Moving on Up

I have moved nineteen times in the past 10 years (and I will be moving again next month).

I believe that makes me a moving expert.

Some people think that moving is very expensive. It can be! But it doesn’t have to be, and lucky you, you have the world’s foremost leading moving expert writing to you about how to move without spending all your money.

Here are some tricks:

  1. Do not ever, ever, ever pay for moving boxes. You are killing trees and you are wasting money. Instead (start this a few weeks early)- go to the groceries in your area, preferably early in the morning. Ask them for apple boxes (they are the best because they are super sturdy and they have lids). Bat your eyelashes. Keep asking. Ask when their shipments come in. Collect the boxes. Alternatively, if you have access to paper boxes that are used in an office or a copy center- get those! Those are even better! Also, sometimes people post about moving boxes on the free section of Craigslist- that is a good source for many boxes at once. It is a little running around, but it is worth it. Jerry Seinfeld understands.
  2. This is my mom’s advice: Go to the gym. Make friends with men (or women) who like picking up heavy things for fun. See how this could benefit everyone?
  3. This is my advice: Try to maintain a friendship with someone who owns a truck. Bake them cookies in exchange for an afternoon with their truck. Excellent deal.
  4. Help a friend move and have them promise to help you move. Well worth it.
  5. Don’t leave behind the stupid things you think you don’t want to pack, like your trash cans or your clothes hangers or your shower curtain. I promise that wherever you are moving to will not have those things and you will have to go buy more. Worse than moving a trash can is spending money on a new one when you JUST HAD a perfectly good one of your own.
  6. Clean out your closets before you move. Especially if you are shipping things. Yard sales or selling online can be an added source of cash that can help you get rid of the unwanted items clogging up your house.
  7. Speaking of shipping- if you live near an Amtrak station and are moving near another Amtrak station…Amtrak is the best shipping deal in the entire world. The prices are variable so you have to check their website for pricing, but when I moved from the west coast to the east coast I shipped 17 boxes that weighed about 30 lbs each and a bike for $350 and it took 4 days. You just have to pick them up yourself at the end station.
  8. If you are shipping a bike, go to your local bike store and ask them for any spare bike boxes they might have. New ones are about $20, spare ones are free. Watch a video on how to pack a bike for shipping-  bike shops will charge anywhere from $75 to $200 to pack a bike for you, but you can do the whole process for free in about a half hour (make sure you have the right tools on hand). I have not yet figured out how to safely put the bike back together on my own, but that is what bike shops and/or savvy friends who will help with your bike in exchange for beer are for.
  9. Trying to buy used furniture? Craigslist is good but requires a lot of coordination. Yard sales (early in the morning=better haul) can be awesome for getting a whole lot of stuff in one day (and one time I got a free bottle of wine at a yard sale. It was in wine country….don’t ask). Goodwill and other used furniture places can be good too. I also have had amazing luck with online estate sale auctions (although the websites are often sketchalicious)- for my last move I bought 2 dressers, a shelf, two nightstands and a mirror for less than $90.  I also have recently had great luck with the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which is essentially a discount home improvement store that also carries used furniture. They take donations and all proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity. I just bought a beautiful hardwood hutch and hardwood shelf for $85 total. And I supported one of my favorite charities. Nice.
  10. It is easier to clean a place before you move all your things in. Just saying.
  11. When you move out, ask your landlords if they are going to have a cleaning service come in or if you can do it instead. Sometimes landlords will pay for a professional cleaning service out of your safety deposit (this will be in your lease)- see if you can do it yourself and make sure you get a walkthrough with the landlord so you both agree your cleaning was up to snuff.
  12. When you move in, take pictures of any damage that is on the house already (with a timestamp) and then email it to your landlord so that you are both on the same page. When you are moving in it seems so obvious that the damage is already there (or it might not even appear to be damage), but when you move out the landlord may try to charge you for it. Once my landlord tried to charge me $200 because the residents before me had nailed a shelf to the wall. I didn’t think it was considered “damage” because it was there when I got there- but apparently the landlord forgot who the culprit was. Save yourself the annoyance and take pictures of the rooms when you get there.
  13. Think about long-term vs. temporary when you are decorating a rental. New art for the walls that you take with you when you go= good. New chandelier for the rental house because you think the old one is ugly= umm…seriously? (I once had roommates who did that. Not my kind of people).
  14. If you know you are moving, plan early. Start looking for boxes a few weeks ahead. Start sorting and packing with time to spare. Moving sucks but packing at 3 am the night before an all day move sucks even worse.
  15. Don’t forget to eat. You have no food in the house and you have no plates and no silverware so it is easy to forget and then no one is happy. I have a wonderful memory of buying one of those huge self serve frozen yogurts after moving into a house in Atlanta in August. No froyo has ever tasted as good since.
  16. Instead of worrying about breaking down or recycling your boxes, why don’t you post on the free section of Craiglist that you have moving boxes available and pay it forward a bit?

