Strategies for the single saver

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I would like to see some information geared to single households and some suggestions on how to deflect some of the nasty comments about being "selfish." I'm usually the one that gets to work late because "I don't have a husband or children to go home to." I have worked full time my whole life and would like to take some time (before retirement) to relax, pursue my interests, exercise and live life. I am a different person when not overscheduled and stressed.

Please can you help by soliciting suggestions from other single readers regarding saving, cutting expenses, and lifestyle?

Start Taking Classes

A number of years ago, I was the one who always worked late and had to go in on days off to finish up jobs. When a community college opened near my home, I enrolled in several courses, one at a time. I had a legitimate reason (not excuse) to leave on time to get to class two evenings each week. I chose subjects I wanted to know more about. The classes were very inexpensive and most lasted six to eight weeks. You can also audit classes for free or inexpensively, again in subjects that interest you. I was having so much fun doing this that my boss and his family joined in some classes, and we all took "Line Dancing" together. Just tell them that you have to be at college immediately after work. Not everyone has to know you are taking a course on Travel, Foreign Language, or Small Engine Repair.

Talk to Your Boss

You may not have kids or a husband, but you still have things to do at home. Tell the boss that you have commitments in life that are outside the office and need the workload to be distributed evenly. He or she needs to change the work pattern in your office, not you. It is time that the others do some of the extra workload. If they complain that "you are being selfish," I would say it is not selfish to want time outside the office. Then drop the subject. They have no right to ask you to do more than your fair share.

Pursue Interests Now

Don't work yourself into oblivion while others are out partying. There are no rules that say you have to keep your nose to the grindstone. When your working life is done, you may be so tired that you cannot have fun.

After going through burnout, I realized that there are more things to do in the world than put in 18-hour days. I started saying no to the requests. It doesn't matter if you have family or not. You are entitled to a life just like anybody else. But you have to let people know that your time and your life are valuable to you.

If you want to travel, start checking websites, especially those that have sell-off vacations. I always travel alone, but I wasn't alone very much. There are companies that cater to middle-aged singles.

Pursue your interests now. Life changes; what's fascinating at 22 is not interesting at 52. What you can accomplish at 40 is hard to achieve at 60.

Arrange your life, as you want it to be. I know because I did it. I wanted to work in my hometown in the summer and work in a warm climate in the winter. I did that for approximately 20 years. I wanted to travel and learn other languages. Now I speak three languages and have visited most continents.

Make a Commitment to Yourself

I can relate to your situation. I did not marry until I was 36 years old and I understand the working late, coming in early, etc. However, I often volunteered. No matter what people assume about singles, your life and schedule outside of the office can be extremely busy!

I'm really not sure of any surefire way to stop the comments. When I didn't want to or wasn't available to pick up the slack, I simply said that I was not available because of a prior commitment. One of those commitments is to yourself to do whatever you choose to do with your free time. It's just as important as spending time with a husband or children. I had a married friend with children once say something to me about having so much free time, and I simply replied that my schedule was no less busy than her schedule. I simply have different activities. She never mentioned "all my free time" again.

Keeping a very organized budget, little debt, and doing the bulk of my shopping during peak sale times helped the budget. Also, I prepared (and still do) a list of gifts (Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) at the beginning of the year and shop all year long for these items. It may be a little difficult to spot great gifts on sale all year long, but it is well worth it!

Coupons and grocery stores that offer discount cards do save money. Price Choppers is great if you have one in your area. And the biggest expense I had was eating out. Always on the run, I often stopped for fast food. However, with a little planning, I was able to keep meals on hand. I made frozen breakfast burritos for mornings on the run. Soups, stews, and leftovers that were frozen in single serving containers worked great (and were healthier).

Budgeting for me was the biggest thing. If I had all my expenses accounted for, I knew what I had to spend. Instead of looking at my checkbook balance and thinking I had money to spend, I'd look at my budget and know I had allocated those funds for other expenses. I would be strapped if I spent the "extra" money. Visually assessing my income and expenses was a big saver. It was fun to see certain categories grow for a big shopping spree, vacation, etc. Then I had the money to spend and enjoy without using credit cards and going into debt. It's a little more effort but very liberating.

A good place to start is to write down everything you spend during a month. Yes, it's a bit of a hassle, but it's a good way to assess what your spending habits are and what you may want to adjust. Then you can make a clear budget that is realistic for you. Always have a "stuff" category, which is just fun money to spend on whatever you want. It's the part for which you don't have to account. That's what I used (and still do) for eating out, movies, etc. It doesn't have to be a big amount. $50 works great for me, but if you can swing more, that's great. This also helps if you don't like being "confined" to a budget, as it gives you a little free play.

From Food to Fun…

Before I got married, I had been a single saver for years. I started by doing what everyone else was doing. I compared prices and visited several stores to get the best price on a particular item. I even paid a little more if it saved me time and money in the long run.

When meeting a friend for a bite out, go to lunch or go to a restaurant that serves large portions. Ask for a take home plate before you start your meal. I often got two meals out of one dinner out.

When food shopping, try to go with someone else so that you can shop in bulk without worrying about food spoilage. Repackage food into single servings so that you won't be tempted to order take out when you're tired after work. Eat breakfast food for dinner; it's usually cheaper to make a morning meal than an evening meal.

Expand your wardrobe by swapping clothes with friends. You can also alter things to give them a new life. For instance, cut jeans into shorts, dye something a new color, or add embellishments.

For entertainment, go to places that are free, find second run movie theatres, or go to happy hours that offer food. Here in NY, many clubs and bars have no admission fee if you get there early. You may have to wait for the real party to start, but who cares? Check out the tourist bureau. You may find out about free things going on in your city that you did not know about. Read the local papers, penny savers, and church bulletins.

Check Out These Books

As far as the schedule, it is helpful to speak up at a time when no one is asking you to stay late. It is a balancing act between the feeling of needing to go the extra mile to keep your job and needing some down time to have a life with less stress. I worked out a deal with a previous employer where one Monday a month I either did not come in at all (bliss!) or came in at 1pm and stayed until 7pm. By doing this, I missed the traffic problems and I got more done. After 5pm, it really quiets down. The fact of missing the traffic alone can add 30-45 minutes to your downtime at each end. By having Monday morning free, many errands can be handled at a time when everyone else is at work, which frees up Saturdays and weekends.

The best books I have found on advanced time management for real people are Don Aslett's two books. They are How to Have a 48 Hour Day and How to Handle 1,000 Things at Once. I use his idea of being at work one morning a week at 6am. Because I am rested and fresh, I really get a lot of stuff done.

Apply the Basics

As a single, I can relate to the writer's complaints about being a single, frugal person. I've heard the remarks about how good singles have it. To that I have to respond, "Really? One income has to cover all my expenses in what is widely considered a two-income world."

That being said, there are two different complaints that the writer has. First of all, she wants to know how to be frugal or just live within her means, and secondly, she wants to know how to live as a single person. Both are difficult.

The basics of a frugal lifestyle actually apply. Don't spend what you don't have, try to set aside something on a routine basis for savings, and so forth. Because my food bill has gotten out of control, I'm working on a once-a-month cooking plan.

I would also advise you to associate with other singles. Try a church group, a No-Kidding group (a group of people who have decided, for whatever reason, that their plans don't include kids,, or personal and social activities.

Lightheartedly Deflect the Comments

When I receive "nasty" comments about being single and not having a husband or kids to take care of, I often deflect them with a lighthearted comment that gently shows another view. I say something like, "Yes, and I don't have anyone else to carry out the garbage, mow the grass, or rewire the porch light, either."

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