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Your Price Is Way Too High YOU NEED TO CUT IT

I think I’ve finally found the hip hop anthem for all you cheapskate frugalistas (and -os). You can thank me later.

I’ve been using this track (or at least the hook, the rest of the song is trash) to motivate me through my Uber Frugal Month Challenge (UFMC) and #FrugalFebruary (#FF) and let me tell you saving money has never felt so LIT!

YOU NEED TO CUT IT!!!

So, looking at the entirety of my seven recurring budget line items, I identified which ones were fixed and which were variable.

Fixed:

Rent :
This is already super low (thanks to my choice to live in staff housing with roommates instead of renting a place at 3-4x the price which I could stay in alone) and gets deducted from my paycheck before I even see it, so three cheers for money you don’t have to mentally factor in!

Salaries and Wages:
Since I share housing and my housemates and I aren’t tight like that, it’s been difficult dividing general household labour. So we agreed to get someone in once a week for the big clean, and to just stay considerate between those days (I’m looking at you dishes in the sink!) We’ve had several hiccups along the way, which have made me really excited about dropping this “mandatory” fixed item in a couple of months when I change internship sites and hopefully get a single room apartment, but for now it stays. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only way we keep the peace and, as abonus, I get to not worry about handwashing my own laundry (most of the time) so it’s a win-win-lose!
(It also wouldn’t be fair to cut this cost for two months with so little warning since our helper relies on and plans around this income, and common courtesy dictates that she should have sufficient warning and not just be dumped because I’m doing some weird lifestyle challenge.)

Insurance:
Life and disability insurance. Must haves. Premiums went up this year, but I’m still quite happy at how low they are. It pays to be a non-smoking twenty something!

Medical Aid:
Also known as “Health Insurance” to those across the pond. I actually considered switching to GEMS (the Government Employee Medical Scheme) which is employer subsidised, then I laughed my way out of that idea. It took HR six months last year to correct an error they made because of a rent deduction miscalculation (and they made a bunch more errors that are sure to cause me a headache at tax time as a result) so I’m not changing a single thing that will require me to travel up and down for them to rectify once I’ve switched sites . If I had a competent HR department, this would be a no-brainer, especially since I’m paying so much for a hospital plan that I may never use.

Retirement Fund Contributions:
This debit order is definitely not changing. The best thing I did last year was automating my RA contributions (in an attempt to) maximise my tax deductions. Again, if my HR were competent, I would give them my paperwork and have them adjust my take-home pay accordingly instead of waiting to claim the refund. But they’re not, so I won’t.

Variable:

Family:
LOL

Groceries:
This includes all my food and non-food grocery shopping like toiletries, cleaning materials, tools etc. This is my highest “variable” expense after the “Family” line item and has always been the one item that I don’t really price-check on. Why not? Because I want to shop according to my values, and good food has always been something I’ve placed high priority on. Especially as a vegetarian, I can’t afford to skimp on all my nutritional requirements. It’s funny, though, that my groceries ususally come in under budget. I don’t know if I subconsciously reign in spending as the month progresses (I’m big on one major trip, bulk shopping and then just topping up fresh ingredients and incidentals like pens), or because I prefer to shop at generally inexpensive stores (so Checkers instead of Woolworths) or because I cook 80-90% of my food myself, from scratch, but for all the decadence in my pantry, I don’t really spend that much.

Bank Charges and Fees:
I drank the Kool-Aid and got a stupid status account with “rewards” that require me to become a completely different kind of spender. I’m planning to change all my debit orders to my second account (which I only pay for what I actually use, and at an affordable price) round about the same time that I change jobs (and thus HR’s) next year so that I can close the account in one fell swoop. In the meantime, I already unbundled my charges ages ago and am using a Pay As You Use option which has been consistently lower in fees than the Bundled option and has saved me about R300-R400 so far. It’s not great, but it’s not nothing.

Cellphone:
I bought my “average-IQ” phone for cash, about R500. It’s an android phone, does everything I need it to do (except take non-crappy pictures 😦 ) and I’m not bound to a contract with any service provider. Better yet, when it falls (accidentally!) I don’t feel any pain. However, my cell/data/text expenses are about the price of a new phone each month. It’s kind of ridiculous.*

Travel & Fuel:
I walk everywhere and where I don’t walk, I take public transport. I’ve rarely bummed lifts off friends who were going the same place I was going, but I try not to make my carlessness their problem. So far my expenses are ridiculously low, averaging R100 a month and that’s mostly for trips to town for groceries. #SemiRuralLife

Eating Out & Takeouts:
I’ve never had a budgeted amount for this (i.e it is R0.00). If I do eat out, I just subtract it from my grocery budget because it’s food. If I anticipate eating out more than usual (e.g. a trip to Cape Town!) then I step up the budget accordingly.

Holidays and Travel:
I have a strict and set annual budget for this–a budget that I was actually still building up when I went of leave! No stress though–I had enough of a buffer to make up the gap, and simply deferred some other nonurgent goals accordingly.

OBETOOAY
Other boring expenses that occur once a year, like HPCSA fees. (These have their own categories when I track them, I just couldn’t be bothered to spell them all out.)

I’ve already stated that my primary goal is to cut my variable and discretionary spending over this two month period, but since I don’t actually budget for discretionary expenses and my fixed expenses are quite low, the focus turned to my biggest variable category: FOOD.

Wait, We’re Cutting The Food?

Not exactly. A big part of the UFM challenge is about using up what you already have and learning to be content and not always chasing after the next thrill. I confess…food thrills me to no end. Seeing an ingredient I’ve never used but have read about, only to purchase it, use it once and then promptly forget about it? Guilty as charged. Buying a bunch of “staples” and then feeling bored at the thought of using them? Caught red-handed. So this was a great way for me to really use up what I’d already paid for weeks and sometimes months ago!

Accountability Partner

I took an inventory of my freezer and my “pantry” and then sent the list to a friend that I trust to be brutally honest with me at baseline. I think my list overwhelmed her a little. One of her many messages demanded to know why I even had so much food to begin with. Um…cause I’m hungry? After the initial verbal lashing, she gave me some suggestions (I’d hit a wall) and then told me to get off WhatsApp and get to cooking. Which I promptly did…before realising there’s a reason I don’t usually cook everything I buy.

The reason?

Turns out, I kinda lazy…

Continued in Part II

*I managed to cut my data bill in half in January. But then in February I got distracted and loaded my usual amount. Oops!

 

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