Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April recap/May goals

I am having a really hard time believing it is already April 30. Seriously?! How did that happen?

Review of April goals
1. Really work on sticking to the budget. I did a little better on this than in March. The problem is I have this extra debit card that I do all my mystery shopping out of and all my direct deposits/dance income goes into it...and sometimes it turns into fun money and I blow through it without paying attention to what I'm doing.

2. Try to lower my electricity bill. I have not received my next electricity bill yet (hmmm) so I don't know if this worked. I did end up leaving my laptop in my backpack for several days a few times, so I bet it went down a little.

3. Clothing challenge. I went shopping a few times but overall did not find much in the way of sales. I now have a list of clothing "needs" that I carry with me, though, so as I find things to purchase, I can do so.

4. Plan and book my trip home. Done. Plane ticket purchased, plans made for one day road trip with my sister, free places to stay lined up (grandmother's, parents', friend), graduation gift for younger brother planned. I'm really excited for this trip

5. Find a new $5 bill. Done! It's purple and has stars on it. Very pretty.

May goals
1. Budget for trip home. I still need to work out a budget for estimated gas and food costs, and figure out what I can spend on "fun" stuff like shopping (some of my favorite stores are down there and not here, so I might as well work on the clothing challenge while I can!).

2. File paperwork for tuition reimbursement for my first semester of graduate school. Wow, that feels weird to say. I guess I'll get my grades in a week or two (finals start tomorrow) and I'll get my entire out of pocket cost of this semester reimbursed. I plan to stash that money in the highest percentage interest bearing account I can find (possibly even a CD) to sit until I graduate. Then when my grace period on the loans are up, I'll dump all that reimbursement money plus the interest it's earned to drop the principle by more than half before I start making payments.

3. Automate my finances a little bit more. I already pay everything that I can online, but I don't have automatic transfers set up for my sinking funds. I don't know why I still do this manually, but I do. And every once in a while, I'll transfer money and forget to note it in my sinking fund logs, or I'll forget to transfer the money entirely, and while it's not a big deal, it can sometimes be a pain to unravel when I realize what happened later. I'm just going to set up automatic transfers to ING and my Chase savings account the day after each payday and have that email remind me to update the logs. I also want to get things into one place--I have some files on my computer at home, some on my thumb drive, some on my cell phone, and some that I email to myself. Maybe I need to put these things in Google docs or something, because it's getting harder to tell which is the most up to date version.

4. Quit smoking. I have a whole post about half written on this. I haven't mentioned it before because I've been deluding myself that I'm "only" a social smoker and it's not a big deal, but the truth is I'm addicted and I spend too much money on it, not to mention the health hazards. I'll finish the other post soon and address this in more depth there. But my set quit date is May 9.

5. Take it a little easy. In addition to quitting smoking, which is stressful in and of itself, I've been overdoing it a little bit lately as I mentioned, and in May I'm going to give myself permission to relax a little more, not worry about cleaning my apartment to perfection or accepting every single invitation when I'd rather sit home and read. May is for me.

What are your May goals?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ok. Really trying to get back in the groove here.

I filed my taxes on March 13. I have not yet received my NY state refund, which is starting to irritate me a little bit. I don't even know where I can find more information about it, as the NY department of taxation website says it was accepted, and is being processed, and no more information is available about it and please don't check back here for another week. It also says that refunds are sent within 4-6 weeks and faster if direct deposit is used. It is now going on 7 weeks, despite requesting direct deposit.

Hrmmm.

I wonder if this means I'm going to be audited. I've never been audited before, and that's a little nervewracking. But I filed both my Schedule C's in good faith (meaning no fraud, I did the best I could but I wouldn't be totally surprised if I made a mistake somewhere--but not one that would get me a refund when I should have had to pay). Well, I'd like the refund because it's more money to add to my clothing/apartment makeover pot (or put aside for my CRUISE), but if I have to pay then I'll pay. Whatevs.

I've also figured out a little more about how much this degree is ultimately going to cost me. I took out about $3,800 in loans for this first semester, plus just over $5,000 for the two summer sessions. If I keep attending at this rate, I will have $16,200 in loans--with an annual cap of $5,000 each year in tuition reimbursement from my company. So, my master's degree will cost me out of pocket about $6,200 plus books and incidentals. I can't say that's too shabby. I might even keep it up and take one or two more classes the following semester (which would totally be covered by the tuition reimbursement) because I want more electives than I need to have.

