There’s always something

Random Note: I not really a big fan of calling Wife Ninja, Wife Ninja. I much preferred Girl Ninja (GN), and since this is my blog, and she is a girl, I’ve decided to reincarnate her title as Girl Ninja.

Ninja Mansion

I was talking with Girl Ninja’s uncle the other day about normal guy things (sports, money, unicorns, etc). We then started talking about housing and what that looked like for Girl Ninja and myself. I told him we were planning to save pretty aggressively so we could have up to $100,000 to use for a down payment. I told him “I feel like once we buy a house, I will finally relax and be more of a free spender. After all, a house is the last big purchase I have to look forward to…right?” Yeah, I know, I realize how stupid that comment was.

When I was paying off debt, I thought that becoming debt free would be my ultimate release from frugality. But then came a wedding and a honeymoon, so I focused on saving up for those expenses. Now, almost three months in to the married life, I’m all about saving for a huge down payment.

But, and this is a big but, I’m officially coming to terms with the fact that there will always be something. Once Girl Ninja and I ‘take the plunge’ and purchase our first place, we’ll just begin saving for our next ‘project’. A kitchen remodel, children’s college funds, a batmobile, etc. When will it end? Never.

Although this epiphany could seem depressing, it was a welcome (and needed) reminder. A reminder that I will never “have it ALL together” no matter how hard I try. A reminder that I shouldn’t put off having fun today, so that I can have fun tomorrow. A reminder, that I sometimes lose sight of what’s important.

I obsess over a stupid goal (like saving to buy a home), and allow that goal to distract me from a huge part of the personal finance puzzle. And that part, mi amigos, is spending. Sure, Girl Ninja and I could put every un-budgeted dollar we earn towards saving for the future Ninja pad, but what would that mean for the next few years of our lives?

I’ll tell you. It would mean a lot of not-fun-having! And last time I checked, we both like to have fun. So, while we will continue to work towards our goal of home ownership, we will also make a point to enjoy our journey through that process.

What is your current financial goal? Do you allow it to distract you from contentment, like I do, sometimes? Where is the balance between healthy focus and uber-awkward awkwardness?

On a FUN note, we just got our wedding pictures back. We haven’t looked through all 1,200 of them yet, but here are a few of our favorites!!!! (more to come later)


Financial to a fault

I admit it. I’m a huge dork. I’m constantly running numbers through my head. Last night, as Wife Ninja was making her best attempt to fall asleep (at 9pm!), I asked a handful of questions about her work schedule. While I was trying to beat around the bush, Wife Ninja knew exactly what I was doing. I was trying to count how many days she would work this month, so I could then calculate what her paycheck would be. She made it pretty clear she just wanted to go to sleep and it was time for me to stop bothering her.

This isn’t the first, and definitely wont be the last time, my obsession with numbers has caused a hiccup in my 6 week old marriage. No, I’m pretty much a pro at making the wifey feel overwhelmed by money. She loves to shop, and I hate it. So it makes sense to have her do the grocery, household, and decor shopping. While she enjoys the shopping aspect of it, she HATES the coming home part. Every time she would return from a shopping trip, I’d ask “How much did you spend?”

I asked what I thought was a harmless question, but soon discovered it was anything but. Wife Ninja felt as though I didn’t trust her to spend our money appropriately. I, however, wasn’t asking because I thought she’d go blow all our cash, but because I like to keep a running balance of all of our credit card charges in my head. I didn’t even think about the fact that it could be interpreted as me smothering her. Yeah, I know. I’m a big dumb dumb head and should have been more sensitive, but hey I’m still learning here.

Last but not least, the burrito factor. What is the burrito factor you ask? It’s a currency system I use. Here in San Diego, they have this tasty treat called a California burrito. It is essentially a Carne Asada burrito with one special ingredient. French Fries!!!! I promise you it’s not as gross as it sounds, and it is nowhere near as weird those Pennsylvanians that put french fries on their salads…

Anyhow, back to the burrito currency. I can get a California burrito for $5 at the local taco stand. Not only is that sucker scrumtrulescent, but it also fills me up. Now, whenever I go out to eat and look at the menu, I run the burrito factor through my mental calculator. It looks a little something like this… “Okay, this salad is gonna cost me $12.50, which is the same price as 2.5 California burritos. Plus the salad is probably only going to fill me up 50%. So that means this salad is gonna cost the equivalent of 5 California burritos to get full. Death to salad!

