Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Playing catch-up


Friday night left me a deficit of -$36.08

I did not spend any money on Saturday. -$26.08

I also did not spend any money on Sunday. -$16.08

Monday? I spent ten bucks on gas, which was the only expense I incurred from my New Years Eve celebration. I love house parties. -$16.08

Today I spent five bucks at McDonalds because today, if any, was definitely a day that called for McDonalds. - $11.08

Grand total: -$11.08
Not exactly where I want to be at in terms of budget, but I accomplished a few things this weekend in terms of willpower and smart decision making. Save for a party here and there I had RSVP'ed to, I stayed home most of the long weekend, citing gas and money conservation. New Years was a hard go. I usually go somewhere for New Years - up north, my friend's house in Wisconsin, some girls' getaway. Not this year. It's a bummer when the choice of how you want to ring in the New Year comes down to whether or not it's going to cost money. I was lucky in that I have a lot of friends who throw awesome house parties, and thus I ended up at one of those, carrying good tidings of beer from home and a positive attitude (it's how I live).

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I try figure out how to put gas in my car, buy food for the week - Ramen and I are going to be new best friends, apparently - and stockade money for Thursday's B&B.

Hope you all like magic tricks!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I can hardly stand the anticipation of what's going to happen next!


Aaaaaand I did almost exactly what I said I was hoping not to do.

Last night (Friday), I spent $22.53 while on a date. Being that I was already 13.55 in the negative, maybe you guys should actually start giving me some advice on how not to spend money on a date like I asked you to (Other than that whole "don't go on one" piece of advice that some seem to think is the answer).

So now I am approximately - $36.08 in the hole.

Man, this is getting exciting, isn't it?!?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Budget on the daily.


I'm going to start doing this thing called "daily updates" on the blog, concerning the budget. I should have done this from the beginning, and tried, but struggled with it because A., I kept forgetting to do it and B., struggled with it because the daily updates aren't exactly full of Razzle Dazzle, so I worried they would be boring.

But, this whole blog is about living on ten dollars a day, and there's no point having a blog about that unless I actually talk about what it's like to only have ten dollars to spend every day. So Razzle Dazzle be damned!

***

Since I didn't spend any money on Wednesday, that meant I had twenty dollars for yesterday's budget. I bought approx. $10.01 in gas, and spent approx. $23.54 at the bar.

Yeah. Spent a little more than I intended to at B&B last night.

So the budget is - $13.55 today. Let's see if I can spend an entire Friday not spending any money, or at least not making that deficit another forty dollar deep.

Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Figure out what you love. Find a way to make money at it. But know this: It's very, very hard to make a living as a Professional Make Out Artist.


I won a gift card at work today for Caribou!!!! God might really love me after all!!!

Also, I now have a new (used) car. Which takes about ten HUGE balls of stress right out of my life. Merry Christmas to me.

However, along with the car came a few conditions that I made for myself. First, I need to make a five year plan for my finances. I'm not going to once again put myself in the position where I'm simply hoping my car doesn't die on me before I win the lottery. So plans need to be in place, and so they shall be. I'm not great at making five year plans. I'm not even that great at making weekend plans. So this five year plan thing will definitely be an adventure in the making.

Also, I'm getting a second job. Boo. But, I gotta. Free time and weekends off doesn't mean much if I can't even spend that time with friends because I'm so broke. I love my full-time job, but it's not going to make me rich (yet). Therefore, I need to find a second job that will help pay off some of my loans and other assorted debts so that I can actually start living like a normal person.

While thinking about this, I debated a little bit about whether or not I wanted to post about it on the blog. I was embarrassed to admit on here that I need to get a second job. Which, really, is so stupid...you guys already know I'm poor. It's in the freaking title of the blog. But I think this is important to talk about. Almost everyone I know struggles with money. No one - except for a couple of friends and maybe my parents - seems to have enough. And yet the only person I really talk to about this stuff with is my BFF Katy. The biggest reason for that is because she's been there, too, and can understand and empathize. So, knowing that, I think this blog needs to be a place where I'm honest and unashamed to talk about this stuff on here. I'm not in debt because I'm a crackwhore and/or am trying to scam credit card companies. I'm in debt because I went to college, because I need to drive a car to work, and because I made some poor decisions early on in my adult life. I'm not poor because I'm spending the money on clothes or drugs or lottery tickets...I'm poor because it's important to me to pay my bills on time, and my paycheck only stretches so far. So there's no reason why I should feel sheepish or embarrassed to admit that I'm not rolling in the dough, and that maybe a part-time at Starbucks would make the bank account a little more flush.

Also, I think they give a discount on drinks to their employees, and that would also make my life a little more flush...with caffeine and happiness.





Daily Spending Report: $10 dollars in budget.
$0 dollars spent.
$10 dollars in the flush.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Thank god making out is at least free...

Listening To: The Way I Are by Timbaland

Let me first state my dating treatise up front, so that there is absolutely no confusion (nor any "gold-digger" accusations) -

I will not support my "paying on a date" philosophy by stating the fallacy that I was raised to be old-fashioned. Even though my mom did instill some old-fashioned beliefs (which only became instilled after I had rolled my eyes and scoffed at her openly, then - to my chagrin - systematically observed her mantras to be true), I came by my personal philosophy through careful study, life experience, and logical thought.

