Savvy Saturdays: Why Saving Now Is Important

It doesn’t take a lot of common sense to understand that the more money you save, the better off you’ll be financially. But saving can be hard. In fact, when you live some where like Los Angeles or New York where the cost of living is through the roof, it can seem damn near impossible.

When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it can be hard to see beyond next week’s bills.

But know this: it’s not impossible to start saving now. Sometimes, all you need is a little mental motivation.

Think about it this way: if you’re living paycheck to paycheck right now, relying on the hope/idea that at some point you’ll snag that job or promotion that will elevate you to a spending status where you can afford to buy a new car or house, you might never get there. But if you start being savvy with your money now, you might not need to snag that pay bump to afford the things you dream of.

Why?

Because saving is a mindset.

Here’s another point to ponder: if you’re living paycheck to paycheck right now, and its not because rent takes up 75% of your income and the other 25% goes to groceries and debt, it means that you’re spending any leftover money you have every month on things that aren’t a necessity. Often, even in a 75/25 situation involving debt payments, there are still ways you can cut your costs. So if you haven’t already gotten out of the habit of spending every dime you own, what makes you think that having a fatter paycheck will remedy your excessive expenditures? Take a lesson from Kanye and realize that having millions (or billions!) doesn’t necessarily guarantee your financial security.

Instead, get into the saving mindset: always strive to live one step below your means.

Simply put, this means that if you live on an income where you can afford to go out twice a week, live with the mindset that you can only afford to go out once a week, pocketing the cash you save not spending an extra night out each week. If you want to save more money faster, you can get more drastic. Currently, I tell everyone I’m too poor to pay for valet parking, go out more than once every two weeks, and spend full price on a movie ticket more than once or twice a year. I’m not going to tell you how much I could afford, because honestly, I don’t even want to know. As long as I live in this mindset, I’m saving money. The second I “let” myself afford more, I don’t.

So if you’re not already in this line of thinking, start training your brain to think this way now. Why? Because you’d be amazed how much you can save up by saying no to a $5 coffee here, and a $20 movie there. You might discover that in a few years’ time, you have enough to pay for a new (or new to you) car, cash up front! Or, if you’re a big dreamer like me, a down payment on a house. 🙂

So get savvy, savers!

-tlc

 

Surviving in LA: What You Shouldn’t Spend Your Money On

I’m sure by now you’ve heard it at least once–and if you live in LA, then you’ve definitely heard it a thousand times (and know it to be true)–that it costs an arm and a leg to live in LA…and maybe a kidney and a lung as well.

But at the same time, you can make a bigger living out in LA, too, so why all the fuss? Why do so many people struggle to make ends meet? There are so many different types of jobs and all kinds of paying work that you can find out here, why does everyone (including yours truly) feel the suffocating pressure to have more–need more–money? It goes beyond the natural human tendency to be greedy. It’s an exhausting fear that anyone and everyone living in LA who can’t afford a Range Rover as their everyday-commute car experiences.

Let me break it down for you: ignoring the socio-economic and political roots behind poverty and its persistence (because getting into that discussion would be an entirely new mess to untangle in itself) let’s just assume that the target group I am referring to are twenty-somethings and young thirty-somethings who come from upper-lower class and middle class backgrounds, trying to make a go of it in LA in job fields that aren’t rolling in the dough (i.e. any job that doesn’t exist in silicon valley or Seattle–I’m convinced even the baristas in Seattle know how to code). Often these jobs are gig-to-gig, and not steady office jobs, but even steady jobs can be somewhat of a challenge financially. So here’s why, even with an income coming in that is marginally better than the income you could get for the same job in the midwest, the financial struggle in LA seems so much more daunting: besides the constant reminder that you are poor by comparison to that guy driving the Ferrari in the lane next to you, there are just more expenses.

End of story, that’s it, show’s over, enough said.

Even if I didn’t take into account that real estate out here drives rent prices through the roof (literally), the cost of driving a car and routine maintenance (because that smog is killer on a car body), along with the price of food (meat will cost you your firstborn, so you might as well go vegetarian) and unforeseen costs (i.e. things that shouldn’t cost you money but do because people out here what to squeeze every dollar they can out of you, like parking) make it difficult to feel like you have a dollar to hold in your hand.