Although I didn't partcipate in Krystal's budget challenge, I did fairly well with my cash flowing this month--until Sunday. Sunday wound up being an expensive day for me! I went to a Mets game ($20 for a ticket). I bought drinks and a snack on the way since I hadn't had breakfast ($2.50). I was FREEZING at the game so I bought a cup of coffee ($4!!!! for plain black coffee!!!) and some french fries ($5). Then I went to dinner with my friends ($20, which wasn't too bad except I didn't much like my food, so it seemed expensive in that regard). Then I went to a pub quiz in my neighborhood, where I took care of the $10 entry fee (I forget why exactly, but I never did ask anyone else to contribute. Also, my friends bought my drinks, so it definitely worked out in my favor). Total damage for a Sunday: $61.50. Which was still cheaper than the $87.45 lunch I paid for on Thursday with my lunching lady friends.

This wiped me out of my cash for the rest of the month as well as an extra $20 I pulled out of the ATM. I'm not financially hurting because of it, but will be doing a little more pantry cooking the rest of this week.

And you know what? I'm THRILLED that because of my careful budgetting and cash management skills, I CAN throw money around like that without being worried about the electric bill. I can't spend money like that all the time, but I'd rather spend it on good times with good friends.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Update: rainy day/sniffly nose edition

It was an interesting weekend.

I'm really starting to hate not having reliable internet in my apartment, because I really don't have the time to blog during the week--but I don't have the capability to blog during the weekends.

A friend/coworker asked me point-blank (and then guess, right on the nose) how much money I make. She also revealed what she makes, which is basically the same. And she's been there three years. I've been there less than 18 months. This means less than it seems, since we do very different jobs but still. I imagine it got her goat a little bit. I on the other hand was both relieved and a little worried. Relieved because I realize that I am not that far behind in the game despite coming into publishing late. Worried because the company clearly doesn't reward longevity as I would have hoped.

Mostly though, I was glad that I've sort of reached the point with this coworker/friend that we can talk about things like that. I hate that there's such a stigma against discussing finances.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Happy friday!

Clearly, I've been busy.

Luckily, though, I've also been staying under budget, despite not cooking much. I need to work on that this weekend.

I told someone this week for the first time that I'm an anonymous personal finance blogger. This was a very strange revelation to make, for some reason.

I also decided that it might be fun to date someone more nerdy about money than I am. We'll see.

And lastly, I decided to be grown up and put $100 of the birthday money I brought in into my Lasik surgery fund. I know that 20/20 or Inside Edition or something is doing a scare tactic show about Lasik this weekend, but I really want to get it done, and I need to start saving for it in a serious way.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The World, It Is A-Changing

I have a friend who does some kind of scientific research. I don't know what it is exactly, but she spends time in Antarctica (!) studying the changes to the environment there and making predictions about what's causing them. So I'm inclined to believe her when she tells me that within my lifetime, human beings will have completely run out of oil, and there will be no gasoline.

It might be a doomsday scenario, but think about what it would mean. No more cars. No more airplanes. World travel would revert to ships sailing across the ocean, which means that fewer people would see the world. *I* might never see more of the world than I have now.

This future lack of air travel has been on my mind since I had this discussion with her, even more so with all the airline price wars and mergers lately. Especially because I had to buy a plane ticket for a trip next month, and prices are double what they used to be.

I used to be able to fly directly from New York to my parents' semi-large town in the south for a little over $200. For between $150 and $200 I could fly into a major metropolitan airport an hour away and have someone pick me up. This was as recently as December. Now, the cost to fly to the major metropolitan airport is at least $380, and there are simply no direct flights to their semi-large town airport. I'd have to change flights at the major metropolitan airport, and there's no cost savings for me to do so.

I had little faith that prices would start dropping before my trip in mid-May, so I've been researching every day to see what works. And what works is for me to fly into a major Midwest city, meet my sister who's driving from her home, and take a nine-hour roadtrip instead of flying. Coming back, she'll drop me off at the major metropolitan airport and continue on her way alone. The cost for this trip is $174 for the plane ticket, plus whatever I kick in for gas to her--and since she has a new car with incredible gas mileage (not a hybrid, but the next closest efficiency), it will still be more than $100 cheaper than flying as close to my parents' home is possible.

PLUS I get a nine-hour roadtrip with my sister! (I know some people might think that would be the worst thing ever, but we're thrilled silly--we're best friends.)

Even just one year ago, I wouldn't have imagined this would be the cheaper option.

Monday, April 21, 2008

5 Things Meme

Tagged myself off Fabulously Broke In the City.

