I was sixteen, and had just gotten my first paycheck from a chain restaurant, where I was working as a hostess.  The excitement of this event was overshadowed by my stepfather’s admission into the hospital earlier that week for a perforated appendix.  He had been diagnosed, several years earlier, with an auto-immune disease that hinders his immune system’s ability to recover.  The appendix incident, as I recall, had kept him in the hospital for several weeks. 
 
After picking up my (first!) paycheck, I began my drive over to the hospital to spend some time with him and my mom.  She was spending each night with him, in a stiff hospital chair.  I called her on my way there to see if she wanted me to bring her anything from the house.  My stepfather, let’s call him D, wanted me to grab a black 3-ring binder for him that was sitting atop his desk, she said, and would I mind bringing her a change of clothes?
 
I quickly stopped at the house and grabbed everything I had been asked to, including the binder from D’s office.  When I arrived at the hospital, he was obviously in pain, but smiling right through it.  He asked me if I remembered the binder.  Of course, I said, reaching out to hand it to him.  He asked me if I picked up my paycheck.  I told him I had.  He asked me to find a pen and pull up a chair beside his bed.  So I did.  Handing the black binder back to me, he asked me to bring out my paycheck and open the binder.
 
Within that binder were several perfectly printed pages, all titled “Brainiac’s Budget.”  Each page contained a spreadsheet, one for each pay cycle, with various spending and saving categories.  He was very excited about this.  I groaned.  “Do we have to do this now?” I whined.  “Maybe you should be getting some rest.”  No go.  The next forty-five minutes of that night were spent carefully reviewing my budget, together, and filling in the spreadsheet as appropriate.  I will honestly say that I hated it.  
 
D recovered well, and was released from the hospital.  And the next time I was paid, he again sat me down for a budget review.  It eventually turned into a monthly meeting, just the two of us, to go over my budget.  Each meeting, he would remind me that, soon, I would be paying my own car insurance.  So maybe I better start saving.  Yep, still hated it.  
 
And then it got worse. 
stay tuned for part deux…
I have been very lazy lately. 
 
No, I’m serious.  In August?
 
1.  I’ve hardly run at all – this is a drastic change from running 20 – 30 miles a week while training for my half-marathon in June.
2.  I didn’t send my good friend a birthday card earlier this month.
3.  My house is a wreck, and the only reason I did laundry last weekend was a desperate need for a clean pair of jeans.  
4.  I hadn’t planned a weekly menu all month, until yesterday.
5.  Since I didn’t have a menu, I didn’t go grocery shopping.
6.  No grocery shopping = no ingredients
7.  No ingredients % 2 weeks = a LOT of eating out
 
As I watched my bank account dwindle and the number on the scale rise, it occurred to me how much eating out actually costs. 
 
First of all, you’re paying a highly marked-up price for the raw materials of the food.  And you’re paying someone to cook it.  Then for someone to serve it to you, and fill your water glass too.  All of that, just during the dining experience.  But we all know that, and we know that before, during, and after going out to eat. 
 
But we’re actually paying a lot more than that.
 
Monetarily?  Topping the actual cost of the meal, we have lost opportunity costs.  I have posted before about brown-bagging my lunches.  Often, after eating out, I won’t have anything to bring the next day.  This may be because R and I split a dish, or perhaps the meal won’t keep well.  In either case, I am left without a lunch to bring to work. 
 
I realize that many people who brown-bag it stock their pantries with various items that will make a nice, healthy lunch.  We don’t.  I tend to plan our weekly menus, and we will grocery shop, weekly, for only those items needed for the menu.  Everything we cook, it is assumed we will double, to provide us with a lunch the next day.  My menu tactic is typically very effective – and if I buy a loaf of bread for work-lunch backup, it will mold.
 
Since I don’t have leftovers to bring, and also have no backup plan, that means I have to go out and buy something.  This costs more money.
 
And on top of the money I’m spending, how about the weight that I’m gaining?  Restaurant meals are almost always less healthy for you than cooking at home.  At home, you choose how much butter and oil to use.  The chef just wants to make it taste good; he’s not counting the calories as he dumps the cheese on.  Then, eating out the next day!  Instead of an occasional diet-splurge, it just turned into a double-header. 
 
One more – the post-workday workout.  When I run, it’s usually after work.  If I eat a cheeseburger for lunch, guess what?  I don’t feel like exercising when I get home.  My stomach feels heavy, and my energy feels low.  So eating out is also costing me in the exercise department.
 
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy eating out.  It’s just a little shameful for me when eating out becomes more routine that special occasion.  When poor planning forces me to sacrifice my budget, my diet, and my exercise.
Soon after announcing my resignation from my current employer, a colleague emailed an invitation to a celebratory happy hour.  “Sometime next week,” she said.  “Maybe closer to payday?”
 
