Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CFLs Making a Huge Difference in My Monthly Electric Bill

It worked!!! One of my goals has been to replace as many incandescent bulbs in my home as possible. Many of my light fixtures are on dimmers, and cfls (compact florescent light bulbs) do not work on dimmers, so I can't change every bulb, but I am doing as many as I can. Last month I put several in key fixtures - this month I replaced the bulbs in my vanity in my bathroom.

And guess what? Hip, Hip Hooray - it worked!!

While the house was on the market, my ex put together a sheet with the estimated utility costs. He said the average electric bill was $52.40 each month. I knew that when I moved in I could do better than that, because I know how the two of us use energy. In the year that we were separated I was living in a tiny apartment where I tried to live as green as possible. I picked up some great routines for conserving energy. Sadly, they didn't make as big of an impact as I had hoped. My first full month of living in the house my bill was $47.22.

Then during July I replaced a few incandescent bulbs with cfls. When I got my bill, I was suitably impressed - my bill was $42.81, for a difference of $4.41. To be honest though, I didn't really think it was due to the cfls, I assumed that it was because I wasn't home as much or something to that effect. But then, I got the bill for August...

The total? $31.16! That is a difference of $11.65!! That's huge!

Now we are going into the long dark months here in Michigan where when you wake up it is dark and when you get out of work - it is still dark. It will be interesting to see if I can keep this trend going. Will I continue to have lower energy prices?

More on cfls:

Comparing Incandescent Light Bulbs to CFL Bulbs

Systematically Replacing Incandescent Bulbs with CFLs - Monthly Goals

The Problem with Installing CFLs in My Home Light Fixtures

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

Photo by: BottleLeaf

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Monday, September 29, 2008

The reason to have an emergency fund

So, we financial bloggers talk a lot about what size our emergency fund should be, where to keep it, how to create one. Guess who is going to have to be using hers this week?

I'll give you a hint - it is the same person who hit a deer this morning on the way into work.


There was nothing I could do. I used my evasive driving skills to make sure that it was a "clean hit" - I hit it dead on center. Because it had first run into another lady's SUV - literally leaped into it, and then was thrown across the highway and (fortunately for me) skidded along the ground, hitting it center means that I ended up running over it. This was better than clipping it with corner, or running over with just one tire. My car did get damaged, however, and isn't really road ready, so it is at the collision shop right now.

My deductible is $500. I do have that in my emergency fund, so I won't have to put it on credit card or anything, but it certainly puts a damper in my spirit and dip in my back up funds.

It is too bad really, because I had been feeling pretty good about my financial situation, but what can you do? These things happen.

I will say this though - I had gotten a little looser with my purse strings lately. Not crazy, but just working on doing some home improvement projects around the house and a few little necessities I wanted. For example, there was purse at Target I had my eye on. It was only $20 and I even have a gift card that would cover half of it, so I felt like I was okay in getting it. Even though I haven't quite made my $900 yet this month, I did save a bunch and was going to be fine on my monthly bills, so I was going to allow a little birthday splurge. I have to say though, with all this, I am just too shell shocked. Looks like my little splurge will have to wait until next year.

Photo by Eric Begin

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Introducing the The Online Bookseller Blog!

Guess what? It's my birthday!! To celebrate I am unveiling a new little pet project of mine: The Online Bookseller. It is a brand new blog and I am very excited about it.

You know I watch my stats, right? I love seeing how many visitors a day I get and where they are coming from! Repeatedly I find that one of the main things new folks coming to Fighting Foreclosure are searching for is how to sell books, CDs, DVDs, etc. on Amazon, Half and eBay. But the information is a little hard to find here - I have it scattered all about through the months as I discovered new things. So, I decided to start grouping all those articles, plus adding additional about online selling information that doesn't seem to fit here, in one place - hence, The Online Bookseller was born.

I still plan on writing here about my ups and downs with selling books. After all, this is where I write about all my income streams and my financial struggles, but the nitty gritty how-tos, I'm going to put on the new site. That will make it easier for everyone to find the information.

The Online Bookseller is also going to be my place to try some new things out, see how they work. I have been playing with the idea of using a blog for some passive income, especially after reading the Writing For Your Wealth blog. (This is a great site. Anyone who is thinking about using their writing for income should check it out!) I've tried some affiliate marketing here on Fighting Foreclosure and I like it, but I'm not in love with it. I would rather clear some of the clutter off this blog and put the right information and advertising in the right places.

