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 market  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?

How dare you spend your money on fun things!

Money can be used in four ways. It can be saved, invested, gifted, and spent. Generally I focus more on the investing and saving aspects of money, but today I want to chat with you about spending. I’m not so interested in how much your grocery bill is or how much you spend on gas each month. Instead of focusing on the boring everyday expenses, I think it would be way more fun to talk about the frivolous side of spending. It’s important to remember a portion of our income should go towards having fun. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your money. And that bring up today’s topic… How do you enjoy your money?

You do enjoy your money occasionally…right?! While I do believe money can’t buy happiness, you better believe it can sure as heck help. I thought I would share with you two areas I find joy in spending money…

Dining out.

Girl Ninja and I don’t live together. This means we don’t have all of the conveniences of cohabitation, like sitting down and eating together. Sometimes she will come over and I will cook for her (or she’ll cook for me), but we have really found great value in going on dinner dates. At least once a week I like to  take her out for dinner. The date isn’t just about the food we shove in our face (GN always tells me I have to take smaller bites :)), but it’s about the quality time we get together. It’s about getting away from friends and roommates, and just enjoying each other. I like to think of these meals not so much as an “expense”, but rather an investment in our relationship.

Photography.

Yup, I got bit by the photography bug…frick! I got a DSLR this Xmas break, and it was love at first sight lust at first picture. The quality is a bajillion times better than my point and shoot camera. I’m totally stoked on this new hobby, but I got to tell ya… it’s freakin’ expensive. Each lens ranges from $300 to $1,200 dollars. I have my eyes on a few different lenses/accessories I would like to add to my photography arsenal, but I’m doing my best to be a good ninja and temper my impulsive nature. I have three camera related things in my Amazon wishlist currently, but I told myself I couldn’t buy anything for at least six months. I want to make sure photography is going to be a long lasting hobby, and not some short term obsession. (I’m kind of infamous for getting in to something, putting a lot of time/effort/money in to it, and then getting bored of it after a few months). Here are a few pictures I have snapped…

scared pug

While frivolous expenses, like the examples mentioned above, can lead some to financial ruins (especially when said expenses are charged to a credit card), I do believe they can also be used as a tool to provide joy. Do you wrestle with the idea of “blowing” money on a hobby? What are some expenses you incur on a semi-frequent basis that you could cut out of your budget, but don’t? Are you a big time rock climber? Do you like to travel? Maybe a cooking hobby? Or if you are on the wild side, perhaps you like to put on a chewbacca mask, buy a bunch of taco shells, empty them from their taco shell box, tape said box to your nipples, get in your underwear, and take pictures of yourself to post on the internet like this guy….

(Don’t worry this guy is probably really nice)

Drop me a line and let me know what some of your hobbies are. Heck I might even want to try a few of them out!

p.s I know there are a ton of free hobbies (i.e. going to the park, local museums, etc). I’m not as interested in them, as I am the areas where you set aside money for the soul purpose of HAVING FUN!

Wedding Registry, from a Man’s perspective

Girl Ninja and I have embarked on an epic journey. A journey in to the world of pots, pans, and garbage cans. That’s right my friends, it’s wedding registry time. Registering is no child’s play, this is serious business. It’s my one and only chance to get a lot of nice crap without having to pay a cent for it. Being new to this whole registry game, I thought I would share a few of the things I have learned.

1) It’s okay to register for really nice things. I was having issues adding All-Clad pans to the registry. Those things are freaking expensive and I felt terrible asking for them. We are talking upwards of $200 bucks for a pot. For a rather crappy chef, like myself, I doubt I’ll notice the difference between a $20 pot and a $200 pot… after all, they’ll both boil water the same wont they? I wrote a few weeks back about my internal battle with accepting generous gifts. In an attempt to combat my awkward frugality, we have registered for quite a few “luxury” items. I realize that just because we want the $200 skillet, doesn’t mean someone HAS to buy us the $200 skillet. I was treating every item we registered for as a “is-this-really-necessary” item instead of a “how-sweet-would-it-be-if-someone-got-us-this” item. In the world of wedding registry, quality is what’s important.

2) Register at places with AWESOME return policies. Girl Ninja and I have registered at Crate and Barrel and Macy’s. These two stores both have amazing, and I mean amazing, return policies. Since Girl Ninja and I both live in San Diego, are getting married in Seattle, and have no clue where we will be living after we get married, there is a good chance we will need to return 99% of the gifts people get for us. It’s kind of a bummer and will probably be a headache, but there isn’t much we can do about it except register at places with good return policies. Crate and Barrel, for example, will give you straight up CASH for all items purchased through your registry. How epic is that, most stores will give you gift cards or store credit, but C&B would hook me up with Benjamins. That gives GN and I a ton of flexibility in our shopping. While Macy’s only provides store credit, they still allow up to a year to make the return and have some pretty sweet perks if you register through them. The coolest perk is that Girl Ninja and I will get a 5% store credit bonus on every dollar someone else spends on our registry. If people buy $2,000 worth of Macy’s product, Girl Ninja and I walk away with a $100 gift card. Boo to the Ya for free money.

3) There is a lot of crap to be bought. I’m a guy. We don’t need a lot. Give me one bowl, one plate, a spork, and maybe some toilet paper, and I will consider myself adequately provided for. Apparently Girl Ninja has different plans. We registered for cupcake tins, cupcake trees, cupcake carrying cases, and a whole slew of other things I never knew existed (mostly baking goods). I’m overwhelmed by the shear quantity of items we have registered for, especially knowing that we are only about 50% through the registering process. There is some crazy stuff out there, for example, I have no idea what the heck this kitchen thingy majigger is…There ya have it, three things that stood out to me as I embark on this wedding registry process. I can tell ya right now, it’s totally a chick thing as I haven’t met too many guys that get excited about picking out what color hand towels they want.

