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cheapity cheap cheap cheap
pecking around for spending alternatives
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)

You know the feeling.

You have two crisp $20s on Monday and by Friday, there's one ripped dollar left, and you have no idea where it all went. A bad pastrami on rye, stale chips and a copy of Maxim on Tuesday? Another chocha-mocha-gigante-latte Wednesday morning? Two Sapphire tonics after work Thursday?

This nickel and diming adds up.

I'm fairly frugal, but compared to my husband, I'm a rhinestone-wearin', gum-poppin', nouveau riche, “Show Me the Money!” lotto winner in a beeline for the neon tepee.

Even though you'll never hear me say “I need retail therapy!” I'm slightly impulsive when it comes to purchasing gifts. I make up holidays to buy earrings. I hover like a mockingbird over shiny, pretty glass things. There really isn't anything wrong with these habits, because a girl's gotta enjoy life, but it also wouldn't hurt to have some discretion over the discretionary income. So since I have a few new financial goals I want to accomplish within the next year, I'm trying to crack down on where my money goes, how often and if it makes it back by curfew.

I'm not going to keep a notebook of spending, even if the budget gurus recommend it. That's too precise (coughanalcough) for me. I'm also not taking the path of the Tightwad Gazette here, so don't snoop through this column for a cool MacGuyver technique on how to use a pop can, twine and vegetable oil to make a table lamp. Deprivation is not the goal, but a little common sense (you were waiting for the cents pun there, weren't you?) goes a long way.

So when dealing with the modern “niceties” that we choose not to live without because we're big fat consuming Americans, here are some better ways to achieve them.

Save is not a four-letter word. Have you ever said, “I don't have enough money to save?” Ah, but you sure ran out and bought that new pricy, trendy thingme on credit, which increased your credit card bill, 'cause you're barely paying more than the minimum anyway and now your finance charges are higher than Courtney Love. Factor a savings allotment into the monthly budget. No squelching - it's a responsibility like any other bill. Even $25-$50 saved a month equals $300-$600 a year, all for the price of one dinner for two out once a month.

The library - whoo dog, what a resource! My biggest spending vice is books. I like to own them. I use them as decoration. I put them into the “to read” stack, even if it takes a year “to read” them. I buy them used, I buy them new, I buy a lot, I buy a few. It's crazy, but believe me, I've done worse. Still, time for a little rehab. Use the library to check out hardbound and audio books; some DVDs (my library rents for $1 each for two-three weeks); CDs to sample before buying; and best of all, magazines. If you want to take them home, many libraries sell used ones for 25 cents. Imagine my smugness as I read a Fortune that I obtained for a quarter. I've reduced not only my subscriptions this way, but also curbed impulse rack buys.

And maybe saved the planet. Who knows?

Consignment stores rock. It took me a long time to slip into this thrifty mode of shopping. When I was a kid, most of my clothes came from garage sales. Not a bad thing on a single mom's budget, but when I got older I wanted to shop in real stores where I didn't have to duck behind a tree to try on jeans. Then I discovered rich ladies drop off quite snazzy duds at consignment shops: labels I'd never allow myself to purchase otherwise, because I'm not going into debt for a dress. The selection is always diverse, clean and it's awesome to save about 75-85 percent on cool outfits.

Leftover salmon is better all around than a street hotdog. Let's examine the office lunch out.

Average lunch out: $7
Average lunch brought from home: $3

Lunch out: $7 x three days a week = $21 x four weeks = $84
Lunch in: $3 x three days a week = $9 x four weeks = $36

I could save nearly $50 a month, just by changing my lunch habits. That's $600 for the year. Add that to the $600 I've already saved in my savings account and we're talking Costa Rica in February, baby! Notice there's not a lot of sacrifice in this particular part of the plan: there are still two days in the week I've set aside to enjoy lunch out.

The coffee shop hop needs to stop. I hate coffee. One would think this would save me but alas, to curb my chai jones, I slink up to the counter with my $3.29 in change. Mostly pennies. Now, for exactly 60 cents more, I can buy a carton of my favorite chai mix and have eight nifty chai drinks for the price of one. If I drank coffee, I'd be a snob. I'd buy a sleek European coffee maker and whip up some home brew. Money is still saved in the long run, and no one cares what name is on the to-go cup.

Entertainment is everywhere. Unless you live in Everyone's-A-Cousin, Arkansas, there are many, many entertainment opportunities that are free or don't cost a lot. Concerts in the park. Plays at the university. $5 movie+pop+popcorn discount theaters. Even things like online movie rentals change how to partake of entertainment and how much to spend on cable/satellite television. It's simple and inexpensive to get out and ride a bike or eat Sunday morning bagels lakeside while reading the paper. My goal this year is to try to enjoy winter for a change by trail hiking/cross-country skiing.

Then come home and make one of my eight cheap cups of chai.

Money is always relative. Everybody assigns value differently and prioritizes their comforts accordingly. Nevertheless, with a little forethought and whip-cracking, I hope to save for the bigger things I know I'll really take pleasure in by spending smarter on many of the little tidbits that siphon away my liquid funds. So if you're also scratching your head while balancing your checkbook and you hear a giant sucking sound, remember…

…it's that chocha-mocha-gigante-latte.


Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

more about tracey l. kelley


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lucy lediaev
9.26.05 @ 12:33p

At first I thought I was donating more than I could afford to earthquake relief. Then, I quickly realized I could make up the amount of the donations in a few months with a few simple belt-tightening measures, including fewer lunches out and more trips to the library. Great suggestions,whatever one's savings goals, Tracey!


tracey kelley
9.26.05 @ 10:50p

Hey Lucy, that rocks!

I've been looking at a lot of frugal/smart savings sites lately, and it's really amazing how much people can save with coupons, Web site discounts, sale day deals...

...and how much work all that takes. That's the amazing part. I don't look at myself as such a big shopper that I have to play connect-the-specials every week in the Sunday supplements, but apparently, a lot of good can be done doing that.


mike julianelle
9.27.05 @ 8:52a

I finally converted to the "brew my coffee/bring my lunch" a few months ago. Not only am I saving money ($2 bucks a day for starbucks at the in-office kiosk and $6/7 for lunch), it's healthier to bring a coldcut sandwich that doesn't fill me up than to buy a crappy, fattening, unsatisfying entree from the cafe.

tracey kelley
9.27.05 @ 9:52a

Holy crap! You're saving roughly $200 a month just by doing that!

Do you feel like you're missing out on anything?

My office mates like to go to this one Chinese restaurant every Monday. As much as I like the commeraderie, the food there SUCKS and at $7.95 a smack, I just don't feel it's worth it when there are so many other cool, quick places to go. So now, I don't go out with them unless we go somewhere else. They've picked on me about it, but frankly, I don't want to spend that kind of money to have lunch with people I see every day.

I'm trying to get them out of the rut anyway, and go to new places. Then, at least, I'll feel like I'm not wasting money on bad food.

My lunch today is leftover roasted chicken breast, sweet potato and a salad. It was tasty last night, so I'm thinkin' it will be tasty again.


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