Frugal on the Fly: Thrifty Tips for Fast Moving City Folks
Do you find yourself struggling to stay on budget while moving at million miles an hour? Love the city and the higher paying jobs you can find there, but finding it a tad tough to stay focused and financially balanced? City living has its challenges. To help out, I've been collecting and developing a list of tips and strategies for frugal living on the fly. Read on.
LOGISTICS AND LIFEHACKS
I covered quite a bit on the transportation elements of urban logistics in my last article, but the truth is there is much more to be considered when trying to be financially and professionally efficient in the city.
- Trying to be prompt for a meeting when on nearly any given day you can count on having a traffic delay, missed train, bridge closed for a multi car pile up, or a late running medical appointment is frustrating to say the least. For me, pulling this off usually amounts to finding a way to arrive early. Since that's even more of my valuable time spent accommodating someone else, I try to find a way to have a list of smaller things to work on, such as voice mail checking, returning phone calls, and email checking if free wireless service is available. I also try to carry an accordion file of outstanding issues and article outlines for ideas that haven't quite made it into digital form yet. If someone gets delayed and needs a few minutes, I can always finish an article, respond to comments, catch up on menu planning for home, etc.
- Another tip? Always carry a book. Since I frequently do book reviews, this is a way to be entertained and crank out some work at the same time. Nothing wrong with carrying something totally decadent for pure literary entertainment, though.
- Find the best residential location you can to suit your lifestyle and budget. As I'm finding out, at least in the greater Tampa area, this is easier said than done. Are we finding ways to do it? Yes. And this will likely result in yet another article. Suffice it to say though, that flexibility is key. You may not be able to get everything on your list when it comes to location, but if you can score a few items on your list of necessary items to have close by, that's certainly better than shooting in the dark and having absolutely nothing be convenient. Some things we've put into the mix as we search for a home? Transportation, minimal amenities (community pool at a minimum), grocery and basic household needs shopping access, medical treatment, a decent neighborhood and relatively convenient airport access. We also want to have major shopping access within at least a 30-40 minute drive.
- Screaming fast internet. This goes back to the family motto I've recommended several times here on Wise Bread: Com is king. Having the best communications system and packages you can afford is the way to go, in my humble opinion. While I'm certainly not recommending extra bells and whistles just for the sake of having them, the fastest internet connection available enables you to deal with way more from home, not to mention catching several entertainment options for free, enabling you to skip cable.
- Drinks at home. Have a couple of coworkers or friends over on Friday and host a ninety minute happy hour with beer and snacks. Wanna glam it up? Consider a margaritas and manicures event for the girls or a poker and pomegranate martini hour for the guys. Too short on energy for any of that? Strip down to your skivvies, mix a wine spritzer, hit the couch and call an out of town friend to catch up.
- A rolling office case or duffle. Having your laptop, files, change of clothes and other tech gear in a rolling case to access wherever you end up in between subway delays can go a long way to maintaining professional communication and efficiency. When it comes to saving money on these, I'll use one of my favorite travel tips. Skip the leather and go for ballistic nylon. I know, I know. Leather is more professional, you're saying. Well, after it's gotten soaking wringing wet a few times, it won't be. A case in point is the dress belt with hidden zippered pockets for money. The leather ones get wet and icky on the road after a while, not to mention mildewed and smelly. The nylon dries faster and bounces back quicker. I'm not suggesting you go with a nylon webbed belt while wearing your Wall Street suit, but I think the case could be made for the rolling office case to be made of this material. Ditto for the day pack. If you need to keep a fancy leather portfolio style envelope or case at work, go for it. But for beating the pavement on long and hectic commute every day, my money's on the ballistic nylon. Cleans up easily, and these things are usually designed for tougher use. Just my humble opinion.
- Conference calls. Again, just my humble opinion folks, but I think (at least in this country) that we have reached the point where unnecessary meetings need to go the way of the dinosaur. I realize there are other parts of the world where culturally it is still expected that a fair amount of face to face goes on. And I'm not saying there isn't a time and place for that here too. What I am saying is that there is absolutely no need to overdo it when a quick phone call or IM chat will do. Your call.
