Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Taper Madness

There's a running term called taper madness that I realized totally applies to personal finance as well.  Let's back up.

Tapering, is when right before a big race, you take a few days off running to let your body rest and recover so you are at your best on the big day.  Tapering always comes on the heels of doing a lot of running, a lot of long runs, and a lot of thinking about running.  Therefore, tapering is the hardest thing in the world to do.  You go from running 20-40-60 miles a week to sitting on your ass feeling fat and restless.

So, it's a lot like the times when you go from spending spending spending to trying to live frugally.  You don't know what to do with yourself, all of your favorite activities are off limits and you generally hunker down at home and wallow--perhaps with chocolate or some other kind of snack.

But what to do!  Doing things costs money!  Leaving the house means subjecting yourself to temptations galore and you can't fight them off!  The problem with equating taper madness to personal finance is that taper madness lasts, at most, two weeks.  Personal finance, especially eliminating debt, that takes years.  So while the execution is completely different, the feeling is very much the same.  It hurts, and it can drive you batty.

That's why you need to sub in something else so you don't lose your mind.  You need to stock up on frugal activities the same way you would stock up on non-perishables if you knew inclement weather was coming.  Here are a few of my ideas for personal finance newbies to help them not lose their minds, and to help those of us that have been at this for a while.
  1. The Library.  Yes, I'm a librarian, but I'm also a person with a reading habit.  Reading is and has always been the biggest way I spend my downtime, and if you just borrow the books, reading is totally free!  The Library also has movies, you could learn a language, pick up a book on knitting, cooking--anything you can think of.  Basically, the library is your source for info on frugal hobbies.
  2. Hulu + or Netflix.  Both of these cost money, that's true, but you can get a two-week trial of Hulu +, which is just enough time to power through a season of your favorite tv series (just don't forget to cancel before the end of the two weeks because they will totally take your money).
  3. Free Events.  Summer is the best time to be frugal because there is always something going on, and most of it is free.  Go to the library and see if they have a bulletin board of events, or check with your chamber of commerce.  Keep an open mind, some of my favorite times have been at free events that sounded a little bit ridiculous, like Gaspee Days which is where Rhode Islanders dress like American colonists, camp in the historic Pawtuxet village for three days, and then ceremonially burn a tiny replica of the HMS Gaspee.  It was awesome.
  4. Save on utilities.  Summer is also the best time to save a bit of money on your utilities bill.  If you have a ceiling fan, use it, if you don't, get one.  Ceiling fans are amazing, economical, and much more efficient than just fans or air conditioning.  Also, summer is the perfect time to turn down the temperature on your water heater.  Who wants to take a super hot shower when it's 90 degrees out? Turning down the temp just a few degrees can save $15/month.

And for the times when you need to spend money, here are a few painless steps to take to ensure that you spend a little less.  All those tiny purchases add up, after all, might as well make them tinier.
  1. Comparison shop.  I don't advocate driving from store to store, that's a waste of time and gas, but use the internet to do a little bit of research before making major purchases, and then try to practice patience.  Also, if you have an iphone or some other kind of smart phone, there are price comparison apps that sound pretty awesome.  I don't have a smart phone, but that would be a reason for me to get one (note: not advocating buying a smart phone).
  2. Use Ebates.  If you're buying online, use Ebates.  They have tons of coupon codes and you get a percentage of cash back.  Sure, 2% may not seem like much, but it adds up.  Just don't use the cash back as an excuse to spend more.  My last awesome Ebates experience, I was buying running shoes which I buy in bulk when they're on sale.  Ebates had a coupon code for 20% off, plus 6% cash back, plus Nike was having a huge sale.  I got four pairs of $100 shoes for $40 each.  Not too shabby.
  3. Look for coupon codes.  I just ordered some nuun online, and a quick google search of "nuun coupon" netted me 20% off.  That's nothing to sneeze at, that's $18.  I like having 18 dollars and still having my nuun.
  4. Shop local.  I'm all about saving a buck, but I also want to live in a town with local merchants and not just boarded up storefronts.  Sometimes the prices may be a bit higher when you shop local, but the customer service often more than makes up for that fact.  Plus, establishing relationships with local businesses always saves you either time or money in the end.
  5. Cluster Errands or walk/bike errands.  The cheaper grocery store is a little ways away from me, but there's a slightly more expensive market nearby.  I do a big shop at the cheap store once every six weeks or so, and then I bike to the market weekly for my fresh produce.  Biking to the market is rather awesome in that you can't overspend, because then you can't fit it all in your basket, and it makes me feel delightfully European/ like I'm in a movie to be pedaling home with a bunch of kale in my basket.  Walking or biking your errands always forces you to really think about purchases because you have to carry them home.  Cars you can just fill and forget, which is not frugal.
This has been your refresher in frugality--anyone else have any other tips?


  1. All great tips...Like you, I comparison shop, but don't go crazy. But I will make one trip, starting farthest out, and make stops on the way home where I know prices are better...

  2. I keep looking at that Stop sign, and I want to write 'Collaborate and Listen" underneath it.