What was I doing 5 years ago?
I was in my second to last semester of college (*gasp* has it been that long?!). That means I was editor of my university's newspaper and living in a lovely little apartment.
Five things on my to-do list today ( or things I did today):
1. Stop freaking out.
2. Do a mystery shop
3. Watch the movie I have to return tomorrow.
4. Dance class
5. Wash my hair.
Five snacks I love:
1. Little Debbie (pretty much anything, but especially Swiss Cake Rolls)
2. baklava
3. Pistachio almond ice cream
4. Fruit that someone else has cut up (especially pineapple and honeydew melon)
5. popcorn
Five things I would do if I were a billionaire: (actually, I would do these things if I were a millionaire)
1. Buy an apartment in New York
2. Invest to ensure my and my progeny's futures
3. Give to charities that I support.
4. Help my immediate family with school or housing or whatever they need.
5. Go on a cruise!
Five bad habits I have:
1. Procrastinating
2. Sitting on my feet (not professional and bad for the veins!)
3. Overpacking
4. popping my knuckles
5. Chipping off my nail polish. I don't bit my nails or cuticles if my nails are polished but have an obsession with chipping off the polish.
Five jobs I've had: (these are all true!)
1. Carpet factory worker
2. Drive thru cashier
3. Security guard at professional football games and wrestling shows
4. On-air radio personality
5. Mystery shopper
Five people I don't know very well and want to know more about:
I tag anyone who reads this and wants to fill it out! Leave me a comment if you do it so I can find you.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Link roundup: Birthday edition

I actually forgot it was my birthday for several hours today, long enough for my boss to completely surprise and embarrass me for the second day in a row (I'm not sure if she got the days mixed up or intended to do something yesterday; she was supposed to be out of the office today). So far, it's been a pretty nice day, though, and the weather is gorgeous, which I feel is like a personal gift.

Some interesting things I've read today:

From The Simple Dollar: How Much Money is Walk-Away-From-It-All Money? Trent examines three scenarios in which you'd need a big slush fund (cold career change, extended drop out of the workforce, and never work again). All of these could be achieved with a large enough emergency fund, but that's definitely not what my emergency fund is intended for. I've changed careers once, and I think I've really found the one that fits me. I can't imagine wanting to quit working right now. The money I've set aside is in case my apartment burns down, or I get laid off, or I get very sick and can't work. I'm fully expecting to use it for more minor things, like last-minute travel home for a death in the family or a broken leg from getting hit by a crazy taxi driver. Maybe some day I'd expand it to actually be my income for a time, but I don't see that happening for a while.

From the April 15 Festival of Frugality, I stumbled on Broke? Bad Credit? Yes, It's Your Fault! at Amateur Asset Allocator and If You Don't Need It, It's Not a Great Deal at Know the Ledge. It hink the theme for both these posts is Personal Responsibility: Don't Sign Something You Can't Understand and Don't Spend Money Without Stopping to Think "Do I REALLY Need This?"

Also, I'm glad to know that I'm not alone in being overrun with toiletries. Meg at All About Appearances details her struggle to declutter lotions, shampoos, and all those other things you're never going to use but feel bad about throwing away. This reminds me: I have lots of free samples building up, so it's time to do some pampering!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Birthday ice cream

I'd like to direct your attention to The Most Important Post Ever in the Entire Blogosphere:

Wise Bread's compilation of free ice cream links.

Yay!

Thanks to everyone for your birthday wishes (which is actually tomorrow, for anyone keeping score), and also for your encouragement to slow down and take some time for myself. 2008 had sort of a crappy start to the year, but at this point, things are looking up!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Happy birthday to me!

I don't count spa week appointments as birthday gifts, since I'd make them even if they didn't fall during the week of my birthday. So my birthday present to myself this year is this:

Very impressive looking, no?

It's actually a portable, 250 Gig hard drive in order to back up and protect my computer files. Yay for crossing something off my apartment checklist!

Which reminds me, actually, that I did some clothes shopping over the weekend, so I should give an update on that checklist as well. I went into H&M and ransacked their clearance racks, and came home with a great pair of black pants for work (a little dressier than my current black pants, and only $15!) and a pretty black blouse with floaty cap sleeves (I know there is a name for this, as I've heard Clinton from TLC's What Not to Wear say it, but I can't think of it).

I wasn't really sold on the shirt until I put it on, zipped it up, and immediately thought "What a perfect first date top!" I can already see the outfit--my khaki linen skirt, this top, and my new red peeptoe Bandolinos. Someone please ask me on a date already!!!!!! I've already got the outfit planned!

I have made $135 from performing (and am still owed for two jobs), $150 from mystery shopping (transferred in from Paypal), and $125 (from birthday money, so far, with a few more days to go till the actual day), all of which is being put towards my clothing/apartment spending.

