Friday, January 21, 2011

Raiding the Piggy Bank

It's been in the news lately that the state individual tax income rate in Illinois is going to be raised from 3% to 5%. So apparently the state of Illinois believes that I am being paid too much and is going to take even MORE money out of my paycheck. When I heard the news, I had the urge to start shrieking, "Why, Illinois, why?" I also had the urge to take all of my money out of my tiny checking account, hide it under my bed and then stand guard over it 24/7, snapping my teeth at anyone who tried to take it from me.

In a way, I can understand why they're raising taxes. Illinois has a LOT of financial problems, and it's been this way for years now. Hopefully the money from the increase in taxes will be put to good use. But it's still hard not to feel angry, frustrated, and...worried.

It's difficult to work full-time because of my graduate course work and my teaching responsibilities, so I've earned extra money from working part-time jobs, including teaching at other schools, my website job, and working in retail. Every penny counts, and I do what I can to save money.

I only go to movies twice a year. I don't buy new clothes or shoes unless they have holes in them that can't be repaired, or unless people start pointing and laughing and saying, "You do realize those things went out of style in the nineties, right? Hahahaha!" And then I do a bunch of karate kicks, bellowing, "Do you DARE to laugh at ME, weaklings?" until they run away in terror and then I point and laugh, saying, "Who's laughing now?"

I clip coupons. I buy stuff on sale. I don't go into the designer boutiques on Michigan Avenue or Oak Street, since I've always had this fear that the exquisitely dressed salesladies are going to take one look at my clothes and start shielding their eyes, sobbing, "I can't look! It's too awful!"

I rarely eat in restaurants. I don't buy alcohol, but that's partly because when I drink it I become really neurotic. I work extra hours at my website job so I can earn more money. My biggest splurge is a Frappuccino from Starbucks once a week.

I also read personal finance blogs for tips on saving money. My favorite one is written by Donna Freedman, Surviving and Thriving.  She also writes for Smart Spending. (Side note: I recently entered a giveaway on her Surviving and Thriving blog, and I won six kinds of Godiva chocolate! Woohoo! Thank you, Donna!)

Now that I'm going to be losing more money to taxes, I'm trying to figure out what else I can do to save money. I could cancel my gym membership (which I have a student discount on), but I view exercise as a necessity because it not only helps me burn calories and strengthen my muscles, it is also a great stress reliever.

I could just jog outside, but more often than not it's always so slushy or icy outside. I'd probably develop a reputation as The Girl Who Keeps Falling Down and Brings Everyone Down with Her, so that whenever people saw me running on the sidewalk, they'd start running too, screaming, "Look out! She's coming! RUN AWAY! Don't let her get you!"

I'm also thinking about moving to a cheaper apartment, which will be necessary anyway if I don't find a better-paying job for next year. Hopefully at the new apartment I'll have less annoying neighbors, so that I won't have to say stuff like, "Could you leave your old mattress in the dumpster and not outside my door?" and "Just because the postal worker accidentally put my mail in your mailbox does NOT mean it's okay for you to open it!" and "Hey. Are you awake? Are you alive? You probably shouldn't just lie in the hallway like that." That last question is often asked in the morning after my neighbors come home after a long night of partying/barhopping.

What do you do to save money?


  1. Wow! That is a huge increase! Please don't cancel your gym membership. You're right. It's a huge stress relief and you'll just end up back there in a few months, resigning with a start-up fee. Trust me. Been there.

  2. I don't really have any money-saving tips for you (I'm terrible at money management). I did, however, want to say that I totally understand. I am, actually, working full time while I am working on my PhD in English (though, truth be told, I'm only making about 60% more than the TAs in my department, but I get health insurance that is better than the students get). On top of the job, I'm prepping for the exams, teaching two classes, and pretending that I still have a life. It's not easy. Really, I just wanted to stop by and say, "I know; it sucks."

  3. Thanks for the link, and you're welcome for the chocolate (which should go out today).
    Here's a money-saving tip for you: If you live near a Jimmy John's sandwich place, see if it sells the day-old baguettes for 50 cents. The ones in Seattle do. They're still very good the next day, and they make great pizza bread or open-faced sandwiches (and really delicious toast).
    If they do get stale before you finish, cut what's left into cubes and make bread pudding (I can send you a very easy, very cheap, very tasty recipe).
    Re the pizza bread: Next time you make spaghetti (and I know you do -- you're a grad student!), take a few spoons off the top and freeze it. Later, when you have a baguette, you'll have the makings for pizza bread -- and as all broke grad students know, a sprinkling of grated jack cheese will stand in quite nicely for loads of gooey mozzarella. Slip it into the toaster oven or under the broiler for a minute (both are preferable to microwave) and you have a very fast, cheap lunch. Extra credit if you add a salad and/or side veggie. Oh, and I prefer to toast the split baguette lightly before I add the sauce and cheese.
    P.S. Tax increases stink on ice.