Here's my basic philosophy: If I ask you out on a date, I consider it my responsibility to plan and pay for the date. I would never call some guy, ask him out, and then say, "Thanks for accepting my invitation...oh, by the way, figure out what we're going and what we're doing and then let me know." It's kind of like hosting a party and asking all the guests to come early to help set up for it. It's tacky.

You can imagine, then, my philosophy when the roles are reversed.

However -

I am always prepared to pay my way on a date. In fact I expect it, as I know not everyone shares in my philosophy.

I did not expect, however, to spend 60 dollars when I went on a date a couple of nights ago.

What do you say?! When you have no idea where you're going or what you're doing, and then you're just there and there is no way to get out of spending at least 20 dollars on whatever it is they've planned...how does that work when you're on a budget?! I wouldn't have gone on the date unless I had a little extra cash to spend...I mean, dates are dates, but I'm committed to this budget thing and I've already bailed on at least five dates so far because I didn't have the money in my budget for them. And, as I previously stated, I'm not a money-grubbing whore. I am flattered and impressed by a man's gentility when he wants to pay for the date, but that's not why I'm going on the date with him. I can get a free dinner from the majority of my adoring male friends...I don' need to be goin' out wit' chu, talkin' 'bout yo' mama's friends jes' so's I can eat (it does, however, take this particular dilemma out of the equation when a guy pays during a date...but that's not why I appreciate it. Let's stop talking about this, it makes me uncomfortable).

I know the obvious answer is to be honest with them about the blog and budget. Would you want to tell someone you're on a date with about how you're on a ten-dollar-a-day budget because you're trying to get your shit together? One of the reasons why I'm doing this is so that I don't get into a relationship down the road and end up packing my crappy credit score along with my china when he gets down on one knee and asks me to move in with him. If I get into an actual relationship with someone, of course I'll be nothing but honest and upfront about this whole deal. But on a date? No thanks. Nothing gets a date in the mood to make out with you more than laying out all of your past financial transgressions over dinner (five star, three courses).

I also know what Seventeen magazine would tell me, and that's to suggest cheap and possibly free date ideas. I would do this anyway, simply because I prefer those types of dates: They tend to be more spontaneous and fun. I recently went on a date that involved taking the light rail to the airport and then walking around said airport. Fun? Yes. Memorable? Believe it. Costing either of us sixty dollars? Hells to the no. But the thing is, these aren't my dates. Unless they actually ask me what my preferences are, I'm not going to be so presumptuous as to insist we hang out at McDonalds instead.

I've already given up smoking. And Starbucks. And new scarves and hats at Urban Outfitters. Also, on a couple of nights, happy hours with beloved friends. There was a time when this girl would gladly use the "I'm trying to be financially responsible" excuse to get out of dating, but that time is no longer.

So what's a thrifty girl to do?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Also, the term "cheap date" is now seen as a positive thing.


Wow...the whole "who pays on a date" dilemma sure takes on a new light when one is on a ten-dollar-a-day budget...and doesn't really want to talk about said revolutionary social experiment on said first date.

More news at 9 (tomorra).

Friday, December 14, 2007

You should know.


I did not spend any money yesterday.

Which means that I am amazing!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bologna can be part of the American dream, too.

Listening To: Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill) by Wyclef Jean

Banner night last night. Knowing that I'm soon going to be putting the hammer down on myself in terms of entertainment, I brainstormed ways to do that without wanting to dissolve into a puddle of tears every time Friday and Saturday nights rolled around. What do I like to do that doesn't involve bars? It took me a while, but finally I came up with an answer: Books. I like books. However, I am no longer the girl who spends her credit card payments on a stack of books at Barnes & Noble (some people don't pay their bills so they can buy crack. I didn't pay my bills so I could buy books, because I am so awesome that way). Hence, I decided that what this girl needs is a public library card (preferably a library card at a library chockablock with books and movies).

So last evening my friend Jay agreed to take me to his favorite library - "It's even got a coffeeshop" he said, as if to TEMPT ME TO SPEND MONEY ON COFFEE BECAUSE HE KNOWS HOW MUCH I LOVE IT - after work. Before we reached the mecca of literacy, however, we stopped off at an auto parts store. A couple days ago I noticed that the drivers' side headlight on my hooptie was burnt out. This was great because there is nothing I love more than spending money on my car, as I'm sure you would surmise if you laid eyes on it. Knowing I would either have to suck up getting it fixed or deal with a cop-stop and a ticket (there is no maybe when it comes to me and traffic tickets...it's as if the cops all gather in at their meeting morning, huddle up, place all their hands in the middle, and chant, "Get Amber! Get Amber! GET AMBER! GO TEAM!" and break), I decided to give it the old college try and see if I could replace the headlight myself. Score: The headlight (low beam) cost 8 bucks and some change, and Jay valiantly spent 20 minutes in the cold replacing it for me (ladies, I have his number. He also wears Old Spice for your pleasure). Considering that otherwise I probably would have been suckered into paying at least thirty dollars (for the part, labor, and other assorted repairs that I would have gotten suckered into) to fix it at Tires Plus, I consider allowing Jay to fumble around for 20 minutes on a frigid December night to find the plug-in for my personally purchased headlight a brilliant choice.

