Cutting Back

It’s time for a brutally honest post.

Cost-cutting isn’t going super well for me.

Now, before you start wondering where all that money is going, let me explain a few things. I don’t have a car, so I don’t have insurance, gas, or maintenance to pay for. My “rent” is tied up in this nice little package called room and board–it includes wifi, utilities, use of the laundry facilities, and a meal plan (so I don’t need to spend money on food, toilet paper, paper towels, etc.). Tuition is actually part of the same bill–it’s all just one giant expense.

All that said, I don’t think there are a lot of college or graduate students who are as serious about cost-cutting as I am. So as I’m searching Pinterest and Google for ideas on how to save money, I’m getting a lot of stuff about turning down the heat/air conditioning, where to get the best deals on diapers, and only paying for wifi if you need to work from home. None of this works for me. My circumstances are unique with the room and board expenses (which come to about $200 per month–cheaper than rent almost everywhere, especially when you consider that utilities, wifi, laundry, meals, toilet paper, etc. are all included).

I am still eligible for most student discounts. But most of them are not at stores where I will be spending money. Or they’re only on full-priced items. And I never buy anything at full price. Ever.

If I’m not buying a generic/store brand product, it’s because I already tried the generic brand and it didn’t work. (I’m looking at you, Neutrogena knock-offs!) I’ve looked up all the coupons. All of them. And I’m still not paying full price. And I’m still only buying things I’ll actually need.

I don’t have a phone contract. I’m paying $35 per month using Total Wireless’s prepaid service. I get unlimited talk/text with 2.5 GB of data. I’m thinking of going to the data-free plan for $25 per month even though I really do use the data. I should switch. I don’t necessarily need the data after all…

I’m a little ticked at the posts I keep seeing about cutting down the number of mani-pedis you get per month. Because who even gets those while they’re in grad school?! And Starbucks…I’m literally at the point where I only go if someone gives me a gift card or money that they specifically say I’m to use for coffee. (I really, REALLY appreciate that by the way!) I rarely eat out because I have a meal plan, and if I do, it’s a $5 Little Caesar’s pizza that I can make last for a week. And I probably only bought it because I didn’t have time to go to the dining common when it was open.

The tax breaks for which I am eligible won’t help me until next semester.

I keep hearing that if you budget yourself to the point where you don’t spend ANY unnecessary money ever, it takes a toll on you mentally. And I’ve tried it. And as much as I wish it wasn’t true, it is.

Unless I’m mistaken, I’m saving pretty much all the money I can. Within reason.

I’m trying to sell clothes on Poshmark and Ebay. It’s taking a while to get that off the ground.

So what is working for me? What would I suggest?

  1. CVS ExtraCare card

This is a simple rewards program. It doesn’t cost anything to sign up. Just present your card when you check out. You get points on certain beauty purchases that add up to rewards (plus a free reward on your birthday). They will spend $4 off or 30% off coupons to your email on a regular basis–coupons that are actually useful!!! And they will also send emails to let you know when there are deals on the products you purchase the most frequently. Get this card. Do it. I’m serious.

2.  Check the prices of what you’re buying. Religiously.

Sometimes there’s actually a deal on a name brand that is cheaper than the store brand. It’s all about looking at the prices. And start comparing things like Net. Weight and Fl. Oz. Is the price on two items the same, but one has an extra ounce? That’s the better deal. Just read the signs.

3. Buy more than what you need right this second.

Sound counterintuitive? It isn’t necessarily. For example, if I know that I’m always going to be using makeup remover and there’s a BOGO 50% deal, it’s cheaper in the long run for me to buy two bottles of makeup remover rather than just one. Because I WILL use it. And I got it the second one for 50% off.

Things like coffee will keep. I can buy a regular sized can off store brand coffee for $4. Or I can get a can that’s almost triple the size for $7. Which is the better deal? And I can pay $1.60 for a 2-litre of Pepsi, or I can pay the same price for a 20 oz. bottle. So which is the cheaper way to treat myself? I can make the 2-litre last almost a month.

I’m still hoping to cut costs even more, so if you have more tips, keep them coming! I’ll post updates as I find more useful ideas.

 

 

 

 

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Less Is More

Living in a dorm is like living life in miniature. I don’t think I’ll know what to do if I ever move into a regular apartment, let alone a full-size house.

