Tag Archives: saving money

Forget Paris. Focus on Your Own Fashion Week!

Two weeks ago, high temperatures where I live were in the 40s for several days; with low temperatures below freezing a couple of those days. Last weekend, my friends in Cleveland, OH experienced another epic spring snowfall, while many in the upper central plains continue even today with their cold temperatures. The calendar might say “spring” but the weather doesn’t always align with our hopeful schedule of the four seasons.

I learned a long time ago to dress for the weather not for the season. And with that, I have to say that shopping “out of season” is one of my favorite things to do. You see, retailers don’t care what the weather is doing outside. They will try to force you into dreaming of whatever comes next, inside, filing their stores with what they want to sell, rather than what you may need to buy. Autumn-colored clothes quickly follow the red, white and blue of July. Winter coats fill racks in September. Spring’s pastels are plastered everywhere in January. And the sleeveless tops of Summer make their debut before the Ides of March!

Because of retailing’s over-anxious, and sometimes obnoxious attempt at rushing each new season, they are equally motivated to get rid of the last season’s leftovers to make room. And fortunately for us bargain hunters, it can be a clothing gold mine of great finds; perfectly useful outfits with still weeks worth of wear to go. And for people like me, who’s more concerned with function than with what some fashion magazine tries to tell me is in or out at any given time, those bargain finds can last not just a few more weeks, but years after!

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Recently I went shopping to update my wardrobe, with great results. I got all five of these tops for only $32.00; and that’s with sales tax! No, I didn’t get them from a discount store. But I did get them at a tremendous discount. Their material is thin enough to wear comfortably, with or without a light jacket, through the next several weeks, but their “colors” are meant for Fall (which is when I will gladly take them back out of the closet and begin getting even more wear from them). So off to the sale rack they went!

All but one of the shirts was regularly priced well over that total of $32.00 spent. They actually had been repeatedly marked down over the weeks, and these were some still left. I happened to go into the store when they were having their “final” Final Sale! Everything on the sale rack, whose price ended in $.98 was further marked down to $9.98! Yes, that meant the $29.95 shirt was now less than ten dollars; the $34.95 one was also $9.98; as was the almost $60.00 one! Five shirts for less than the cost of what the higher one of them would have cost me alone — if I was the type who paid full prices for my clothes!

What drew me to that store, on that day, was the $25.00 off coupon I had off anything $50.00 or more. It was getting ready to expire. I had waited as long as I did to use it because I knew I would find some great deals in the transition of the seasons at the store. And so I did! With my total coming to just under $50.00 (a purposefully deceptive  practice by this particular store that I’ve just come to accept), I was forced to purchase one other thing; unfortunately a five dollar item to make up a difference of mere cents; but that’s no accident. I’m convinced the main retailer knows exactly what they’re doing when they run those coupons — you can never get right to $50.00; always will have to go over to use it!

It was still worth the trip and the cost to pay so little and get so much; not just for the sake of shopping, but to end up with clothes I have already worn, and will continue wearing, including later this year and most definitely into next and beyond.

My advice to other bargain shoppers who are looking for deals and wanting to maintain a budget?

  • Stop worry about what’s coming down the runway during Fashion Week. The fashion designers, sellers, and retailers are trying to make money convincing you that it’s not cool to wear “last season’s” stuff. In reality, unless you work in the fashion industry, your friends and coworkers are not keeping up with when or where you bought your clothes, or what’s suppose to be “in or out” for the average woman!
  • If you need to do some shopping, do it during a time, and with the retailers who offer you something in return (i.e. store cash dollars, coupons, reward points). They’re doing it to get you back into the store. But you’re doing it to take advantage of the savings on your next shopping trip.
  • If you can split your shopping needs up. Purchase half of what you need when those retailers are offering coupons (the old, spend $50 and get a $25 rewards coupon for your next visit). Then return to pick up the rest of your items using the coupon or points you earned the last time you were there. Four weeks ago, I bought two pairs of pants that I needed for a trip, which is what earned me that $25 coupon that was used to help buy those five tops later.
  • Sign up for the emailing lists of the retail outlets you visit the most. It might seem bothersome to start getting all their emails, but that’s the best way to keep up with when they’re having a major sale. Then choose that time period to do your shopping. Just be sure to confirm that the retailer will allow you to use that coupon on items marked down on sale. Another tricky thing you have to watch out for.
  • Never go shopping when you don’t need anything. But always remember that you can make purchases for the birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and other special occasions of other people in your life; and still reap the benefit of bargain shopping and savings for yourself!

