Saturday, August 30, 2008

August in Review

This has been a bit of a strange month for me. Obviously I didn't even come close to hitting my goal. In another post JB from Get Rich or Die Trying asked me what I would do if I didn't hit my goals. Well, fortunately I did very well in July and so the lack of income for this month didn't hit me too hard. I can't have too many more months like this though!

One of the things that got me this month was lack of non-passive income, as in any sort of freelance work. I co-own a little design business and we have actually had a pretty busy month, but all that money goes straight back into the business. In June and July I was able pick up work outside my day job - house managing for Shelly and working for Maureen on a car commercial. I didn't have anything like that this month. September looks better. I have some house managing lined up for sure and a few other irons in the fire.

But what happens if I don't make it? Well, I do have some emergency funds. I have a emergency cash account of $250 for quick access and I have a little over $500 in an online banking account. The online account used to have quite a bit more, but it went to paying for the lawyer in my divorce. I am currently putting at least $50 in that each month to try to build it back up. If things are really desperate I also have an account for Christmas money I could tap. I don't like to even think about that, but it is there. Last year I set up an account, calculated how much I thought I would need at Christmas time, then had that amount deducted each paycheck and set aside. It was great! When Christmas came I had money set aside for gifts and never went over my budget or had to use credit cards. I liked how it worked so well that I did it again this year. Currently it is sitting there, earning interest and waiting for the holidays. I would hate to use it - but I could if I were in a pinch.

Then, if things were really really bad and those resources were all used up, well, there is always family. Both my mother and my sister have offered to help me out. Again, this is something that is on the very bottom of the list, but, I could do it if I had to.

I am hoping, however, to avoid that by setting up regular systems of income and continuing to cut expenses. I know that there will be bad months (like this month) but I also hope there will be good months like July to even it all out. Besides, not everything in this month was bad...

While I overspent my "Misc" budget by quite a bit, I saved in almost every other flexible budget item. The Misc. field is just that - a little of everything I don't know how else to divide up on my budget. I allocate $50 to it, which may be too small. Anyway, this month I had birthday gifts, wedding and shower presents, and some other items. (For one thing I needed to get rat traps for the chipmunk that got inside my cottage!! ) If you look at the other items though, I did great. I am under my budgeted amount in electricity, gas, and water. I also am under in fuel for the car, groceries, dining out and entertainment. In dining out alone I am under by $74! (I allocate $150 for the month, I came in at $76.00.)

I also have been able to build up a considerable inventory of items on Amazon and Some of these items belong to friends so I am splitting the profits with them, but many are my own. These sales are not reliable - I never know when someone is shopping one of my items. It is far less predictable than eBay, but the benefit is that I don't pay until it sells. So, by getting those things up I hopefully setting up a small (mostly) passive income stream. Currently I have well over 100 books, DVDs and CDs listed. While the sales are fairly small, they can add up. I usually have a goal of trying to list 3 eBay items a day, but with these things I've been doing more on the order of 8-10 a day. Now that they are all listed I plan on concentrating on eBay again.

So, in addition to getting my $900, next month's goals are:

1. Change a few more light bulbs to CFLs
2. Continue walking 45-50 minutes (or more) a day
3. Advertise the garage stall for rent
4. Get more items on eBay

Goal Posts:

Systematically Replacing Light Bulbs with CFLs

Renting Out my Garage

Other people's goals:

The Family CEO - Making Money with eHow

Bouncing Back From Bankruptcy - Moving Stuff

** I know I have read a bunch of posts with people's goals, but I can't find them now. What are your goals for September? Tell me in a comment or leave me your link - I'd love to read them!

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Systematically Replacing Light Bulbs with CFLs - Monthly Goals

Lately I have been writing about compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and systematically going through my home and replacing my old incandescent bulbs with CFLs. I have decided to make it a goal to replace a few bulbs each month and track how it effects my electric bill. The bulbs are a little pricey - especially since almost all my fixtures have some sort of wacky bulb (candelabra, flood, etc.) so this isn't the kind of thing I can tackle all at once, but my goal is going to be to do a few each month and track its effectiveness.

So this month I went out and purchased several CFLs at Home Depot. Not realizing at the time how few "standard" light bulbs I had, I just bought a 4 pack. While I have managed to find homes for them all, it hasn't been easy. I replaced bulbs in two fixtures in my "library", one in my living room and one in the kitchen. These are all lights that use a regular incandescent bulb. For the time being I am collecting all my incandescents (rather than making craft projects out of them) and I am looking for opportunities to donate them. My friend Kate suggested that I see if the Home Improvement Services (the nonprofit where I take classes on home repair) could use them. I'm going to look into it!

So, yesterday I got my electric bill and guess what? There was a difference!

...but to be honest, I don't think it had anything to do with the CFLs.

July's bill was $47.22, August's bill was $42.81

However, I think it is just a fluke. For one thing, the lamps that I replaced bulbs in are not used that frequently, certainly not enough to make a difference. For another, I replaced the bulbs in the middle of the month, again, not really enough time to make a $4.41 difference. I suspect the decrease in usage was from more mundane things - spending time up north instead of at home, for example.

Still, I think it is going to be really fun tracking this. Each month I will try to give an update as to where I am with bulbs - and with bills.

One article I found fascinating on this subject was written by Financial Ramblings: Should I Replace My Light Bulbs with Compact Florescent Light (CFL) Bulbs Today, or Wait Until They Burn Out? The author of Passive Family Income and I had a similar discussion about this very same thing in the comments of one of my posts. It's tricky because it goes against my fugal nature to throw out perfectly good light bulbs - even if the savings make sense. That's why I am hoping I can find a place to donate them!

A Little Light Reading:

Comparing CFL Light Bulbs to Incadescent Light Bulbs

The Problem with Installing CFLs in My Home Fixtures

Renting Out the Garage - and More on CFLs

How to Spot a Psychopath has this monster CFL - Further Freudian Illumination

EDIT: Here's how my bill is doing after 4 months of slowly switching to CFLs: Electric Bills Even Lower, Thanks to CFLs

Post photo and Lightbulb Greenhouse from Instructables - Light Bulb "Green" House

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Free Stuff Makes Me Smile

Yesterday I read a post by Frugal Chick about how she had been coveting the August issue of Vogue. Because she is being frugal (hence her sassy name) she wasn't going to buy it - even though she had picked it up a few times at the grocery store. Then lo and behold, she finds some magazines at work that someone was throwing out and she decided to take them home to recycle - and you guessed it, in the pile was a brand new August issue of Vogue.

I love that kind of thing - little unexpected gifts from the universe. Yesterday I had my own unexpected free find by the roadside - and no, it wasn't a dead raccoon!

I've been walking lately. I used to walk a lot, then I don't know - I sort of got out of it. Then during the whole divorce stuff I really got out of it. You know how exercise is supposed to be good for stress and when you are feeling bad it can boost your system and help you feel better? It seems ironic that those are the very times when I have the least inclination to get off the couch and stop eating my huge bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream. When I am miserable, sweating and being healthy sounds like a terrible idea. Sleeping late, drinking wine and indulging in comfort food seems like a better option!