Since making my apartment checklist and reading Apartment Therapy I am actually more interested in shopping for the apartment than for me, but clearly, I'm not doing too badly on either front.

breathe

There's just no two ways about it, I'm too busy. Something needs to be done.

I do this to myself a couple times a year: get so over-extended that I can hardly breathe, and have to start cutting things out. Frequently, I cut out the wrong things (friendships instead of non-necessary work commitments) so it's time to start setting priorities.

In no particular order, here are the commitments I'm currently facing:
work: 5 days a week, 9-6
school: in class two nights a week, homework time...well, I haven't been doing any homework
freelance/secret shopping: I've cancelled the last several jobs I scheduled, even with penalties. I simply couldn't get to them.
friendships: phone calls and face to face time
dancing: class, rehearsals, performances. And the big time suck, travelling to all three.
my apartment: needs a good cleaning (including laundry!), plus some TLC
blogging: I really do try to keep up with this, although it seems to be the first thing that drops out when I get really busy
my reading list: for personal edification and work
book club: I'm in two book clubs, one that meets monthly and one that meets every other week (so another three books a month)
therapy: I'm not sure if I mentioned on here that I went back to therapy a few weeks ago. I have a dangerous history of depression, and felt it spiralling out of control. It's helping, but takes up a lot of mental energy and time
temporary commitments: I scheduled some spa week appointments this week, volunteering last week, plus things like upcoming ComicCon, a school-sponsored lecture, Astoria meet up, speed dating (maybe this would go under the friends commitment), book club every other week, and miscellaneous things like paying bills, calling my health ins company, and grocery shopping

What's missing from the list? Time for me. Time to just sit and think, or daydream, or nap. I'm being very strict with bedtimes and making sure I get enough sleep, because lately I realize that if I don't pay attention to it, I'm apt to stay up all night reading or something. I have not come directly home from work in more than two weeks. Last weekend, with big events scheduled on both days, I felt like I didn't even have a weekend. And now, because of my birthday this week, people want to set up happy hours, dinners, or other "let's hang out" times...and I don't want to be rude by saying that really all I want to do is go home and go to bed.

So, it's time to cut some things out of my life. I cancelled my RSVP to the school-sponsored lecture (it would be a nice thing to attend, but it's not necessary and I'd rather have margaritas with my coworkers/friends for my birthday). I will be ruthlessly determining which ComicCon panels I really want to attend and making sure that I don't spend the entire day wandering around the Javits Center. I don't have any more performances scheduled, and I'm going to hold off on that for now--I want the money for clothes/apartment shopping, but not at the expense of my sanity. Classes and rehearsals are pretty much mandatory, although I can skip very occassionally with good reason (which I did last night, since I was so sore from volunteering on Saturday and then rehearsing/performing all day Sunday).

School is really almost over. My final project is due this week in one class, and I have an online assignment in the other but no in-person meeting. Technically I'm supposed to be doing lots of reading for these classes but quite frankly I've been able to skim by on the lectures (I didn't intend to skip all the homework but all of my books arrived three weeks late...and by then I was doing fine without them).

My priorities are going to be as follows for the next few weeks, until I get some stability back: work (keeps everything else going), therapy (hitting on some important things), friends (need to keep personal relationships going), school, and everything else.

So, to that end...back to work for me!

Friday, April 11, 2008

how is it Friday already?! Not that I'm complaining.

I have been doing zoom-by wishful postings all week. You know, where you open the window and get ready to blog, then something comes up and hours later you find you've been logged out for inactivity.

*sigh*

Luckily, my super busy week is over (and was successful, if I do say so myself). I have a busy weekend--I'm volunteering at an urban garden in Brooklyn tomorrow, despite projected rain. And I have a rehearsal/performance on Sunday. I wasn't going to do the performance, but I decided that I wanted to bring in money to go clothes or apartment shopping with. It's interesting how having a decisive goal for what to spend that money on makes me more willing to go earn it. I guess this is why the snowball method works for people getting out of debt who take on second and even third jobs.

I'm really looking forward to volunteering tomorrow. Sad to say, I don't give back much. I donate items to charity, but not really money or time. I don't give change to people begging in my subway station. I'm just so, so skeptical of people who may not really be homeless, or people who will use the money for drugs instead of food and things like that. I've offered to buy meals for people before, and will if they let me, but more often than not I'm told they'd rather take the cash.