 

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Make April Your Month of FREE

It’s the start of another week; the beginning of another month. April is here! I love this time of year for many reasons, but feeling like it’s the start of something fresh and new is one of the main reasons. I can tell myself, okay, now’s the time. Do this or that, but do something and stop putting it off! What do you have planned? What are you going to do with this new opportunity?

Recently I posted on my Catching Raindrops Facebook page about my March month of FREE. I listed a number of freebies I’d been rewarded with through various retailers and restaurants where I’m a member of their clubs or rewards programs — for free, of course. Because I don’t believe in paying to be a member of a program that then pretends to “pay” you back with freebies, when in reality you’re already paying for it.

So someone asked me where I’d gotten some of the items, and how I was able to get so much. I told her, from just going through my regular life. I believe that if you’re already shopping regularly at a particular grocery, and that store happens to have a program where you can automatically save money on your gas purchases, and receive points every time you buy groceries, or go to the pharmacy, or fill that gas tank — WHY WOULDN’T YOU WANT to sign up and get even MORE?

If you’re a frequent visitor at the same restaurants or shop at the same clothing store, or buy a lot of your make up from the same beauty products place, or your household goods from mostly the same place, and they’re offering you a customer loyalty card with discounts on purchases, and freebies for birthdays, and surprise gifts throughout the year….GET THE CARD!

I’ve posted about my freebies and savings many times before on that same Facebook page. But every time I do, I still have some followers asking me how I did it. I tell them the same thing…start joining these rewards programs. And if it’s a place that offers coupons on top of savings, take advantage of that as well! I love the convenience of Kroger’s digital coupons, their Friday Free downloads, and some of the weekend only specials they’ve been doing lately.

This past weekend, I was in line at a World Market, getting my free bottle of olive oil, when the woman behind me asked the cashier if the olive oil as free to everyone. She told her no, just for Rewards members. So I turned to her and said, but it’s free to join and you can do it today. And I proceeded to tell her about the birthday rewards and special gifts throughout the year; bragging on the bag of coffee I’d gotten a couple of months ago. She said her birthday was coming up in two weeks, and so I said “All the more reason to sign up today!” And so she did. You’re welcome #WorldMarket

There is no magic to it. But there are some rules I try to follow. 

  • Don’t get cards to places where you don’t already frequent.
  • Don’t make purchases on thing you don’t need just to drive up your points. You’ve already lost the benefit of the FREE!
  • Don’t drive across town to redeem a free reward. If you’re spending five dollars in gas just to pick up that five dollar bag of coffee, it wasn’t free!
  • Create a separate email address to use when you sign up. Then once a week check it. This will help eliminate your fear of them spamming your business or personal emails. I use an old AOL one I’ve had forever!
  • Never pay for the membership cards. Free should start with you not paying to be member.
  • Do be sure to include your birthday information, as most businesses with customer loyalty programs often start by giving you something on your birthday.
  • Remember that even when it’s something you don’t want, it might be the something someone else needs. Rather than ignore the freebies, I like to gather many of the free food items, take them to school, and give out to hungry and broke college students.

The main thing is to get started. And then remember to redeem the rewards! I hate it when I let a freebie expire because I wasn’t paying attention.

Why I Don’t Shop on Black Friday Anymore.

