Sunday, September 27, 2009

All About the Benjamins

A few weeks ago I made a new life goal for myself: I want to get control of my finances. The goal is threefold:
1. Pay off credit card debt and stop having it in the future. If I want something, I need to save for it.
2. Talk to a financial manager about saving for retirement. LAUSD automatically deducts for STRS, but I want to start putting away some extra amount now.
3. I want to save enough money for a down payment on a property of some sort (ideally a small house in LBC, but more realistically at least a condo.)

So, I have been brainstorming ways to save money in small ways. I am a big fan of a little bit going a long way. And now I would like to share my ideas with you, blog readers, in the hope that you will share your ideas with me. I have divided them into categories (because I am a huge nerd).


1. Use the library. Which is totally obvious, I know, but I never used to do it. I recently decided to start a book club and rather than buy the book I went online to see which of Long Beach's libraries have it and went and picked it up. The only catch is returning the book on time so I don't have to pay late fees.

2. Strike up a DVD Deal. I am a HUGE fan of TV shows on DVD. But, it gets pricey to buy all the shows I like. Luckily, some friends and I have reached an unspoken understanding. I buy Weeds, Dexter, and Big Love (when it goes on sale. Damn HBO shows!). Becca and Justin buy How I Met Your Mother and Big Band Theory. Shelley buys The Tudors. We didn't sit down and discuss a plan, but it's nice that we share the wealth in this way. Also, I am going to rent Mad Men when I find the time, rather than buy it. And I save every month by not having cable. :)

3. Happy Hour at Home. Felisa started this one, but it's genius. Even with drink specials, happy hour can add up (especially when you go to Yard House). Last week, Greg hosted at his place. I brought a six pack and a bag of chips, spending $11. We hung out for a few hours and I can guarantee you that had I gone to Yard House I would have spent two to three times that amount. And, no waiting for a table or your next's all right there.

4. Drink Water. Okay, this one I just tried for the first time on Saturday, but I have high hopes for it. When you go out to a bar, make the first drink you order a glass of water. This not only has the benefit of keeping you hydrated, but if you drink it while you socialize that's one less drink you will buy that night, saving you some cash. I say do it first, because later in the night your judgment might not be as clear, and planning to only have two or three drinks gets trickier. But if you start slow you are less likely to drink as much (which is good for your health and your wallet.)

Beauty Products

5. Take advantage of Gift With Purchase. Every six months (in October and April) Clinique does their bonus time. I wait to buy my usual products (eyebrow pencil is the staple. The others I mix up.) until it is gift time. That way, I get a free mini mascara (I haven't bought mascara in a few years now.) It's about a six month supply, which is perfect because that's how long you are supposed to keep it anyway. And there are always other goodies that I use and a few that I give away to friends who enjoy them as well. You also always get at least one cosmetics bag, which I use to store toiletries when I travel.

6. Which leads me to storing travel-sized items. You know how when you go on a trip you always visit the mini-sized aisle in Target and stock up? I realized that for most of my trips I don't use the whole amount. So, I have a stash in my cupboard of travel sized items. Now, when I go on a weekend trip I don't waste money buying more toothpaste or shower wash, I dig into my stash. It's also great for emergencies when you realize you are out of shampoo or conditioner.

7. Talk to your stylist. Recently I asked Ashley, my fabulous hair dresser, how I could make my visits to the salon a little less expensive. She worked some magic (only dying certain parts of my hair every other visit. I don't really remember the details now, but I can't tell the difference when I look in the mirror). Essentially, I am saving an average of $10 per visit. Score!

8. Make a no professional pedicures allowed rule. This one is difficult. I love getting my toes done. They last longer than when I do it myself and look better. BUT, doing them at home is essentially free, since I have a decent stockpile of nail polish and files, and I can touch up chipped polish without having to do them all over, since I own the colors. This one has to be a RULE, because otherwise I'd totally break it.