Anyway, this week I started walking again. I've been a bit hardcore about it, trying to get myself back into some kind of routine. It isn't about weight so much as building up my stamina. Lately I've been feeling weak - walking helps me feel strong again. I'm an asthmatic and I find that when I don't do some kind of activity my lung capacity gets less and less. Walking helps me regain that so I've been walking 45-50 minutes in the morning before work and then again after work every day. (I've also been using exercise bands at night - and let me tell you something, they may seem lightweight, but my shoulders are feeling it today!)

So, last night I was out walking and I found a box marked FREE BOOKS. I'm a reader - and selling books on Amazon and Half, so how could I resist? The box was a mix of science fiction, non fiction and chick lit. I sorted through them and found four that I thought would be great for either reading or selling or both. I was tempted by the whole box, but didn't want to be greedy and as I was digging through a few other people walked up to peruse. I was only a little way into my walk when I found them, so then I had the dilemma - should I go back home or just carry the four books with me? And then there were the rest of the books - I was tempted to go back and get those as well. Ultimately I decided to just finish the walk, so for the next 40 minutes I briskly walked carrying four hard covers.

This morning I headed out again and once again walked by the box of books. It didn't look like anyone had taken any since I was there last night. It was starting to look like rain, so I didn't stop but kept on my walk, but then when I got home I got in my car went back and took the rest of the books. Good thing too, it started to sprinkle when I pulled in my driveway. I feel a little greedy, but on the other hand, if no one grabbed them and their owner didn't pull them inside the books would have been ruined. This way I can make sure they go to a good home. Anything that I won't read myself or that don't think I can sell (which is the majority of the popular science fiction) I will donate to our local library.

More Free Reads:

Frugal Chick: I Heart Free

Save, You Fool: 101 Ways I Saved Money This Summer

One Caveman's Financial Journey - Sometimes You Have to Be a Little Crazy to Get the Best Deals

Oh, and exercise bands I like: GoFit Ultimate ProGym with DVD

Photo by Charlemange 13

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Are the gas company service warranties worth the money?

This is something I am debating: should I be paying for a service warranty for my home appliances?

My ex always kept a warranty on the furnace and hot water heater. It was one of those things he set up and I really didn't question. To be honest, it came in handy - our furnace broke down on Thanksgiving... two years in a row. (It seems the furnace, much like me, is not fond of that particular holiday.) So, back when I thought I was having problems with the hot water heater I called the gas company - only to be told that the warranty expired when my ex put the utilities in my name. Frustrated, I put the warranty back on.

But I just got my gas bill... and now I am starting to wonder. Do I really need it? It is an additional $12.95 a month added to the already high bill of heating a 150+ year old house. I hate having that expense, but on the other hand, not having hot water or a working furnace simply isn't an option when you are a landlord. So what to do?

Well, here is what I decided -

If I absolutely cannot be without these basic services, then I need to insure their working either by purchasing insurance (the warranty) or self insuring.

A warranty really is just insurance. It is basically a policy that means that I can call someone and have them fix these appliances at low cost. The question is, does the cost outweigh the benefits?

Ideally, what I would like to be able to do is self insure. Rather than sending off $155 yearly to the gas company, I would rather have the money I need to cover repairs sitting (and happily earning interest for me) in a savings account - the problem is that right now I don't have that kind of money. I did a rough search online and a new furnace would run somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000. Assuming that the hot water heater and furnace wouldn't go out at the same time and that the worst case scenario is that I have to completely replace the furnace, I would say somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,750 to $2,000 in savings would be needed to me to comfortably self insure.

For now, I think the best thing for me is to continue to pay for the warranty - for this year at least. My emergency saving account was hit pretty hard during the divorce. Even though I am going through financial difficulties right now, I am still working on building up those savings again. In addition, I am working hard at paying off my credit card. No, I don't mean that I want to put repairs or new appliances on a newly paid off card, what I mean is - if I pay off my credit card I can put that monthly payment into my savings, growing my emergency fund even faster. If I knew I had $1,750 - $2,000 in available savings and no credit card debt, I could cancel my warranty.

Now, here's the trick though - you can only cancel once a year - otherwise they auto-renew you. So, what this means is that I need to set up a date on my calendar to review where I am at in May. (I have to cancel in writing one month in advance if I don't want to be stuck paying extra fees.) In May I can make the decision to keep the warranty for another year or begin self insuring. I hope that by then I will have things a little more calm in my life and be able to stop relying on the gas company for their warranty, but if I do then I will keep it and renew again the following year - again making sure to set up a reminder note for May.

One thing I won't do though is add a warranty for small appliances like my dishwasher, refrigerator or stove. Let's face it, I can live without those things for a few days if necessary. Besides, I am learning that sometimes I can repair an appliance myself (and I did fix the tenant's refrigerator) plus my friend David said he just found a great appliance repair person in our neighborhood. For that I will self insure.

Warranted Extra Reading:

My Home Repair Story - Replacing the Freezer Seal on an Admiral Freezer

CSB News - Are Extended Warranties Worth the Money?

Associated Content - Extra Warranties for Major Appliances - Are They Worth They Money? Buying Extended Warranties on Appliances

Photo by: Kimberly Hurst

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Answering a Reader Question

In response to my post last week jb asked a couple of great questions: "So do you ever plan to rent the upstairs? Or why not just sell it and get something that you really like and is YOURS?" Thanks for asking jb! Here's the scoop:

I am currently renting the upstairs apartment. As I mentioned, the house is split up - 3/4 is the owner's unit and 1/4 is a one bedroom apartment. I do presently have a tenant in that apartment who is on a one year lease. In the past I have written about working on that apartment for her - fixing her refrigerator and toilet, for example. Her rent is $550. However, that money does not go into the "Getting Nine Hundred" pot. That money was planned into the budget - the $900 I need is over and above it.

The scary thing about having a tenant is that you just don't know how long they are going to last - even if they are on a one year lease. Leases have been broken before and will be again. If that should happen - I will need to get $1450 a month over and above my regular salary!! That's one of the many reasons I do what I can to make sure that I am a good landlord to her.

So, why I don't sell the house and get something I really like? Well, that is a little complicated. The house was up for sale from January through shortly after when I moved in. I moved in June 30th and I took it off the market the first part of July. Why?

Because in order for it to sell, I would have to take a fairly large loss. The house is in very good condition except for one thing - the paint. It is an old wooden Victorian built in 1847. It is a gorgeous but unfortunately, the former owners did a rotten job of painting it and now it looks as my mother so delicately put it, like an "eyesore." The paint is flaking and peeling everywhere. First impressions are everything and anyone looking at the house is going to notice the paint. Even if I price the home low knowing what it needs, a buyer is still going to try and under bid me - and frankly, I can't blame them - I would do the same thing! However, I have no interest in selling it for less than the mortgage amount. In fact, I'd like to go so far as to make a profit!

On top of that is the current market - things are stagnant right now. Housing everywhere is difficult. People are trying to hold onto their own homes rather than buying new. My house is in a great location; it is an area that is actually growing. It also has tons of features that make it a great investment, but in order to sell I am going to need to do a couple of things:

1.) Wait out the market a bit. My area is one of the few in the country that has a positive outlook in a few years, but still it is going to take some time. If I want to walk away without owing money, I need to wait for things to settle down with the housing market.

2.) I need to get it painted. I was fortunate enough at my garage sale to meet a painter who I would like to hire to do the work - but I just don't have the money right now. It is going to cost me $6,000 approximately, and I don't have it. However, if I stay in the home for a year or so and build up some equity, I will be able to take out a home loan for the amount and get the work done. This will be a case where spending $6,000 will effect the selling price by $10,000 or more.