I didn’t think much of it, until I saw this article on the  Smart Spending blog.  Only then did I realize that I, too, was no longer living paycheck to paycheck.  Not all that long ago, I would count the days until payday.  This behavior applied to both my personal account, and the account R and I share.  I was perpetually out of money, and my savings were minimal, at best.  And then I finally started using a budget again.
 
The first couple of months produced little perceptible change.  I still felt broke.  All the time.  And it was a struggle; for myself, and for R as well.  He complained that we worked hard for our income – why can’t we enjoy it?  I kept insisting that it would eventually pay off, that we would become comfortable in our finances.  But even I had a hard time believing that. 
 
Eventually, though, it did pay off.  We are now carrying money in our checking account from one month to the next, versus a rush to deposit some extra cash for the rent check.  There’s no panic when we’re invited to a birthday party; we know we have the money socked away for a gift.  And when that quarterly water bill comes, we’re expecting it, and we’re prepared for it. 
 
On my personal side of the finances, I’ve seen the same kind of progress.  Just over a year ago, I can remember being on vacation with my sister.  We were on our way out to eat, and needed to stop by the ATM.  Before I pulled any money out, I had to run a balance inquiry to make sure I had the money.  Honestly, I can’t imagine feeling the need to do that now. 
 
I also realized I stopped paying attention to payday.  While reading the article mentioned above, I had to think to myself whether payday was this week or next.  Of course, I haven’t stopped paying attention to our accounts, and I am not completely absentminded regarding payday.  My paycheck is divided between and direct-deposited into R’s and my account, my personal account, and my ING account.  When my boss hands me the physical copy, I make sure to check that the funds were correctly transferred.  But I don’t wait for payday the way I used to – how refreshing!
 
Of course, it’s possible that my colleague wished to wait until payday because her personal entertainment funds had dried up for that pay period.  Who knows? 
 
All I do know is that I am much happier now that my life no longer revolves around my employer’s payroll schedule.

It’s beginning to look like I will be moving back home, and sooner than I had expected!  Our projected move date is October 5.  Wow.  There has been a pull for me to be closer to my family for some time now.  And though R’s family is here, he’s willing to give it a shot. 

Three years ago, when I moved to the Northwest, I was seeking a life-experience.  My biggest fear was that I would find myself stuck in the same place for the rest or my life, never doing anything, or being anything.  And so, I quit my comfortable job, stuffed my car with all the books, photos, and journals that would fit, sold the rest of my belongings, and started driving.  Several weeks before, my mom had accompanied me out here to find an apartment, so at least I would have somewhere to lay my head when I arrived. 
 
I remember that first day I arrived.  Once I had my hands on the key to my new place, I excitedly rushed in the front door.  The place was perfect for me; a small, 1940’s one-bedroom apartment.  Hardwood floors, vintage details, and a front and back door that both led out to lush courtyards.  After driving for two days, all I really wanted to do was take a shower.  And that was my first realization that, in my hustle to get rid of anything that can be replaced, I got rid of some “necessities.”  Like a towel.  And shower curtain. 
 
Fast-forward several years, and arrive at today, as I’m preparing to move back.  Once again, I am racing through the house, gathering things to get rid of to make the move a little easier.  On many occasions, I have made a valiant effort to “de-clutter.”  And I think I did a very good job of getting rid of everything that I didn’t need when I moved up here to begin with.  But the problem is, it doesn’t last.  I cannot seem to sustain my minimalist ambitions.  My inability to keep clutter at bay is evidenced by the fact that here I am, three years in the future, with a whole bunch of junk. 
 

R and I were discussing our financial preparations, and, remembering my shower curtain predicament, I suggested we carve out a “replacement” budget, which we can use to buy the items that we get rid of for the sake of the move.  At which point, he completely altered the way I’ve been thinking of, and have always thought of moving. 

 
“I think it is a mistake to think that we are getting rid of all of this stuff, and we will replace it with newer and better stuff once we arrive at point B.  It is more like we are reducing our possesions in order to live a less-cluttered, more minimalistic lifestyle.”
 
And it occurred to me that every single time I have ever moved, I have viewed it as an opportunity to get new “stuff.”  And I gradually accumulate more and more “stuff” until it is time to get new “stuff” again the next time I move. 
 
So we’re getting rid of a bunch of “stuff,” a large portion of which has been collecting dust in the basement for the past 2 years we have been co-habitating.  I mean, literally, untouched.  We’re taking to the pages of Craigslist, and half.com to try and purge our home of all of the crap we’ve gathered.  With any luck, we’ll be able to fund a portion of the move with the profits from the “stuff.”
 
