The troubles of coming in under budget
November 16, 2012 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I have $300. Do I buy a stand mixer, or dump it into my savings account? This is more about the principles of frugality/growing up than the specific item.

I'm in my late 20s. I have a decent job. I live on my own. I pay my bills on time and in full. I save 10% of my income automatically and have a 4-month emergency fund.

On the one hand, I'm due for a raise before the end of the year and want to be comfortable/established in my life. This points to buying quality tools and furniture and clothes. Things that will last.

On the other hand, I'm due to quit my job late next year and go to an expensive, private school. I expect to be shouldering 50k in loans before it's over. Financial aid depends in part on my portfolio.

Should I be dumping every spare dollar into savings in order to reduce my financial burdens for the 3 years I'm in school?

Or should I relax and let myself invest small surpluses in cooking equipment I'll use (really use!), new socks to replace the ones I've had for a dozen years, a wardrobe that makes me feel like a professional, and picture frames for my art?

I'm sure the answer is somewhere in the middle, but what should I be considering?

How did you approach this kind of financial quandary?
posted by itesser to Work & Money (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I set a savings goal of $x per month. Anything above $x I can blow on whatever I want. That balances my priorities in a way that keeps me debt-free and still allows me to indulge now and then.
posted by workerant at 11:20 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

You have to evaluate how these purchases will contribute you your mental well-being and future financial stability. Will you, for example, get lots of use out of the stand mixer? Will you enjoy using it, will it reduce your costs in other ways (more homecooked meals, better meals)? Will a small purchase make you more comfortable? But then again, lots of small purchases add up. Do you say to yourself "If I had a mixer, I'd do ________," or are you doing ______ anyway, which would be easier if you had a mixer? The latter is a better predictor of use.

Also, you can substitute 'mixer' for something else in the above examples.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:20 AM on November 16, 2012

You sound like you are a financially responsible adult who knows what they are doing with their money. I'm not sure how $300 is going to get you all of that stuff, but it also sounds like that is stuff you actually need and not $300 worth of weed and candy bars.
posted by griphus at 11:21 AM on November 16, 2012

Should I be dumping every spare dollar into savings in order to reduce my financial burdens for the 3 years I'm in school?

Yes, that.
posted by grouse at 11:22 AM on November 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

(I would contest that money going toward an adult wardrobe that you are implying you do not have in your late-20s, and toward replacing socks that are contemporaneous with the Clinton administration is not "spare.")
posted by griphus at 11:23 AM on November 16, 2012 [9 favorites]

I was about to say go ahead and get the mixer, because you seem to be managing your money well and you will get a lot of use out of it. There's no substitute for good tools. But then you said you are about to quit your job and take on $50,000 in debt. If it were me, I'd be dumping everything I could spare into a fund to kill off that $50,000 as soon as I could. Stores will still be selling mixers after you are done with school.

So put it in savings, minus a few bucks for new socks.
posted by Longtime Listener at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2012 [15 favorites]

If you know you are quitting your job and spending the next three years living on loans (for, it seems art school?), I would definitely be saving every spare penny now.

Borrowing for education is usually a bad gamble.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:27 AM on November 16, 2012

If you're going to be quitting your job and going to school, save the money. Most people get their stand mixer when they get married and put it on the registry. (Seriously! Though I bought my own, and proceeded to never use it.)
posted by ethidda at 11:29 AM on November 16, 2012

I'm currently going through something similar. I'm gainfully employed, planning to return to school, and struggling to build a "spending framework" in light of that.

Here's how I'm currently thinking about it:
  1. Things that will make the time between now and when I finish school better get purchased. That includes high-quality clothing items in timeless styles, multiple pairs of glasses that are the right prescription, and kitchen supplies that will get used a lot/make my life easier for the foreseeable future.
  2. Things that are nice now but won't matter when I'm in school don't make the cut. No new office desk toys.
  3. Occasional, small indulgences are necessary for my feelings of competence and value and as such are not against the rules. I try not to think too hard about picking up one of those insanely overpriced seasonal lattes at Starbucks, but I don't do it more than once a week.
  4. Otherwise, the money gets saved. I don't really need/want new towels, even if I'm at Ikea and the set will only be $20.
I hope that helps. I'll be watching this thread closely for additional guidance.
posted by cranberry_nut at 11:29 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

My only concern about buying a stand mixer is that it's kind of a big and bulky piece of equipment and the apartments in the Bay Area tend to be small and short on storage.

If the purchase can wait, let it wait. I wouldn't buy anything that I panned on moving, certainly nothing bulky and heavy.

