Category Archives: Girl On A Budget

Girl On A Budget:Week 4-In The Beginning…

It’s Week 4 of our Girl On A Budget Series, which chronicles the adventures of a NYC woman trying to live on a budget.  This week, she takes us back to the beginning and offers tips on how to set and stick to a budget that works for you.  But, as we find, sometimes staying within a budget requires more than casual planning…

September 10

This week started out kinda weird….I got a call from a 1-800-preacher who said he knew I was having a hard time and that his prayer circle could help me get back on my feet. Now I know a few Hallelujahs go a long way, but I’ve learned the hard way that real change begins with action–and a budget.

After two months of sticking to my budget, things are going well on $250 a week, and that’s how it should be. It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, I was worried about money, trying to stay out of debt and wanting to handle my finances like a responsible adult (living in NYC, AKA Neverneverland, sometimes one forgets that one is an adult 🙂

Living in NYC sometimes makes you feel like Peter Pan!

Coming up with a budget and weekly allowance required some research and soul-searching.  I learned that when you create a budget you’re supposed to pick a weekly or monthly allowance that alleviates stress and mine does. Here’s how I came up with my budget:
1.    I tracked expenses for two months so I got a better sense of where my money went (sometimes looking back at how I spent my money was a lit-tle painful!)

2. In tracking expenses, I also divided my spending into needs vs. wants.  How much money do I HAVE to earn or have in the bank in order to live? That includes rent, food, utilities, phone, transporatation and all the insurances (health and renter’s insurance!).  To that number I added a little somethin’-somethin’ to make sure I was able to go out to dinner here and there, buy a pair of shoes for an important interview, and other incidentals.

Ummmm…maybe not interview-appropriate….

 3.     I try my best to follow the 50/30/20 rule to allocate money. 50% of my money goes to needs, 30% to wants and 20% to savings. If you live in NY you might need to adjust the needs due to housing costs.  But since I walk to work I can re-allocate my transportation cost elsewhere, like to housing or savings.

Sometimes, though, a little planning goes a long way. This week I went to dinner with a good friend. Usually I do a little comparison shopping between restaurants, but this time I briefly looked at Le Singe Vert’s menu before deciding it was the right choice for us. We chose the restaurant due to its location and had a fancy salad and steak frites. Everything was delicious but I couldn’t help thinking we could have done better price-wise if I’d taken the time to look at other menus. I was right. Upon further review I found that most bistro-esque places (Café Cluny, Bar 6) were the same price but one was drastically different. Les Halles has the same meal we had for only $20.50! Our version was double the price at $46! It pays to remember that expenses can be controlled with a little pre-planning. 

YUM!

The rest of the week was filled with free fun. My favorite neighbor invited me to an Ian Hunter concert on Friday night. My initial response was ‘Ian who?’ but I’ve got to tell you, this guy rocks!  I also saw my favorite beau in a free show that he produced. It was the first time he’d been on stage since 1999 and I was happy to be there to support. It’s amazing how many free things there are to do in the city. All were wonderful and helped me stay within $250 for the week.

Girl On A Budget is taking a break from her true confessions blog–but she challenges YOU to find a weekly allowance you can live with and stick to it!  Let us know how you do with your comments on this blog and our Facebook page!

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Girl On A Budget: Week 3 “Iphone Drama”

We’re at Week 3 of a new blog series called Girl On A Budget, which chronicles the weekly challenges and victories of my friend Pamela Penny-Pincher who is on a budget.  Every week she can’t spend more than $250 for food, clothing, transportation, emergency expenses or entertainment.  Does it seem too easy or too tough?  You try it!

This week, Pam-Pen-Pin had to deal with an emergency expense–a busted Iphone!!!  Here’s how she handled it…

September 10

It was a successful within-budget Labor Day weekend at Kinderhook Lake. Great company (my friends rock!), amazing food, lots of fun. Too bad I dropped my iPhone in water during a midnight booze cruise when I got there.  No, I didn’t drop it  in the lake.  I dropped my phone in a glass of water on the boat…while in the middle of the lake! Not only did it put a damper on my weekend sexting (a speciality of mine), but replacing it was probably going to put me over budget.

Tragedy in a glass of water in a boat in the middle of the lake!!!

My original iPhone cost me $50 so you can imagine my surprise when AT&T told me the same phone was now $350! Apparently, in order to get a deal, you have to be a new AT&T customer or a long-time customer. Before putting myself on a budget, I easily would have paid for the phone with a credit card since it’s a necessity–but not anymore. Now, I have $250 a week in cash to work with and not a penny more. My plan was to let the cash keep me honest and work a little harder for a price tag I could be happy with.

 Although I looked at cheaper phones, in the end I decided an iPhone was still for me. So I took the phone to Tekserve to see if it could be repaired. They said there were no guarantees they could fix it because it fell in water. 

I’d already checked with a large corporate AT&T store that wasn’t helpful, so the next stop was a small franchise. The guy there wasn’t able to lower the price but did give me a good tip. He recommended a Verizon in the neighborhood that “might be able to do something” for me.  Hmmmm…

So I walked one block to Verizon and it was a whole new world! They wanted my business so badly they offered a $220 credit to my AT&T account to cover my AT&T cancellation fee of $185 and  to cover Verizon’s initiation fee. That means I only had to pay for the phone. Now this I was liking! It got even better when I realized they had a better selection of iPhones at Verizon. I took the deal and paid for a new iPhone 4 for a total of $100.00. I saved $8.00 in sales tax because I paid cash (that’s a Happy Hour cocktail!) so that totals $258 in savings just for taking the time to shop around – and I got a better phone!