Good luck with your move, my little grasshopper!

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Tips and Tricks to Slenderize Your Spending

So you’ve made a budget, you’ve tracked your  spending, you’ve made your goals…but something isn’t quite adding up. Your input is not matching your output, and if you keep this up you will go into unwanted debt (or maybe you are digging yourself out of debt).
How do you slenderize your spending without sitting in the dark alone on Saturday night?
Here are some tips and tricks  to help you cut back on some of the expenses in your budget.

  • Sign up for your grocery store’s discount card program online. I have access to internet coupons that load directly onto my grocery card, and it takes me about 5 minutes to prep for my shopping trip. My grocery card not only gives me coupons on things that you can’t get from normal newspaper coupons (discounts on produce, fresh bakery items, meat), but they also track my purchases so that I get special deals on the items I buy the most. I can upload my list of coupons to my phone so I can double check that I have the brand right while I am in the store. For 5 minutes worth of work, I save 20-30% each time I go grocery shopping. It’s slightly annoying to get it set up (but really only takes 10 minutes) and I have saved hundreds of dollars on groceries this year.
  • Does your work reimburse you for commute expenses? At my work, I have to submit a ton of paperwork to get reimbursed for public transportation costs when I go to meetings. It is super annoying to track $2 each time I go anywhere, but I do it quarterly and so far this year I have been reimbursed for $400 that I otherwise would have just eaten the cost for. That $400 is a mini vacation that I otherwise couldn’t afford- well worth the hour’s worth of paperwork I have to do every three months. That is like making $100 an hour…more than I make at my day job, that’s for sure!
  • Do you eat out a lot? Consider cooking at home more. EVERY PERSON in the entire world finds cooking skills to be an attractive quality. Short on equipment? Goodwill has a ton of cooking equipment that costs about 10% of what you would pay for it new. Grossed out by Goodwill? How is buying a dish at Goodwill and then washing it at home any different than eating off of a dish in a restaurant? Also, you are reusing an item that might otherwise end up in a landfill- awesome! Short on time? Look for a crock pot and a rice cooker at Goodwill. Bam! Dinner is served! If you are opposed to cooking in general or seem to set the fire alarm off every time you try, buying frozen prepared foods is still cheaper than buying fast food meals. With God as my witness, you’ll never go hungry again!
  • Buy bulk. Not a good option if you live in NYC, but if you have the storage space it is better to pay $.40 per roll of toilet paper in that ginormous pack than it is to pay $.80 per roll for the tiny pack. Plus you run out less frequently and that is always good (and you save on gas because you have fewer trips to the store). Keep in mind: don’t assume that bulk stores (Costco, BJ’s) are always cheaper because sometimes sales at normal stores lower the price further than a standard price at a bulk store.
    I hate buying toilet paper. It just feels like I am flushing my money away! (yuk yuk yuk)
  • Buy things in the off season. Christmas wrapping paper is cheap on Dec 26, not so cheap on Dec 24. Sweaters, coats, boots- cheaper in the spring! Bathing suits, shorts, sandals- buy ’em in the fall! (The selection is not as good, though.)
  • Buy things when they are on sale. My favorite razors are on sale this week for half the cost of what they usually are. I bought multiple packages, because I know I will use them and I would rather not run out and then have to pay a higher price.
  • STOP BUYING BOTTLED WATER. It costs $.08 per year to drink tap water for all your water needs. EIGHT CENTS. YOU CAN FIND THAT LAYING ON THE STREET. Fussy about water? Buy yourself a Brita, sign up for Amazon.com to automatically order you filter refills on a schedule, buy yourself a few reusable water bottles and stop wasting money and plastic.
  • When you buy online, check out retailmenot.com for online coupon codes that are all compiled in one place. Pretty handy.