So, check it out my new blog see what you think! It is still under construction, I only have a few posts up so far. I would love to hear your feedback and suggestions!

This fabulous photo is by: Foxtongue

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Using FuelClinic.com to Calculate mpg

Recently I wrote about tracking fuel efficiency in your car. Since then I have been saving my receipts, (being diligent to jot my odometer reading on the top,) looking forward to using FuelClinic.com's nifty free tool for calculating your gas mileage. The manufacturer of my car says it should get 26 city and 28 highway, but I have always suspected it did better than that. Since we frugal folks tend to love numbers, I couldn't wait until I had a couple receipts in hand and I could sit and plug them in.

I have to say, I was impressed. It is incredibly easy to set up. You just have to create an account with an email address and password, then you can add up to four vehicles. On each vehicle you can add information like make, year, manual vs. automatic, etc. After that, it is just adding information from your receipts! (Don't forget to jot down your odometer or tripometer readings, you'll need them.)

I was quite impressed - it turns out my car gets closer to 31 mpg on highway driving! City driving ran between 25 and 26 mpg.

I like the ability to track how each tank of gas affects my mileage. I noticed a real difference between when I had to drive across the state and had all highway driving, versus my regular day to day driving. Recently I have been doing all sorts of running around (I have two very, very busy weeks. I am just about due for another tank, so it will be interesting to see how it all adds up!) It would be fun to see if different types of gas affects my mileage, different routes to work, and even test that theory about windows open vs. air conditioning!

More about Saving Gas:

Problems with Road Rage? You Pay More at the Pump!

How to Save Gas Money Going to Work

Gas Pains

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Countrywide Bank and Free Credit Monitoring Offer

Don't you just love when you get those letters from your financial institution letting you know that your identity may be at risk because: they lost your info/an employee walked off with it/tapes are missing/etc.? Jeesh.

I realize that as long as there are people in the world there will be scammers and those who will be scammed by them. And as long as we are putting all our money in one spot, those are the places people will look for it. Still, I can't help but think that if I thought of all this, why haven't the lenders?

Last week I got a letter from Countrywide letting me know that because my data might be in the hands of bad, bad men they were going to offer me free credit monitoring for two years.

So, I took them up on it. It has been awhile since I got to peruse my credit report. Plus with this free monitoring, I will have two years of someone is helping me keep an eye on my credit. They'll let me know if something odd pops up. Frankly, I would rather know that my data was safe and secure, but if this is result of Countrywide's neglect, well, let's just say I find it mollifying.

I am very happy with my credit score number. I'm not going to post it, but let's just say I'm in the "Excellent" range. I have a personal goal to see if I can bump it up a few more points in the next year or so. One of the main reasons my score is high is because I have a good payment history. For that I can thank online banking. Ever since my credit union added this service I have been loving it! I set up my bills to be paid far in advance and then I can forget about them, knowing it is all taken care of. On top of that, I save money by not buying stamps or checks and since it uses less paper, so I'm being more environmentally kind. I wouldn't give up online banking for anything...

which of course leads me right back to where I started. As long as we keep putting all our money in one place...


Photo by: waltarrrr

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oh eBay, Won't You Be My Friend Again?

Back in July I had astonishingly good luck with eBay, but since then things have been really flat. I listed a number of things for sale in August and nothing sold. Since then I have been re-listing items here and there, but still, no big sellers. The disappointing thing about eBay is that if your item doesn't sell, there is still a fee. Not a big fee - it is usually under $1 - but a fee nonetheless. I hate that.

However, I've decided it is time to get off my duff and get more things up and listed. With the leaves on the tress changing, hopefully people will start thinking of holiday shopping. I still have things of my friend Jen to sell and a few things that other friends and family have given me. Tracey, another friend of mine, has offered to let me sell some furniture of hers on commission. We'll be chatting about that tomorrow.

My favorite sales by far are Amazon and Half.com. (And more on that soon!) But I need to get out and hustle up some more shekels. I have done fairly well so far this month, and I have another $120 to add to that total once I get my house manager check, but I am still falling short. That means I need to get more irons in the fire, more things going. I can't continue to fall below my goal month after month.

I am going to try to clear out my spare bedroom, which is now an eBay holding tank. I admit I am always a little wary of Jen's things, only because all the boxes are full of cat hair and I have an allergy attack every time I go into them, but that is no excuse. The sooner I can get more money in, the better.

