week twenty-one: spending money like my dad

My dad is frugal. Not cray cray cheap like stuffing ketchup packets in his pants at McDonald’s and then refilling the bottle at home with the purloined tomato-y goodness… but frugal. His truck is 20 years old and when he bought it, he went in and got the most stripped down version of a Ford Ranger those bitches sold. No power steering, no carpet, no radio, no power windows. Actually, thinking back on it, how the hell do you buy a new car without carpet and a radio?

My dad has never bought into “luxuries.” You know, things we convince ourselves are “needs” but really are just wants in disguise. We didn’t have cable growing up. A new car happened about once every 10 years. He got a $6 haircut and wore his Levi’s until they fell apart. Then he wore them when he changed the oil on the cars or did handyman repairs around the house and neighborhood.

He wasn’t necessarily opposed to spending money – but he never seemed to spend it thoughtlessly or on things that wouldn’t last. Of course, as a child and definitely as a teenager, I thought his thrifty ways were outdated and lame. Before he bought the Ford Ranger he drove a horrifically beat-up, rust-covered lemon-yellow truck that embarrassed me endlessly. I used to make him drop me off at school a few blocks away so no one would catch me in it.

But, like all people who have kids and get old, my parents’ once-bass-ackwards-seeming ways now seem like good sense. And although I never thought I’d say it, I will: My dad was right.

Lots of blogs have touted the idea of the no-spend months. Basically it’s just like it sounds: No buying dumb shit. For a month. Typically there’s a few exceptions, like groceries and maybe personal care, like a haircut or medicine.

But a month to me seems like an eternity. So I’m going to do a week. If it goes well, I’ll try a month next time. And I’m using my dad as inspiration. So instead of asking myself WWJD, I’ll be asking myself WWDD?

My rules are:

– Groceries are cool. But I mean food, not “grocery shopping” at Target and also slipping in fingerless gloves and a DVD.

– I have a brow wax scheduled this week. Babysitting is lined up and I’m not missing out on it. Hells naw. When you have super short hair and ungroomed brows, it’s way too easy to look like Peter Pan. Trust.

– No money spending on activities. No $5 rides on the carousel (sorry baby!) or $8 trips to inflatable world. Bonus: We have memberships at the Zoo and the local aquarium. So it’s not like baby will be all sad and deprived.

– No spending money on food outside the home. No restaurants, Starbucks runs or churros at the Zoo. (Oy. That one hurt to write. Churros take the Zoo from “wheee!” to “OMNOMNOMNOMYAYYYYYY!)

– Also – I’m going to write down all the stupid shit I feel longing for during the week, just to have a record of the unfulfilled “needs” and if, with a bit of reflection, I even want them.

Writing this down and being all serious about it makes me realize that I’m super lame if I can’t do the above for just a week. It’s a hard fucking life, huh? The week starts now, let’s go!

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week fifteen: gift wrap “station”

This is one of those stupid things I purchased after getting married that I thought was required for our house. A hanging-on-the-door gift wrap organizer. You know, for all of those presents I wrap constantly. Look! Four rolls of paper from Big Lots! Plus a spool of ribbon! They need a home. And not just boxed up with the Christmas stuff – that would be too logical. They need a special wrapping-paper-designated organizer. Perhaps one I hang on a doorknob – because that’s just what I need on my office door, a fucking plastic garment bag with cheap wrapping paper tumbling out of it whenever I enter the room. WTF is wrong with me?

This has had a few homes over the years. Hanging off my office door. Hanging off the door in the guest room. Hanging off a hook in the garage. Hanging off a ladder in the garage. Hanging off the door in the soon-to-be-baby playroom. I kept moving it when husband ran into it or the dogs sniffed at it to see if it was something they should pee on.

Over the weekend it was hanging in the garage (This time off some plywood! What a great spot for my gift wrap organizer!) and baby kept grabbing at it when we went outside. He knocked it on the ground twice, then I was all like “Fuck this shit! I don’t need no gift wrappin station no more!” (I said it in my head, lest you worry about me cursing in front of baby.)

I decided to forgo Christmasy wrapping paper from now on. I have a bigass roll of kraft butcher paper in my office I use for packaging up some products I sell. Last year I wrapped a few gifts in it, using cute stamps to decorate the paper. It’s one of the few craft projects I can actually do, as it’s quick, fun and easy with very limited set up and clean up. This Christmas maybe baby can even help, if he stops trying to eat everything he gets his grubby little mitts on.

