Tag: Money

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.

Lipstick Usage: A Junkie’s Confession

“I believe in manicures. I believe in overdressing. I believe in primping at leisure and wearing lipstick.”
– Audrey Hepburn

Big news, team, I’ve finished another full sized lip product this month. This is my third this year so far and means I’m two for three in my 13 by Halloween panning challenge. Progress!

I’ve said it before, and others have said it with far more eloquence, but we live in an age of conspicuous beauty consumption and it’s fascinating to watch whole media and production industries shift to accelerate our spending habits. But there is much less interrogation of the perish-ability of beauty items and how long it takes to use some of them. It took me months of almost single-product usage to use up these lipsticks…and I own at least two dozen lip products. The sheer time it will take me to use these items is daunting.

So. Damn. Satisfying.

In fact I can hand on heart say that I own years worth of makeup… and I don’t feel great about that. Earlier this year I made an inventory of all the beauty products I own and how much they cost to purchase. I still can’t share the number because even now I’m shocked by it. However, quantifying what I owned was a real wake up call and has helped me set (and mostly keep) spending challenges, and has motivated me to take more pleasure in using items than hoarding or collecting them.

Similar to clothing, I definitely went through a period in my young adulthood of not really knowing who I was (aesthetically speaking) or what face or image I wanted to portray to the world. I tried on a lot of looks, hoping to find myself in the mirror. I bought items that editors and bloggers recommended, shopped for the kind of girl I thought I wanted to be (rather than who I actually was), and frankly indulged in retail therapy. It was an expensive and frankly wasteful process to go through, and I recognize my own privilege in being able to afford it, but I’m grateful to have had the experience of learning a bit more about myself through the mirror of…well, my bathroom mirror. I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve learned that I don’t care if everyone and their dog loves it, I don’t like NARS’ iconic blush shade, “Orgasm.” It has glitter in it, and that’s not my jam. I’ve learned that blue based red lipstick may make my teeth look whiter, but too bad. I loved orangey reds and if given the choices will always reach for the latter–and should probably therefore stop buying the former. I’ve learned that I don’t know how or care to contour my face; I am not a Kardashian. I’ve learned that I may love the idea of colorful eyeliners and pencils but I will not wear them and they are a waste of money.

I’ve learned that 90% of any successful and cohesive aesthetic as an adult woman seems to be confidence. I’m sure in retrospect that literally no one on earth besides me was paying significant attention to how my face looked on any given day, and that most of the angst and insecurity I felt was emotional energy spent that I’ll never get back. I’ve also learned that because almost know one cares about my face as much as me, I may as well have fun from time to time and actually wear colorful makeup or lipstick and enjoy the hell out of it rather than allow it to languish on a shelf due to timidity.

I’ve learned that no amount of product or pigment will compensate for poor health or self care. Good skin, an exercised body, and healthy food may not be as bold as red lipstick, but I will feel ten times better in them than any amount of the latter. A balanced emotional state and tended to mental health is not notably glamorous but it is infinitely better for my wallet. And I’ve learned that before I am allowed to buy anything, I must do the months worth of work to use what I have first. It’s been a mindset shift that has stretched into almost every area of my life as a capitalist consumer.

Beauty has taught me a lot, and I think that’s why I like to write about it and read about it as much as I do. It’s an interesting glimpse into an inner life with a very shallow surface and very deep through lines.

 

The Faustian Cabinet Has Arrived

“If you love something, it will work. That’s the only real rule.”
– Bunny Williams

A quick moment of apartment appreciation, minions. We’ve lived in our current place for two years and our lease is for a year more, after which we may either need to move or at least try to negotiate on rent a bit more. We struck a bargain when we moved in that we would furnish the place ourselves in exchange for lower rent and we have done so…very, very slowly.

I don’t like living in what feels like a barebones apartment sometimes, I’m ready for a home that feels intentional and grown up, with art on the walls and furniture bought to keep instead of disposable IKEA goods. Simultaneous and paradoxically to that, I enjoy the ease with which we have been able to move, be it to another country or a new apartment on short notice. Owning fewer possessions definitely helps with that!

