Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why is My Soda So Big?

I don't drink much soda. I don't have a taste for it, fake sugar gives me headaches and it seems like (is) a huge waste of money and calories.  That said, when I was running my most recent 1/2 marathon, at mile 11, someone handed me a small cup of coke and it was the most delicious thing I think I've ever tasted.

Since I had just run 13 miles, I decided to treat myself to a coke on my drive home from the race.  I stopped at Burger King and ordered a small coke.  I was shocked when they handed me a 16 ounce cup that just looked huge.  Even though coke was the thing I wanted most in the world right then, I certainly didn't want that much.  I drank about half of it and started to feel ill, but then I felt wasteful for wanting to throw it out and had a little more.

This is why the whole ban on large sugary drinks in New York seems like a good idea to me.  When you get more than you want, you drink more than you want.

BF and I visited Niagara Falls a few years back and stopped at Tim Horton's on our way across the border (this is a funny story, bear with me).  I ordered a small cappucino because I love those terrible powder + water cappucinos that you get at a gas station or a Tim Horton's and I only buy then on long roadtrips.  In Niagara Falls, Ontario, I ordered a small and received a 12 ounce cup.  Then we crossed the border into New York state and a few hours later stopped for a bathroom break. I decided to treat myself to another Tim Horton's cappucino, and found that when you order a small in America, it's 16 ounces.  Same brand, same logo, same delicious flavor--difference sizes.

 The other side to the argument, in my mind, is that by ordering the larger size, you reduce the amount of packaging used.  If I had gotten a 16 ounce cappucino in Ontario, would I have wanted another once we got back to the states?  Would I have wasted two cups? If someone actually wants 44 ounces of soda, shouldn't they just get it all in one cup instead of buying two?

I go back and forth on this idea all the time, which is odd for someone who doesn't really order beverages other than beer (which comes in a reuseable cup or recyclable bottle/can).  When I order a 16 ounce coffee at a coffee shop, no matter how tired I think I am when I get it, by the time I've had about 12 ounces, the stuff that's left is cold and gross and I don't want it.  Similarly, the last few drinks of my precious Burger King coke were watered down and kind of ruined the experience.  But I love value!

It's a strange debate and I hate to seem like we need to be saved from ourselves, but we probably need to be saved from ourselves.  I've got a pretty well-honed sense of discipline, but I still snack if food is around and I still drink more soda than I actually want.

I'm curious how other people feel about this.  If the government interfering by limiting the size of sugary drinks, or are the just stopping us from killing ourselves?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I Don't Get It: Weddings

This is a new series idea I'm trying out where I discuss something that people spend a lot of money on that confuses me terribly.  After reading statistics that say the average cost of a wedding in the United States is $27,000, the average cost of a wedding in New York is almost $66,000(!), and "The state of West Virginia, where nuptials cost an average of $14,203, was the least expensive wedding location." I feel like I just don't understand people's priorities.

Then, I look into things like wedding venues, catering, etc., and it seems like maybe the problem isn't so much that people want to overspend on a fairy tale wedding, but that the wedding industry is set up to extract as much money as possible from people and even if you go into the planning with a budget, you might find that that amount means you get married at city hall and have the reception in mom's living room (which is fine too).

I am not a wedding gal.  I have never gone to a wedding and analyzed what I want and what I would do differently.  I never wore a pillow case on my head and pretended to be a bride.  Honestly, I don't really ever want a wedding, but I understand that some people do.  I always knew weddings were expensive, but I never understood exactly why they were so expensive.  A good friend of mine got married a few years ago, and she vented to me how much money they had to spend on all these little things.  That was the first time I had ever really heard a dollar amount attached to wedding stuff, but after attending the wedding (and I'm not trying to sound like a bitch), I was shocked at how much she had spent on what looked pretty low-key and a little bit tacky.

The a couple years later another friend got married, and I did some online sleuthing to see about how much she probably paid for things.  This was where I learned that the venue frequently has all of these built-in conditions that cost you extra money.  You may try to be frugal, but it's almost like they won't let you.