....now all I need is a little free time....

Photo by: Phreak 2.0

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Making the Right Choice When Buying a Home - From Someone Who Has Been There, Twice

I read a post over at One Caveman's Financial Journey that really hit home for me. He warns people who are in the process of purchasing a home against the age old advice to leave your emotions at the door. For those of us who are trying to be frugal and make smart financial decisions, this may sound counter intuitive. Why wouldn't you look at the value of the home, the prices of the homes around you, the possible resale value? You should, of course - whenever buying a home you need to take all these considerations in stock. You should also make sure it fits your budget - not just the mortgage but the amount of remodel work (if any) that is needed. But as the author points out, there is more to it than that. I know, I've been through it from both sides.

Before I met my ex husband I had started to save for a house. I had been living in an apartment and decided it was time to take the plunge. I had gotten financing and began house hunting... and right about then I met my ex. In fact, we even went on a few open houses as dates. Before long we were spending so much time together that we decided to move in together. He already owned a place, a house with three apartment units, and we moved in the large downstairs unit. Some time after a wonderful camping trip we got talking about how both of us had always dreamed of having waterfront property. So just for fun one night, I on got on our local realator website and punched in homes on water - under $100,000. To my shock over 100 homes came up! That was the beginning of the Great Cabin Hunt Summer.

All summer we drove to the far dusty corners of Michigan looking at properties. Some needed too much work, some were too damp, some we couldn't actually find the water it was supposed to be on, and one was next door to a house with goats in the yard and aluminum foil on all the windows. All told I looked at over 30 places. After going through each one we'd sit in the car and make a list of pros and cons, before long I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking for.

Then, on Labor Day weekend, I found it. Within 10 minutes of walking in, I knew. It had everything on the list, down to price and home values in the area, that I wanted. It need some cosmetic work, but it had great bones. The structure was sound, plus it had 80' of lake frontage, huge trees and was in a quiet area. I knew in my heart it was the perfect place for me, and that day I made an offer.

Contrast that with the house that I am living in. It was picked out by my ex. When he and I decided we needed more space than the apartment in his house, we made a list of everything we wanted. The house he found had it all and more. The only problem? It never felt like home. It's a big old house. 2300 square feet of the owner's unit and built in 1847, it is a bit barn-like. While it wasn't the reason for my divorce, I will say it contributed to my misery. As I commented in One Caveman's post, it is hard to feel safe, comfortable, relaxed and happy in a place you don't love. I had no emotional connection with the place that I lived so I always felt like an outsider - a character on a set. (One of my issues over the last few months of living here has been creating a new relationship with this house. I am going to be here for another few years, it and I need to learn to be friends.)

Unless you are buying a house for investment purposes only, a home is much more than a financial decision. It is your shelter, your expression of who you are, your refuge, your sanctuary. A home is far more than four walls and roof, it is a part of who you are. Make the choice wisely.

More Reading:

One Caveman's - Buying a House is More Than Just a Financial Transaction

All about me buying the house - House Reflections

Remodeling for Resale

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Frugal Grocery Store Question, pt 2

A few days back I asked you all for some advice about grocery shopping. I had gotten an offer through the credit card I use for gas purchases for a $10 credit on any $100 spent at any other store. (My guess is I'm not the only one using this card only for gas and they are trying to drum up some other business!) Anyway, it has been my long standing policy not to use credit cards any more - this card is an exception because I only use it for gas that I have calculated in my budget, so I pay it off each month. There is one other line item in my budget that is over $100 that I purchase each month - groceries. So the question was - do I make an exception in this case and buy the groceries and get the $10 credit? Or do I continue swearing off any extra using of credit cards?

Ultimately after reading your advice and thinking it over, I decided to go ahead and make the purchase. As many of you pointed out, I already had the money in my budget. Made a couple of vows: 1) I wouldn't buy anything I wouldn't normally use just to hit $100, 2) I would try to get as close to $100 as possible, 3) I will pay this off in full when the statement comes.

So... how did I do?

