Raising Richmond: A smarter year

New Year’s Resolutions are dumb. Unless you stick with them–then they are great. Here are a few of my ideas for living smarter in 2015. And now that I’ve shared them, I have to stick with them.

New Year’s Resolutions are dumb. Unless you stick with them–then they are great. I happen to like goals and work well with deadlines and things that require accountability. This year, I’ve set goals that benefit my family and our home life. I want to live smarter, use and spend less, and clear out our house of unneeded things. Here’s my plan…

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Use credit cards almost all the time

First, some horn-tooting: I don’t have any credit card debt. I don’t buy it if I can’t afford it, which means that when I make a purchase I either have the cash in my checking account, I have saved for it, or I can pay it off with my next paycheck. As a former loan analyst, I have a healthy fear of unsecured debt. When I read this from a fellow RVANews columnist, it made me wonder why I use my debit card at all when I have two rewards credit cards.1 I have a card that gives me one percent cash back on all purchases, and I’ve always put groceries and gas on it and paid it off within days. With that pattern, I typically receive the cash back bonus of $50 at least once a year. Because I’m already paying off my credit card balance weekly, I might as well put every transaction on it. That way my cash back will come quicker, and I doubt I’d ever exceed the annual limit placed on it. I’ve had this particular card for 10 years with no issues, I’ve gotten hundreds in free money for using it, and I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t pay it off before interest was charged.

I opened an Old Navy Visa card last summer because I was buying a big stack of clothes for my daughter and me, and there was a 40 percent discount that applied for credit card holders. I buy a lot of my daughter’s clothes at Old Navy, and since I don’t have many credit cards, I went for the special offer. In the few months I’ve had it, I’ve gotten more than $70 in store credit, along with other credit card holder discounts. Some months offer additional incentives. For instance, I get $10 in store credit if I use the card five times in January. The store credit rewards took a nice dent out of what I spent for fall clothes shopping, and I’m hoping the same for spring (and again, I haven’t paid any interest). Old Navy might not be the store for you, but maybe there’s a store with a rewards credit card for you-specific benefits–assuming you pay it off each month.

Avoid Target

I also have a Target card, which gives five percent off for non-sale items. I definitely buy more than I need when I go to Target, so saving $2 doesn’t mean anything when I overspend by $10. Because of my pile of V-neck tees, cardigans, and tank tops from Target that immediately get tiny holes in them (and I still keep because I’m a clothes weirdo), I stopped buying any clothes there that cost less than $10. Now I think it’s best to avoid Target as much as I can. It’s a huge money-suck for me. I’m guessing that lots of us have stores like that.2 I try to buy household/personal items (although they’re not packaged as adorably) at the grocery store. I shop with a list and tend to not impulse buy at the grocery store, so getting things like hand soap and contact lens solution eliminates me finding “great deals” at Target that I didn’t plan to get, plus those added purchases at Kroger or Martin’s go toward gas discounts. I will be a millionaire by year’s end.

Stop wasting food

It saves a lot of time to make dinners that can last a few nights. I especially appreciate eating Sunday’s leftovers on a busy Monday evening. Cleaning out my fridge recently, I realized that we’re letting a lot of those leftovers go to waste (except for pizza – I will never not finish a pizza).3

We don’t finish clamshell containers of lettuce and spinach, either, and every time I put away a storage container with a half cup of beans in our fridge, it’s usually placed right next to the previous week’s uneaten beans. I hate wasting food, and I didn’t realize we were doing it that often until recently. So how do we stop? Some ideas include:

  • Stop buying what we don’t typically finish
  • Make smaller batches or freeze leftovers immediately (a single serving could make a good lunch for one of us)
  • Buy things that will last longer, like hearts of romaine and root vegetables instead of baby lettuce salads that are slimy by Day 2
  • Buy frozen vegetables to avoid letting fresh vegetables go uneaten
  • Only eat pizza?

And, another big money waster:

Stop going out to eat so much, dummy

Part two of this issue is that we eat out a lot as a family. Our meals rarely cost less than $35, and that adds up to a huge chunk of money throughout the month, especially when we usually have food to eat at home. We like going out, though, and we’ll have to both cut back and find better deals.

This is a big one for me. Some people stress eat, but I stress-go-to-restaurants. We haven’t gone out to eat this year, and that’s a long break for us. We need to cut back to maybe twice a month instead of once a week, getting takeout instead of dining in, and checking if any of the places we like have good happy hour specials on food or “kids eat free” deals. (Check out this list, but confirm with the restaurant first).4

Clean out every drawer and closet

Any storage space we have in our house is cartoonishly overstuffed. I expect that when I open a closet, cabinet, or even silverware drawer that an avalanche of coats, shoes, and basketballs will fly at my head. It’s insane. We don’t take the time to weed out the things we don’t need.5

This year I’m going to go through every closet and drawer and throw out, give away, or try to sell whatever we don’t need. It’s going to be hard, but even just cleaning out my desk last weekend made me feel significantly better, and I found a $25 Peter Chang’s gift card I had forgotten about. To get started, I wrote a list of every space that I need to clean out and rated it as 1, 2, or 3, by level of how difficult it would be for me to clean it out (1: I can do it in less than an hour, 3: it would take considerable time, sub-organization, or I’d need my husband present to confirm what can be thrown out).

My goal is to not put anything else from our house into the attic to store indefinitely (only temporarily until a yard sale or thrift store run). That way I can make space, maybe make some money, and have an excuse to keep my Simpsons figurines for another year.

Take on the kid’s toys

A good chunk of parenting is inventory management. I hate inventory management. My daughter barely has floor space to play because of the bundles of toys and junk she owns. I go through her things to declutter, but she gets more stuff (clearly her loved ones don’t read my column and don’t realize that’s my number one anxiety). I need to get rid of her toys, and not just the dumb $1 toys that she forgets about. She’s noticed before when I’ve removed or thrown out her belongings, so I don’t know if I should engage her in this.

She needs about 50 percent of the amount of stuff that she currently has. I’ve thought about incentivizing it for her, like for every 10 toys she chooses to lose, I will take her to see a movie. Also I’ve made a new rule that when she breaks something, even if it’s something that could be fixed but still has no real value, I just throw it away. Tips on what works for you on getting rid of kid’s toys are appreciated.

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2015 feels better already. I’m going to clean out a drawer now.

Photo by: ekkebus

  1. One benefit of using my credit union’s debit card is that I have it set up to round to the dollar and deposit the difference to my savings account. It goes into an incidental savings account that I don’t contribute to every month that I use for Kelly-only purchases, like clothes or secret pizzas that I eat in the car. 
  2. If Trader Joe’s was closer I would probably spend all my money on TJ’s Just the Clusters Vanilla Almond Granola. ALL OF IT. 
  3. “We” obviously only includes my husband and me, since my daughter finishes her peanut butter toasts and scrambled eggs like a champ. 
  4. Our kid is not the expensive eater, but anything helps. 
  5. Also I only wear four pair of shoes throughout the week but have about 30 pairs. The only benefit to having a cat that pees on everything is that sometimes he shows me what shoes need to go. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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