{May 8, 2011}   Couchsurfing

For the single New York-adjacent New Jersey-dweller, there is a natural recklessness that occurs. Sure the suburbs have a number of great restaurants, some even NYC caliber, with many boasting Food Network and Bravo reality show stardom, but even the best NJ defender can admit that the end of the day it is, well, New Jersey.

So, for people like me, the key is to find a friend with a very comfortable couch for temporary residence. Their $2275 Soho apartment couch becomes yours when it matters, on Saturday night, for the mere price of picking up a few extra cocktails and on an unfortunate occasion using your down coat as a blanket. Just save yourself the indignity of mass transportation and drive in. The 50 dollars you shell out to park for the evening will be well worth it with the right friends. And at the end of it all you go home to your suburban one grand a month apartment, and your guilt free $300 shoes.


Boredom and procrastination are dangerous things. Shopping is a fun, temporarily fulfilling, and ultimately meaningless way to spend a day that – let’s face it – is a lot of fun. Shopping doesn’t have to equal buying. It can offer creative inspiration and make you think of something you already have in your closet that you should bust out for the new season. I am obsessed with fall clothes. But often, after I go shopping and pick up yet another pair of cowboy boots I realize that I already have a pair in my closet, or I simply don’t know what to pair them with. And one quality piece of an outfit is a wasted outfit, even if it is a Tory Burch handbag. So, don’t hesitate to GO shopping, just be very mindful of any purchasing. Maybe even limit it to just a latte to tote as you shop. After all, going out and doing something, even just observing active shoppers in their natural habitat, is better than sitting on your couch and eating a $3.99 pint of Ben and Jerrys – which could ultimately lead to needing an entire new wardrobe down the road.

{October 4, 2009}   CVS: The New Sephora

As a female, we encounter the pressure to look our best at all times. And, let’s not kid ourselves, we do enjoy the attention that comes with it. Bottom line: makeup is a must. But, you don’t have to spend a bundle at Sephora or on high end makeup brands, the cheap stuff works. REALLY well. Now, naturally, all products are not created equal so you need to educate yourself about the best products to make you beautiful, not broke.

Start your switch by trying the less expensive, more reputable brands. Think Pantene and Neutrogena. Cetaphil. Even Kiehls is often quite affordable. Pick up an issue of Self or Allure Magazine, and read who’s winning their makeup and haircare awards. Try the products out, and see if they work for you. After all, wouldn’t you rather waste some bucks experimenting short term, than getting yourself addicted to a jar of $75 face cream?

There are valuable items to be purchased with that leftover $60 – like a new pair of shoes or two at Marshalls!

Happy shopping.

{October 4, 2009}   Your Gut Knows the Right Price

This weekend I struggled with an impulse buy: a bike. My mountain bike, purchased when I had aspirations and a boyfriend for this hobby is now collecting dust and I need to cross train for my running. So, during my devil may care morning in Nyack, New York, I popped into a bike shop to assess my new options.

The salesman was cute and flirtacious. Shit. He was also informative – walking me through all my (at times neurotic) concerns. I finally found a bike I loved with a price tag that was doable. Double shit.

Too bad my bike rack wasn’t in my car. Oh wait, it was.  But still, it didn’t feel quite right.

I finally walked away because they were a cash only shop and I knew paying for the whole bike right now would eat into next week’s grocery money. SO, I left with a promise to return tomorrow (and the tempting salesman’s phone number).

I wasted no time in calling all the bike shops in my area. The evidence stood: This guy in Nyack was offering me a good price. And after visiting the local shops I also saw that the bike he had was more appealing and he was willing to customize it more. Here’s the problem: Did I need the bike? Would I really use it or was this one of those fitness purchases that would sit around unused? I shouldn’t hesitate to mention that this all happened on a fall day with perfect weather after I huffed my way through a two mile run in Central Park. (Sidebar:I ran a marathon six months ago. WTF?!)   

So, I headed up to Nyack, with every intention of coming back with the bike. My bike. 45 minutes of the trip in, I turned around. It didn’t feel right, even though I ran my budget numbers and I could afford it – and had justified it as a birthday present to myself. I convinced myself  I would just buy the (more expensive) bike at the dealer a half mile from my house. That would make it easier for maintenance.

So, I arrived at Montclair Bikery a half hour before they opened, ready to buy. Sort of. The problem was that my gut knows my impulse buyer alter ego. And was determined to fight her. She’s quick to get frustrated when questioned, and wants what she wants, no matter what. No price too high, no obstacle insurmountable. While she experiences an amazing high when making the purchase and bringing it home, anxiety generally follows after – and sometimes causes a hasty return.

The salesman sensed my hesitation and recommended we put slicks on my mountain bike. Done and done.  I knew it wouldn’t make the mountain bike lighter, but I also know that it won’t give my anxiety due to a large expenditure one month from now when the bike just sat there. And upon further discussion it seems that maybe I should hold out for a road bike later, in case I want to pursue triathlons (as encouraged by a very cute salesman met today, who has a girlfriend.)

So, some new slicks and two rides later, I have learned that bike shops are great places to meet cute, active boys, and that my gut was right in saying not so fast.

{September 27, 2009}   Invest in Fitness Motivators

Everybody, and I mean everybody, trying to get in shape has made an over the top huge waste of money purchase. Elliptical machine anyone? That gym membership that goes largely unused?