Both my lawyer and my realtor recommended this plan - give it a couple of years, get it painted, then try to sell it. When the professionals you hire give this kind of advice what can you do, but take it?

I will say just one more thing on the subject. Trying to sell a home is stressful. So is moving and getting a divorce. When I moved in, I knew I was going to need time to unpack and get settled. Knowing that at any time there could be a showing was just too much to add to my already full plate. So, for the time being my goal is simply to make the house as much of my home as I can and wait and see what the next few years might bring.

Read More about Me and My House:

House Painting

Remodeling for ReSale

House Blues

Housing Woes Across the Country:

Home Prices Drop by Record Amount in Second Quarter

Photo of houses for sale and let by: I See Modern Britain

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Small Checks Can Add Up

Well, here we are nearly at the end of the month and I haven't been doing very good on my goal this month. Thank goodness I had such a windfall last month! Part of the problem for this month was that I wasn't able to do much in the way of non-passive income. The last couple of months I have been able to pick up some extra work here and there, this month I didn't have anything.

I did complete my first secret shopping assignment, but that was just for reimbursement for lunch. I noticed on their job board today there were a number of assignments available in my area so I applied for a few. I was accepted for one so far. It only pays $10, but it also offers a $15 reimbursement for food. I'm going to the same friend along who went on the last one with me. It was fun going together and he helped me keep track of certain details - since note taking is naturally verboten! Tracey, another friend of mine, told me that when she used to do secret shopping that they started you with "easy" assignments and then as you proved yourself she was given better and better assignments. I hope that system is still in place and I can continue to do a good job and get offered additional assignments.

In other small check news, I just got a confirmation from that they received my cell phone. They are a site where you can recycle your used electronics. For my cell, they are going to send me a $8 Visa card. Not bad, considering I no longer have any use for it.

I continue to add books, DVDs and now CDs to Amazon and I almost have all of Catie's DVDs listed. Tommy gave me a bunch of CDs and books to list so I am working my way through those as well. Once those are up and running I plan to get more eBay items going. The problem is there is only so many hours of the day, and I can only do so much. Still, with this big defict for August, it is going to make September tough if I can't meet my goals.

Keep Tabs on My Monthly Goals:

July Goal Made

July - End of the Month Reflections

June - End of the Month Reflections

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Friday, August 22, 2008

House Reflections

Since moving back into the house my ex-husband and I bought, several of my friends have asked me if it feels strange to live there. The answer is... sometimes, but not in the way you might think. My ex and I bought this house together a few months before we got married, and to tell the truth, it just never felt like "home" to me.

He and I had been living in his one bedroom apartment. It was working, but it felt a bit cramped. On top of that most of my things were in storage, so I always felt like a guest living there. He did his best to make me feel welcome - we even redid the kitchen and painted the dining room together, but still I was always aware that the apartment was his, and it was in his house. At some point we decided to start thinking about buying a home together, someplace with a little more room. So, we made a list of all the things we wanted:

  • It needed to be a multi-unit. (At the time my ex wanted to invest in real estate and he wanted the house to have at least two units in it.)
  • It needed to have a garage with at least two stalls, if not three. (My ex was and still is a car guy.)
  • It needed to have an area for gardening. (My request.)
  • It had to have a spacious, modern kitchen.
  • It had to have room for entertaining plus room for two in-home offices.
  • It needed to have air conditioning. (Again, something my ex really wanted.)
  • While we are both handy, neither of us wanted a "fixer-upper." Cosmetic work was ok, but it had to be in "move-in" condition.
  • It had to have at least one outdoor living space - deck, porch, something.
  • We had to be able to afford it.
And for extra credit:
  • My ex wanted a fireplace and stained glass windows. As for me, I had always wanted to live in a particular neighborhood. This wasn't a deal breaker or anything, just a long standing dream of mine. It was an area near where I lived before I met my ex and I loved the neighborhood and wanted to return.
For me this was kind of an idle thought, but a few weeks after we talked about it, he told me he found the house. He had taken a look at it and thought it was perfect. The next day I met him and the realtor over there and took a look at it.

The house was all that we had wanted and more. It had everything on the main list - a two unit, with 3/4 belonging to the owner and a nice sized one bedroom apartment on the second floor. It had a three stall garage, a small yard that would be perfect for gardening, a newly redone kitchen, and tons and tons of space. It needed a paint job, but the interior was in great shape. It had air conditioning, a new driveway and a new porch on the front - plus a patio out back. For extra credit, it was even in th neighborhood I had dreamed of living. The only things it didn't have were stained glass windows and a fireplace.

I wasn't quite sure what to say when I saw it. While it had all that we wanted, it didn't instantly feel like home to me. When I bought my cottage I walked in the front door and I just knew. It felt right and deep in my bones I knew this was the place I wanted to buy. But this house didn't have that for me. It felt... fine. And kind of cold. I thought it was the paint colors; every room was painted some cold color - greens with blue tones, grayish purples, that sort of thing. Then there was one room that for some unknown reason was painted hot pink with black and white splatter paint. The wife of the couple we bought it from said that it was that way when they bought it, and eventually it became her favorite room. I thought it was because it was the only room with any warmth to it.

Because I wasn't sure about it, and it felt wrong to just buy the first house we saw, we spent the next couple of weekends going to open houses and looking at other homes in the area. Nothing we saw could even compare. In fact, the next thing that even came close needed a ton of work and was $25K more! So, what was I to do? We made an offer.

In retrospect I should have listened to my gut, but hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it? I guess I thought that I could make it work somehow - some new paint, my own furniture - I could make it into my home. And, I tried. We repainted the hot pink room a warm taupe and the purplish gray dining room a bright yellow and a warm olive; colors that I picked out. We put in a garden area out back and got my furniture out of storage, yet still, I felt like a stranger in my own house. Somehow I never lost that feeling of being a guest in my ex's house, even though this one was in my name. I tried finding my own spaces in the house, places I could carve out as my own. There is a small room in the attic I used as my "writer's garret" and home office that I decorated with all my own things. Still, I kept looking around, feeling lost and thinking "Where am I?"

When my ex and split, I moved into a little apartment and he was to keep the house. Of course things didn't work out that way and he is back in his old apartment and I am now in the house, so it makes sense that I get asked if it feels weird to live there.

The truth is, not as much as it did the first time I lived there. I didn't want to take the house, I didn't want to move back in, but when it became inevitable I did the best I could to accept the situation gracefully. Now that I am there, the house is actually starting to grow on me. There are things that are strange - I find myself looking for the time on a clock that we used to have that isn't there anymore. Occasionally I head to the dining room for a cookbook, only to remember that I keep them in the kitchen now. When I come home, I still look at the wall where the phone was to see if there are any messages - even though I don't have a land line. Those things are all habits, but they stand to remind me of my former life. The spare bedroom and his basement office are the only two places that still have my ex's, I don't know... aura about them, I guess. The rest of the house is gradually feeling like mine.

