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Saving Money Without the Sacrifice!

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Posts Tagged ‘money’

Can a Family of Four Live on a Salary of $150k in NYC?

Posted by flsquared on November 8, 2009

This was the title of an Urban Baby discussion last week that really got me thinking.  My quick answer was a resounding “Yes, and well!”, but many of the posters did not agree.

I suppose what surprised me the most was the tone of the responders.  They seemed to say: Don’t do it!  You will be sacrificing too much!

For me, it’s a given that if you live in Manhattan, you will, most likely, be living in a small apartment.  Even the “big” apartments are small.

On the other hand, in just 5 or 10 minutes walking you can find yourself in a park, a museum, a library, etc.  During the summer there are more festivals than you can imagine.  As the winter is closing in, it’s more difficult to find free activities but they are there.

For us, our major expenses are rent, health insurance, and food.  Next year, preschool will be included in that list.  We also try to go to Spain and Florida once/year to visit family.  Everything else that we spend money on is minimal and we don’t spend even close $150k/year.

We no longer have a car (and all that goes with it), our utilities are next to nothing, and entertainment is cheap.

I will say that I totally understand how you could spend even double that amount and feel like you are living a humble life.  Between eating out, endless forms of entertainment, preschools that cost more than my college tuition, nannies, housekeepers, etc, etc, etc. the money can just slip through your hands.

I have a friend who probably earns triple what we do and honestly feels poor.  She lives 2 blocks away, in a very nice, but not super-fancy, building.  She does not wear designer clothing or go out every night.  She has a part-time “mother’s helper” and someone to clean her apartment once/week.  They have a car and go away at least once weekend/month.  Nothing all too extravagant here, right?  Especially when she compares herself to her friends who have private jets and rent a place in the Hamptons for $30,000.

Saving (or just not spending) money in this town is hard work, but it is very doable.

I think the key to it is both simple and extremely complex.  Be happy from within.  Don’t compare yourself to others.  Be content with your choices, and don’t even notice the Jones’.

What are your thoughts?  Am I missing something?  What are we sacrificing that everyone else seems to need?


Posted in family, frugal, money, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Budget Update: It’s working!!!

Posted by flsquared on November 2, 2009

As you may remember, my family started living on a budget shortly after moving to Manhattan.  This has been a tough adjustment for us as we are not at all used to tracking expenses, but it has definitely been eye-opening.

In the budget, we only included my husband’s base salary as we are hoping to save his bonus outright.  Our hope is to save 10% of the post-tax base salary, but we will be happy if we just break even and don’t touch our savings or his bonus.

Here’s how we’re doing:

August:          saved 9.7%
September:   saved 13.4% (!!!)
October:        overspent 1%


On the upside, we are net saving about 7% which is not too bad.

Additionally, we also made some big purchases this month like a membership to the Children’s Museum and NYC Rec Center as well as a big $225 application fee for Victor’s preschool next year.  We should definitely save some money this month as we went crazy buying food (nearly $600 this month) at the local grocery store’s huge Columbus Day sale.  Our cupboards, fridge, and freezer are bursting at the seams.

On the whole, I do think that tracking our expenses and being accountable to them is working. It’s difficult to spend money consciously, but it sure does help!

Wish us luck that we get back into the black next month!!

Posted in budget, frugal, money, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Never Give Up: Recovering our Security Deposit

Posted by flsquared on October 26, 2009

As you know, this summer presented a number of life changes for us, primarily my husband’s graduation from MBA school and our family’s move to NYC.  We had never moved with a baby before, and now we had 2 boys under 2 years old…. and only 2 weeks to pack and “get out of Dodge.”  We threw our stuff into boxes, loaded up the UHaul the best we could (with help from a couple of friends who were still in the city), and left with 2 sleeping babies at 4am.  After getting stuck in traffic and lost a number of times, we finally arrived at the new apartment–5 hours late!  We were so late that the moving men had left!  We were able to bribe one to come back and help unload, we returned out car and UHaul with minimal penalty fees, and we were in our new home!

Hurrah!  The worst was over, or so we thought.

Pittsburgh is renown (probably not unlike any “college town”) for dishonest management companies who refuse to fix the heat and return security deposits.  After all, tenants rarely stay longer than a year or two and then leave town.  Many are undergrads who party hard and don’t take care of the apartment.  We felt lucky to have a nice, private landlord who was somewhat responsive to our needs but who was, more importantly, a “nice guy”.

Or so we thought.

Shortly after giving notice we realized something was up.  He did not stop by the apartment (which he normally did a few times per month) and he did not return emails or phone calls.  We were unable to schedule a walk-through with him, but didn’t think much about it as we had such a nice relationship with him.  He had, after all, just written a shining recommendation for us to use in our NYC apartment hunt.

After a few weeks, and a few more unanswered emails (and no sign of our deposit), we began to worry.  The State of Pennsylvania gives the landlord 30 days to send a letter returning the tenant’s deposit and/or a letter stating why the deposit would not be returned.  30 days came and went.  Then 45.  No check, no letter.

With my husband working 12 hour days in his new job, my taking care of the babies all day, and no family in the area to help pick up the slack, the last thing we wanted to do was battle this out.  Logistically, going back to Pittsburgh to fight this in Small Claims Court would be a nightmare.  And depending on the transportation costs, when we counted my husband’s vacation days, we may only break even.  But the feeling of being “duped” and powerless did not sit well with us.

So we wrote a certified letter demanding the deposit back.

1 month passes.  No answer.  (big surprise).

What to do?  Did we really want to take him to court?  We learned that we had 3 years to do so and felt a bit better.  We gathered all of the evidence (phone calls, emails, letter of rec, check stubs, etc.) and put it in a folder.  We also talked to a friend who knew a lawyer who may be able to help us.  She said that for $25 she would write a letter.  We decided that it was worth another try.