I was raised to give back. I used to be very active in church and I went on several mission trips around the country--not to preach but to help by building something and things like that. When I visited New York the first two times, I worked at a Salvation Army food center on Thanksgiving day, and they were the best Thanksgivings I've ever had. I remember last year, looking at all the food I had lined up on the counter to cook for two people and feeling very bitter that I was doing that instead of volunteering.

But it's so easy to be lazy. So easy not to find a way to help. When an opportunity came to go with some friends to work in this garden (which sounds like fun), I was glad to jump on it. I hope this gets me back into the habit a little more often.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

beating the blues

Sometimes, I just feel really behind.

I'm about to enter my late twenties, and my net worth hasn't cracked $20k. I don't have enough extra cash to fund a Roth IRA like I want to. I'm still living like a college student with a futon and no kitchen table. I am carrying debt--student loans--for the first time in my life, and I am not even finished with the first semester of graduate school. I am careful with my money, but I underprice myself in salary. I sold myself off very cheaply at my first job, and I feel like that's made it harder for me to grow my salary ever since. Despite my frugal ways, I don't feel like I have enough money stashed away--moving twice in one year really ate up a lot. I don't think I'll ever have enough money to buy real estate in New York.

I'm trying to look on the bright side as well. I have no consumer debt and my net worth is at least positive. I finally have my own apartment, and the peace of mind that provides has a high value to me. I have income streams that are independent of my day job, and I'm a hard worker--if I were to get laid off tomorrow, I'd be willing to pull espresso shots or run a drive thru to bring cash in. I really like my day job, and that's more than a lot of people can say.

I don't know what I want, really, except a sense of stability. I want to not be afraid that the rug is going to be yanked out from underneath me, but so far, I haven't been able to put a dollar figure on that.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Digital decluttering

In line with my decluttering weekend, I picked a more streamlined blogger template today. I just want lots of clear "surfaces" in my life right now.

I also added to my blogroll on the right-hand side of my start page--those are most of the blogs and websites I read every day, and I recommend all of them!

My home shopping list

Welcome, all the readers who popped over from Give Me Back My Five Bucks! It's funny that the off-the-cuff posts always seem to have the most impact rather than the ones I plan and worry over.

In that vein...here's another shopping list post, this time for my apartment.

I got in a big cleaning/organizing/decluttering mood this weekend (and not a moment too soon!) and went through my entire living room, finding things to purge. I weeded out my bookshelf and came up with a big stack to list on Paperbackswap.com (I'm done with Amazon and Half.com, and if these books don't go within six months, I'm dropping them off at the library). I went through my coat closet and a trunk and came up with several bags to get rid of. I decluttered the 2-drawer file cabinet that serves as my desk storage area. I decluttered my closet and dresser and came up with four bags of stuff to take to Goodwill, hopefully this coming weekend.

In going through all this stuff (and reading 6 Steps to Design on a Dime and Apartment Therapy recently), I've come up with a makeover list for my apartment in addition to my person. None of these things are really pressing, but I'm going to start keeping an eye out.

1. A DVD-R/VCR combo. 1/9/09 update: I just found out that my television is so old it doesn't even have DVD/VCR inputs, just a cable input. So yeah, I could get a cable box and do that whole ordeal, but it's not worth it. I don't care about this anymore.

2. A desk. 1/9/09 update: I found a desk this summer! It was on the sidewalk in front of my building, and Peanut and I lugged it upstairs. It's exactly what I was looking for, and you can't beat the price!

3. A kitchen island or baker's rack to add a little more counter space (the apartment comes with enough space for a dish drying rack, so when I need counterspace to cook, I have to put the rack in the sink). Again, I want this to be a Craigslist find.

4. Living room seating for grown-ups. Right now I have a futon and a butterfly chair. I'm finding that it's hard on my body to sit on the futon for long periods of time. I wanted to keep my futon instead of the lovely couch and loveseat combo my roommate and I shared because I wanted to have space for friends and family to stay with me. However, I'm facing the fact now that I, sitting on the piece 365 days per year, must take precedence over anyone who happens to visit me once a year or less. Plus, I can always get an air mattress. I'd like a loveseat and a chair rather than one full size couch, though I'm not entirely sure what all will fit in my living room, or how I'd arrange two pieces of furniture.

5. A headboard or real bed. I currently have a metal frame that's in sort of crappy condition. I've been looking for homemade headboard ideas and might be able to make something that works which would be fairly cheap. I'm waiting till I figure out how I want to decorate my room before I start working on this, though.

6. Window treatments. By summer, I'll need screens to go in four windows. I currently have a bedsheet hung up in my bedroom window. Works great. :) However, I'd like to have real curtains like a real adult. Again, I'm waiting to figure out my theme. I also need something hung up in the kitchen window. I don't think anyone can see in...but it being New York, ya never know.