Good actually, really good. I first spent a long time working on a grocery list. I have always enjoyed sitting down with all my cookbooks and planning out weekly menus. At the same time I am picking recipes, I am making my grocery list. This time my goal was to maximize the number of dishes while purchasing the fewest ingredients. Part of this was incorporating whatever I already had in the cupboards - rice, dried beans, canned goods, etc. I literally took everything I wanted to use out of the cupboards and spread them out on the dinning room table - as I figured out how I was going to use them, I put them back on the shelf. The end result? I had over 15 healthy recipes and needed to purchase 24 ingredients - less than two per dish! Also, the dishes I chose deliberately used as few perishable items as possible. I didn't want to feel like I had to make 12 dishes in one night because things would spoil if I didn't! I'm just one woman and these recipes all would make 4 (or more) servings, so this will last me a really long time.

When I got to the store I had a calculator in one hand and my list in the other. As I put each item in the cart, I wrote down the price. In addition to the 24 food items I had 5 nonfood items (cleaners, etc.) to pick up. First I got all of those. As I shopped, I jotted down items that were on sale and I wanted and knew I would use, but that weren't on my list. Then I added up everything on my list that I had put in my cart. The total was $80.74. I went back through and picked up those sale items and came in at $95.11. I added a few nonperishables I use a lot and always like to keep in the house (canned chickpeas, dried black beans) which brought me to $98.98. I decided to add fresh parsley which I love to cook with, but I noticed the regular stuff looked terrible. Then I saw that the grocery store actually stocked produce from one of the farmers I usually buy from at the market! And the Italian parsely was gorgeous and the bunch was three times the size of the regular stuff. It was $2.49, a bit pricey, but worth it. Total? $101.47. Perfect.

Already I have baked oatmeal yogurt whole wheat bread, made a lovely barley and mushroom soup and a bean salad. I am eating fantastically and very, very frugally! Now, it will be fun to see how far I can make these dishes stretch. When will I run out? Anyone want to place any bets??

Photo by: itsray's

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Second Job Wages - Are They Worth It?

Last week I began house managing again for our local theatre. When you go and see a play there are typically at least two managers in the building. The stage manager does just that - they mange the stage. They are there to make sure everything goes smooth with cast and crew and that the performance goes well. There is a bit more to it than that, but you get the idea - the stage manager oversees the production.

The house manager oversees the audience. They handle ushers, coat check, concessions, ticket window and any questions the patrons might have. So, while house manager has everything in the lobby and auditorium (or "house,") the stage manager has everything on and back stage. This is a pretty simplified example but enough to give you an idea. Anyway, I've done both at various times over the years (though never at the same time.) In my world the stage manager is pretty much the same person every single night of a play whereas the house manager can be, and frequently is, someone different every night. The reason for this is that stage manager has very play, cast and crew specific duties that are specialized to each show, while the house manager, however, does pretty much the exact same thing (turn on the lights, set out the programs, train the ushers) regardless of what the play is.

In any case - I used to house manage pretty regularly about 4 years ago or so. When I realized I was going to be needing to horde every penny I could, as well as trying to make some extra shekels - I talked to my old boss and asked if they might have some house managing gigs open again. Much to my happiness, they did! So, last Wednesday was my first day back.

While I am glad to be earning extra money, there is a part of me that is wondering if it is worth it...

House managing pays about $40 a night. Wednesday and Thursday night I put in about 5 hours each night. Now admittedly, I had to be there especially early because we had to go over some new evacuation procedures with the ushers and this is an incredibly long show, so 5 hours isn't the norm. I'd put it closer to 4. Which means I'll be making $10 an hour. House managing is one of those jobs that is a half hour of chaos followed by an hour of calm then 15 minutes of chaos and then another hour of calm, and so on. While not precisely hard work, you are in charge of quite a bit - like evacuating the building in an emergency, dealing with medical issues (everything from seizures to kid puke,) angry patrons, maintenance problems like when the bathrooms upstairs had a problem and water poured out of the electrical fixtures, and once a I had to catch bat that was flying around in the lobby. The last two nights I worked I went home exhausted. Is $10 an hour worth it?

I think so... for now anyway. While there is a part of me that says I could be using this time to work on homework, passive income streams, or spend time fixing up my house, I also realize what a great opportunity this is. The nice part is that I can choose my own schedule. We are sent a list of available nights and then we email what we can do. Then the schedule is made from that, which means I get to pick and choose when I work.

Plus there are those two hours or so of calm. Those are great times to catch up on my reading. I can't completely relax- I have to keep my eyes and ears open in case a problem should occur, but reading is certainly acceptable. Then finally, there is another advantage. House managing allows me to be in touch with the theatre. I feel like a part of productions, even in my small "here one night, gone the next" kind of way. I get to see my friends and hear all the things that are going on downtown. Already I have been able to reconnect with some folks I haven't talked to in a long time.