However, the older I get, the less satisfied I am with living out of suitcases. Our first ever apartment in Utah was starving newlywed accommodation, our first London apartment was a shoebox and not very nice, but this apartment feels like the first proper grown up place. I’ve enjoyed the process of putting it together, even if that process takes a long time and is constrained by the realities of budgeting and strategy. We bought a bed and a wardrobe when we first moved in, for obvious reasons. Over the coming months, our next purchase was a couch, which again is fairly standard. From Etsy we bought a coffee table and stools, from John Lewis a rug. After about a year we splurged on our fabulous vintage chairs and then closed our wallets again for a long while.

Furnishing is a balancing act. I’m a magpie who loves interesting, colorful pieces with personality while Jeff would be a Danish minimalist if he could. Smashing those two styles together into something that involves taste is a tricky, but I think we’re doing okay so far. He has his industrial tables, I get colors and patterns so long as the lines are modern. I get to do the majority of the selection, but he gets veto power so we don’t get overwhelmed with my magpie tendencies. It works. So when I spotted our latest piece online, I knew it would work too.

It’s a vintage piece, but one that’s been upcylced. It’s a muted dark blue, which goes with the blue-gray leather of the sofa, and the blue and white rug. The gold touches keep it feeling chic instead of just a solid block, and it’s deep enough to absorb a lot of items that heretofore didn’t really have a home in the apartment–thus tidying up mess and satisfying Jeffs desire for lack of clutter. I’m absurdly pleased with it and it really has helped me feel as if the front room is “finished” in some way. The only other thing I would want to do in this current apartment would be to frame and hang our art, but if that doesn’t happen until our next lease somewhere, I think could be satisfied.

As promised, this is my last purchase for the year (minus the usual things like socks, underwear, or unsexy items like toothpaste and shoe inserts) and any failures on this point will be publicly documented for shaming purposes. I’m fairly confident that being able to gaze on my growing domestic kingdom will help keep me in financial check. How could you not feel happy in a room that looks like this:

 

 

Forgive Me, Readers, for I Have Failed…BUT!

These are my confessions
Just when I thought I said all I could say
My chick on the side said she got one on the way
These are my confessions
Man, I’m throwed and I don’t know what to do
I guess I gotta give part two of my confessions
If I’m gonna tell it, then I gotta tell it all…
– Usher, Confessions II

So, Reader, here’s the bit where I confess that I have failed my shopping self challenge for the year.

Earlier this year I wrote about a goal of only buying 18 personal items throughout the year (with a few sensible caveats like socks, and that sort of thing). Well, I did really well at this for well over half the year but a grab bag of charity shop scarves and a vintage shopping binge have put me over my tally.

One of the culprits in question. It was 20 quid. It’s brilliant.

A few shameless attempts at reducing my guilt! I have only bought one item that is more than what I would have paid on the high street or a mid-range shop for its equivalent. A bunch of these items were a handful of pounds each, but did not fall into one of my protected categories and thus were tallied on my running spreadsheet regardless of cheapness–of course there’s a spreadsheet, don’t you know me at all?

But self-justification aside, I did have a bit of a moment of self-reflection. In fact, to speak truth, I had a nice little bout of emotional self-flagellation when I typed in my purchases and realized I had broke my goal, and decided to wallow in unproductive recrimination for the better part of an evening. Eventually more sensible feelings prevailed. I felt weak willed, but I also didn’t really regret any of the items I’ve spent money on this year. In fact, the sum total was less than 2% of our combined income as a family so maybe I had picked a silly goal to try and accomplish, or maybe my expectations weren’t reasonable? Or hell, maybe I am just weak willed and that’s the end of it.

I decided I could live with the minor guilt, especially if I set up a new self challenge instead. I’ve discovered in the past couple of years that game-ifying things helps me achieve goals and keeps me more accountable that sheer willpower alone. Working towards an established prize or even just being able to tick a box every day is a simple but effective thing for me. It’s a bit juvenile, but it works. X. and I keep one another accountable with our health and fitness goals because we are working towards a girl trip together if we meet them. Katarina I and keep up a regular chat chain of encouragement towards writing goals, whether about meeting a word count or just bouncing ideas off of one another. I have whole pages dedicated to lists and projects (of course I do) in my journal that I get the most ridiculous pleasure from in updating and refining. I’m so type A it’s silly. So, what could I do to reset my self-challenge in a really useful way?