7. Art and decorations. I might paint the kitchen, too, but I'm mostly concerned with things I can take with me to the next place. I love my apartment and I'm not looking to move anytime soon, but I'd still rather spend my money on stuff I can keep for a while.

8. A plastic pitcher for iced tea in the summer and a quality knife. I have the pitcher, but not a good knife.

Bought! April 15 9. A portable hard drive to back up my laptop. My computer is more than two years old now, which is not ancient, but you never know when something will fail. When I realized the other day how much valuable information is stored on there, I got a little panicked. I have way too many photos and other sentimentally precious information on there to burn to CD, so I've just been hoping for the best. And so many things could go wrong--I could get a virus, since I'm on unsecured networks most of the time, and I'm not the smartest about keeping my anti-virus up to date. I could drop the laptop in my apartment or get hit by a car while walking to the coffee shop (yes, I'm being a little over-paranoid). It could get stolen--this is really not at all far-fetched. There have been a lot of home invasions in my part of Queens lately, and I wouldn't be surprised if my apartment got hit. I have renter's insurance, which would replace the actual computer, but none of the photos or anything would be replaced. This just became my #1 priority, and any birthday money I get in the next few weeks is going towards this.

I plan to pay for all the other things out of the same extras fund as my clothes shopping is coming from. I need to book some more performances!

1/9/09 New Wants
A decent laundry bag--preferably one that stands up under it's own volition but doesn't fall apart when you lug it to the laundromat
New pillows
More blankets and throws--it's been a little chilly this year!
A living room clock
A frame for some artwork that Peanut gave me for Christmas

Friday, April 4, 2008

little splurges

What guilty little pleasures do you have?

Here are a few of mine:
1. For a long time, SilverJewelryClub.com. This site offers different sterling silver and real gemstone jewelry for FREE--sort of. You do have to pay a $5.99 shipping & handling fee, and I'm sure they're not spending $5.99 to send it to you but whatever. It's really quality stuff for six bucks, delivered right to my house. You can pay via Paypal, which is where most of my mystery shopping money is direct deposited, so it hardly feels like I'm spending anything...

2. Dr. Pepper. I LOVE Dr. Pepper. I would rather drink water than any other kind of soda (which is good, because that means I drink more water than soda). I have started buying the 2 liter bottles to keep at home, which doesn't help when I need caffeine on the go, but it's a start. I average almost one 20 oz bottle per day!

I had a weird string of luck with Dr. Pepper about six years ago--they were doing one of those promotions where if your bottle cap said you won, you could take it to the store for a free Dr. Pepper. One day, I bought one and won a free Dr. Pepper. When I redeemed that Dr. Pepper, I got another free one. And so on. And so on. And so on, for almost three months! And I know that not all the bottles were automatic winners, because I would go with my sister and I'd win one and she wouldn't--that happened more than once!

3. Certain brand names. I try not to be super brand loyal for a lot of reasons, but as I mentioned above, I won't cheat on Dr. Pepper. I'm also strictly loyal to Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing, Heinz baked beans, St. Ives tea tree oil facial cleanser (which is now very hard to find locally), and Silk soy milk. Pretty much anything else I will try an off-brand at least once. I decided last week after a frugal purchase that I'm going to become brand loyal to whatever brand of toilet paper I bought before my most recent one--it was quite nice and lasted forever. Unfortunately, since I can't remember what it was, I have to keep searching till I find it again.
Oy. I've been busy lately! Work has been non-stop, with my boss travelling and the only other person in my department out after having surgery last week. AND we had our first #1 New York Times bestseller since I've been here! Very exciting.

In money news, I've brought in some extra cash already this month from performing and am deciding how to spend it. I decided this morning that all base payments will go straight to my clothing fund and any tips (I made more than $50 last night alone!) will go into a new sinking fund for Lasik surgery. I keep talking about getting it done, and once I saved up about half of the $4,500 it's going to cost me, but then I had to move rather suddenly and added that to my moving/emergency fund. I could plug this $50 towards the emergency fund, but really, it IS getting built up slowly but surely...and I can always fall back on this as a back up emergency fund if it comes to that. I am hoping to get the surgery within the next three years.