1 week passes.  Surprise!  We get a certified letter in the mail.  Our landlord had not been kidnapped by aliens after all.  Unfortunately, I am out with the boys and not home to receive it.

The next afternoon, I walk down to the post office, sick to my stomach and just wanting this whole situation to be over.  Would it be a threatening letter?  Would it be the check?  Would it be a form letter from his lawyer saying “bring it on”?

There was no line and I walked right up to the window.  After waiting about 20 minutes for them to find the letter, we walk outside.  It is thin (bad for college applications, but good in this situation!) and I open it.  A check!  For 75% of the amount that he owes us.  I guess he wants to negotiate, but we’ll take it!

Honestly, this was a fight that we really did not have the time or energy to have.  We pushed ourselves and got it done.  It felt good to know that he could not take advantage of us and our situation, and perhaps he would think twice about doing so to another tenant.

And part of that $700 will go towards a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate!

I would love to hear from you–have you fought a “battle” (financial or otherwise) that you felt good about?  Did you “win”?  How did you celebrate?


Posted in budget, money, saving money, simple living | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Grocery Update: We’re On the Right Track!

Posted by flsquared on March 18, 2009

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we were concerned that we were spending too much money on groceries–up to $20-25/day!  The scariest thing about it was that it just creeped up out of nowhere.  My husband and I are very responsible with money and have never used a budget.  We only noticed since we were earning a lot of “free” gasoline!

(Note to Self:  Remember to review your spending every few months, just to make sure it’s under control!)

I am happy to report that since I have taken back over the shopping we have been saving money!  I don’t think that I am doing anything “earth-shattering” or anything my husband couldn’t/wouldn’t have done, but I am just shopping consciously.

Here are the numbers (yea!)

  • January:  $18.71/day
  • February:  $15.11/day
  • March (so far):  $10.87/day

And this is without doing without!  I’m including in here our daily glass of wine with dinner.  I am not including our take out pizza or dining out.  Funny thing, though–since I started shopping this way, we have actually stopped ordering pizza (we now get it about every 3 weeks) and we eat out much less.  Hmm…. that wasn’t part of the plan!

So what have I been doing?  Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • Take inventory of what you have at home already.  We had a ton of red and black beans that we had actually moved up here from Atlanta.  Crazy!  And it wasn’t that we don’t like them, we do.  We had just gotten into a “lentils and garbanzos” frame of mind.
  • Shop alone (or with your partner) and when you have time.  Especially on the first couple of shopping trips when you need to stock the cupboard.  My first few trips were big ones and I used coupons to get a lot of the basics.  It would have been too hard to shop this way with the kids.
  • Get a paper and clip coupons once every month or two.  It’s amazing how much money you can save on toiletries, baby products and even some “real food” like yogurts and cheeses.  Try to go through them with the supermarket sales circular to match up brands for big savings.  Even if you just use one or two coupons, you are saving money over the cost of the paper!
  • Eat less meat and more fruits and veggies.  I’ve already posted on this, but I have actually found that we feel better and have more energy after 6 weeks of eating this way.  Yea!  We also found an area of town (called “The Strip District”) that has very reasonable prices on fruits, veggies, and legumes.  Double yea!
  • Make one day a week a “cooking day”.  I’m not sure if this saves money, but it sure helps us.  Every Sunday (or every other Sunday) I try to cook for about 5 or 6 hours.  I roast 2 chickens, make 2 casseroles, cook up lots of rice and beans for the week, etc.  With 2 small children and a super-busy husband it’s great to be able to freeze meal-sized portions that we can defrost and heat up later that week or month.  Come to think of it, maybe this is why we’re ordering less pizzas!
  • Make it a game!  Have fun with saving money on groceries and try out new recipes with less expensive ingredients.  Our “reward”?  I funded our new double stroller with our grocery shopping savings.

Posted in food, groceries, saving money, shopping, simple living | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

My Philosophy on Saving Money

Posted by flsquared on February 23, 2009

Rule #1:  Prioritize.  Know what is important to you and your family.
My husband is Spanish.  When you visit Spain and talk to the “natives”, you will be asked two questions: Do you like Spain?  and Do you like Spanish food?

Our priority, when we were first married, was to always eat well.  Now, this doesn’t mean champagne and caviar every night, but when we ate, we would eat a good, healthy, variety of food.  Food is a priority for us.

When we had our boys, safety and medical care became our priorities as well.  I never scrimp when it comes to buying a carseat or will ever again look for an apartment in a sketchy area.  And, as they get older, education will be another priority.

Rule #2:  Use common sense.  
I watched the news the other night and there was a special segment dedicated to saving money during this tough economy.  Tips included:  

  • if you use coupons, try to go to stores that double or triple them.
  • combine errands and carpool to save gas.
  • check books out of the library.
really?  this is news?

Rule #3:  Live simply.  Don’t spend money if you don’t need to!
This should probably fit under #2, but it is important.  Your family needs your time and attention, not stuff.  Try to enjoy each other.  

This will also lead to needing a smaller living space (which, in turn, will lower heating and cooling bills, etc)…

Rule #4:  Spend well.  Know when to invest in quality and know when to purchase “throw-aways”.
There are times when you need to spend.  After all, who needs to cut themselves on cheap knives or waste money on a classic cardigan that pills the first time you throw it in the wash?

On the other hand, there are times when it’s easier to throw away a juice box than to lug around an empty sippy all afternoon, hoping it doesn’t stain everything in your diaper bag.

I can’t say that I’m perfect, but I try to keep these rules in mind to help our family spend our money as wisely as we can.


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