Money

ON MONEY: 10 IDEAS FOR FREE SELF CARE

There’s a booming, billion dollar industry built on wellness. But it’s a sort of ‘Instagram-ready’ wellness isn’t it? The fancy face cream. The $100 workout leggings. The expensive meditation retreat. Designed to have us all living our best lives.. for a price. All of it being sold to us as “self care”. Which makes it easy to treat yourself to these things under the pretense that it’s good for you. Which can become a slippery slope when it comes to trying to stick to a financial plan.

And I’m not here to argue that the pricey workout classes won’t get you toned, which may in turn lead to higher self esteem. Or that the $40 face mask won’t visibly decrease wrinkles and give you one less thing to stress about. I’m just saying that I don’t think these things are “self care”. Because if they are… it means that only a select percentage of women get to indulge in them. That, essentially, only the wealthy deserve “self care”. And that doesn’t sit well with me.

I think that the majority of the wellness industry should be considered treats. Just like buying a new pair of shoes. No need to deprive yourself of them if they fit within your budget and it’s something you want to prioritize – but if you’re looking for “self care” there are about a million ways to do it for free. Here are my top 10 favorite ways to feel like I’m truly taking care of myself, that don’t cost a dime:

  1. Phone a friend. I’m all for a quick text, but hearing a friend or family member’s actual voice in this digital age gives me such a true boost in happiness.
  2. While we’re on the subject of money, set aside time to check in on yours. I like to reserve at least 30-45 minutes once a week to review my budget. It makes me feel like I’m sticking to my goals and I’m in control of my spending. Adam and I actually do this together each week and it feels like self care for our relationship too.
  3. Fold and put away your laundry immediately. I’ll admit that the idea of this feels like climbing a mountain after already schlepping to the laundromat, but when I do it.. I feel SO much better. While you’re at it, make the bed each morning. The feeling of looking around your home and feeling at ease as opposed to feeling like you’re looking at one giant chore list is worth the extra up front effort.
  4. Learn something new. Google a random fact about a subject you’re interested in. Watch a youtube tutorial video or pick up a book that’s been lingering on your shelf. Just expand your mind for a few minutes.
  5. Stretchhh it out. It’s kind of amazing what a good stretch will do for you. You can easily Youtube some simple variations if you don’t know where to start.
  6. Play bartender/barista at home. There’s something that feels really great to me about taking time to fix yourself a nice drink. I love a gin and tonic with a twist of fresh lime or a big mug of peppermint green tea.
  7. While this one is free – it does require a partner so I realize it won’t be an option for everyone. But for god sakes if you’re lucky enough to have someone special in your life.. hug and kiss them! Daily! Multiple times a day in fact! It’s proven to promote feelings of happiness and closeness. And I mean, it’s probably the most fun thing on the list.
  8. Get your blood pumping. Sure – a good make-out session could do that too – but I mean working out. You don’t need a gym or fancy clothes or special training or sunny weather. I’m guessing you have 3 feet of free space and know how to run in place and do jumping jacks, sit-ups and push-ups? Great. Now repeat until you’re breathless and sweating. Pinterest and Youtube all have amazing, free routines you can try. If you’re not quite up for all of that, take a long walk instead. There’s nothing better in my opinion for clearing your mind.
  9. Go to bed 30 minutes earlier. For a long time Adam and I thought we didn’t need to go to bed until 11PM. Which meant we were still up watching TV at 11PM. We didn’t factor in that it takes us another 30 minutes to fold the blankets on the couch, lock up, wash our faces, brush our teeth, etc. etc. And before we knew it, the clock was striking midnight before we were truly asleep. Now we start to wind down everything at 10:30PM and I swear it has made a world of difference.
  10. They say the cure for anything is to just add water – and I really agree. If I can go for a swim, that’s the ideal, but if not I take a long hot shower or bath. Or drink a big glass of water. Or, if it’s really drastic, I’ll cue the waterworks (I’m not a cryer so this is pretty rare – but for some of you this may be a regular exercise which I think is great!). Either way, I always feel better after I’ve added water.

0 comment

THOUGHTS ON SUBSCRIPTION SHOPPING + AN HONEST REVIEW OF NUULY

If you have been following along, you already know that last January I made a major shift in how I viewed money and shopping. I overhauled my personal finances, completed a “no shopping” January (which led to 3 other “no shop” months throughout the year) and donated or sold probably a quarter of my wardrobe.

Now, when I add a new piece to my wardrobe it’s thought out and strategic. Can I wear it multiple ways? Does it reflect who I want to be? If I waited a couple of weeks would I still want it? If it was full-priced would I still want it? It’s been a strategy serving me well this past year and it truly helped to break that unnecessary urge to always have something “new”. Not to mention it’s far more sustainable as I wasn’t constantly picking up fast fashion that I probably wouldn’t wear for more than a season or two.