I woke up super early on Thanksgiving morning. It wasn’t by choice; it just happened. I tried to lay in bed in the hopes of falling back to sleep, but when it didn’t happen by 4:30, I decided I was suppose to get up. So I did, and started my morning routine. It had been a month since I was at the gym, thanks to a nasty cold that wouldn’t go away (remnants of which still remain). So out of the door I went just after 6 o’clock in the morning, with predictably almost no traffic, and only about a dozen of other early morning risers in the gym already working out.

I was happy to learn that the gym would be closing early so that the workers could be home with their families that evening for Thanksgiving dinner, and that they wouldn’t reopen until 7:00 on Friday morning. Though my intentions were to wake up early and get my workout out of the way, I actually overslept a bit after turning off my 6 a.m. alarm. Funny how that worked out. The morning I wanted to sleep in, I woke up super early, and the morning I wanted to wake up early, I overslept!

 I was expecting a larger crowd at the gym. While there were more people there than the crazy time I arrived on Thursday, there still weren’t as many there as I thought might be following all the overeating and high calorie foods from the day before. But the parking lots of Kohl’s and Walmart sure were full!   

I’m not knocking anyone who decided to get up early to shop, although I question those who camped out, given the temperatures last night. But I do wonder how many of the people out there have just gotten caught up in all of the buzz and “excitement” of the whole Black Friday phenomenon.

I’ve been part of that Black Friday frenzy in the past. If I were to be honest, I loved it! Back when my nieces and nephews were younger; at that age where they were expecting something from their Auntie, I would go out and try to find good deals. Sometimes I would even shop on behalf of my mom, who didn’t care for the Black Friday crowds, but liked the Black Friday prices; especially since she had so many grandchildren to buy for. Now, all but one of them are young adults in their 20s and 30s, and in general, sadly, we hardly ever get to spend the holidays together anymore.

But today, just as with the past four or five years, I simply asked myself, “Is there anything out there that you need that you don’t already have?”  The answer of course was no. When I calculated the fact that there was also nothing out there I was planning to purchase for friends or family that just had to be bought today either, it definitely wasn’t worth it to me to be out there. 

Moreover, I wonder how many people; namely, the early morning shoppers, even know the origins or meaning behind “Black Friday” and where the term came from? According to History.com:

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

The most commonly repeated story behind the post-Thanksgiving shopping-related Black Friday tradition links it to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”) stores would supposedly earn a profit (“went into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. Though it’s true that retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday’s origin is the officially sanctioned—but inaccurate—story behind the tradition.

So basically, when you run out to shop the day after Thanksgiving, buying a lot of stuff for the holidays — often things you “want,” rather than what you “need” — simply because the items have been discounted, you’re basically supporting the retail industry making profits at the expense of your own bank account and personal budget taking a loss.

As I’ve said to many friends and family members, it doesn’t matter how great a sale is; if you’re spending money on things you don’t need, you’re still wasting your money.

Be careful that your Black Friday shopping doesn’t turn into Red Saturday regrets, and January depression as the credit card bills start to roll in.

When You’re Among the Working Poor

Thanksgiving is just days away. Other than the pressures of the regular end-of-the-year kind of things, this is actually my all time favorite time of year; the time period with the week leading up to Thanksgiving, through to the days after Christmas. I love the anticipation of the Christmas season, even if it overshadows Thanksgiving. I know people get upset about those of us who like decorating early and planning holiday parties in October, and listening to Christmas music while the Harvestfest pumpkins haven’t even rotten on the porch. My all time favorite pastime — watching cheesy Christmas movies starting in November! It doesn’t matter that I can predict the plot of every single romantic holiday movie — because they’re mostly the same four or five plot lines, switching off lead gender roles and cities. I sit plop down in front of the TV when I need a break from the real world, and turn my brain off for two hours of entertainment!