Now, my family will tell you that I’m a pack-rat, and that–historically–I haven’t always been very good about keeping things organized and clean. However, when the amount of space I could call my own was drastically reduced 6 years ago (how on earth has it been that long?!), I found it frustrating to deal with a lot of clutter. After a while, dust becomes noticeable, you can’t fit one more thing in the trashcan (Tetris, college edition…), and the floor just has to be vacuumed. No one wants to live in a pigsty. So I’ve learned how to stay fairly well organized and keep my room presentable. BJU dorm rooms are also helpful with this because they have tons of extra cabinet storage space.

All that said, though, one does tend to accumulate a lot of stuff after years of living the college life.

When you’re living paycheck to paycheck just to pay the bills, you tend to hold onto stuff you maybe shouldn’t.

I know this pair of jeans is totally worn out and I have two more, but I don’t want to get rid of them. What if I need them later?

I might need this cardboard box to ship back rental books at the end of the year…

This skirt is pretty much threadbare, but I haven’t seen another one like it in years, and I wear it with so many things!

This doesn’t fit me well. But what if I gain/lose weight? Or I could have it altered…

And believe it or not, you can lose stuff in your organization. Especially if you never actually use it. I have been finding a lot of things that I never actually use, so I have decided that it is time to pare it all down–books, wardrobe, papers, random knick-knacks–if I don’t find it useful or beautiful, it’s time for it to go!

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If I don’t need it anymore, I can sell it or give it away. If I don’t need it or absolutely LOVE it, I don’t need to buy it. It doesn’t matter that it’s on sale. Saving money at a sale is only really saving money if I was already going to buy the thing in the first place.

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It’s not as though I haven’t been basically been living this way to begin with, but I could do better. And as I said, I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff simply because I never got rid of it when it ceased to be useful.

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This is the point to which I have come. And so, rather than buy stuff to store stuff, it’s time to get rid of stuff.

I am a first year grad student. I have a job. It pays for my degree program and living expenses. That’s about it. Plus I have student loans to pay down. And I need to save for a car. It would be nice to get my teeth fixed at some point. And I have caught the travel bug.

If there’s a chance that I can make and/or save money simply by downsizing my life, so be it. I say it’s worth the effort.

So here are my ground rules:

  1. If you buy the thing, you need to get rid of another thing.
  2.  You are not even allowed to buy the thing unless it is actually, truly useful. Or so gorgeous and wonderful that life cannot go on without it (a circumstance which should be exceptionally rare).

3. Only keep things that you cannot bear to do without. These should be in good condition, fit well, and used often.

I’m sure that there will be more to come. If you have any tips, feel free to comment!

 

 

 

My Studio Apartment on the Top Floor of a 4-Story Walk-Up: Part 1

Looking Up

It’s a dorm room, ok? It looks exactly like every other dorm room at BJU. This makes year 7 in a dorm. Not my favorite idea. But it’s a lot less expensive than paying rent around here, so it’s my best option, and I’m doing my best to think grateful thoughts. So I call it a studio apartment. Because it basically is. Just smaller. And with no stove or oven.

Two years of boarding school and four of undergrad. I didn’t waste much time decorating. I didn’t have time to waste. So I made the bed, put my clothes away, and stuck pictures to the wall. That was about it. Any decorating that happened was done by my roommates.

So why put the time into it now?

Quite frankly, I’ve been bored. I have evenings and weekends off. Which is nice. But that leaves me with  a lot of free time, and not a lot of people stick around campus in the summer. Besides, I’ll most likely be living in this room for two years, and I’d like it to feel as homey as possible.

About two weeks into my GAship, I hit Pinterest for some dorm room decorating tips. Things I should be pro at by now, but I just haven’t taken the time to do them because they haven’t mattered much to me in the past. I found some fantastic ideas. I figured out how to do a few that I wanted to try. I even came up with a few of my own.

So now, you get to witness the transformation.

*Note: I’m on a super tight budget, so I try to keep things as cost-effective as possible. I’m going to let you in on my tips for doing this the broke-college-student way.

Here are some pictures from an empty dorm room to show you what my blank canvas looked like.

There are two bunks on one side, three on the other, a desk and dresser on each side, three closets (two on one side, one on the other; two large, one small), and there is one sink. There is also plenty of storage in the overhead cupboards.

One of the first projects that caught my eye was a makeover for my Christmas lights. (If you don’t already have Christmas lights, they’re fairly inexpensive. You can also probably buy some from a graduating senior at the end of the spring semester. Mine were given to me by an old roommate.) All I had to do was take an X-Acto knife to some ping pong balls and slide them over the light bulbs. You can find the tutorial I used here: http://www.thesurznickcommonroom.com/2014/02/ping-pong-ball-lights.html

Now, the tutorial mentions that they bought a gross of ping pong balls (that’s 144 of them) from Amazon for $12. I ordered mine from Amazon for about $9 with free shipping because I have Prime. DO NOT buy them from Walmart. It’s way more expensive. Don’t do it.

