them. They set out early in the morning before other tours started crowding the river, and they were the first ones to the final destination. Our friends said the tour guide was very informative and laid back, and they got a good workout in before splashing about in the water to cool down.

Balance relaxation with exploration. Overplanning during a vacation can make you feel exhausted by the time you get on the plane. Putting off plan-making until the last few days of your trip can also cause you to do way too much (and spend too much) toward the end of your trip, having languished a few days in the beginning. Strike a balance between the two: your first day should be spent lounging at the beach and getting your bearings. The next day can allow for more formal exploration, making notes of sites you want to visit and learning about the excursions you should take.

Enjoy free pool time. A week into our trip, a couple from our party got engaged and then married on the island. They booked a room at the Grand Hyatt in Poipu and invited us all to join them in the afternoon for cocktails and pool time. There was some concern that we’d be kicked out of the lagoon-style pool because we weren’t staying with the hotel, but we learned later the pool is open to the public. While the cocktails weren’t cheap ($14 for a specialty mai tai – ouch), the pool and ambience offered a wonderful alternative to ocean swimming.

Waimea Canyon. Photo by me.

Waimea Canyon. Photo by me.

 

Think outside the tourist box. My friend and I were excited for oceanside yoga, via Kauai Yoga on the Beach. Sadly, my blistered feet forced me to cancel, plus the impromptu wedding required the attendance of my friend. At $20 a pop, this experience isn’t exactly frugal, especially since I likely could have led myself through a yoga practice for absolutely free. However, I’m a big fan of the studio scene, and the investment seemed worth it to me since it would allow me to be led through a series of delicious asanas while enjoying a sunrise view. Sun salutation indeed!

Enjoy the in-between. This lesson from yoga definitely rings true on a destination-oriented vacation. Sometimes we’re so caught up in our final destination that we fail to recognize the beauty of the journey and transition. For example, the tree canopy along a short stretch of road between Lihue and Poipu was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and caught us completely by surprise. The rich green mountains and cinnamon-hued soil never ceased to impress us, and the ocean, well, it’s pretty spectacular.

And so ends my epic three-part series surrounding our big adventure on Kauai!

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

Happy Halloween, dear readers! As I mentioned in my previous post, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and to be honest, I went a little nuts this year on the costume and decor front. Luckily, I didn’t spend much and had a lot of fun in the process. Here’s a glimpse of my efforts:

halloween

Chalkboard Art
I found this design on Pinterest and instantly fell in love. I actually did a whole Macbeth theme with the bottles I used for my props during this segment about saving money on Halloween, so this sign fit perfectly!

Halloween Entrance
Again, Pinterest inspired my entrance composed of floating witch hats. I found two at Michaels for 70-percent off, paying less than $1 for each. I found the remaining three at Target for $2 each, which isn’t as much of a bargain but at this point during the shopping trip, I was willing to overlook it. We had visited Party City where I nearly purchased a $4 hat, so the Target find is a win in my book! The enormous pumpkins were grown by my husband and were the hit of the evening with kids and parents alike.

Treat Table
These TV props make for the perfect accompaniment to my candy bowl display. I also used my trust black cat candle that I’ve had since junior high school and a couple pumpkins my husband grew in our garden. I also received the fabulous green heirloom pumpkin from my friend who harvested thousands of them for sale this year.

Costume
I’ve been wanting to try Dia de Los Meurtos for a few years now and finally cultivated the gusto this year. I’ve never worked with face paint before so I was a little nervous the morning of, and used Pinterest as my inspiration for the design. Half way through the HOUR it took me to do this, I realized winging it was better than trying to follow a specific design. I purchased the face paint kit from the grocery store of all places, since it was available for 50-percent off ($3). The wig was gifted to me by my cousin, and the floral crown is made from a headband and silk flowers I already own. Big thank you to my mom for crafting the headpiece! She still makes the best costumes.

diningdecor

Dining Table Decor
Using another free heirloom pumpkin from my friend (called a Long Island Cheese Pumpkin – yes, please!), I re-used stems and pinecones I’ve had for years and added small pumpkins and gourds that I purchased from Walmart ($10). I also purchased half-price styrofoam gourds and a few autumn berry sprigs from JoAnn Fabrics (>$10). It took some arranging and rearranging, but I’m quite content with the finished product.

