With the official start of summer right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about my summer spending habits. If left to my own devices – without a budget or a written plan to keep myself on track – I’m sure my summer spending would show a sharp spike in comparison to my day-to-day spending during the rest of the year.
|Image credit: piovesempre / 123RF Stock Photo|
Here’s an anecdote to demonstrate what I mean: In January of last year (2012), I resolved to keep my discretionary spending as low as possible. Mr. W. and I were planning our wedding and I thought it seemed wise to trim unnecessary expenses, at least until after the wedding. For six entire months, I adhered strictly to this plan. The only clothing items I purchased during this period were a few new pairs of nylons (because, really, it’s never okay to wear ripped hosiery to the office). I exercised similar restraint with regard to other discretionary spending. I was so proud of myself for sticking to my plan.
It turns out that I was patting myself on the back too soon. Once summer kicked in, I relaxed the tight rein on my finances. Over the thirteen weeks of summer, I bought myself six (yes, six!) new dresses. In my defense, four of those dresses were purchased for specific wedding-related events. But even so, I could have found something suitable in my closet. And I really had no excuse for buying those other two dresses, besides the fact that they were awfully cute. But I suppose that cuteness isn’t a good excuse for blowing one’s budget, is it?
What is it about warm, sunny weather that entices me to spend more money? What makes me throw caution to the wind? I think there are a few factors at play. In part, I simply enjoy spring and summer fashions more than I do cold-weather styles. I’ve always been drawn towards bright colors and splashy patterns. After a long, drab winter, I feel tempted to refresh my wardrobe by buying a bunch of pretty sundresses. And it’s not just my clothes shopping that increases during the summer. I know that I have a tendency to spend more in other budget categories, as well. I’m more relaxed and carefree during the summer, and I’m more likely to eschew my budget in favor of fun.
This year, I decided that I would make a concerted effort to spend less money during the summer months. Here are a few ways I’m going to put this plan into action; I don't offer these as advice, but simply as examples of what I'll be doing.
1. Don’t buy clothing that I won’t wear:
For as long as I can remember, I have bought a new swimsuit every summer. Sometimes, I go overboard and buy several. There are three problems with this practice.
Problem One: After buying a new swimsuit(s) every summer, I have amassed quite a collection of bikinis, tankinis, and every other type of “kini” you can imagine. This might be acceptable if I were considering a career as a pro surfer (dress for the job you want, right?) Alas, I’ve tried surfing and it’s not where my talents lie. There is simply no way that I will wear swimsuits enough to justify owning so many -- or buying any more.
Problem Two: Swimsuits are expensive. Why do some bikinis cost upwards of $200, considering that so little fabric is used? I’ve never paid that much for a swimsuit and I always buy them on sale. Nonetheless, the markup even on sale bikinis is outrageous. Out of principle alone, I should refuse to buy more swimsuits than I absolutely need.
Problem Three: I don’t ever wear swimsuits. Period. My skin is so pale that I make Casper the Ghost look like a cast member from The Jersey Shore. Being this pale has led me to feel way too self-conscious to wear a swimsuit in public. If I ever go to the beach, I simply wear a tank top and shorts. Buying yet another swimsuit would be a colossal waste of money. (Yes, I know I could “do something” about my pale skin. But I’m not generally fond of fake tanning methods. In my experience, self-tanning lotions are more of a hassle than they’re worth. And I don’t like the idea of using a tanning bed because of the potential health ramifications).
Clearly I should not buy a swimsuit this summer. Just remind me of this resolution whenever I start browsing the J. Crew swimwear collection.
2. Brew less coffee:
My morning routine involves brewing a pot of coffee for Mr. W. and I to share. I usually make enough for each of us to drink 1-2 mugs of coffee. But during the warm summer months, I rarely feel like finishing my first cup of coffee, let alone a second. It pains me that I literally pour money down the drain whenever we have leftover coffee. This summer, I’ll try to brew only as much coffee as we are likely to drink. And, if we have any left over, refrigerate it so we can make iced coffee later.
3. Don’t carry cash:
This may sound counterintuitive, but carrying cash can wreak havoc on my finances. When I have cash, I am more likely to make small impulse purchases. During the work week, I often find myself strolling to the vending machine to grab a Diet Coke. This is especially tempting during the summer, when a cold, refreshing bottle of soda seems like it would satisfy my caffeine craving. Sure, it’s only $1.00-$1.50 each time. But over the course of a month, that could add up quickly. If I don’t carry cash with me, it’s substantially harder for me to make these unplanned discretionary purchases (especially since our vending machines don’t accept credit cards).
4. Drive the speed limit:
I know it’s a good practice to drive the speed limit all the time, even if you’re not trying to pinch your pennies. It’s just common sense. In truth, I always drive the speed limit in residential areas and while on smaller roads. There’s too much foot traffic and congestion to do otherwise. However, I admit to driving 15-20 mph over the speed limit when I’m on the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway. Yes, I’m driving the same speed all the other cars drive, but it’s still illegal. To date, I’ve never been pulled over for speeding and I’d like to keep it that way. Pleading “Officer, everyone else was speeding, too” won’t go far to get me out of a speeding ticket.
On top of safety reasons, there’s a very good financial incentive to drive the speed limit: in addition to the price of the speeding ticket itself, I could get points on my license, which would mean increased car insurance premiums. No, thank you. Plus, I understand that gas mileage is best at 55-65 mph. Given that I commute a long distance, it makes sense to optimize my gas mileage as much as possible.
5. Keep the windows and curtains closed:
I love sunlight and fresh air. Even though our apartment is on the smaller side, it has eight windows plus a skylight. The natural light is lovely, but the apartment becomes a hothouse in warm weather. Last summer, I used my air conditioning sparingly: in an effort to save money (and the polar bears!) I only turned on the A/C once the indoor temperature approached 90 degrees. If the outdoor temperature started to drop in the evenings, below the indoor temp, I would turn off the A/C and open the windows. But I think this was actually a mistake: soon enough, the apartment would be hot and humid again. We’re still planning to use the A/C sparingly, but we have a new approach: once we turn off the A/C, we’ll leave the windows closed to retain the “bought air” for as long as possible.
In addition, we’ll keep our curtains closed during the hottest part of the day. Last year, I didn’t have curtains (they were a wedding registry gift). I’ve already noticed that keeping them closed goes a long way towards warding off that summer heat and decreasing our A/C usage.
6. Cut back on laundry costs, where possible:
The dress code at my workplace becomes slightly less formal during the summer. As a result, I can get away with wearing cotton blazers, cardigans, and other things that are machine washable. This should help to decrease our dry cleaning expenses.
Also, we’re going to air dry a few loads of laundry every week. Although the coin-op laundry at our apartment complex is very reasonably-priced, the monthly cost still adds up to $40-$50. Given how warm our apartment will be, we might as well try to air dry a few clothing items. Most likely, we’ll still use the dryer for things that become more wrinkled after air drying. I think we can save about $10/month by air drying certain clothing items.
7. Take advantage of free entertainment options:
During the summer months, our community holds a number of free or low-priced outdoor entertainment events: jazz on Main Street, concerts in the park, parades, film festivals, etc. It’s not NYC’s “Shakespeare in the Park,” but it’s still highly enjoyable. Often, Mr. W. and I forget about these events until it’s too late. Last summer, we forgot about the weekly jazz festival in it's entirety: for eight straight weeks, we did not attend a single jazz night. That’s pitiful. Not this year! We want to take advantage of everything our community has to offer – especially if it’s free or practically free.