Category: Money

November Accountability

“While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.” 
― Groucho Marx

I forgot to tally up my monthly spending and goal keeping; shameful C.!

This was a great month for self control, all things considered. Especially when you factor in the temptations of Black Friday (which is slowly turning into an entire week of consumption) and the start of the holiday season. Jeff and I are exercising more and eating well in anticipation of all the other kinds of consumption we are looking towards in late December, which is nothing but positive.

My new precious…

Personal purchases: As mentioned in my favorites post, I picked up an LK Bennet tweed jacket, new with tags and worth £325, and a pair of boots for £28 at my favorite consignment shop. My slip up was for a dress from Sezane, which continues to design for my wanna-be-cool-girl aesthetic very temptingly. I also picked up some new socks and tights, both of which are permitted in the rules as in cold weather both are de rigeur in Britain. To compensate, I’ve been very on target with bringing my lunch to work and making hot drinks at home. This may be the most cliched bit of advice on the internet to reduce personal spending, but it works.

Home and other: For the house we bought a new exercise mat because our previous one (which was about five years old) was pretty badly damaged. In the new year I’m planning on taking some of our prints and artwork to be framed finally, which will make me feel a lot better at the state of our… lack of decor.

The big ticket items this month were our first batch of Christmas shopping and Jeff’s birthday, which we celebrated at an amazing West London joint–which I’m already thinking of asking to return to for my birthday. Easily one of the most gorgeous meals we’ve ever eaten!

What progress did you make on any of your goals last month, and what are you looking forward to most for the Christmas season?

This is the Year I Bought Jewelry

“Big girls need big diamonds.” 
― Elizabeth Taylor

Let’s talk about jewelry, because this is something I thought about this past year. I don’t own a lot. My father gave me a set of pearls for my 16th birthday, and my mother gave me a peridot set for a birthday as well. My wedding jewelry is hands down the nicest jewelry I own; Jeff bought my engagement and wedding rings, and I purchased some earrings myself–which hilariously, I forgot to put in for a good portion of the day. That’s because I’ve never actually been a big jewelry wearer!

Some women are good at accessories, I am not. I often feel very unsure or awkward about wearing them, even though I know objectively that individual items are incredibly stylish or cute. It’s when I try to put them on myself that this becomes an issue! However I’ve become convinced that this is mostly a confidence problem and just because I’m not used to seeing a lot of accessories on myself in the mirror doesn’t mean I look bad in them. Ditto jewelry, whether nice or costume.

So, this was the year I decided to try and figure it out. Similar to my closet, I’ve done several rounds of edits and have ended up donating a lot of my cheap costume jewelry over the past year to really reduce the amount of unused, unloved stuff that was taking up space in my jewelry box, and then I got thoughtful and intentional about the gaps that I saw remaining when it came to my professional or day-to-day style. I’ve bought seven items in total this past year, here’s what they were:

Cheap and cheerful

Over the years I’ve either purchased or received some semi-precious items, but most of what I owned was costume jewelry. This is the year that I cleared out some cheap and fairly crappy items, and sold better quality pieces that I never wore and didn’t suit my style. As a result, what I still own I use more regularly and looks nicer, even if it’s super cheap! I bought a couple of rings for about a £1.50 each, and a silver collar style necklace for about £10 at an antiques market. Antiques shops, markets, and vintage shopping are fantastic ways to get unique items at decent prices. I also bought a pair of chunky gold hoops for a couple of pounds which were very on trend for this past year.

 

Mid-range (for me at least)

One of my 101 in 1001 goals was to buy a right hand ring, which always felt to me like an achievement for a grown woman. I treasure and value every single item I’ve been gifted over the years and the love and affection that they symbolize–I fully intend to gift them in turn to children, friends, or relatives someday in return–but the idea of buying a piece for myself that I had picked out and chosen for myself felt like a good goal to work for. I knew I wanted an antique piece (of course) because it would enable to me to find something that felt unique and not mass produced, and also because there are certain styles I know I love, and because savvy antique shopping can get you good value for money. I’ve been looking for the right ring for a long time and knew I wasn’t going to buy anything that didn’t hit the sweet spot of style and price. I found it at the Bermondsey Antiques Fair and I’m thrilled.

