Dashboard Confessionals

I drive a new car.

Well, it’s more than 2 years old now.  But I bought it brand spanking new.

When my husband’s Oldsmobile 88 met its maker, he took my old car and I went on the hunt for a new car.  I wanted a little hatchback.

I hunted around Craig’s List and ended up at the dealership to look at their used options.

So there was my car.  It was a year old, 20,000 miles.  A moon roof.  $17,100.  Seemed like a lot for a used car, hm?

Beside it sat the new car.  Same color, same everything, just minus the moon roof and miles.  Oh, and with leather seats.

The sticker price on the new car.
The sticker price on the new car.

I offered the sales guy $15,000 for the used car.  He said “no, but why don’t you let me price up this new car.”  I hadn’t expected that.

With the trade-in of the Olds 88 ($2,500?!  I couldn’t believe that, but who was I to argue.  I don’t think the mechanics out back looked at the undercarriage) and who knows what other voo-doo magic, the price of the new car dropped by several thousand dollars.

Then the salesman told me they were offering $1500 off new cars if the buyer signed up for Ford Financing (at God-knows what interest rate).

With the Ford Financing discount, the new car came down to $17,400.  Seemed like a bargain compared to $17,100 for the car with 20,000 miles right next to it.  They probably saw me coming from a mile away 🙂

So we got it.  We never paid a cent of interest to Ford Financing.  We paid for the car in cash well before we received the first monthly invoice.

Was it the right decision?  Probably not.  I probably should’ve gotten a much less expensive car.  This happened just over two years ago, before I started in on the “Kill the Mortgage!” effort.  If I had been in the market more recently, I would’ve done things differently.

In the end, I paid cash for a reasonably priced, efficient little car.    There are worse things.

 

Stop Losing Money in the Kitchen

Life isn’t Million Dollar Listing!

We live in a 24-7 HGTV world.  Magazines, websites, internet shopping, luxury lifestyle reality television… coupled with cheap, readily available credit…. have folks convinced that a super high luxury level is the minimum acceptable baseline.

Nowhere is this trend more out of control than in the kitchen.

It’s so nonsensical.  People are cooking less than ever before (what with going out to eat and prepared grocery meals), yet demand for high end appliances, marble countertops (“stainless and granite!” should be HGTV’s tagline) a farmhouse sink and a subway tile backsplash has never been higher.

Kitchens are now a status symbol.

But just like a 2008 Ford Focus will still get you from Point A to Point B, a 1990 kitchen will still churn out great food.

Here’s my kitchen.  White appliances, laminate countertop, linoleum floor.  Horrible layout.

Every time my mother walks into my kitchen, she talks about how someday I’ll update it.  Maybe, but probably not.

For one thing, I’m not convinced it would be a “dollars in/dollars out” situation.  The house has so many pluses – location, driveway, yard, space, charm – that I’m not convinced an updated kitchen would add to the value all that much.  We did the wrong thing in terms of real estate in that we bought the most expensive home on the block.  In our case, sinking money into a kitchen upgrades would literally be sinking money.

Second, we don’t plan to move any time soon.  Therefore even if the home did come up in value commensurate with a kitchen renovation… it doesn’t matter.  Bottom line, it would be dollars out of our pocket.

Third, it would be crazy to spend tens of thousands of dollars on home renovations while we still have a mortgage.  Financing a renovation is out of the question.  We believe that decreasing the equity in our home is a bad idea.  Therefore we pay for any home upgrades with cash.  It just doesn’t make sense to use our emergency cash fund for a non-essential, luxury upgrade.

So where does that leave us?

It leaves us in an awesome house with a dated kitchen.  So what? The kitchen is clean.  I got a little rolling island to add to the counter space.  And importantly, the food I cook in our dated little kitchen tastes the exact same as if it was prepared on a granite or marble or corian countertop and cooked on a stainless steel 6 burner with red knobs.

There will always be a way – several ways – to spend lots more money in the kitchen.  There will always be nicer knives to buy, cooler pans, a more beautiful countertop, a fancier this or that.

