September Spending Fast

Happy September! September always marks the end of summer for me, and since Fall is my favorite season, I couldn’t be more excited. I’m hoping it doesn’t start snowing until late October, but I am looking forward to that chill in the air, pumpkin spice lattes, scarves scarves and more scarves, and teensy tiny bit of happiness about going back to school.

Originally the end of summer meant the end of my MBA summer internship, but employer has extended my contract which means I am NOT going back to school broke! I am taking this week off to complete a block week class, but as of next week, I’ll be working ~30 hours per week and completing 2 evening classes. It’s about 400% easier than last term, with less than half the academic workload and nearly 3x the income. So many wins.

Having a job this Fall changes a lot of my spending plans for the better, so you might be wondering why I’m starting of the school year with a drastic budget cut.

But what is a spending fast?

It’s the practice of reducing your spending to only essential bills for a fixed period of time. This means giving up spending on things like new clothes, dinners out, coffees, house decor, magazines, movies, etc. in the interest of saving money. 

It is drastic but it is NOT permanent. 

The spending fast is not a new concept, but I think one of the most popular champions of the practice is And Then We Saved, who did a year-long spending fast. I’m not quite that enthusiastic and feel a 30-day reset will be sufficient.

Why bother with a Spending Fast?

  • Temporarily reducing your spending forces you to evaluate your wants vs. needs, and more often than not you come our realizing you really didn’t need to buy everything you wanted to and are doing just fine without it.
  • Procrastinating the purchase of things you really want by 30 days makes buying them later a bajillion times sweeter, because in addition to getting something you really want, you’ve added in the element of delayed gratification. The only thing better than getting something you want is getting it 30 days later.
  • You will keep more money in your bank account by avoiding spending on non-essentials. Having more cash leftover at the end of the month means more money to meet your financial goals such as paying off debt or putting extra cash towards an emergency fund, travel, or retirement savings.

I need a spending fast this month for a number of reasons. First, I’m completing a block week class the first week of this month, which means I won’t be in the office. Since I’m still paid hourly, I’m losing a week of work and therefore half my pay on my next paycheque. The easiest way to cope with a drop in income is to spend less!

Furthermore (and perhaps more importantly), I want to go on a vacation! I cut travel from my budget as a grad student, but with a full-time income again I’m looking forward to getting on a plane to somewhere new again. Lastly, having a wedding or party to attend all the time threw a wrench in my meal plan every damn week. Whenever I ate bad on Friday-Saturday-Sunday, it took me until the following Thursday to feel better — at which point it was time to indulge once more. My fitness goals demand that my body is fuelled appropriately, so I’m using September to hit the reset button before Thanksgiving, my birthday and Christmas.

How I am managing the September Spending Fast:

  • I already eat at home most evenings and bring a lunch to work, so I don’t need to drastically curb any dining out.
  • My house is so well-stocked with wine from my housewarming, I don’t have to show up empty handed to any MBA parties.
  • My Starbucks card is at $23 with one free drink only 2 more beverages away. Since I loaded the card up weeks ago this money was “spent” before the spending fast started. Phew!
  • I have tons soaps, lotions, and just ordered fancy schmancy shampoo so I can stay out of Sephora. But I also have 6 empty MAC container which means I can get a free eyeshadow if I feel the spending itch!
  • I’ve pre-ordered both Taylor Swift’s and Maroon 5′s new albums, as well as Margaret Atwood’s new book, so I’m not going the whole month without anything new.
  • I am pretty sure my mascara can make it another month.

But the real secret to cutting my September spending? I don’t need anything I can’t buy on October 1.

My $1,000 Optometrist Appointment

I went for my regular 2-year eye check-up last week. I updated my prescription for my contact lenses recently, but I haven’t changed the one in my eyeglasses for nearly 4 years. Sadly, my vision continues to get incrementally worse each year which means that for the past 6 months or so I’ve been squinting to see things at a distance through my glasses. This has been annoying for quite some time, but only recently did it reach the point where I thought, “Ok, I can’t see”.

tumblr_mbl2sp65Jd1rnvwt1

I booked an appointment with a new optometrist, and in my exam she informed me I have super dry eyes and am spending too much time on the computer (she asked me how often I take breaks from staring at screens and I responded, “you’re supposed to take breaks??”). I walked out with a new eyeglasses prescription, plus a second prescription for eye drops, a bottle of fish oil supplements, and strict instructions to take breaks from screens every hour, plus I have to wear my glasses for 2 weeks while I use the eyedrops 4x per day. Eek!

