Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Budgeting, Terminology, and Advice

Back in November I wrote about beginning to budget for the first time in my adult life. I was vaguely apprehensive that I was doing it wrong, and I still welcome hearing about others' systems! In January I revised my amounts for the new calendar year, but I think my system is working for me. Basically, I add up my "necessary" expenditures and keep track of how much of the leftovers I spend in a given month.

I have recently started reading And Then We Saved, and the writer there (Anna) refers to my system as a "spending diet" rather than a budget. By Anna's criteria, the only part of my system that would count as "budgeting" is the amount of money I set aside for groceries/household expenditures, since that's a category where I actively limit myself to a predetermined amount each week.

Anna dislikes the word "budget," so she invented a neologism to describe her system. I, personally, have terrible associations with the concept of dieting. I would be happy to discuss nutritional goals, food preferences, portion size, or a billion other things about eating delicious healthy things, but I'd rather not hear about your diet. It would NEVER occur to me to use that term to REDUCE anxiety when talking about money.

Even though we use different terms, it was exciting to see someone talking about a system I use because usually, online discussions about saving money are not applicable to my actual lifestyle. I mean, the money I am advised to save is generally already money I do not spend. In a recent challenge on Get Rich Slowly*, for instance, the blogger Ellen Cannon makes the following suggestions:

  • "Scale back on the cable services you currently buy:" BUT I don't have cable. 
  • Consider "carpooling:" BUT I don't own a car. 
  • "Bring your lunch to work every day:" BUT I do that already. 
  • "Make a hearty soup or stew and freeze it in portions:" BUT I do that already, too. This week it is white bean and chard stew with tomatoes and apple cider vinegar and believe me, it is delicious. I might make some crusty bread to go with it. But that's a digression. 
To save money, I am also routinely advised to get rid of my landline (I don't have one), cancel magazine subscriptions (I have only one and it was a gift), buy meat in bulk when it's on sale and then freeze it (I'm a vegetarian), do things to the outside of my house to make it weatherproof (I live in a seventh floor apartment), and the list goes on. 

One of the things that makes And Then We Saved particularly useful is that it is a technique rather than a list of specific expenditures. AND YET, if you have specific ways you've reduced your own spending, I would love to hear about those, too! 

*I really like Get Rich Slowly and these are good suggestions. But not useful to me. 


  1. plan frugal activities to replace non frugal ones! for example, inviting a friend to have tea at home instead of going out for coffee or dinner ;)
    or planning home movie watching instead of going out to a movie. Other good substitutions are rock band for karaoke if someone already owns it, or taking part in many free nyc activities instead of going to paid concerts etc.

    Clothing swaps are an excellent way to save.

    Finding recipes to use up things in the pantry you don't use/might expire soon?

    Cutting my own hair and going to bumble and bumble training school for free haircuts when I can get time to has saved me a lot as a short haired person.

    1. Sasha, these are great! I think I will do a follow-up post on these in a month or so.

  2. It sounds like you're great at budgeting.

    I make my coffee instead of buying it most of the time. It adds up.

    Also, buy things besides meat on sale. Especially for major purchases, find out what season those items go on sale, act accordingly. Using websites that compare prices helps a lot too.

    I've also saved a lot by taking full advantage of all the New York public library has to offer. I borrow DVDs and books all the time.

    I can get discount movie theater tickets to most theaters through my college, so tickets are usually $9 instead of $13. I have a membership to a discount theater ticket service, so I've seen a lot of theater for $4 a ticket. I also have reward/membership cards for stores and movie theaters - they're often free, and you definitely save.

    If you don't need something new, freecycle and craigslist are great resources. And I'm with Sasha on the swaps.

    1. Are you 5kEmily? Shakespeare Emily? You are not me. In any event, these are great tips. I totally also borrow books and DVDs and most recently, audio from the NYPL.

      And it's a good point about rewards cards. The savings are often not that big, but it's still nice psychologically to feel that you are getting something for free.

  3. We may have different terms for budgeting, but I believe that our goal is heading towards financial freedom. I’m also concentrating on my spending diet for the past months and I’m glad that I’m really succeeding at it. Though it’s so hard to remove all those things that I’m used to, like eating breakfast in a fastfood chain, having coffee at Starbucks, and the endless shopping every payday, I eventually had to start saving step by step. I’m just glad that I got compassionate financial advisor who helped a lot with my mindset towards budgeting.

    Saturnina Corbeil