  • Got a cool $4,894 burning a hole in your pocket?  You can now buy a fridge from Samsung with interior cameras and a digital display that connects with your smartphone.  You can see your food while avoiding the “hassle” of opening your fridge door.  That’s absurd.
  • Kitchen all tricked out with the latest?  Well now you need two!  Two ovens (and a warming drawer!).  Two dishwashers.  Two (or three) sinks.  Two islands, even- “kitchen with two islands” populates on google search!
  • Already have double everything?  What about restaurant-grade appliances? A deep fryer, an Italian espresso machine, a wine fridge, a pizza oven…
  • Have all that?  Well what about an outdoor kitchen?  Sure, you already have a grill, but a grill is just a small component of a tricked out outdoor kitchen.  Don’t worry, HGTV can help you if you need ideas.

The point is that a kitchen – like a car – will only be the latest and greatest for a moment.  The next moment, a new thing or trend will emerge that makes your perfect kitchen seem lacking.  I sat next to a kitchen designer on a plane in April and she told me she’s done a $250,000 kitchen renovation!

I’m not anti-kitchen updates.  I spend a ton of time in my kitchen, and theoretically, sure, I’d love it to be updated.  But kitchen updates need to make sense.  All updates should be done with cash.  Big updates should be undertaken by people without debt.

I’m constantly surprised by the friends and coworkers who classify financed kitchen upgrades as “needs.”  It’s difficult to stick with a budget when we’re constantly barraged by so many convincing voices telling us that we need beautiful things, and we deserve the best of the best.  It’s so hard to keep the Big Picture in mind!  But the Big Picture is: no house is perfect.  Don’t sacrifice a trajectory to financial independence by trying to spend your way to perfection in a house.  Decide what elements of a home are most important.  Size, location, kitchen?  Be prepared to make trade-offs.  Don’t go broke chasing perfection.  Find contentment.  And remember, food tastes just as good when it’s made on white appliances 🙂

 

Brunch is Stupid

We used to go out for breakfast once a week or so.  We didn’t think of it as a big deal.  But it was expensive.  For just the two of us to go to the Watertown Deluxe Diner, the price was regularly north of $30 including tip – that’s crazy!  We weren’t ordering anything out of the ordinary; tea, toast, eggs with cheese, bacon, pancakes… all things that we could whip up in our own kitchen for well under $5 (and with better service at our house, too!).  Even the cheap-o place down the street costs over $20 with tax and tip.  The one time I went to Cinquecento in Boston with a bunch of girlfriends, fuhgetaboutit.  Drinks, pastries, fruit, eggs.  $50 for just me.  I sobered up fast.  Ouch.  We were spending $120+ / month on breakfast.  It just didn’t make any sense.

Once I started focusing on paying off the mortgage, cutting back on restaurants in a big way was low hanging fruit – and cutting out breakfast and brunch entirely was an easy adjustment.

After all – I really like the breakfasts I make at home.

For the past few years, my husband and I eat egg breakfasts during the week.  Our eggs are always exactly how we like ’em.  Our food is always hot (well, my food is always hot.  I don’t think he always heats up his egg muffins in the car on the way to work).  My latte comes out perfect every time (I use Lavazza Perfetto, the Bialetti moka pot and a battery operated milk frother and serve myself in a beautiful ceramic mug.  No crappy, not-hot-enough, wasteful, expensive Kurig taking up my counter space!).

On the weekends we add bacon, which is always crispy.  Or pancakes, and occasionally french toast or breakfast sandwiches and tater tots.  We don’t have to rush to get somewhere before the crowds hit.

Breakfast at home is so easy to dress up – add a saucer for the tea or coffee, put that cute cream and sugar service on the table (if you’re like me, you bought it, so you might as well use it, right?  Here is the opportunity!), sprinkle powdered sugar on the pancakes, put out the real maple syrup (no $1.50 upcharge) and cut up strawberries.  Think of all the stuff that impresses you at a restaurant, and make it your breakfast reality (or at least, your weekend breakfast reality).  Eat on the dining room table you never use – or on the deck, or set up chairs in the grass.  Play music.  Take your time, because no one’s waiting on your table.  Best of all, don’t look at your credit card charges the next week and wonder what you were thinking.

Eating breakfast at home has not negatively impacted my life one iota.  We save money.  We eat more healthy food.  We eat less.  Win-win.

 

I Don’t Need any more Socks

My sock drawer
My sock drawer

I have a lot of nice socks.  I dedicate an entire drawer to all of ’em.  In fact, last year I went through my socks, because I couldn’t close this drawer, and got rid of a few dozen pairs that I didn’t ever wear.