I was proud of myself for not succumbing to the lure of using credit to deal with my problems, and that my super-sleuthing lead me to a great deal- that I used cash to pay for too!  And despite the minor setback, the rest of the week looked pretty good.  My fridge was full, and I even had a bottle of wine so the only thing I needed to fund was a social life. Was I going to have to live like a hermit to accomplish my goal? The answer is no. I used a pre-budget purchased Groupon with a friend for salsa class (4 classes for $19.00), I had a second date with a cute guy, and one of my girlfriends (oh my uber fabulous friends!) had people over for a smashing paella dinner. A wonderful week and new phone all for $250–good for me!

 

  

 

Girl On A Budget: Week One

A bright, funny, talented friend of mine–we’ll call her Pamela Penny-Pincher (PPP)–has seen a  lot of changes in her life over the past five years as a result of the economic downturn.  Since 2005 she built a web design hobby into a thriving business, gaining high-profile clients and saving enough to purchase a beautiful sunny apartment in Greenwich Village.  Five years later, the Recession had its way with PPP.  Her clients had to tighten their budgets and make cuts, which included her services; others had a change in management which also brought their own relationships, forcing her out.

In the end, the cuts were so extensive to her business that PPP was forced to close her business and–even more tragic–sell her apartment!

Since then, PPP has found a long-term temp position and is slowly but surely reviving her career.  While selling her lovely apartment was heart-breaking, PPP took it on the chin and moved on, to a sweet rental uptown.  It’s been a tough road for my friend, but she’s a resilient, optimistic gal and won’t take no for an answer.  Plus, who doesn’t like a come-back story???

“The Comeback Kid”….before her..um…comeback…

Now that Pam Pen-Pin is on the road to recovery, she’s put herself on a budget–$250 per week for groceries, shopping, cabs and entertainment.  It might sound easy but in a city that never sleeps, with all good things around us, it could be really tough to stick to that budget!

So much to do…makes it hard to stick to a budget!

This series–Girl On A Budget–will follow my friend Pamela Penny-Pincher as she chronicles the weekly struggle of setting and sticking to a budget.  Sure, sometimes she’ll cheat for a splurge–who doesn’t have a weak spot??- but more important, this is a great lesson to learn how to set priorities, plan ahead and make the right choices.

WEEK OF AUGUST 20

Like many people I’ve made many changes since the crash of 2008. I closed a business (one I ran for five years) and sold a beautiful apartment in Greenwich Village. Putting myself on a budget of $250.00 a week, after these changes, was the last thing on earth I expected, but here I am.  I’ve been on this budget for a little over a month already and even in the short amount of time, I’ve learned some important stuff:

First, get rid of bad costly habits. For me it was smoking at $36-$48/week. For you it could be buying a lipstick at Sephora once a week or a daily Starbucks habit. Whatever it is, think about cutting down or cutting it out. Buying cigarettes was expensive so it had to go. This probably sounds like a “my budget helped me quit smoking” thing but it’s not. I will eventually get to the quit part, for financial and health reasons, but for now I still bum cigarettes from time to time.

 Second, look at the necessities as ways to cut back. I managed to pay for a trip to the Hamptons by only eating Weight Watchers Smart Ones (thank you lost a pound!) for a month. I bought them in NJ for less than $2.00 a pop. Sure, I’d still save money if I bought them in NY (they’re $3.99 each here) but the NJ cost savings are so high they merit a $19 trip. This trip could easily be cut down to $4.00 if I took the PATH to Hoboken or Jersey City. The $19 option gives me shopping and a visit with my parents.

 I buy Smart Ones for lunch and dinner whenever I have a special occasion coming up and generally try to keep my grocery list small and inexpensive. This week I had five Smart Ones left over for lunch and I picked up cereal, cheese, egg whites, broccoli, English muffins and some chicken sausage. For dessert I’ve got pudding and fudgsicles. It ain’t pretty but this $48.00 menu will last me all week.

NEVER skip dessert!

 Third, just because you’re on a budget, doesn’t mean you have to sit home and watch PBS.  There are ways to get free or discounted tickets to shows, plays, movies, etc but you have to be smart and persistent. This week I was lucky. I scored two tickets to the Public Theatre’s production of Into the Woods in Central Park. It’s part of their annual Shakespeare in the Park festival that happens every Summer and tickets are free, free, free. All you have to do is enter their virtual ticket lottery, win and you’re in, http://shakespeareinthepark.org/tickets/virtual-ticketing. The show was great and starred Broadway veteran Donna Murphy, the original Baker and Amy Adams from The Fighter. I was so excited I splurged on a $19.00 round of drinks for me and my friend before the show.

Shakespeare in the Park-worth the splurge!

After the show things went a little down hill. I’d spent half my budget by Tuesday and I had a birthday party for a very good friend that night. Technically I couldn’t afford it, but I wanted to go. Special occasions like this aren’t every day so I decided to take the money out of a very small savings account I have. I’ll make a conscious effort to spend less in the coming months to put the $60 back and since I’m supposed to have longer hours at work in September, which I get paid overtime for, this is doable.

 The rest of the week was good and within budget. Thursday night I met some of my neighbors and they picked up the bill (YAY!) and Friday, because we did Happy Hour, I was able to go out for drinks AND dinner with a friend. I had six dollars and one day left to spend it after that so I went low-key. I used an old bus ticket and headed out to NJ to do next month’s shopping. I still had six dollars when I woke up on Sunday morning.