Yes, buy new socks, and yes, invest a bit in a decent wardrobe. One caveat. Clothing styles will be quite a bit different in SF than in So. Cal. If you do get stuff: good, solid basics that you can funk up.

Regarding moving. Ditch anything you can easily re-buy at Ikea.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:30 AM on November 16, 2012

On the one hand:
1) You have a decent job and you have 12 year old socks. You do not appear to be a spendthrift.
2) "Financial aid depends in part on my portfolio." I don't know your situtation, but usually financial aid is higher for people with lower assets. That argues for spending the money.
3) Over your lifetime, your income will probably be on the order of several million dollars (e.g., $75k for 30 years=$2.25 million). Compared to that, $300 is not a big deal. Of course, saying "$300 is not a big deal" many times leads to an amount that is a big deal.

On the other hand, debt reduces your flexibility. The sooner you can pay off your future debt, the more finacial flexibility you will have to do things like buy a house or take a lower-paying but more interesting job.

Finally, learn to consider your spending and saving, but don't obsess over it.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:30 AM on November 16, 2012

Skip the mixer for now, and spend a little money on your wardrobe (especially the socks). Spend it on good, high quality clothes that will last several years. Then go into savings mode.
posted by me3dia at 11:32 AM on November 16, 2012

If you will really really use it, even while you are in school, then it's not a frivolous purchase.
posted by headnsouth at 11:33 AM on November 16, 2012

In your situation I would cut back on luxuries, but not on basic expenses. If you deprive yourself of clean socks you will be miserable -- more miserable than you would be if in debt by that amount. If you deprive yourself of a professional wardrobe you may regret it if a networking opportunity appears and you feel under-dressed. However, if you deprive yourself of expensive kitchenware, nothing bad really happens, and you get out of debt faster.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:34 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just an aside: even as a foodie that loves to cook and owns a $300 KitchenAid stand mixer, I use the mixer disappointingly little. I thought I would be making cakes and breads and meringues and souffles and cookies and so on with surprising regularity!

But since I bought it three years ago, I've used it maybe 6 times. It's a pain to clean, heavy and difficult to move from the corner where it lives and honestly, damn near anything you make with it is gonna make you fat. If you can, borrow one for a while and see how much you use it before dropping the cash on it. Hell, you can borrow mine!
posted by dozo at 11:36 AM on November 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

I confess, I am a huge fan savings (and I am very cheap) and so I would counsel you to save the money; why spend unnecessarily today when you can always save and (maybe) spend on something better later?

Re. the specific purchase though, I cook and bake a huge amount and I have yet to run into a cooking/baking situation that my hand mixer and/or blender can't handle. Seriously. And they take up vastly less space than a standing mixer. (Though they are admittedly not as pretty!)
posted by skye.dancer at 11:38 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I was in college I bought some things I still have today, fifteen years later. I used Christmas present and birthday money, mostly. These things were: several good pots, several good knives, a good cutting board, a couple of nice cashmere scarves, a couple of good wool blankets...and, mysteriously, the J Crew socks that never die, socks that have traveled with me to Beijing and Chicago and San Fran and get worn regularly even still. (J Crew socks are much lower quality now, though.)

I would suggest that if you are as financially responsible as you say, it's perfectly reasonable to buy a few very durable and timeless things. Be careful buying clothes, though - for myself, I find it better to buy gently used clothes cheaply via eBay since my tastes and fashion change. I don't have any clothes (except some scarves, jewelry and The Socks) left from college, for instance, and it's not because I wore them all to shreds.
posted by Frowner at 11:39 AM on November 16, 2012

(I add that of all the things I've wasted money on - and I have been a bit of a fool about money sometimes - the blankets, knives, pots, etc are not on the list. I have been very happy with all of those things, even though some were quite expensive.)
posted by Frowner at 11:40 AM on November 16, 2012

Don't feel guilty about spending some money on quality things that you want and will use and enjoy. You can't sock away every penny.

I would set aside a fixed amount of fun money, which will depend on your budget, and spend it on something that will really make you happy. If the $300 is an unexpected windfall or gift, I'd go ahead and spend it. You are saving and behaving responsibly every day, so give yourself a treat. If it's money you've saved up, then think about how much you would feel comfortable spending.

(And as a counter to skye.dancer, I use my stand mixer all the time and while I usually hate receiving big expensive gifts, it remains one of my all-time favorites.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:50 AM on November 16, 2012

If you really get stumped, you could do what I do with my windfalls - split it. Half goes to savings, half goes to funstuff.

Yeah, it's a Gordian-knot approach, but it works.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:51 AM on November 16, 2012

Buy the socks. Don't buy the stand mixer or picture frames. Don't spend crazy amounts on a professional wardrobe.