I did find my X-Acto Knife at Walmart, though. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 on it, which isn’t a bad deal. Just be careful. They’re made to be super sharp. You have been warned.

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Here’s a photo of the lights when they were halfway done. You can see the comparison a bit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m extremely pleased with how they turned out!

 

I’m Back!

Hello followers!

I know it’s been quite a while, but I hope you’ll be understanding. Senior year happened. With classes, extracurriculars, and an internship to deal with, I wasn’t able to keep up with blogging. But now it’s summer, so I’m ready to start again!

Let me give you a heads-up about my plans for the next couple of months.

First of all, I’m doing the Mon.-Fri. 8-5 office job (finally) now that I have my diploma. YAY! I love my job. I’m a project coordinator at BJU Press now, which basically means I make a lot of schedules, go to a lot of meetings, update a lot of charts, and send a lot of emails. I work with a few teams producing elementary and secondary textbooks. They do everything necessary to produce the books. I just track  their progress, help them schedule deadlines, and keep them communicating. It’s a great application of my degree field, and I work with some amazing people.

Not to mention the best part…I’m a GA. Which means that my salary covers a master’s degree plus room and board. It’s not a bad deal.

Now, at least for the summer, I have my evenings and weekends free, so I have plenty of time to work on projects and experience life in Greenville. Here are some things you can expect to hear about this summer:

  •  Decorating my living space
  •  Learning to coupon
  •  A trip to Maine (including a hike in Acadia National Park)
  •  Learning to manage life as a real adult
  •  Attending Greenville-area events and productions
  •  Trying Stitch Fix
  •  And, if I get really ambitious, I might decorate my office space too!

Those are just the things I have planned. I’m sure I’ll have much more to write about!

Would you join me in my adventures this summer?

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Stuff Southerners Say

The time has come. Here is my dictionary of the southern dialect.

 

Crack the window. ————– Roll the window down.

Mash the button. —————- Press the button.

I’m fixin’ to…  ——————— I’m going/about to…

I haven’t seen you in a month of Sundays! ————— I haven’t seen you in forever!

Y’all ———— You, you all, all of you, you guys….

Sweetheart, hunny (attached to the end of almost everything) ————— Hun, deeyah

Cut it off! —————- Turn it off!

Bless your heart. —————– God love ya, and He does.

Ma’am/sir (attached to everything) ——————- If you’re under 45, it’s an insult. We don’t really use that.

Ain’t never ——— Never, have never….

I tell you what… —————– Lemme tell ya…

I might could… ———— Maybe I could…

My car tore/blew up. —————– My car broke down/ I had a bring-up.

We gonna have a come to Jesus meeting. —————– You’re in BIG trouble.

Cattywampus ————– crooked/messed up

Gussied up ————- fixed up/ looking good

Hush your mouth! —————- Shut up!

A spell ———— a while/bit

 

This is not by any stretch an exhaustive list. These are just a few of my favorites… and there’s no cuss words in them.

 

 

What Living Away from Home Actually Feels Like

I don’t mean to post a downer, but I needed to express this.

I always knew that I would move out. I always knew that I would go far away and build a very different kind of life. I swore I would from the time I was… 12? 14 or 15, maybe? And I had always known I would before I swore to it. Goodness, that sounds horrible. Ungrateful. Bitter. And at the time, I was.

So when I moved into a New Hampshire dormitory at 15, I was happy to be leaving Maine. I loved my time in New Hampshire. It’s a beautiful state. But it wasn’t quite far enough away. It was still New England, and I wanted to get OUT!

At 17, I started college in South Carolina, and I was thrilled about it. Warmer weather, no snow, new culture–that was exciting. And then it was late October, and the leaves weren’t changing color. They just fell off the tree and turned brown on the ground. And in January, it was miserably cold and wet. Then it did “snow”–an icy, rainy mess that was actually more like sleet. And then March came with it’s incredibly bipolar weather. 75 degrees one day and 40 degrees the next. Goodness, did I ever start missing Maine then. I knew what the weather was going to do in Maine, at least, not this nonsense that defied weather apps and kept me guessing until I was actually outside. And actually 40 degrees in South Carolina humidity seemed to be closer to Maine’s dry 20 degrees.

