The outrageous cost of a night out

On a Friday night, you are likely to find me at work drinks in the office, having chipped in $5 for a bottle of wine. After that, there’s a 50% chance you’ll find me at a bar in the city with colleagues. It is equally possible you’ll find me at home in my pyjamas, watching terrible TV and eating leftovers, or talking life with my best friend or boyfriend. 

That latter scenario becomes about 95% likely on a Saturday. While I love being around people, I’m just far too cheap to go out for some drinks – I’d much rather share a $16 bottle of wine at home, or not drink at all. 

I threw caution to the wind last night and went out to dinner and the bars with some colleagues-now-friends. It was a ridiculously fun night.  We ate amazing Mexican food and shared great wine. We had tequila that didn’t burn because we aren’t students. We danced until we couldn’t, and then stayed for one more.

Then I checked my bank cards this morning and saw this night cost me a cool $180. 

I am so thankful this is a rarity for me. I can’t imagine how damaging having a Friday and Saturday night every week looking like this – on so many levels. Not only is it so expensive and has a terrible effect on your back pocket, it also has a terrible effect on your concept of fun. Being carefree at the bars and paying for rounds and enjoying nice wine is all great. But so is wine and a nicely cooked dinner at home. And so is just having one drink. And so is a long walk, or netflix, or a book, or going to your parents’ house. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but if you choose to define happiness by events that cost you, you trick yourself into thinking it does.

I had so much fun last night. I felt happy to be included, and to be surrounded by truly good friends. I would 100% do it again. But I’m happy with my once every two month schedule of a decadent $180 night. 

Sidehustling: Babysitting at 25

I’ve shared my foray into sidehustling over the last two months; I’ve netted over $500 in various alternative financial pursuits and learnt so much about taking opportunities as they’re presented to make extra dollars. I’ve done countless online market research surveys, sold all kinds of perplexing junk on eBay, dealt with the pre-pubescent rage of a young kid who hates maths while tutoring and wasted hours clicking through various ‘offers’ online in pursuit of increasing my overall income pie. All these activities have their ups and downs; flexibility is traded for significantly less return, while eBay and etsy attract fees and effort. However, my most hated yet valued side-hustle is babysitting.

The boyf and I are lucky to continue to get ad-hoc babysitting opportunities from our family. Typically this nets us $100 for the night – the kind of income where if you consider amount per hour, you cringe. But it was these $100 nights that gave us opportunities to pay a $1500 holiday in cash in January. Buy a Wii. Get things we couldn’t possibly afford on our unpredictable income. It also saves us money – these babysitting opportunities come up on Friday or Saturday nights. Typically, great nights for spending on takeaway or a bottle of wine, or a night out. 

The way we have learned to realise value from these $100 nights is to stash the cash. We have the ‘Fun Party Jar’ (very over the top name). All our cash jobs fill that jar. Each individual job can feel pointless and annoying. $100 can feel like it’s not remotely worth it. But slowly and steadily, we add to that jar. And it starts to add up. $500. $1000. Enough to make a big difference to our lives. 

To make it bearable involves acknowledging the special time it nets with family. We get the kids outside. We learn a bit about what we’d be like as parents. We shamelessly exploit screens. We make up games and learn the most delicate lessons in dispute resolution. And slowly we add to our wealth and grow our tools at our disposal to build the life we want. 

March Money

This week has been one of those weeks that people refer to as ‘a total whirlwind!’ or ‘completely crazy!’. But I won’t refer to it like that since I’m above cliches (except that I’m not at all). This week has been an absolute rollercoaster, full of random personal events that made it feel very significant that I was busy, meaning my well-intentioned plans of assessing my March money and writing it all up for full disclosure fell by the wayside in favour of Ben & Jerry birthday sundaes and outdoor movie attendances (work mandated – life is hard). In any case, I’m thoroughly exhausted, and, if I’m honest, quite nervous at setting out these numbers, because they are not impressive. I struggled hard this month, but it was a very good learning curve as to the costs of not saying no.

This financial assessment is based solely on my $120/week discretionary dollars; it doesn’t consider what we cutely call our ‘team account’ spending, which encompasses rent, food, petrol, and other miscellaneous life necessities. It also doesn’t include personal health insurance, phone bills and other boring costs. The motivation between dividing it up this way was for me to focus more specifically upon my personal spending habits. As a passionate discretionary spender, I have never really faced the true cost of my love of clothes, stationery and other miscellaneous life items that I view as needs, and most view as wants. I started tracking my spending in this category only, which has thrown up some interesting habits.