I never scrimp when it comes to spending on my health, but even I was surprised by the bill for this visit. Apparently eye exams costs $130 now — I had been thinking they were still $70-$90 for some reason. My prescription eye drops were $70 and the fish oil supplements were another nearly $30. My graduate student health plan reimbursed me $50 (thanks) immediately for the eye exam, but I’m still waiting for my reimbursement for the eye drops (expecting another $50). Because I visited the optometrist on my lunch hour break, I didn’t have time to select a new pair of glasses, but I was told my lenses will cost approximately $450 and then the cost of frames will vary based on what I choose, but I’m expecting another few hundred dollars.

Total costs?

  • Eye exam – $135 (reimbursed $50)

  • Prescription eyedrops – $70 (reimbursed $50)

  • Fish oil supplements – $27

  • Lenses – approximately $450 (will be reimbursed partial or full amount)

  • Frames – undecided, hopefully <$300 (will be reimbursed partial or full amount)

= about $1,000

I’ve been wearing glasses since I was 13 and I don’t think it’s ever cost that much before! I’m hoping to get the full cost of the new lenses & frames covered through a health spending account but I won’t know how much until I make the purchase and submit my receipts. Also, because it will be coming from a health spending account, using these funds up means they can’t be allocated to other healthcare costs later, and since I still need to visit the dentist, I’m wary of bankrupting the account all in one go.

I regularly use Clear Contacts for my contact lens orders, but I’m hesitant about choosing frames without trying them on first. Plus I’m not sure the site offers the super amazing anti-blue-light you-can-probably-see-in-the-dark-and-see-into-the-future lenses that my optometrist sold me on. Because I wear my glasses 3-4x per week for up to 4 or 5 years at a time, I’m willing to spend more if it means getting the most comfortable and functional pair of spectacles available.

Any health costs surprising your bank account lately?

Beat Debt Fatigue: Luxurious Splurges Under $25

A more appropriate title for this post might be “how to cheer yourself up on a student budget”. Living on less is the burden of both the under-earning and the deeply indebted, and we’re miserable about it. With another semester of my MBA starting next month, I’m looking for ways to tighten my budget while still enjoying life. Here is a short list of things you can treat yourself to without breaking the bank!

Luxurious Splurges Under $25

Wine, a new recipe & a movie

Buy a good bottle of wine and rent a film. There’s nothing more relaxing or romantic than a nice evening in. An ok bottle of wine can be had for $15 and you can rent (or watch for free) a movie while trying out a new culinary dish. There are SO MANY RECIPES I don’t try because one or two ingredients is a little pricey (ie. almond flour or an imported cheese), but then I never think to splurge on these things when I have an extra $10 to spend. Now that I’m experimenting with a lot of new recipes, novel ingredients are top of my list for splurge spending.

p90s73-l

by love & lemons lingerie (note: pretty, not frugal.. look for a knock-off)

New underwear

This might be something only women understand, but few things feel as luxurious as spending on lacy underthings. Most lingerie stores offer those “3 for $35″ or “5 for $35″, which means you can update your intimate wardrobe without spending everything in your chequing account.

bamboo-table-thumb-420x315-82362

ikea hack via craftycrafty

Minor room redecoration or decorating hacks

What can you buy with $25: candles, new curtains, spray paint, garage sale furniture, or plants. Maybe it’s time to finally frame all your photos? If you’ve snapped some cool shots on your iPhone, you can get them printed for cheap directly through iPhoto. I always find small changes go a long way when it comes to giving your surroundings a facelift.

l

Stretch!!

Drop-in on a fitness class

You all know I’ve been on a fitness bender for more than 6 months now, and so far it shows no signs of slowing down, so I’m all over trying new fitness classes and programs for cheap. Dropping in on a fitness class will run you about $14 to $18 depending on the gym or studio you choose and the activity you’re opting for. Why not try barre or a spin class? Easy on the wallet and good for your waistline!

how-to-get-free-beauty-samples-2.jpg

via Pretty Squared — lots of great affordable make-up suggestions!