As I like to say, "from pennies, dollars are made." As a nonpassive income stream this may not be one of the highest paying, but I think it is going to work for me.

Photo by: mercurialn

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

While I am Waiting to Have Money For My Masters Degree

Did I tell you I am going back to school? My first class just started.

One of the things I have been thinking about a lot over the last year is that I am really not happy with my day to day job. It has many benefits and has taken good care of me over the years, but it isn't a love of mine or a passion. We spend so much of our lives at work - I want to feel connected to what I do, to care about it. Lately I've been feeling like I am running on autopilot - barely connected to my job. I'm not willing to give up my job right now by any means, but I am moving in the direction of getting reeducated to make a complete career change. For me, this means a Masters degree.

Now, I know there are folks out there who say going back to school can be needless expense and you will not get a good return on your investment. Some experts suggest finding ways to work or volunteer in your field of interest and work your way into your dream job that way. I think that's a good idea, but I also feel it should be combined with formal education in some circumstances - particularly those circumstances where you don't stand a chance without a degree. Like mine. I want go into Library Sciences with an emphasis on Archival Studies. My background and Bachelors Degree is in Marketing.

So here I am with a resume of Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, Advertising and Product Development experience, but not a lick of practical experience in my career of choice. (Unless you count online selling of used books!) I would love to volunteer somewhere and have even looked into it. Unfortunately, the places I have found that would make for good experience in my hometown want someone for day work, and with my schedule I'm just not available at this point. (It is something I will be working on in the future though.)

So, what to do? I want a Masters Degree but I have neither the time to go full time or the money to go at all. Well, if you have been reading this blog for awhile you know that I am a big one for practical research - for throwing myself in and seeing what works (and what doesn't) and for constantly digging up ideas on how I can make things happen.

First the realities - As long as all my resources and money is tied to this house my options are a bit limited. The school I want to attend is a couple hours away and it isn't cheap. Even if I were accepted and could get scholarships, I would still have this house as a monkey on my back. My feeling is that it is I need to take care of business, keep my head above water and along with making sure I can pay the mortgage, slowly work on getting the house ready to go back on the market. I am hoping that the housing crises and lending problems will be fairly resolved in the next couple of years. If so, I hope to be able to put it up for sale by June of 2011.

But what about in the meantime? What do I do while I am waiting to have the money and freedom to go back to school and get my Masters degree?

The first thing I decided to do was to head back to school at our local community college. Why? To take some courses in areas of my interest. Even though these classes won't apply towards my Masters, I am thinking about my college application. Hopefully I will be able to say, "Here is what I have been doing the last three years. Here is why I am an exceptional candidate for your school." I am also taking a class through the nonprofit board I am on that is on nonprofit administration. Since pretty much all the places that might hire me in the field I want to work will be nonprofits, it seems like a great opportunity. Plus, the community college has whole classes for about the cost of a credit hour at the university, so this is also a good way for me to dip my toe in and make sure I really do want to go back to school - without big financial risks.

I did a lot of research and already joined a couple of archivists societies, so I receive their newsletters and emailed round table discussions. I also looked on government websites for the qualification and suggested areas of study for my area. They suggested concentrations in archeology, anthropology, and art history (basically all classes that start with A!) So, I took the rebate check I got at the beginning of this year and used it to enroll in an online class on Archeology. (Coming up with next semester's payment might be harder unless I get a surprise stimulus check in the mail.)

Regardless of what happens, I am learning something new and interesting. It is making me a richer person, and besides, so far its been fun!

Articles I have found interesting:

Brip Blap - When Does Intellectual Curiosity Stop?

Gather Little By Little - Do the Work You Love to Do

PennyJobs - Do What You Love or Love What You Do?

Photo by: JustABigGeek

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Selling Books Online with Amazon, Half and eBay

One of my income streams has been selling used books, CDS and DVDs through Amazon and Half.com. I have also sold antique and novelty books through eBay. I've been wondering if there were any tips or tricks I was missing, so I recently purchased The Home-Based Bookstore: Start Your Own Business Selling Used Books on Amazon, eBay or Your Own Web Site by Steve Weber. Using ideas from his book I've been evaluating my own business.