This financial assessment also gives me an opportunity to review the success of any side-hustle income. This is a slightly more interesting category this time around, as I have expanded my side hustles from online market research and selling old crap on eBay to opening an etsy store. The etsy store has made a whopping three sales, so it’s contribution to my overall side-hustle is very limited. However it has been a really great learning experience, and I’m hoping to see improvement in sales as I increase my product inventory and continue to experiment with different facets of the store.

Spending

Here it is, the numbers for March (to the last Sunday that is still in March):

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Unfortunately there are very many negative numbers up there. The real killers were:

  • $160 on a ticket to a dinner I didn’t even want to go to. The worst bit about this dinner is that on the day, I was offered a free ticket.
  • $250 for the boyf’s birthday (it did feel worth it, since I got him the second-greatest gift of all time).
  • A confusingly-high $60 on stationery on the 20th – zero idea what that is.

What I took away from this month is that there are always things I will want to say yes to, but often the reason I want to say yes is very confusing: wanting people to like me, avoiding the viral fear of missing out, thinking it will be worth it for some vague, unspecified reason that could be easily shot down if I said it out loud. Most often, that is the time to say no. This dinner I attended is a great testament to that. It was an awards night for women in the law, so a cause I am very passionate about and something that is personally relevant to me. However, I am not a big believer in attending lots of these sorts of celebratory events; I prefer the day to day grunt work of pulling together events, rather than forking out lots of money to just attend. I bought a ticket when a very good friend of mine sent me a random text, dropping important names and making me feel like I’d be a ‘part of something’ if I attended. Of course I immediately regretted it. Then I found out my work had a table, and I could have just gone for free. And on the actual night, the friend who had invited me ended up sitting on a different table. I already forgot what happened at the dinner. The food was underwhelming. I didn’t even network that hard. So it was $160 that would have been much better off in my pocket.

I had a vague plan of not spending as much the next few weeks to recover the cost, but as is very clear from the above, that did not happen. Instead, this $160 blow out acted as a catalyst for not caring at all about what I spent, and I never recovered from it. In fact, I just ended up habitually over spending for the rest of the month. I’m disappointed. But it’s just one month out of twelve.

Side-hustling

A much tinier little spreadsheet, but one I’m very proud of! This month I increased my income by an exciting 8.67%.

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Most of that is due to a very lucrative market research role I managed to land, which accounts for over 50% of that income. But these numbers reflect the sale of many eBay items, and the beginning of my new business!

The Etsy number is a sad 34 cents. Although I did make a revenue of $6 in March, by the time I paid the fees associated with the sale, removed shipping and paid the fees associated with listing items, March finished up with a very low income from Etsy. Although it hasn’t been a big earner, it has been a really fun learning curve. I always talked about wanting to open my own business, and it feels so satisfying that I finally did. Hopefully April’s Etsy numbers will be a bit more impressive, but even if they aren’t, that’s okay.

Looking forward

As always, April is a new month and a chance to use what I learned about myself in March to improve my spending habits and get those numbers without a negative in front of them. And if possible, to improve my total side-hustle income. I’m anticipating it to be a lot more difficult depending on the overly-lucrative market research position, which is very ad-hoc, but nevertheless, it feels good to aim high.

My big financial step for April has been to set up one of those no-fee no-obligation initial consultations with a financial planner. After two months of messing around with my exceptionally annoying bank, I found an independent planner who didn’t waste my time and I have a meeting set up next week. I see this being a good opportunity to build some financial knowledge and to set up a more comprehensive financial plan.

 

Fund-Free Weekend Activities

One particularly interesting thing that has stood out to me over the course of tracking my personal spending is the deep pit of despair that the weekend brings. Don’t get me wrong; I live for the weekend. It’s the most magical, wonderful time of the week, where the time is yours to do as you please: solely and completely yours. With that comes the freedom to sleep in, to read, to bingewatch TV, to shop and go out and live (kind of) consequence-free.