We haven’t purchased anything for the house since these antique chairs, which I still think were a great purchase, for the record.

My one regret in shopping these past few months was that I didn’t feel like I had made any progress towards decorating our house which is still fairly basic in its furnishings. But finding the right trade off between an item that you like, that suits your space, and isn’t stupidly priced in London can be difficult and though we’ve liked the idea of different items over the past eight months, nothing compelled me to loosen our purse strings once.

Until the other day. I think I found it. A piece of furniture that matches our front room area, solves a storage need, has the right dimensions, looks gorgeous, is an upcycled vintage piece, and costs less than £350. Jeff and I discussed it and it seems to check all the boxes. I’ve messaged the seller to enquire about it and thus far the signs seem positive.

And so, kittens. I’m making a new bargain and documenting it here for you, the coterie, to hold me accountable. If this deal goes through, we are counting this piece of furniture as our mutual Christmas present to ourselves and the following Faustian pact will kick in:

  • I am locking up my wallet for the rest of the year. Nada, zilch. Not a single personal item shall I buy for the next five months. This will also count as my final spending freeze for my 101/1001 goal list.
  • I will finish paying off one of our credit cards in full, by the end of the year. Another partial 101/1001 goal!
  • I will prepare and pack lunches every day for the rest of the year, or lean on my cash allowance. Or starve, I guess…
  • I will extend my makeup no-buy challenge (which I have confessed to breaking) until June of 2019. Any replacement items I buy will be drugstore, without exception.
  • I will write about this project: regularly, fully, and honestly. No matter how embarrassing or confessional. Hell, I even promise to try and be funny about it!

So, there, that’s how I’ll leverage my weak will for your benefit, ducklings. Let me know what kinds of posts you’d like to see now through the end of the year as I try to earn myself some furniture and engage in some new financial asceticism. I think I may like to open the (vintage!) kimono and write a bit more specifically about the things I’ve collected over the years and why. I may finally do a “shop my closet” series and get around to doing those Out of the Day posts I’ve committed to in my 101/1001 but have felt too self conscious to do. Perhaps you’d be interested in a tour of my favorite shops and markets around London, or you yourself may want to engage in some competitive goal tracking. Do let me know in the comments, I’m interested!

 

 

 

The Joy of Dupes

“Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.” 
― Coco Chanel

I admit it, I can be a sucker for luxury. I work in marketing, I should know better! But because I do work in marketing, I also know the power that branding has and how a well maintained and reputation-earning brand can add zeros on to its asking prices and still be considered worth every penny. In other cases, however, no matter how attractive the brand, the underlying product can be lackluster enough that zeros should probably be knocked off.

Last year I did a month long money project in January where I tracked my spending publicly, and once a year for the past couple of years I’ve gone on a “no buy” where I complete restrict all personal shopping for several months. I’m in the midst of another one now. There are several posts on this site going back years where I catalog and document my attempts to be a smarter, more ethical, and less reactive consumer and it’s an ongoing process. Lately I’ve been on something of a mission to find cheaper versions of items I love over because while some things may absolutely be worth the pricetag, a lot (if not most of the time) you can find the same ingredients, experience, or emotional charge from something at a much better price point.

It’s not wrong to want and use nice things, or even to save up for a luxurious purchase if you can honestly afford it, but I do think it’s silly to do so when you can get an almost identical version of the product for a fraction of the cost. At what point does the idea of a certain product stop being worth the price tag?

Here’s a by-no-means-comprehensive list of some “luxuries” I’ve replaced with cheaper options recently.