- Travel light. While this usually applies to out of town business or adventure travel, It can also apply to the busy commuter or city dweller as well. While being prepared for anything while out for the day is necessary, there are ways to lighten the load so to speak. This will likely result in an entirely separate article at some point, but for now consider applying a few basic travel tips to your day to day routine. Some ideas? Travel sizes of lotion, pain medicine, basic toiletries and other on the fly items that you can refill from your bulk stash at home. In addition, I recommend the best designed and best stocked day pack you can possibly pull off. For some, this might mean a slammin' business tote. For others, the mother of all messenger bags with separate containers and sectioned bags to pull out when needed. Remember though, the point is to travel light while being well prepared. No need to stock enough of any particular item to survive a nuclear holocaust, just a day or two worth of any product should be enough to get you through any flight delays, unexpected trips, or being stranded overnight in the city.
- Up to date lists. I recommend doing this for “to do” items as well as any items for your home or family that you need specific information on. You might even want to really go to town and develop more of a matrix or chart with rows and columns where individual cells or sections of the chart list things like air filter types, children's clothing sizes, water filter numbers, specifics on belts and seals for all automobiles, printer cartridges, etc. That way, if you have time to kill after a meeting and before the bus, and happen to be near a couple of stores where you could crank out minor family errands and avoid taking up your Saturday to do it, you'll be able to go with the flow and save your family time for what it was meant for. Confession? We're still working on this. But since having a few things documented has saved us on more than one occasion, and not having certain information has also kicked us in the butt a time or two, I'm putting it out there as a tip I know is worth the time.
- Work from home, or (if part of a couple) have at least one spouse who does. And by work, I mean anything from standard career or home business options to being a full time homemaker or parent. Folks, I know this isn't something everyone can pull off right away. And I don't mean to toss it out there like it's just something that anyone could start doing tomorrow. I know how tough things are right now for everybody, and quite likely a few strategy articles for making the transition are in order. But the benefits of this option are so dramatic and have made such a difference in the financial and emotional qualities of my own family life, that I just can't recommend it highly enough. With “billing errors” starting to feel like they are the new corporate revenue model, gas prices through the roof, and at home penny pinching demands at an all time high, consider just what you may be able to accomplish each day by eliminating a two way commute alone. If you are even 45 minutes to an hour in each direction, how many phone calls or make ahead lunches can you crank out in that time? How many billing errors can you get on the phone and resolve in your family's favor, or time consuming thrift projects can you crank out? Even if you continued to do strictly work (for example a traditional job from home situation) during those hours, the time saved from the commute and not standing in line at the coffee machine can add up to major productivity for your benefit. Also consider the benefit of having a functioning command center and person available at the ready whenever being out in the city kicks your butt. Got to have a copy of something nobody told you about? Need some data on something so you can solve an issue while out and about? No problem. Having a partner home with a functioning office set up can be invaluable. Not to mention the savings in fuel and an extra full set of professional clothing. Having fewer meetings to dress up for and play the game means saving more of that hard earned work from home money for you and your family.
OTHER ADVICE FROM AROUND THE WEB
There are plenty of other sources for information out there from some seriously savvy people, including Sound Money Matters, the Millionaire Mommy Next Door, and the Frugal Duchess to name a few. Another person I contacted recently was Beth Whitman. A fellow blogger, traveler and frugalite, here's what she had to say about saving money in Seattle and cities in general:
- Take the bus. The bus system is relatively extensive throughout Seattle and it's easy to get around without having a car and paying for parking.
- Prepare your own food and freeze some in one-meal portions. (I would think these would also work great as a multi purpose ice pack for the DIY brown bagger.)
- Bring home a doggie bag. Most restaurants serve big plates of food. Eat half and save the remainder for a meal later in the week.
- Shop around. Get to know your local stores and which ones generally have the best prices. I love Trader Joe's and find that even if I have to drive a little out of the way to get there, I end up saving at least $10/trip on items I would have purchased at a larger chain grocery store.
- Keep snacks in your car. When you feel your energy waning and blood sugar dropping, don't pull into a fast food restaurant, instead, grab that small bag of nuts or raisins that you've tucked away in your glove compartment. Not only will you feel better, but you will have saved a few dollars.
- Second hand shopping. Shop on Craigslist, garage sales and flea markets. Rather than heading out to the store for a new chair or desk, look for a used item in good condition or something that you can easily repair or paint to freshen it up. The Fremont Sunday Market is an excellent place to start.
WISE BREAD RESOURCES
- Here are several savings articles for the cities of San Francisco, Seattle, Omaha and Winston-Salem.
- We also have a couple of great pieces on cyber and digital nomadicism.
A little long winded, but this is the logistics and life hacks category of frugal city living as I see it. Look for a follow up post for featuring more ideas the urbanite can use for food and fun as well as shopping and errands. Happy saving everyone, and as usual I would adore it if you all felt comfortable sharing your tips and strategies for city savings.