Except for the money. Them dolla dolla billz find it a lot easier to depart from your wallet on weekends. There’s brunches to be had, stores to be browsed, alcohol to be drunk, coffees to be collected and basically credit cards to be lit on fire. I often find that once I’ve lost that structure that comes with the work week of packing lunch and being organised and being too busy with work to consider the fun parts of life, it’s not a slippery slope to spending, but more like that heinous looking ride where you’re dropped really suddenly from a really big height. One second you’re on top the world, on top of your finances, feeling like a total legend. The next second you’re slammed back down to the ground of reality, with only receipts and a few random things you can no longer name scattered around you. It kinda sucks.

So, I’ve been collecting ways to spend weekends money-free (or as much money-free as possible, as we do our grocery shopping on the weekend). I don’t imagine many of these are new, or revolutionary, but they’ve really helped me when I find myself on the couch on Saturday wondering what I should do, and stopping myself from walking down to the outlets. I’ve only listed 10 ideas here, with the view to continually updating this post and also not overwhelming you with options.

1. Netflix and chill

Oh heyyyy. The most obvious answer in the world, but take some time out for yourself. Put on your season of choice, get out a blanket, sludge in to a day of quiet and let your friends be the friends on the screen.

2. Use what you have

Sometimes you sit around at a total loss of what to do (or what to wear, or where to go, or what to do with your entire life). This is a really good opportunity to get a grip on what you do have. Have a gym membership? Great, go to the gym. Have a half-finished project (crochet blanket, knitted jumper, DIY wedding album, book you’re writing)? Awesome. Get it out, and work on it. Have a fridge full of food that needs transforming to a delicious meal? Excellent timing, get cooking. Have a soccer ball floating around the house that you’re unsure how it was acquired, but nevertheless trip over it daily? What a delightful coincidence, time to go kick it around at the park. Have a game console you rarely use? Get your competitive streak on and play it. When you take on this perspective in your home, you’ll get very overwhelmed at all the options you have at your fingertips. The money was spent at one point, the novelty wore off and it got forgotten…now is your chance to re-enliven that novelty!

3. Get your money in order

Sorting out your finances is a really important project, but one that is easily put off because, like, it’s hard. To avoid spending all your money on a Saturday, spend the day getting that budget nailed down, reviewing your progress and making a goal and a plan for the future. It’s an extremely gratifying and satisfying project, and one that will only benefit you in the future.

4. Explore

Weekends are an excellent opportunity to get out for a good long walk. No matter where you live, it’s possible to find great walking or hiking trails. You only need your shoes, a friend (or a podcast or excellent playlist) and the desire to be lost for a little while.

5. Rearrange the furniture

This is one of my favourite free ways to pass the time. We have exactly two walls on which we can put our living room furniture, and one day we were bored, and swapped the furniture on each wall around. The whole day and a few Dominos pizzas later, we had moved everything and completely refreshed our whole space. It was great for livening up our small apartment without spending any cash, and was a great bit of screen-free time too.

6. Set a three hour time limit on deep-cleaning the house

The time limit makes it a game, but the actual job makes it beneficial!

7. Read an old classic

Plenty of the classics are available for free on Kindle. It’s a good chance to learn some of the literary references made in the texts of today.

8. Learn something

Get on the free university courses and listen to a lecture on a topic you’re interested in. I love random topics like behavioural economics, productivity, human movement, english literature and philosophy. Instead of incurring debt doing a degree, I’ll just jump on to a free university course and have a listen. Other ways of learning include finding great podcasts, reading articles online, watching Ted talks… people are so keen to share their knowledge over the internet, all you need to do is be a sponge.

9. Journal

There are so many recorded benefits from journaling, but it’s often a very popular habit to fall by the wayside. Take some time to write down how you’re feeling, what you’ve been doing, your goals, hopes, irritations, frustrations, plans, favourite people and points of gratitude. It can bring you some great perspective on where you’re at and where you’re heading, and it can be really calming to connect with paper instead of your phone. Of course, there’s great journalling apps across iOS and Android devices if you prefer, and they are probably more secure. But there’s a lot to be said for writing with a favourite pen on high quality paper.

10. Deep clean yourself

Take the time for the self-care you normally can’t be bothered doing in your day to day life. Give yourself a face-mask (if you’re low on options, vegemite will do!). Take a long bath. Give yourself a foot scrub. Do a hair treatment.Remove your old nail polish. Reapply some new polish. Moisturise your elbows. Exfoliate. Shave. Whatever you gotta do, get it done and take the time to enjoy it by lighting a candle or getting out some bath salts.

