This Stupidly Easy Tip from My Parents Has Saved Me Thousands of Dollars

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It’s remarkably easy for me to feel ashamed. And the problem when I’m ashamed is that I clam up. And the problem with clamming up is that I don’t get help. But one time I told my parents about a problem and it helped. A lot. (But for whatever reason I never tell them my problems anymore. Maybe I should look into that).

I had forgotten to pay my credit card. This has really only happened once or twice in my life because it’s on Autopay but at the time, I got charged a fee of $40. That was a lot of money for me at the time. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I knew my parents were very frugal with money and I assumed they had never made such a stupid mistake and would yell at me if they knew.

But I told them. I don’t know why. Maybe I was drunk.

They said, “Call the bank and they’ll waive it.”

What? I can’t do that. It’s my fault. What kind of weird hippie planet did my parents come from? This bank is a corporation and corporations are in place to bilk dumb consumers like me out of every hard-earned dollar we have! I really wanted to toss my parents’ advice out the window.

But every so often I can play the obedient daughter. I called the bank.

They waived the fee.  It. Felt. Amazing.

So this is the tip for saving money: don’t pay more than you have to.

And it’s so easy. Don’t want to pay the fee? Ask if they’ll waive it. I’m not saying it’ll work every time, but it’ll likely work some of the time.

You may not even need to ask. For example, my apartment does this incredibly skeezy thing where it’ll send you a letter if you miss a payment by even a day, and tell you to leave your apartment if you don’t pay your rent plus 10% of your rent in late fees. It’s a pretty scary letter. I remember getting it and thinking, wow, that’s an insane fee. And I was mad because my rent was on Autopay and it just didn’t renew for the year. Why didn’t the apartment complex just tell me that so I could pay on time? It would have been a win-win.

I thought about asking for the fee to be waived but I could feel myself getting angry. So instead of paying the fee, I just paid my rent without the fee and went about my day.

A day or so later, I got an email thanking me for my payment and waiving the late fee. Bingo! A few hundred dollars saved without even talking to anyone.

I’m sure they get A LOT of people to pay these late rent fees because of these scary letters. The extra-skeezy thing is how many foreign nationals live in my building. I’m sure they get scared and just pay up. My advice – see if you can get away without paying.

And just as a disclaimer, I’m not saying you can steal from stores or scam people out of their deserved money for providing services. I still paid my rent. I still paid my credit card bill.

But if you are having trouble paying for something, then there’s no harm in asking. It could save you a lot of money and even make you feel a little more assertive.

Have you ever asked for a fee reduction?

How to Stay Sane When Everyone Seems Richer than You

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I don’t know why I read fashion magazines. They are created and designed to make you feel bad. I remember reading a blog article about a magazine that airbrushed Heidi Klum’s face. The bloggers were incredulous, questioning who could possibly think that Heidi Klum wasn’t pretty enough, that one could improve on Heidi Klum’s face. No one can ever match the ideal because what’s portrayed is impossible, unreal.

It reminds me a little of reading personal finance blogs. Sometimes I need a break from them because I just feel poor by comparison. And it’s mind-boggling because I’m not reading stories from the rich and famous. Someone like me should probably feel “rich enough” because 1) I have made six figures for the past five years; 2) I have no debt; 3) I have no dependents and live a simple lifestyle; and 4) I don’t live in NYC or SF. There are no secrets to my financial situation.

But every other personal finance article seems to be about someone younger than me, making a quarter of my salary going to fancy travel and dining destinations with their designer purses and saving, what seems like, 100% of their salary. How do they do it? Why won’t they tell me their secrets?

I’m sure it’s good marketing if they don’t tell me. It’ll make it seem like they have some secret money tree that I’ll get the seeds to if I keep reading their blog. But it always turns out that there’s some “airbrushing” involved. There’s something true in their lives that isn’t true for me. It could be a hidden advantage or just different priorities. I just have to tell myself this mantra to make myself feel better: personal finance always makes mathematical sense. 

There are no secrets. Everyone follows the same path. Here are some airbrushing secrets I’ve found to watch out for when reading personal finance blogs to save my sanity and tell myself I’m not doing it wrong:

1. There is someone else in the picture.

It seems a little disingenuous when bloggers leave this part out about their budgets, but then again they may be operating on the assumption that everyone is sharing rent with a significant other or getting help from their parents while I’m operating under the assumption that everyone is single and on their own.

Even if you don’t share finances with a significant other, living with someone else is going to cut down on costs, like rent, home furnishing and utility bills. That’s an easy way to cut one’s biggest costs in half (or maybe more if it’s prorated). There are also economies of scale that may make it easier to cut down on food.  Also, its not clear to me that each blogger knows what their significant other or their parents or patrons are contributing to the cost of their lives. Maybe it’s an extra grocery run or date night dinners.

Yes, I could get a roommate to cut down on costs but I don’t want to. Also, getting a roommate isn’t the same as sharing all costs with your significant other. I just have to tell myself that we are on different paths and that’s ok. I have plenty of privilege but I pay 100% of my own rent.

2. They have a miraculous rent.

I’ve never been lucky with rent. I always pay the median rent for an average apartment in an average neighborhood. I spend a lot of time looking around too and I’m just not a lucky renter.

