Traditional Budget Advice: I Don’t Buy Lattes, You Condescending Jerk

I’m convinced that people who hand out “living on a budget” advice online and in print publications are people who have never actually lived on a budget. Seriously, am I the only one who finds the common advice insulting and condescending?

The common (BS) wisdom:

“The latte factor!”

Oh, for fuck’s sake, people. Those of us who are living paycheck to paycheck (and often not even that) are not buying $4 espresso drinks every day on our way into work. We’re not even buying $0.89 convenience store coffee. We’re making it at home. We’re buying the cheap stuff (even if that part makes us die a little inside). We’re reusing our travel mugs and not spending a single dime on our caffeine needs outside of the grocery store.

“Make your lunch!”

Seriously? We do. I bring my lunch to work every damn day, often consisting of whatever I’ve cobbled together from the pantry, since this week is a “Hmm, I can’t really afford a grocery store trip” week. There’s no takeout, no ordering in, no fancy workplace lunches. There’s a bowl of ramen or maybe some rice and beans.

“Do away with unnecessary utilities!”

I don’t have cable. I don’t have a TV. The absence of these things is not because I’m a pretentious snob, it’s because I’m poor. I don’t have a house phone. For a while, I did, because getting rid of the house phone was actually more expensive than keeping it. I do have Internet, because for a lot of the work I do, it’s a necessity. It’s far more expensive to get Internet access a la carte than it is to subscribe to a cable company’s “bundle,” but I just have that one service. I got rid of my subscription services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc.). I read a lot. Books that I get from the library, because the library is free.

“Don’t use your credit cards!”

That’s all well and good, but feel free to check back with me when you’re on your third month of bare-bones bills exceeding your take-home pay and you need to gas up your (paid for and pretty beat up) car to get to work.

“Cut out frivolous spending!”

Here’s the thing. Having no money is terrible. It’s depressing, and dehumanizing, and demotivating, and sometimes, every so often, you just might need a new bottle of nail polish or to go see a movie in order to feel like a real human being again. There’s this idea that poor people don’t deserve to ever have indulgences or luxuries, but the psychological damage of never having something that brings you a little bit of joy is hard to understate. So, yes, sometimes someone who is on assistance or who lives paycheck to paycheck may do something another person sees as frivolous. Are we really so cold as a society that we want to deny people small, infrequent joys?

“Sell your stuff!”

Clearly, these people have never been through the soul-sucking shithole nightmare that is trying to sell stuff on eBay or Craigslist. It’s just not that easy. It’s not. The end.

 

I find that the actual “living within a budget” advice that’s useful is rarely to be found in articles that try to tell me how to live within a budget. I find more helpful advice about generating additional household revenue, using bartering to my advantage, and using my money wisely comes from conversations with people who are in the same boat. So, I know there are a bunch of us trying to squeeze every last dime. Who has some actually useful advice?

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[E] Rachel

I punctuate sentences with Oxford commas, and I punctuate disagreements with changesocks. Proud curmudgeon. Get off my lawn.

28 thoughts on “Traditional Budget Advice: I Don’t Buy Lattes, You Condescending Jerk”

  1. Those articles normally read like they were written by Ann Romney. You know, “give up those unnecessary expenses, like lattes and meals out! Make your OWN lunch and take it to work!” and the like — which only prove the writer’s detachment from his/her audience. This kind of article is for the “poor” early-twenties lower-middle-class college grads ten years ago, not today’s minimum-wage-with-a-BA poor people.

  2. Oh goodness. Budgeting advice tends to drive me round the bend. The piece of advice that does this the most is: shop around. Shopping around is, I think sound advice when it comes to something where there’s time to do so, and the ability to do so, but usually it’s spouted with regards to groceries. We get most of our shopping through one supermarket. I’m sure I do spend more because I go to one shop, but people must have some incredible resources to hand in order to go to several shops every week just in order to get groceries. Part of this difficulty does, I think, come from the fact we have other challenges (see Caregiving series) and I simply don’t have the same … capability, I guess, to be running around town.