If you’re feeling lost one weekend between wanting to do stuff, but feeling poor, hopefully this list provides you some inspiration. If you have any other favourite fund-free hobbies, please share in the comments 🙂

The Side Hustle Experiment

As you may have deduced from my in-depth blog on the February finances, I’ve been enamoured with personal finance for a long time, despite not really doing much about it. I love the idea of having control over my daily spending (personally, and jointly – the boyf and I have had what we cutely term Team Accounts for going on 3 years now), and I love the idea of control over my future wealth and stability, but actioning that? Honestly, it’s hard. Especially when you lack a familiarity with financial literacy, and suffer from the innate laziness that plagues most modern-day millennials such as myself. 

But 2016 has been a year of spurring myself in to action on a lot of fronts, including finances. And February was, secretly, the month of the Side Hustle Experiment. ‘Side hustle’ is that term bandied around the personal-finance island of the internet and basically means ‘way of making money that isn’t your salary/wage.’ Without realising it, I’ve been a great proponent of the side hustle for a long time. I tutored for cash throughout my six years at uni; I usually held down multiple jobs to finance my expensive year abroad and taste for the fun life; I would have the yearly clean out of my accumulated junk and sell the wares at community flea markets. I even had a weird memory the other day of a small business course I did in year 10 where we had to imagine up a small business and actually implement it. My team sold flavoured ice for $1/ cup – hilarious, yet hilariously popular. We ended up making over $700 amongst four of us after selling at school lunch times for 2 weeks (it is extremely hot through Australian summers, which greatly contributed to our success) and covering our costs. So you can say the bug for making money on the side bit early.

I continued to tutor ad hoc once I started my career, but as always I lacked discipline in dedicating this money to anything and saw it frittered away on expensive international trips and activewear. Life would be so different if I’d never heard of Lorna Jane. But there’s no point in lamenting it now. While I did stack up the cash, it disappeared quickly, and I never really quantified how much it was adding to my income to understand its true value at any one time. Although last year the boyf and I created the Party Jar, where our tutoring cash was stashed, alongside any bonus babysitting money (my cousins are party animals and we are lame, so we look after their kids for an easy $100 – $150 a pop) and other random cash incomes (such as selling our surround sound system from 1992 on Gumtree), which funded a week in the Caribbean, we didn’t really budget it out with hard and fast numbers to actually prove any benefit or spur us on to do it again.

Cue the Side Hustle Experiment. Complimenting my strict approach to tracking my spend and strictly monitoring where those hard earned dollars were running off to, I endeavoured to improve my total income pie. Because when I did that budget with the boyf, I realised that no matter how much I scrimped, squished and remoulded my income, the only way I could get more out of my money was to get more money. So. I did.

Obtaining additional streams of income was subject to the following limitations: time, as I work as a lawyer and the jokes about only seeing the sun every second Thursday can be scarily accurate; and flexibility. I also introduced the limit of using what was available to me with no start-up cost.

With those limits in line, I undertook the following additional income streams for the month of February: market research, tutoring, and selling my own crap on eBay. These options worked effectively because they cost me nothing in start-up costs (although eBay does involve some fees), they were mostly flexible, and many I could do during brain-dead moments when churning through episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix (or I was having a moment at work). (Wow. I like to write with brackets). (Lol).

Anyway, I sat down and  crunched the numbers, and I made an additional $197.83  in February. Using very rough figures, the effect was to increase my monthly income by 4.5%. And, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to overstate the situation, but I term this a massive success. Not only did I earn a tidy little profit on my endeavours that I wouldn’t have earned otherwise (although I wish I’d made just another $2.17 to crack that $200), but by keeping meticulous track of this income, I feel a strong degree of control over the actions I took to generate that $197.83. And that is extremely rewarding.

So, here is how I did it, and how you can do it too. 