9. Order styling products on ebay. I got hooked on the fancy-pants styling products for my hair over the past few years, but I have a hard time justifying my twenty dollar bottle of shampoo. The solution: Ebay! I can find my shampoo and conditioner, blow-drying lotion, leave-in conditioner, and hairspray on Ebay for a good deal less than the salon price. It's not as cheap as drug store brands, but frankly, I can tell the difference in my hair, and these few luxuries make me happy. And I'm not getting pedicures anymore, so leave me alone.

Do It Yourself

10. Recycle for money. I know it's lovely that the city gives you bins to throw your recycling in, but I just started saving bottles and plastic containers for cash recycling. Cal State Long Beach runs a community recycling spot where you can take your items and they pay you cash for them. You pay the CRV on all of those items anyway, so you might as well get it back. Also, since my roommate throws her stuff in with mine that's essentially free money.

11. Make birthday cards. This is my new goal because cards are a freaking rip-off. Every time I make a card I am saving between two and four dollars. I am making three cards in the next month, and am thus saving up to $12 this month alone. And I think it's fun to make your own, even though I am far from a craft queen. At least my mom will like it.

12. Grocery Shop. I loathe going to the store. But, if I don't I end up eating out because I have no food in my house. So, I have made going to the grocery store each weekend part of my routine. I have to be careful to balance going with stuff that I have to prepare so that it's cheaper and going with pre-made stuff because I am lazy as hell. But, I am making it a concerted effort to eat at home unless it is a group eating out activity.


13. Ask a teacher friend if they get magazine discounts. Every year my school sells magazines and teachers get 40% off. I not only get my beloved Entertainment Weekly for less than $15 bucks a year, but I hook several of my friends up too, getting them a good deal. Ask around.

14. Keep a regift bag. I know, I know. It's tacky. But, I keep a bag in my closet of items that I can use as gifts. Most of them end up being stocking stuffers-small items. But recently I got a free bag of stuff when I spent money at a store I like. It came with a pair of fun socks by Burton. I threw them in the gift bag and they will go in someone's stocking for Christmas. Candles that my students give me go in there. Extra stuff from Clinique gift. Things like that. I don't try to pass it off as purchased goods, but it's a nice go-to when you need a gift or want to thank someone for something.

15. Gym membership. You can buy a two-year membership to 24 Hour Fitness for $300 at Costco. As soon as the credit card debt is paid off, I am doing that and saving my $30 per month instead.

16. Tell your friends. Which is most of the reason I wrote this blog. If my friends know that I am saving and trying to spend less, they will get it when I decide not to go to dinner or cut back on shopping trips or whatever. And you can all come to my housewarming party in three years. Look forward to it.

So, if anyone is actually still reading, I want your ideas on how to save money! No idea is too small, I'm just tired of reading the same ideas on the internet. What's worked for you???


  1. Anytime you shop online, google "coupon" plus the store name.

    Create a spam email and sign up for every restaurant or entertainment venue's eclub. You generally get some kind of deal right off the bat, and when you want to go to a restaurant you just search for the name and print out a recent coupon. On the month of my birthday, I eat free everywhere (and yours is coming up I noticed).

    Make friends with a kid and use their library card...the fines are half what they are for adults. And I must say that the LA County online library site is the best thing the government has ever done. They have everything and they deliever it right to the closest library.

    Don't start liking Star Wars. It's WAY expensive and never goes on sale.

    Also don't take up scrapbooking as a hobby.

    And don't have children. The little parasites will drain you like nothing else.

    I'll keep thinking...

  2. Seperate what you want from what you need. ONLY buy what you need, period. Also, make your own lunch/dinner as this will save at least 8-12 dollars per day. Hope you get a big house in a nice location :)

  3. In a couple years, housing should be quite affordable, allow me to link a recent entry my favorite blog...


  4. Dates are a great opportunity for a free meal.

  5. how cute :)

    with the 24 hour membership, they have deals that they don't usually advertise.
    I did a prepaid 3 year plan and every year after the 3 years, is only $49 for the whole year. My friend recently got one where its only $25 for the whole year.

  6. Polly-Thanks, I already started an account for restaurant eclubs! And I will plan to avoid having a child or collecting Star Wars for a while. :)

    Justin-Thanks for the encouragement.