Whew! All that for one night. Oh well – I had a blast leading up to the event and didn’t spend much at all, especially considering I plan to reuse much of what I purchased this year.

How did you stay frugal this Halloween?

Paradise Has a Price: A Series

24 Sep

“The only thing cheap on this island is us.”

This direct quote from my husband pretty much sums up our recent experience on Kauai. While the sandy beaches, tropical sunsets and fragrant air made for an overall great vacation, the high prices of everything from food to fuel to funsies was tough for two frugal people to handle. From the minute we ordered our first meal to the moment we crossed the threshold of the local grocery store, my husband and I knew we were in for a very pricey 10 days. And while it’s understandable that an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean cannot compete with mainland prices, we never really recovered from the sticker shock.

Beach at Hanalei Bay. Photo by me.

Beach at Hanalei Bay. Photo by me.

 

To help others looking to spend a future vacation on the Hawaiian islands, I’m writing a three-part series on how to save on paradise prices. My intent is to help you better budget for your trip and learn from my experiences.

Part 1: The Car — Our rental car ironically represents one of the cheaper expenditures during our trip, but one that could have cost a lot more had I bit on any of the numerous upsells thrown at me during the checkout process.

Part 2: The Food — This will be eye-opening for some and will help travelers better budget their food costs since “everything is more expensive here” is a pretty vague form of preparation.

Part 3: The Fun — I’ll offer low-cost ways to experience the highlights of the island, based on what we did and what others in our party did.

Here goes…

PARADISE HAS A PRICE: THE CAR
Scooter McGoo: A Story of Rental Car Savings

Most savvy travelers know to avoid all the upsells associated with renting a car. However, it can be hard in the moment, when a persuasive sales rep can make you feel foolish for not getting the extra insurance coverage or prepaid gas tank. As always, knowledge is power, and the following specific examples from my experience in Kauai will hopefully help you avoid any future indecision while renting a car.

Tip 1: Avoid the rental car upsell. I reserved the economy car for $232, which amounts to a relatively inexpensive rate of $23 per day. Immediately the rep classified my reservation as “the smallest car we have,” and asked if I would be interested in a special discount rate on a convertible Mustang. Usually, the upgrade costs $70 per day more than my economy rental, but just because I’m special, that rate will be just $15 more each day. I declined. “What if I can get that down to $10 per day?” Listen, that’s nice, but there’s no way in hell the real rate is an extra $70 per day if you’re willing to part with it for 85-percent less. You have to keep this in mind when they offer you special deals on upgrades. It’s like the “compare at” prices from TJMaxx or outlet stores; the item likely never sold at the “original” price, so the difference between it and the selling price is arbitrary.

Also, the gas mileage on a Mustang convertible is terrible, especially compared to the whopping 41 MPG we achieved with our economy rental. You must always keep in mind gas mileage and expected use when considering an upgrade, as it’s typically a bigger car that isn’t as fuel efficient.

Tip 2: Deny the insurance offer. Naturally, I was pitched the Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) to protect myself against liability for damage or theft. After declining it and explaining our credit card offered this coverage already, the rep said our card’s coverage “probably didn’t cover” accidents that were not our fault. Scary, but I declined nonetheless. According to my credit card benefits, I am covered by a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), synonymous with an LDW, when I charge the full amount of the rental car to my card and decline the rental company’s coverage.

I know some travelers who prefer to pay for peace of mind than decline extra coverage for the sake of savings. Obviously this is your call, but research what your auto insurance and credit card companies will cover so you don’t end up paying for redundant protection.