There is one Christmas movie that I watched for the first time in the middle of July. It was during Hallmark’s Christmas in July features, about six or seven years ago. The movie originally aired in December 2006, but I don’t remember it back then. Maybe my life was too full to have time to watch many movies at the time. Or maybe it just didn’t catch my attention, back when I was gainfully employed, without a financial worry in the world. Whatever the reason, the movie, “Home by Christmas” not only caught my attention back in 2011, but it really resonated with me. It was that summer when I was 2 1/2 years into a new employment status I hadn’t really planned on — self-employment. It had been a real struggle, working 12-14 hour days trying to generate enough money to cover my bills, with little to nothing left over to re-invest into the company or even myself. Things were made more of a hardship trying to deal with some clients who didn’t pay their bills; others who took advantage of my generosity to help — and therefore, still didn’t pay me for my work; and a host of other things I, at the time, had not planned on.

This was the same summer when Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets was birthed. Maybe it was even by watching “Home for Christmas that I felt a sense of confirmation that some of the choices I had made over the previous two years were the right ones for me to adjust my life to my new normal. The premise of the movie was this:

A wealthy, stay at home mother discovers that her husband is having an affair. Though she’s willing to forgive him, he wants a divorce instead so he can be with the younger woman. Her attorney wants her to stay in the house and get both child support and alimony. She allows pride to get in the way (Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.) and gives up the house just to get away. Because she’s not been employed for years, she has a hard time finding a job, and therefore, can’t afford another home in the same area. Her daughter chooses to remain with her dad so she can stay in the same school district. Unable to find employment, eventually she can’t even afford the apartment, and finds herself homeless. At this point, her daughter is studying abroad, and has no idea her mom has fallen on such hard times.

Don’t worry, it’s a Christmas story, and starts to get better halfway through the movie. But the main part of the story that spoke to me is this. During the woman’s transition, she had to learn to do things differently. She had to learn to adjust to her new normal, and not allow pride to keep her from doing things differently. Along the way, she met a woman who became a friend (as you can guess, her old friends deserted her as soon as she was no longer able to afford to remain a part of their circle). The woman was a well-dressed, articulate, financial analyst. What caught her attention with the woman was after seeing her at the same coffeeshop multiple times, one day noticing that the outfit the woman was wearing looked just like a suit she had donated to a thrift store months earlier.

So as the story unfolds, we learn that this well-dressed, college-educated woman who had been hanging out at the coffeeshop working on her laptop, was herself homeless. But she didn’t talk like it or look like it. She looked like the businesswoman she introduced herself to be. As the story continues we learn that the woman had lost her job, but had learned how to survive while she looked for another one — how and where to eat, find a place to sleep, and continue to look her best while searching for another job.  This woman teaches our mom how to shop at discount places, where to go to get free personal services, type of places to find free food, and even finding safe places to sleep besides her car. A lot of other things happen during her to get back on her feet. But it was the things she learned to do along the way, to survive and stay safe, that did as much to change her as the luck that came her way, to help her pull herself out of the spiral she was experiencing. 

So what’s my point?

In part, it is the fact that looks can be deceiving. Too often we look at someone and determine their status in life by what they’re wearing, how well “put together” they appear, and whether or not they “look” like they’re employed at a “good” job. But there are many people sitting in coffee shops across America today who are working on job applications, or maybe just using the free wifi as they try to stay warm, if only for the day. Maybe they’ll strike up a conversation with someone who might have a lead on a job. They look well-dressed because they showed up at Goodwill’s 50% off Saturday sale to purchase that nice suit and shoes; and they went to the local cosmetology school to have students do their hair and nails for significantly less than going to a salon. And you may have no idea that the last time they had something to eat was one of the day old bagels that the coffeehouse donated to the homeless shelter the night before.

So when I read a recent tweet by someone in the media mocking new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s outfit, suggesting that she can’t really be struggling too much if she’s able to dress a certain way, it really set me off.

“I’ll tell you something: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.”

There is a lot wrong with his full tweet, including why a journalist would even make such a statement. But his comments, and the ascertain by some of his followers who chimed in, line up with the unfortunate misguided judgements a lot of people make; the assumption being that if you’re dressed in what appears to be “high fashion” clothing, then you must be wealthy. And likewise, if you look like your clothes came off a store rack at a shopping mall department store, then the person is less well off, unable to afford a more professional look for their workplace. Some of his followers tweeted a response that she couldn’t possibly be as bad off as she’s suggested in the past, if she’s able to “wear clothes like that.”

