Why I´m a frugal jerk

Something Grasshopper said the other day rubbed me the wrong way. He is one of those people who love to have the perfect clothes, hat, shoes, travel bag, etc. for every occasion. Apparently he´d been looking for a cool overnight bag for some time and last week he found a very nice leather bag with 75% off at 35€.

While I think this is a great price for such a bag, he justified the purchase by saying he wouldn´t get any snacks during his shift for a week, to make up for the money. That is what ticked me off. He doesn´t have a latte factor, he has a sandwich factor at 5€ per day! That´s 120€ per month! On sandwiches!!


Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”

There I was am not buying things I really really need kinda want and he is spending a fortune on eating out by himself. So I tried to let it go but actually let it simmer for a couple of days before I told him that it bothered me. And even though I thought it was nicely phrased and non passive-aggressive (I´ve a tendency to do that), I was actually being a jerk and here is why:

  1. Grasshopper gets 200€ per month in food checks that can only be cashed at certain restaurants near to where he works. He uses those for his snacks, even though he gives me half to spend with my friends. None of his coworkers do that.
  2. He has constantly talks about all the things he wished he had, but last time he bought something for himself was, um, November.
  3. We have a fully funded emergency fund, that I imposed, saved his entire Christmas bonus, and save a minimum of 10% of our combined income a month.
  4. I´m not really the buying kind, so it´s not like I´m missing out on buying experiences, I just choose not to buy.
  5. I sometimes am an irrational Frugalzilla. Oh yes, and a jerk.

(Sigh), maybe this is something I should add to my list of things I need to improve.

Have you ever blown a little expense out of proportion? Did you feel silly too?


How to have a housecleaner

Most of us have never had a person working at home, when we were growing up. Apart from the occasional babysitter or tutor, most of our moms juggled housework and paidwork or were SAHMs.

Because of this, most of us find that hiring and having a person to be in our house a certain number or hours per week is more a source of stress than a way of delegating unpleasant or unwanted work. It´s not just searching for a normal, competent person who will do a certain job to certain standards. They must convey trustworthiness, cleanliness and, most importantly, they must fit into our family dynamics.

Every family has a certain dynamic, a way of relating to one another and coexisting in the same house. Every house has its rhythms and its natural order. Grasshopper´s house, for example, must be pristine at all times. Even if they all work 10-12 hour days, the kitchen must be spotless, no dust is allowed on the glassware and it must be organized in a certain way depending on the number of glasses of each set at a particular time. This is not only a cause of stress for them, because they always seem to think the house is a mess (when it never is, well, maybe on ironing day), but it also means that noone else can help them clean up. I´ve been there every week for the last three years and still can´t unload the dishwasher because I know that his mom will not like how I have lined up the glasses and will have to do it again when she gets off work.

My house is much more chaotic, though we do tend much more towards Diogenes than OCD. This means that we can enjoy our home time as wind down time, but it also means that books pile up on tables and chairs and the floor every couple of days. And we often run out of clean coffee spoons. Maybe not the best system either.

Like many people my mom agonised over hiring someone to do some of the chores. Finally, my mom has decided to hire some help, and we asked my grandma, who has experience in this, for some advice. Here are some of her tips:

1.- Set priorities: decide which chores you want to delegate, how many hours you want to hire the cleaner for and how much to pay them. Decide if you want to be present or if you want to give them a key.

2.- Set boundaries from the start:  establish the chores to be completed and how thorough the work must be. Your bedroom or some work areas might need to be off limits. Similarly, you may not like to have your drawers and closets opened. Say so from the start. Make a point of anything you deem inappropiate or unsafe.

3.- Explain in detail: if you are like Grasshopper´s mom you have two choices: do it youself or explain exactly how things must be done. Maybe you want a specific product on your induction plate, can´t stand lemon-scented cleaners or you favour brooms over vacuums. Say so, make it plain and provide the necessary equipment and products.

4.- You are the boss. You decide how clean clean really is and how tidy a room must be to make you happy. If you need to clean up before the cleaner arrives, or you hate the way the unplug the toaster and hide your trash can, reconsider hiring or maintaining that person. Don´t be afraid to speak up when something is not to you liking.