I beatiful bought these vintage pearl earrings which I shouted out in my April favorites and adore.

I also bought a delicate gold chain from a Canada based brand that I love and that does very simple jewelry across price points. It’s so slight that it’s easy to miss, but that’s exactly why I wanted it. It’s hand hammered so the links catch and reflect the light very subtly and helps make even the laziest outfit look a bit more intentional. I also got it in a shorter length so it sits higher around my neck that most chains and therefore allows me to layer it with other pieces–when I can be bothered!

None of these items are what I would call “expensive,” but they took thought and planning that I simply didn’t need for something like a £1.50 ring. In these cases, I used my personal cash budget to pay for them.

 

 

Investment

This was the year I bought a piece of jewelry that cost over £100–but as it was a sort of partial birthday, partial Christmas, and partial career celebration gift, I felt I could justify it. Also, like unto my ring, it was an item that I wanted to buy for myself. I’d long wanted a chunky, gold necklace of some kind and wanted it to feel special or unique in some way. A super vague brief! However, when I discovered this second hand and vintage designer costume jewelry seller, I started stalking her social media and shop extensively until I found the necklace I knew I wanted to get. It’s a costume piece by Chanel from the 1980s and I love it. It’s just a bit too much but I’ve wear it almost every day since buying it and whether it’s a formal work outfit or a t-shirt, it seems to work with almost everything. Another benefit of buying second hand is the ability to work with sellers. In the case of my ring, I haggled and bargained and in the case of my necklace, I agreed a payment plan to spread the costs out over a long period of time. This didn’t make the item less expensive, obviously, but it allowed me to build it into my personal monthly budget plan in a sensible way.

Et voila. That’s how this became the year that I started buying (and wearing!) jewelry properly. I’m absolutely tickled about every single item, none of them were casual purchases (not even the market rings) and all of them feel good. By which I mean, they feel like things that fit my life and style. Some of it’s cheap, some of it’s more expensive. Some of it’s sleek and modern, some of it is a bit over the top. That feels about right.

A lot of what I’ve gotten rid of and pared back over the past two years have been items purchased when I was still figuring out who I was going to be, how that person was going to dress, or even what that person actually liked (as opposed to what she felt like she should like). Similar to my closet, I own fewer pieces overall than I used to, but I actually wear almost every piece of jewelry I do own regularly (some of them every day).

I don’t intend to buy any jewelry for myself in the coming year, I’m happy with what I’ve got…even if I’m not above asking for a nice ten year wedding anniversary present!

Have you ever bought yourself jewelry? How did you select it? What’s the most meaningful piece you own? What about the cheapest? Let’s talk bling in the comments, whether gems or rhinestones!

 

Overcoming the Sunk Cost Fallacy

“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.” 
― Noam Chomsky

This year I have thrown away or donated literally hundreds of dollars worth of stuff. Wherever possible I have given away and donated things that I don’t want or don’t use. My little sister has benefited from the regular reorganization of my bathroom shelves and closet. I’ve given unloved items to coworkers and friends, and my preferred charity shops have received several drop offs. But stuff has also ended up in the trash where I couldn’t reasonably or ethically unload it.

I sort of cringe to type that, but it’s the truth and I’m continuing to try and be radically transparent about my money choices. Hi, I’m C. and I have (metaphorically) tossed money in the garbage in 2018.

In thinking about what I’ve gotten rid of in the last year in a bit of depth, I realized how much of being able to reduce my possessions and luxuries to a more reasonable level has come from a breakthrough about a concept that is well established in the economics world and drives a surprising amount of consumerism in my opinion. Let me explain…

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is an economic and business concept which can be explained in a lot of very complex and intelligent ways but can be boiled down pretty simply: a sunk cost is money that you have either spent or lost and that there is no way to get back. The fallacy part happens when human biology and psychology kicks in. There is some pretty good scientific reporting out there about how, as a species, we are designed to try and maximize our investment of time, energy, or resources. Unfortunately, there is also good scientific reporting to show that we can also be pretty dumb about calculating our return on this investment. Where we have spent time, energy, or resources on a thing, the more we have put into that thing, the less likely we are of being able to walk away from it, even if the results are bad.