That being said, here are some tips I’ve learned to help cut back your expenses and save every dollar you can to prepare for the jobocalypse (that thing where the gig you’re working on now wraps up and you don’t have another job lined up because life):

1) Furniture–There are so many people moving in and out of LA every single day, it seems like there is always an estate sale going on, and tons of curbside pick-up opportunities. A word of caution, though: even wood can carry bed bugs, along with termites and other pests so be careful choosing what you’ll bring into your home. I also say this in the midst of attempting my own apartment, and though I stand by what I say, I should also warn you that it does take some patience. Whole apartments were not furnished for free in a day, people.

2) Fruit–Okay, so you might have to buy some fruit in the grocery store if you eat a lot of it, I get that, but chances are, if you drive around whatever neighborhood you live in, you’ll eventually come upon a lemon, lime, orange, avocado, or even pomegranate tree. Our new apartment has an avocado tree in the backyard, and I used to pass a pomegranate tree on my way to my first internship every day. You guys, you can seriously live off of avocados for weeks at a time. WEEKS.

3) Food–Speaking of food, holy crap is there so much free food if you know where to go! Especially if you work in the industry on a production, there is ALWAYS food! And if you’re super nice to the Crafty person, you might even get to take home leftovers. I literally have not spent over $25/mo on food in three months’ time. It’s insane. A lot of free networking events will also have food, and if nothing else, go to the grocery store and buy individual ingredients for a simple dish, like soup, make a large amount of broth and prepare your ingredients, then freeze the meal in individual serving sizes and live off of that. I’ve still got the makings for about another five chicken vegetable soups in the freezer, and I prepped that back in January.

4) Clothes–Here again, estate sales and garage sales are going on ALL THE TIME. And it’s not always gross, worn, ugly stuff. You can find some legit trendy vintage stuff for an affordable price. If that’s still too shady for you, there are a million and one thrift stores around town. And we’re not talking all those trendy thrift-but-we’re-as-expensive-as-nordstrom stores. We’re talking decent, clean, affordable clothing. Besides, a person doesn’t need a whole new wardrobe every season, or even every year, particularly if you don’t have the budget for that.

5) Mani/Pedis–If you’re a woman (or a guy–no shame) who needs to Treat Herself (Himself) every once in a while, just go to the beach! The sand serves as a natural exfoliator and the beach is so relaxing anyways! So much better than sitting in a cheap massage chair and having a strange man pick at your nails.

This is a short list, but I’ve once again managed to turn this into a long post, so I’ll stop here for now. If you want any opinions on a specific thing you spend money on, or would like more advice on this subject, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can drum up!

-tlc

Things That Every Twenty-Something Should Know

Okay, so a couple weeks ago I did a post on missing home and how I’ve come to realize that the only thing that is truly important in your life–and subsequently the only thing that will really make you happy–is the people and relationships that you surround yourself with.

That’s lesson number one.

But there are a few other things that I’ve picked up as time has gone on. I won’t list them all out here because that would be a long post, and I don’t think I could possibly think of all of them off the top of my head right now anyways. Besides, I have to have something to write about for future posts, don’t I?

So here are a few things that I think every 20-something should know:

  • Travel
    • Live outside of your comfort-zone/Travel box: Everyone has a travel box; those cities, states, and places that they’ve visited before, lived before, or have family and friends residing in. Move outside of that, even if it’s only for a year. You’re in your 20’s, you’re probably already poor, and hopefully you don’t have too many obligations to other people at this point in your life. Now is the time to go and explore the world, see a different place, and make new friends that grew up in a life different from your own.
    • I might not always love living so far away from my family, but I’ve learned so much and grown so much by moving away. I’ve discovered that I can rely on myself to get through almost every situation that I’ve come across. It’s really empowering, and in a lot of ways freeing. It’s shown me that the world really is full of possibilities, and that you can do the things you put your mind to. If you stay in your box forever, you have to learn to settle for the things that only your box can offer. Get out and explore. Learn something about somebody completely different from yourself.
  • Feed Yourself
    • Cooking, even if you aren’t great at it, is not only a life skill that everyone should be made to learn, it’s also the only way you’re going to be smart about saving money and about what you’re putting in your body. I don’t care how healthy a restaurant makes itself out to be, there is no telling where your food has been and what all is used to cook it. The only way to know this is to do it yourself–and frankly, it’s a whole lot cheaper, too.
    • It’s also an extremely satisfying and rewarding feeling to be self-sufficient and provide a meal for yourself. The less people you need to rely on to survive, the more empowered you will feel. Besides, coming from a family of farmers, I believe everyone should support small businesses and farms by shopping as much as possible at your local farmer’s market.
  • Clean Yourself
    • A clean home is a happy home. Take a little pride and ownership in the place where you live and take care of it! Not only will your everything last longer–we’re talking clothes, furniture, appliances, everything–but you’ll feel better and more relaxed because organizing and cleaning up after yourself won’t feel like a permanently unchecked box on your to-do list. BONUS: Things like vacuuming and dusting are actually great workouts that burn an impressive number of calories. Google it.
  • Keep Your Plans
    • Flaking is an easy rabbit’s hole to fall down. Check out this article that gives a pretty good observation on this plight that’s plaguing our generation of 20-somethings. This one, I’ll admit, I’m a bit hypocritical on because I’m definitely guilty of doing it. But when you make plans with someone and you don’t honor that, you only dig a shallow grave for that friendship/connection/relationship. If you don’t really want to hang out with someone, don’t make plans with them. If you make plans with someone but think there’s a chance something better might come up, 1) don’t think like that because that’s douche-y and 2) don’t commit to things on nights that you might want to do some other activity.
    • Personal relationships are so, so important. And I think as you get older, it becomes harder to meet new people and make those friendships that will truly make you happy. This is because as you get older, you get more set in your ways, more set in your routines, and old friendships take time to grow. So start young. Start now. Meet people, and be genuine. Put the stupid cell phone away and go out to dinner to talk. Close Facebook and plan a day/night out. Call instead of text. Be a little bit old school. Don’t let yourself become isolated by your technology.
  • Create
    • Nick Offerman calls it “Finding a Discipline,” but whatever you want to call it, find some way to spend your time that isn’t Netflix. Think of it as a physical way of investing in your future. If you love to craft, make things! (If you get good, you can sell your art on Etsy.) If you love music, make music! If you love to exercise, work out! If you love to help, volunteer! You get my drift. Then find a way to share your pass time passion with others. Who knows, it might wind up being a means to a living. Even if it’s not, you’ll be happier having something to take your mind off  the stress around you, and having a purpose to look forward to in your free time.

Okay, I have to stop there before this post goes on forever and ever. Gotta keep it simple, right? Anyways, that’s my current two-cents on what 20-somethings should know. I’d love to get other opinions on this, though. Seasoned vets of life might have a different perspective and I always love to learn knew things. Let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on this.

Good luck in life.

-tlc

How to Live in LA on Essentially No Money

A few short months ago I moved out to LA with just barely $4000 to my name, no job except a small social media gig that gave me 8 hours of work a week, and absolutely no idea where life was going to take me. I still don’t know about that last thing, but now, after working two unpaid internships and remaining unemployed (for the most part) I still have about a quarter of what I started with. In a city where I’ve been told that it takes at least $3000 a month to live, I’ve made a go of it averaging about a $1000 a month in expenses. How have I made it this long with a roof over my head, gas for my car, and food in my mouth? I’m certainly not starving myself, that’s for sure. Here’s how I did it:

 

  1. HOUSING

 

Finding a place to live in LA is difficult, here’s why: LA is sprawling, and the second largest city in America, and everyone seems to think the weather here is the bomb dot com so they all come running. Because of that, real estate is insane and things move quickly because, when you find a good deal on an apartment, you can bet that about 300 other people also believe they’ve found a good deal on an apartment. No matter where you live your commute is going to take up all of your free time, and–if you’re like me and you like nature–your choices when it comes to housing that isn’t sandwiched in the middle of a busy city are a million dollar hole in your pocket on the beach, or dead grass on something that sort of resembles a mountain.