    As for good advice? Uh, look at unit prices (IE cost per 100grams). This is something I picked up from my mother, and it does save money. Also meal planning and lists. And loyalty cards.

    For me it comes down not just to keeping the budget in check, but keeping stress in check, too. And there’s only so much I’m willing to compromise on the stress points.

  3. I have learned somethings that help for my family, but it is more a manner of spending wisely instead.  I tried making cheap coffee at home and spent more just trying to find a decent bean that I gave up.  We make our own coffee, cancelled cable (glad I am not the only one without tv), and rely on netflix.  My kids stay at grandma’s once a week to help cut an extra commute trip (plus they get a fun night with my parents!)

    When someone gives me the clue to making more money then I will go back to my lattes and dinners out with hubby.  But until then, I plan family meals for the week and use the left overs for lunches.

  4. My only bit of advice is to know every. single. thing. you can use to your advantage at tax time. Since my income comes from freelancing, I’m supposed to pay 40% tax on it. (Hear that, clients who want me to build a website for $50?)  I constantly read articles/publications/propaganda about what’s eligible and what isn’t to deduct. It doesn’t help much day to day, but it does prevent me from having to write a huge ass check to the government four times per year.  It’s just a big ass check.

    Also, we’d all be much better at being rich than the fuckers holding all the money now.

  5. You forgot the manicures- golly, if I cut those out I’d be rich! (Ha! not! I only get those about once every two years).

    Anyway.

    I don’t make a lot of actual cash with my personal blog, but I do get a lot of perks, like tickets to local attractions and things like that. It a great thing to be able to take advantage of the opportunities around town for no $$ :)

    I use the Gas Finder app to find the cheapest gas in my vincinity- sometimes the difference is as much as .20 per gallon (times that by a 20 gallon tank once a week….). (yes, we have smart phones, but only because we have an employee discount. We don’t have cable or anything fancy like that!)

    I’ve started using the bill paying service from my bank- this probably isn’t news to a lot of people, but if you need to pay a bill, you can arrange it through the bank AND THEY SEND THE CHECK IN THE MAIL. It blew my mind when I learned this. Now the silly $8.93 medical bills we get can be paid without using any of my stamps!

    I also shop at the super cheap grocery store, Aldi’s. I’ve gotten over it. There are some things they don’t carry and other things I won’t buy (like applesauce with HFCS), but for the basic pantry staples, they’re consistently much cheaper and there are fewer distractions than at a big store.

    We do have Netflix. But I also signed up for text alerts through RedBox, and about once a month I get a code for a free movie. Again, it’s nice to have a little (free) treat.

    I also try to remember that most of my bugeting woes are first world problems. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but I am grateful we have as much as we do (as old, beat up and decrepit as most of it is), and try to make that my first thought as I look at our month’s cash flow.

     

     

     

     

  6. Kind of piggybacking/adding to Jule_B_Sorry’s post, there are several components to the whole ‘living on a budget’ thing, and most ‘advice’ does cater to spending less versus earning more unfortunately. Both require effort and creativity; it’s one thing to eliminate costs, but it’s a matter of effort to eliminate costs without eliminating the benefits too. For example, find ways to get coffee for free instead of giving it up if it’s important to you. While it’s not possible to get everything for free, figure out what things are most valuable to have, and focus on ways to enjoy them while not spending more on them than your budget allows.