  • I wish I had more information about how to find this one, but some places have grocery stores (usually they are ethnic stores or those weird off-brand groceries) that have massively cheap, fresh and amazing produce. I had one where I went to grad school where I could buy more produce than I could carry and I never spent more than $20. This is because these stores carry “seconds,” which are fruits and veggies that have been rejected by the major groceries but are still fresh and good to eat. So if a box of apples has one rotten apple, it is likely the whole box will end up at the seconds store for a fraction of the price. Awesome deal, but I don’t have any hard and fast rule about where to find the stores that carry seconds. I guess you just have to be adventurous in your grocery explorations!
  • Check out the perks that go along with things you already have. I get 10% off of train tickets (something I use quite a bit) and discounted movie tickets with my AAA membership. I get a certain percent off of purchases that I make with my credit card when I go through the credit card’s website to get to the store’s website rather than just going directly to the store’s website.
  • Evaluate your entertainment habits. Rent a lot of movies? Try checking out the selection at your library. My library has a ton of movies and tv shows on dvd. Do you watch your cable enough for it to be worth it, or should you buy a Netflix subscription instead? Do you have Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime and Cable? How do you have time?! Prioritize your favorite media sources and ditch the rest.
  • Can you extend the amount of time you wait between recurring expenses? I love getting pedicures, but instead of getting them every month like I would like to, I get them every 6 weeks instead. After 3 weeks I do a quick refresher coat on my own, which doesn’t look as good but it definitely doesn’t look as bad as chipped polish. Now you know intimate details about my toes. You’re welcome.
  • Speaking of eating out a lot…do you pack your lunch? Make your own coffee? Why don’t you whip out your new crock pot and make a week’s worth of lunches at one fell swoop with minimal effort? Doing things yourself can save a significant amount of money in the long run. $7 for eating out every day is $1820 a year. Spent on sandwiches.
  • A few months after I started working in an office, my friend organized a clothing swap. A bunch of girls cleaned out their closets (added bonus!), all got together, poured some wine and swapped clothes. This was not only super fun, but professional clothes can be very expensive and this was a good way to get new clothes without having to spend a lot of money. We donated the remaining clothes to Dress for Success. 
  • I am terrible at handwashing clothes, so I will never recommend that you forgo washing machine use to save money. I will,  however, recommend forgoing dryer use! At the last apartment I lived in it cost $2 for one hour in the dryer, and my clothes were usually still damp! $4 to dry each load? Where the heck was I supposed to get all those quarters?! After some trial and error, I invested in the best drying rack of all time. You will notice that this drying rack is not inexpensive, but I paid for a study, large, adjustable drying rack and I expect it will last forever. At that apartment, it paid for itself in 10 loads of laundry. If you have a dryer in your home, using a drying rack will save you about $.75 per load. This doesn’t sound like much, but after a year of drying one load per week your fancy clothes rack will have paid for itself. Added perk- air drying makes your clothes last longer and it is better for the environment.
  • I will run another post on the wonders of CVS deals, but if you save your extrabucks and use their coupons, you can save a TON of money.
  • Check out my post about romancing your squeeze on a budget. Many of those ideas are transferrable to hanging out with friends, as well.

This list is called “Tips and Tricks” not “Do This Because Kate Said To.” If you don’t have space to dry your clothes- don’t worry about it! You can cut back in another area. You love Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime? That’s ok! Try making your own lunches for work instead of cancelling your Netflix subscription. The point is- make your budget work for you. Cutting back on expenses isn’t fun, but managing your expenses is a judgment call and you are the boss of your own finances, so only you can decide what to cut and what to leave.