I’m in no way suggesting that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lives at the poverty level or shops at thrift stores. But what if she did? Would that make her any less of the person she is; any less qualified to want to have a voice in how her community, her state, and this country is run? Politics aside. And whether I agree or disagree with any of her positions, why are we judging someone by what what they do or don’t wear; what they drive, or how they get around; where they can and can’t afford to live? Maybe that’s one of the problems with American politics. American people keep electing their government officials who don’t live anything like them; who have never struggled to keep things together between pay checks; who have to make hard decisions each month, for the sake of their budgets; who worry that they’re one hospital stay, or two paychecks away from losing it all. And then they expect these same people to actually work and pass legislation on behalf of them and other working class Americans!

But I don’t want to get political. What I do want to get is real. If you’re one of the many working poor, who go into work everyday, rotating the same five outfits throughout each month. If you’re one of those who’s working a full-time job with a check that seems like part-time pay; with more going to bills and just the cost of life, than anything that can be saved to build or help out later. If how you make ends meet is by shopping at thrift shops and discount stores; giving up cable and the fancy mobile devices; and limiting hair cuts and manicures to special events a few times a year. Take heart. You’re not alone. We’re sadly a growing majority, some who even went into debt attending college so that we wouldn’t become a part of this story. Living in a time where the housing market has priced you out of that homeownership dream, while apartment rent remains as high as a mortgage. The working poor. Making just enough to be priced out of most programs designed to help those living in poverty, but not enough to live upon those means. 

Everyone has a story. Don’t assume you know what it is. If you’re fortunate not be  among the working poor, be thankful instead of arrogant. And maybe instead of retweeting an ugly comment, or making up one of your own, think about someone at your own workplace, in your neighborhood, or at your school, who might be just barely hanging on. And then find a way to reach out to them and help.

 

 

From the Garden to the Freezer: Making it Last

Saturday was a beautiful day; and not just because the weather cooperated and didn’t rain out my day. No, it was good because I spent it doing something I haven’t done in such a long time. 

I baked!

I used to enjoy baking, and even cooking a lot more. I haven’t had the time, or rather, I haven’t taken the time to do anything more than preparing a meal. But today, I decided to not allow the fresh zucchini and yellow squash given to me from a friend’s garden, go to waste.

The zucchini from Lisa’s garden was so large that I used less than half of it to make a full batch of the bread. I decided to get a little creative as well, using oat flour instead of white flour, and coconut sugar instead of white sugar. The texture was a little different, but they tasted just as good as any others I’ve made in the past. 

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Thinking ahead, I decided to bake them as small loaves so that I could freeze some for later. And with half the zucchini still leftover, I think I’ll make some time in my Sunday afternoon to make even more. They make the perfect quick breakfast; paired with coffee or a glass of milk and some fruit!

My friend blessed me with some yellow squash as well. And to be honest, I’ve been staring at them with guilt looking at them laying on the counter for over a week. I’d already prepared some for dinner on the stovetop, In my typical sautéed with onions and butter. And while that was nice, I just didn’t feel compelled to try to eat the rest of the squash in that fashion. But I also knew that the clock was ticking on their freshness. And I didn’t want to waste a gift of food, especially garden fresh food. So onward to a squash casserole I went.

From one large squash I was able to make two small casseroles. Of course, one headed straight for the freezer. The other one complimented the leftovers I had for dinner, with plenty still to enjoy later in the weekend. 

In between the chopping, preparing, and baking, I sat and vegged out on a marathon of another new, mindless reality show that I came across, stopping occasionally to play a word game on my phone; something I added recently to help sharpen my mind and help keep me focused.

Late afternoon found me outside cleaning out a car I’m preparing to sell. I made a promise to myself that any money I get from the sale will go straight into my savings account, after first paying off my dental bill.