And now, as always, I leave with some questions…primarily for the femALIENS out there. What are some things you wished you would have registered for, but didn’t? I have heard it’s always better to ask for too much than not enough (i.e. dinnerware for 12 instead of 10). Is it against proper etiquette to register for things like tools and a BBQ? If you could do one thing over again with your wedding registry what would it be? ANY AND ALL ADVICE IS HIGHLY APPRECIATED! I definitely want to take advantage of as much “free” crap stuff as I can

p.s. if you didn’t get a chance to see all the comments people posted up yesterday about their financial secrets, I highly encourage you to do so…there are some interesting one’s in the bunch!!!!

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?

Popularity has a price.

Screen shot 2009-12-15 at Dec 15, 2009, 12.08.13 AMYesterday, unbeknownst to me, I was given an invitation to sit at the “cool table” (or at least the personal finance equivalent of a cool table) with all the popular kids. I woke up yesterday morning, and as usual, checked my blog’s stats first thing. Usually I have about 50 or so visitors by 7am my time. Yesterday was a different story though, I had an incredible 1,300 visitors by early morning. I knew my post on counterintuitive frugality was not the cause of this giant boost in traffic. Checking referral sites revealed The Consumerist posted a blog about my recent 401K article. Here’s a link to their article and here’s a link to mine.

Being featured on the #1 Personal Finance blog makes me smile. It resulted in more visits in one day than I usually see in an entire month, futhermore, it also increased my adsense revenue from the typical $0.12 per day to a whopping $7.04. I’m freaking rich suckers and I owe it all to Phil Villarreal. Thanks dude for referencing my post, feel free to do so whenever you’d like 🙂

I learned something yesterday though, popularity has it’s price. While I would say the majority of the comments in response to my article were positive, there were definitely some that were not-so-positive. Here were two of my favorites….

GuidedByLemons:
“I have been so focused on retirement, I completely forgot to establish a game plan for my 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s.”
Um, how about you, like, draw a paycheck during those years? By working?

You totally took my quote out of context dude. Of course I plan to draw a paycheck, but where is the harm in trying to provide extra income from short term investments? Instead of being income dependent, I’d rather have other streams of money to provide additional financial security. I’m pretty sure I never indicated a desire to lose my job and stop earning income.

Unknown:
your post is so riddled with errors, logic and factual, thats its not worth responding to.

I deleted that comment because it provided no constructive criticism and I don’t think it qualifies as English, but it did make me laugh a little bit. Some people are jerks.

I’m all for constructive criticism, in fact there were quite a few opposing views brought to my attention, but sometimes people need to take a deep breath and relax. My life is different than yours, and so are my investment strategies. I didn’t tell anyone else to reduce their 401K contributions, I simply wrote about what MY strategy was. If you don’t agree with it, that’s A-okay by me.

I think some of the consfusion comes from a misleading opening paragraph in that article. The article states I make an argument against funding your 401K up to the employer match, which isn’t true. Just to be clear…EVERYONE SHOULD CONTINUE TO FUND THEIR 401K TO GET THE EMPLOYER MATCH. I’m sure that was an unintended mistake and really not a big deal as most caught the error, but I did want to take a second to clarify.

Getting to bask in the awesomeness of being highlighted on The Consumerist was definitely the best part of my day, even though some people made their best attempts to bring me down. In the words of Miley Cyrus…

There’s always going to be another mountain
I’m always going to want to make it move
Always going to be an uphill battle,
Sometimes I’m going to have to punch someone in the face lose.

Playing with the popular kids for a day sure was nice, but part of me is definitely relieved to be dealing with my normal PF commenters and readers again. I love you all in a totally non-erotic way 🙂

Counterintuitive Frugality

Screen shot 2009-12-13 at Dec 13, 2009, 11.06.45 PMIn case ya didn’t notice, it’s Christmas time. Don’t worry though, this isn’t going to be another PF article about how to save money on your Xmas shopping. Saving money and finding deals, is something I am going to let you figure out on your own. I do plan, however, to talk a little bit about the Xmas gift experience.

I’m a pretty frugal ninja, as if you didn’t already know that. I try to cut costs by any means necessary so I have more money to save, invest, and give. I’m the guy that buys the generic brand cereals,  ketchups, and underwear just to save a little bit of money. It might not taste as good, or fit just right, but my pocketbook thanks me 🙂 While frugality may be a part of my DNA, Xmas is the one time of the year I am totally fine droppin’ some dollar bills.

I get anxiety over spending $20 on myself at the grocery store, but can drop $100 on a gift for my girlfriend with out an ounce of stress. Something about giving gifts, cancels out the anxiety of spending money. I think it can be summed up by this math rule…

Screen shot 2009-12-13 at Dec 13, 2009, 10.19.09 PM

The math clearly shows when I spend money, I can be a happy ninja, as long as a friend benefits along the way (not to be confused with “friends with benefits“).

Like most of you, December is usually my most expensive month. I personally don’t limit my Xmas spending to a certain dollar amount, probably because I don’t take the time to set aside an Xmas savings account. Some years I’ll spend $100, other years I’ll spend $300, and this year I’ll spend even more.

One would expect a frugal person to freak out after spending an abnormal amount of money, but for me it’s no problem. Do any of you experience a similar counterintuitive frugality? Is it easier for you to spend money on someone else rather than yourself? Why do you think that is? I’ve finished my Xmas shopping this year, have you?

p.s. If you are reading this via a feed reader, I recommend you stop by and actually check out my website as I put up my Xmas banner last Thursday….let’s just say I think I’ll be on the naughty list this year.