Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Retail Therapy

I've been having a rough time lately. I feel like I'm either working, working, or trying to get caught up all the time. I'm cranky and tired and miserable and starting to get sick.

So tonight, I came home from work, flopped on my couch and turned on a re-run of Gilmore Girls (I'm sorry, I can't help myself . . it's the season when Rory gets together with Logan and Emily tries to break up Loralei and Luke. . . I was too busy in college having a life to have watched it the first time around). Lying on the couch in a state of semi-consciousness, I almost started crying when I remembered that I had laundry to do, my husband was leaving for a business trip at 5 tomorrow morning, and I had to email 5 tutoring clients.

After pulling myself together, making, eating and cleaning up after dinner, and finishing 1.5 loads of laundry, I jumped in my car to run to Sam's Club and see if I could get my tire patched and get some gum for my husband. The tire bay closed at 7. I got there at 7:05.

Walking around Sam's in search of gum, all I could think was how much I wanted to buy a cake, or a movie, or a trashy magazine, or SOMETHING, something to make me feel better about my crappy, crappy life.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

I have never been a recreational shopper. I didn't even know this impulse was in me. Why, why, would I think that buying something would make me feel better? Is it some inherent part of my brain chemistry, or has it been programmed there by years of marketing (hmmm, perhaps that episode of Gilmore Girls didn't help)?

This, I guess, is the key to frugality: not having self control or good stewardship when it's easy, but having it when it's hard. Because I didn't, in the end, buy anything. I realized that while I probably do deserve a cake in some sense, and it might make me feel indulgent or worthy or even momentarily blissful, it's not something I actually want and it really won't make me happy. I also realized that, while I do feel bad and I do have a right to, my life is of course not crappy. Rather than another trashy magazine or lame chick flick, I need to invest in some quiet time for exercising, meditating, even folding laundry.

Knowing that, and being wise and composed enough to say it even when I feel as overwhelmed and anxious as I have, is more of an accomplishment than any number on my bank statement.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dorm Living on the Cheap

Whether you or your children are going off to college to live in the dorm for the first time, you probably have a number of very reasonable fears about what you need to do and how you can afford it. With college getting more and more expensive, it is wise for ways to learn how to cut costs. First time dorm residents can save a bundle of money by following some simple advice and guidelines.

What to bring

You should always make sure to bring enough school supplies, like notebooks, paper and pencils. Notebooks purchased at campus bookstores, usually with college logos printed on the covers, are very tempting but usually very overpriced. You would to much better to purchase these items on sale at a discount or office supply store – preferably one not near the university, so you are less likely to get ripped off.
It’s also a good idea to bring some food. Even if you have a meal plan, you will be likely to want snacks or meals at odd hours, when the dining hall is not open. Some good dorm-friendly pantry staples include cold cereal, coffee, mac and cheese, Ramen, and apple sauce. Again, stock these before you go and you won’t need to pay rip-off campus store prices. Another good investment is a good quality microwave cookbook. There are several of these aimed directly at dorm residents which will suit your needs very well.

Another good thing to bring is some form of free entertainment, preferably something that will help you meet new people. Board games such as Risk or Monopoly are very popular in freshman dorms and will help you be at the center of the social scene, without having to spend a ton of money going out. Your high school yearbook is also an excellent conversation starter.

What not to bring

While nearly every college student on the planet has a white board, I don’t suggest you buy one of these before you go to school. If you troll the activity fairs the first week of class, you will be likely to get tons of these for free. It’s also possible to get free calendars and posters, if you aren’t fussy about your decorations. These will help you keep up with free events happening on campus, which can provide cheap entertainment for the rest of the semester.

Speaking of posters, posters are just about the only thing that’s actually cheaper to buy on campus than off campus. Generally some student organization will host a poster sale within the first few weeks of class. Check it out for some really good deals on posters.

You probably also don’t want to bring every article of clothing you own, particularly ones that need to be dry cleaned. One of the cheapest things about campus life is that, because everyone looks casual and ridiculous, you are free to look casual and ridiculous. Free t-shirts, sweats, and pajamas are the norm for walking around campus or to the dining hall. You can leave your expensive, high maintenance clothes at home.

What to do once you’re there

Make sure you take advantage of all of the wonderful free opportunities available. Chances are, you have access to free concerts, lectures and shows, a gym, and a pool. Technically these aren’t free: you’ve already paid for them. There will never be an opportunity in your life when you will have this much available to you.
Also, remember, you are there to get a good education so GO TO CLASS. The most expensive thing you can do in college is not graduate.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Cheap vs. Frugal, a gentler distinction

Just about every frugal blogger that I read has written at least one post on the difference between being cheap and frugal. While I very much understand and agree with the need for a distinction, I don't always agree with the way they draw the line. Generally, things that require care and discipline, such as hanging laundry or eating less meat, are considered frugal. Cheap is usually defined as an excessive desire to save money, and the examples are almost exclusively immoral or illegal, such as not tipping in a restaurant or filling a free water cup with soda. While the word cheap certainly has a negative connotation, I'm not sure I agree that everything cheap is bad.

The way I understand it, frugal means trying to use less goods and resources. Cheap means trying not to pay for goods and resources. This can, of course, mean trying to cheat someone, but I don't think it always has to.

Some cheap (but not frugal) things I do, which I don't think are immoral"

    I always take a free logo pen when it's offered. I keep myself and my classroom well supplied with pens this way, and I never have to pay. I could probably stand to be more frugal with them, as they often get lost or wasted, but I don't think it's wrong to be cheap at acquiring them.

    I eat the free lunch that's offered me at work. I never take more than my fair share, but I don't feel the need to bring my own gourmet lunch from home or to skip lunch entirely.

    I use coupons and rebates to buy groceries. If the manufacturer wants to pay for my groceries, I will gladly accept.

    I go to the bathroom right before I leave work. I figure that way I'm using someone else's water, paper, and soap. Okay, this one might be a bit silly, but I still don't think it's immoral. Now, rolling TP onto a roll in my pocketbook would be immoral.

I'm sure there are more examples, but I'm a bit fried right now. What are some things you do that are cheap and perfectly moral and legit?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Posting goals for the school year

I'm going to try to refocus on my blog now that the school year is up and running. Unfortunately because it's also SAT/PSAT season, my posting frequency will not be what it was. I am going to try to post at least twice a week. I'm hoping that will be reasonable enough that I won't be overwhelmed and feel like I can't do it.

Sorry it isn't more. Hope you stick around.