  4. Hi FreeFlying,
    No matter where I live, I think I'll always have to belong to a gym. It's a good way for me to take a break from work without feeling like I'm being unproductive. And of course, there are the cute guys who work out there.

    Hi LiseMae,
    You'd think that the graduate departments would give the students more money, since grad school in itself is a full-time job. But alas, they can't really afford to, at least not at my school, so students like you and me have no choice but to work more and more hours. It would be nice to have decent health insurance. Then I wouldn't have to freak out every time I go to the dentist or the eye doctor. Good luck with your exams, by the way!

    Hi Donna,
    Thanks for the tips! I do live near Jimmy John's, so I'll stop in next time and see if they have any day-old baguettes; I think I saw some there the last time actually. I do like making spaghetti. I think grad students like it because it's fairly simple to make and doesn't take up too much time. That pizza bread you described sounds good too.

  5. I don't really shop for clothes and I don't spend money on makeup or skincare. I don't get massages/facials and have never had my nails done. I get my hair cut twice a year (for free if I can manage it) for $25.

    I rarely go to the movies either ($16?! No way Jose) and if I do it's either on $10 tuesday, or for free using rewards points. And we live in a tiny but cheap apartment.

    That said, the things that are important to me are expensive - food and travel.

  6. Hi eemusings,
    Travel is definitely expensive, which is unfortunate, because I'd love to do more traveling. In the past several years I actually haven't really traveled anywhere except to visit my parents in another state and to do a temporary job, which was also in another state.
    I don't spend money on makeup either, partly because I still haven't figured out how to put it on correctly. I don't like wearing it anyway.

  7. Oh, I hear you. VAT just increased here, and it sucks. What do I do? Well, I basically don't go out. Yup. I've become a hermit. A good day out is a walk in the park. Seriously! I realise this sounds very sad, but actually it's really made me appreciate every little thing that I *do* spend money on.

  8. Hi Talli,
    I've had to stay home more often than I'd like too. It's hard because there are a lot of fun things to do in Chicago, but I just don't have the money right now. One thing I'm going to try doing, though, is go to one of the free admission days to one of the museums. Free is always good.

  9. I'm a naturally good saver i have no idea why i think it's in built. Passed down from my parents. They are upping the tax and just about everything else in England too (apparently we're in debt) pfft!

  10. Being a graduate student, living on stipends and non-tenured teaching gigs is the worst. My husband and I lived more or less like that from 1994-2007 or 2008.

    Don't give up your gym membership - you have to take care of yourself. Would you consider a roommate? Bigger place but smaller rent. It sounds like you're pretty frugal already. Male order groom to get a regular paying job while you finish your degree and get to write more fiction? Make that a hot mail order groom.

  11. Hi Alice X,
    I definitely need to work on saving more money, because I'm going to need it now that taxes are increasing. It's hard because there are several things that I'd like to spend my money on just for fun, but I know I'll feel better to save it, at least for now.

    Hi Theresa,
    Maybe if the mail order groom looked like Daniel Craig I'd consider it, especially if he dressed up in his James Bond outfit, tee hee...
    I thought about getting a roommate, but I'm thinking that if my neighbors get on my nerves on a regular basis, a roommate might as well. I do a lot of my work at home, so it's easier and more convenient to live alone.

  12. Best thing about Texas after cowboy boots and Austin? No income tax! Move down here and make this state even better!

    In all seriousness, I started purging my bookshelf of books that either brought up bad memories or that I knew I could never ever teach again. And the good thing about teaching is that you can get free books from publishers if you want to teach it in a class. I got four books (and more on the way) that way, and I've probably sold $40 worth of books on Amazon. Not a lot, but enough to make me feel like I'm accomplishing something (and it pays for my equally indulgent Starbucks habit).

    Good luck! Know that there is an equally ratty grad student in Texas rooting for you!

  13. Hi Anna,
    Thanks for the encouragement! That would ROCK if I didn't have to pay an income tax. I don't know if I could adjust to Texas weather though, because I've spent my whole life growing up in freezing temperatures for the majority of every year. :)
    I've thought about selling books on Amazon; I did sell some books to used bookstores too. But they also said I could either get cash or trade them in for new books, so I was really tempted to make the trade. I still ended up taking the cash, though.

  14. Is it possible to get any scholarship/bursaries/some sort of sponsorship?

    Might take some time to browse your uni's website or ask your lecturer/mentor about this.

  15. Hi Anonymous,
    I actually have a tuition waiver, meaning I get free tuition since I'm in the PhD program and I'm a T.A. I also get paid for teaching. But I still have to work extra jobs. I have talked to my mentor and other people in the department about it; they say I can either apply for loans or scholarships. I'd rather not apply for a loan, though, because it would take forever to pay it back. And the scholarships are often very specific and come with requirements that I'm not usually eligible for.

  16. I guess the situation in the states are different from Singapore where live. I have a friend who did her phd. Her tuition is paid for and she gets a decent allowance. No luxury but still can get by without taking on extra job. I don't think she has to teach. Her phd is research, lab based.

    Hope that you stick it through the tough times!