Can’t Buy Me Love

Can’t buy me love- but you can buy your squeeze dinner and a movie. But dinner and a movie might just blow your entire month’s entertainment budget (have you seen movie prices these days?!!) and (hopefully) you want to see your squeeze more than once a month. What’s a Romeo or Juliette to do?
To date without breaking the budget, you have to get a little creative. The main thing that makes a successful date is a little planning- not spending. Here are some of my best suggestions for dating on the cheap- each city I have lived in has different resources so some of these may be appropriate for different areas of the country.
My boyfriend calls these Kate Dates (if you just vomited in your mouth, I apologize. We can’t help it).

  • Picnics are always a good idea! Go to your local park with a blanket (put down a shower curtain liner or a dry cleaning bag underneath if it’s wet). Make some sandwiches, grab some sunscreen and some books, buy yourselves some sparkly lemonade or those individual wine boxes that my family calls “juice boxes” (there are no children in my family, it’s totally cool.)
  • Go for a hike or a bike ride. Pack a picnic! Alone in nature with a view and the one you love…sigh.
  • Check out community events. There are probably historical tours, guest speakers, interesting/and or funny museums, outdoor movies (this is very common in the summer), festivals, free concerts, holiday parades. Everywhere I have ever lived (urban or rural- and I mean RURAL) had community events that were worth checking out.
  • Speaking of museums, check for free admissions days or night openings. I know of a few museums that had jazz nights or cocktail hours in the evenings- not necessarily cheaper, but you got more bang for your buck when you got to hear music and see art at the same time!
  • Gallery openings have free wine, cheese, interesting art and interesting people.
  • If you are a theater fanatic, see if you can volunteer to be an usher. Being an usher is more of a regular commitment, but you go early, help people to their seats (or take tickets) and get to watch a free show! This is a great way to see a large variety of performances.
  • Colleges and universities often have concerts, sports events and performances that are very affordable. No major league baseball in your area? Grab a bag of peanuts from the grocery and check out your college team. No college nearby? Check out your local high school teams!
  • Hopefully one of you has a reasonably clean kitchen. Why don’t you try learning a new recipe together? Have a frozen pizza on hand just in case.
  • Watching movies at home becomes a lot more romantic if you planned a gourmet popcorn and a special cocktail or drink for the night. My favorite popcorn recipe: put olive oil in a smallish pot with a lid. Add salt. Let it get hot. Add popcorn kernels to cover the bottom of the pot and add some fresh or dried rosemary. Cover and shake over high heat. Stop when the pot is full of popcorn (DON’T BURN IT!). There you go: incredibly impressive Olive Oil Rosemary Popcorn for about $.17 total.
  • Spending too much on movies at home? Check out the selection at your local library.
  • Make a string of dates around a theme, like “Finding the best donut in town.” Sounds like multiple trips and multiple donuts…yum!
  • Try to check out popular locations in the off season or play hooky on a weekday to avoid crowds. I once visited my friend in LA and instead of going to $90 Disney world, we went to $30 Knotts Berry Farm on a weekday in the off season. There was no one there and we went on every single ride (except for that one that drops you 5,000 feet because we are weenies). Sure beats paying more to stand in line all day!
  • My family is full of board game fanatics. You know what is a fun date? Board game night! You can make your famous Olive Oil Rosemary popcorn!
  • Take a day trip to a nearby city that you don’t know very well. Be tourists! If you want to stay overnight somewhere, I have had good luck with AirB&B as an alternative to hotels or hostels.
  • Actually, most people miss out on tourist attractions in their hometowns as well. Pretend you are moving in six months. What should you have done in the area that you just haven’t gotten around to doing? Go do it!
  • Going to or live in NYC? Check out todaysthedayi.com for some creative activities in New York that you probably wouldn’t find on your own (written by my beautiful and talented friend Lydia)
  • You know what is romantic? Stargazing. Especially if you have done your homework and know what’s what up there.
  • I am a sucker for sunset picnics at the beach.
  • Bowling is usually pretty affordable and also pretty fun. Ditto darts or pool. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone (and if it does, dump him/her immediately. Life is too short to date someone who can’t lose gracefully.)
  • Pay attention to little perks you might pick up from your everyday life. Your work might offer free sports tickets or tickets at a discount. This year I got a 4 pack of major league baseball tickets for free because I bought bras (that I was going to buy anyway, all I had to do was take a photo of the receipt) and I also got a 4 pack of Steve Winwood tickets (I know, you are totally jealous) because I subscribe to the Sunday paper. Both of these events required me to do about three clicks worth of work with my phone, I don’t get any spam mail because they are from two companies that I already buy from and the total value of the tickets is over $400. Awesome.
  • Groupon, Living Social and Restaurants.com all were invented so you can live like a manager on an entry-level salary.
  • What if you volunteer together? Pick a cause you really believe in or work that you enjoy. I have had a number of lovely days helping out with Habitat for Humanity and I picked up some home repair skills, as well!