5.- Don´t pity your cleaner: being a cleaner is like any other job: you need to do it in a set time, to set standards and fit into the company atmosphere. If you find that your cleaner is not in tune with you family´s and your house´s rhythms, simply say that you don´t think it´s working out. I don´t need to tell you that the job market is very bad at the moment. Firing someone is always hard. But you are paying and, therefore, you need to decide if you are happy with your employee or not. If not, find someone else because, I don´t need to tell you that the job market is very bad at the moment and many other great people are looking for a chance.

6.- Be kind to your cleaner: I know this is obvious for all of us, but remember that no amount of money can pay for mistreating your staff, whether at work or at home.

Thank you Ambro and  for the photo.

Have you ever had a house cleaner? How did you decide to hire them? Have you ever had to fire them?

Unemployed budget madness

By the time I started working, I had been reading personal finance blogs for a while, opened a IngDirect account from my allowance savings and sponsored a woman in conflict through Women for Women. Because I knew how hard it had been for these bloggers to track their pennies and keep their spending under control, I wrote every single purchase on a sheet of paper with the month and year as heading and attached the receipts with a clip.

Aproximately a year after I had a regular income, I started dating Grasshopper and realized that I no longer needed to keep such close tabs on my money. I was in control, and knew what I could indulge in and what I couldn´t. At the beginning of each month, I´d put about half my salary in savings and just didn´t worry about how I spent the rest. Whatever money was left at the end of the month, I´d just roll over to the savings account. On top of that, I started tutoring a lovely ADD kid, and made an extra $100-200 a month. This money, paid in cash, I kept as an emergency stash/Christmas fund/random trips fund.

I know I´m a money nerd because watching my savings, and the interest grow, makes me feel a little fuzzy inside. Grasshopper calls it my serious problem with saving. I call it my Ant personality.

Anyways, even though I worked part-time for near minimum wage, because I´d been so dilligent in my savings, I could afford to take an 8 month break from work to concentrate on getting my degree, and make a big deposit to Grasshopper´s and my Living together emergency fund. And I still had a big personal cushion to lean on when I finished my internship in August. However, when I paid my Master´s last week, I spent all that money, apart from $300, which is my new much leaner cushion. The stash had long ago left the building.

And now I´m getting worried about my spending again. I tutor 3 people at the moment, earning roughly $300 a month. About $150 goes towards petrol and publc transportation, with the rest I need to save for my new, much more expensive insurance, get Christmas presents, give to my sponsored sister, and start a car fund to save for repairs, which will most likely be much more expensive that my old old car´s. So I´m trying to find a way to make more money and keep the money I have. It seems like I´ll go back to the list until I can figure out a better way to manage my irregular lifestyle.

Thanks to Stuart Miles for the pic.

How to determine your REAL bare-bones budget

I stopped working in July when my internship ended so I could focus on my final exam and end-of-course project. Both of which I needed to do in order to (finally) get my degree. Yet even though I have a big enough cushion saved up, the job search certainly isn´t going as well as I had hoped. Apparently, no-one needs fresh out of college kids, they need experienced adults who are willing to get paid like they´re interns.

Cinism aside, my sinking funds are making me reconsider some of the things that I thought were essential when I was earning money and a recent chat with my best friends confirmed it. Sometimes, when it comes to our own finances, we are very short-sighted and can´t see the whole picture clearly. At those times is when you should ask the people you confide in. That´s it, let the people who know you best, your BFF, your boy/girlfriend, whoever, help you in determining your bare-bones budget.

The key part of this method is accepting they are trying to help you and not take their advice as critism. Just listen to those who know you almost as well as you know yourself, and sometimes better.

Here´s the two conversations I´ve had that have led me to believe in this.

Best friend number 1: While finishing uni and interning without getting paid, she is thinking she should get a part time job to cover her dancing lessons since her mom will no longer pay for them.

Best friend number 2: She has finally finished her masters degree and now has a job until February. She has begun paying off some of the debt and saving for a much needed car when two emergencies happened: her laptop broke down and she had to go to Florence with her boyfriend.

When I asked them, they told me that I spend way too much money on eating out and going to the cinema. And you know what, they are right.

Whhat about you? Did you have an unexpected money pit in your life?


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