Investments in health go into the bank of long-term well being, so DON’T scrimp when it comes to a purchase that will ensure you keep moving and your spirits up. How do you make sure it’s not a money waster though? Make sure you REALLY love it and it’s something you enjoy. Look to little purchases like free weights, resistance bands and yoga mats before you make a huge machine purchase. After all, these tiny tools are great toners, and the great outdoors awaits. Who wouldn’t rather run outside than on a treadmill?

The point is to create an environment where you feel motivated to exercise and enjoy it. For example, yesterday I mulled a ($300) Garmin Forerunner purchase, after some general dis-satisfaction with the ($30)  Nike Plus system. But after looking at all the mechanics and science of it I declined, for the same reason I declined a heart rate monitor purchase many years ago. It takes away the very freedom I enjoy during my workouts. My Nike Plus, while the actual distances are not exactly accurate, provides me with music to inspire and encouraging messages from Lance Armstrong and other great athletes. Which to me is more important to keep me moving.

Remember, even if you don’t use your fitness equipment as much as you want, never create un-needed stop lights for yourself to discourage health and stress reduction. So make smart purchases that inspire you, but don’t stress you out. That run is hard enough as it is!

Stores like Marshalls are my personal favorites. I hate paying full price, but more than that I hate cheap quality. So, head over and take advantage of their great shoe section (KORS, UGG, Coach), huntworthy handbag shop (Michael Kors, B Makovsky), fitness clothes and household items. However, beware of electronics purchases at a venue like this. My iHome alarm clock had no digits (just a minor detail) and my Cuisinart Grind N’Brew randomly pops open during brewing – not pretty – and both items were only 30 dollars less than the full price in a department store. Not worth it.

{September 19, 2009}   Sales are for Suckers

 The most dangerous word when it comes to saving money is “sale.” A sale opens the door for temptation to purchase something that you don’t need, that you won’t use, just because it’s cheap. Ultimately, it just takes up room in your house and depletes your bank account. Your money would have been better spent on an expensive bottle of wine. So, next time you get budget frantic, remember not to get sucked into purchases simply because they are cheap, so that you can have funds for higher quality items that you will actually put to good use!

Perhaps I should have named this blog value adventurer. Because your budget is about what you value. Take me, for example. I am couch sitting today, with a bottle of Le Cupole, vegetable crackers, and artisanal cheese. I’m wearing a $20 University of Wisconsin sweatshirt, $150 Red Engine jeans, and $40 Michael Kors sandals – no, that’s not a typo on the sandal price, that’s courtesy of my good friends at Marshalls.

My point is that life is a balance. I like the finer things, there is no question, and I will not compromise. So, I find pleasure in shopping at places like Marshalls where I can find high quality at low prices, in addition to shopping locally, so that the village of Montclair where I live and that I love will continue to thrive. (The Red Engine jeans were purchased at Ruby, and the Wine at Amanti Vino.)

I’m not saying everyone else needs to have the same values, or should spend their money like me.  BUT, your spending should reflect your values and your passions in life. For me, the money saved goes to travelling abroad or to buying tech gadgets that help me sustain my passion for exercise and make my life more enjoyable. If your spending is vastly different from your value system, you might want to get yourself to a therapist’s couch.

In an earlier post, I referenced my experience with Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training program. A huge side benefit, particularly as this experience was smack dab in the middle of this lovely recession, was that it forced all my social activities to be around raising money rather than spending money.

Now, you don’t have to commit to run a marathon to turn your potential day of blah into a new and meaningful experience, and make some new friends and learn some skills along the way. Not sure where to start? Check out www.charitywatch.org to see what causes give the most back to the cause and www.volunteermatch.org to find avenues for giving back that are close to you. Who knows, you may uncover a new passion or career.

Here are a few of my favorites:

American Cancer Society – www.acs.org

God’s Love We Deliver – www.glwd.org

Habitat for Humanity www.habitat.org

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – www.lls.org

For runners in the NYC area, www.nyrr.org has numerous races throughout the year that support charities. They are great opportunities to stay on track with your fitness and philanthropy.

{September 7, 2009}   Coffee

It’s been said time and time again, that the daily latte expense adds up to over $500 per year. But I’m sure you’ve had sticker shock over those expensive espresso machines and headed straight back to Starbucks because $4.54 seems more palatable – for now.

There are better options than the super expensive espresso machines – try a stovetop Espresso maker. Alessi and Bialetti both produce budget friendly options, costing between $90 – $150 that make wonderful coffee. These were in fact, the original expresso machines back in the day!  But here’s an important tip – be sure to clean it properly. If you don’t, clogging occurs and the coffee does not brew correctly, or at all. AND, be sure to pay attention when it is brewing. I have had all of my delicious coffee on my ceiling on at least three occasions.

For those who I’ve now scared, Krups makes a $70 electric espresso machine which also does the job well. I’ve resorted to using this on most occasions now, with a Bodum milk frother and the result is a yummy latte that could easily be mistaken for an in cafe beverage.  

All of this said, do not, I repeat do not rob yourself of life’s little luxury of purchasing a random cup of coffee. The purpose of watching your money more closely is to make the most of the resources you have to live your best life, not to be unhappy or anti-social due to over-restricting.  Just as with dieting that leads to eating a box of Oreos, with spending it leads to binge shopping, and a potential purge and tear fest at the Nordstrom’s customer service desk later .

et cetera