One thing I want to do though is repaint the bedroom. The bedroom doesn't really have much of that 'past-marriage' air but still, I feel a strong urge to recreate that room. Currently I have done what I could by putting my bed in an odd place - smack dab in the center of the room. I didn't want it where the old bed was, and there are limited options in that room. It has worked though - the room feels very different. My next goal is to repaint it. The other two areas will also get re-purposing. I don't think they are going to require paint or much money, just changing the way the space is used. The spare bedroom is the worst area since my ex chose to use that as his bedroom when I moved out, and I still "sense" him there. However, I am turning that room into my office and eBay room. Right now it is still full of boxes, but I know where everything is. I think organizing it and getting my office set up properly plus taking down his old curtains will help. As for his office downstairs, I may turn that into a craft area.

To me, the "weird" things about living there are these: 1) It is slowly occurring to me that I can spread out and put my things wherever I want to. Just this morning I realized I could use up the entire medicine cabinet, I had found that I was still keeping one side empty, (which was actually the inspiration for this post) and 2) it isn't as strange living there as I thought it would be. It is weird that I don't feel weird. Part of my brain thinks this should be strange, yet, I am finding myself surprisingly comfortable here - far more than I ever did in my marriage.

Now that is strange.

More to read about how I got where I am:

Where it all began - Help! I don't want to go bankrupt!

More back story - Number Crunching

About getting divorced - Well, it finally happened

Read more

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Replacing the Freezer Seal on an Admiral Freezer

I was popping around on my list of favorite blogs over there and saw Mrs. Micah's Mid-August Round-Up. In it she mentions the Frugal DYI Refrigerator Repair post by Remodeling this Life. Thanks to Mrs. Micah for pointing this one out! I'm glad she did, because I've been wanting to say something about this one myself.

I mentioned awhile back that my tenant complained her refrigerator was running constantly and not keeping things cold. No, it wasn't a cat in the 'fridge - it turned out to be the freezer door seal. I want to give a big thank you to since it was with their website that I diagnosed and then solved the problem.

Acme said there were a few things that might cause a refrigerator to run constantly:

1. The freezer needed defrosting
2. The condensor coils needed cleaning
3. The door switch could be broken
4. The door seals either needed cleaning or replacing

It was pretty easy to rule out the freezer needing defrosting - especially since the freezer was having a hard time keeping cold. I assumed it was the condensor coils; I figured they hadn't been cleaned in a long, long time. However, when I went to move the refrigerator to check, I discovered condensation on the outside of the freezer door. That's when I knew that it wouldn't be necessary to pull the refrigerator out or check the door switch - I needed a new seal.

I'm not sure what happened to the original freezer door seal, but it was all pulled out of shape and discolored in one corner. Consequently cold air was rushing out through the hole. It was no wonder the fridge couldn't keep up! I have no idea how old this refrigerator is, but it is an Admiral. I wasn't sure I was going to even be able to find parts!

First I called Lowes. I know Lowes didn't carry what I needed, but I thought they might know someone in my area who did. I was right - the salesman was able to give me the names of two companies in my area that sold freezer parts for Admirals. So, I made some calls -

The first things I needed were the serial number and the Bill of Materials (BM) number. Admiral is a division of Maytag, but frankly, I didn't find the Maytage website at all helpful. Fortunately both the serial number and the BM number were easily located on a tag inside the door of the refrigerator. The new seal came to over $80 - and took a week to get here. It was kind of a pain, and more than I wanted to spend, but far, far cheaper than a new refrigerator!

From there it was fairly simple. I loosened a few of the hex nut screws at a time and carefully removed the old seal. You never want to loosen all of them at once - your door can come apart! Then, one side at a time, I put the new one on and tightened the screws. It is a bit fussy - you have to go slow and really get the seal perfectly in place before tightening down the screws, but it is an easy project to do yourself. It probably took me about 30-45 minutes to complete. I will link to a repair site below so you can see photos.

The point is, that one of the most frugal things we can do is try to fix things ourselves and make things last. It is better for the environment - and our pocketbooks!

Cool Additional Reading:

Remodeling this Life - Frugal DIY Refrigerator Repair

Acme How To - Refrigerator Troubleshooting Guide

WikiHow - How to Replace a Refrigerator Door Seal

Frugal is and Frugal Does

Photo by Meggito

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mystery Shopping Feedback

So, here is the feedback I got back from my Mystery Shopping last Friday. I am changing the names and so forth to protect the innocent -

Dawn XXXX,

Thank you for the excellent job on your (name o' restaurant here) report! We especially appreciated how quickly you submitted it. We noticed a couple of point reductions that slipped through without written statements (server suggesting XXX, employee giving lunch punch cards). As it states in our instructions, we require that EVERY point reduction (ZERO or NO answer) must have a written statement clearly explaining the reduction, even if the sentiment appears understood. This includes simple yes/no answers! Any NO answer means the employee loses points for this item, so we still need an explanation for this reduction in your own words. Without the written support, we had to return these points to the employee when we submitted the report to the client. Also, please make sure to send in your receipt for reimbursement of this shop IF YOU HAVE NOT ALREADY DONE SO. You may fax it to us or scan and e-mail it. HOWEVER, you may disregard this reminder if you have already sent in your receipt. We appreciate all your hard work! Have a wonderful day!
Interesting eh? I knew from reading their instructions that they wanted clear explanations on anything marked negative, but the two items I didn't comment about were just simple "no" answers. The punch card for example - I didn't even know the store was running a punch card promotion, so I just marked "no" on the question, but didn't consider it anything against the server. Now I know!

This "job" was just a reimbursement for lunch. I submitted my receipt the day I sent in my report, so let's see how they do. I will let you know when I see the reimbursement hit my account. It should be interesting.

Overall, I think the experience was a positive one and certainly one I would do again.

Something to Chew On:

Federal Trade Commission - The Secrets of Mystery Shopping Revealed

ezine - A Closer Look at Mystery Shopping Jobs

Mystery Shopping as NonPassive Income

The Dollar Stretcher - My Story - Mystery Shopping

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Getting my Zs

So, one of the things I discovered when I moved into the house was that my box spring for my queen sized mattress will not fit up the stairs into the bedroom. When my ex and I lived there there was a king sized bed in that room - which meant two twin sized box springs. They fit up just fine. The regular mattresses - both the king and the queen fit up just fine as well, since they fold and you can kind of cram them up there. However, the queen box spring is just about 3" too wide.*

This leaves me with a variety of options:

1. I could keep the status quo and I could continue to sleep on mattress only. Currently it is resting in the bed frame on top of plywood which has been laid across the bed slats.

2. I could buy a new bed in a new size. Twin, Full and King beds will all fit easily.

3. I could buy a new type of queen sized mattress and/or a new bed frame that doesn't require a box spring,

4. I could move my bedroom down to the first floor. I know my box spring will fit in there, since that is where I am storing it presently.

5. I could put up a couple of big hooks and a hammock.

Unfortunately, none of these options really appeal to me. My bed was built for me by my father and it was specifically built for a box spring. Without one, there is a big (by big I mean bigger than my head) gap between the top of the mattress and the bottom of the headboard. Frankly, it is dangerous. I have woken up a few times and realized during the night I ended up under the headboard. That could be really bad if I woke up in a hurry.

But I don't want to buy a different sized bed. If I buy different bed that is also going to mean new sheets and comforters, and so on. Currently I have queen beds in both the house and the cottage. It is convenient to be able to mix and match the bedding. I actually really liked the idea of getting a new platform style bed that didn't need a box spring, so this weekend I went and checked them out at Ikea. The thing about Ikea though is that everything is ala cart. When I found the nifty $499 bed that caught my eye in the catalog - it turned out to be over $1,000 complete. I don't have the $499 - let alone the rest!