I've decided to try to book a lot of performances for a while, to fund my clothing account, and also because of what I experienced last night. I don't normally work during the week, but something came up and I was needed, so I went, even though it was an inconvenience and I knew I wouldn't be home till around midnight. It was as stressful as I thought it would be but in the middle of the dance floor a sudden thought flashed through my mind that "this is so worth it". That's not always the case, but it was a particularly fun party and after all--why keep paying for classes and costumes if I'm not going use what I'm learning by performing?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My clothes shopping list

The Lucky Shopping Manual should be a go-to guide for anyone building a wardrobe. Seriously. This book has great tips on what pieces to look for, how to tell if something fits (a constant problem for me, for some reason) and how to mix and match pieces to get more interesting outfits. Going through the book and comparing it to my wardrobe, I’m not as bad off as I felt when I wrote my original post, but I’ve definitely got some work to do. In order of the book, here’s my new shopping list:

Skirts
I love skirts. That’s almost all I wear in the summer, since I don’t wear shorts (and even if I did, I couldn’t wear them to work). I have a number of skirts, two of which need some repair work (a brown linen one had a few drops of bleach spilled on it; I’ll dye it with RIT dye next time I go to my mom’s house and have access to a top-loading [and free] washer, and a black patterned one that is asymmetrical but shouldn’t be—I need to take up the back of the top floaty layer a little bit). However, most of my skirts are definitely summerwear, and the two wintery ones I have aren’t quite right. First of all, they’re almost identical (I hate it when that happens) and neither fit quite right. So the first thing on my list is a winter skirt, preferably in a heavy gray wool. Any skirts that I could conceivably wear year round are fair game, too.


Mostly I’m looking for A-line or pencil skirts-- I also have been really wanting a khaki pencil skirt, but I think that might be something that would go out of style too quickly. I tried one on a H&M that I loved on the mannequin, but didn’t love quite so much on myself.


T-Shirts
Just Say No! I went a little crazy at Target a while back, and I am truly covered in the t-shirt department. I’m not allowed to look at them!

Tops/Blouses
This is where I need to do most of my focusing, I think. I wear mostly sweaters in the winter, and mostly t-shirts with skirts in the summer, but I need to dress it up a little with tops that have sleeves but are a little dressier. I’m looking for patterned tops with interesting shapes and fabrics. I have a few blouses I’m going to try to rotate through a little more frequently, but most of them are sleeveless which means I need to wear something over them to work anyway.


April 12--bought pretty black "first date" blouse
July 2--I've bought a number of pretty tops at this point, and can safely say "enough!".

Dresses
This is my second biggest area of focus. I have exactly four dresses: One is a very dressy sheath with a cowl back that I found on clearance at Macy’s a few years ago—I save it for weddings and other very dressy occasions. Two others are “little black dresses” as my college-age self thought of them—jersey/lycra material that now clings in the wrong places. One of them has an asymmetrical neckline with weird metal fasteners; definitely not the look I’m going for now. And the fourth dress is a patterned faux wrap I bought last year at Kohl’s—I like it a lot, and I wear it to work sometimes, but again, it’s strapless and it’s also a bit casual.

I’m looking for a classy little black dress (though it doesn’t really have to be black) for the cocktail party type events my boss says she’s going to be sending me too. Also wrap or faux wrap dresses in solids and patterns—basically I want to go for classy and stylish here.

Sweaters
I love sweaters. Love ‘em. For one thing, I don’t like to be cold, so sweaters keep me cozy. For another…they’re just fun. Anything soft and fuzzy, preferably with a turtleneck or cowl neck…yeah! However, I have three or four black turtleneck sweaters, several pull-overs in black, brown, grey and tan, some fun casual sweaters, a cardigan…I really don’t need more.

However, my black all purpose cardigan is a little faded and stretched out, and I could do with replacing it. This is a low-priority thing, but a couple cardigans in different colors (to match the work-appropriate tops) would be a great find. Also, most of my sweaters are wear-alones, and I’d like to find some that are more suitable for layering.

May--bought a really nice 3/4 sleeve cardigan from Ann Taylor. I'm good for sweaters until it's cold again!

Jeans

Ties for my number-one focus. I definitely need a grown-up pair of dark wash, straight leg jeans. I think I can find what I’m looking for at H&M (I found a pair that fit woooonderfully a few weeks ago, but I wasn’t crazy about the whiskering, so I found the same size and style (I thought) in another wash and bought them without trying them on. Not a good idea. I need to go back with flats and heels and spend some time finding a pair or two that will work. Then I can retire the jeans I bought from the juniors department and quit looking like a college student on casual Friday.

Pants/Trousers
This area needs some help too. Not much help, but a little bit. I’d like to find some different patterns of stripe/plaid or shades of grey and black for work. I also definitely need another pair of khakis since I ripped my favorite ones on my desk. :(I especially need to focus on lightweight summer pairs so I don’t have to wear skirts every day, and stay away from anything but flat front! I always make the mistake of buying tab front pants which I later hate and never wear.