Tip 3. Decline the prepaid fuel pitch. The rep stated their company’s fuel price cost 10-percent less than elsewhere on the island, making us sound foolish if we declined. She even scrunched her nose and looked at me incredulously when I said “no.” The thing is, we’d be prepaying for a full tank of gas, even if we returned the car with half a tank. The company’s terms specifically state this: “There is no credit or refund given for any fuel in the tank at the end of the rental.” Did she mention that? No. Instead, she made me feel like an idiot for not prepaying for cheaper fuel.

And PS: her suggestion that fuel averaged $4.68 on the island was bogus! We got it for $4.42, and because we’re Safeway Club members, we received two fill-ups for 10-cents less per gallon than advertised. Where’s your scrunchy face now, huh?

Tip 4: Note any issues and make a change immediately. Upon leaving dinner, we felt the rental car stutter and make grinding noises. Rather than grin and bear it, we returned to the rental car facility and requested a different vehicle. We received a Mazda 2, even smaller than the Ford Focus, but it worked just fine. It did so well, in fact, that we named him Scooter McGoo, and offered words of encouragement and gentle pats on the dashboard as he methodically made his way around narrow roads and steep inclines.

In fact, opting for the small car actually helped us squeeze into tight parking spaces and navigate the exceedingly tight and often one-way passages around the island.

Tip 5: Avoid using the air conditioner. On day three of our vacation, my husband and I took a road trip around the island just to escape the heat. We stopped at several places along the way and getting out of the car was like hitting the brick walls of Hell. The contrast of air-conditioned air to the hot, muggy atmosphere actually made our experience worse. Once we turned off the A/C and traveled windows-down style, we found ourselves far more comfortable. The flow of air and occasional trade winds helped us from overheating and allowed our bodies to adapt quicker. Bonus: we nearly doubled our fuel efficiency by avoiding the A/C.

Hopefully this detailed account helps you better understand why all the upsells associated with renting a car are, by and large, a waste of money. For even more proof, check out Forbes’ contributor Roger Dooley’s experience with a rental car agency who tried to upsell him on a vehicle they planned to give him anyway.

How do you avoid rental car upsells? Do you think some options are worth the extra cost?

My Fashion Face-Palm

3 Sep

Photo by Emily May via Flickr

Photo by Emily May via Flickr

 

I’m going through a pretty incredible style slump right now. Over the past several weeks, I’ve cut my wardrobe in half and given away garments I once considered closet staples. My friends couldn’t be happier as they’ve been the recipients of this major overhaul. Though I’m pleased my once-loved threads are finding new affection, I find myself completely unsatisfied with my current selection.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no regrets about the items I’ve given away. In fact, the OCD Anti-Clutter Freak within is clapping furiously and rooting me on. I’m trying to breathe new life into the items that remain, but I find myself completely uninspired by my closet’s contents. In fact, two people in Starbucks told me they loved my blouse, and I felt like taking it off and letting them fight over it. Despite receiving compliments on my style from perfect strangers, I couldn’t feel more indifferent about my current wardrobe. The need to stay financially solvent is the only thing keeping me from emptying my entire closet and starting fresh.

You may think I’m finally growing up. You may assume this fledgling indifference toward fashion is making room for more substantial pursuits. You’d be wrong. In fact, you’re giving me far too much credit. The Great Closet Exodus of 2014 is simply creating a blank slate from which I can build an entirely new wardrobe.

What’s worse, I seem to have set my sights on better-quality items. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, as quality typically translates to longevity and can be a better investment in the long run. But since when have I wanted cashmere? Or designer jeans? Or anything from Banana Republic?

I also seem to have an aversion to color. I’m gravitating toward gray, camel and ivory, despite having a good complexion for teal, indigo and hot pink.

This past weekend, I stumbled upon a garment that must have heard my silent outcry to the cosmos and manifested itself just for me. It’s gray. It’s versatile. It’s Calvin Klein. It was also $59.99, a price I would normally dismiss as too expensive for a single garment. I mulled it over a bit while browsing other areas of the store with my mother-in-law, and eventually decided to buy it, assuring myself I could always return it if I decided it was a bad buy.

