Friday, February 27, 2009


OK. So, you have no job. You live in New york. Expenses are high. It just can't be helped. And you're living off of an unemployment check. And no matter how underpaid you were at your previous place of employment, that unemployment check is undoubtedly way less than you were making. WAAAAAAAAY less.

So you need to be frugal.
You need to count your pennies. You need to cut back on things. You need to mooch off your still employed friends.
And it sucks.

It's hard to go out in New York, anywhere, without spending money. Yes, you need to get out of the house (this is something that you should do every day, even if it's just to the 99¢ store to pick up garbage bags or kitchen sponges or ... something ...). But where to? Take your laptop to a coffee shop and sit for a couple of hours? But this adds up.

I have been cutting corners. I promise I have.
Like most of America, I enjoy buying things. I enjoying having things. I enjoy new shoes in the spring and overpriced jeans. And I'm not doing that now.
Unlike most of America, I have not had a credit card in 8 years, so, I don't have any of that crazy-high-interest-rate-debt that all the radio commentators are speaking of. I have always gotten along by know what was in my bank account and just spending that.

But here's the thing. There was always a paycheck coming. A rent-paying, shoe-buying, cocktail-permitting paycheck.

There are things worth buying. There are times it is OK to go a little over budget.
For me, to stay in check, I make a list. A grocery list, a pharmacy list - a list of the things I need to buy. And I do not stray from this list. I do not buy the new shade of nail polish. I have enough. I do not buy the pint of Ben & Jerry's just because I want some ice cream. But. I do buy two boxes of the good trash bags if they're on sale, instead of the cheaper, crappy ones that leak all over the floor. I do buy the pint of Breyer's chocolate ice cream, under $2, it fulfills my ice cream craving - maybe not so decadent as the B&J, but who needs decadent anyway? I do buy the large box of condoms instead of the three-pack, but I buy the store brand cold medicine.

Sure, I'm counting pennies. But here's the thing. Pennies add up. I promise you they do.

Listening to NPR the other day, I heard a finance expert speaking about some things you can do to stay on track and be in control of your finances. One that sounded really good to me is actually the way I used to live my life right out of college - be cash only.

So, right out of school, I was working retail at a shoe store in Cambridge, MA. We got paid and hourly wage in check form (not bad for the time, but you'd laugh now if I told you how little it was!) and commission, paid cash. Every week, I would deposit my paycheck and use that commission as the money that I would spend throughout the week - to get groceries, to go dancing, to go shopping, to have dinner or buy beer. If the week before had been a slow week, and the commission was low, I would get a little cash from the ATM, but I wouldn't go to the ATM several times during the week. I would go once. If the commission check was big, that's when I'd get to buy myself something nice - clothing, jewelry, fancy dinner with the boyfriend ...

So now I am on unemployment. And I have a fixed income. I don't have the luxury of that fluctuating commission. But I think cash only is a great idea, especially in this economy, to take out a fixed amount of money every week and put it aside - for bills, for groceries, for a social life.

Let's see how it goes ...

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