Friday, September 2, 2011

Friends and money: surviving the dinner out when you are broke

You don't have to eat meals alone just to stay on budget

I am now indeterminately broke. My contract just ended. I am not eligible for unemployment and I'm not sure when I will land a post doc. I will now be perpetually surrounded by people who make more money than I do. Every opportunity to socialize will be laden with possible over-expenditures. I am not, however, about to live in a hole - so how to handle nights out and no income?

Well, here are a few things I have tried in the past that seem to work. Remember, I'm not a financial planner. I'm telling you what I have done to stay on budget.

I plan splurges

I actually stole this cash budgeting idea from the old school Weight Watchers Points plan (I lost 20 pounds 14 years ago and haven't gained it back, so this idea works). On the points plan a person has so many caloric points a day/week to spend. They have to hit a minimum number of calories everyday, but they can't exceed a maximum. If they have a special event coming up, they can eat the minimum points (or just above it) and bank the remaining available points for another day. The only rule is that all of the banked points have to be consumed by week's end.

Being on a budget means planning weekly and monthly expenses just like planning caloric points. I plan "excessive" days, set a fixed amount that I will spend and then stay under budget "banking" the surplus money for that special "excessive" day. Friend wants to go to dinner this Friday? Great! If it's Tuesday, and I have a few days to underspend so that I can afford dinner on Friday. If my friend calls Friday and I don't have "points" to spare? I decline and suggest I'll meet them later for something lower cost (i.e. post dinner drink) or I invite them to my apartment (I do this most frequently). I can always bank for dinner out with my friend the next week.

Make back up plans for splurges

I can't emphasize this enough. It makes sense to have some "points" in pocket just in case. I often underspend during the week, anticipating weekend nights out. On the weekends where I do little, I figure out what to do with the excess. Sometimes I put the money on debt, sometimes I buy much needed clothes or order food in. It's my "excess" and I use it by the end of the week.

I am up front about what I am willing to spend

When I meet with a group of friends I am very up front about what I can afford. The earlier my budget is introduced into the planning conversation, the better. I have had to skip a few 30th birthdays and nights out because I've been on a strict budget. I usually make plans to meet up with my friends at a cheaper location after they have enjoyed the place I can't afford. I don't mind missing the experience, because the expense will stress me out and they don't mind because we get to spend some time together.

Don't let shame get in the way of your financial happiness

I am never ashamed of being budgeted. I am budgeted because I am a graduate student. I have worked very hard to finish this degree and part of that means working long hours without compensation. Anyone who would make me feel bad about that is not worth my time. When a friend tells me that everyone is going to the Landmarc and I can't afford it, I wish them well and tell them I'll meet them later.

I don't share food or buy rounds

This is a killer. Shared bills rack up charged very quickly, especially when drinks are involved. When I am strictly budgeted, I simply don't do it. When there is a group of people rotating in and out of a waitressed, seated area a bar I either ask for a separate cheque, close out a tab immediately or I get my drink at the bar and come back.

I alternate water with drinks

This slows the drinking, keeps me from being hungover and leaves my wallet intact. Usually have a club soda, which can be easily disguised as a vodka soda-like drink if I am pressured to have a drink in front of me.

If all else fails, I leave

If I am already out with friends and my attempts to keep the evening low cost are unheeded, I simply step out. The bar hours in this city run until 4:30...and then there are after clubs and diners. A 7 pm after work drink can turn into my key slipping into my front door at 8:30 am the next day. It has happened before - so if my friends really want to go someplace very expensive, and I can't negotiate another location, I let them go without me. My friends are pretty awesome though, so this rarely happens.

Any other tips that might be helpful?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

One income - let the challenge begin

The sun goes down on my income generating years, for now

We are now officially down to one income. I am, of course, extremely nervous. I have been employed since the age of 13. I have my own money my entire teen and adult life. Now, I have to rely on someone else to parcel out cash to me. Given that I spent most of my last pay cheque preparing Go bags and an emergency pantry, H will be rolling out money to me faster than he might think.

This period is supposed to be temporary for us. I am defending soon and desperately searching for a post-doctoral position. If all goes well, I will have landed a job by January. Still, I've been on 4 interviews already and nothing has stuck. I keep getting offers and new potential employers contact me almost every day, but none of the positions are the right ones. The P.I.s are unfocused, or are looking for someone who can pipette without thinking. While most grad students work for their advisors for a few months after they graduate, this is not an option for me. My bosses are abusive, unproductive and have gotten a taste for free labour. I might feel better about it if my bosses could get off their butts and respond to any of my emails about finishing the paper. That is a drama for another day.

I would be lying if I told you that the thought of me never finding a postdoc position had not occurred to me. My anxiety about this is such that I have started dreaming about P.I.s that have rejected me hugging me. That's messed up, right?

In anycase, whether I am ready or not, whether I want to or not, I am now completely at the mercy of someone else's income and job performance. H is great at what he does, but I've never been in this position before. I bought some almonds and dried mango on the way home today. It occurred to me that I will have rethink every little pit stop like that.

So onward and upward. I planned on this day, but have decided to make the following immediate emergency measures to make life easier. From now until January I will

a) limit restaurant visits
b) enjoy a drink or food when I go out with my friends, but not both
c) I will eat before going over to a friend's, running errands, or attending meetings so as to not have a painful discussion about why I can't get a bite to eat
d) I will not split courses at a restaurant with anyone other than H
e) shop grocery sales
f) be more vigilant about power usage
g) use Skype more often to speak to family and complete post-doc interviews
h) limit the purchase of special drinks i.e. coconut water, skinny water etc.
i) set a budget and list of new clothing items for the Fall/Winter and not stray from it
j) make more $5 meals
k) limit house parties to a single small one in four months
l) still put 10% of whatever H gives me each month into savings :)

Any other ideas? I still have this last semester of tuition to pay :(