Spending money leads to more spending money - you open the pocket once and it's easier to do it again (and again and again). Save now so you don't have to take as many loans.
posted by valeries at 11:56 AM on November 16, 2012

You are extraordinarily clued up, responsible and self-disciplined.

Get the damn socks.
posted by philipy at 12:17 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look on Craigslist for a used mixer? Not sure if that is good advice or not - there are lots of stories about the quality of the mixers over the last 10-20 years, and you don't know what you might get. But otherwise, you can get a mixer for half the price or less. Clean it up really well and Bob's your uncle. Spend the rest of the money on socks.
posted by CathyG at 12:20 PM on November 16, 2012

Can you get a better price on the item? If Kohls has the specific model you want, wait until they have their 15/20/30% off sale, google up the 30% code and buy the mixer.

On a more general level, what's your expected income and what are your job prospects once you finish this expensive schooling? Are you changing fields or advancing in a field in which you already have experience?

You're not established yet, and you've got years of uncertainty coming up. I'd lean towards saving, saving, saving with occasional indulgences. If you're really going to use that mixer (I coveted one and have used it precious few times), and it will save you money or time or prevent you making a bigger splurge because you feel overall deprived, then get it.

You don't need picture frames right now - you do arguably need decent socks and a professional wardrobe. Focus on picking up decent quality pieces at the best possible prices you can. I'd prioritize that over a mixer, unless you won't need professional clothes at all during school in which case I'd save the money unless you're not going to change sizes at all and you're buying 100% classic pieces or accessories.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:30 PM on November 16, 2012

Just an aside: even as a foodie that loves to cook and owns a $300 KitchenAid stand mixer, I use the mixer disappointingly little. I thought I would be making cakes and breads and meringues and souffles and cookies and so on with surprising regularity!

How often do you bake? If you bake all the time, you will love the mixer and wonder how you lasted so long without one. If like most people you bake a couple of times a year, then like most people your stand mixer will sit unused most of the year.

Personally I'd argue that spending money on anything unnecessary (eg stand mixer) is crazy when you are about to take on big debt. Set aside money for wardrobe upgrades (I'd argue that you should buy the clothes in your last year of grad school, not now, because fashions change and you might not know the nuances of the field) and otherwise defer the luxuries until you are done with school and debt.
posted by Forktine at 12:54 PM on November 16, 2012

If you eat pizza once a week, the stand mixer pays for itself in less than a year. Buying quality stuff that you will use forever is always a bargain and a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer qualifies.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:05 PM on November 16, 2012

If you eat pizza once a week, the stand mixer pays for itself in less than a year.

That would only be true if you needed a stand mixer to make pizza dough, which you really don't.

My wife and I bake frequently (say bread 3x per week, and pizza 1x or 2x per month, bagels 1x per month, and cookies occasionally), and none of those things require a stand mixer. We have one, and we do use it for bagels and cookies, but 100% not required.

OP, assuming you borrow at a relatively average 5% rate and take 30 years to repay (I'm on a 30-year plan for my student loans myself), $300 of borrowing will cost you about $1300 to repay. Thinking about this another way, every additional dollar you need to borrow because you've bought yourself a treat will cost $4.32 to repay.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:45 PM on November 16, 2012 [9 favorites]

If you have the time/inclination, look for said kitchen items at garage sales, estate sales, or thrift shops, where you will spend pennies on the dollar for the mixer, cuisinart, whatever.
Seriously, you can also get a quite professional wardrobe the same way, especially if you have a decent tailor handy - for less than you'd pay for crap from Macy's, even on sale.
posted by dbmcd at 2:09 PM on November 16, 2012

You need pleasure that comes from doing something that you love, something that takes your mind off day-to-day issues. If baking and such give you pleasure and you'd use the mixer often, it could benefit you a lot. Also consider that a stand mixer can last decades if you don't overload the motor -- there's a "per use" cost that might end up being really low. You'll need to learn to do a couple of repairs along the way, but those are fairly easy.

Also, ask yourself in what ways a stand mixer is better than a hand mixer. I have both because I do make dough pretty frequently, and some of the cakes require the eggs and sugar to be beaten for about 8 minutes. I certainly could knead the dough by hand and hold the lightweight mixer for the necessary amount of time. To me, it's worth the price difference, but I have disposable income.

