Looking to curb spending and maybe gain a little more free time in 2012? Here are my thoughts on the top 10 biggest drains on our time and finances. Cut these babies out of your life and watch your bank balance (and ‘me’ time) grow:
1. Manicures – Don’t get me wrong…a set of nicely painted fingernails not only looks good, it’s a visible nod to your penchant for style and even elegance (especially if they’re French). Here’s my problem: not once have I made it home without smudging a nail. Not once. Further, the second I tackle a sink full of dishes, the top coat starts to erode and that pretty little manicure morphs into a cracked, smudged and chipped shadow of its former glorious self. There is nothing more tacky than chipped fingernail polish and unless you’re willing to get your butt back to the salon pronto, you’ll probably walk around like that for more days than you did with the pretty nails.. Even my super short, mom-worn bare nails look better than that unsightly mess. So unless you have a driver and an Alice, I ask…what’s the point? If you’re lucky (and a little more careful than me – I always bang a nail on the darn gear shift), it might look salon-perfect for a day or so. That’s an hour of your time plus at least $20 for hearty helping of pressure (please don’t smudge, please don’t smudge) and future upkeep, not to mention the uncomfortable, stilted conversation that takes place during the manicure due to the language barrier (what’s that? what’s that? what’s that? sorry, I don’t hear what you’re asking). I’ll go bare, thanks.
2. Fancy little UGG boots for your toddler – I know…they are SO cute. I’ll keep it brief. Feet grow. Do you really want to invest $75 in a pair of shoes that will fit for a month? Oh, and if your kid isn’t walking yet, I ask you: what are you thinking? The net increase in cute isn’t worth the 17% interest you’ll pay on the credit card purchase. If they’re under 5, buy their clothes at Target or better yet, find a wealthy friend with an older child of the same gender and reap the rewards of their misguided wardrobe spending…for free!
3. Pay Pal – I love the convenience of this little one-click wonder. Unfortunately it’s not unlike the morphine button at the hospital. One little flick of the wrist and it delivers, taking away the pain and adding some short-term excitement to your life. BAM! You just bought some slouchy boots at Zappo’s (free shipping!). POW! You have added a hang gliding excursion to your impressive stack of unredeemed Groupons. The problem with Pay Pal is that you can shop til you drop and never really know that you’ve depleted your entire checking account balance in a matter of hours. Clicking that yellow radio button doesn’t feel like spending money. Before you click ‘purchase’, check your necessity scale (1=I will die without it; 10=I already have 14 pairs of brown boots, but not in this shade).
4. Making your bed – Unless you’re having company or showing your house for sale, you can skip it. Aren’t you climbing back in there in just a few hours anyway? Do what I do – fold back the blankets to let the mattress air out and spend the bonus 10 minutes patting yourself on the back for your logical time-saving strategies.
5. Leaving your car running – You arrive to pick up your son from soccer practice 15 minutes early. It’s a bit warm (or cold) outside. You put that puppy in park and sit back, listening to the radio (Sirius XM 70’s on 7 for me! I heart you, Barry Manilow) and enjoying the comfort of your climate-controlled little bubble. Here’s the problem: your engine is running so you’re using gas, and therefore wasting money. The radio works if your car’s not running, so really all you’re accomplishing is 15 minutes of body temperature regulation and a little bit of isolation. No one cares if you’re listening to bad 70’s music, so go ahead and turn off the car, roll down the windows, own your music choices and maybe sweat a little in the heat (or park in the shade), but turn your car off for Pete’s sake. This applies in other areas. Are you a turn-on-the-shower-10-minutes-before-you-plan-to-use-it person? Maybe you turn it all the way to hot, use the potty, get undressed and organize a pile of dirty laundry, then leisurely make your way under the stream of scalding water. How indulgent of you! That’s about 100 gallons of water you’ve just wasted. Multiply by 30 days and enjoy your water bill.
6. Driving to Costco for gas – Have you ever noticed how long the line is for gas at Costco all the time? This is because their gas tends to be about .10/gallon cheaper than the other guys. Budget-conscious, well-meaning folks will get in their cars and drive an extra 3-5 miles to receive this savings, then wait 25 minutes in line – with their cars running– for their turn to save about $3.00. Huh?
7. Logo branded personalized checks – This made the list because I recently ordered replacement checks for our personal account. They offered so many fun choices – school logos, Disney checks (OK – I don’t find this fun…Donald Duck on your checks? Yikes), fancy cursive monograms – the color options alone were mind-boggling. I took a few minutes and designed what was surely the most elegant and beautiful personal check ever, then hit the ‘checkout’ button. To my horror, the cost of these ‘personalized’ checks was $98!!!! It got me thinking – who is going to see these checks? Why am I so concerned with having pretty checks? Aren’t we just paying bills with them? I HATE bills. Why would I want to impress Citibank with fancy checks? I know it’s fun to have a little USC Trojan logo in the upper left corner (status, baby), but ask yourself: who am I trying to impress? The mortgage company doesn’t care.
8. Dry cleaning your clothes – Most of what we own can be machine-washed. In fact, dry cleaning is harder on your clothes than the washer. Nowadays they make those upscale dryers with a steam setting, so if wrinkles are the issue (which is 90% of the reason I dry clean), you can toss in your dressy items for 10 minutes and they’ll come out looking just as good as a professional dry cleaning. Not convinced? Add up your annual dry cleaning bill. If it totals more than $10 per week, go buy a new dryer with the steam setting. It will pay for itself in a year and you will be free from that most boring and monotonous of errands – dropping off and picking up clothes at the dry cleaner. Visualize with me as you’re…piling a bunch of stinky clothes into the car, driving to the dry cleaner, waiting while they count every piece (as you stand there cringing with embarrassment when they stick a ‘stain’ note on those pants, ahem), coming back a month later (because everyone forgets or puts it off), forking over $75, then manhandling 40 lbs. of wire-hangered, plastic-wrapped items upstairs to your closet. I am exhausted just thinking about it.
9. Stocking up on perishables – Again with Costco. Do you really need 14 Haas Avocados? I know it seems like a bargain, but they’re going to rot on your counter because no one can eat that many avocados before they go bad. I am guilty of this and therefore avoid Costco’s perishable section like the plague. The last time I ventured into their refrigerated section I ended up with a vat of salsa that took up half a shelf in the fridge, a plastic netted bag of 50 of those little round single-serving cheeses and 24 eggs. I promptly forgot about the salsa and bought a small jar at the normal grocery store, then threw it out six or so months later when I needed the room for some other over-sized perishable item. There’s something to be said for visiting the grocery store multiple times in a week. Buy a little at a time, otherwise those avocados will mock you from their spot in the fancy bowl on your counter.
10. Doing an hour of cardio at the gym – First of all, you’re only burning a few calories because I guarantee you’re not working at your peak ability. Trotting endlessly on the treadmill wastes your time (and pisses off the guy that’s waiting). Instead, try the 60-minute rule. Go to the gym, hit the cardio for 30 minutes as hard as you can, then spend the rest of your time lifting weights. A) you will burn more calories, and B) you will actually get fit. If you can read your Kindle or text a friend during your workout, you’re probably not working out hard enough.