1. Swagbucks

I love this site. I wish I had been using it earlier. It is the easiest market research site for making dollars just doing what you normally do: searching the internet, wasting time doing random things (I’ve done a lot of surveys, but earning those Swagbucks are addictive), playing some mindless games, points back on online shopping (I lament the multiple $200+ Lorna Jane purchases from 2014 that would have earned me some serious Swagbucks…), downloading apps… there’s a billion ways to earn points (called Swagbucks), on this multi-purpose site, and all of them add up in order to be cashed out in the form of Paypal vouchers (my personal favourite), or vouchers for favourite online stores such as Amazon, or XBox Live memberships (the boyf was super excited for this particular option). Effectively, if you find yourself messing around on your computer a lot, put that time to more productive use, click around on Swagbucks, get yourself some easy points and find yourself a little richer at the end of the month for no real effort.

In February I earned one $25USD Paypal voucher, and inched over the line for the second on the 1st of March Australia time (which was still actually February in Swagbucks time…but I left the official numbers at 1 x$25 for February). So Swagbucks isn’t an epic earner, but it’s an easy, passive kind of income, and I’d always take an extra $25 every few weeks to boost my total income for the month. If you click my referral link above, or here, you get some bonus Swagbucks to start you off.

2. MySurvey

A simpler take on Swagbucks, MySurvey is a site where you take surveys, earn points, and can cash those points out for dollaz when you reach certain thresholds. I earned 2 x $10AUD vouchers in February. You are notified when new surveys become available which you qualify for, which is really nice, and I found it really quick to rack up the points. I would have probably earned 4 x vouchers, but there was an extended period of time where I just wasn’t hearing anything from them. Anyway, it all seems to be going gang-busters now, and I’ve cashed out a few extra vouchers already in March. I highly recommend signing up, even if you only do a survey every now and again – the points add up quickly, and, as with Swagbucks, it’s an extremely simple way of boosting your account in small but meaningful ways.

3. Tutoring

The only difficult thing with tutoring is finding a solid family to tutor for. I’ve worked through all kinds of students: smart ones, hard workers, extremely not-smart ones, and ones with passionate parents, and the ones who succeed are almost singularly the ones with passionate parents. I’ve been tutoring for the same family since 2014, which is fine, and often it can take that time to build up enough of a rapport with a student (especially a young one, like this student), in order to see results and get the parents on side. Unfortunately, although the parents are happy to pay me, they aren’t happy to put in any work which can undo a lot of the effort you put in. But I digress. I charge a paltry $40 for 45 minutes, which includes me coming to their home, but I’ve found keeping that fee low means that when I just don’t feel like it one week, or they make up a lame excuse at the last minute to cancel, no one is too upset. This month I made $80 in tutoring, because the family cancelled twice. So it’s not necessarily a reliable income stream, but it’s a quick financial boost with great results and can be very personally rewarding if you and your student develop a good relationship and see some personal and grade improvement. 

4. eBay

This has surprisingly been my favourite way to bring in some cash. Marie Kondo filled my mind with dreams of neatly folded envelopes of clothing that only brings me joy, and in that adventure, I discovered many good quality clothing items in my wardrobe that, despite not bringing me joy, could bring me back some cash. Selling stuff on eBay is exceptionally easy with the app. The only limitations come from those imposed on you by eBay at the start as you build your seller’s profile, where you are limited to free ten items to be listed per month. My limit was quickly raised to 30 free items a month once I proved I actually sent off what I sold. The only other limit for eBay is your personal limitations. People will buy the most surprising things; and the only way you’ll know what it is they’ll buy is if you make it available for purchase. My biggest surprises were a used Lorna Jane sports bra that went for  $31 after a hectic bidding war and a broken bracelet (I’d fully disclosed the extent of brokenness in the listing). I’ve learnt a lot of things through my adventures on eBay that I’ll share in another post. But even taking into account the PayPal fees and the eBay fees, I sold eight items in February for a final profit of $72.83. And already in March I’ve made two sales, and have three big bidding listings. It’s looking like another successful month.

So that’s how I made $197.83 in February. Since this month was such a resounding success, I’ve put that money into my Gold Star account, continued with Swagbucks and MySurvey (and tutoring of course), listed another 10 items on eBay and taken the risk of investing some money into some items to kickstart my own etsy business. It’s an idea that’s brewing and taking shape, but I’m so excited to take some real risks and churn over some real income – one very small step at a time.

Anything I missed? Any tips you’d like to share, or you’d like me to share? What else do you recommend I try? Let me know in the comments!

