This post has taken so long to prepare that my original savings plan is now completely out of date. I’ll recalibrate that later, but for now, let’s see how I did in October. I’ll preface this by repeating that I have no intention of putting myself through extreme privation to be able to leave for France with $10,000 more than I would have otherwise – I would rather live a reasonable lifestyle and take on a little bit more work while there, which I absolutely recognize as a privilege I’m very fortunate to have. In general, I find the “if you still have cable, you’re worthless and bound to die with an insufficiently diversified investment portfolio” attitude of some corners of the personal finance world a little, uh, rich, if you’ll allow the pun. This isn’t supposed to be the Misery Olympics, as I never tire of repeating.
If you’re playing along at home, here’s a clean copy of the really simple budget spreadsheet I use to track my spending. I put absolutely everything on one of my frequent flyer mileage cards (let no mile go unearned!), so I just tally everything up off of my credit card statement(s). I purposefully started off with a straightjacket budget of $1,000 in disposable income to see how I would do and what would need to be adjusted. Note that this amount did not include any of my fixed costs: rent, utilities, insurance, subscriptions, etc. All of those are detailed here.
Budget & Spending by Category
|Health & Beauty||$50||$138|
|Activities & Clothes||$50||$236|
|Groceries & Amazon||$200||$499|
As evidenced above, October wasn’t a great month for budgeting. Several of the behemoth categories – “going out”, “groceries / Amazon”, and “activities / clothes” – I blame on having spent 8 days on vacation on a fairly pricey island, but really, I could’ve easily gotten by with half the amount in each category. I also bought a $130 wool blazer – a very rare occurrence these days, but a necessary purchase and unlike anything I already own – and ordered $100-something worth of French books on Amazon, which is a spending category I’m really trying to rein in until I read all the books I actually, you know, have. Although I overspent egregiously, I think $1,000 is still a good benchmark to work towards.
A few things helped me out here – I used account credits to cover bus fare and a few Ubers, the frequency of which has dropped dramatically compared to my style of Ubering of months (years) past. I’m all set on shoes
forever, literally for the rest of time for the fall/winter, and the only thing I’m still looking for is a replacement wool coat.
November & Beyond
What definitely won’t help me in November is another (yes, another) vacation – I’m taking my mom to Brazil. A sidenote here: my mom was exceedingly generous in financing my studies and getting me on my feet, so I take her on a nice trip every year. I keep an eye on my spending in this category, but I don’t obsessively budget for it, nor do I cut out experiences based on price alone if I think they’re worth it, within reasonable limits – I booked a $350 hotel inside of the Iguazu Falls park, for example, because why the fuck not. I won’t go out for lavish dinners every night, and I love street food as much as anybody, but if there’s an €80 mollusk platter on offer and I know the process of eating through it will give us a million funny stories to look back on years later, I’ll get the platter and tack on a bottle of sauvignon blanc (or two). I’d much rather enjoy that experience with my family than have an extra $100 sitting in savings, which is one of the most important things my first boss ever taught me – at the end of the day, it’s just money. If I have to cut out a four-cocktail night at some overpriced DC watering hole full of pumpkin spiced congressional staffers and bad taste wrapped in J.Crew to balance out those expenditures, everyone will surely be better off in the long run.
I do try to maximize benefits on travel, though – I booked a hotel in Rio through Rocketmiles, for instance, and expect to earn about 17,000 United miles on it. Another good option is Hotels.com and their “one night free per 10 nights stayed” promo, which one of my friends swears by. I won’t overpay to access promotional offers, that’s the oldest trick in the book and one you should never fall for, but if the price is comparable to what I’m seeing on Booking, miles or points or free nights are just free money waiting to be taken, so damn right I’m going to take it.
This brings me to another point – I’ve been working bit by bit on a post detailing exactly how to maximize credit card miles and points for super cheap travel. I know The Points Guy and others have written literal thousands of articles on the topic, but that’s just it, isn’t it – for someone just starting out, the flood of information you’re hit with online is virtually unintelligible and, it should be noted, almost always subjective, because most of these bloggers earn commission on application referrals. I’ll try to bridge that gap in my next post.