October 11, 2009

A Retail Diet

Have you ever been in the mood to go shopping, then looked around your apartment and realized that there is absolutely nothing you need?

In the clothing department, I have at least 8 pairs of trousers, a handful of work-appropriate dresses, 4 pairs of jeans, a dozen pairs of shoes, and countless tops and sweaters, plus several jackets, blazers, and fancier dresses.

In accessories, a basket full of scarves, a drawer full of jewelry, a few belts and some headbands I never wear anymore.

In beauty, I have a Vera large cosmetic that I can barely find things in, a shelf of lotions and soaps in my bathroom, 3 sunscreens, 2 toothpastes and plenty of hair products.

Chez moi, the small apartment is furnished and decorated. And as we know, in a small space, keeping clutter at bay is key. My kitchen, closets, bathroom, and bedroom are all full.

I need nothing.

There is not a cream, lip gloss, ballet flat or even a bra that I could justify right now.

I feel like the guy in that online services commercial from a few years back, who finally hit the end of the web, and had seen every website in the world. He seemed shocked, bewildered, and a little bit sad. That's me.

And so... this is a good time to embark upon a retail diet. Just as Columbus Day and end-of-fall sales are raging, and we've already been inundated with holiday season regalia, it's a hard time to resist. But we have to cut back some time, and this will be good preparation for the shopping that will commence in about 6 weeks.

I have never been a financial whiz, and things like interest rates, annuities, finance charges and fine print put me immediately to sleep. But everyone has a responsibility to own their financial destiny, especially women. I have always sworn to never be dependent on a man, or anyone else, and if we want the big house, or the luxury car, or the sailboat, or even to just have a few nice dinners out a month, we need to make it happen for ourselves.

My situation, without giving too much detail, is that I have student loans to pay off, bills and rent to pay, and am trying to get my credit card balances (two of them) down to 0, and finally I am trying to save up a down payment for my own condo or co-op someday. Whew!

I'm no Suze Orman, but here are some savings techniques I'll be implementing over the next few months:

1) Throwing away coupons (except food). This may seem silly, but I receive almost a dozen coupons a week from various stores, in email and snail mail. I use coupons to justify purchases, and when I don't need to buy stuff, I don't need the coupons tempting me. So when I throw them away, I'm less likely to go shopping on principal, because I don't have a coupon. Exception: food/health coupons that I'll need, and anything that takes effect after January 1, 2010.

2) No shopping for clothes, shoes, accessories or makeup until January 1, 2010. This deadline is a bit arbitrary, but first, the sales after Christmas will be insane. Second, 2-3 months on an extreme retail diet is enough time to make a serious dent in debt and rack up savings.

3) Opening a 6-15 month CD with my new savings after January 1, 2010. When your money's locked away, you can't touch it. I'll set aside the necessary funds for bills and a little fun, then sock away what I save and resume the savings cycle.

And while we're on the topic, here is how I already save money in everyday ways:
  • Turn off lights when you leave, and unplug appliances you're not using, including your computer. This is good for the earth and cuts down your electric bill.
  • Bring lunch every day. You can seriously save $50-75/week doing this, especially in NYC. Plus it's usually healthier.
  • Shop early for others. If you see a fabulous gift for someone and it's on sale, nab it! Even if it's months in advance! Especially for the holidays... spread out the spending.
  • Don't buy packaged, processed foods. Stuff like crackers, cookies, cereal, ice cream, microwave meals, and frozen foods are not only unhealthy, but usually expensive. Using simple vegetables, starches, protein and fruits is actually cost-efficient, and healthier. I make an exception for occasional Special K and Carr's water crackers, but fresh, natural foods go a long way and are lower in sodium and fat, often.
  • If you want to donate but are low on cash, donate time instead. Volunteer at a pet shelter or the NYC Mission for the Homeless. It's free, and you get a bonus warm+fuzzy feeling too.
  • Hold on to your student ID after college and use it to pay reduced admission at museums, concerts, and more.

And finally, here are some things I won't compromise too much on:
  • Going out for drinks and dinner sometimes. As long as it's not always top-shelf, it's ok. And come on people, you have to have a life!
  • Ski trips. For a great day of exercise, stress relief and a hobby I've had for 20 years, the cost of a day trip is worth it.
  • Live music and performances. Food for the soul.
  • Enough heat. There's no price for avoiding pneumonia!

How do you share money? Will you be tightening the purse strings a bit this holiday season?


Beth Dunn said...

I'm a huge make my own coffee/tea/lunch person. But never will I give up going out. Your plan sounds great! xoxo


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