Editors note: We asked each of our three finalists to tell us a story about a money-related blunder that they've made.
Spending Too Much Dough on Cookie Dough
One of my biggest financial blunders has to do with cookies. Sort of.
Okay, so the real blunder is all about budgeting, but cookies played a major role in my budgeting issues. When I moved off campus sophomore year in college, I was so excited to have my own place to do all of the things I couldn’t do in a little dorm room. I decorated and painted the walls, went grocery shopping for the foods I wanted to eat, and invited friends over for a meal I prepared in my own kitchen. I was having an absolute blast doing all of these things, but as the house became more colorful and the dinner parties became more frequent, my money began to disappear.
It’s not exactly cheap to paint your bedroom pink, and then red, and then pink again. Nor is it free to entertain guests every other night of the week with a three-course meal and a double-batch of cookies. I knew I was spending money frivolously, but I was so caught up in how good it felt to entertain friends in a beautifully decorated home that I ignored the dwindling balance in my account.
I spent over $500 in paint, decorations, furniture and kitchen gadgets when I moved into my first place. I moved out two years later, so about half the money I spent was lost on paint for rooms I no longer occupy and decorations I no longer display. What a waste!
Even worse, my entertaining expenses reached over $200 some months. I spent money on ingredients for baked goods and bulk quantities of food for my guests. Although I enjoyed the memories we made over spaghetti dinners and chocolate chip cookies, I now know that I could have had the same amount of fun without dropping serious cash on food.
That first year living off campus was a crash course in budgeting. I’ve since moved into a new house, and though I haven’t stopped decorating or entertaining, I’ve adapted some budget-friendly ways to keep doing what I love to do without spending too much money.
- Sift through the discount barrel at home improvement stores. Before I pick a color of paint, I check the “mistake shelf” at my favorite paint store. When employees accidentally mix the wrong color or finish, the gallon is resold at a severely discounted price. It’s usually luck of the draw, but the items available on the shelf can change daily. I once found a pretty yellow paint for my office at half the price I would have paid if I ordered a new gallon.
- Long weekends bring big sales. Its no secret that many people use long weekends (Memorial Day, Veterans Day, etc.) to get chores done around the house. Retailers know this and offer great sales and rebates on items such as paint, gardening soil, and household tools. Take advantage of these holiday sales and you could save big!
- Just because the party is at your house, doesn’t mean you have to do all of the work. Now when I want to entertain friends at my house I’m not the only one providing the meal. I ask my friends politely if they’d be willing to bring something to share. If I’m baking the chicken, my friends will bring side dishes. If I’m making pizza dough, others will bring the toppings. It will save time and money when everyone pitches in to make the meal a success.
I learned to budget my money without having to eliminate entertaining and decorating completely. I still make cookies to share, but instead of several batches a week I stick to just one. Cutting back on baking helped my wallet, not to mention the waistlines of my friends and family.
When was your first lesson in budgeting? How do you save money while still doing the things you love?