And that is part of it right there - I need to decide whether or not I want this to be a part time business or just if it is just a way to clear out extra books and make income. What's the difference? Inventory. Most of my inventory so far is from my own collection or generously donated from friends and family. I also have a fair number of books from a Free box I rescued off the street. I am now up to the point where I am selling on average a book (or CD or DVD) a day, so eventually my stock is going to run dry. That is where the decision needs to be made - do I purchase more books to resell (which in my opinion makes this a business) or do I cash my checks, dust off my newly emptied bookshelves and walk away?

If I do decide I want to keep this going, one of the things I liked about "The Home-Based Bookstore" was a whole chapter on where to find books. There were the obvious places I had thought of like estates sales, used book stores and garage sales, but there were also a few I hadn't thought of. He also talks very openly about what sells, what doesn't, and what will make you money. Just because something will sell well, doesn't mean it is going to put folding money in your pocket.

For example, most of the books in the Free box I found were popular science fiction. Fortunately for me, they were all in very good condition. Those books are flying off my shelves - I even had one that I posted and was sold within an hour! But, the downside is that they don't sell for much. Because the books are so popular, there are a lot of them on the market and that means that Amazon and Half are oversaturated with copies. I am listing these books for somewhere between $.80 and $.90 - and once Amazon and Half take their commission out and you pay for shipping, we are talking about making pennies.

Is it worth it? Maybe. I believe that out of pennies, dollars are made - and I am getting regular checks from Amazon and Half, small as they may be. However, I didn't pay anything for these books. Had I purchased them, even for $.25 a piece, I'd be loosing money.

There is one other reason to sell books like this though, I am building up my feedback scores. Feedback scores have always been important on eBay (who owns Half.com) but lately Amazon has been pushing theirs too. If you make sure to give great customer service you'll get good ratings - regardless of the amount of the sale.

The author of "The Home-Based Bookstore" recommends staying away from fiction all together, since it is just too volatile. He also recommends picking an area that you yourself have an interest in and concentrating on those types of books - cooking books or childrens books, for example. I, for one, love cooking so I could see how that could be kind of fun - and if they didn't sell, at least I could get some great recipes!

For me, one of the best parts about "The Home-Based Bookstore" was the wealth of information on other sites I can use. Not just for book selling, but also pricing books. He recommended using websites like www.addall.com and www.bookfinder.com. Both of these sites let you look up book and see the pricing at hundreds of sites - which is great particularly when you have something a little more unique. I didn't even know those websites existed! The author also gives some ideas of places to sell unusual books, which was good because the only outlet I knew of was eBay. Speaking of which - it looks like eBay is making a move to get more of the media listings - they are offering discounted listings on media starting September 16th.

If I were to review the "The Home-Based Bookstore" I would say it is easy to read, full of great tips and resources. The downside is that much of the financial data is dated - postage rates and commission fees have changed since this book was written in 2006. Also, some of the website info is changing - I haven't found any links that he provided that didn't work, but for example at the time of his writing Half.com had been pretty much forgotten, whereas now it is a viable player (though 3/4ths of my sales are still through Amazon.)

If you are considering a making online bookselling a business, it is also worth checking out the information he has on accounting, taxes and inventory systems. It is something I am thinking about a lot!

More Stories of My Online Book Selling:

Books Selling eBay vs Half vs Amazon.com

Night Slave DVD with Claudia Udy

Book Selling Online

EDIT: Looking for more information on online book selling? I am compiling all my articles about my experiences in one place. Check them out at The Online Bookseller.

Photo by: Lin Pernille

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Frugal Folks Fix It Up

Last week I got a notice from my local tire company that my car tires might have bad valve stems. Apparently certain rubber valve stems from a particular manufacturer had been found to be cracking prematurely and causing people problems. This brand of stems were on my car, so the letter urged me to make an appointment for replacements. They had a very nice system for setting up an appointment - you could just go online and set up a time and a day, and poof! You were all set. The appointment and repair work was, of course, free.

Now, here's the interesting thing. I got the letter on Wednesday, went online to set the the appointment on Thursday, and went for the replacements on Friday. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't terribly concerned that I was going to have a major tire malfunction - it just seemed like the thing to do. While I was driving to the tire shop though, I realized that this was completely different behavior than what I would have done 10 years ago...

