Replenished, Recuperated, and Easing into Summer

Summer evening overlooking the Hudson from a friends apartment rooftop
Summer evening overlooking the Hudson from a friends apartment rooftop

It’s a hot and steamy Sunday here in NYC.  I don’t know where spring went but summer is definitely here.

Over Memorial Day weekend I took a trip home to my parents house which was a really good opportunity to rest, recuperate, and replenish in various ways.

I had a lot of gift cards to JCrew left over from multiple holidays totaling $165 (I let my giftcards accumulate) and my mom had a $50 coupon to Gap owned stores.  I needed some new spring clothes, and, since I’m on a budget that does not allow shopping, I wanted to get as much as I could for my buying power and retail wasn’t going to cut it.    We took a trip to the outlets where I was hugely successful in replenishing my wardrobe for the coming season.  JCrew, Gap and Banana Republic all had 50% off the entire stores so I came away with new tops, white shorts, a dress, black pants, a chambray top and new dressy flip flops.  I went over by about $20 but my mom was happy to throw that money in for me.  I stuck to basics and neutral colors that could easily transfer season to season and would last me a couple years.  Shopping for quality is key to not having to constantly update your wardrobe.

I also use my weekends at my parents as an opportunity to shop their grocery store (and their cupboards) since it’s insanely cheaper than shopping in NYC.  (Mozzarella cheese sticks were $2.50 compared to $5.99 at my grocery store) I sacrifice by having to lug extra bags on the bus but I’ve saved a lot of money.

I’m still maintaining my social life, but cutting back on drinks as much as I can.   I don’t want to consume the calories, I don’t like being hungover, and I just don’t want to spend $10 on a cocktail anymore.   I bought a bottle of vodka to keep in my freezer to make a mixed drink before I go out.  Thursday night I went to see my friend Christoph’s band, McAllister Drive, play at Rockwood Music Hall in the Lower East Side.  It was a 10:30pm show, so my friend Ali came over for drinks and snacks beforehand.  I chose not to drink at the show since I had a client meeting the next day which saved me some money.   Rockwood is a great place to get some local flavor if you find yourself visiting NYC.  It’s $10 for all the live music you want and it’s very informal, you can just stop in and pay at the door.

It’s become a fun challenge, trying to find ways to try new things for free.  Friday night I stayed in and ordered some amazing tacos from the hole in the wall Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood I had been wanting to try for only $5.  Yesterday I ended up going on the Bon Appetit Grub Crawl.  Since my advertising client was the presenting sponsor I was able to attend as a comp’d guest.  The food scene in New York is something that is very hard to cut yourself off from.  New restaurants by the worlds greatest chefs are opening every month and this crawl gave me the opportunity to try 5 in one afternoon.

There are some delicious budget friendly recipes in the latest issue of Bon App that I took away with me yesterday.  I’m going to test some out for my first Entertaining post when my friend Lindsay comes for dinner and drinks on Wednesday evening.

I decided I’m going to rejoin a gym,  I had cancelled mine saying that I’d work out on my own but the reality is, it’s getting way too hot and I need a place to work out that’s air conditioned.  Good news though, Planet Fitness opened near my office and is only $10/month…I think I can swing it.

I’m still trying to save for SF and hoping to have some money left over from this paycheck, after a birthday brunch next weekend, and concert tailgating the following week.

How is everyone else easing into their summer?  

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May Check In

English: Central Park Bridges (view from Bridl...
English: Central Park Bridges (view from Bridlepath looking southwest), Gothic Arch, Spanning bridlepath south of tennis courts at nort, New York City, New York County, NY (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May has come and gone and  I’m one month closer to paying off my debt.  Since I started this process my debt has decreased from $10,500 to $7100!  The other morning I was thinking “wow, in two months I will be 50% toward paying off my credit card debt.  When I first made this commitment, I was scared of the period that I’m in right now, the in between period.  I envisioned myself getting bored and depressed in my new life style and throwing away this quest altogether.  Despite some peaks and valleys and fall backs it hasn’t been that bad.

