Friday, February 19, 2010

Pennies for Lunch

Pennies for Lunch
One tried and true budgeting tool is to completely let go of eating out. Forget having your meal prepared, served, and cleaned up after. You have to get down to the nitty-gritty of things to save those dollars when it comes to food.

If you think about the money you're paying for a meal out, you have to factor in the produce and meats that were prepared (cleaned/chopped/seasoned) before they were cooked (hopefully to order), then presented to you for consumption. You avoid cleaning the preparation dishes, meal dishes/glasses/silverware, the table, the stove top. While I am definitely one to relish in the happiness of having an empty sink, sometimes the cost doesn't justify the means.

Most people are heavy hitters in the saving on lunch dept., when it comes to lunches too- because you have a short time to cook/microwave your food, consume it, and get a piece of mind back before getting back to work. Every article on saving money will tell you to bring your lunch to work- the trick is staying creative so you don't lose motivation.

I am that person, losing motivation. Having chips/pretzels/sliced veggies with sandwiches every single day got boring. Re-heated leftovers lose their flavor. I know several college students who saved mucho dollars, by living on ramen noodles for two meals a day. Every day. For months. I tried it for a week and am done with it. (And I'm the biggest fan of noodles on the planet).

For $1.80, I bought a 6-pack of those 'cup-o-noodles' and for about $3 a bag of apples. That's only $4.80 for a week of lunches at work (Yes, I ate two one day, they're actually not so filling)- quick, easy, but SO NOT satisfying. Looking at the numbers gives me a little excitement, I mean, that's a cheap work week of lunches. CHEAP. I kind of get now- why lower classes have more health problems, because they have to buy cheaper food and coat it with salt. I totally get it. I had a two hour conversation with an academic about why organic food will never make it to the lower class because of salt. But I digress.

I googled ideas for better and cost-effective lunches. I can pair everything with bread and top it with mustard (my favorite) and it still gets boring. VegFamily says to try everything with hummus. Luckily it's super-easy to make your own hummus, but hard to not reach for the salt. Black pepper and mustard are my lunch buddies now. I compared my lunch ideas to school (cafeteria) lunches and didn't come up with many more ideas. This is a rut. WebMD has a few more ideas. I am so proud of my cheap non-lunch-spending habits, that I finally treat myself to one good restaurant lunch every other week to re-motivate myself on this quest. A $5 budget for a week of lunches is leaving me hungry.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Leave the Latte Factor

Leave the Latte

The 'latte factor' has been on my budget-weary mind for a couple of weeks now. With the holiday expenses slamming into tax season woes for the new year, and being the intense coffee addict that I am, it has a new meaning. The latte factor is a game plan- an idea really, that by skipping your favorite morning pick-me-up, and pocketing the average $5 a day- you can save a chunk of cash at the end of the year. Except for the unsavvy budgeter, this usually just means holding onto another $5 bill that will inevitably burn a hole through your pocket and come out on the other end in the form of a breakfast scone or a couple of sodas from the office vending machine. I even tried physically depositing the money, daily, into a ceramic piggy bank. This thought was more of an opposite "out of sight, out of mind" tactic. It didn't work.

Forget the latte factor. While redesigning my daily spending habits in a slow form, I actually figured out another method of saving at least one chunk of cash: my hair.

As far as extravagant purchases for a person like me, visiting the beauty salon and the same hip stylist for a number of years, is like a mini-vacation every other month. I make an appt., and when I arrive, my coat is hung by the desk staff, and I'm seated in an airy, pleasant-smelling, and indubitably clean booth.

Thirsty? They bring you coffee (with cream), cranberry juice, hot tea, or bottled water. Need a snack? Several granola bars or other healthy miniature bites await. Then you're greeted by your stylist, chatting about everything, starting at what you've been up to over the last 6 weeks, the condition of your hair, and the direction all things are going today. Life, looks, and any tidbits of goss you happen to collect over your 3 hour visit is layered into your brain- so that you forget the outside world. You forget the countless errands- pick up, drop off, oil change, post office, grocery store, and making lunch. You enter into a bubble of bliss and come out refreshed, and gorgeous. All this, for a tag price of about $125. What's not to love?

Hmmm..., looking at this way, 52 weeks a year, divided into 6 week visits is about 9 visits total at $125 each equals $1,125. HOLY SMOKES! I spend that much on my hair? (not withstanding any shampoo, conditioner, mouse, brushes, hair dryers, de-frizz spray, and the list, unfortunately, goes on). I've FOUND my Latte Factor. Like a therapeutic quickie, I realized I need that daily coffee fix to get me through the day, more than the 3 hour escape. It was a tough decision.

I say HELLO to DIY beauty-in-a-box now, which I've done so many times I've mastered my technique to a minimal mess fest and pretty good outcome. For only $7 a month, or $84 a year- my color is glossy. Plus, with an 8 week trim cycle at the local mall, there's an additional $150 a year. This is a grand total of $234.

$1125-234= $891 LESS spent than last year.

There's my latte factor in a nutshell. Another step to being a millionaire, possibly. What's yours?