Also, is there another angle you're not considering? KitchenAid sells reconditioned mixers at a big discount, and the reviews are excellent. Many people have unused mixers just sitting in a cabinet, and a craigslist ad might result in one of them selling you thier machine. Another thought: at gifting times, can you ask family members to contribute to the mixer account instead of buying you some other thing?
posted by wryly at 2:14 PM on November 16, 2012

It's easy to compare the $300 against $50,000 and come to the conclusion that $300 socked away won't make much of a difference. But look at the point that Admiral Haddock makes: it's going to cost you a lot to borrow that $300 for your education. Also - how much time are you really going to have to use that new gadget while you are in school? (You mention 3 years which makes me think law school, if that is the case I strongly urge you to put aside hobbies for the first year and put all of your energy into studying.) You might need extra money to help you get by during the transition out of grad school back into the work world.

Personally, I think it's weird that you might prioritize a $300 kitchenaid mixer over replacing very old socks, but different strokes for different folks.

Another thought that goes through my head is "don't count your chickens before they've hatched." Yes, you'll likely get your bonus. But you might not.
posted by stowaway at 2:56 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you've got an eye towards quitting your job and going to back to (expensive) school full time in the near future, I would use that money now to expand your current quality of life. Especially if you could do so in ways that will make a difference once you're not working.

$300 in savings next year when you're facing expensive private school is nothing. That's probably less than half your monthly living expenses. It a drop in the bucket that's going to make no real difference to your ability to survive when you go back to school.

But if you spent $300 on socks and underwear and needed home updates and objects that will remain useful for years to come, that will be helpful down the line when you're broke. There's nothing worse than the feeling of running on empty when you don't have the disposable income to just take care of whatever it is. The feeling of being generally broke, and also your underwear is all gross, and your socks all have holes, and you have to bring something really lame to the Thanksgiving potluck because you don't have the tools to make something good, and you're at the mercy of only the media you can check out from the library, and your winter coat has a stain but you have to wear it anyway, etc etc.

I'm in the middle of making a transition like the one you're talking about, and I don't regret the little splurges that are enabling me to feel at least somewhat comfortable in my skin, even though, yeah, I probably could have put a little more money in savings. I'd rather be broke but have presentable shoes and a few nice kitchen things than be slightly less broke but be stuck in last year's worn out sneakers and eat off of paper plates.
posted by Sara C. at 3:30 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

We wanted (note, the use of the word 'wanted', I did not say 'needed') a stand mixer. Stand mixers are expensive. We are not exactly rich. Therefor, we waited patiently for the perfect combo of coupon, rebate, dented box, amazon special, whatever we could get to roll around so that we could get one for as cheaply as possible.

A few years roll by, yes years, and we're at the local thrift store searching for.. I don't even remember what and I hear Mrs.Eld urgently call/beckon to me with two words "Roland! KitchenAid!". I come a runnin' and there on the shelf for 40 bucks was a bowl lift, with cover and beater/whip/hook, old school/by Hobart, Kitchenaid mixer. Worked fine and works fine to this day. The attachments, from the strainer to the grater to the juicer to the pasta roller set (a craigslist find on the latter), have been a pleasure and are well worth purchasing or putting on your Christmas lists.

What I'm trying to say is this: save your money, keep your eyes open, and wait for the day when a good deal on this amazing appliance falls into your lap. Then grab the attachments like it was your job.

Oh, and learn to darn socks, a lightbulb and a needle and thread are all you'll need.
posted by RolandOfEld at 3:58 PM on November 16, 2012

This is what I would do:

I would buy some socks first. Really nice socks. Luxurious socks that will last forever and make me feel awesome for years to come.

Then whatever was left over after sock buying, I'd put into savings.

Then I would put a message on my local Freecycle to see if anyone had a stand mixer that they were giving away. I'm willing to bet that there is someone who will be more than happy to get rid of that stand mixer that they never use.
posted by so much modern time at 4:22 PM on November 16, 2012

Mainly what you get with this sort of question is everybody's idea of relative need versus want, and how relatively terrible they feel about debt. I feel like these things fall out differently based on what you value: in terms of strict cost a new car never pays, but if you really love a new car... you know, what is necessary? Why not wear a potato sack. So we are all finding our personal materialism zone between potato sack and brand new Lexus.

I generally think the best thing you can do when substantial debt is in the picture is know how much that debt is going to cost - what is its monthly carrying cost in terms of interest? What will its ultimate cost over its lifetime be? And I try to at least take a moment to look at a considered purchase in this context. Considering that I could put that money I'd like to spend on a laptop I don't really need against a debt at X%... what is the rent I essentially have to pay every month on that laptop? Does it still seem worth it? What am I actually paying for it in the long run? Would I still seriously think about buying it at that price?
posted by nanojath at 11:52 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Three categories:

Necessities: Buy these. If you have no socks, then socks are a necessity. You should get student-grade (serviceable but not fancy) socks, but you should definitely get socks. (If you have socks but want better socks, then they goes in the next category.)

