Thursday, September 16, 2010

An interesting question

I got a suggestion from a friend the other day that I've been mulling over in my head since then: "You should write a Frugal Blog that gives tips on how not to feel sick when you first start tracking/writing down what you spend in each category. Especially if it's a category that can't be helped too much (ex: car gas)."

I don't know if I have all the answers, but I do know exactly what this feels like. When I first started keeping track of expenditures, I was horrified by how much money I spent regularly--especially on food. So I immediately tried to cut my food budget by half, felt guilty all the time and started eating even more boxed pasta. It's easy to see that that wasn't exactly a good move though my intentions were good.

The most important thing to do is to be honest--these are my circumstances, what am I going to do about it? Categories like gas, home heating oil--things that can't really be helped but seem to suck up all your money certainly are the worst, especially for renters. What I've done in the past with gas is to say that I'm allowed to fill my tank once a week--no more unless there are extenuating circumstances. I'd find that that usually worked and by Saturday I'd usually still have enough to get around before buying gas on Sunday. If I didn't make it to the end of the week before needing gas, I just didn't drive. This is something that can't work for everyone, but it kept me in check for a while.

A couple other ways I keep my gas money in check:
Buy gas in the morning.
When you buy gas in the morning, it's at its coolest and therefore densest so you get slightly more gas for your money. It adds up over time.

Pay attention to the gas stations that are cheapest and make a point to go there. I'm not advocating driving across town just to buy cheap gas, but if you pay attention to the stations nearest to your house, or on your way to work you can find the one that is consistently cheapest and go only there. I often stop at the gas station that's owned by my grocery store because I get discounts based on my grocery purchases, and it's on my way to/from work. My old neighborhood had a nearby station that was consistently cheapest, and even though it was the opposite direction to the highway from my house, it was only a couple blocks out of the way, and was $.10 cheaper per gallon than the station right near the on-ramp.

Drive the speed limit.
I do not drive the speed limit, so it's a bit hypocritical for me to write this, but it does make a difference (I've heard).

The other thing to keep in mind is that yes, there are categories in you budget that you can't change much, but others you can. Just like I buy the fancy hummus and the cheap oatmeal and it balances out, you can cut back on food, beer and clothes in favor of heating your house. Certainly it's less fun, but it's part of being a grownup. There is also the option of getting a roommate, or finding a cheaper place (potentially), but that's often easier said than done, and possibly more difficult than is worth it.

Initially, putting a number or a percentage of your income down on paper is a horrifying thing, but it will get easier, and it's so much better to know where your money went than to just sit back and think--I had some money, wonder what happened to it... I don't know if there is a way to do it without feeling sick, but maybe that feeling is a good thing--the final kick that makes you make changes. Despite the fact that I spend 50% of my income on rent, and the rest on food and other necessities, I've stopped feeling sick, and I feel really good when I can put $25 in savings--it's all about perspective.

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