So ya see, there are times where money shouldn’t be on the mind….like when your wife is trying to go to sleep ๐Ÿ˜‰ I guess it’s pretty easy to be “financial to a fault.” Do you have any silly examples of your crazy financial/number habits? Or do you have your own “burrito factor” system (i.e. a Starbucks factor or Video Game factor)?

Steppin’ outside the comfort zone

This whole wedding deal is totally challenging my inner frugal self. I’m just not a huge fan of money leaving my accounts. I love putting in it, and hate taking it out. It’s pretty stupid when you think about it actually. It would be like if I bought a really nice cut of meat, but didn’t want to cook/eat it because I like the way it looks in my refrigerator. Money is meant to eventually exit your investment/savings accounts, much like food is meant to be eaten. Whether it be through bills, luxuries, donations, or death, every dollar I’ve saved will eventually find itself a new owner.

The wedding is less than four weeks away now and the expensive part (for me) is quickly approaching. I’m about to buy all of my groomsmen gifts (which I’m convinced are the best groomsmen gifts ever), have to buy the parents gifts for all of their love, support, and contributions, and I have to buy some new clothes. I’m totally fine spending money on my wedding party and family as giving gifts has never been hard for me, but I hate thinking about spending money on clothes.

Most of my work shirts have gotten a decent amount of use out of them and no longer look as bright or crisp as when I first bought ’em. This means I’ll probably be heading to Express for Men or Banana Republic to pick up an outfit for the rehearsal dinner. Maybe something like this…

If one nice outfit was my only expense, I wouldn’t be freakin’ out. Unfortunately, I am in desperate need of some Aruba appropriate clothing. You know, shorts, tank tops, linen shirts, etc. I literally own zero clothes that are nice enough to be my honeymoon outfits. In fact check out this picture of my favorite pair of shorts. Can you say ghetto?….

I literally have not bought a single pair of shorts or pants in the last two years. I wear everything until it falls apart, but Girl Ninja wants me looking a little less ugly on our honeymoon and I can’t really blame her. Do you know what this means? Shopping spree. Notice there was no exclamation point at the end of the last sentence. It’s not something I am excited about, but I know it needs to happen. I can’t drop big money on a honeymoon, only to be dressed in a pair of shorts I made from army pants I bought at the thrift store (I actually did that once).

I don’t really know where to begin looking for sweet threads, but I will most likely begin my journey at Nordstrom Rack, they seem to have a little bit of everything there. I’d love to keep my total spending under $200, but with GN helping me pick out my outfits I could be looking at a much larger bill than desired. She’s kind of a clothes whore (don’t tell her I said that).

I need help from you fashionistas. How do I go from “beach bum” to “Aruba ready” on a budget? I feel like I’m suppose to look like this guy when I’m on my honeymoon….

When all my outfits are more like this guys (not really)…

Any advice on cost effective ways to clothing shop on a budget would be greatly appreciated, especially if you dudes have any insight.

Do you need a PF timeout?

Remember when you were really young and your parents use to beat you mercilessly put you in timeout when you got in trouble. For example, I remember saying ‘piss’ in front of Mom Ninja for the first time. She was not pleased with my potty mouth so she did what most mothers do. She threw me down the stairsjust kidding… She made me wash my mouth out with soap. But, instead of the normal squirt of liquid soap on the tongue, she took it one step further. She took a bar of soap, made me put it in my mouth, and bite down on it for a good five minutes while I was in “time out”. She was ruthless. You’re lucky mom I didn’t call child protective services on you for a clear violation of my constitutional right to free speech ๐Ÿ™‚

Just like I got sent to timeout for bad language, I think people should be given timeouts if they violate some of the fundamental financial principles. Just imagine, Joe purchases a television from Best Buy and finances it at 15% interest. Enter Personal Finance police. It’s time for them to smack Joe around a little bit and put him in financial timeout. In said timeout Joe would be required to reflect on his poor decision to finance a TV in hopes that he does not make a similar mistake.