Back then I probably would have read the letter, stuck it on my counter and... promptly forgot about it. It isn't that I had a death wish back then (the letter said there had been reports of accidents including one fatality) but my focus was on other things. We all have things that are important to us - things that we place at a Premium. Back then the thought of "wasting my time" sitting around waiting for the appointment would have filled me with dread. Heck, even taking the time to call and make the appointment would have seemed like a pain.

Getting older and (hopefully) a little wiser and a whole lot more frugal, I realize that what I put a premium on now is peace of mind. If I don't have to worry about my tires every single time I get in my car - that's enough for me. In fact, the time I would have spent worrying was far less than the actual appointment - which took about 20 minutes.

Now that I am making a conscious choice to be more frugal I am taking advantage of opportunities to make my life easier by fixing things right away. Knowing me 10 years ago, I would have waited until a tire blew out - and just imagine how dangerous and expensive - that would have been. *Shudder!!*

Other Musings on Being Frugal:

The Shame of Being Frugal

The Shame of Being Frugal, pt 2

Organizing My Life, My Finances and My Basement

Photo by: JerryKnight

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My First Late Loan with Prosper

I have three loans I am funding through Prosper.com. One that I started in June, one in July and one in August. I just popped over to see how things are going and I see have my first late loan. This means that the person I lent money to hasn't made his payments on time. It is less than 15 days behind though, so it may be a first time payment oversight. We'll see. The author of Passive Family has funded several Prosper loans and as he has pointed out late loans aren't always a bad thing.

Isn't it interesting that the borrowers with B and D credit grades are doing fine, while Mr. A there is behind in his payments?

I'm not too concerned about it yet. I've been reading Passive Family Income long enough to know that those things happen. He's had several loans that have become late then turned around.

I'm still a big fan of Prosper. I like the idea of people to people lending - people helping each other out. Plus, only $100 of that $150 is mine. I received a $25 bonus for opening an account and then I got another $25 bonus when a friend of mine opened up her account. That means no matter how this all works out, I've made money!

Live Long and Prosper: (oh yeah, I said it.)

Prosperous Lending

Passive Family Income - The Upside of a Late Loan

My Guest Post(!!) on Passive Family Income on my Prosper Loans

Business & Personal Loans. Great Rates. Prosper.

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Additional Passive Income Through Being a Landlord

A few weeks back I was writing a post about how I had forgotten about the tax benefits of being a landlord. That article reminded me of something else - the security deposit. Suddenly I realized that I didn't have it, my ex did.

My ex rented the apartment to the current tenant in April, while he was still living in the house. So naturally he got the security deposit from her. However, I realized that when I moved in in June I should have gotten it, since now I am her landlord. So, I wrote my ex and he agreed to send it. It took a couple of weeks, but I got it yesterday. Technically the tenant's lease isn't up until April, but leases have been broken before. In any case, I need to keep the money on hand for when she does end her lease, and assuming she has completed the full term and the apartment is in the same condition it was when we rented it out, I will return it her.

I hope that the lease will go through April (or longer!) and she does keep up and clean the apartment. As a landlord, I do not and could not consider this money mine. I am not going to add it to my monthly goals. I am fully expecting to return it to her when the time comes.

However... all you savvy personal finance people will have already figured out that there is a benefit I can take from this - interest. I am going to deposit this money in a higher interest savings account and take advantage of the interest earnings. The security deposit is $550 so we aren't talking about a lot of money here, but as I like to say... out of pennies, dollars are made!

I've said before that bank interest is probably my favorite form of passive income. While you don't earn a lot that way, necessarily, it really is passive. All I have to do is deposit the check. Fantastic!

Further Reading:

Writing off Expenses as a Landlord

Rentals as Non Passive Income - Being a Landlord

MSN Money - Do You Have What it Takes to be a Landlord?

Photo by: DryRot

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Lovely Gift

Yesterday one of my dear friends invited me to join her for a wine tasting and dinner. Tracey and her guy Joe are a part of a group that do these tastings every third Monday. Joe was scheduled to be out of town, so Tracey asked if I would be her "date."

What a great night! The restaurant that hosts them is one of the finer restaurants in town. It is an Italian restaurant and during these wine tastings they had been going through the 20 regions of Italy, eating dishes and drinking wine from each area. Last night was Piedmont.

I won't go into the fantastic food (risotto, salmon, duck...) or the amazing wines I got to try, but the best part about it was just kicking back and enjoying the evening in the company of one of my closest friends. Tracey and I were seated at a table with two other lovely and fun ladies and a rep from the wine distributor. Everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun.