Non-necessity functional items: You need to consider the opportunity cost vs. the functionality for each item. That's the cost relative to the next best option. Not just money, but also other resources (time, sanity). As a working person you have less time but more money, so something that saves time but costs money (stand mixer) might be a good idea. As a student, you have a reasonable amount of time and very little money, so the scale will tend to tip the other way. The utility of each item might change, too... a professional wardrobe has lots of utility if you're a professional but not very much if you're a student (except in certain programs--law/business, maybe). In general, as a student most of your choices should be to spend time/effort instead of money (this includes things like spending time shopping around for the best deal, OR just spending extra time with the hand mixer).

Non-necessity non-functional items: Budget enough money here to keep you feeling human, but generally this number should be very small because you are going to be fucking poor. Things like library books and trips to a free museum are good here! But really you should decide on a number per month beforehand (after doing the math on money in/money out/time to repay loans) and then get whatever is most appealing and fits in that budget.
posted by anaelith at 7:00 AM on November 17, 2012

Whatever you do, make sure you don't compromise and spend money to buy a lesser mixer or something like that. Either do it and get the one you really want (or maybe even a bit nicer), or don't do it. Any time you are making a purchase of something that you'll (presumably) be using for many years, buying the lesser item usually ends up being a source of frustration for all those years. That advice is not specific to mixers of course.

For the MIXER, I have to agree with the dozen comments saying to find a cheaper source, particularly family/friends/neighbors who never use their mixers. We use ours at Christmas for cookies and sometimes for other things, especially pizza dough, but it is definitely underutilized, and I'll bet many people have these sitting around. You are soon to be in the ideal situation - student poverty - for asking around for that sort of stuff, and people will tend to be willing to help you out. Take advantage of it!
posted by jgreco at 9:31 AM on November 17, 2012

I was once in the same exact dilemma over a stand mixer. Went with a KitchenAid refurbished directly from the manufacturer. Rock solid machine, no troubles, and gets used frequently, especially for dough. Buy something like this only if you'll use it once a week or more. It's big and heavy, takes up a considerable amount of counter space.

On the other hand, suggestions here to check thrift stores, garage sales, etc., are very good suggestions if you aren't sure you're going to use the mixer all that often or are just starting out with a lot of food prep in the kitchen. You can always work your way up if you find your cheaper thrift/garage sale/bargain mixer doesn't cut it.
posted by kuppajava at 10:44 AM on November 17, 2012

I bought my stand mixer with airmiles. At first I used it maybe once a month, now I use it about twice a week and am so thankful, especially when it's doing the kneading for me.
posted by furtive at 11:15 AM on November 17, 2012

I wanted to speak specifically to the stand mixer part of this question - we got ours after waiting and waiting for $150 at Lowe's, of all places. It's the typical KitchenAid, we even got to pick the color. So if you really have your heart set on one, make sure to shop around for price.

(but, yes, I'd wait and save the money if it were me)
posted by getawaysticks at 1:14 PM on November 17, 2012

posted by Rocket26 at 2:03 PM on November 17, 2012

You say you will Really Use the mixer, so I assume you're fond of cooking things that will be facilitated by having it. I'm not well, and a good stand mixer has been a godsend for me - it means I can cook things when I wouldn't have the energy/time to do so otherwise. For me, that makes it worth the cost - though I still waited for a good sale price.

Is this going to be a consideration for you? Is expensive private school likely to leave you with a heavy workload that will cut into the time you'd use for cooking? If so, the mixer might be a great help, taking extra work off your hands while still letting you do things you enjoy. Or it might gather dust while you're flat-out and not able to cook much. You know better than I which is more likely in this case.

Also, get the socks if your current ones are too tattered or uncomfortable. Building up a solid wardrobe is something you can work at over time if you're fond of classic styles rather than fashion trends (thrift shops are good for this if you know what you want and are prepared to settle for nothing less), but you're on your feet pretty much every day.
posted by Someone Else's Story at 9:42 PM on November 18, 2012

Response by poster: Note: my wardrobe isn't completely shot. :) I'm always presentable at work, but I don't set aside money I *have to* spend on clothes. This means I'm usually slow in getting rid of nearly-worn-out basics.

And a stand mixer is something I (would) use seasonally for traditional gingerbread (too hard to mix by hand). I just don't have my own anymore.

But thanks for weighing in, everyone. The variety of perspectives is definitely welcome.
posted by itesser at 9:34 AM on November 19, 2012

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