For instance: A friend of mine got married at a very nice location--a working farm with a lovely bungalow.  The ceremony was outside and everything seemed simple, low-key and easy.  Then I took a look at what she actually paid for.

$2500 to rent the facility for eight hours
$250/hour additional time, if needed
Cost of $1,000,000 insurance policy
Cost of a professional bartender for a minimum of 4.5 hours + cost of booze
Table and chair rental--$3 per chair, $6 per table
Cost of catering
Wedding Dress

Obviously, a lot of those expenses are negotiable like photographer and caterer, but we're still looking at a one-day event that costs at least what I make in six months.  I'd rather have a down payment on a house.

So this is why I'm scared of/not interested in weddings.  Even if you go into it thinking you don't want to go overboard and spend too much, if you actually want a nice, non cheap-looking wedding, the price tag is exorbitant.

If any readers managed to have a nice wedding that was not insanely expensive, I would love to hear about it.  Leave a comment or send me an email at
Average wedding costs:

Monday, March 18, 2013

How Being Lazy Can Save You Money

I'm not a lazy person overall, but I do occasionally succumb to the 'I don't want to leave my chair' mentality. Usually when there's a good book and a cat involved and I'm all wrapped up in blankets, the last thing I want to do is leave the house for something as tedious as grocery shopping.  One good thing that comes from being lazy though is the fact that it has probably saved me a lot of money over the years.  When you are loathe to leave the house, it's much easier to hang onto your cash, and even online shopping doesn't have the immediate gratification as going to a store and acquiring something.

Example A:  I've been reading The Hungry Runner Girl blog for quite sometime, and as the title would suggest, she talks about food a lot.  Thankfully, I'm too lazy to make a lot of the recipes she suggests (learning to bake sounds exhausting to me and who needs the calories), and many of the restaurants she goes to are regional and since she lives in California, I'm not tempted.  However, she recently went on a Subway binge and between reading her blog and watching The Biggest Loser, I had some serious cravings for a Subway sandwich.  For days, those sandwiches were all I could think about, and even though there is a subway 1/2 a mile from where I live, on my way home from work, I've been too lazy to go there, and have saved myself at least $5.

You see, it's cold out; street parking is hard to find sometimes; Subway sandwiches often sound good but are disappointing; I can make a sandwich at home that I know I'll like, etc.  I can talk myself out of anything! Now that some time has passed, the craving has abated, and I'll probably go another five years without eating Subway.

Example B:  Back when I was in college, I smoked.  I never really enjoyed smoking, but I was majoring in writing so it was pretty much a given, and I was spending a lot of time in bars and needed something to do with my hands.
All the great writers smoked
However, I can remember numerous times when I wanted a cigarette, didn't have any, and was just too lazy to go buy some.  I never smoked enough that I was physically addicted, so it was super easy to talk myself out of getting into the car and making a special trip just for something that would potentially kill me.  Even when I lived literally across the street from a gas station, I was often too lazy to make the walk.  Savings for my lungs and my wallet.

Example C: 
In college and grad school, friends would often try to get me to go to cafes with them to 'study.' Study is in quotes because what frequently happens is you go to a cafe with some homework, and spend your whole time there talking to people, accomplishing nothing except spending money on food and annoying a waitress. I figured this out quickly, and also figured out that cafe booths are terribly uncomfortable and cafes are loud. By saying no to these invitations, I saved both calories and money AND actually got homework done at home instead of wasting a lot of time.

Example D:
I work on the same street as many restaurants--fancy and non-fancy.  I could potentially go broke taking advantage of all their offerings, but I still pack a lunch every day out of laziness.  If I go out to eat (and I only get an hour), I have to walk to the restaurant, pick something out, wait for it, find a table--you see where I'm going with this.  If I pack a lunch, all I have to do is go downstairs, pop it in the microwave (if it's not a sandwich) then curl up on the couch in the staff lounge with book.  I can get in a whole hour of reading that way!