Average rent in LA runs about $700/mo (on the cheapside) and $900-$1000/mo (on the: I have a good, stable income and can afford to rub it in your $700/mo face). Currently, I pay under $600, and I live in a house in a calm, convenient part of town. How did I get so lucky? Well it takes some diligent searching, but it also takes some thinking outside of the box. When I came to LA, I asked myself where I might find safe, affordable housing with strangers I could trust. This question led me to reaching out to friends, family, pastors of random churches I looked up online, and even some church website classifieds. In fact, it was through this last suggestion that I found the home where I am currently staying. So just ask yourself: “what type of people do I want to live with, and where would they post room vacancies?” And then search from there.

 

  1. FOOD

 

The key here is rather simple, but isn’t all that easy if you aren’t a connoisseur in the kitchen. The secret is to cook at home. FOR EVERY MEAL. It might not seem like a big deal to go out to eat, even if it’s only once a week, but here in LA, a CHEAP meal is going to run you $15+. For those of you who don’t do a lot of grocery shopping, if you play your cards right, $15 can get you enough ingredients to make a week’s worth of meals.

The trick here is to be mindful of price tags when you go to the grocery store. It’s great if you want to eat all-natural, organic foods (you should definitely make sure to provide yourself with plenty of fresh, healthy options: it’s cheaper to eat well then to go see the doctor) but buying organic for everything is not necessary, nor does it do much good for your wallet. If you’re really concerned about pesticides and chemicals, do a simple google search for what foods you should buy organic, and which are okay to buy normally.

Know which stores have cheaper prices on what. Here’s the deal: I don’t know why, but every grocery store has that one thing, or that one category of thing that is slightly cheaper than most of the other stores nearby. It’s how they retain customers against the competition. It’s good to be observant of prices and figure out which stores offer the best deals on what. In general, weekday mornings (especially the beginning of the week) tend to offer the best and lowest deals on things like produce. Also, this tends to be the time with the fewest number of people in the store, so if you can go in the mornings during the week, I highly recommend it. However, spending precious gas to drive from one store to another for five cents difference on an item is counterproductive, so plan out your grocery store trips and always be looking for the lesser of two evils.

Meat: always buy meat on sale. Freeze everything! (Just make sure it’s sealed well). On the weekends (or on the days when you have the most flexible/free time) cook in bulk: make meals with multiple servings, then freeze the extra food in one serving packages as fast go-to meals later. Only buy what you know you’re going to eat! This means planning meals ahead of time and only buying ingredients for those meals, plus staples that you know you will use for snacks/on-the-run bites-to-eat like milk, cereal, bread, mac’n’cheese, etc.

 

  1. CAR/TRAVEL

There is absolutely no way getting around LA without a car. I mean, people do it, but we’re talking HOURS spent planning out bus routes and waiting/walking to public transportation. The truth is, getting around LA is going to cost you money no matter what, but there are a few things you can do to ease the pocket pain:

#1. Buy a Costco membership. Considering the cheap prices for things that are nice to have in bulk, like personal hygiene items and vitamins, it’s worth the $50. Also, with a Costco card, you can use their gas station, which is always at least 10 cents cheaper a gallon than any other local gas station. Not to mention, if you sign up for the American Express card and use it for purchases, you get points back that go towards a monetary refund at the end of the year (so with enough purchases, your membership can be free).

#2. Be mindful of when it is useful to take the metro. For instance, (so long as you have a place to park your car where you don’t have to worry about getting ticketed for street cleaning, etc.) there are bus lines that will take you pretty much directly to the airport, meaning–should you ever decide to fly out on a weekend trip, or for the holidays–instead of spending $12/day on parking at LAX, you can spend $1 on a bus ride that will take you to the LAX parking lot, where you can catch a free shuttle to your terminal. If you want to spend the day up in Hollywood, or you’re taking an improv class up there, or going to see a movie at the Egyptian theater, or whatever (there are many more reasons to avoid Hollywood, rather than spend time there) and you have a few hours to kill, it might be worth the time to drive to your nearest train station (there is usually a free parking lot for metro users near the station) and spend the $1.50 to take the train up to the Hollywood exit. $3.00 for a round trip ride and two hours of travel time (especially if you have a book or something you can work on in the mean time) is definitely worth it to avoid getting screwed over by the ridiculously expensive parking fees (If you decide to go anywhere remotely tourist-y, expect to pay  at LEAST $10 to park. LA makes a killing off of screwing tourists over, and unfortunately locals have to deal with the prices as well because if it.) Also, car pool when you can! Sharing the burden of parking expenses is always a good alternative.