So this Christmas, we’ll be a little more like this under the tree:

You know, sans the stupid top hat as a star (???). Also, I’ll go out on a limb here and say we will probably NOT put a fucking tumbleweed in our fireplace either. But you get the gist. Butcher paper plus some cute ribbon and maybe some stamping fun. Much better than the garment bag clotting up my doorways. Hurray!

week fourteen: the birthday party

My little baby is almost one. I won’t bore you with the requisite “Oh my gawd how time flies,” or the “I can’t believe it’s been a year!” shit. You know that when you get old time goes fast. Add a baby into the mix and it whooshes by at breakneck pace. He’s a year. It went quickly. Yep.

I’m excited for baby’s first birthday. Celebrating this milestone with friends and family sounds fun. The in-laws are flying in from Texas for the event. Husband’s business partner is bringing his family. About 28 people from my side are coming. It’s kinda the hip place to be this June.

And when I started planning this party, all I could think of was the ridiculous pile of shit I was bound to be saddled with after this event.

I’m hosting somewhere around 40 people. I didn’t invite them to get stuff for baby – I invited them because we’re having a picnic in the summertime, and the more the fuckin merrier, amiright? I just want a fun get-together, play pass the baby a bit and eat a chocolate cupcake. I don’t want the “gift table.”

Any time you throw a kid’s birthday party, there’s always the gift table, overflowing with toys, clothes and little kid shit all wrapped up in shiny paper and glossy bags. At some point during the party, people start getting all present itchy and then it’s time to sit baby down and have him open a bunch of stuff. This tradition, particularly with such a young child, seems really fucking strange to me.

Don’t get me wrong – of course I think it’s sweet and nice and thoughtful to give a child a gift for their birthday. But does my baby need 40 new things? Do I want him sitting in a sea of shiny new stuff, learning that getting shit is what his birthday is all about? Is it vital to his happiness that he receives more toys in one day than some children ever see in a lifetime?

No. No he doesn’t. No I don’t. No it isn’t.

Baby is going to be fighting against commercialism and stuff acquisition for decades to come. Right now – in these early years – is the time for simplicity. To try and instill as much as possible an appreciation for the things we have, and a contentedness in knowing that what we have is enough.

So I figured out that I didn’t want stuff. But how to pass that along to all of the invitees without sounding like a:

1. Holier than thou beeyatch (“although your plebeian son may enjoy childish toys, my son shan’t be accepting your low-brow gifts!”)

2. Annoying controlling mom (“only four of you pay attention to my Amazon wishlist and the rest of you jerks will bring age-inappropriate toys that baby will choke on so fuck off!”)

3. Dirty hippie idiot (“the man is controlling baby’s mind via Elmo, so we’ll only be accepting natural gifts, like leaves and Trader Joe’s granola bars.”)

Well, I wasn’t sure – but a post I read on the Minimalist Mom’s blog on minimalist birthday parties for kids gave me an idea. She detailed a “Toonie” party, a Canadian trend in kids’ parties. The basic idea is that party guests, in lieu of gifts, bring the kid one or two “toonies.” (BTW – A toonie is a $2 coin in Canada.) After the party, the kid can go pick out something he’d like with his pocket full of coins. How cool is that?!

I decided that was the strategy for us. Of course, we don’t have any cool coins here in the States – I mean I guess we have that damn Sacagawea $1 coin but I never see them out in circulation and when you try and spend them at the 7-11 the clerk gets all confused like you handed him Monopoly money. A one-dollar bill seemed lame, so I went with a five-dollar bill.

I had also read online about some toonie parties being a split pot of sorts. Each guest would bring two toonies, and the kid donated half and kept half. I liked that idea, and I like the thought of baby picking a charity each year to support. You know, teaching him the world is bigger than himself, that sort of shit. So that’s the plan. This year, husband and I will pick the charity, I’m thinking Heifer or Toys for Tots.

I’m sure some people will ignore our request, and that’s cool. But if their gift gets donated after the party I won’t feel too bad about it. It’ll probably be the same people who never read their emails all the way through and also forget to RSVP. But that’s why you bring extra sandwiches, you know? Because even though those people annoy the shit out of you, you still have to invite them. Haha! Just kidding.

Not really.

week twelve: crap into cash

Pre-married and pre-baby, I was a hip (sort of) single girl in San Francisco. I worked in marketing for a group of hotels smack in the middle of the city. I rode the cable car to work. I had a cute working-girl-in-city wardrobe. And I made decent cash.

While many of my friends could barely scrape together the $900 a month for their shitty room rental in the Tenderloin, I had cash to burn. Not cray cray money like buying Jimmy Choos every week, but enough to splurge on stuff here and there without worrying about how I’d afford gas that week or being forced to eat macaroni and cheese every night. (Ha. Like I have to be forced to eat macaroni and cheese.)