    Jess-INDEED! I should work on making that happen more often!

  7. Good suggestions Jess! A couple years ago I started subscribing to Debt Proof Living newsletter. They have a free daily email with tips on how to make your own cleaning supplies and how to reuse stuff you have, etc. You can sign up at if you fancy.

    I used my tax return to pay off my credit card last year and then set up an automatic withdrawl to start a savings account at the online bank ING Direct. They have a high interest rate and if you need to make a withdrawl it takes a couple days to get your cash back, so there is less chance of using the money for impulse buys.

    Once I get my savings to $10,000 I am going to start agressively paying off school debt, but I think my savings is more important now because if I lose my job or have an unexpected expense I can use the savings instead of going into debt.

    My car will be paid off in January and I am going to keep paying the same amount of my car payment into a savings account that will be used for a downpayment (or maybe even a cash payment) for my next used car! I would love to save up enough to pay cash for a car that will get me around and then keep saving to buy a better car next time and then an even better car next time and on and on... until I get my Scion! I will probably have to start with a '92 Corolla and get my Scion sometime around my 50th birthday, but hey- at least I will be debt free!

    Keep sending out your tips! Fun stuff!

  8. Instead of buying the episodes on iTunes, I now rent The Wire from the library free of charge. They have dozens of TV series(es?). As well as all other movies. They dont always have the BEST selection, but it's good enough for me! and FREE!

    Also, if you set up a checking account at USAA, I just keep like $200 in it, they reimburse you for all surcharges from ATM withdrawls or debit card use in annoying stores that have a fee. That saves me like $10 a month. And makes me unannoyed at annoying situations. =)

  9. RedBox is great for inexpensive DVD rentals (if you return them right away). $1/night.

    This is a great list, Jessica! I help manage an online community for young adults concerned about finance. The website is I hope more people like yourself will join and share wonderful ideas like the ones you've shared in this post. Good luck!

  10. Oooh, girl, don't get this frugalista started!

    Hear, hear on the good ol' public library. I'm with Tasha that you can actually find a lot of TV episodes there as well as magazines if you don't mind camping out there to read the latest one. And renewing your stuff online is super easy.

    Ride your bike as much as possible. Save on gas, trim your ass. =)

    I would imagine that LB has a pretty good freecycle and craiglist community. You would not believe the amount of stuff I've gotten for free. When you think you need something, always look there first.

    Start cooking with a crockpot? Go on either of those sites and see if you can get one for free or cheap or ask your mom, aunt, cousin for the one there not using. Then google easy crockpot recipes by ingredients and you literally will be able to throw in frozen chicken with some seasoning and veggies in the morning and have a real meal when you get home (with leftovers that you can freeze for later).

    Speaking of chicken, I can make 3-4 meals for my family out of an entire chicken. If you don't mind messing around with bones and such, let me know and I'll tell you more about it.

    Eat lots of rice and beans. Seriously. If you go to any store that has a bulk section and/or buy them dry and they are cheap and store forever. Make them in big batches and freeze for later. Add different seasonings, veggies, etc. to change up the tastes.

    Do a clothing swap with your friends. Esther Sunukjian gave me the idea, so you can ask her for the details, but you can refresh your wardrobe with what someone else isn't wearing and get rid of stuff that doesn't quite fit right to someone who will appreciate it. Include jewelry, shoes, accessories, etc. and add some wine and orderves (phonetical spelling) and you can make it an event!

    Have you tried dumpster diving at Trader Joe's? My brother used to do it and came home with some crazy stuff that they have to throw away because it's "expired." Ask around, there's an underworld of strategy out there. If you end up doing this, you must blog about it. =)

    Okay, that's enough for now, but thanks for the ideas and inspiration. Also, a new book just came out called "In Cheap We Trust" that give the goods and bads of the frugal lifestyle and it's history in America. Sounds very interesting. I've already reserved it at my local library. Amazon, eat your heart out. =)

    PS What do you call a violent group of people who love the god of thunder? A "thormob" (That's my verification word. Fun.)