Thriftstyle Living: My attempt to save money and pay off debt while remaining sane, stylish and happy.

Well. Hello there. My name is Luciana Bonifazi. I live in Chicago. I am an arts administrator, improv/stand-up comedian, singer, “hobbyiest” model, odd-job-er, and all around classy lady. Feel free to google me. There is plenty to check out.

I started this blog in order to document a challenge I am giving myself to only shop at thrift stores and dollar stores for everything I need: clothes, shoes, accessories, housewares, appliances, decorations, cleaning supplies…everything. I will also include under “thrift stores” garage sales and Craiglist (basically anything that’s used and cheaper than it normally would be). This obviously doesn’t include buying groceries and I’ll have to cheat for things I absolutely need but cannot find at thrift/dollar stores (although I am going to give finding everything I need the old college try before giving up and going to Target). I am doing this to help move towards being debt-free and saving up a decent amount of money. I would also like to live a lower-budget lifestyle while not having to give up everything I love about life (eating out, looking good, feeling good, experiencing new things, and seeing lots of live performance). I would rather spend $20 on a concert at Lincoln Hall than on a dress from H&M (and in most cases, I can accessorize better and find more unique clothing at thrift stores anyway).

I am going to be as honest and open in this blog as I can be without inviting people to steal my identity. So I will provide a general idea of what’s going on in my life without providing super-specifics. And if you have a question about anything just ask. I want to make my life an open book so other people can attempt what I am attempting right along with me. So, that being said…

…here is my current situation:

Income: My full time job (Marketing at The Joffrey Ballet) plus my supplementary income (improv and stand up comedy shows, modeling gigs, random odd-jobs) puts me in the $35-36K per year range (leaning lower end than higher end). The supplementary income is inconsistent so its hard to know exactly how much that adds to my stable income. But $35-36K is a decent estimate (this is after taxes, social security, medicare, health insurance, 403B contributions, etc.).

Expenses: 

  • $587.50/month for rent (Will be $500/month starting 9/1 – moving into an awesome new house!)
  • Around $60/month in utilities (ComEd and People’s Gas)
  • Around $90/month for my phone bill (iPhone on AT&T)
  • $9.99/month for Spotify (Perhaps you might say this is an unnecessary expense, but I love music and it keeps me sane while I’m sitting at a desk/commuting around the city all day. Also I ended my Netflix account as I wasn’t using it as often as Spotify, so that saves me $7.99/month. So I will politely ask you to back the eff off. )
  • Around $30-40/week for groceries. (More on this in my next post on food.)
  • $40-60/month for student loans (Loans are consolidated (around $42K from undergrad AND grad school). I am on the income-based repayment plan. Hoping for complete loan-forgiveness in 10 years while I continue to work for not-for-profit organizations.)
  • $86/month for unlimited CTA pass (taken out of my paycheck, pre-taxes)
  • I put about $300/month consistently towards my credit card debt (about $6K total on two cards) while also putting half of any supplementary income (and half of the money I am saving on rent, starting in September) towards debt. I am hoping to be free of credit card debt in the next year or so.
  • $50 goes into my savings account twice a month. Not really an “expense” per say but its money I don’t have readily available for spending. I would like to build up an emergency fund of about $5K and then open another savings account to save for things like taking classes, major purchases, vacations, etc. I set up a new savings account as well as auto-transfers for the 1st and 15th of every month back in August 2011 (about a third of the way to $5K right now). I highly recommend auto-transfers for savings because the money is automatically moved out before you can even think about spending it. The only way to save, as far as I’m concerned. I also try to save some extra money when I have it available. Once my rent lowers in September, I’ll be trying to save at least half of the $87.50 extra I was paying each month (and putting the other half towards credit card debt).
  • Other miscellaneous expenses (car related, health related, etc.) which I will discuss as they come up. For instance this month I had to spend $85 on a new car city sticker and $99 renewing my license plates. So I’m a little strapped for spending money this month.

Things I get for FREE: I always get upset at articles written on sites like LearnVest (A really great financial site for women – if you’re not checking it out, get on it. Lots of great advice and inspiration for cleaning things up financially.) because they explain how “I TOTALLY got out of $30K in debt in 3 months!” but then neglect to mention until the end that the chick was receiving financial help from her parents the whole time. So, again, in an attempt to be completely honest and open, this section will outline everything I don’t have to pay for that most people typically do.

  • Car: My dad bought my siblings and I cars. They’re not fancy. They’re 10-15-yrs-old, cheap, used cars. Like the kind of cars you buy from old people when they can’t drive anymore. So, luckily, I don’t have a crazy car payment. I hardly use said car as well so I spend maybe $40-50 filling up my tank once a month or less. I use the CTA/walk/bike whenever I can and avoid cabs like the plague. (Unless someone else offers to pay – I’m not an idiot.) I will not complain about having to walk a mile or two (or sometimes more if its not crazy hot or cold out).
  • Car insurance: This is the only thing my parents still pay for and its because we’re all on some kind of family-policy-whatever-thing. But this saves me about $150/month.
  • Gym membership: The Joffrey has an awesome partnership with the Chicago Athletic Clubs so we all get free memberships. This is a pretty sweet deal that saves me the $42/month I had been spending on an Xsport membership.
  • Other random workout classes: The Joffrey also offers its own classes. So I go to a few pilates classes a month at no charge.
  • Work on my car: My dad is a mechanic. So I pay nothing (or very little for parts) when I need my car fixed.
  • Free meals, drinks, events, performances, etc.: As an awesome person (and, more realistically, as a girl) I sometimes get things for free. Just a fact. Being completely honest. Also The Joffrey provides me with comp tickets to events/performances every now and again. I’ll also share my free/cheap event secrets with you on this blog, as they come up.