Dyptique Feu de Bois (£45) / Muji Log Fire (£4.95)
The numbers here speak for themselves. Let’s step into the confessional booth for a moment: as a young adult I was an easy sucker for Dyptique candles, they are such wonderful smelling things that look and feel like something a grown up would burn in their home. When we were living in a shoebox with peeling linoleum floors, I bought these because they made me feel better about the cramped and ugly space we lived in. They are textbook aspirational homegoods and I fell for the emotional bait hook, line, and sinker. I repent. I have also found a practically identical scent for literally a tenth of the price and have repurposed the fancy glass remains of past candles as makeup brush holders.

Bite Beauty Pepper ($26) / Maybelline Color Sensational Velvet Beige (£6.99)
Last month I achieved that rare thing, finishing a whole bullet of lipstick. Thanks to discovering the Makeup Rehab Subreddit and several self challenges to finish products I have on my shelves instead of falling prey to the siren song of the latest launch, I have found ways to game-ify using products instead of acquiring them. A useful inversion of capitalism and marketing! But staying on point, when it came time to consider replacing it (and I did want to, as it was my only nude colored lipstick, if you can believe that) I considered repurchasing the same lipstick, before deciding to see if I could replicate it at the drugstore. No surprises, I found a near perfect match at that great British institution Boots. Even better, though, because I am a careful hoarder of membership points, I had accumulated more than enough to cover the cost of a drugstore lipstick. So not only did I find an equivalent item that costs a quarter of the price, in this case I got it for free.

Pestle & Mortar Hyaluronic Acid (£36) / The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid (£6)
Honestly The Ordinary probably has a cheaper version of any skincare ingredient you’d like to try. When hype about the Drunk Elephant Vitamin C serum reached frenzy, it was wonderfully easy to avoid it seeing as I had a Vitamin C product sitting pretty on my shelves that cost less than £6–though full disclosure, the Drunk Elephant still temps me. I plan on trying a £5.50 Lactic Acid solution of theirs next to see if it can replace my Sunday Riley Good Genes serum (which costs a whopping £85 and which I have not repurchased in months for obvious reasons, much as I love the formula).

 

The Best Things I Bought Last Year

“Buy what you don’t have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping.” 
― Karl Lagerfeld

Inspired by Janssen over at Everyday Reading, I thought I’d run through a few things that I spent money on last year that sparked a lot of joy. Budgeting continues to be a big thing in the Small Dog residence this year and posts on this theme will continue to flow as I continue to think about consumption and responsible consumerism, as well as debt management. All of which I’m sure you guys find riveting.

That’s right, ducklings, come for the political angst, stay for the sensible money talk!

So, while I’m in the midst of a three month-long personal spending freeze to kick off the new year, here are the best things I bought in 2017.

Vintage Chairs

We took an apartment at the upper end of our budget when we moved into this place, negotiating a better rent rate in exchange for furnishing it ourselves rather than asking our landlord to do so. This has had tradeoffs. We live in the nicest place of our married life but have had to curtail spending elsewhere as a result; we have an amazing home, but are taking literal years in putting it together and saving up for big buys one at a time. But both of us were in agreement when we saw this pair of vintages chairs show up at one of our favorite antique stores that we wanted them. They were our only big budget item for our house this year but they’ve leant our place charm, personality, color, and a much needed place for people to actually sit. I love them.

Party Dress

It had been years since I bought a party dress that didn’t come in the LBD variety, but this past holiday season I had enough events to go to (with a broad range of dress codes) that an update to the wardrobe was justifiable. This dress was in my December favorites post, but deserves another shout out because I have definitely gotten my money’s worth out of this thing.

Lea Stein Brooch 

I picked this up on our long weekend trip to Paris with the glorious Caitlin and her lovely husband Jose. I fell in love with Lea Stein designs years ago and stumbled across an amazing shop in the Rue Jacob that sells vintage costume purely by accident. This was the only purchase that came home from Paris this year and it’s a wonderful bit of treasure.

Greek Vacation

Without fail, the best thing we spent money to me this past year was a week in Greece just the two of us. I’m very bad at relaxing, and this trip was a much needed reset. Even though we were crazy and flew into and out of Athens in less than 24 hours, we had a wonderful day in the city and an amazing six further days on Santorini with hiking, sailing, and an awful lot of food. It was amazing and has really helped me remember to prioritize time off better than I have before.