Here are some helpful ways to stay on track if you’re in the same boat:

Stopped Impulsive Buying

This has been easier than I thought.  I don’t buy coffee, takeout, or shop for cheap clothes (a la H & M, Forever 21) and I don’t feel devoid or deprived of anything.  Often times I would get an afternoon craving for a snack and buy a  cookie from  a bakery, often paired with a second coffee.  But in order to satisfy that craving, I go to the dollar store a block away and stock up on some snacks to keep in my desk.   I used to find that if I didn’t bring lunch, I wouldn’t end up leaving the office during the day.  Instead I’ve started doing errands instead, such as going to the bank or post office.

Popcorn and Movie Night 

One weekend it was the end of my budget and I couldn’t spend money.  I still wanted to see my friends so I sent the following email:

Hi Girls!  So, you all know that I’ve put myself on a tight budget and vowed to pay of my cc’s in the next 12 months. My budget doesn’t start again until Monday and I’ve kinda run out until then. I have the apartment to myself this weekend, and in an effort to not be antisocial this weekend, would any of you be interested in a movie night with popcorn and wine tomorrow evening?  I know it sounds really low key, but I’m too new into this life change that I don’t have the will power to go to a bar and not drink just yet.

Most couldn’t attend on short notice, but to my surprise they were all welcome to the idea in the future.  My friend Aline came over and we drank a bottle of wine and ate popcorn.  I’m going to start a series of entertaining on a budget so stay tuned for ideas and inspiration for at home gatherings!

That same weekend, I mentioned to my friend Lindsay that I was going to go to Buffalo Exchange to sell some clothes.  She wanted to come too.  So I was able to find other ways to see my friends that aren’t expensive like going out to dinner or to a bar.

Plan for Spontaneity

Two blogs that I follow, The Debt Breakup and Budget and the City, both wrote recent posts about planning for spontaneity.  I’ve tried to buy ahead of time when possible and plan nights out.  To me, this means purchasing experiences on daily deal sites, prepaying and budgeting for known plans ahead of time.  I purchased some Bloomspot deals a couple weeks ago for a Saturday night out and a Central Park bike rental. Be careful with these purchases though and plan to use them carefully so they don’t expire and go unused. (I’ve learned the hard way that I shouldn’t purchase fitness classes because I never use them in it’s entirety).  On the other hand, I always buy the $7 Central Park bike rentals when they’re available, and split the bottle service deals with 4 or 5 friends.

After I’m done paying off my debt, I’m going to put that money toward savings accounts for various leisure activities.

Find a Support System

Special thank you to my family and friends who have been supportive and encouraging through this process!  You’ve been so understanding and this would be so much harder if you weren’t.  Also, some other bloggers who regularly comment and cheer me on have been great.  They are going through the same process and I know we will all get there.   (Re)Creating Carly, The Debt Breakup, Budget in the City, are the folks that I regularly turn to.  Cait from Blonde on A Budget, is the veteran who really motivated me to start my blog in the first place.  I first read her story on LearnVest and after two years she is debt free 🙂

Stay Motivated While Saving Toward a Goal

English: San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge at night
English: San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my favorite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer compared the experience of reading a traditional book vs. an e-reader during “The Old Country” panel discussion at the New Yorker Festival in October 2012.   A book allows the reader to build an enriching relationship with a novel distraction-free while the e-reader doesn’t. Until e-readers are strictly for reading books devoid of email, social media, and news tickers, it’s impossible for a human to ignore those distractions and build the same long term relationship with the novel that the book affords.  The e-reader offers small bursts of happiness and instant gratification that the book doesn’t.

I’ve often thought of this analogy during my saving and debt repayment process. I’m building a long term relationship with my money and finances but in the meantime it’s hard to pass up on day to day experiences (and expenses) that offer instant gratification while my savings goal does not. The  feeling of the future experience doesn’t feel tangible, but spending money on going out to dinner, or going shopping does.