By the end of the day, I at first thought I hadn’t really accomplished anything major, including the dishes still in the sink, the result of my sudden burst of domesticated kitchen goddess, I actually felt really good this evening. I’d been able to take vegetables from the garden and make some food for now, and some for the freezer to enjoy later. And since most of the items I needed for both dishes were already in the house, or things I needed for the house anyway, the cost was minimum.

My hope, dream, and future plan is to eventually buy a house with a reasonable amount of land where I can walk to the backyard, out into my own garden, and save money not having to go to the grocery store for vegetables, herbs; maybe even fruit from trees, while hopefully being able to bless others as I have been so fortunate to be blessed by friends over the years.

How fun would that be?!

How Wearing Sweaters in the Winter Can Help Cut Your Electric Bill

I laughed (again) as I read through the growing outrage on Facebook over some recent electric bills. Every year, around the same January through February time period, the same neighborhood FB page gets loaded with comments from people complaining that their bill had doubled, and even tripled over one month. It was a neighborhood with mostly older homes; with many if the homeowners probably not taking the steps to modernize their doors, windows, and insulation. Whether or not the people posting the comments were exaggerating or not, there was no doubt in my mind that their heating bill had likely jumped up, with us coming off of a couple weeks of low temperatures in our area. But how high a bill goes depends, in part, on what people are willing to do to help keep it down.

A month earlier, a friend poised the question on her FB page, asking what people set their thermostats on during the winter. I was very surprised to see a number of responders saying everything from mid-70 to even as high as 78 degrees! I could just feel the sweat pouring down my back thinking about how hot my house would feel at that setting!

Growing up, I remember my mom telling us to “go put a sweater on,” if we complained about the house being too cold in the winter. My mom typically kept it at a firm 68 degrees. When I got my own home, responsible for paying my own bill, I would do the same. When friends would come over, I would turn into my mother if any of them dared to say something about how my house felt. It’s what I also had to say to at least one roommate. “Don’t dress like it’s summer just because you’re in the house.” This was the same roommate who would always want to turn the heat up, but then would sleep with the ceiling fan on because she “liked the sound!”

But back to that informal FB poll my friend took. Many of her friends tried justifying their thermostat settings based upon comfort. They wanted to feel warm enough in their house that they could wear anything. But to me, if I have to sleep in thin PJs, and under only a sheet in the middle of winter, because the house is too warm to use a blanket, then something is wrong. And  I’m pretty sure that many of the same people setting upper 70s on the thermostat are the same ones complaining because their electric bill runs a couple of hundred dollars and more!

According to the Department of Energy, and most electric companies, the best settings to conserve energy and keep your utility bill down is 68 degrees during the day and down to 66 degrees at night. To keep from moving mine back and forth, I just keep it at 66 all day. I figure I’m not home during the day, and will be under covers (or a throw in the chair while watching television), with a nice blanket or two in bed.

“You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates.

You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68°F while you’re awake and setting it lower while you’re asleep or away from home.”

— Department of Energy

I believe that oftentimes when people say they’re looking for ways to save money, what they don’t say is that they want to do it without sacrifices or inconveniences. But like almost anything that’s worth doing, there will almost always be some type of sacrifice and perhaps an inconvenience to it.

The truth of the matter is that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t save money on your electric bill while allowing your heat to run all day. You don’t save energy when the system’s running at 78 degrees in the winter. And when you calculate other places where you might be losing some of the energy that you’re trying to save — like old single-pane windows, cracks and spaces around and under the door, or poor insulation in attic or walls, it can really add up.

So if you are serious about saving on your heating bill this winter, it’s not too late. And every little bit helps. Most electric companies provide their customers with brochures and online links describing how people can save money. My city’s electric company has a list on theirs with some helpful tips:

Save Energy This Winter

  1. Turn the thermostat down to 68 degrees or lower and bundle up with a cozy sweater and warm socks.
  2. Look into easy solutions like weather-stripping and caulking to prevent cold air from entering your home.
  3. Close curtains & blinds at night to protect against cold drafts. Open them during the day to let in the sun’s warmth.
  4. Clean or replace your furnace filter regularly. A dirty filter will slow air flow and make your system work harder.
  5. Keep the garage door closed as much as possible to help buffer cold outdoor air from trickling into your home.