    Being broke means you will have to make sacrifices. But the smarter the sacrifices you make, the more temporary they are. Give up at least a night a week, or a weekend every month, to find ways to make more money. This might be doing the work (direct) or using the time to educate yourself on something (indirect). Look for bartering opportunities. Network. Ask. Look at it as an investment in yourself, and not as some martyrdom. Think of what services you can provide and get it out there. Do you cook? Barter for cooking in exchange for the food for someone who’s time-crunched. And so on. Barter for things that will save you money, though, not just for more ‘stuff’ to get. Join rewards programs and register on Web sites for products you like, and use sites like Ebates to get a little something back on online purchases (and feel free to use my referral code for that if you’re not set up there – http://goo.gl/1Zv8e – or if PM has one use that -?-). Look for opportunities regularly in a variety of places (not just one) and you’ll find them. And, once you can swing it, I do recommend using a no-fee rewards credit card for all of your purchases. Just pay the card off (you don’t even have to wait a whole month to pay it) so there’s no interest charges. And be honest with yourself; don’t join/buy/do anything if you know you’ll be too tempted to over-spend.

    Also, make sure that you use a budget and money-tracking system that works for you. If a system is too difficult for you, find something else; there’s so many tools out there that something will work for you. But, you must use something. If you’re not keeping a budget, you’re not going to be aware of what the difference is between the price of something and its cost.

  7. Here’s the thing. Having no money is terrible.

    I have to repeat this entire paragraph to myself so I don’t feel like a prodigal daughter every time I splurge on a pint at the pub. Which is not often. Thanks for putting it out there.

    I couldn’t get a job to save my life last winter, so I invented my own. I started a proofreading business (I live in a very international university town). Now it’s dissertation season and people are knocking down my door to get me to read their work. It’ll all dry up come October and I’ll have to find something else, but my advice is: Know how to sell yourself – and if you’re good at something, never do it for free.

  8. When I’m short I cut out meat: I make Kitcheree (sp?) for dinner – it’s onions, rice and lentils, so CHEAP and honestly, it’s delicious. Or eggs and toast for dinner. I also almost never buy processed food. So much cheaper to make my own pizza, or lentil soup or baking soda biscuits.

    I’ve also saved lots of transit related costs. I sold my car, and joined a car co-op for the times that I do need one. That saves me BUNCHES. I also ride my bike to work everyday, and am able to walk to the local grocery store, so I don’t even have to spend on bus fare that much. (I do have to live in a dark basement suite to live in this area, and have those options of course).

    My big splurge is books, so I always have a few that I can take into the second hand bookstore. If I’m ruthless, I can make a few bucks.

  9. I used to mooch of my parents Costco card and periodically buy a few dry goods bulk. It had to be a planned thing, because the spend a bit more now, save in the long run thing only works when you have a bit more to spend now. Still, I haven’t gone through the big ass bag of rice I bought a good long while ago yet.

    Also, farmers markets in the afternoon. They don’t want to haul all that food back with them, so the prices are lower in the afternoon (only applies to the places that only set up for the day). The downside is you are looking at food that’s been a bit picked over, but I still find good stuff most times.

    Other than that, I buy most of my winter clothes in late January and early February. The post Christmas lull combined with the need to empty out the stock room for spring leads to some massive sales. Like 75% off and more sales.

  10. Ohhh THANK YOU.  When I was broke, the “latte tip” was basically the written equivalent of “Hey, let me gouge my thumb into your eye for you”. It’s really insulting advice for someone already searching for spare change in the couch cushions or robbing McDonald’s for toilet paper (true story).

    Honestly, if you find that you have nothing more to cut (lattes, cable etc), the answer is probably that you need to make more money.   I think it’s weird that financial advice books often focus way more on the “cutting spending” aspect of budgeting rather than the “making more money” aspect, even though they’re really two sides of the same coin.

    How to do this?  My tip is, go to Goodwill and buy comic books or baseball cards.  My local Goodwill sells donated comic books by the pound, and baseball/sports cards for like $0.10 each.  Invest some $, and then set up Craigslist postings or Ebay auctions.  With a little research and time investment, I can often double or triple my investment.  Same with books – pick up good-condition books from Goodwill for $0.25 each, then sell them for $3-$4 online.