But what if you could have that something new feeling without financially committing? I’ve heard plenty of people (blogger’s especially who always want to have new things to wear) rave about shopping subscriptions like Rent the Runway and I have to admit – I was curious. So when Nuuly – from the geniuses behind Anthropologie/Urban Outfitters/Free People – reached out to offer me a free 3 month subscription, I knew I wanted to give it a try. After 3 free months I paid for one additional month so far just so I’d have a true customer experience.

The Pros: You get to pick 6 items of clothing each month for $89/month. They handle all of the dry cleaning, repairs etc. so what you get looks brand new. Overall, I thought the selection was great with brands you’d find at Nordstrom and Shopbop plus new arrivals from Anthro, Urban and FP. I gravitated towards more fashion/trend pieces – a fun coat, a statement dress – that I otherwise would have been tempted by on a trip to Anthropologie, but saved myself the $200 price tag and the need to make permanent room for it in my closet. And usually at the end of the month, I was fine returning the pieces.

The Cons: I’ve mentioned before but I’m a sentimental person, especially when it comes to my wardrobe. If I have a particularly great memory while wearing something – it’s very hard for me to let it go. Which means after I wore this perfect sequin dress to a holiday concert with Adam.. I couldn’t part with it. The upside is that you can buy items at a pretty good discount and don’t have to ship them back. However, if I hadn’t been trying this service – I likely would have not been tempted to get something new for the concert. So if you’re someone who is going to be easily tempted – this could actually end up make you buying more.

Overall? I like the concept. For something like a vacation or the holiday season, I think it’s a really great way – for a relatively low cost – to have a fun assortment of pretty new things to wear. Like this cute minty fresh jacket. Or if you’re in a transitional phase like a new mom or someone who is kind of figuring out there style – I think this is such a great way to get to try things on and see what you like before committing your closet to a direction or size.

But if I were to do it every single month, I kind of feel like it would eat away at the mindset I worked so hard to achieve – which is the feeling that what I have is enough and I don’t always need more, more, more… new, new, new. And, for someone who is set on building a closet full of things I love that carry memories I want to hold on to – the fleeting nature isn’t really in line with that. I’m going to hit pause on my subscription for next month, but may use it again in March when we’ve got a warm weather trip planned!

I’m curious if any of you have tried subscription shopping and what your thoughts have been? P.S. If you’re interested in trying Nuuly they gave me an offer code to share that gets you $20 off your first month. – this post wasn’t sponsored, but as mentioned my first 3 month trial was gifted.

SHOP THE STORY:

0 comment

ON MONEY: HOW TO LIVE ON A BUDGET IN AN EXPENSIVE CITY

I once read that New York City charges a $20 tax just to leave your apartment… and it’s pretty much true. This town just seems to eat money for breakfast. And every other meal after that. When I first introduced the topic of money here, one of the most requested posts was how to save money/live on a budget if you’re in an expensive city. And as someone who has managed to stay afloat in New York for a decade, I’d like to think I’ve got some insight to share here.

I believe that if you’re lucky enough to call an expensive city home (or an expensive suburban town – really this is relevant no matter where you call home), you should be enjoying it. What’s the point of living in Manhattan if you stay holed up in your apartment and never get out and see or do anything? But that being said, unless you’re a wall street mogul (which I’m pretty much guaranteeing no one reading my blog is), you’re going to need to learn how to strike a balance and cut some corners.

My number one advice? Make a list (you guys know I love a list) of the things that are absolutely non-negotiable to you. Is it living alone? Getting to see broadway shows? This list will look different for everyone and you shouldn’t feel bad about that. Maybe going out to eat with friends every week is what brings you joy. Maybe it’s designer shoes. I could care less. But for the rest? You’re going to need to learn to live cheap. Like way below your budget. Live like you’re broke.

In my early twenties I was under the impression that as long as I wasn’t crazy extravagant, I could kind of have it all. I lived alone in a studio apartment (which was always my #1 non negotiable), still went out to bars with friends, shopped for new clothes and ate pretty well. An overpriced latte here, a new book there, a cab ride downtown. You get the picture. I was working two jobs and had zero money at the end of each month. And I never had money to travel like I wanted. I wasn’t necessarily being extravagant in any one area, but I wasn’t living below my budget anywhere either. And I certainly wasn’t getting ahead.

Now all of that has changed. I have a true list of non-negotiables: as nice of an apartment as we can afford (home is super important to me), an emergency fund in the bank, money to travel and money to enjoy the perks of living in New York (whether that be a fun night out with Adam for drinks and live music or going to the ballet with a friend). The rest? You’d think I was flat broke.

