Life can get hard around holiday time when you’re living on a fairly strict budget. It can also get out of hand if you start your holiday shopping without a plan in place. You don’t want to start off the new year wondering how to make ends meet just because you went overboard on gifts. Holiday budget planning doesn’t start in December either – it should be a yearlong process. It’s too late to do this year, but starting in January, make a list of the main people you’ll be buying gifts for during the next holiday season. Make sure you count on a few extras for people you may meet throughout the year. Next, think about what you’d like to spend on each of those people – this will obviously vary for each person. Then, look at your salary, monthly expenses, retirement savings contributions, etc. Figure out how much of each paycheck you can afford to put aside into a separate holiday account. That way, at the end of the year, you’ll have a pot of money that will be enough to cover the gifts you planned to buy with a little extra for gifts that you didn’t expect. Believe me, it will take lots of stress out of your holiday shopping!
I found a neat site online called the Frugal Foodie. I figured I’d repost one of my favorite recipes that I got from her site. Yummy!
Black Bean and Chicken Soup
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper, chopped
2 C. chopped cooked chicken
1 can whole-kernel corn, drained
3 C. chicken broth
1 can stewed tomatoes
2 cans tomato soup
2 cans black beans
¼ C. dry white wine
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. chili powder
Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, and red peppers. Saute about 2 minutes. Stir in chicken and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer at least one hour. Before serving, top with tortilla chips and sour cream.
For a slight variation, you can strain the leftover soup and roll it into tortillas the next day for some tasty burritos. Enjoy!
As I’ve mentioned, I’m moving into a new apartment shortly after the new year. Moving can be expensive – luckily this time I’m only moving about 2 miles away and not across the country, so it will be FAR less expensive. I’m lucky to have made some great friends in DC, so I have an army of people coming over to help me move. Many of them are bringing cars, so it’s possible that I won’t even have to pay to rent a truck. I offered to cook them all dinner that night as a thank you. The cost of this is minimal compared to hiring movers, and it will be a great way to show them that I appreciate their money-saving help.
I’m flying home today for the holidays. Normally I just take the metro or the bus to the airport, but I’ll be home for three weeks this time, so I have a lot of luggage. I can’t really handle that much stuff on the metro, so I’m having to spend a little more than I’d like. I’m lucky that I live in a big city because there are more options when it comes to ground transportation. Like I said, I’d usually take the metro which costs around $2 to get to the airport. I could take a cab which would cost around $30 – that’s a little steep for me. In DC (and in several towns) there are many shuttle companies that take passengers to and from the airport. I shopped around and compared prices, and I settled on a shared shuttle van that will take me to the airport for $12. The convenience is less than a cab – you have to be ready a few hours earlier because the shuttle has to pick up numerous other passengers. Personally, the savings far outweigh the minor differences in convenience. Most airports now have websites that discuss the many ground transportation options – check them out in your town to find the best deal.
For those of you who are students, you may have already experienced book buy back at your campus bookstore. This may be the most depressing day of your educational career! Many text books out there probably cost around $100 when you purchased them for class. Now, the bookstore wants to give you $14 to buy it back (and you know they’re going to resell your used book for around $80). It’s insulting, and it makes me so mad every semester. That’s why I started selling my books online. There are many sites that do this; I happen to use half dot com. It’s so easy – you just list your books and the condition, and you set your own price. You can see the other sellers and use their pricing as a reference point. This usually turns out to be a win-win for you and your buyer. If you list the book for $60/$70, you’re making far more than you ever would have made during buy-back, and your buyer is getting a better deal as well. My biggest piece of advice is to not get greedy. Trust me that even if you price your book extremely low, you’re still getting more than the bookstore would have given you. I always price a few dollars below the lowest seller on the site for a quick sale. Good luck!