The library, however, was not such a score. I have to attain a card at Minneapolis library - as I live in Minneapolis proper - before I am able to use it at a literary institution in St. Paul. This is disregarding the fact that I never go to Minneapolis libraries because they do not have enough funding to be consistently open late enough for me to visit after work. Apparently St. Paul libraries don't care about my feelings, however, and are also not interested in hearing about how they can better lend themselves to my own personal convenience. Henceforth, I left Jay to his mocha latte and GRE study manuals and headed into the cold December night in search of lesser meats and leavened bread. Two loafs of bread for 89 cents (on special), a thing a' butta for 95 cents, and a big ol' packet of bologna for $2.99. Here is why I love sammiches the most: Roughly a week's worth of meals for less than 5 bucks.

Grand total for yesterday came to $13.06. While I'm delighted that I was able to both fix my headlight and do my grocery shopping on that amount, I'm saddened as it means that tonight I will be missing out on Beers & Bitches, my weekly Thursday night get-togetha. I practically live for B&B, but I'm over-budget. I also know that, once there, I'm probably not going to be able to restrain myself to only spending $6.94. I need to focus on how to stay ahead rather than how to play keep-up.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hiatus 2 Haiku

Listening To: Can't Tell Me Nothing by Kanye West

Back!

It's time to stop dickin' around. Even though I haven't been blogging about it, I've still been following the ten-dollar-a day-deal. Kinda. I will fully admit, though, that not keeping myself accountable on here has been detrimental to the goals I set forth for myself. I may be only drinking two-dolla beers when I go out, but I've still been going out even when I don't have extra money in my budget. Which, even though it 'tis going to suck the most, stops as of this blog post (that rhymed).

Also, I'm quitting my ultra cool and super awesome habit of smoking. I was sick for about five days last week, and did not smoke a'tall. This did not surprise me as I don't physically crave cigarettes, and have gone weeks without them with nary a thought to the vice. I do, however, crave them when I am either driving somewhere or drinking alcohol. Those are the only activities left that are still paired with the habit of smoking, but they're really, really paired. I have always said that I would never be 30 years old and still smoking. I'm a year and two months from breaking that vow, so no better time (or reason) like the present to quit than here and now.

So to celebrate the end of the hiatus, let us haiku it up:

No more smokes for me
The bars are gonna miss me
Hope I won't cry lots

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hiatus

So I promise I haven't abandoned this blog, nor the $10 a day deal. I have, however, abandoned the stress of trying to maintain this one along with my regular one - and my entire life - until NaNoWriMo is over. So please stay tuned...I'm excited for some of the future posts I've got planned for this one, and hopefully you will be, too.

Friday, November 9, 2007

I normally don't like taking advice. I think this is pretty solid, though.



Yesterday morning a co-worker of mine was wearing a super rad sweater. I'm fairly picky about clothes - I have to really love it to even consider buying it - and this sweater was so perfect. It was one of those urban myth sweaters...you know, the ones that are professional enough to wear to work but also cute enough to wear out? The color would go with almost everything I have, not to mention put all of my summer tank tops to good use (whatever, you find this stuff totally interesting).

Having lusted after it all morning, I asked her where she had gotten it. She cited a store near where we work, and I immediately made a plan to go right after work to score one of my own. I was so exited about it that I even thought about going over my lunch break. "I'll just buy it and make up for it later," I thought to myself, as I planned out my purchase. "No one has to know about it. All they'll know is that I look super cute in my new fall sweater!"

And right here, kids, is an example of the brilliant logic that got me into this situation in the first place: "I want it, therefore I should have it. Now."

I'm only ten days into this venture and already I'm looking for ways to cheat? For a sweater that I can probably find at almost any other store carrying fall/winter trends. C'mon.

PS - I've decided that the Final Countdown is boring. It kind of helped in keeping me accountable in terms of how much I spend and what I spend it on, but it's also a real chore to have to pull out all of my receipts and list my expenses every day on here, etc. So unless there's a call to keep it, I'm scrapping it and will instead talk about the budget in the posts.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

OH MY GOD!


The holiday flavors at Starbucks are out!!! If anything is going to test my mettle when it comes to sticking to this budget, it's gonna be the seasonal holiday drinks at Starbucks and Caribou.

Everybody has their thing, okay?! For some people it's crack, for me, it's the seasonal drinks at Starbucks. I know it's kind of petty and dumb to lust after some corporate-made catering-to-the-holiday-culture coffee drink...but I'm a total sucker for stuff like that. Also, it's pretty much the only thing that gets me through the first half of winter. Last winter I almost stabbed and killed someone with a giant icicle, but then I realized that I could just go to Starbucks, get a Gingerbread Latte, and everything would be alright. And because of that Gingerbread Latte, that person lived.

And so did I, my friends. And so did I.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

In some countries, Visa is another name for "baby-killer".