It’s still hanging in my closet as I type this. I’m still wondering if it’s a good purchase. My thoughts led me to the Internet, where I started searching for an image that could effectively convey its cuteness and practicality in this post, when BOOM: I find it on Amazon for $41.40. That’s nearly $20 less than what I paid at Marshall’s.

WTF cosmos?

I’ve never purchased clothing from Amazon and honestly never thought to do so (rookie alert). Ironically, my sister-in-law has been in my thoughts during this style transition, as she’s been known to try on jeans at Banana Republic and then find them on eBay for a fraction of the price. That’s smart and savvy, but requires a level of patience I simply don’t possess. For a brief moment, I thought “Nah…this Amazon offer is a better deal, but will I really order it and return the other one for the sake of savings?” “Well, YEAH,” was my ultimate response.

So…we’ll see how this plays out. Regardless of if I keep this jacket, I’ve learned a couple valuable lessons: comparison-shopping should happen with all purchases, including apparel; and just because you’re turning into a style snob doesn’t mean you have to spend like one.

Ever go through a fashion rut?

Money, Manners & Wedding Gifts

11 Aug

Photo by Caitlin Regan via Flickr

Photo by Caitlin Regan via Flickr

 

I saw a media request today asking for expert advice on how much people should spend on wedding gifts. For some reason, it set off a bit of a rant inside my head about how ridiculous it is to ask someone else how much you should spend on a wedding gift.

In fact, I’m weary of any “etiquette rules” that involve money, since finances are so personal and the amount someone can spend on anything depends on his or her circumstances. The idea that some outside source determines what amount is okay for you to spend based on societal expectations is absolutely ludicrous in my opinion. If Miss Manners is truly concerned about this, she’d be aghast to learn I bargain shopped for wedding gifts this weekend and actually told the recipient how much I saved.

My second cousin eloped in April but is still planning on a wedding-like celebration in September. I’ll be beachside at that time and won’t be attending, so I looked up her registry to see what gifts fit my budget. Typically, I try to keep wedding and baby gifts under $50. Exceptions are made when I feel like making them, and aren’t based on any predetermined list of factors, like how closely related I am to the recipient, or how much the recipient recently spent on me.

With this budget in mind, I found a knife block set for $55.99 on her Target registry. I searched for the exact set online and found it on Amazon…for a little over $32. That’s $23 I don’t need to spend on something she wants. Plus, getting this rate enabled me to gift her with a set of stainless steel measuring spoons that are a staple in my kitchen. Together, my total cost was $45.

Since I bought off-registry, I contacted my cousin immediately and told her to remove the items I’d purchased from her list so she wouldn’t end up with duplicates. She was impressed by my savings and pleased to be receiving her gifts soon.

As the brilliant Erin Lowry once said (in a US News & World Report article about weddings, no less), Miss Manners may disagree with my approach, but she’s not the one footing the bill.

What do you think? Do you consider etiquette when budgeting for a gift?

Decluttering for Sanity & Savings

11 Jun

Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr

Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr

 

I have a love-hate relationship with decluttering. For the most part, I find it cathartic and rewarding since cleaning out my space helps me breathe better and think more clearly. On the other hand, it seems to be a never-ending process due in part to my shameless consumerism. For every item I get rid of, another one seems to take its place within a few months.

It’s for this reason that J. Money’s recent post highlighting his decluttering trick really resonates with me. Asking “Would I buy this again?” removes all other considerations and elicits an immediate “yes” or “no,” making the decision to keep or donate much easier. As a serial declutterer (not a word, I know), I’m always looking for new ways to amp up my cleaning routine. In addition to J’s sound advice, I discovered another strategy earlier this week.