And yet…

Every time I see a cute pair of socks at a store – or a warm pair of socks, or a high-quality pair of socks, a soft fuzzy pair, or the perfect ankle sock – I stop and touch them and want to buy them.

Why???

I’m equally tempted to buy a pair of $3.99 sale socks as an $18.99 pair of SmartWools.

The craziest thing is that I don’t wear socks all that much.

I usually wear slippers in the house.  My thick socks don’t fit in my shoes comfortably.  Turns out those patterned socks that look so cute on the rack are actually pretty dorky when you wear them, particularly if you’re older than 10.

The times I wear socks:

  • In the winter, in my boots, on the way to and from work.  Once I get to work, I change into my flats, sans socks.
  • When I go for a long walk.
  • When I exercise.
  • When I’m worried about ticks.

It doesn’t make any sense for me to own 50+ pairs of socks.

I think all these socks are the crux of my financial struggles.  I’m gonna use “X” to represent socks in the 1-3 scenario below, but really, X can be any number of things:

  1. I don’t need more x, but;
  2. I’m constantly buying more xbecause
  3. X isn’t all that expensive and buying x makes me happy.

Exactly.  I think?

At least, buying socks makes me happy in the moment I buy socks…  But even while I’m swiping the credit card, I start to question the socks.  And when I look at the socks I bought an hour later as I unload them into that full drawer, all I can think is, why the hell did I buy these socks? 

This kind of instant gratification purchase is poisonous.  And typically not all that gratifying.  It’s easy to think, it’s only socks.  You will not bankrupt yourself over socks.  But the reality is that the “sock-buying mentality” applies to so many more purchases.

It’s only a $12 glass of wine.

It’s only a $25 bottle of conditioner.

It’s only an $80 dinner.

The sock-buying mentality is dangerous and must be squashed like an ant.

I’ve cut down on my ridiculous sock-like purchases over the past several years in lots of ways.  For me, the least painful way to cut back on spending is to recognize absurdity, then question it, then work towards better purchasing decisions going forward.  Once the absurdity is recognized, logic starts to set in.

Examples of sock-buying mentality (i.e. insane and wasteful) purchases:

Why do I have three pairs of slippers?

Three pairs of slippers is dumb.
Three pairs of slippers is dumb.

Why do I have 2 white bathrobes?  Bathrobes ain’t cheap.

One for winter, one for summer? Should I also get fall and spring bathrobes?
One for winter, one for summer? Should I also get fall and spring bathrobes?

And why – why, why, WHY- do I have so. many. glasses?  Why does every liquid need a specially shaped glass?  And why do I own ALL OF THEM?  It’s absurd.  We acquired these glasses over the years, and a large number of them were gifts or acquired for free.  But still — why haven’t I questioned owning all these glasses until now?  If confronted with a super cute set of glasses at a store, would I consider buying them, despite my gross glass excess?  Will these glasses be my legacy?  Or can I do much, much better…

I suspect the excess illustrated here is pretty typical.  And it’s the sort of crap that makes us broke.
I’m working towards recognizing things that I do not need to purchase.  Over the past year and a half, I’ve cut back on “ridiculous spending” a hell’ve a lot.  But I’ve still got a ways to go.

The fancy glasses - for the liquor and such.
The fancy glasses – for the liquor and such.  My husband doesn’t drink more than a beer a month.  So these are pretty much all for me.  These glasses actually create work for me.  I dust them once a week.  They are, quite literally, dust collectors.
The glasses in the dining room hutch that we don't use, but you know, we have the space for them.
The glasses in the dining room hutch that we don’t use, but you know, we have the space for them, and they’re such nice glasses.  Williams Sonoma.  That makes them better, right?  Some are also from my mother.  Although they were free (she too struggles with excess glassware), why did I take them?
Beautiful glasses given to me by a dear friend. I cycle one into the bar every time I break a current wine glass...
Beautiful glasses boxed in the attic that get cycled into the bar when I break a glass… just in case.  Obviously.
Back up champagne glasses, in case we are toasting with a lot of people.
Back up champagne glasses.  What if we are toasting with a lot of people!  We’ll need these, for sure.
I cycle the mugs, see? These are the off-season mugs that I use during the winter seasons. Makes perfect sense.
I cycle the mugs, see? These are the off-season mugs that I use during the winter. Makes perfect sense… right?