Listening To: What's Mine Is Yours by MXPX

It all started the day after I graduated from high school. A very nice gentleman representing Visa called me at home and asked if I might like to apply for a credit card. I was going off to college, he reminded me. A credit card could help me pay for books and other college expenses, he pointed out. If I signed up immediately there was even a fifty dollar bonus, the check of which I would receive in the mail in the next two weeks, he promised. Taken in by his silky words and the thought of how much easier having a credit card would be when it came to paying for all the things my parents weren't going to foot the bill for, I said yes.

I said yes. Despite having taken the personal finance class that was required during my senior year of high school, I knew next to nothing about personal credit. I certainly didn’t know enough to ask him what the interest rate on this great new credit card would be, or if there would be extra fees, or if my credit limit would be so low that I would have that balance maxed out after the purchase of one textbook. All of which I would learn about after I had already effectively signed the better part of my twenties away with just one word: Yes.

See, when you know nothing about credit cards, it’s like this free magical money from your new best friend Visa. You walk into a store and you feel like you can buy anything: You have a credit card now! The world is yours! All the while never realizing that those $40 dollar sweaters you have to have for freshman year are going to end up costing you close to $200 dollars by the time you're actually done paying for them.

College is one of those weird alternate universes where you’re expected to have all of this money to do things, yet you’re not actually doing anything to make any of that money because you’re supposed to be concentrating on your studies. Having planned ahead the summer before, I had scored an awful job on campus as an “Alumni Fund" telemarketer. I think it paid maybe three bucks an hour. Thus, when I received my credit card statement, I had no money to pay it. Remember what I said about the interest rate and the hidden fees? Yeah. Not paying the minimum balance every month really kicked those into high gear.

And so began the long and tumultuous relationship between myself and credit cards. I'm not someone who likes to not pay her bills....but you can't pay them if you don't have any money. Soon, that credit card statement became such a point of stress for me every month that I just started ignore it when it came in the mail. "If I don't open it, then that means it doesn't exist." Brilliant!

I would like to say that I learned my lesson soon after and that was the end of it. Nope. It took maybe seven more years for me to really get it when it came to credit cards. I would work so hard and stress out so much when it came to paying off my maxed-out credit card limits...and then go out and blow the balance again within, like, a month. Can't quite make the payments on one card? Why not just get another one to transfer the balance to!

And late payments? Oh my god. Oh my gooood. I was the worst when it came to making late payments. Life was busy, man. I was coming and going, I had stuff to do! I couldn't be bothered to pay a credit card statement..."Unless there's a post office on the way to the bar, I'm sending it in tomorrow."

So yeah. A lot of really stupid little mistakes when it came to credit cards added up to a gigantic problem of debt. In fact, one of the reasons why I've never requested to see my credit report (yeah, yeah...we'll get it to that later) is because I really don't relish taking a trip down the memory lane entitled "Amber At Her Most Embarrassingly Irresponsible Stage In Life". I've even had real actual nightmares in which everyone in the entire world knows about my horrible credit history, and it's like I'm Typhoid Mary..."Oh, you. Yeah, I know allll about you and your incredibly irresponsible management of your personal credit. Get the hell out of my store!" Then there was the fear of what could happen if it got worse...if I couldn't pay and bill collectors started coming after me...if I couldn't pay them and then had to go court or jail. In and amongst those heart-palpitation-inducing thoughts was the worst fear of all: What if my parents found out just how in deep I was ? What if it got so bad that I had no choice but to ask them to help bail me out?

As of this point in time, I have (entirely on my own) paid off every single credit card I've ever had. Wait, that sounds like it was easy...as of this point in time, I have gotten to the point where credit card companies no longer hold the rights to my first-born baby. Which is great, and I'm really proud of myself for that....yet I still have what I assume is a really shitty credit score to ruin the afterglow.

So how do I go about fixing it so that dumb and mean commercial with that guy singing about his girlfriends' crappy credit can stop bothering me? That's what we're going to learn about within the next few weeks or so. I've amassed some really great information that I'll be digging into here on the blog, both for my own edification and anyone else who fancies it. I'll also totally be your guinea pig, because apparently I have nothing else better to do.

You're welcome.


Final Countdown for Day 9 of Livin' the Dream:
$16.31 ($6.31from Day 8)
- 6.00 gas

- 9.50 drinks @ Tuesday Trivia
= $0.81

Monday, November 5, 2007

Ballin' on a budget.


I really love these types of magazine covers. It's always of some really attractive couple standing on top of some mountaintop or lying on a beach somewhere. Huge toothy smiles, some healthy Public Displays of Affection, and this smug look in their eyes that mocks me at every turn. "Hey, look at us, Amber. Not only do we get to have tons of sex together and be all cute and shit, but we're also debt-free. That's right, Amber...no living in basements for us! We have our own house, and can afford vacations to tops of mountains and stuff. Did we mention that we also get to have a lot of sex in our own house and on our vacations to mountains and stuff? It's so awesome."

The weekend was good: I did not spend any money alllll weekend save for gas (10.00). I had stayed in on Saturday in anticipation of brunch on Sunday with my sister-in-law, who was in town. We have made a tradition of meeting at Famous Daves on Calhoun Square for brunch, and since it's a buffet (the best effin' buffet in the world), it's a little pricer. So points for me for planning ahead.