April 12--black pants for work, a little dressier than the other ones I had
June--doing really well! I discovered UNIQLO and their wonderful swishy pants.

Suits
Luckily, in my job, I have never had to wear a suit. And I’ve not owned a suit since I donated all the ill-fitting ones to Dress for Success, and I’ve managed to land jobs since then. My industry is not super dressy, so I can get by with pants and jackets that look dressy enough. Ignore!

Bags
Ties for second focus. When I moved to New York, I was thrilled with the bag vendors on the sidewalks. Five dollars for a bag?! I don’t care for knock-offs (even if they’re not real, I don’t like the idea of carrying someone else’s logo around on me for free) but the other bags these guys sell look cute and they’re cheap! Of course, they fall apart quickly.

Since I just got a very nice handbag this weekend at DSW, the only thing I'm allowed to look for is a decent worktote--and I'm required to do a very thorough purse/bag decluttering, probably this weekend.


Shoes
I think I’m ok with shoes. I have knee length black boots, black ankle boots, pointy-toed high heels in black and pattern, round toed high heels in black and pattern, flats in black, pattern and brown, sneakers in black and brown, rain boots, snow boots, sandals and flip flops, and strappy high heels in gold, silver, and black as well as dance shoes like character shoes and ballroom shoes. Really, I’m good.

However, if I happen to find that perfect pair at DSW on 70% clearance…well, I won’t even give myself a good stern talking-to.

Jackets
I have a couple blazers (green, khaki, and damask) that I can pair with a top and neutral pants on those few occasions I need to be more dressed up than normal (which has happened once). However…I need a black jacket. I don’t anticipate needing an interview outfit anytime soon, but the black jacket I have is an atrocity. I don’t know what it originally went with, but the sleeves are several inches too long (I have to roll them up!), it’s got a very trendy (read: trendy THEN, not trendy NOW) cut, and one button. And fake pockets. This seems like a weird purchase and is exactly what I was thinking of when I said I should go ahead and get rid of some things that I have now so I’ll replace them.

Undergarments
Well! I’m not sure if we’re quite well-acquainted enough for me to discuss my unmentionables…oh, sure, why not!

Putting this delicately…well, I’m single now, but what better opportunity to acquire new fun undies? I like to buy them for myself as much I love to buy them for a mister…so why not?

As far as more practical things go, I’m fairly well covered here. I have two strapless bras (black and nude) and several regular bras (also in black and nude) as well as a bright red and bright purple one. Some of them could use some replacing, so if a good sale comes up at JC Penney, I’ll splurge. I’m done with Victoria’s Secret for all underwear of any practical value, because their quality has dropped like a rock in the last few years and stuff that used to last forever is now lasting about eight washings before fraying and losing elastic. DONE. Not a pressing concern, but something I do want to get around to.

Hosiery/tights/socks
I love knee high socks, and I love socks with patterns (monkeys, dogs, reading books, cats in tea cups…). I think I might need to grow out of this now (sob!). I’m not going to force myself to quit looking at them, but as they wear out, I’ll just toss them and replace with more understated pieces (luckily, I love argyle too!). And I could definitely use some thick winter tights to go with those new winter skirts I plan on having.

Swimwear
I go swimming about once a year. And each time, I have to buy a new swimsuit since I can’t find the one I bought last year. As long as it’s not a string bikini, I’m really not particular, and—bonus!—I still know where the swimsuit I bought in 2007 is. So I won’t be doing this to myself in 2008.

Outerwear
I need to downsize here more than bring in anything new. I have a long wool winter coat (that I will take better care of than my previous one), a black trench coat (which is waterproof!), a ski jacket (let me tell you the last time I went skiing: 2001), and a fun fluffy jacket I bought in England. It won’t stay closed but I love it. I think I need to get rid of the ski jacket.

So! My final list:

Must Buys
* Dark wash straight leg jeans
Cocktail dress(es)
Winter skirts
* Blouses/tops for work (with sleeves)
* A good bag
A black jacket
* Khaki pants

Things I’d Like to Buy
* Underwear (bras and panties)
* Socks/hosiery
* Cardigans/layering sweaters for work
* Work pants (summer weight)

Things I Won’t Yell At Myself For Buying (as long as it’s not at the expense of the other lists)
* Shoes
Jewelry/accessories (something that Lucky doesn’t cover as a section of its own, and which really requires a separate post from me as to my particular hang-ups)