So what was the result of me being flush? Well, I’ll tell you. It wasn’t that I went on cool trips to Mexico with my girlfriends. Or that I bought front-row tickets to see amazing bands. Or even that I dined out at the city’s best restaurants.

No, I spent my money the smart way. On fucking old lady figurines.

Whaaaaaaat?!?! you say? Why would a cute 23-year-old woman with a fun marketing gig in the city buy miniature, overly detailed mouse figurines from the nice gay dudes that had the “shit old gay dudes like” shop in Union Square? The answer is: I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA. But I did. For shame.

Yes, they’re cute. But they are for old ladies. Or maybe someone who’s really, really, REALLY into mice. Or maybe a Liza Minnelli impersonator. But I don’t fit into any of those categories. So what the fuck was I doing?

Looking back, it was mindless spending. I got a little rush spending $100 (shame!!!) on some cute little tchotchke. What a nerdy way to get high.

Now I try every day to put those impulses behind me. To focus on the needs and really think hard about the wants. And I cannot imagine ever needing or wanting miniature mice dressed up in old-timey outfits poised on my mantle. So out they go.

The upside to me being a super nerdy mcnerdenstein? The figurines held some of their value, so I sold them on eBay. We’re renovating a room for baby – turning it into a playroom (in a minimalist way, of course, more on this later!) – and the extra cash from selling a bunch of dumb crap would really come in handy.

This all brings me to the second part of my post: Crap into cash.

Since week one, I have been building a pile of somewhat non-crappy crap that I didn’t want to just give away. So I’ve been having an online garage sale on eBay. In a couple of weeks I’ve made nearly $900 off junk I had in boxes in the garage. I am positive just about everyone has a few things they could let go of, make some money and do something cool. (Don’t all run out and buy mouse figurines with your proceeds.)

Here’s my top five crap-into-cash rules:

1. If you think something is worth less than $10, fucking donate it. How much time will it take you to takes photos of something, edit the pics, write a description, list an item, deal with whackjobs who ask stupidass questions, sell it, collect money and send it/have it picked up? The answer is at least a fucking hour, all told. So minus Paypal fees and eBay fees maybe you’re looking at $8 profit on a $10 item. Unless $8 an hour sounds like boss playa money to you (in which case you might want to look into online surveys and stuffing envelopes), stick with items that will result in a reasonable return for your time dicking around with selling it.

2. Use Craigslist for big shit, eBay for smaller shit. Look, eBay has a crappy user interface, costs a bit much and is full of morons. BUT they have an enormous market. Basically, you’ll be able to find someone SOMEWHERE who wants your stupid shit. Craigslist is cheap and easy to use, but your market is limited. So keep CL for furniture, swingsets and strollers. eBay is for all your crap that fits into flat rate Priority Mail boxes.

3. Flat Rate Priority Mail boxes ARE THE SHIT. Even better than the boxes is the flat rate padded envelope. Less than $5 anywhere in the States for that one. You can visit the USPS online and have the boxes and envelopes delivered straight to your door FOR FREE. Then use the Carrier Pickup feature online to alert your mailman that you’ll have a gang of shit for him to pick up the next day. Again, totally free. Fuck what y’all bitches say, the Postal Service FUCKING RULES.

4. If you have so much crap that you think a garage sale is the way to go, team up with family/neighbors/friends and have a multi-family sale. Garage sale nerds get all excited and wet their pants when you have tons of junk for them to pick through, and they bust out their coin holders and fanny packs full of one-dollar-bills with jubilation. Don’t have a fucking stale garage sale with dirty baby clothes on a blanket and six beatup paperbacks on a folding table (with a big sign taped to it that says “NOT FOR SALE DUMBASSES!) You won’t make any money and the garage sale people might eat you. Use the fucking buddy system, yo.

5. Don’t get all attached to your shit and think it’s worth big bucks. I’ve been looking on Craigslist for some gently used toys and kid stuff. Some people are reasonable: “Sun-faded Little Tikes Outdoor Slide – $25.” And some people are huffing the good shit: “Rusty Tricycle/Missing Wheels – $90.” Your used crap is used crap and if someone can buy a brand-new slide for $80, don’t try to sell your barf-covered version for $75. To get a sense of what stuff is actually selling for, do a “completed items” search for like products on eBay. Then list yours for just a bit less to move it fast and easy.

Get to it! Sell your unwanted shit and go see a cool band! Go on a family getaway! Treat your best girlfriends to margaritas and say a toast to the crap you got rid of to embrace life. Seize the fucking day, bitches!

PS: I did keep one mouse figurine – a wedding version I received after my engagement. It’s been in my nightstand for several years now. I’ll need something to remind me of my wild and crazy single girl days.