However, while Becks and I were alternately conversing and stuffing our faces, my brother Kris called and told Becks that he wanted them to pay for my brunch. Seriously. Free brunch? Does a girls' Sunday morning get any better?! Point #53 why Kris and Becks are the bombest.

So I put the money I saved on brunch towards gas. Very responsible of me, yes? Considering I wanted to go over to Urban Outfitters and blow it on hats and scarves...god! I felt so much better about myself when I wasn't having to admit on a daily basis how impulsive I am with money.

Oh yeah, and then I spent two dolla on iTunes. Mandy Moores' Gardenia, and Future Foe Scenarios by Silversun Pickups (hot. Hot hot song). I could rationalize this and say that it's important to reward myself when I stay within budget so that I am not overcome with deprivation and end up blowing my monthly total on crack, but that's just what it is: a rationalization. The truth is that I couldn't get those songs out of my head, I had the money for them, so I bought them. Let's see if I'm kicking myself for it when I need to buy gas tomorrow...but then again, what's the point of even driving unless you have killa tunes to listen to?

God! Again! Bad!

Final Countdown for Day 6, Day 7, & Day 8 of Livin' the Dream:
-7.69 (from Day 5)
+ $10 from Day 6
= $3.31 in the flush

$3.31 (from Day 6)
+ $10.00 from Day 7
= $13.31
-10.00 for gas,
-2.00 from iTunes
= $1.31 in the flush.

$1.31 (from Day 7)
+10.00 from Day 8
=$11.31
- 5.00 food
= $6.31 in the flush

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Being poor sucks.

Listening To: Where's Your Money by Busta Rhymes & Ol' Dirty Bastard

So remember in my first post how I mentioned I was one unforeseen emergency away from financial disaster?

Yeah. That happened yesterday.

Let me explain: For the better part of my twenties, I have gone without any type of health insurance. I either worked at places that didn't happen to offer it or I was doing my own private practice and couldn't afford it. Everyone talks about how important health insurance is but when you're barely making ends meet, you don't get too pumped about the thought of sending an insurance company money every month that you might never see again (let us not discuss insurance companies and how they screw people over. It makes thee upset) and that could be better used on other things like rent or the utility bill.

So I had this tooth. And I had this accident. The tooth got broken in this accident. My mom, being the mom she is, insisted that I get it taken care of before I trotted off to England. So a cement cap was done, I went to England, everything was fine until this year. This year that cap started to decay. What I should have done was go to the dentist immediately to get it fixed, especially now that I do actually have dental insurance. I put it off, though, because I knew that my dental account wasn't overflowing with fundage as of yet. Note this...I thought I was being responsible by waiting to have it fixed until I had more money in my dental account.

For the past couple of weeks the pain has admittedly been so bad that it even kept me up at night, but I would just apply some Oragel and tell myself to tough it out. Yesterday, however, I woke up and could barely function because the pain was so severe. Long story short because this story is boring, I had to get a root canal and a crown yesterday. Guess how much my CO-PAY was?!

Six hundred and thirty fucking dollars.

Holy shit, right?! In shock, I wrote out the check, and it was only when I was halfway home that it really sunk in. First was the panic of how the fuck I'm going to cover that. I have to stretch every paycheck just to cover my financial obligations, so I'm not exactly prepared for a bill of that proportion. Then, I started to feel sorry for myself...did I kill and eat a bunch of babies in a past life?! How the hell am I ever going to get out of the hole, much less ahead, when this kind of shit keeps happening?!

The thing that gets me the most about something like this is that the reason why I'm so strapped for cash all the time is because I pay my bills. When taking care of my bills wasn't that important to me, I had more cash and weirdly, it seems like things were easier back then. Obviously, that got me into some trouble and now I'm - literally - paying for it. However, it is just so frustrating when you're being responsible and stretching things to the limit so you can pay your student loans and other assorted debts, and then you get hit with something like this.

I detest pity parties, though, so I quickly worked my way through it and then started to brainstorm up a game plan. I have one now, and it includes calling my insurance company and asking them why the hell I have to pay SIX HUNDRED AND THIRTY DOLLARS for a fairly common procedure when I give them money every month to pay for just that type of thing. It also includes making a note to myself that signing up for and contributing to a Flex Spending account was one of the best decisions I've made, because it's definitely about to be used. After those two things happen I'll have a better idea of what my next step will be.

After that whole debacle, I met up with some friends at the Green Mill because root canal or no root canal, it was still Friday night and this girl needed a drink. So I had some. I didn't keep track, however (possibly because I was too busy thinking about the tough day I had), and my bill came to 13.50, tip included. Then I went out and bought a pack of cigarettes. Which not only was stupid because I was already over my budget, but also because when you just had major dental work done, it might not be the smartest thing to go out and smoke.

Disclaimer: I am fully aware of this and also the dangers of smoking that are unrelated to dental health (fun fact: My mom is the director of the American Cancer Society) so please, no lectures. I totally could have omitted this fact and even entertained doing so, but this blog is about honesty and copping to the screw-ups, so let's just take a moment to process the moronic act and then move on, mmmkay? Thanks, guys. You're the best.

