September Spending Fast Mid-Month Check-In

Happy September 15th! Winter came early this year and snow has already fallen in Calgary. It’s melted for now, but I still feel like we skipped Fall entirely. Good news is I haven’t been skipping out on my spending fast, and have cut all unnecessary spending out of my budget to the absolute bare minimum. Here’s my mid-month check-in!

Total unnecessary spending in September so far:

$24.74

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Bed Bath & Beyond – bought some goodies for the apartment with a $100 gift card… but the total came to $100.74 so I had to fork over the extra seventy-four cents. Whoa, big spender.

Alcohol - my MBA program had a welcome back party at a local bar the first Saturday of the month. 1 drink ticket was not enough for me, and I ended up buying 2 glasses of wine. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did.

Tea – on Friday I woke up with a sore throat to rival all sore throats, but that’s no excuse for the stupid $4 tea I bought. I was just wandering around and wandered into Teavana, and after sampling one of the teas they had out, I was too weak-willed not to buy. I nearly choked when the clerk told me my tea was $4 but I didn’t know what to do — say, “that is stupidly priced, I’m not paying!” ?? — so I just paid and left. Gah. On the upside my sore throat was soothed, but I’ll be bringing tea from home this week.

Gift – I bought a coffee for my boyfriend through the Starbucks tweet-a-coffee program. It cost $5. I have no excuse for this, it just made me so sad that he had never tried a pumpkin spice latte before.

Though if a single tea was my biggest spending mistake in 15 days, I’m not going to beat myself up. Let’s be real here people.

Things I wanted but did not buy:

  • tickets to Maroon 5’s new tour
  • an Amazon Kindle
  • a rain jacket
  • rain boots
  • an umbrella
  • nailpolish
  • eyeshadow
  • sweaters
  • coffee every day
  • …. and a ton of things I’ve forgotten because I only wanted them in passing and they are completely unimportant and I’m so glad I didn’t waste money on them because I can’t even remember what they are anymore!!

I can already see the savings in my bank account by not spending everything that comes in, but I’ll wait until the end of the month to give a recap of actual extra dollars in my pocket.

It’s been hard to turn down dinners & lunches with friends, but otherwise it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought. You kind of get into a rhythm of I’m-not-spending-money-today and it becomes habit. After enjoying a decent income for the past few years, I’m happy to see returning to a super-frugal lifestyle hasn’t been as big of a pain as I expected — though I know a lot of the ease comes from the understanding that it’s 100% temporary. If there was no light at the end of the tunnel, this would be much harder.

Anyone else on a spending diet with me this month? How’s it going so far?

My Credit Card Is My Single Most Powerful Budgeting Tool

Maybe the title of this post surprised you, as credit cards are often villified in the personal finance community. However, if you’re out of debt and you can manage credit without overspending, a credit card has more perks than pitfalls.

I have two main credit cards: gold American Express card, which costs $150 per year, and the no-fee MBNA cash-back rewards card.

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I used to have the Platinum American Express card, but downgraded to the gold card when I went back to school. I really, really miss my platinum card and the airport lounges and my free car rental upgrades and my gift cards to Coach… sigh. Maybe next year I can get it back.

Whenever possible, I charge all purchases to my American Express.

At stores that do not accept American Express, I pay with my Mastercard.

I have a third no-fee, no-useful-rewards Visa card that I’ve had since I was 18 that I don’t use but just keep buried in a drawer because I constantly go back and forth about cancelling it. On one hand, it has the longest history (nearly 11 years!) but on the other, it never gets used so maybe it’s credit history doesn’t matter. I keep it out of a mix of being to lazy to cancel combined with a sense of emergency preparedness that, if my wallet were to get stolen again, I would be able to access money while waiting for replacement credit and debit cards to come in.

How My Credit Card Helps Me Budget

1. My credit card statement lists my spending, down to every penny. As much as I like money, even I find it tedious to write down where my every cent goes. My credit card statement is a perfect record of where my money has gone. (note: it’s possible for your credit card to contain mistakes and erroneous charges, which is why it’s important to check it against your receipts. Because I manage my transactions manually in the budgeting software I use — Money 4 by Jumsoft — I look at my credit card statement online 1-2 times per week to make sure it matches my own records)

2. All my regular bills are charged to my credit card, reducing the number of due dates I have to remember from a half-dozen to just one. I don’t know or care when my credit card, Netflix, or cellphone bills come in — they are all automatically charged to my credit card and I know when my credit card bill comes due!

3. I rack up the rewards points like crazy! By making an effort to put all my spending on plastic, I spend over $1,000 on my credit cards every month. On the American Express this will translate to 1,000 Amex points, or the equivalent of $10 (a 1% return). Already this year I’ve used Amex points to pay for over $250 of hotel stays when I went out of town to attend weddings. I love how Amex let’s you select how many points you want to apply to recent travel purchases:

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 *Note: even thought the American Express is “my” card, I use the points for joint spending with my boyfriend, like these hotel stays. Both weddings we attended were for cousins of mine, so I felt like because I dragged him all the way to Edmonton for my family events, the least I could do was help with the costs of our hotel stays. It’s just another way we share money after our joint chequing and joint savings accounts.

The only reason my credit card works for me as a budgeting tool is because I never carry a balance.

I usually make payments against my credit card balance 2-3 times per month. I have to — it gives me anxiety whenever I see it creep over $700! I’ve finally developed that magic personal finance sixth sense where I can just *feel* when my balance is getting too high and I just pay it down. This is the best practice because I never pay interest on any of my purchases.

If you owe a balance on your credit cards, DO NOT USE THE CARDS JUST TO GET REWARDS. The rewards don’t negate what you pay in interest, so you’re still operating at a loss. Put the cards away, kill the debt, and when you’re down to zero wait a full month, and then you can start using the cards again.

My credit cards make managing my finances easier, but I know it’s not for everyone. Anyone else have a great rewards card or other credit card that helps them budget?

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?

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?