So the next time you’re tempted to turn the heat up, go put on a sweater, grab a nice throw; fix a hot cup of tea, and remind yourself how much money you’ll save over the course of the season if you leave it where it is.

Spring Break at the Beach

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Isn’t it beautiful?! There’s nothing quite like spending some vacation time at the beach, sitting on the warm sands, watching the sunrise in the morning. And then returning that evening, after  full day of doing nothing, to watch it set. One of the things I’ve missed about leaving South Carolina for Tennessee is that the once two-and-a-half hour drive to the Atlantic ocean now takes over ten!

I invited myself to the beach with them once I learned their spring break was the same week as mine! It’s the first time it’s happened since I started teaching, and my schedule became dictated by semesters instead of calendar years. I knew they wouldn’t mind, and after the last six months, I needed a real break; not the kind you take over the holidays, where most of your time is spent decorating the house, visiting people, attending events, and hosting family and friends. I wanted, no needed a REAL break! I needed to see the ocean again, feel the warm sunshine on my face while digging in to the sand between my toes. I wanted to not set an alarm clock, wake up to the sounds of the waves, and listen to the high pitched screech of the water birds, drowned out only by the laughter of young children running from the water’s edge. I didn’t want to wait until summer. I needed it now!

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But somewhere along the way, what I wanted; what I needed; and what actually happened didn’t line up!

Okay, yes, I agree. It was the grown-up thing to do to call and UNinvite myself from a week in (almost) paradise. But that was the point. I didn’t want to act like a grown up. I wanted some ME time. Sure there were papers to be graded, which I knew would be a challenge to do sitting pool side, most likely distracted by the splash of the swimmers, and the lure of the lazy river that meandered beside the swimming pool. And while taking long walks down the beach would have been just the kind of medicine I needed to help destress and refocus my mind, and de-tense my body, I probably would have been thinking about all of the other stuff that needed doing at my house — like sorting through stacks of papers, preparing my taxes, cleaning my den and home office, and picking up all those twigs and small branches that keep falling over into my backyard from my neighbor’s overgrown and unkept trees that line our border!

But none of those things are the real reason why I’m sitting back here in Nashville instead of chilling out there, in North Myrtle Beach this week! The real reason for my grown up decision came down to the most basic of things — money! I was forced to count the cost of engaging in this “free” vacation, in light of something more significant that I’m saving for  happening later in the year.

Under normal circumstances, I would not have thought twice about spending the money in gas (for the 1400-mile round trip journey), snacks, meals on the road, and sharing in the costs of food and entertainment once I got there. But that’s just it. Most people don’t think about all of the extra money it takes to take advantage of something that’s FREE. If you’re on a budget, or just watching your spending, you can’t just count the things you want. Money spent is money spent. What goes out today isn’t going to be there tomorrow.

When I talk about budgets in class, I start by having my students write down the amount for everything they currently spend in a month. I think it’s important to have a visual of your habits so that reality sets in before you make out a budget. I remind my students that they have to include everything — every cup of coffee, pack of gum, bottle of water, smartphone upgrade, oil change, new shoes, hair cut, mani-pedi, and pair of sunglasses they just couldn’t resist. For me, that would have meant adding about $200 in gas and probably another $100 for food; not including money for going out.

So while I would rather be curled up in a chair on the balcony of the condo right now, reading a good book and taking in all of the fresh salty smells of the coast, I know that putting off instant gratification today means being able to do something bigger and better later; like maybe this summer, when I’ll have  an entire month to chill!

What about you? When’s the last time you’ve taken a visual of your spending habits? Why not do it now, instead of waiting until you’re ready to take off for somewhere.

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