So yeah. Not such a great day for being all pumped up on being the poor girl.

Final Countdown for Day 5 of Livin' the Dream: $13.50 @ the Mill + $4.19 for cigarettes = $17.69. Grand Total: -7.69.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Money is like that one girl everybody knows...it keeps talking, but it ain't saying nothin'.

Listening To: C.R.E.A.M. by Wu-Tang Clan

Yesterday was Thursday. Thursdays are kind of a big deal for me...it's the night of Bitches & Brews. Bitches & Brews is the one night of the week when a group of girls and I get together, no matter what. I consider it sacrosanct - people have been warned that if they schedule something during happy hour on Thursdays, I will not be attending - and I look forward to it all week.

This week, however, it also posed a test...can I stick to my budget during my biggest downfall time, which is drinking and hanging out with friends? I can talk the biggest game going into it - I'm only going to have a few beers, or maybe I'll switch to Diet Coke after one or two, etc. - but after I get a couple of beers in me and I'm having a great time, I'm not really thinking about how I want to be a financially responsible person. I'm thinking about how much fun this is and how much I want to keep it going.

Last night, however, was easy. I had a couple of PBRs, and then I had to jet off to a date (which I never would have scheduled on a B&B night, but it was either that or I had to wait another week for the date...and I knew that if I waited that long I would bail out, but that's a conversation for another blog). Total came to six bucks, including tip. I didn't spend anything on my date, because he wouldn't let me (and yes, I did offer).

So I rule.

Final Countdown for Day 4 of Livin' the Dream: $10.91 - 6.00 - $4.91 on gas = $0

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Bologna sammiches need love too.

Listening To: It's All About the Benjamins by Puff Daddy & The Family

Noting my bologna sandwich of today vs. my Ebert & Gerberts of other days, a coworker raises her eyebrows and asks me what's up. So I tell her. Commence round-table discussion about what having a budget in college used to be like, how sometimes having more money just means you spend more, and interest in if a person can actually manage to provide for their basic needs on ten pieces of dough.

At one point, one of the girls looks over at me and goes, "I think I would get so fat eating like that." I stopped mid-bite into my meager little sandwich and stared at her. "I mean," she continued, oblivious to my evil eyes, "Carbs are the cheapest thing out there. So's junk food. You hear all the time about people getting down on welfare moms for buying chips and stuff, but do they know how expensive fruit is?" Relieved that she was making a point about how expensive food is instead of criticizing the fact that I was stuffing my face with one small sandwich, I joined in and shared my supporting points. When I worked at the youth shelter in England, one of my job duties was to teach the residents how to buy groceries and cook healthily on a budget. What a joke. There's a reason why our poorest citizens are also usually McDonald's best customers: You can get a whole meal there for 4 bucks, vs. what it would take to buy one healthy meal at the grocery store (I don't have cold hard numbers on what that would cost you, but I'm pretty confident that it would definitely cost more than 4 dollars for something standardly healthy). I also told them about an interview Charlize Theron did with Oprah right after she made Monster: She was talking about the 30 pounds of weight she had gained for the role, and mentioned that, although she wasn't fat per say, Aileen had a lot of chubby, loose weight because her diet mainly consisted of things like doughnuts and gas-station cheeseburgers..."...because that was the only type of food she could afford...whatever was cheapest or maybe free."

God, please don't let me get fatter because my budget is slimmer and I can't afford fresh produce. Please let it all balance out. I can't stuff my face because I can't afford it, so please let that counteract the fact that my main nutritional intake for the next month will come from bologna sandwiches and ramen noodles. Also, let me have awesome friends who want to take me out for a healthy, square meal every once in a while because they love me and care about my fruit and vegetable intake.

Love,

Your Best Friend Amber

I digress...the one thing about the budget is that it's starting to help define what I consider important. Food? Not so important. I mean, I like food. There's food that I would even say that I love (but not to their face, because I would die of embarrassment if they didn't say it back), but it's at the bottom of the things that I want to spend money on. Food's food. That was the one thing I remember most from the days when I worked in a treatment center for juvenile delinquents...all my boys were sitting around, bitching about the meal that was served for dinner, and one of my kids was like, "Yo, food's food. This stuff is free, man. Ain't nothing wrong with it, and they ain't gonna serve us steak in here, so just eat it and shut up." And he would use that point for a lot of things, which always struck me as incredibly mature for someone his age. The guys would be bitching about the clothes that were distributed to them every few weeks or so (funny how they never seemed to bitch about the bad decisions they had made that contributed to landing them in juvie, however...), and this kid would just look at them and be all "Clothes is clothes. Ain't no girls in here. Ain't nobody you gotta impress. Better than walkin' around nekkid." I've been thinking about that a lot lately...that kind of logic and perspective.

Plus there's that girl thing, which I kind of hate but must cite for its truth...why would I want to spend money on something that I have to put so much effort into getting rid of? Great. Let me spend fifty dollars on groceries so I can spend another thirty dollars on a gym membership to work it off my ass.

Beer, now...that's a different story. Plus they say that a bottle of beer is the caloric equivalent of a pork chop, so maybe I can just subsidize my diet that way. Brilliant!