Ultimately, my husband would like to own a bit of land and have a small home on the property. This is a BHAG and definitely not something we’re seriously considering right now, but it did get me thinking about the process of selling a home. It’s a big pain to be sure, but it’s a pretty awesome exercise in decluttering. Faced with the prospect of moving, items are suddenly stripped of their sentimental value and evaluated purely on the ease in which they can be transported and setup in a new space. This discerning eye doesn’t extend to the truly meaningful stuff like family photos and heirlooms, but that weird oil painting you purchased a lifetime ago (looking at you, J!)? Yeah, that one’s not making the cut.

So, another question might be, would you bring it with you if you moved? The more stuff you move, the more money it costs, and the more time it takes to get unloaded and moved into your new place. Knowing this, many of us host epic yard sales and sell or donate as much unnecessary crap as possible just to avoid the expense and hardship of having to move it.

After making this revelation, I looked at my space with fresh eyes. If I were to move today, what would I bring with me? Better yet, if I were to show my home today to prospective buyers, what items might they perceive as clutter? This gets complicated since most experts suggest you de-personalize your space so home buyers can see themselves in your house. However, I was amazed by how quickly my perception of my home changed using this approach. Suddenly, certain things stood out as just taking up space, and the desire to purge my home of them was overwhelming. I’ll have to do it in steps, otherwise my husband will come home to an empty space and a crazed, clutter-slaying wife.

How do you approach decluttering?

What’s the Value of Your Time?

7 May

A little headstand action at the top of Gomez Peak in NM. Photo by awesome-sauce SIL Ida Holguin-Perez.

A little headstand action at the top of Gomez Peak in NM.

I’ve recently decided to make a switch in my yoga routine by attending a new studio. It’s much closer to my home and workplace and offers a fresh approach to my practice, which has honestly become a bit stale as of late. While it may seem like a no-brainer decision, the monthly cost difference for unlimited classes is significant: the new studio, we’ll call it Studio B, is $47 more per month than my old studio, Studio A. I can attend unlimited classes at Studio A for $60 per month, or pay $107 per month for unlimited classes at Studio B.

To help justify the switch, I calculated the cost of fuel to get to/from Studio A vs. Studio B. The average cost of fuel in my area is $3.79 per gallon, and my car gets around 25 miles per gallon. I attend class twice per week, or eight times per month. Given all that, it costs me about $39 to get to/from Studio A (33 miles RT) vs. $18.19 per month to get to/from Studio B (15 miles RT). While it costs twice as much in gas to get to Studio A, I’m still paying $25 per month to attend Studio B when you add membership costs.

Another factor in all this is the cost of my time. I’m on the road 25 minutes longer per class with Studio A, or two hours and 40 minutes longer per month. Putting a dollar amount to each hour of your free time is not an easy task, which is why I turned to a survey at ClearThinking.org to help me. It asks a series of questions to help you determine the unique value associated with an hour of your time. If you’ve ever wondered about the monetary value of your time, I highly recommend the survey (it’s free, but it will take you about 15 minutes).

After taking the survey, my results concluded that I value my time at $45 per hour. Since it takes about 50 minutes round trip to get from work to Studio A and back home again, it costs me an equivalent of $37.50 each class. Multiply that by twice a week for a whole month, and the added cost to Studio A’s monthly membership is $270. It takes me about 25 minutes round trip to get to Studio B from work and home again, amounting to $18.75 each time. My time adds $150 to Studio B’s monthly cost.

Adding the value of my time to the total monthly cost to attend each studio, including membership fees and gas charges, gave me a more accurate picture of just how much I’m spending on yoga between the two studios. It will cost $369.04 per month to continue classes at Studio A, while Studio B will cost me $275.19. That’s a savings of $93.85 per month.

While the monetary value of my time is subjective at best, this exercise does a good job illustrating the necessity of factoring in your time when making a decision. Even when I calculated all this using my hourly rate at work, I still come out on top by joining Studio B.

Do you consider the monetary value of your time when making a decision?  

Disclaimer: I suck at math, so if you notice any flaws in my calculations, please break it to me gently.