Don’t even get me started on culture. Who were these girls complaining that they were running out of clothes to match their rain boots? If it rains enough that you need to wear your rain boots so much (and you do–you do), why not buy boots that are less brightly colored and patterned. Mine were black. They had black and white polka dot bows on the side to be cute, but they were black. They went with everything. I couldn’t be bothered to curl my stick-straight hair every day either. And they had so much of it.

These guys with their bow ties and boat shoes, though. And way too much structural integrity in their hair. Seriously, their hair was better than mine (and probably took at least as much time to style…) What was it with these people and their hair?!

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My opinion of southern hair

To be fair, I go to a Christian school that expects us to dress professionally, so I get that not everyone in the South dresses like that every day. But still… the hair. I’ve long been a fan of the flat-iron.

Not to mention the fact that I was a little too sarcastic to function in the South. People actually took me literally when at least 75% of what came out of my mouth was sarcasm, so they would get offended. Drama. Disaster. Ugh.

I gradually adapted. I learned how to judge how accurate my weather app was–if there is a 20% chance of rain, it will at least sprinkle. I played down my sarcasm a bit. I tried to get a little more volume in my hair, because the humidity was just going to make it frizz anyway. And I ignored the brown leaves and sleet.

Going home for Christmas helped. Going for the summer helped too. Although, truth be told, summers at home reminded me why I was going to school somewhere else. I was more than ready to go back to school when August came.

Really, all of it was a pretty decent set up. Until this past year. Until I didn’t go home for Christmas because I needed to work. Until I stayed for the summer because I needed to work. Until I went 11 months straight without a visit to home. Until I woke up one day, about to start my senior year, and realized that about one week a year is probably all I’m going to see of home, probably for the rest of my life. And I was horrified.

Most Mainers that have moved away feel like I do, I’m told. You spend all your time wishing you were home in Maine with your family, with the people you grew up with, in your home culture, drinking Moxie, etc. I literally miss it every single day. But you also know that if you go back for more than a week at a time, you’ll want to leave again.

Sure, it’s a beautiful state. It’s a quieter, simpler life. But there are better opportunities elsewhere, and more of them. This is why Maine has an aging population–most of the young people leave. It’s not really their fault. They’re just going where the jobs are. But it’s hurting the state.

Watching from a distance, I’m seeing some changes starting to happen, and that gives me hope. I desperately want to believe in my home state. If there is ever a decent opportunity for me, I would move back in a heartbeat. In the meantime, I’ll finish school, and then I’ll do what all the “Mainers living in exile” do. I’ll go where the jobs are, plan my yearly visit home, and wait for a reason to go back for real.

 

Tax Free Weekend

I grew up in Maine. That has been established. In Maine, there is a tax for everything. Ev-er-y-thing.

I lived in New Hampshire for two years while in boarding school. There is no sales tax in New Hampshire. It is a beautiful thing.

In South Carolina, there is a middle ground. It is known as tax free weekend, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

It’s bad when you’re at work, a customer asks you if you know when tax free weekend, and all you can do is squint at them and ask, “What?” That was how I first learned about the event. My customer chuckled as I explained that I was a clueless Mainer who had never heard of “tax free” anything.

Basically, tax free weekend is a Friday-Sunday event right before school starts. And during that weekend, you guessed it, there is no sales tax applied to certain items–clothing, accessories, footwear, bath items, bedding, computers, printers, and school supplies. And so everyone–ev-er-y-one–does their school, home, and technology shopping that weekend.

Suddenly, I realized why I was scheduled to work for the entirety of that weekend. Not that I minded the hours. Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “Time is money.” But still. Ugh. Crowds, noise, hustle and bustle. Claustrophobia… insanity…inability to breathe. And all of this in a store where the check-out process is less than streamlined. In a region where no one ever seems to be in a hurry–a mixed blessing.

So, last weekend, I experienced tax free weekend for the first time. From a consumer standpoint, it was great. I got my school supplies for 6% less. And from behind the counter, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Granted, the store was in a constant state of absolutely trashed, and I hardly got a breath between customers, but at least being behind the counter helped with the claustrophobia. And after a while, I didn’t notice the noise and crowds as much. I just focused on one customer at a time.

I got so much faster, too! Seriously, I was taking hangers off clothes, deactivating security devices, and bagging at crazy rates. The bell for credit applications was going off almost constantly because, hey, EVEN MORE SAVINGS!!! And with four cashiers to both men’s and misses’ registers, it was…fun, friendly competition to see who could get the most credit apps.

It took me a little while to recover after all of that, but tax free weekend was definitely an interesting experience.