Final Countdown For Day 3 of Livin' the Dream: + .91 cents - $0 because I made a Smart Choice and went home instead of to happy hour like I wanted. Grand Total: .91 cents bonus = I Rule At This Budget Thing

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Working for the Weekend: The title of a cheesy pop song, yet deep and profound when applied to me.

Listening To: She Works Hard for the Money by Donna Summer

I love, love, love my job. However, it's the type of job that you do because of the knowledge that you're contributing to the greater good...not so much because you're contributing to the greater good of your bank account. Put simply, by income bracket standards, I'm poor.

'Tis frustrating. I don't really like to think about my paycheck because it makes me unhappy, and doing the comparison game makes me really unhappy...but since my wage is the only thing about my job that makes me unhappy, the term "put your money where your mouth is" will always be the term that I have to apply to this perspective. Throughout my life I've insisted upon the fact that I would prefer a job that I loved but made no money at over a job I didn't love but was paid handsomely for (and of course, I always maintained this position with a certain amount of noble, smug pride, because I was above all that money bullshit. I had ideals!). I know there are jobs out there that provide both...however, there are about as few of them in the social science field as there are sightings of Britney's undapants. I am unwilling to change my field for a larger paycheck because the increase in pay would most likely not balance out the loss of quality of life I would suffer. I have also worked really hard to score a M-F, 9-5 position in this particular field (an "adult" job, to quote my parents), and as of now, I am unwilling to take on a part-time job supplement my income. Again, it's about the gain vs. the sacrifice - I'm not willing to give up the free time that I could use to spend with friends or pursue other interests to score an extra forty dollars each week. If it comes to the point where there is no other option, then yes, I'll do whatever it is I need to do...but let's just say that the one of the reasons why I'm taking such drastic measures now is to ensure that I won't fall into that position.

Since I'm not yet willing to change my job to fit my lifestyle, I guess it's my lifestyle that'll have to change. As they say, it's not how much you make that matters, it's how you handle it. Being 28 years old and struggling to make your student loan payments isn't cute anymore (I don't know if it's ever really been cute, but I heard someone say that once and it seemed like a worthy nugget of cold, hard truth). It sucks that I didn't buck up earlier in my life so I wouldn't have to do this, but as they apparently said on the last season of American Idol (which I never watch but yet can never seem to avoid hearing about) This is My Now. Let's hope it sinks in so I'm not 35, still living in somebody's basement, and looking forward to spending my golden years as a bag lady.

Final Countdown for Day 2 of Livin' the Dream: - 1.09 + 10.00 = $8.91 (today's budget, less roll-over from yesterday). $8.91 - $7.50 (sushi w/ coworkers) = $1.41. $1.41 - $10.50 (beers during Trivia Tuesday) = - 9.09. Grand Total: - 9.09 in the hole = I'm Sucking At This Budget Thing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day 1 of Livin' The Dream: El Cheapo, which is Spanish for: The Cheapo.

Listening To: For the Love of Money by The O'Jays

So yesterday was the first day of my grand new goal of living on ten bucks a day. Usually when I wake up in the morning, the first thought on my mind is do I have enough time, between when I woke up and when I have to be at work, to grab some Starbucks. Seriously. I don't think about sex, I don't think about my goals for the day, I don't think about the weird dream I had last night. I think about Starbucks, and I will fully admit that some days it's the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning.

Not this particular morning, though. This chick is on a revolutionary new budget!

So I bounded out of bed and tried to remind myself of the reasons why I'm doing this, tried to be optimistic about how much I'm going to learn from it, how interesting it will be, blah blah blah. Then, after thinking more about it, I got a little cocky: I'd been to college. I know what it is to live on Ramen noodles for a month. When I lived in England during my volunteership at a youth shelter, the dilemma of whether I should eat that day or buy bus fare was a daily one. My first "real" job barely even covered rent much less gas, groceries, and all the other expenses of setting up your first apartment. I didn't even have a phone or any real furniture (save for my ultra-classy futon mattress) until about a year after I moved in.

So I've done this before. Yet it's really depressing that I'm back in the same place. That I haven't actually progressed beyond scraping by. Things have gotten better for periods of time, but god...I would just really like to say goodbye to this cycle and know that I'll never ever have to here ever again.

But for now I am, so let's get on with it.

The challenge today is to figure out how to buy gas, groceries, and shampoo on only ten bucks. Tough order the first day out, but like I said before, I'm scrappy. I'm resourceful.

I'm also super lucky, because that morning I strolled into my work lunchroom and noticed a huge sheet cake left over from an open house we had last week. I don't know if you know this about me, but one of my most beloved fantasies is to be able to eat cake every single day. So instead of having to spend 65 cents on a candy bar from the vending machine for breakfast, I did a little happy dance and ate a piece of the free dessert.

All day long the mantra, "Make smart choices" reverberated in my head. Feeling thirsty after eating another piece of cake during my break (most likely from the copious amounts of thick, frothy frosting I had just inhaled), I reached for my coin purse out of instinct to grab some change for a Diet Coke. Then I stopped myself: I'd be running around with a client for the next hour and a half, so I wouldn't even really get to drink it, much less enjoy it. I think somebody once said that water's healthier than pop, too...and it's free. Check, check - smarter choice made.