#3. Avoid the freeways when possible. I’ll admit, LA can be a stressful city to drive in. People are much bolder in their willingness to squeeze past vehicles on small streets, and speed down roads. However, people also tend to be much better at defensive driving, and, considering the number of vehicles on the road everyday, the number of car wrecks is surprisingly low in comparison to other cities. However, if there’s one place in LA where people tend to drive more recklessly, and where getting into an accident is significantly more dangerous and terrifying, it’s the LA freeways. This is because the combination of speeding, high volume of cars, and too few exit options (meaning, if you miss your exit, it’s that much harder to get turned around and back track) results in a massive (pardon my french) shit show of cars weaving in and out of almost solid blocks of metal going 80-90 mph, attempting to get to their exit smoothly and at the fastest pace possible. If you want to save yourself the cost of taking your car into the shop after a wreck, avoid the freeways unless it’s like 6 am.

  1. ENTERTAINMENT

This one is tough, because nearly everything in LA costs money, even if it’s just for parking. And while I don’t think it’s wise for everyone to just stay home all the time and never socialize (you’ll wind up hating living here and never make any friends if you do that) it’s also not wise to say yes every time someone suggests you go see a movie, or go out to dinner. There are lots of things you can do for cheap around LA: class by donation yoga (where you can park your car in a garage for an hour and half for free), hiking, Griffith observatory, the Getty (though you do have to pay for parking), the beach (as long as you don’t mind a bit of a trek, if you’re lucky and savvy enough, you can find free street parking), going to a taping of a TV show, sometimes even improv or stand-up comedy shows. You just have to do your research. However, make sure to set aside some money (and be willing to spend it!) to do things with your friends that do cost money. Just remember to be smart about your spending: go out for drinks during happy hour, so you can get the best deal on what you want to eat and drink. Don’t buy fancy cocktails (mixed drinks are always the most expensive things on the menu–unless they sell high-end wine) unless you only want one drink and then you stop. If you want to go see a movie, choose wisely: remember this is the heart of the entertainment industry, so you can often get your hands on screeners of films vying for Oscar nominations. However, if you can’t, or if you just really want to see it on the big screen, keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for deals on special screenings, like AFI nights, or premiers. If you don’t even have access to those (either you have zero connections to the entertainment industry, or you just have no luck looking) shop around for the best movie theater deal. I’ve heard that–if you already have, or are willing to pay for the season pass to Universal Studios (it costs the same as a day pass, so might as well get the whole season) the AMC on the lot is a pretty good deal and validates parking.

  1. HOUSEHOLD FURNISHING/SHOPPING

There really isn’t a lot of this that you probably need to do. If, like me, you moved here from out of state, you probably didn’t bring a whole lot with you. Wait to purchase things until you find long-term housing. Often you will find roommates who are either from instate, or have lived here long enough to purchase things like couches and tables. Most apartments come with kitchen appliances, and once in a blue moon you can find furnished apartments. When you do need to purchase items, there really are pretty much three go-to sources that will help you find what you need at the cheapest price: Costco, Ikea, and Craigslist.  Craigslist is a good place to start for things that can be cleaned up and you don’t have to worry about where they’ve been, like dressers, tables, and light fixtures. People are moving in and out of LA all the time and don’t want to spend money on moving items with them, so often you can find great deals on furniture here. Ikea is great for bigger furniture investments, like beds and couches, because, along with typically being a good deal and fair price, this furniture is also designed to be space-conserving, so if you wind up moving to a smaller apartment, you don’t have to worry about getting new furniture. Costco is great for those smaller things that you don’t think about right away but will wind up realizing you need, like kitchen utensils, cleaning appliances, and things like humidifiers. Just make sure to double check Amazon to get the best deals on pricing.

For fear that this post is already a novel, I’m going to stop there with the advice. That covers pretty much all of the basics of what spending tends to look like out here. I’m no coupon queen, and I haven’t researched stores for the best deals on everything. I’m sure there are lots of other secrets to living in LA cheaply that I haven’t come across yet. If you’re reading this and you have any suggestions, or if you’re curious to know about something I haven’t covered in this post, leave me a comment in the comments section and I’ll try to answer it, or feature your suggestion in a later post.

-tlc