Then there is moving down to the first floor. Sigh... I could but... when my ex and I split he moved down there. The room still has some of his "atmosphere" in it. It is ok as an office and eBay room, but I don't want to sleep there. Besides, the main bedroom has the dressing area, big closet, window seat and skylight. It's a great room. I don't want to switch. Unfortunately I am not nimble enough to climb in and out of a hammock during the middle of the night, so that cut my options right down, but then I had a thought...

Why not build a platform bed? I really like the idea of having something simple and low profile in that room. Why not make something myself? Maybe something along the lines of this:

Okay, according to the description, this is a $5,000 bed - and if I don't have money for the $500 bed, I certainly don't have it for this! But that doesn't mean I couldn't make something like it, no aluminum base, no swiveling bed trays, but inspired by this design.

The next question was about mattresses. Did I have to get a special mattress for my platform bed? So, I started researching online. I just wanted to get a feel for what is out there and how much I can expect to have to pay. I also wanted to see if there was some sort of special "box spring-less" mattress I needed. I admit, I was a bit overwhelmed by what I found, that was until I found this hilarious article on (I'll put a link to it at the bottom, but it is a must read for anyone who is mattress shopping!)

I also found some great links to other people who have built their own platform beds. I am going to try to rough up a design and see if I can come up with the lumber. I'll work on a plan, invite a few friends with power tools over and offer them pizza and see what we can't do. I figure I can use my current mattress in it until I have another windfall. Then I will get another queen sized mattress so I have one upstairs for me, and one downstairs for guests. I'll be sure and keep you informed as to how it comes out - and naturally, how much money I spend!!

Sleep on This:, Seth Stevenson - Going to the Mattresses (A very funny must read!)

My Family Loves It - How to Build a Platform Bed

YouTube - Platform Bed Building

Associated Content - How to Build a Platform Bed for Less than $50

Associated Content - How to Build a Platform Bed with Cinderblocks

Top photo by wander.lust

Second photo by wnorrix

* Yes, we tried that. And that too. I tell you, it just isn't going to fit.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Mystery Shopping as Nonpassive Income

So, I tried something new Friday.... Mystery Shopping. Sing along with me won't you? "Sec-ret A-gent Man! Sec-ret A-gent Man!"

I've been wanting to do it for awhile, but haven't had the right opportunity. Several bloggers that I read have made money being a Secret Shopper, so awhile ago I signed up with a few different Mystery Shopping Companies. The last couple of months I have been watching for a good assignment. Being a Secret Agent, errr.... Mystery Shopper requires some level of work. You need to apply for the job, look for assignments, apply for assignments, then go to the location and do the secret shopping, then you have to come back and report in. It isn't all having a good time and getting a check - and the reports aren't just a quick paragraph you can whip off your word processor - they are pretty detailed. So, this kind of work is "dollars for hours" - in other words non passive income = genuine work. Many of the types of assignments I saw were for bars (To see if you got carded. To do these you either need to be 24-27, which I am not, or bring a guest who is.), restaurants, banks and car dealerships. Frankly, I wanted something easy to start with. That is just the kind of gal I am - I like to stick a big toe in the waters first before committing. I chose a restaurant for my first assignment.

I don't know if it is just because of the area I live in or what, but there haven't been a lot of assignments I wanted in my hometown - most were on the east side of the state. Finally I found one though that was right across the street from where I work, didn't require me to be 24 and was the kind of work I like - eating lunch. I applied for it, and was accepted.

Now, this particular one doesn't actually pay anything (though many of them do,) it simply reimburses you up to $20 for lunch. Again, because this was my first go at it, that sounded pretty good. I grabbed a friend of mine* and we headed off to lunch. It was great having a friend along. He helped me time the server and he helped me remember things I might have missed.

When I got back to the office I completed my report and sent it, and my receipt (I spent $20.10 - way to use up my whole reimbursement!) into the website. Now I wait. I will be curious to see how this all turns out. If it goes well, I'll try some other assignments - and, of course, let you know how it goes!

...oh, in case you were wondering - the restaurant in question was awesome! Food was geat and service was exceptional - maybe Mystery Shopping works!

More Stuff to Check Out:

My Life as a Mystery Shopper

Mystery Shopping Myths Tips and Facts

Secret Shopper Scams

What is NonPassive Income?

*Hi Philip!

Photo by movimente

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Draw Birds to Your Garden with a Easy to Make Birdbath

Since I've been doing all sorts of posts about being green with CFL light bulbs, I thought I would put up a little post on a frugal way to get birds to come to your garden.... and no, I'm not talking about those pink plastic fellows there! Although, this is indeed my garden.

I'm talking about bird baths. Birds love, and need, water. They use them for bathing to some degree, but by far the most common use is just for drinking. If you think about it, it can be hard for birds (especially in the city,) to find clean safe drinking water. A bird bath can provide this.

I have two, one that my ex bought at Menards, and another that I made myself out of everyday things - the one you can see in the photo here. A bird bath can be anything really - all it needs is to be made out of a safe material, cleaned and refilled regularly, and have areas for birds to grip their feet. Deep bowls, for example, can be tough because their feet can't cling to the sides and if the water gets too low, they won't be able to drink. Make sure you clean it regularly, otherwise you'll get algae or worse - mosquitoes. I find I need to scrub mine out every couple of days with a high pressure hose then twice a year or so I get out the scrub brushes and give it a good over all cleaning. I refill the one I made every two days and the other store bought one (which is deeper and in the shade) every three days. Keeping it filled means birds will learn that your garden should be a regular stop. Forget for too long - and so will they.

There are several reasons I like bird baths over bird feeders:

1. Less mess. No seeds or shells to get scattered about or start growing where they don't belong.

2. Lower cost. Once it built (using things from your garage) you just have to add water. Nothing else needs to be purchased.

3. No squirrels!! I hate squirrels and when I had feeders they were always eating or dumping out the seeds or ripping up my feeders - and scaring off the birds. While squirrels might stop by for a drink occasionally (why not? I've caught wasps, opossums, skunks and cats drinking from it) they then move on.

4. It works. This bird bath in the photo is just a little ways from my patio set where I frequently sit and have dinner. That doesn't bother the birds one bit - they will come in for a quick drink any time! I can't even tell you how many I get, at least several every hour.

Hit Read More for some more tips:

As you can see, I made mine out of an overturned planter and a saucer from another planter. I didn't want to put the saucer flat on the ground - I have found that the birds like a little height. I doesn't have to be tall - mine is probably 18" high. My other bird bath is 3' high. I haven't found either of them to be more popular - both are frequented regularly.

Birds seem to like a little "cover" when they drink. They are still concerned about predators, after all. When I had a bird bath in the center of the yard, it didn't do so well, but moving it over to where there were trees and flowers did the trick.

Remember to take them in during the winter! (Unless you heat them to draw winter birds, of course.) If you don't take your bath in during cold weather, the ice will freeze them and it will destroy them.

Here's some other nifty information:

Care2 - How to Make Water Drippers for Birdbaths - How to "Water" Birds

Projects for the Birder's Garden: Over 100 Easy Things That You can Make to Turn Your Yard and Garden into a Bird-Friendly Haven

How to Make a Hammered Copper Bird Bath

Photo by: Me!