What I like to spend money on: First of all, let me be clear. This section’s title is a little misleading. Mostly because I don’t think I ever “like” spending money. My father definitely passed his “anxiety about everything” genes onto me so spending money on anything makes me a little anxious. That being said, there are a few things that I don’t mind spending money on, when I have it. My main concern in life is having as many new experiences as possible so I tend to spend money on social things rather than material things.

  • Concerts: I go to a ton of concerts. I love live music. I tend to stick to shows in the $15-50 price range at venues like Ravinia, Lincoln Hall, Riviera, Aragon, Park West. (Although I did spend about $90 on Fiona Apple tickets because she is my idol musically.) I’m not hitting the bigger acts/venues with outrageous ticket prices all that often, BUT (shhhh, shhhh) sometimes my dad is able to get me free tickets to shows at certain venues such as Lady Gaga at the United Center (we’re Italian, we know people) or will purchase me tickets for things like Roger Waters plays The Wall at Wrigley Field. My concert-ticket scrapbook is quickly running out of pages to fill, is the point I’m trying to make.
  • Eating/Drinking out: I love going to new bars and restaurants. Sometimes I save up and pay, sometimes other people pay, sometimes I get groupons (or whatever the other million sites are called). When I try a new restaurant or bar (or hit up an old favorite) I’ll talk about it here and be honest about what I had, how much it was and how it was paid for.
  • Events/Performances/Outings: I love going to events around the city and planning activities/outings for family and friends. I try to hit as many free events as I can (and I’ll certainly blog about some of the best free/cheap events in the city). In the summer I like to hit up the beach, BBQs and the Park District’s Open Swims and Movies in the Park, all of which are free entry, but you wind up paying for some snacks and beverages. As an example, I also attended the Park Grill’s “Chefs on the Grill” event which featured grilled items and cocktail pairings from more than 10 local chefs (I bought a ticket through Gilt City for $55, tickets at the door were around $90). As I mentioned above, working for the Joffrey gets me some complimentary tickets to performances at the Joffrey as well as other arts organizations in the city, but I also will pay for these from time to time – holding onto my grad school student ID helps with this, as do offers online. Most organizations such as museums, theatres, etc. have special days or seating sections that are free or cheap so I scour the internet for deals like this – I’m not snobby about going on crowded days or sitting in the balcony. (I’ll post about these things as well, as they come up.)
  • Traveling: I like to get out and explore so I travel a lot. Mostly domestically although I want to try to get over to Europe again in the next few years. I try to stay with friends or use Airbnb as its cheaper than staying in a hotel. And I use groupon and other sites for eating out, try to scour the internet for free events, buy groceries so I have breakfast and snacks covered for the trip – pretty much live on vacation the same way I live in Chicago.
  • Looking good: I am not by any means high maintenance when it comes to makeup, hair, fashion, etc. I wear makeup maybe once a month or less. I cut my hair maybe every 4-6 months (and my friend does it out of her parents’ basement for $20). I get a mani-pedi maybe once every 4-6 months. The only thing I pay for on a semi-consistent basis cosmetically is waxing and only because I have sensitive skin so shaving is a no-no and its only like $40 every month and a half. I do like looking stylish and I find that I am able to create more complete outfits (with accessories and more interesting looks) when I shop at thrift stores. I wear the clothes I’ve purchased at thrift stores way more often than I do the stuff I purchased from regular stores (mostly Victoria’s Secret, Express, H&M and Forever 21).

So. That is my current situation. That is what I’m working with.

What can you expect from this blog? Lots of things:

I am going to be, for the foreseeable future, buying anything I need (not including groceries and things I need but cannot find) from thrift stores and dollar stores. I will post entries about the thrift stores I visit, what I find, what I purchase, how much it was, etc. I’ll have lots of lovely photos. I’ll include tips on the best ways to thrift. Any deals I come across. And ways to save money on things that I can’t buy from thrift stores (groceries, meals out, entertainment, etc.). I’ll update you on any odd-jobs I do, how much I make, and how I came across them. There might be some random financial advice thrown in (I am far from a CPA or a personal financial adviser, so this is advice for real people, from a real person). And I might include other tips and tidbits as I go along.

Thanks for reading and coming on this journey with me. Should be fun. And, again, feel free to ask me any questions and I’ll try to answer them as honestly as possible.

Boring details out of the way…now let’s get to the fun stuff!

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  • I am looking forward to following you here now. This will be a great blog, I can sense it

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