And I’m going to try really, really hard not to replace it all. 

1.  Here’s an interesting article about a company that has mandatory money-management sessions for all employees. 

Excerpt from the article:
“We want to help people exist in this world,” Markle explains. He says workers who are struggling with money issues will invariably bring that heavy mental burden to work with them, and that can impact their motivation and ultimately the work they do.
 
My employer brought up the idea of a voluntary money-management class, and it was offered by the company that manages our 401k.  They eventually decided it might be a conflict of interest.  Perhaps that’s true, perhaps not, but I think that businesses that offer their employees financial education oppotunities are truly helping employees become financially self-sustaining. 

2.  I, too, am sold on the cash thing.  Particularly the coin factor mentioned in #3 – R and I will use the coinage we’ve stashed away to help with moving costs.

http://blogs.moneycentral.msn.com/smartspending/archive/2008/08/18/6-reasons-why-i-love-cash.aspx

3.  Okay, two things about this one.  First: wellheeled confesses to making bad scrambled eggs, which inspired me to tell a story about the time my sister tried to cook me breakfast.  Our grandmother always added a splash of milk to make them a little less dry.  Well, darling sis was out of milk, but thought vanilla-flavored coffeemate creamer might be a good substitute.  It wasn’t.  Second: she mentions picking up a tablecloth, candles and placemats.  I have long considered these unnecessary expenses, for a couple of reasons: added effort in getting dinner served, and extra expense, both the purchase and the cleaning/maintenance.  But wellheeled may have changed my mind – perhaps I would enjoy eating in more, if it felt more like eating out.

http://wellheeled.wordpress.com/2008/08/17/le-petit-chef-in-training/

4.  There are times when I am so thankful my brain functions.  This is one of them.

http://masteryourcard.com/blog/2008/08/07/a-really-stupid-money-move/

5.  Kelly at Almost Frugal has some great frugal fun ideas!  Regardless of the fact that I don’t have children, I still have nieces and nephews that might enjoy.  And, if I’m honest, I want to try the ice-cube watercolors idea. 

http://almostfrugal.com/2008/08/14/five-frugal-toys-using-food/

6.  It’s that time of year again, where all the students head back to school.  Here are some tips to save from Broke Grad Student:

http://www.brokegradstudent.com/50-tips-ideas-resources-on-saving-money-for-college-students/

 

A while back, I mentioned my recent commute changes.  Most of my trips are made on the bus, but I occasionally manage to self-propel myself to work on a bicycle as well. 
 
R started to get into roadbiking a few years back.  When he was initially researching the purchase of his bike, I balked at the grotesque amount of money that people spend on roadbikes.  I mean, they’re bicycles!  Can’t you buy a bicycle at Target for under $100?  He tried to explain to me that weight is of the essence.  Carbon seatposts are all the rage.  Carbon what?  But, okay, honey, you go ahead and follow your passion, I told him, all the while feeling pretty lucky that we weren’t sharing our money.  When he rolled up on his new (read: used) LeMond, and told me he had paid $750 for it, I tried my hardest to keep the shock from visibly registering on my face. 
 
And I almost managed to maintain that straight face when he pulled on his padded shorts.  Almost.
 
If you are not already familiar with padded cycling shorts, allow me to provide you with a mental illustration.  Imagine a grown man.  Now imagine him wearing a diaper.  Finally, picture skin-tight black spandex pulled over the diaper.  Laughing?  I was.
 
He tried to explain the “necessity” of such garments by telling me the bike seat is too hard to sit on for long periods of time, and the padding makes the ride bearable.  Why doesn’t he just get a more comfortable seat, I wondered?  Apparently, cushier seats are heavier – but the extra weight on your ass doesn’t matter…
 
Anyway, he rode around merrily for many months before he finally convinced me that I, too, needed a bike.  “It’s a great work out!” he enthused, “and so refreshing to get a little exercise before work in the morning.  You’re probably spending more on your car every month than you would need to spend on a bike.   After all, gas is nearing $3 a gallon – you’ll save a lot of money,” he said.  You may be thinking, wow, under $3 a gallon!  So cheap – that must have been a long time ago.  But not really.  Just 16 short months ago.  Either way, at the time, we were all biting our nails down to the nubs in anticipation of $3/gallon gas. 
 
I agreed to spend $400 on a bike.  This still seemed like an enormous amount of money, but I was paying more than $300/month on my car payment, and $150 on insurance.  Not to mention the cost of gas, and other maintenance.  Add to that the “commuter incentive” offered by my employer – ride to work just 14 days a month, and receive an extra $20!  My optimism convinced me that 14 days a month would be cake.  I quickly realized that was not the case.  Turns out 9 miles uphill is not a very enjoyable way to spend a blazing afternoon more than once or twice a week. 
 