I walk everywhere (I take the subway maybe 1-2 times a week if I really need to get far uptown) and don’t even have the Uber app on my phone. I pack my lunch every single day and eat cheap weeknight dinners at home like a big batch of chili, simple stir fry or pasta. You’ll almost never catch me at brunch on the weekends. I make use of the office snacks. We use my sister’s HBO subscription. I give myself at home pedicures. I go to a $20 a month gym. I take books out from the library. My shopping has halted to just a handful of well considered purchases each season. If it’s not on my list of true priorities, I’m hard-pressed to spend money on it. And it’s made all the difference.

In cities it can be easy to just let money slip away in every category. But I swear if you commit to say – making coffee at home every workday or starting a wine club with friends instead of hitting the bar – and watch where every penny is going, you’ll be able to indulge in the things that really matter to you. Even better? If you’re open about your budget, there’s a good chance most of your city living friends will admit that they’re in the same boat and together you guys can find fun things to do that are within your means.

SHOP THE POST:

0 comment

MY FALL FASHION SHOPPING STRATEGY

A couple of weeks ago I published my first post about the topic of money (one I’m excited to talk more about!) – and it was all about how I set myself up for financial health and changed my money mindset. Well, if there was ever a time to test my own willpower – it’s the fall fashion season. I blame it on the fact that as a kid the only real “shopping spree” I ever got to go on was for back to school, when my Mom would take my sister and I to pick out a new pair of jeans, new shoes and a few other new novelty items before the school year started – and it felt like SUCH a treat. Flash forward to being an adult, the onslaught of new arrivals, magazine’s September issues and the fact that I just truly love fall clothes.. and it can be really hard to stay on track. This year, I was determined to do things differently though. And so I came up with a strategy.

Rule One: Don’t buy anything in July. Or August for that matter. If you haven’t unpacked your sweaters from storage, it can be really easy to forget that you do in fact already own an oversized cream cardigan and before you know it, you’ve bought a second one. Last week, I dutifully flipped my closet and found myself excited about all of my favorites that I already own and get to wear again this season. While you’re doing this, think about which pieces you wore most last year. If it was crewneck sweaters, maybe you could use a new one to add to the rotation. If you remember feeling like you never had any cute blouses to wear to work, keep that in mind as you shop.

Rule Two: Make a good old fashioned moodboard. Or a Pinterest board. Or hit save on Instagram. Back in high school, I used to pour over magazines and whittle down the one or two key pieces that I could buy into (on a budget) – maybe it was one cool pair of boots or a particular handbag silhouette – and the rest I would try to find in my own closet. I started doing this again and SO many of the looks I was seeing in my inbox or on Instagram, I could nearly recreate with pieces I already owned. I just had to ignore the shiny new version. Below are looks from Veronica Beard, Sezane and Reiss that I loved.

Rule Three: Make a list. Write out the things you still really have your heart set on, and be specific. You’ll be able to see that three pairs of ankle boots are on the list.. and can clearly cut back. Or the fact that three fancy dresses are on there, but you end up in jeans and a t-shirt everyday and you work from home.. so maybe re-think that. Note the prices and estimate a rough cost per wear (a $40 trendy sweater you’ll wear 2 times has a $20cpw while a $140 camel cashmere sweater you’ll wear 40 times this fall has a $3.50cpw). While it’s nice to add a couple of fun things into the mix to refresh your existing wardrobe, be realistic about what you feel comfortable in and where you want to put your money.

Now the fun part – shop for the things left on your list. I mean, wait for sales.. but then, you know, go for it. Below – the things I’m spending on this season and why:

  1. Plaid Miniskirt – In the past ten years I’d say consistently the item I wear most in fall is a plaid miniskirt. To work with tights and a button down shirt, for a date night with over the knee boots or casually with sneakers and a crewneck sweater. It’s my signature style. I love this one with the hits of green and know I’ll get tons of wear out of it.
  2. Patent Leather Loafers – I had a pair of black patent ankle boots and black patent leather flats that I literally wore to shreds over the past three years and finally had to toss them both. This feels like a hybrid. I tried on in store to be sure they passed the ‘walk to work’ test too.
  3. Simple Cardigan – I eyed this fluffy cardigan ALL of last fall and winter and didn’t pull the trigger but this year I’m doing it. I love that you can wear it with the buttons in front or back, all buttoned up or off the shoulder for a cool, undone look. So simple, so chic.
0 comment

ON MONEY: HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MONEY MINDSET

I was floored by the fact that so many of you responded with a resounding ‘yes!’ to my prompt about financial posts here on the blog. In general, I find the conversation among young women about money terribly lacking. Couple that with the fact that most of us were raised not to discuss money and never taught anything about the practical side of things like bills, student loan debt and retirement savings in school (why is this not a required class??) – and I think it deserves at least a blog post or two. 