Okay, maybe PF police wouldn’t really work out. I guess we all have the God-given right to make stupid financial decisions. Instead of threaten you with a timeout, how ’bout I just walk through some of the more important financial NO NOs?

No No #1:

Don’t borrow money at an unreasonably high interest rate. Let’s face it, sometimes you might have to borrow money (to buy a house or take out a student loan), but that doesn’t mean you need to go charge everything on your credit card, take out payday loans, and take out a second mortgage. High interest debt is going to absolutely destroy your wealth building potential. Unless it is an absolute emergency, put the credit card down (if you aren’t paying it off in full that is).

No No #2:

Never, ever, ever lose track of your money. Have you ever had a $100 in your wallet and a week later notice you spent it all, but have no clue what you bought? It’s really important, and extremely beneficial, to track your spending habits. There is plenty of free budgeting software that will make this super easy for you. All you have to do is sync up the software with your bank accounts, keep any receipts from cash purchases, and the software does the rest. Want to know how much you spend dining out each month? Boom. The software lays it out nicely for you. I bought Quicken a few years ago and it has totally helped me gain some insight in to my spending patterns.

No No #3:

Don’t get scammed. You know the old adage: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. There are plenty of people, and companies, willing to take your money from you. Enemy of Debt posted a few weeks back about a Craigslist scam he almost fell victim to. Need another example? You know that catchy tune; “F-R-E-E that spells free, credit report dot com bab-y”. It’s a catchy tune, but nothing about freecreditreport.com is free. If you want a legitimately free copy of your credit report go to annualcreditreport.com (government sponsored). There is a wealth of information out there to help you determine what the best credit report monitoring service for you would be. Don’t get SCAMMED by some dude with a guitar and a catchy jingle.

No No #4:

Do not, I repeat DO NOT, forget that your money is suppose to be spent. It’s not uncommon for me to become so obsessed with saving my money I forget I’m allowed to enjoy it. There is nothing wrong with a little non-budgeted spending every now and again. Sometimes it feels good to cut loose and splurge ๐Ÿ™‚ Don’t be the awkward cat lady that has $10,000,000 in the bank, but refuses to go out to dinner with her family because it’s a waste of money. Live a little.

There’s probably a dozen more financial NO NOs that should have made the list, but I’m too lazy to write them all out. So, I’m gonna ask that you faithful readers help a Ninja out and throw down some more NO NOs in the comment section below. Maybe buying a new car is a no-no? Spending more than 50% of income on housing? Borrowing money from friends? Let me hear what you got!

What is enough?

Are you a good judge of when something qualifies as enough? You know what I’m talking about. It’s the line between crappy and excessive. For example, say you are in the market for some new headphones. Well you could go to Rite Aid and buy yourself a $2 pair of cheapy headphones, but the quality of them will probably be less than adequate. Then again you could shell out $400 for some crazy awesome earbuds, but if you aren’t a huge music buff you probably wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate them. See the dilemma? Two dollar headphones are not enough, and $400 headphones are too much. How do you know where to draw the line? Is it the $10 pair, $40, or $200 pair?

If you’re like me you find yourself making the “enough” decision in many aspects of your life. Here are a few areas where I’ve battled with this.

Rent:

Holy poop, San Diego rent can be expensive. When I graduated college, I was forced to move off campus and had to start renting a place of my own. I ended up paying $700/month to share a bedroom with an old friend in a nice part of San Diego. After about two months of it, I had enough. I knew I could find cheaper rent, but still enjoy where I lived. Luckily, I found a two bedroom apartment in a not-quite-as-nice-but-still-nice part of town for $1175. That means my roommate and I both pay $587.50 per month. We have lived in said apartment for 2.5 years now. By slightly downgrading my housing, I have saved over $3,700 dollars in rent. That’s $3,700 I never would have been able to see again had I stayed at the first place.