The travel/sample sets of cosmetics

I give you fair warning: going into Sephora on a budget is definitely a test of your willpower, but I love everything that’s in those little bins in front of the counter where you pay. Usually it’s smaller sizes of my favorite products or ones I’ve wanted to try — including mini bottles of nailpolish, which are my favorite, because who actually makes it through a full bottle of nailpolish? These mini makeups often let me satisfy my urge to spend without being wasteful with money or product.

What are your favorite affordable splurges when you can’t shake the urge to spend but don’t want to sabotage your goals for a shopping spree?

You Don’t Have to Buy What You’re “Supposed” to Buy

There are some things in life you are supposed to buy blindly. Things like one car per adult in your household, a home with more bedrooms than people, and the biggest TV you can afford. Very few people question these purchases before they make them.

And honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with any of these things. However, I do think they should be challenged. I think they should be evaluated with the scrutiny applied to less “necessary” purchases. Then, if you decide you really want them, you should go for it!

The thing is, my husband and I don’t want any of this stuff.

tumblr_inline_mig3x7MYdY1rnvwt1

So we rent a studio apartment with zero bedrooms for two people. We got rid of our only car, leaving us completely reliant on public transportation and walking. And although we won a TV free and clear at the end of last year, we returned it for something we actually needed.

All that said, I’m not claiming to be a frugal goddess who doesn’t own worldly possessions and never spends money.

I probably eat out more than most people in the blogosphere. I buy brand name clothing (although only on sale). I buy craft beer regularly and won’t switch to PBR to save a few bucks. And I think traveling is the bees knees and participate pretty regularly.

What I am saying is that we should all determine what we’re supposed to buy based on our individual needs and preferences. The blogosphere says often enough that we shouldn’t try to keep up with the Joneses, yet many of these people continue to buy the same things the Joneses buy — just a more frugal version of these things. Maybe we could just completely ignore the purchasing norms altogether.

If you want a house, two cars, and an awesome flat screen TV — then that’s what you should buy.

However, if you want something completely different, don’t let anyone make you feel bad or weird for making that choice.

Life is not one-size-fits-all, and the typical script Americans (and Canadians) follow is certainly not for everyone. It’s really not a tragedy if you choose not to get married, have kids, buy a house, buy a car, own a dog, or climb the corporate ladder. Just live your freaking life and buy only that which reflects your interests. None of that other stuff will make you happy, no matter how happy it seems to make your peers.

How does your spending line up with what you’re “supposed” to buy? How does it differ?

Plastiq: welcome convenience or just an easier way to rack up more debt?

I’m probably a little behind the times here, because I just learned about Plastiq a month ago. As you probably guessed, I’m always looking for ways to get more bang for my buck with cash-back, rewards, and discounts. Hoping to get some rewards points, I was looking to charge my tuition to my rewards credit card then pay off the balance with my savings. However, as is pretty typical here, my university doesn’t accept credit cards for tuition payments. For them this is just a cost-savings measure, but I think it does students a favor too since they can’t rack up credit card debt by charging their tuition. Until now.

plastiq

Plastiq is a web-based service that let’s you pay for things you can’t normally charge — like tuition, taxes, utilities — with your credit card. 

At first I thought that sounded great. I was going to get my rewards points after all! Until I read the fine print and noticed this:

Plastiq charges a fee of 1.99% - Plastiq FAQ

So if you’re like me and using a 1% cash-back card or my American Express points card, any point-seeking is quickly negated by paying more than you have to for something. To be fair, I don’t think 2% is a big deal — but my summer school tuition was $3,500 and it just didn’t seem reasonable to pay $70 just to charge it to my credit card.

I’ve been in the habit of paying off my credit card bill in full for years now, but I know I’m not the norm. I wonder if facilitating the use of credit cards for big purchases you otherwise had to save or find alternate funding for will just make it to easy to go into credit card debt — and credit card debt is so expensive!

With most credit card interest rates 20%+ in Canada, the last thing you ever want to do is carry a balance — particularly if you’re also paying Plastiq an additional 2% just to use their service.

When’s the last time you paid 122% of the price for something?

I appreciate the convenience Plastiq offers but I couldn’t make myself sign up, because there was no win for me: it just makes things cost more. Maybe if there was some rewards bonus offer or something else, you could make it justified, but as for now I really don’t see any payoff for the user. If anything it just creates more debt.

Have you ever used Plastiq? What are your thoughts on letter people use credit cards for everything?