E x

My favourite financial mistakes

It is day four of the new budget (I know, you’re all impressed, it’s fine), and I’ve been reflecting on some of the silliest finance/spending decisions I’ve made over the years. There’s a lot, and the nature and extent of these mistakes seemed to lend themselves to a humourous list. Which is why I’ve compiled a list of my favourite financial mistakes that make me blush with shame.

  1. Being too lazy to drive 20 minutes to the location where I could cancel the gym membership I never used.

The more embarrassing thing really is that this gym was literally one minute from my house. I let that $11/week membership fee trickle out of my account for a year before I finally did something about it. That is a casual $572 (approximately) that I was too lazy to do anything about.

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2. Subscribing to a sticker club.

I’ll be honest with you. The sticker club was awesome. But why I thought it was a smart financial decision to sign up for a sticker club based in the USA (exchange rates are really starting to hurt around here) is beyond me. At about $26/month, it wasn’t too painful, and thankfully I cancelled after three months after realising that lawyers don’t tend to use stickers at work, and you can buy most stickers for $2 from stationery stores. But that was a cool $78 I won’t be seeing again. At least I have a tonne of stickers just waiting to decorate my soon-to-arrive Erin Condren planner and pissing off my boyfriend for sitting on every available surface at home.

3. Not reviewing my credit card statement to remove monthly charges.

For six months we were paying for a Dodo home phone line, which is absolutely idiotic because our apartment doesn’t have a home phone line. It was the result of extremely poor customer service and misinformation from Dodo (I definitely don’t recommend this company), and us not asking the right questions. We did try to cancel this at the three month mark, and were reassured it was cancelled, only to see three months later it was still coming up. It was only $6.80/month, but that was $40.80 we’ll never see again.

4. $150 monthly pass to a yoga studio.

This is a funny one. I went to yoga daily, and was paying $20/class. I realised it was much better, if I were to continue to go, to buy the $150/month pass for unlimited classes. I bought the pass, and promptly never went again.

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5. Buying the wrong travel insurance and having to pay for a replacement for a cancelled flight.

This one really hurt. I thoughtlessly selected the ‘medical only’ option when buying my travel insurance. Due to bad communication by Delta, my long-haul flight from LA to Sydney was cancelled, and I got a second flight. I merrily charged my credit card and filled out the insurance form, feeling extremely proud I’d paid $70 for the travel insurance, only to find out that actually I’d be paying off that credit card. One of the many moments I’ve been happy to have the Bank of Dad at my disposal while I was a foolish uni student.

6. Activewear.

One time I spent the $150 minimum required on clothes I didn’t really want so I could get the free bracelet. Yep.

7. Activewear x 2.

I went to a boozey lunch with my friend. We followed up a bottle of wine and champagne with shopping at our favourite activewear brand. Thanks to the wine, everything I bought was the wrong size, and their heinous returns policy means I’m still stuck with it.

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8. Paying $500 to move my flight five days later because I screwed up the booking.

There isn’t much more to the story. I was being inattentive when I booked. I messed up the dates. I paid a lot of money for it.

9. Buying clothes for when I ‘lost weight’.

Which obviously I never did, so I never wore them, except for one time which is burnt into my memory because I could hardly breathe the whole evening and I threw up (the vom was mainly from the cocktails, but I also blame the mega tightness of the dress).

10. Walking into Priceline

Priceline, the Australian equivalent to CVS or Walgreens, traps me every time. I walk in looking for $3 make-up remover, and walk out with $80 worth of random skin care items, hair products that I have no idea how to use (most of these got tossed during the big bathroom tidy up), a nail polish, usually a block of chocolate or a creme egg (my personal kryptonite) and a self-tanner to add to my collection of unnecessary moisturisers.

In writing this list I realised that many of these ‘decisions’ boil down to one thing: laziness. I was too lazy too pay attention when booking flights, or buying travel insurance; too lazy to drive to cancel the membership. The others come down to a habit I’m working on removing: aspirational living. ‘Aspirational living’ involves telling yourself lies like ‘I’ll lose weight and wear these clothes’ or ‘I’ll be happier if I buy these stickers’. The goal of sticking to this budget is to reduce purchasing items in the misguided attempt to better my life. Feel free to share some of your favourite financial mistakes in the comments, don’t leave me alone in my embarrassment!

E x