Food:

We all are probably guilty of frequenting the restaurants a little more than we would like to admit. Before I was living on a budget, I was dropping about $300-$400 on dining out and another $100-$200 on groceries each month. Since I didn’t track my spending I had no clue I was dropping so much cash on food. Yeah I know, I’m an idiot. Once I started using Quicken, I was able to track my money. I about peed my pants when I realized I was spending $500/month on food. I quickly shaped up and downgraded my dining habits. I’ve managed to lower my dining/grocery budget to about $250 per month. Changing my eating habits has been a huge financial blessing.

Technology:

I am a gadget whore. I love electronics. I don’t care what it is, if it uses electricity I want it. I’ve really had to learn to control my desire to blow all my money on toys. For about a year and a half, I really, really, really wanted a digital SLR. After being a good/patient Ninja I got one this last Xmas. I knew I didn’t want to get the cheapest SLR on the marketย  as it would lack many of the features that I felt were necessary. But at the same time, I didn’t want to be frivolous and get a $4,000 professional grade camera that I wouldn’t even know how to use. I ended up with the Canon XSi, and I’m in love. It was the perfect camera for what I wanted. It was “enough”. (Here’s a picture of Girl Ninja and I, taken with my camera)

If you are anything like me, you have tried to cheat the system and operate outside of the “enough” parameters. That is a bad choice. This is when you end up with a guitar you bought for super cheap, but never play because it sounds like a dying cat each time you strum the strings. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, you felt like going big so you bought a top of the line mountain bike, only to let it collect dust in the garage because you don’t ride it as much as you thought you would. You have to figure out what enough means before you go and make the purchase, not after.

I am currently in the process of trying to figure out what “enough” will mean for my life with Girl Ninja. Should we live in an apartment complex with amenities, even though it will cost more? What kind of cell phone plan should we get? Do I really need to hold on to my iPhone? Blah, all the planning and contemplating is stressin’ me out.

What are some areas of your life, where you have been trying to figure out the perfect balance between not enough, and too much? Is it a car payment? Home decorations? Debt repayment? Do you always make the decision on your own, or do you generally consult your peers/spouse/family?

I’m frugal, I swear.

Screen shot 2009-12-17 at Dec 17, 2009, 11.14.55 PMI got out of my 2007 Toyota Scion TC, walked in to my apartment, made a call on my iPhone, checked my email on my Macbook, opened up the box to my brand new Digital SLR camera, and then thought to myself “Holy crap, am I a hypocrite?” How can I possibly preach frugality, when I own some rather expensive items? I’m sitting here typing this, on my 22″ external monitor, desperately trying to figure out a way to reconcile my possessions with my frugality.

And then it hit me… it’s because I’m frugal that I can own these nice things! We get caught up in the mentality that, to be truly frugal, one must save every dollar they earn and avoid nice things at all cost. Wait, that’s not what frugality is about, at least for me it’s not. For me, frugality is a commitment to manage money wisely, and have fun doing it.

I can afford to spend more money in some areas because I minimize costs in other areas. I keep a tight budget on expenses that most people (not you) tend to spend more frivolously on. I don’t drink alcohol, so that automatically saves me $20-$200 a month less than most other people my age. I still wear clothes that I’ve had since college. I try to eat out no more than once a week. I don’t go clubbin (Girl Ninja would not approve). And I only shower once a week to save water….just kidding….kind of.

Sure I may own some Apple products, drive a car with less than 30K miles, and have two computer monitors, but the beauty of frugality is that it’s expressed differently for each person. It’s about living within your means, not avoiding luxuries.

Indications you may not be frugal and you are just a straight up reckless spender…

1) You put “dining out” expenses on a growing credit card balance

2) You buy things you don’t want or need, simply because it was on sale.

3) You own multiple DVDs you have never taken out of their wrapping (I know some of you are guilty of this).

4) Your name starts with a “C” and rhymes with bongress.

We all tend to make assumptions about others based off our observations. Heck, I’m guilty of it, but I hope a few nice possessions wont disqualify me from joining Club Frugal. What kind of frugal dude/dudette are you? Are you the I’m-so-cheap-I-won’t-have-any-fun frugal? The I-like-to-monitor-my-spending frugal? Or the I’m-not-really-frugal-but-I-like-to-pretend-that-I-am person?