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Friday, August 15, 2008

The Problem with Installing CFLs in My Home Fixtures

On my recent post about changing over to Compact Fluorescent Lights in all my light fixtures, the author from the blog CFL stopped over to tell me that Home Depot had CFL bulbs on sale. So, last night I took a trip over there to check it out.

Well, no luck. The bulbs weren't on sale at my local store, but I decided to give them a try anyway and see how they would do. I bought a 4 pack of regular bulbs and one candelabra bulb to see if it would fit in my massive dining room fixture. The cost for the 4 pack was $6.49 - the cost for the single candelabra bulb? $6.49. Ouch! The brand carried by Home Depot is nvision.

And my thoughts? .....meh.

I still don't like the light. These bulbs were rated highest by this Popular Mechanics article The Best Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs: PM Lab Test so I really wanted to give them a shot. Maybe it is true, perhaps the colors are brighter, more vivid. I have a friend who is a lighting designer who told me he loves CFLs in his home.* And maybe this lighting really is best for reading - but I just don't like it. It feels harsh to me and frankly kind of green. I like the warm golden glows of incandescents.

Ok, remember how yesterday I said I had 28 bulbs to replace? Well, very few of them are standard bulbs. Most of them are funky in one sense or another. 7 of them are the big round "backstage dressing room" lights that go over mirrors. Another 8 are in the dinning room chandelier. Then there are the ceiling fans. One of the most important bulbs I wanted to change was the bulb in the ceiling fan in the spare bedroom. That is my office/eBay room and I am in there a lot. The fixture has a globe over it, so I thought it would be perfect for CFLs - the globe could help mellow the bright colors. And it might be, except for one little thing...

When I put the CFL in the light it began flickering. Naturally the light was off - I mean c'mon, I'm not stupid! I know better than to be putting bulbs in a live light fixture. After a little experimentation and a bit of figuring I came the conclusion that the reason is that this light fixture is normally turned on and off by a pull chain on the fixture. However, it has been wired to turn on and off on a light switch on the wall. My guess is that because of this there is still a small amount of current flowing through the fixture, even though the switch is off. Does anyone know for sure? I am wondering if purchasing a dimmable light bulb would help that problem.

In the meantime though I had to take it out. The idea here is to save electricity - not waste it by having a constantly flickering bulb when it is supposed to be off. Because I am not crazy about the light, it was hard deciding what to do with my four bulbs. So far I have managed to install 3 of them - one in my kitchen and two in table lamps. The kitchen is okay. In a way it reminds me of my grandparent's house - they had a huge fluorescent 70s style fixture in their kitchen and it kind of takes me back to having a cheese and Ritz cracker snack at the table with Grampa. Because there are shades on the table lamps (and one of them is a lovely shade of amber) I don't mind the CFLs in them, but these lights aren't going to make much of a difference in my energy bill as I don't use them much.

So, what to do about the other lights?

Well, I am going to take it step by step. I have already spent my allowance on other purchases this month so I think I am going to take the next two weeks and identify lights would impact my bill. In other words, figure out which are the ones I am using the most. Then, I am going to have to search for CFLs that are going to work well in that fixture. As I found out, just buying a random 4 pack isn't going to do the trick - I need to do this methodically.

In addition, I am going to try different brands and see which ones I like, then when all is said and done, I'll report back about how they all turned out!

More Stuff:

Comparing Incandescent Light Bulbs to Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Instructables - How to Make a Green House Out of a incandescent Light Bulb

Green Living Tips - CFL Disposal and Recycling

EDIT: Here's how my bill is doing after 4 months of slowly switching to CFLs: Electric Bills Even Lower, Thanks to CFLs

* Hi Matt!
Photo by: Me!

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

How Fixing My Stress Fixed My Slipped Disk

Debt Hater had an interesting post about back pain that got me thinking. I wrote a long response in the comments, but I thought I would also tell my story of my back pain and how I fixed it, here in my blog. Though not strictly on topic, had I known what I know now, I could have saved myself a lot of money!

In the winter of 1988 I was in a very serious car accident. I was sitting in the back seat, not wearing my seatbelt (because it was the 80s and we didn't wear seat belts in the back seat then) when my cousin's car spun out of control and slammed up against a telephone pole. I don't remember a whole lot about that night - I went into shock. When all was said and done I ended up with a head full of surgical staples and a very sore shoulder from where I was thrown against the side of the car.

The following summer I was in a lot of pain. My back hurt and what was worse, my right leg seemed to be constantly asleep - not the "numb" feeling, more of that excruciating pins and needles feeling. It was easy to diagnosis - my father had had the exact same thing a year before. Now I won't go into the whole story about the doctors not believing me because I was a young girl and couldn't possibly know what was wrong, but suffice it to say, I ended up having surgery in August of 1989. When I could move again (it took about four days) I was great. I felt good and though I was a little careful about my back, for the most part I didn't think about it much.

Then, five years ago, it came back. I knew what it was, of course. Frankly, I was incredibly angry about it. After all didn't I go under the knife and get a 5" scar to fix this problem?? Since surgery didn't permanently "fix me" the first time I was determined not to have surgery again.

Over the next few years I tried all the natural approaches under the sun. I had high hopes for my chiropractor - the first appointment, sitting in one of his waiting rooms I looked up and saw a drawing of sciatic pain. It was a flash of lightening - instant recognition of the pain I had been having. I ended up having multiple x-rays over those years, every one of them showed the same thing - a herniated disk on L5. It was pinching a nerve and causing all the pain.

Let me tell you a little about that pain. It started slow and gradually built up over time. At first I was just stiff and sore. I had a hard time rolling out of bed in the morning, it was difficult to bed over, to tie my shoes. Slowly it increased and the pain wasn't centered solely in my back - most of it was in my right leg, shooting down the thigh, around the calf and then wrapping like a python of pain around my ankle. As my body attempted to compensate, my back began to twist and turn like a roller coaster track. Before long when I stood straight up one foot was over an 1.5" higher than the other! When I walked I looked like the victim of some horrible disease, I had to use that rolling gait that makes other people wince in sympathy. I tried everything I would think of - massages, therapists, chiropractors, acupuncture - even hot tubs. Pain meds wouldn't even touch it. The only thing that offered temporary relief was laying on a hard flat floor for 10-15 minutes. The only problem with that was that I couldn't get up again.

I don't want to put down chiropractors or acupuncturists or any of those things. All of those things I tried helped some, and I truly believe they are a great choice for many people. But, after years and years of going sometimes twice a week, I was tired of it all. I was sick of the money and the driving and giving up my lunch hours, and for what? I was still in pain.

I talked to my chiropractor about it and he suggested trying something else. He had a new machine, I don't know what it was called, I just thought of it as "The Rack." It was a stretching machine, designed to pull the legs and stretch the spine. Frankly, I liked The Rack, it felt pretty good when I was on it - and I could always hope it would make me a little taller! He gave me some literature to read about it so I would know why he chose this machine for me.

I read the literature and tried The Rack. Even though it felt good when I was on it, it didn't seem to make any difference when I was off. So finally, I gave up. I called my doctor and asked to set up an appointment to get me in for surgery.

It took six weeks before I could get in and get the MRI needed before surgery. During that time I stopped everything - the chiropractor, the acupuncture, I just stopped it. Why pay for it when I was going to have surgery? But there was something that kept floating around in my brain - it was something I had read in the literature for the The Rack - it was just a short paragraph about a study on herniated disks in senior citizens. I don't remember the exact figures, (I tried to look it up online, but have you tried reading through medical journals and studies?) but it was something like this - of the senior citizens they tested and gave MRIs to, something like 70% had ruptured disks. However, only 30% experienced pain.