I’m sure you get the idea. To have a successful date you

1. need to like the person you are with and

2. need to do a little planning.

Other than that, you can wine and dine your squeeze while not spending a lot of money, as long as you have spent a lot of thought! Have fun, you two!

I would love to hear about your own successful Kate Dates.

Budgets or the line at the DMV: Which is Worse?

Budgets sound like they are NO FUN. They sound like they are as much fun as going to the DMV, except that you don’t need a budget to drive a car…so maybe you can skip that particular adult task? No. No, you cannot.
I am betting that even the word budget makes you feel guilty. And maybe a little scared. I used to feel exactly the same way. I thought that if I had a budget, then I was certainly going to go over that budget every month, and then instead of feeling vaguely guilty about something that I didn’t really know about I would have a real reason to feel guilty for mismanaging my finances. If I didn’t have a plan, I couldn’t feel bad about not following the plan, right?

Except that…without a plan, how would I be able to save for things I really want? You’ll notice that I have wanted Lasik for seven years now. If I had made a budget seven years ago, I would be staring at this screen with contact-free eyes! I wouldn’t have to keep buying contacts and glasses (goodbye, money….) But let me tell you, my left eye is a little itchy because I am wearing my contacts right now….and I will keep on wearing them for a  while longer, and it is my own fault for not having a budget. Or maybe a currently unknown rich relative’s fault for not dying and leaving me massive amounts of money.

Without a plan, you are much more likely to overspend and get yourself into debt that you could have avoided in the first place.Without a plan, how do you know if you can afford to do the things you want to do? I wanted to join a pretty swanky gym when I moved to my neighborhood. I had never joined a gym before because I thought it would be too expensive, but because I had a budget, I figured out that I could afford the membership (hellooooo sauna!)Do you have any habits that you only do occasionally, like take taxis instead of buses? How much is it costing you? How do you know, unless you track where your money is going? I don’t have a car, and before I had a budget I felt guilty every single time I took a cab instead of waiting for the bus. EVERY TIME. But you know what? Now I have budgeted cab money into my monthly plan. I can take as many cabs as fit in my budget, and I never have to feel bad about it! Once I have used up my monthly cab budget, then it is bus stopville for me….but until then, I have given myself permission to stop feeling guilty about spending on luxuries because I know exactly how much I am spending and I also know that I can afford it. It is an amazingly liberating feeling.

Also, I know that if I do badly on following my budget one month…well, it is a guide for myself and only for myself. I’m not getting graded. So there is always next month, and I can always reassess and adjust my budget as need be.

Budgets sound terrible, but they are really freeing. They free you from feelings of guilt. When you budget for everything you HAVE to pay for (stupid electricity bill) and everything you SHOULD pay for (emergency fund, investments) then everything you have left over is yours to do WHATEVER YOU WANT WITH.
ANYTHING AT ALL (within the budget, of course).
Want to spend the remainder of your budget playing penny slots after flying first class to Vegas on a whim? You are being totally responsible! That is a legitimate way to spend your money because you already took care of all of your responsibilities! WOOHOO!
Don’t you feel better? Don’t you want to make a budget? Aren’t budgets fun? Isn’t Vegas fun?
Don’t worry, I’ll discuss exactly how to make a budget soon. Stay tuned!

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