    Other ideas: dog walking, clothes-mending, babysitting, editing papers for friends.  Pick up a shift as a bartender or waitress one night a week at your local pub.  In NYC, 311 will hire college students to work phone shifts at night.  Photo retouching.  Basic graphic design for small businesses.  Photographer assisting.  Basically, anything you’re good at and that you can spend 4-5 hours a week on.

    1. I read a blog called Get Rich Slowly, which has some great common sense advice for financial stuff geared toward people who maybe don’t know what the hell they’re doing. One of the things that’s constantly emphasized is that you should always be looking for more and new ways to generate revenue. And honestly, more so than cutting costs, generating income can make the difference between groceries or not from week to week.

  11. I look forward to the day we have enough money to actually have a budget.  When you’re a one income family even a budget can be a luxury.

    One thing I did when I had more free time was the paid surveys/pay to read emails deals. There’s so many that are big ol scams, but the ones I used we legit. We’re not talking big money, but an extra thirty bucks every couple of months gave me a way to ‘splurge’ on myself without taking it from the household money.

    The only one I can remeber off the top of my head is Synovate. It’s surveys for cash, but they also offer the chance to test products (everything from pet food to body washes).

    As soon as I can find the links for the others I’ll come back and add them.

  12. Yes, this! I have spent a lot of time looking at all those “helpful” sites which tell you  how to cut down on your expenditures and list after list I see I respond with “but I don’t do any of those anyway!”. I think the most helpful thing I’ve see are suggestiosn to outsource your talents. For example this summer I’ve been unemployed and gotten by through doing various sewing projects for friends and acquaintances who are willing to give me some money or services in exchange. Also I agree with Hannah, growing your own food, even if it’s just a salad mix, can make you feel awesome and provide food that you don’t have to buy.

  13. I don’t know how much advice I have to give (other than cooking cheap/healthy food in big batches and freezing in meal-sized portions anything you haven’t eaten in the 3 days after you made it) but I absolutely HATE the “skip the latte! bring your lunch! bits of advice as well. It seems so obvious and insulting.

    Oh! If you still have cable (which I must admit I do – I live alone, and it gets awfully quiet in there sometimes) you can call your cable company and either threatening to cancel the service or simply asking if they have any promotions can get a buncha money off your monthly cable bill.

    I have also been known to bring a flask of my own gin to happy hour and just order a tonic with lime from the bar. (STILL TIP YOUR BARTENDER.) This must be done discreetly, but I find doing so preferable to missing out on a rare opportunity to socialize.

  14. A big thing for us when we were living the top ramen life was growing some of our own food. Nothing lifted our spirits like lettuce and tomatoes fresh from the yard, and knowing we spent practically no money to get them. That and fresh produce at the store was waaay out of our price range at the time, so the only way we were going to get them is if we grew them ourselves. If a few people in your neighborhood start doing this with different items you can swap around and have a chance to add new things to the menu (which is a huge morale boost when you’re living off rice and the cheapest food you can find at the store) and the potential money saved on food can go towards something else. Even a window box can produce greens and herbs. There also may be community gardens in your area, for ten bucks a year we get a plot that’s all ours to grow on with conditions we can’t get at home. It’s worth looking into!

    1. I’m jealous of how cheap your community garden is! The one nearest to me is $150 a year plus a monthly water fee…that and there are only 40 plots for a rather large town so they go quickly. I’ve fortunately got a CSA share and a good couple of boxes in my back porch for my own food.

      1. I live in a fairly small town in the Midwest so the cost of living over all is really cheap, I had no idea community garden plots were so spendy in bigger cities! If it were that expensive and I had no usable green space I’d probably opt for the salad buckets/ window boxes just to grow enough that I wasn’t paying out the nose at the store. We’re actually saving money to buy land and start a local CSA here, so every penny we pinch is going to be put towards that starting very soon. There are a lot of good tips here, but we don’t use cable and my boyfriends mom was paying for our internet as a Christmas gift (which will shortly be drawing to a close) so I’ll probably be combing there here for stuff we can apply to our lives.

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