In addition to paying off my credit cards in the next year, I’m also saving to go to San Francisco the first weekend of August.  I know that traveling isn’t something to do when you’re on a budget, but my Armenian young professionals group is holding its biannual global assembly and I’ll be connecting with Armenian peers from all over the world.  I’ve had my eye on this trip since I got back from Armenia in October, since it will be an opportunity to reconnect with the friends I made there and, since I’m not planning any other trips or weekend getaways this year, I’m going to make this work.

It’s two and a half months away and I still can’t feel the tangibility of it yet.  I know it will be a blast, I know it’s an investment in a life experience, but I still need to feel the tangibility of it in order to stay motivated.  Here are a few techniques that I’m using to create these small bursts of happiness between now and August 1st.

Start a Separate Savings Account

I started a separate savings account to build a reserve for San Francisco expenses.  I can transfer money in whenever I want and building that account and seeing it grow is rewarding.  If I have extra money at the end of the month it goes into my SF account, if I get any reimbursements (I often front some event expenses for my Armenian group), I pretend that I’m not owed that money to spend and throw it into this account.

Adopt a Phrase to Save

Betsy and Warren Talbot saved $75,000 in 25 months in order to travel the world.  In order to connect the impact that their daily purchases had on  their future experience they adopted Phrase to Save.  $100 = One Day on the Road, which did they want more?  Each night out for dinner or drinks = XXX% of my plane ticket, hotel stay, registration fee, for the weekend.  It’s helped to tell myself that each $50 expenditure = 12% of my flight.  Or half of the wine tour excursion.  Or a night out to dinner in San Francisco.

I also know that I get a high from spending money (not exactly a good thing) but paying for pieces of the trip one at a time is making it more tangible.  Wednesday was pay day I had some money saved toward the ticket, so I bought it on the spot. Having less money in my checking account keeps me from spending. Now I’m definitely going, there’s no turning back!

Chart Your Progress

I’m using LearnVest to chart my progress toward my goals.  Seeing the % increase toward your goal is so motivating and I love logging in everyday to see where I’m at.  Also, you can link all of your accounts and discover your net worth.  Seeing that increase as debt goes down and savings go up makes me want to save more!

Afford Yourself Cheaper Luxuries 

Although I’ve given up coffee during the week, today I’m writing from a coffee shop.  Cafe Grind in my neighborhood has amazing organic coffee, but at $3 for a large drip, it doesn’t fit into my monthly budget.  Today I splurged for the $3 large, a hard boiled egg and a banana for breakfast.  At $4.80 for the morning, I hardly call that an expensive Saturday.

I still like to go to bars with my friends too, while I’m still working on mastering the art of socializing on a budget, I have given up cabs as much as I can. (If it’s really late at night, I”m not going to sacrifice my safety) but I will take the subway if I leave the bar by 1230/1 am.  I always try to stay in one neighborhood for the night, or choose places that are convenient to get to via public transportation.  Limiting myself to one or two drinks is a great way to stick to a $20 budget for the night.

If it’s just one or two friends and we don’t have set plans, having a movie/popcorn/wine night is a fun way to save.

Find Other Means of Financial Support

I celebrated my 30th birthday a few months ago and my mom has been bugging me to choose a birthday gift.  Instead of a “thing” I’ve asked for a financial contribution toward my trip.  Since my mom is in full support of me going to San Francisco for this event, they agreed to contribute.  That will cover registration fees or hotel stay which gets me closer to my goal.  Also, I am expecting a referral bonus for getting my cousin a job at my company, while most of it will go toward debt repayment, I’m allocating a couple hundred dollars toward my trip.

I also sold a giftcard on Plastic Jungle, a site that up until last week, paid for giftcards.  I had received a giftcard to Tiffany’s as a reward for returning someone’s wallet, and since I can’t afford anything there right now, I sold it for $100.  (As of May 13, Plastic Jungle only swaps for giftcards to one of their merchant partners).

How do you stay motivated to save for something that may not seem in reach?