I often achieve my particular type of laziness by exercising a lot and then being too lethargic to want to do anything else, so for those of you who feel like you need to constantly be doing something, just do a lot of something right away in the morning and then you'll want to loll around.  If you convince yourself that going out and spending money is an arduous task instead of a fun thing to do, you will save lots.  Find a balance between laziness and accomplishing things that works for you, but I have to say, the lazy mindset comes in handy pretty frequently.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

To Pay or Not To Pay

I had a conversation with a friend recently where I outlined my New Student Loan Scheme for her.  I put a large chunk of my tax return toward this new endeavor, and I was starting to see a little bit of progress, so I was feeling good.  Then we had a conversation which I found...odd.

Her: "But why bother worrying about paying them down when they'll be forgiven in ten years anyway?"

Me: "Right, maybe, I don't exactly know what the next ten years will bring, but even if they do get forgiven, I have to pay income tax on that amount, and I'd rather not pay income tax on $100,000 if I can avoid it."

So here, I think, was the fundamental difference between the way the two of us approach this situation.  In my mind, she has half the amount of debt that I do, and with a little sacrificing, she could pay it off.  In her mind, the amount is insurmountable, so she will continue to pay the minimum until the loans are forgiven.  As much as I know it's stupid to get worked up about such a big number, I also knew (kind of) what I was getting into when I took out the loans, and I feel like I have to make a real effort to pay them back.  I've always been the person who pays my debts--usually early--and this is the same thing to me.

Despite the fact that the number is huge and scary, I'm not redirecting all of my disposable income toward reducing it.  I'm also making a big push to max out my Roth IRA contributions for 2012 (which I can do until April), and start contributing to 2013.  I'm also socking away a little money each month in my emergency fund.  As good as it is to lock away money in retirement, you never know what's going to happen and it's important to have money you actually have access to.

I'm pleased to report that since I focused my student loan repayment efforts on the biggest, highest interest loan, I have made actual progress.  My last payment of $300 reduced the principal amount on that loan by $240 and it's now less than $15,000.  If I can really focus on getting that one loan down, I'll save myself a chunk of money in interest, and make the whole repayment process that much more worthwhile meaning actually reducing the amount owed rather than just paying off interest.

Yes, it's a small victory, but it's important to me to really feel like I'm making progress.  I'm calling this the year of sacrifice and if I can stay on track with saving and make a dent in my loan debt, I'm setting myself up for a less-stressful 2014.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Weekend Reading: Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Sometimes I feel like I don't understand blogging.  I've been blogging in one way or another since people actually used Myspace.  I started out writing complaints about the stupid job that I had, and then I posted them online.  People found them tragically amusing, and I developed a small (miniscule following).  Then I started new, different blogs, and here I am today yammering on about money stuff.

As the years passed, I became aware that people were getting legitimately famous for writing about their daily shenanigans, and actually producing whole books, which despite majoring in writing, I have yet to do.  So I read one. I read It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown And a Much-Needed Margarita by Heather B. Armstrong of fame.

I hated it.

There were moments it amused me, but overall, it was so over the top in the way she behaved herself and the way people reacted that even though it was supposed to be real life, I found it hard to believe that anyone would want to spend time with her.  She was fun sometimes, but overall, just exhausting.

Which brings us to today's book review of Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson aka The Blogess.  Similar to the Dooce lady's book, The Bloggess is a famous blogger that I had never heard of before this year when a friend mentioned her on facebook and how excited she was for this book to come out.  My curiosity was piqued, again, based equally on my friend's recommendation and also the fact that this is another famous blogger and I want to understand what makes a person a famous blogger.

The only answer I can come up with is that you have to have/ had:
  1. I totally crazy childhood
  2. A completely understanding and willing to go along with almost anything husband
  3. A mental illness that results in manic highs that you then write about
In short, I found this book so irritating that I had a really, really hard time forcing myself to finish it.  It goes (mostly) in a chronological progression starting with the author's childhood and culminating in marriage and parenthood, but it's just a series of episodes that seem based on the funniest/wackiest events that occurred, and it's not particularly funny.  Unlike, say, a David Sedaris book, I didn't really care about anyone involved, and that made it hard to care about what happened to anyone.  The writing was choppy, the book felt disjointed and I'm left even more confused about why she is such a popular blogger.  Either way, now I know, so I can scratch that off the list and pretend this never happened.

I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.