When Terry and I were living in Belltown of Seattle, Washington, we were young, happy, in love… and poor. The studio apartment we were living in was the listing in the newspaper that they use as bait to get people to come to the building and look at all their other vacancies. We just lucked out and happened to be the ones who actually GOT the great deal. I think we were paying $495/ month at the time; which was on the very edge of what we could comfortably afford.
Another reason why the apartment was so cheap was because it was the corner studio on street level. We used to call it the “fishbowl” because you could see in the windows from all directions and if you left the blinds open, you were automatically on display.
The Humphrey Apartment building used to be an old hotel back in Belltown’s heyday of red light districts and sailors. In fact, Terry’s Uncle Bill, who used to be a merchant marine, visited us once and regaled us with the area’s seedy past. Needless to say, when we lived there it was decidedly more tame!
The apartment had a ton of character. There was an old Murphy bed attached to a swinging wall hinged in the middle. This meant that it was possible to fold the bed up vertically and then swing the wall around to make the bed completely disappear from the main room.
It also had hardwood floors, brick walls and exposed wooden beams. It was shaped in such a way that if you were standing in the kitchen you couldn’t see into the living room. Not at all like the more modern, big, white box studios where they put a strip of linoleum along one wall and call it a kitchen. What was really nice was there was a huge walk in closet with plenty of storage shelves. (It was where the bed tucked away when it was swung out of the living room/ bedroom.
The building itself was also super cool. It had a courtyard with a little fountain, black wrought iron gate and twinkle lights strung up. There was also a higher end, fancy Italian restaurant located in the building that set up little tables around the fountain during the summer months.
On Friday nights, we’d walk back from our adventures to sit by the fountain and eat tiramisu and drink cappuccinos. Mario, the owner of the restaurant, would come out and chit chat with us while the last of the dinner crowd lingered over their wine.
Of course, we were too poor to eat a whole meal there except on very, very rare occasions (I think a total of two times in the six years we lived in the building) but he had a soft spot for us and would occasionally bring out a little extra treat.
The thing is, we didn’t have a lot of money. At the time, I was working a part-time retail job and going to school full-time. We were basically living off Terry’s wages (which weren’t much) and saving every which way we could. I remember we had a $50 grocery budget per week for the two of us.
We used to go visit his parents in Eastern Washington once every 5 weeks or so and they would load our car up with bulk non-perishables like rice and beans and fill our back seat with canned goods from the Bent and Dent. So, basically our $50 budget would go towards buying any fresh veggies, fruit and makings for lunches.
I used to wake up every morning at 5:45 to make Terry’s lunch of meat and cheese sandwiches with a cookie and some chips. We’d bag our own chips and re-use the baggies. We would go out one Friday every two weeks as a “date night” and split an appetizer and an entree.
Part of why we could live so inexpensively was because we were living in a city where there were a TON of things to do that were free or didn’t cost much. We’d go to art gallery show openings where there was usually a free glass of wine (or two) to be had, snacks and hors d’oeuvres, a DJ or music set up, and some great art to look at. We’d go see free concerts or check out a band playing at a bar without a cover.
During the weekends we’d poke into all the different high end interior design and furniture stores and discuss the different styles and aesthetics we liked. Terry would show me the various carpentry methods that were used, or point out the inlay work. Sometimes, I’d take my camera out and go on a photography excursion with themes like “Seattle Architecture” or “Washington Park Arboretum.” Or, we’d just grab a cup of coffee, walk along the waterfront and watch the tourists.
Even though we didn’t have a lot, I remember that time as being charmed and happy- not just in spite of being on a tight budget, but almost because of it. Not having a lot challenged us to be creative and think up new ways to stay entertained.
Nowadays, Terry and I make quite a bit more than we did back then. However, I have to say, we haven’t been very good about keeping up with our frugal habits. In fact, we’ve been living pretty high on the hog for awhile now.
Almost too high, to be honest. We’ve gotten into the habit of going out to nice dinners once or twice a week. I mean NICE dinners with pricey cocktails, appetizers, entrees, dessert and coffee. Stem to stern dinners that set us back quite a bit. With just the two of us and discretionary incomes, it’s hard to resist. We also tend to order in a meal or two; which means we’ve actually been paying for dinner out about three or four times a week.
Yet, I know that we should be saving a LOT more, and that we could be paying down our credit cards much faster than we are. We ARE paying them down. In fact, we have great credit. However, I worry that we’re not being disciplined enough and it could come back to haunt us. Not only that, but budgeting better would help us have the funds to fix the house and make the necessary improvements more quickly.
To top it off, although we’re happy and enjoy the time together, I know that spending so much more money isn’t making us any happi-er. I think about the fact we could be saving that money and putting it towards a trip, or more repairs on the home so we can actually sell it and move back to Seattle. I realize that we’re letting it all dribble through our hands and not actually utilizing it to achieve our goals.
So, I sat down with Terry this weekend and we had a good discussion about trying to do better. Now, I’m the kind of person that likes to start things. I start goals with the best of intentions of reaching them, but usually fall off in motivation after a couple of weeks.
During that first three weeks or so, I’ll be totally gung-ho and really throw myself into it. Then things start to slip. First it will be a day…then it will be a couple of days a week…and then, BAM, I’m right back where I started.
Terry, on the other hand, has a tendency to be a glutton. If he can have more, he’ll take it. More time, more money, more dessert…if it’s available and he wants it, he doesn’t usually see a reason not to have it. So, you can imagine how we’ve been enabling each other’s bad habits.
However, one of the things I really admire about Terry is the fact that if he sets a goal, or states he’s going to do something, then it means he WILL do it. He’s very good about that. So, I talked to him about how I was feeling with the money situation, and got him to agree with me that we need to be doing more in the way of saving. Now that we’re both on board, I know he’ll help me stick to the plan.
My stated goal is to bring my lunch to work at least three times a week and make coffee at the office at least three times a week. I have a really bad Starbucks a day coffee habit that sets me back $5.08 every morning. So, if I can cut that by three, that’s saving $15/ week, $60/ month. Most lunches average $10. (Sometimes more, sometimes less, $10 is about right.) So, if I can bring my lunch three times a week, that will be $30/ week, $120/month savings.
This is my third week bringing lunches and my second week making coffee…so I’m off to a good start. Now, I just need to get over the first month hump, and hopefully it will start feeling like a habit.
On top of that, but we’ve been making a point of cooking dinners at home more. Although Terry has been doing most of the cooking, I’ve been doing my part by making sure there is a clean kitchen for him to work in. Heck, I’ve even cooked a few times in the past week…and I’ve already discussed how much I like to cook!
Eating at home has the added benefit of giving me a lot more variety of food to bring to work for lunch the next day. Ordinarily I just cycle between two or three places; lunch has actually been better since I’ve started bringing it. Not to mention, it’s a lot healthier, too.
So, that’s our little self-improvement project we’re currently working on. Hopefully, by writing it down and documenting it, I’ll be on the hook and encouraged to stick with it. I’ve already noticed that I’m feeling surprisingly happier with our situation and how things are turning out.
Overall, I have to say it’s been a success so far and I’m feeling really motivated to keep at it.