To begin – I’m clearly not an expert on any of this. But I think that’s a good thing. It’s intimidating to read advice from financial experts – but from a woman who is working hard to pay off her credit cards and find more ways to save money plus plan for the future? That seems easier to swallow. I’ve made money mistakes too, so you’re not on your own.

I’ve got a lot of ideas for posts surrounding this topic – but to start, I wanted to share how I changed my money mindset at the beginning of the year. To make a long story short – I spent a lot of years pretty broke. A combination of student loan debt, high cost of living in New York and entry level wages. Then a cross-country move to LA.. then a cross-country move to get back home to New York. It all took its toll. And even years after I was not necessarily broke, I was kind of just getting by. There never felt like there was enough to substantially save let alone plan for my long-term future. And somewhere around January 1st of this year I kind of just snapped. I couldn’t take one more day/week/month/year of letting my finances control me. I wanted complete control. I wanted to feel the freedom of knowing I was financially secure.

That tipping point will likely be sparked by different things for different people. Maybe you just got a big raise and finally want to spend it smartly. Maybe you found out you’re pregnant and are freaking out about how you are going to afford it. Regardless, I think when you’re really truly ready to make a change to your money mindset – you’ll know it. From there, think long and hard about your goals. Do you want to retire early? Travel the world now? There’s no wrong answer, but you’ll want a clear set of goals in order for these changes to really stick.

To begin – you need to get a really firm grasp on every single dollar in your life. I made spreadsheets that laid out every dollar I earn, every dollar that goes to a fixed cost and every extra dollar. Then all of those got further broken down into categories. You’ll start to see patterns.. do you have 15 subscriptions you never use? There’s $150 a month out the window. Do you buy your lunch instead of planning ahead and packing. Boom, there’s $50+ a week back in your pocket. Decide what you feel like you can’t live without and what you can, cut the fat, wait a day and then look again. Repeat the process.

Once you see your money staring back at you it’s a lot easier to make decisions about it. There are great apps for this (Minted and Every Dollar are both good), but a simple google sheet will do the job too. When I started and needed the most radical help, I found apps a little bit passive – but when I actually had to type out that I paid $14 for a salad.. it held me more accountable and kept inspiring me to make changes in order to create a spreadsheet that I would feel proud to look at every week. And instead of vaguely thinking at the end of each month – I wish I could have saved more, I started considering my debt payments and the savings fixed costs. Like rent, they became non-negotiable.

Once I felt like I had a real handle on what was possible in a given month, I made a one year plan. Plus a five year, ten year and twenty year financial plan. Obviously there are things that could radically change over that period of time, but if I think in 10 years I want to own a getaway home outside the city or in 20 years I want to have a college savings fund for a couple of kids.. I need to be thinking about that now.

So the plans were set. Now how did I stick to it? I made it a habit. Habits are easier than self control. It doesn’t take a lot of will power to brush your teeth every morning (it’s a habit), so I wanted to get to the point where managing my money properly felt the same way.

And when I was tempted by a cute new pair of shoes or a dress on sale? I consulted the spreadsheet. Like literally would stand in a store and pull up the spreadsheet on my phone. Sometimes just that simple act was enough to remind me that I had bigger goals and I’d easily be able to walk out the door. But just in case – I unsubscribed from store emails too and started walking home a different way so I no longer passed by some of my favorite Fifth Avenue shops. And if I still wanted that dress? I wrote it down on a list of “wants”. Everything from a new couch to those cute shoes would go on the list and then as I looked at my weekly discretionary money I could consult the list and decide what I really wanted most and what I could stand waiting on.

In short, I made a lot of lists. 8 months later though? And I’ve never felt more free. Sometimes Adam and I just look at the number in our savings account and are dumbfounded at how we saved so much so far this year (listen it’s not like we’re running away to the South of France anytime soon – but it’s more than we’ve ever had in that account before). And it’s because I made it a habit for us. I drew a firm line in the sand and refused to step back over it. Every single day I think about my money for at least a few minutes. I check in, I remind myself why I started and I plan for tomorrow.

If it sounds overwhelming, I promise you the feeling of living paycheck to paycheck is more overwhelming. We devote time every day to our mental and physical health, surely we can give 5 minutes a day to financial health, no?

Next time I’m going to tackle my strategy for fall shopping (in keeping with my new money mindset) and I’ve got posts planned for how I deal with living in a veryyy expensive city, decorating a home on a budget and how I balance money in my relationship with Adam. Lots more to come! Happy saving my friends.

0 comment
The Steele Maiden © 2012

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.