Channeling the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning, R went about searching the pages of Craigslist for a good bike for my induction into the cycling world.  Within a few days, he had found one that he breathlessly described as perfect for me.  We headed out to a city suburb to take a look, and after a brief test-ride around the neighborhood, we had a deal.  Heading back into town, we talked about the cycling adventures we would go on, the great shape we would be in, and the loads of fun we would have.
 
I wish I could say I fell instantly in love with cycling.  But it was a slow beginning for me.  I had imagined our “adventures” as leisurely rides in the sunshine, the breeze swaying and birds singing.  R, on the other hand, wanted to push himself (and, by default, me) – and he had a better bike to do it on.  So I didn’t really want to ride very often.  And besides, I’m pretty sure my butt-cheeks were getting bruised by the hard plastic seat.  Every once in a while, I was able to convince myselft to ride to work, but I didn’t enjoy it the way many of my co-workers seemed to.  
 
Meanwhile, R’s passion for cycling continued to grow.  He set out to build his very own, high-end bike out of a Fuji frame and various components purchased off Craigslist and Ebay.  I must say, it turned out very well – I was impressed.  So while he began his new relationship with the Fuji, the poor Lemond sat neglected in the cold, dark basement.  Until I volunteered to give it a little exercise.  Turns out, $350 makes a world of difference in the quality of a roadbike.  The ride was so smooth, the seat so comfortable, the handlebar so sturdy – I had never known cycling to be this way!  I enjoyed it so much, I ramped up my bike commuting to once or twice a week.  Still not enough to qualify for the alternative commuting benefit, but I felt great.  It helped, I’m sure, that it had become summer, and the sun shined often, while the rain disappeared. 
 
Here we are, one summer later, and I am again riding to work once or twice a week.  I am not ashamed to confess my lack of dedication to bicycling during the winter months, when the dark and rainy mornings make for a miserable (and not very visible) ride in. 
 
And I have one more confession to make. 
 
How do I survive my 20-mile, round trip, commute?  With padded shorts.
Every childhood birthday that I can recall, my grandmother  gave me a $50 US Savings Bond.  At the time, I found great disappointment in the lack of a glittery new toy, but I now feel deep appreciation for her foresight.  My dad kept these savings bonds locked away in his safety deposit box for years, until I requested possession of them just a few weeks ago.   Browsing my way through the TreasuryDirect site, I figured my bonds to be worth just under $500.  Not an enormous amount of money, but a decent chunk of cash.  
 
I thought long and hard about the best way to use this money.  Add to my emergency fund?  Deposit to my Roth?  Shopping spree?  It was also becoming clear to me that the stock market is taking a full-on nosedive, and it seemed like it might be a good time to throw some money into the fire.  There were good deals to be had, I was sure.  So I decided to use this money to introduce myself to the investing game.  
 
Currently, my 401k contribution is at 5%, with just one of those percents being matched by my employer.  That money is invested – but I don’t know anything about it.  It’s all done through the investment company, and my participation in the process is limited.  So when I decided to start investing my $500, I had no idea where to start.  R was kind enough to help me set up an account through Charles Schwab – which still sits empty.  He showed me how to view the stock’s history, and look for indicators that the value might be rising.  He pointed me in the direction of Investor’s Business Daily, and suggested I join a simulated stock trading game.  
 
But I still didn’t get it.
 
I signed up for the “fantasy stock market” and perused the pages of Google finance.  And I have no idea what to do with all of that information!  There’s a big search window to “get quotes,” but what am I getting quotes for?  I understand the idea of buying and selling shares, but that represents the entire body of my knowledge on the subject.  How do I figure out what companies I want quotes for
 
All of the money advice I see includes the dire need to invest money.  Well, I have the money!  I just don’t know how to do the “invest” part of it.  Do most people use brokers for this sort of thing?  Or are most people just more intuitively capable of choosing where to put their money than I am?
 
So finally, I returned to the Charles Schwab site, and started researching some stocks.  R showed me how to build a custom screener, and I selected a few that interested me.  I googled all of the companies, and dug up all the dirt I could find.  The companies that I still liked after an exhaustive investigation – I must have clicked on three different links for each of them! – I settled on six stocks that I am interested in purchasing.  I headed over to my fantasy stock trading game, and purchased 15 shares of each.  This way, I can continue to hover on the edge of real investing, and just dip my toes in the idea of it.  I’ll watch the stocks for a little while, and see if any give me a heart attack.  Maybe I’ll add some more, maybe I’ll get rid of some.  And then, well, I suppose I’ll dive in – or, more likely, belly flop.