We all know that it is true, but I noticed it quite explicitly this weekend as my family and I traveled to my aunt’s funeral in Michigan. We made it a short trip leaving after work on Thursday and stopped a little over halfway with plans to make the remainder of the drive on Friday prior to the viewing.
We didn’t have reservations instead electing to stop at a well known town in a chain hotel. We have stayed in this brand of hotel before and I knew that they had comfortable beds and a decent breakfast, but I mainly picked it for the beds knowing I would get a good night’s sleep. Well, I did get a good sleep in a comfortable room with a nice shower and a fair amount of space.
The next night we stayed in a different hotel. My mom had made reservations when she found out that we would be able to head north and tagged along. Of course, I paid for my own rooms, but the cost turned out to be about half of what we paid the night before. Let me say again that you get what you pay for.
The beds were not as comfortable and I woke up with a somewhat sore back. The rooms were not as big and the shower was a trickle compared to the other hotel. There was nothing hot for breakfast and the choices were more limited. The hotel simply served its purpose as a place to sleep and get a quick bite in the morning (I had cereal).
It was an interesting contrast and one that I noticed right away. My wife commented on it as well. Quality is often reflected in price. How many times have you tried to save money buying a cheaper item and had it break right away? You often end up spending more money replacing something multiple times where a more expensive initial purchase could have saved money in the long run. Just an interesting reminder that I was able to experience.
Reminds me of my effort to save money in Vegas. Have to share that one with you next time.
Here are the carnivals that have featured my various blogs over the past month or so. Be sure to check a few of them out.
With our most recent vehicle purchase, we received a one year free trial of XM satellite radio. This free trial will end in the next two months so I have been preparing the family especially the teenagers for this eventuality since I refuse to pay for this service. Well, it turns out that they really don’t care since they have their own way of getting free satellite radio. This is just one of those ways of finding a cheaper alternative to achieve a similar lifestyle without adding additional cost.
It turns out that my college age daughter has been listening to Pandora on her smart phone and is able to run it through the speaker system of the car. She has several “stations” set up through Pandora’s service and can really live without the satellite radio. Pandora’s service is just as good anyway. You don’t have to worry about getting out of range on a long drive and the occasional ads which allow the service to be free are certainly tolerable.
I used my Droid phone this weekend to listen to the station that I set up while driving in a section of Illinois that had five radio stations, four of which were country music. It worked out very well and provided some needed entertainment on a long, solitary drive. The ads appeared every five or six songs. It was really only one ad for Living Social which ended up being pretty short. Mostly, I was able to listen to music from the 80’s which I hadn’t heard in a long time.
I am actually enjoying the concept of Pandora although I would never pay money for the service. Not that it wouldn’t necessarily be worth it, but why pay for something that I can get for free. I would revert to the regular radio rather than pay. That is why I wonder whether the business model of Pandora is really worth all that much. They will have to depend on advertising, but could do OK if they get enough market share of listeners. As far as investing in Pandora stock, that is a post for another day.
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I spent Memorial Day reviewing my income and figuring out about how much I could expect to earn each month. I then reviewed all of my fixed monthly expenses such as the mortgage, car loans, student loans, etc to get an idea of the amount spent each month on debt. I reviewed utilities and other variable expenses as well. Finally I looked at discretionary items such as food, clothing, entertainment and other items over which I might have more direct influence and control.
Having reviewed these items and crafted a tentative spending plan, I would like to see if I can reduce expenditures by about 1% or so for the month of June across the 3 areas. I hope to be able to continue this process monthly over the next year so that by June 1st, 2012, I will have increased my overall monthly cash flow by 12%. I can do this through a combination of decreasing expenses or increasing income. I figure that decreasing expenses by 6% and increasing income by a like amount is still a noble goal.
Initially, I plan on focusing on 3 main areas of the spending plan (or budget if you prefer).
1. Cash: All of my income is direct deposited into the checking account so it is easy to track with the exception of cash. I found that about 5% of monthly income ends up coming out through the ATM. What does this money get spent on? Some of it is fast food, some pays for golf, my wife gets her hair done, you name it. Very little is spent on gas since it is a pain to walk in and pre-pay. So step 1 involves better tracking of where cash is spent. Each day, I will sit down with my wife and figure out what was spent. Seems simple. I will let you know how it goes.
2. Eating out: I found that we spent more than I would like on eating out. I would like to see that number reduced and will try to figure out the best way to accomplish this goal. I won’t be able to eliminate this entirely since there are times when traveling that we will eat out or other times when it could be used as an effective treat. Cutting this in half would meet my 1% expense reduction for the month of June so that would be some low hanging fruit right there.
3. Income: I also think that I could work on possibly brainstorming about ways to bring in some extra money for the month. I will do this and see what I can come up with. This may or may not be something that is possible or even sustainable, but I have been reading various stories about individuals paying off debt and am becoming more and more inspired.
Spending Fast at Work
Part of the cash and eating out equations above involve my spending at work. I usually spend cash, and when forced to sit down and think about it can easily go through $7 or more in a day. I will often drink 2 diet sodas at 75 cents each or maybe even $1.25 if I go for the 20 ounce bottle. Buying breakfast usually costs about $2.50. Lunch will run about $5 or $6.
I don’t buy my meals everyday, but would say that I purchase at least 4 meals per week. I know I get at least 8 sodas a week. That works out to anywhere from $25-$30 per week spent just at work on food not counting when I might buy some chips for an afternoon snack. Not good.
I could save a decent amount each month just by packing my lunch and a snack and bringing soda from home. I don’t even need anyone else in the family to go along with this plan, either. It is another piece of low hanging fruit that can go toward June’s goal without impacting anyone else.
As we do a better job of tracking our spending, we can then move on to some of the other areas of cost containment and improve our financial situation one step at a time.
So, what do you think of this plan? Do you have any suggestions? Do you find yourself spending money and have no idea where it goes? Feel free to comment. I would love to hear from you.