It seems like libraries are becoming obsolete. I don’t know many people who take a trip to their public library on Saturdays like my family used to, and it’s a shame. The public library in your neighborhood can be an amazing resource for frugal girls like myself. First, it’s free to check things out. No need to buy stacks of books from the bookstore or amazon, check them out at the library first. After reading your free books, you can decide if you want to purchase any to add to your collection. You’ll save tons of money this way. Also, libraries rent movies (surprise)! So don’t go spend $4 for a rental when you don’t have to. Most libraries also have subscriptions to lots of monthly magazines and daily newspapers. If you’re a big New York Times or Wall Street Journal reader, just head over to the library in the morning and read it for free, or just go on Sundays to catch the weekend editions. And, if you find yourself with a few extra bucks to spare one month, donate it to your public library – it’s a great resource for us all!
When I think of bargaining, I think of flea markets and shopping in outdoor markets. But, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you limit your bargaining prowess to only these circumstances. One place to bargain is obvious – the car dealership. Never ever trust the sticker price because they can always go lower. In retail stores, you can bargain when you’re knowledgeable about deals at other stores. If you’re buying a TV and you let the store know their competitor is going to get your business, often times they’ll match the other store’s deal and throw in something a little extra. Finally, I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been looking for a new apartment. The one I found was perfect (location, nice landlord, beautiful on the inside, great layout) but it was a bit more than I could spend. So, I came right out and told him how much I loved the place and how much I enjoyed meeting him but that he’d have to come down at least $200/month on the price. He took a few days to think about it, and he agreed. So, never be ashamed to bargain a little, as long as your requests are reasonable. You may be surprised how much you can save!
Even though I’ve only been in DC a short time, I’m already moving to a new apartment. I really like my current building, but I wasn’t able to bring my dog. Luckily, I found a great new place, and it’s right by my school. Here are a few suggestions about searching for an apartment in a big, very expensive city. Looking on sites like craigslist and local newspapers is a really good idea. When you only use the apartment guides, you’re only going to find the big rental companies which are typically much more expensive. On sites where anyone can post, you’ll find more individual landlords that are usually more reasonable. Also, really consider location in your price. I’ll be paying a little more for my new place, but I will now be in walking distance from school, so I’ll save close to $100/month in transportation costs. And finally, make sure you know what is included in the rent. Lots of places include utilities or various services (like a fitness center), so you may be saving money elsewhere. Good luck with the search!
So this isn’t really an entry on being frugal, but it is an important piece of financial advice nonetheless. Yesterday, I ordered my credit report online. It’s extremely important to do this at least once a year. Identity theft is a growing crime, and even without that, it’s important to have an idea where you stand in the eyes of creditors. It’s never good to be surprised when applying for a loan, new card, etc. Also, if there is something on your report that is incorrect, it’s important to know so you can dispute it. Most creditors are willing to decide on a dispute in your favor if you’ve been responsible overall. You can get a free annual credit report – if you order them more frequently, you have to pay a small fee. Since there are three credit reporting companies and you can get a free yearly report from each, you can space them out and order from one every 4 months. This way you have better control over your credit rather than checking only once a year. Also, you should never have to sign up for anything to get your free yearly report. We’ve all seen the commercials for Free Credit Report dot Com and similar sites. These programs aren’t free – they require you to sign up and pay for other programs. Annual Credit Report dot Com is the site you want to use. Here, you can get your free yearly reports from each company without signing up for anything. So, get on top of your credit and check your reports!
I hate sitting down to create a budget. I’d much rather just stick my head in the sand and pretend that I don’t need a plan. As easy as this is in the short term, it’s not a good idea in the long run. Budgeting can really save you a lot of stress. It’s a really good idea to sit down with your monthly salary and expenses and put everything down on paper. Be realistic about the amount you spend on lunches, dates, etc. Also, don’t forget purchases such a medications, cleaning supplies, emergency savings, etc. I’m willing to bet that you’ll find places where you can cut back a little and rearrange to areas where you wish you had more to spend. Try it out, and remember it can always be adjusted as needed. Good luck!