Over my lunch break I decided that I might need a little bit more sustenance than just cake, so I headed out to the nearby gas station in search of cheap food. Again, everything is a choice: I chose not to go to the grocery store a few miles down the road because even though chances are the food is cheaper, the extra gas spent getting there would probably just balance it out. Would I rather eat fairly cheap cans of soup for a week rather than bologna sandwiches? Yes. However, I also have bologna and butter left over from last week's groceries, so it makes the most sense to just buy a loaf of bread for $1.29.

I took a shot at the shampoo. Back in plushier times, this girl might’ve splurged for fancy-type shampoo, like Pantene or maybe even Herbal Essences. Nuh-uh...not any more, bitches! Besides, don’t those commercials for Suave even say that you can’t tell the difference? However, priced at $2.39 via Holiday gas station, I decide to either wait for an opportunity to buy it elsewhere or buy it the next day, when I'll have more flex in my budget.

I still had my sweet, sweet vehicular machine to fill with gas: $8.70, which maybe got me three gallons of gas, putting me just above the half-tank mark. But...my daily spending comes out to one cent short of ten dollars, a fact of which I am unabashedly elated by as I cruise on out of the parking lot.

That evening I tagged along with a friend on some errands, which included a stop at Target. While I perused the aisles, I noticed that Suave was priced at only 97 cents ($1.07 with sales tax). Even though I had already spent my daily budget on food and gas, I decided to buy the shampoo since the price was better than at the gas station. I knew I'd have to subtract $1.07 from the next days' budget, but I also knew that at least I'd be doing that math in shiny clean hair...

And, as luck would also have it, my generous and ultra-wonderful roommate gifted me with two Lean Cuisines he had scored but didn't want. I love free food!

Final Countdown: Loaf of bread, $1.29/3 gallons of gas, $8.70/shampoo, $1.07 = $11.06, which brings me to -$1.06.

Monday, October 29, 2007

She's so money she doesn't even know.

Listening To: Got Your Money by Ol' Dirty Bastard

So by now you're probably thinking, "Amber, how did such an incredibly smart and attractive girl such as yourself fall into this position?" The answer is a mix of poor decision making and some plain bad luck. I'll take you through most of those stories in upcoming posts (I'm really looking forward to the one about my credit card history. Can't wait!), but since my ten dollar budget starts today, we'll begin with the most pertinent pit-fall when it comes to my financial life:

I'm a good-time girl. Also, I have very poor impulse control. If I decided, for fun, to take you through some of my old bank statements, we would discover that I spend most of my money on going out and other little "pick-me-ups".

The biggest temptation that I have always faced when it comes to my spending habits is going out with friends. It's so hard for me to say no: My friends really do hold the top priority in my life, so not hanging out with them at every opportunity feels like I'm missing out on valuable time that I won't ever get back. Plus there's that little thing about still being young and single and wanting to make the most of it before I'm an old hag...

The problem with going out all the time is that I always seem to spend way more than I had intended. And while my friendships are among the biggest priorities in my life, that is quickly becoming compromised because, as a result of my poor spending habits, more and more I'm having to deny myself time with them. When you don't even have the luxury of ordering your own priorities due to your poor decision making? That's when it's time for some self-ass-kickin'.

As for little "pick-me-ups", I love Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Victoria's Secret. Those places have gotten so much of my money that I could probably campaign for honorary share-holding seats. My poor impulse control goes something like this: "Maybe I shouldn't go to Starbucks today. I could spend that five bucks on something else, like gas, or paying down my student loans...but I feel like going to Starbucks today. Going to Starbucks makes me so happy...and isn't life really about being happy? Shouldn't I get to be happy?! Let's go to Starbucks!" I can pretty much rationalize every single purchase I ever make: "Books will make me a more intelligent person. You can't put a price on knowledge."..."Victoria's Secret is the one thing I do that's super girly. If I take that away from myself, I might as well just cut off my boobs and start using a strap-on, because there will be no femininity left to me."...I could go on and on. I've had a lifetime of practice when it comes to coming up with great excuses. My parents can vouch for this.

I don't want to eliminate these things completely out of my life: I want to be financially responsible, not totally lame. Also, I don't know if you caught onto this, but I'm pretty horrible at self-deprivation, and I know from past experience that a certain amount of it will completely sabotage all of my efforts. So I just have to find ways to replace that certain type of mindless spending with habits that are more responsible. For instance, I've decided that I'll hold off on the Starbucks fix unless I'm hanging out with my hetero-life-partner Katy: It's kind of our thing, I'll enjoy it more, and it will give me time to plan for it in my budget. I'm also putting a hold on the Victoria's Secret purchases until there's a reason for me to show off my purchases, if you know what I mean (it means that I'm not going to buy anymore until I start getting laid on a regular basis. Just in case you really didn't know what I meant). I suppose I could stop being lazy and actually go out and get a library card instead of racking up purchases at B&N, but I think I'll just read more blogs instead of books in my spare time and just hope that I don't get dumber for it.

Notice that I haven't said anything about a plan for rationing time out with friends and the money I spend doing that. I think I might need to think on that one a bit more yet.