Tuesday, May 05, 2009

good and bad ways to save money

(Goal: I will post 3-5 times a week, mostly on weekdays, even if it's crap. I didn't say this was a good goal)

In This Current Economic Climate, it behooves a not-so-young graduate student to scrimp and save. There are good and bad ways to do this, however. Rita's suggestion of washing one's hair every three days or other day to extend the life of a shampoo bottle would result in less shampoo used and probably healthier hair, but would annoy the frak out of me, because I have preternaturally greasy roots and look like the thing I fear the most, That Immigrant Kid I Used To Be. My forehead would break out, leading me to spend more on Clearasil and makeup. I would feel itchy, I would worry that my head smells musty and sebum + dead skin cells-y, and I would be annoyed at how my hair clumps together and looks gross and not like in the Pantene commercial. So, while this is a laudable thrifty goal that would lead to healthier, shinier hair without the use of $50 Kerastase conditioner (seriously, WTF), it comes at too great a psychic and social cost (the social cost being less good-smelling, and I want to attract a vampire). So, Rita's suggestion is out.

Then there's Phoebe's suggestion of cutting one's own hair. This would work on those with dextrous hands, curly hair (the curls spring irregularly anyway), and a fair amount of confidence. This would not work for me, who has fine, stick-straight hair, hands that are like big clumsy clown paws, and a complete lack of confidence in my ability to avoid stabbing myself with the scissors or else giving myself a That Immigrant Kid I Used To Be haircut.

So, here are my own "definitely for the faint-hearted" tips on saving money so that you can actually take yourself out to eat at the LSA:

1. Good Idea: Cancel Netflix and rent movies from the public library.

This is genius of me. I could never get around to watching 2-3 movies per week anyway, and so my Netflix account, even if set at "one at a time," would be wasted. Even if I couldn't watch one movie a week (and since I like to watch movies with my partner, finding time to watch them together is harder than you would think with long work days and working half weekends or otherwise trying to have a balanced lifestyle with outdoorsy activities and gasp! reading), it would be a $7 rental. So I cancelled my account, and now borrow whatever's available at the library. It's not bad, and it makes me consider old movies I never watched before, like "Trading Places" and "Wall Street." Problem: the library has very limited hours, and even I, the grad student, sometimes am unable to get there in that short window from 10 am to 5 pm if I'm trying to put in a full workday on campus. But in general, four-at-a-time for one week for FREE is a great way to get movies and TV shows, and if I don't watch it by the end of the week, I just return it and don't feel bad about wasting money.

2. Not-So-Good Idea: Buy the cheapest generic single-ply toilet paper so that you can get it for the fewest number of cents per square foot.

Not that I am such a princess that I have started buying brand name toilet paper like Charmin or heaven forbid, Ultra Charmin, but I regret to report that this isn't really worth saving $2 on. Two-ply, all the way. You probably use less paper anyway. Same goes with paper towels.

3. Possibly Bad Idea: Bring a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter to the LSA so that you can save money on breakfast and lunch.

This is great for saving money, but might cost you those networky meet-and-greet lunches. Maybe I will only do this for breakfast, and be satiated enough to only order an appetizer size salad for lunch, and whatever is cheapest for dinner.

4. Good idea: make your own pantry staples.

I like to make my own bread, which is ridiculously marked up per unit. I'd like start making my own granola and granola bars, since theya re also ridiculously expensive per pound or unit. I'd make my own bagels if I ate them often enough or had a large family, but for now I would be happy just making my own crackers and other such high-margin snack foods (this is partly why I never, ever buy cookies--just bake them!). I have yet to make my own jams and jellies, mainly because fruit is expensive and is most nutritious when it's eaten fresh. So unless someone has a tree and gives me free fruit, I won't make my own jam, a laborious undertaking that involves buying and sterilizing jars, cooking down fruit for hours, etc. Seems unlikely now though, given that almost everyone I know lives in an apartment. I have started making my own candy, though. I am thinking of making salted butter caramels. And TD expressed interest in these $20 for three gigantic dried apricots dipped in chocolate that we saw at that one bourgie food shop in that one bourgie artisanal food, so yesterday I spent all of 10 minutes chopping up and melting bittersweet chocolate ($3.99/lb at Trader Joe's) in a homemade double boiler (a metal bowl a top a pan of simmering water) and coating some dried apricots we got at the Chinese market for $2.99 for 12 oz. I put wrapped them up as a present for him, too. They were very tasty.