Businesses fall prey to this, and so do people. If you’ve ever stayed in a movie theatre watching a film you hated, if you have ever extended a relationship of any kind even as it turned toxic, if you have ever continued to throw money at an idea or business even as the likelihood of your success shrinks, if you have ever kept eating a meal after you are full simply because you’ve paid for it, you have fallen into the SCF. Obviously these things are not at all on the same scale as one another, but the principle is the same.

Once you awaken to the SCF, I mean really awaken to it and its effects in your life rather than just being aware of it as a concept, you start seeing it everywhere. Learning to realize and accept my own SCF thinking when it comes to my spending has been a process for me over the past couple of years. A small, irrational part of me used to try to justify my bad money choices–which I think is a fairly common experience. If I hold on to this item, I may use it some day. It may fit. I may like it more. It may be useful.

I’m facing up to this because, speaking only for my own case, this has been categorically bullshit.

A makeup or skincare item that breaks you out or you hate the look of on your face is no less expensive or more valuable for sitting on your shelves for months because you refuse to either re-home it or throw it away.

A piece of clothing that you never wear or lingers in the closet (possibly with the tags on) did not cost you less because you are holding on it.

An item that doesn’t function the way you need it to will not function better for taking up space in your drawer, and you probably will not use it more over time.

When you buy something, in almost every single case, the damage has been done. The cost of labor, construction, and transportation has already been incurred. Your wallet has taken the hit. And unless you come to your senses and return the item quickly, you are not getting your money back. This is why certain items have ended up in the donation pile or in the bin this past year. I had done the financial damage, the choice was not the best one, and I had to find an intelligent way forward.

Managing your bad money choices.

So, how have I coped with this uncomfortable tally in the past year? A few ways.

I put myself on certain restrictions, and documented them publicly to keep myself honest. I didn’t quite meet my goals, but by writing and talking about them, I am convinced I mitigated damage. Did I spend money on makeup this year, even though I had a goal not to? Yes. Would I have spent more without my goals? Almost assuredly yes. Did I buy more than 18 personal items this year? Yes. Would I have bought more without the mental check of knowing I was making myself publicly accountable for them? Definitely. All told, I spent less than 4% of our disposable income on personal shopping this year and I feel good about, even though in terms of sheer numbers I know I could have used that money better.

I made a little extra money by reselling some items. Did I recoup all money I spent in the first instance? No, but I did get some cash back by reselling items through trusted consignment dealers and listing them online, and I cleared out space in my closet as a result.

Where I couldn’t sell, I donated plenty of items to shops where 100% of the proceeds go to charity. Does it make up for money spent or environmental production costs? Nope. Did it help make anything even a tiny bit better in the world? I like to think so.

I did (actually) practice some delayed gratification. I would like a much more “finished” and decorated home than we have, but I decided to be okay with our fairly spare furniture and blank walls for a while longer. We bought some art for our home for our anniversary this past year and one of my 2019 projects will be spending money on getting things framed. I bought one piece for the front room and I’d like to buy one or two furniture pieces next year if I’m happy with our financial progress as well, but I’m going to play it by ear.

So, what can I take away from a year of trying to be more honest and intentional about what I buy?

 

The only cure for poor spending choices is the discipline of good ones.

That means making budgets and sticking to it.

That means planning your purchases in advance, with thought and intention, and not giving into impulses. Food, travel, clothes, random shit…it all matters.

That means building a wardrobe slowly, intentionally, and thoughtfully.

That means delayed gratification in saving up for big ticket items for your self, home, or family rather than slapping down a credit card.

None of this is groundbreaking or radical stuff, but it is important to reiterate until it becomes gospel to you.