That threw me. I kept wondering why. Why did some people have pain and others not even know they have it? What is different? Slowly, an idea began to emerge. I realized I carry all my stress right smack dab in the center of my lower back. I work on a computer all day at work and there I was, sort of hunched over, muscles tight, hurting so badly and what's more, stressed about the pain. I thought about those tight muscles putting strain on my spine, making a bad problem even worse. So, I decided to do something about it.

I started taking care of myself.

I started eating better, exercising and getting lots (and lots) of rest. I concentrated on relaxing those muscles, on not letting stress make me tighten them up. I took long baths, read books, drank a lot of tea. I began meditating regularly. And you know what? It worked.

By the time I went in for my MRI, I no longer had back pain. In fact, I knew laying in the machine that I wasn't going to get the surgery. I went ahead with the test "just in case" the pain came back, but in the back of my mind I knew the pain was gone.

Don't get me wrong, I am not healed. I still have a slipped disk in my lower back. There are some days, especially lately as everything has been so crazy in my life, I feel that pain coming back. When it does I try to acknowledge it and cut back on doing too much. I think of it now as my warning system.

I don't want to tell anyone to substitute a cup of chamomile tea for a doctor's visit. If you are in pain and need to seek medical assistance - go for it for heaven's sake! But what I will say, especially for pain related to "stress hot spots" like shoulders, neck and back, is that trying to figure out the cause of your stress and combat it will help you heal faster. It can also be a warning sign when problems are on the horizon. Taking care of yourself, not pushing yourself too hard, especially when you are in pain, is one of the smartest (and frankly most inexpensive) things you can do for yourself.

More to Read:

Debt Hater - If its broke, it will cost you to fix it. - Sciatica Symptoms

Senior World Chronicle: USA: Back Pain, What Works

Spine Universe - Surgery for a Herniated Disk

Spine Universe - Tame Stress to Reduce Neck and Back Pain

Beautiful Photo by: Katie Cowden
Picture of Sciatic pain from Sports Injury

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Renting Out the Garage - and More on CFLs

This is the third stall of my garage. Pretty, isn't it? Sigh....

I spent two hours after work cleaning it out last night, and I am still a long way from being done. (This, by the way, is the "before" shot.) Part of my task is to not only clean it out, but to organize it as I do. I could simply haul all of this into "my" section of the garage, but then I would be doing the work twice. Last night I got all of that gardening stuff you see on the left cleaned out - the pots and 5 gallon buckets, plus gardening tools, potting soil and mulch - all cleaned and tidied up.

I also got the snowblower out and into the other stall. It looks like one of the bolts broke off when my ex "took it" and then returned it when I reminded him my mother had given it to me. Thanks ex, for letting me know it was broken! Sigh... it isn't like it isn't something I can't fix, but still... it is annoying. Ummm.... have I mentioned I've never used a snow blower before? Looks like I have something else to learn!

My goal is to have this all cleaned out by the end of the month - so I have a little over two weeks. Once it is clean, I will advertise it with a sign in the yard and through CraigsList. Hey... does anyone know where I can find some sample lease agreements? I'm going to want something in writing when I do this.

So, yesterday I wrote a bit about CFLs. Last night after garage clean out, I went around and counted all the bulbs in my house. Guess what I found?

You know how I wrote this:

Now, unlike the chart, I don't know that I have 30 bulbs to replace. In my house much of the lighting is LED track lighting, with a few "can" lights in the kitchen. However, I know there are several lamps and other light fixtures that still have incandescent lights.
Guess how many I have? Not counting the endless amounts of track lighting and "can" lights in the kitchen and the hall.... 28! My dining room light alone has 8 candelabra style bulbs! I had no idea. However, I will say this since I live alone, these are rarely on at the same time. Usually the only lights that are on are in the room I am in. Once and a great while if I am going back and forth between rooms, I might have lamps on in both, but it is fairly rare and I am trying to wean myself out of that habit.

I had one "basement style" CFL hanging around - the ultra bright lights that I use down there and in the outside fixtures. I tried it in a kitchen light and hated it. It was just too bright. However, I have a covered overhead fixture in the spare bedroom that has a super dim bulb that has been driving me crazy. The spare bedroom has become my office/eBay room and the low light makes it hard to read. I am going to haul out the old step stool and see how the CFL works in that, especially since I've been using that room a lot.

One thing that bothers me about all this though is, as Passive Family Income pointed out in the comments, I hate taking out perfectly good bulbs and throwing them out. I wish there were some sort of recycling program for them, but the best I could find were craft projects! Want to make a vase out of your old light bulb? Or a sea monkey condo? I'll put the links below.

More Stuff:

CraftBits - Light Bulb Window Vase (Ok, these are kind of cute.)

DIY Life - Hollow Out a Light Bulb to Make a Sea Monkey Condo (Also has links to making aquariums, beakers and planters.) - Light Bulb Snowman Face Ornaments. (Umm... yeah.)

Stressless Country - Cow Ornaments (Mooooo)

Photo by: Me!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Comparing CFL Light Bulbs to Incandescent Light Bulbs

Okay, rarely am I shocked about something - especially about something concerning frugal living. It seems that a lot of frugal ideas are really just common sense when you get right down to it. Saving money usually equals spending less, and there you go, but today I was shocked - shocked to my core, I tell you. And it had to do with CFL light bulbs.

So, here's the thing: I try to be environmentally friendly in much of what I do but I have always had a bit of a problem with CFLs. I have never liked the bright white light of CFLs, I tend to be partial to the soft glow of incandescent lighting. I knew that CFLs used less energy and lasted longer, so I put them in all of my outdoor lights and my basement light fixtures, but for home lights and lamps, I stuck with good old incandescent. Yesterday I saw something that has changed my mind.

Going through my blog roll, I ran across Financial Rambling's post "How Much Do You Save with CFL or LED Light Bulbs" which addressed one of the other problems with CFLs - the relatively high unit cost. FR then compared that with the potential savings, by referencing Milk Your Money's Light Bulb Comparison tool, found in Milk Your Money Tools. This was where my mind was blown.

There are a bunch of nifty tools on the page, but the light bulb comparison was what I was after. It is an excel spreadsheet comparing Incandescent Bulbs vs CFL vs LED. Holy cow!!! After looking up the average retail cost of electricity for my state (using the link below) I found that $.10 (as was used in the comparison chart) was spot on for my state. Then I looked at the numbers - the estimated savings are incredibly impressive!

Now, unlike the chart, I don't know that I have 30 bulbs to replace. In my house much of the lighting is LED track lighting, with a few "can" lights in the kitchen. However, I know there are several lamps and other light fixtures that still have incandescent lights. I am also sure there are a bunch of them up at the cottage. One of my goals tonight is to take a tour through the house and write down the different lights I have so I can start shopping for deals on bulbs.

One of the other reasons I have hesitated in buying bulbs was that many of my lamps have smaller wattage bulbs. I didn't realized (I guess because I never looked) that CFLs actually come in all shapes and sizes. For example, I was surprised to find out that there are even CFL for candelabra style lights. Did you know that?