I have known some of my friends to have pretty decent rents and nice apartments for their expensive cities. And for some reason, there are people with even more miraculous rents than y friends (but I suspect many of them live in smaller cities), and of course these people all become personal finance bloggers to shame us all for having high rents. I mean, if you nab a good rent, personal finance would probably be a walk in the park so good on you.

3. They give less to charity.

Sometimes I’ll look at a PF blogger’s budget and compare my own, and we seem to line up, except for their amazing rent. Oh, and the chunk of change I give to charity.

I have to remind myself of this fact all the time when I don’t understand why my budget seems to have holes that others don’t have. Charity is my second biggest line item, after rent. If I gave less to charity, I could buy a designer purse or decent vacation every single month. But I don’t want so many designer purses, don’t need that much travel and I think charity is hugely important. It’s a choice I consciously make. I just have to remind myself of that because in aggregate, I know I could have a lot more money if I kept the money to myself. And if giving up charity spending is the cost of a luxe life, then I don’t really need the luxury.

4. I don’t know how to use credit card or frequent flyer points.

Ok so this might actually be a magical money tree. I’ve never been able to cash in any of my points or miles for travel. It always seems like everyone is flying around the world for free. I literally have added up the numbers and, even though I generally fly one carrier, I only have enough miles to do a short domestic flight to NowhereCoolsville. I’m sure other people are milking the credit cards for, I dunno, billions of dollars or first class tickets (roughly equivalent in cost), but me, I don’t fly that much and the points situation never looks promising.

5. They’re not saving as much as I am.

I’ve created faux scarcity in my life by moving most of my money out of checking into my brokerage account. I tell myself it’s safer there in case someone steals my ATM card, but I also just want the money out of sight. Of course, out of sight, can make me feel like THERE’S NO MONEY even when there’s clearly a bunch. I clearly could live the life of fancy fashion and lattes for days, but like in #4, that’s not the life I CHOOSE to live. It’s all a choice.

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The voyeur in me loves seeing what other people are doing with their budgets but this is the equivalent for me of looking at Instagram and feeling bad about my body. I look at other people’s budgets and just scold myself for overspending even when I’m trying to do the best with what I was given.

I hope this article is encouraging, if only for the fact that even wealthy people like me think we’re missing out or doing it wrong. We get the twinge of jealousy when we read about the luxe lives of others and wonder how they do it. Everyone feels like they’re missing out on some super personal finance secrets privy to everyone else. Everyone feels inadequate in their finances from time to time.

I guess if there’s a message to be taken out from this it’s that, we need to focus on ourselves, our own situations and our own values. If we’re meeting our own goals in our own situations, then that’s the best we can do. We can’t look to the sides and think what if because we don’t get to have the benefactor parents, the well-paid significant other or the amazing apartment with below-market rent. We can only play the hands we are dealt.

But if those people with awesome rents can let us know if they’re thinking about leaving the area, that information would be greatly appreciated.

When you read personal finance blogs, do you get jealous too?

Rich

What Amount of Money is Not Worth Saving?

When I was a kid, I thought my family was poor. So poor in fact that when we would eat out, I would get the cheapest item on the menu – chicken fried rice. I’ve always hated chicken fried rice. But I love shrimp fried rice. The difference in cost was probably 50 cents. 50 cents was a lot of money to me when I was a kid, so of course I thought it was a lot of money to my parents. I thought I was being quite a good selfless daughter.

Of course I didn’t realize that my family wasn’t actually poor and certainly not so poor to care about 50 cents. They also didn’t want me to eat something I hated.

I wasn’t necessarily the smartest kid.

Fast forward to today and I see that Uber charged me $7 more for my ride than I was expecting. Now $7 is a lot more than 50 cents, even with inflation. But I have a much better view of my finances and I know I’m not poor. And I know the $7 won’t make any difference in my budget, in my savings, in my retirement goals. And contesting the matter with Uber seems like a hassle. On the other hand, it’s not like I’m getting anything better by paying an extra $7 – the ride already happened. And while we’re at it, $7 is probably enough to buy some delicious shrimp fried rice!

Clearly something has changed in my valuation with money. I had discussed this issue with my ex a year ago. I had paid off my debt and had amassed quite a bit in savings and he was well on his way to paying off his debt. We both make six figure incomes at pretty stable jobs. We were at places in our financial lives where saving a dollar here or there didn’t seem quite worth it. It doesn’t mean that we would willingly pay more for no reason, but there were now limits to how much trouble we would go to in order to save a buck. We realized we don’t need the buck, the buck saved means nothing to us in terms of short or long term goals and our time and desire not to deal with hassle became more valuable. We could blow thousands of dollars and we’d still have enough. We can order anything off the menu and I like that.

I still clip coupons, because it’s a habit that I find calming, but even when I was watching every dollar, I still ignored the 5 cent or 25 cent coupons. I mean, that amount of money wasn’t worth cutting out, remembering the coupon and presenting the coupon. There’s still a part of me that loves the thrill of saving a few bucks on my ridiculously expensive contact lens solution. And I still remember when I thought these habits were so important, because these amounts of money were critical. It doesn’t mean, however, that we have to keep the same habits for all time or that we can’t adjust for inflation.

I did go through with pestering Uber and Uber readjusted my fare. Old habits die hard.

What about you – what amount of money is not worth saving?