October Accountability

“Unshined shoes are the end of civilization.”
– Diana Vreeland

It’s that time again, time for some radical accountability in exchange for my beloved cabinet purchase of earlier this year.

It was a good money month. We negotiated with our landlord for reduced rent whilst we deal with the gaping hole in our ceiling, but even before that we met our goal of keeping several hundred additional pounds in the bank for savings and debt payments. We’ve cut way back on discretionary spending on food, and I’ve been mindful about packing and taking lunches to work most days. When I don’t, I’ve switched up my habits and have been spending my cash budget on healthy options at a grocery store rather than a more expensive option. Small habit changes, bit results in our monthly cashflow!

My sanctioned purchases this month were replacement underwear and athletic shoes–acceptable and necessary given that I’d literally worn their predecessors to shreds. Unsexy but true.

I did have a naughty moment and pick up a blazer this month, kittens, but I don’t feel bad about it. A navy blazer was on my shopping list for 2019, and I found a beautiful vintage Aquascutum wool one in a vintage pop up for £45 which is a bargain (literally a tenth of the price I would end up paying for a current season jacket). I also had to replace another pair of work heels this month as I lost another set to the cobblestones of London and the heels were more torn up than a cobbler could deal with. I am not beating myself up about this too much either, as being well-shod is a requirement in this city. Finally I had a gift card that allowed me to pick up a pair of trousers which might be bending the letter of the law, but does not break it. Ha!

And other than that, nada! I had to replace some beauty and hygiene items but I did that with drugstore equivalents and have discovered some major gems. My next empties blog post is going to be a doozy as I’m blazing my way through products lately and slowly finding a few cheaper alternatives to more expensive items, and in some cases verifying that some things really are worth the money. Alas, however, that I cannot replace a few major makeup items until I’ve also used up their like-for-like equivalents already in my stash.

Tell me of your own small victories this past month in the comments, kittens!

September Accountability

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” 
― Joe Biden

As part of my self accountability in monitoring my spending for the rest of the year, here’s the summary of what I bought this month and why.

Actually, let the record show, this was a pretty good month. I had to do a lot of travel for work, which mean eating on the road, but I’m lucky to be able to expense those meals. We have gotten a bit lazy and sloppy with cooking, which is going to be a big goal over the next month instead, as is exercise, which is something that fell off the radar over the past couple of weeks as I’ve dealt with a dust up of hormones and anxiety. You are never 100% in all areas of your life, but in terms of self control, I’m doing pretty well of late. I credit good friends and effective habit building.

Justifiable purchases: Another humble trouser purchase was required as yet another pair of work pants bit the dust…but as if in answer to a prayer from the sartorial gods, my beloved Everlane finally opened their wares to international shipping! I picked up this pair of fairly reasonably priced trousers and have been extremely happy with the fit.

Less justifiable purchases: I did not, however, strictly need the jumper that also wended its way onto my Everlane checkout screen. I’m calming myself down immediately but come January I will definitely be making another purchase, probably of their ethical cashmere or silk lines.

Takeaway orders: 3 because the Small Dog fam got absolutely lazy this month. SHAME.

Small wins: I did not succumb to a 30% off coupon for a skincare product that I’d definitely like, but do not need until I use up other items in my bathroom cupboard. I also have not, as yet, succumbed to the temptation of Sezane’s fall collection launch–which is difficult because a lot of it is exactly my aesthetic right now.

 

Automated

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.” 
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Quick question, kittens, what do you automate or outsource? I subscribe to news and podcasts which are automatically downloaded to my devices daily. Books, video, and music can be delivered or streamed to me with a click. I can order a bunch of items or goods to my house instantly, and subscription services are a nice and growing industry. Much like google, Amazon is practically a verb now.