Check these out:
4 Watt Flame Shape Candelabra CFL Light Bulb

They also have black lights for those hip 70s posters I have hanging everywhere*:
Feit Electric 13-Watt Compact Fluorescent Twist Bulb (60-Watt Incandescent Equivalent), Black #ESL13T/BLB

There are dimmable lights, round lights, flood lights... all kinds of crazy things. I never knew!

Now, of course, these bulbs aren't cheap, so I may not be able to replace them all at once, but one of my goals will be to track here on my blog how many I change and what difference I see over the course of the next year. Let's put the theories to work, shall we?

EDIT: Here's how my bill is doing as of 4 months later: Electric Bills Even Lower, Thanks to CFLs

More Reading:

Wikipedia - Compact Fluorescent Lamp

Financial Rambling - How Much Do You Save with CFL or LED Light Bulbs.

Milk Your Money - Milk Your Money Tools

Energy Information Administration - Official Energy Statistics from the US Government

Popular Mechanics - The Best Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs: PM Lab Test

* You knew I was kidding about the black light posters, right??

Fun photo by Seaworthy

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Night Slave DVD with Claudia Udy

So, here's something amusing: as I have mentioned a few times, I am selling Catie's DVDs online. She bought several lots of DVDs back on eBay some time back because at the time it was cheaper to buy a lot that had several titles in that she wanted, rather than buy each DVD separately. What this meant was not only did she get the DVDs she was looking for, she also got a bunch she didn't want. They've been taking up space and lately she has decided to clear them out. She sold a bunch at the garage sale, but what was left I've been posting for her.

Most of the DVDs I've been putting online are going for about $2 a piece. That's right - $2. Many of these are brand new, in the packaging. I am telling you, if you want to own a popular movie, NEVER pay full price. I am using $2 as my base line because that is what she had them priced at on the garage sale table - but some are as low as $.01! I am simply amazed at how cheap they are on and Amazon. (Of course, remember to look at the condition rating - you probably want something that is rated Very Good - New, unless you really don't want to pay much.)

What I have found though is that some movies are a little more rare. When there aren't quite so many in circulation, the prices tend to be a little higher. Some of Catie's movies I have listed in the $8 - $9. So, last night I was putting up movies and I went to post "Night Slave" staring Claudia Udy, Denis Smith, and Philip Wolfhart. Yes, that is the actual cover of this movie, right up there. What do you think it would go for, eh? $1 maybe $5?

Click Read More to find out.....

On it was listed at $59.00!! Over at Amazon you can get it as low as $48.00. (I have Catie's copy of Night Slave listed at $48.50.)

Just out of curiosity, I've been trying to find out more about this movie. I can't seem to find anything online. Even IMBD doesn't have much, just slightly more than what is on the back of the cover:

Enter the bizarre world of Thraxton Hall, where Jarvis, Lord of the Manor, indulges in his wildest, darkest fantasies! Part torture chamber, part Turkish bath, part homicidal nightmare, this ramshackle monstrosity is actually his imaginary creation, his escape from a dead-end existence, fueled by his passion for silent horror films. But maybe his fantasies are real... this passive video geek turns out to be a bit more then we bargained for! And to this crazy mix a beautiful, buxom blond, scantily clad in black lace and garter belt, who is terrorizes by Jarvis, and Nightslave explodes into reality with terrifying results. A black comedy with an edge, this is one-of-a-kind thriller takes you on a sexy horror ride you don't want to miss.
Apparently it came out in 1989, though I have to say, based on the cover I would have put it in the 70s. I mean come on - check out that Farrah Faucet hair!

I have to be honest - it makes me wonder if I will find any more treasures in bottom of the DVD box!


"Night Slave" on IMBD

Setting Up Online Selling with eBay and Amazon

Garage Sale vs. eBay - What is the Best Way to Sell?

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Lots of wonderful things have been happening lately, my friends have been incredibly supportive, and I thought I would write about a few of them.

Last week I wrote about my own personal challenge to see how long I can go without grocery shopping. It will be a week tomorrow, but so far I am doing pretty good. I still have plenty of things in the cupboards and plenty of culinary choices! I gave myself one exception - I could purchase items if I had to make or bring something to a gathering. Well, as it turns out I had a company potluck on Friday. However, I was able to make a delicious black bean salad with many ingredients I already had. I did have to pick up an extra can of beans, a can of corn and some cilantro, but I was able to pay for most of that with bottle returns - and the bottle return slip of a friend that went with me to the store. (Thanks Philip!)

Speaking of gatherings, I had a bridal shower on Friday night for friends of mine. At the end there was quite a bit of food and beverages left and when Maureen emphatically stated she didn't want to take it all home and asked if anyone would take anything I was right there with my hand up - and she loaded me up good. I was glad I had brought one of my extra tough cloth bags with me. I promised I would mention her in my blog - so here you go Maureen!! Thank you so much! I am having sliced cucumbers with my lunch today (The chicken salad is long gone, it was soooooo good.)

Speaking of generous folks, a friend of my mother's gave me a dinning room table and chairs! I am still getting settled into the house, but let me tell you, when you go from a 400 square foot apartment to a 2300 square foot house - that leaves a lot of blank space. One room that was empty was the dinning room as I had given my ex the table and chairs in the split. My mother has been looking for a dining set for me and it turns out that her friend Marilyn had one to give. My friend Kate had received the offer of a similar free couch from her mom, so she and I pooled resources and brute strength and rented a truck from Home Depot and picked up both the couch and dining set. Total cost was $20. Not bad at all!

To be honest, my new dining room table and chairs are a bit on the ugly side. Ok, more than a little - and this isn't the kind of ugly you can fix. However, beggars can't be choosers! I am planning on painting the table legs (which are a lovely mixture of 80's brass and wood) and then throwing a table cloth over the top. Unfortunately it can't be refinished because the top is veneer. The chairs.... well, umm.... they are comfortable. Ok, they are bad. And dirty. And there is no fixing them. They are upholstered and the frames are not good enough to recover. However, they will be perfectly fine until four new chairs find their way into my life.

I also got free entertainment, courtesy of a friend. Saturday Catie, David, Tommy and I got free tickets to see "The Antiques Roadshow" thanks, once again, to Philip! It was a long, long day of standing in line (funny, they don't show that part of tv) but fun for all of that. I will write more on that later, but the tickets were coveted and I was very lucky to get one.

And of course, I continue to be grateful to my sister Meg and friends Catie and Jen who have given me things to post on eBay. I am splitting the profits with Catie and Jen, but my sister said I can keep whatever I make. I have to laugh though - of the box of items my sister gave me - an awful lot of them I ended up keeping!

Another thanks to Passive Family Income, who put up this post: Make Money By Being Green. I used the links on recycling cell phones and was able to get a $8 visa card from My Bone Yard for an old cell phone I had laying around.

At one time, not so long ago, I used to be so stiff necked that I wouldn't accept help from anyone. I had a real hard time with taking "charity" though, oddly enough I had no problem giving it. I'm getting better at realizing that helping each other out is all part of what friendship is really about. By not being able to receive as well as give, I was shutting off half of my friendships. Of course, I have no wish to take advantage, but being open is part of what life should be about!

More to read:

Grocery store challenge - A Few Dollars Here, A Few Dollars There

Passive Family Income - New Ideas for Reducing Our Monthly Food Budget

eBay - Books Selling eBay vs Amazon vs

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