I like many aspects of modern urban life which have allowed me to automate or outsource things that previously required much more effort or time. Like many women, I’m time poor and married to an equally time poor man, so it’s worth it to me to pay for certain things to be automated on our behalf. As we’ve matured in our lives and careers, we’ve gotten better about budgeting for things that we are content to pay for rather than do ourselves. I’m deeply aware that this is a privileged experience and I don’t take that lightly, but I don’t hesitate to use them when they meet my needs. Some things I’ve automated…

Grocery deliveries. Once a week a box of produce arrives on our doorstep. It’s brilliant! Occasionally I amend my standing order to include things like dairy or special items for specific recipes, but as a rule it’s just a weekly delivery of seasonal vegetables and fruit in reasonable amounts for two people to munch through in a single week. This has helped cut down on the amount of food shopping I have to do dramatically, as well as the amount we physically have to carry when we do shop (as central Londoners without a car). It’s also helped reduce a lot of food waste, which is also something I’d like to be better about, as well as increasing our intake of vegetables.

Coffee delivery. We subscribe to a couple of companies that send us coffee throughout the month. Not only is this one less thing to have to pick up at the store, it fulfills our need for snobbery by constantly rotating the tastes and flavors we are exposed to, and allows us to try and funnel our money towards companies with transparency in their agricultural and labor practices.

If I had more money I would absolutely look into regular cleaning services as well. Not weekly, but perhaps quarterly to help maintain our home. I don’t want or need help in managing day to day mess, but it would absolutely be worth it to me to have professional help in the frenzy of seasonal cleaning when I’m looking to really dig into corners, scrub grout and defrost/broil appliances to get them scoured clean.

I wrote a post three years ago about the financial realities of dog and/or childcare and my views on this haven’t changed. If we have children, we intend to employ help for this too.

However, there are some automated services that I think are actively bad ideas. Clothing and beauty subscription services are popular these days, but do not represent sensible consumption in my opinion. Other novelty subscription services will deliver things like petcare or pop culture items to your door monthly, meaning that users often end up buying things they don’t need and never would have purchased normally and in greater quantities over the course of, say, a year. Some people subscribe to media platforms and never use them–why?!

I suppose in the end, what you value is where you end up investing money. I have friends who subscribe to meal services, wine deliveries, monthly deliveries of household goods (something I may seriously get into at some point to further reduce my shopping), various services and providers (including laundry apps!), and any number of things. One woman I know schedules two blowouts a week for her hair and economizes elsewhere to justify it. Some people do their own bookkeeping and taxes, some hire accountants.

What, if anything have you outsourced to other people or providers, and why?

Check Your Budgets

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” 
― Epictetus

The other weekend, Jeff and I were doing our monthly bills round up when we noticed some charges on a card that neither of us recognized. We’re pretty sure this card was “skimmed,” as it’s not the first time we’ve had a security issue with the bank in question. It’s a solvable problem but we were angry and frustrated by it. This was over the bank holiday and we were considering a bit of a madcap city break for some quality time. The money in the budget for this? Compromised by these false charges. Ugh.

Jeff got on the phone to the bank immediately and we’ve done the necessary paperwork to resolve it, but it was a shock and annoyance all the same. We’re probably going to close this account after two cases of lax security from the same provider in a year. 2018 is already too fraught for this kind of stress!

However it was a good moment to review our household budget and goals. I’ve started a new contract and Jeff earned a promotion this past summer, so we had some modest growth in our take home pay and we hadn’t really considered how to use it. Our one purchase for the house was made and I’m on some personal spending challenges already, but we knew we had gotten a bit lax with items like eating out or travel costs around the city. Take into account the ever fluctuating exchange rate between dollars and pounds (thanks, Brexit, you slow moving mess), which has more of an impact on our monthly finances than you may think, and you can see why expat life and banking can be a bother on a good day, to say nothing of an obnoxious one. We decided we wanted to try and add another $300 to our debt/savings plan. Which also would have been doable had not our card been compromised. Ugh again. Anyway, we’ve set up some minor self goals to help achieve this in spite of other people’s criminality and it was a nice way to look ahead to the upcoming season in terms of money and plans.

Moral of the story: always check your bank statements, kittens. Some jerk may have prevented your planned trip to Bath.