It was so wonderful for Tracey to invite me on a number of levels. For one thing, this is the kind of thing I absolutely love to do - but simply can't afford right now. I am lover of great food and have always been fascinated by wine, but eating out at certain places just isn't in the budget. While I have several favorite wines in the under $12 category, right now it is something I tend to save for a special occasion. So this was an opportunity to enjoy a fantastic evening out - and all it cost me was $3.00 for parking. (Hilarity insured when I realized I only had a $20 for the parking lot attendant machine - and it shot out all my change in the new gold dollars. I couldn't get all 17 rapidly dropping coins in my hands and had to pull my car forward past the gate, then get out and go back to pick up the ones I dropped. The good thing is I am less likely to spend gold dollars - the bad thing is they are heavy!)

Another wonderful thing was that I got to spend time with Tracey. Life has been so busy she and I haven't seen each other much since the garage sale I had in July. Unfortunately we didn't get quite as much time to chat as I would have liked - we were surrounded by people and there was a speaker throughout most of the dinner, but still, we managed to catch up!

The other great part about the evening was that the dinner was in the same room as where my wedding reception was held. I know that doesn't sound like it would be great since I am recently divorced, but actually it was. It gave me a chance to be in that space while doing something fun and sort of reinvent my memories of that area. Had I just walked in there on my own, it might have been really hard. But as it was, surrounded by laughing people, great food, good wine and conversation - it totally changed the dynamic. For that I am really grateful.

Thanks Tracey!!

Photo by: katiew

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My Experiences Being a Secret Shopper, pt 2

So, this weekend I did my second Secret Shopping trip. (The first one I did was about a month ago.) That trip required that I visit a restaurant at lunch time. I was not paid for the visit and report, but my lunch was reimbursed. I invited a friend to go with me and it turned out to be a kind of a fun trip. I had to be on the look out for all of the items on my report, of course, but it still gave us the chance to catch up a little. Plus he was great at helping me keep track of names, times and other details.

For this second visit, I did the same thing, and I brought along a friend to give me a hand. Once again I had a request to Secret Shop a local restaurant, though this time it was sitting in the bar and ordering two drinks and an appetizer. I think two friends being out together makes it far less obvious that one is a shopper. Plus it is actually a lot more fun with two people - and she was awesome at getting the host's name. (It's not always easy. Especially since none of the folks had name tags on, and getting names is required.) She also was able to help me time things and was great at picking out details I might have missed. This particular job should reimburse me up to $15.00 and should pay $10. Not what I would call big money certainly, but still, I enjoy doing it.

I tell you, each time I do one of these I learn something new. So what did I learn on this one? Well, what I didn't realize is that the reports were due within 24 hours. I visited the restaurant on Friday and thought the report was due on Monday. I guess I was thinking it needed to be turned in within one business day - not a straight 24. When I checked my email Monday I had a series of notices reminding me to get my report in - oops! Somehow I missed that Saturday was my deadline. I quick shot off an email to the company letting them know my error and then followed it up with the report.

So far I rather like Secret Shopping. It is a bit of work - it isn't just "paying you to eat and drink" the way you see it advertised sometimes. Like I said, in a restaurant you may have to figure out how to get the names of the servers, the manager and the hosts - without giving yourself away. You also have to remember to pay attention to details since it is a fairly lengthy report. A simple "everything looked good" will not suffice. For myself, once I left the restaurant my friend and I went over some of the details together, then I quickly jotted down a series of notes when I got in my car. That way when I wrote my report I knew I would have all the details.

I don't know how it is across the country. Perhaps in some large cities there are a number of different opportunities. In my area there doesn't seem to be very many, and the ones that I find most offer reimbursements. I don't see this as a viable way of making more that $20-$30 a month, at best. Still, it is a fun way to make a little extra money and who knows? More opportunities may come my way.

Further Reading:

Mystery Shopping as Non Passive Income

Mystery Shopping Feedback

What is Nonpassive Income?

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Frgually Fighting Sadness

So, there was something I wasn't entirely sure how to write about last week. This is a blog about personal finance and so, logically, I try to keep it to posts about my personal finances. I didn't think this was the place to talk about family matters and so forth so I didn't say anything. Then I realized that because of what was happening, my newly acquired frugal shopping habits and careful budgeting plans almost went out the window.

You see, my father passed away 6 years ago this weekend. That's hard in itself, but then on Thursday I went to the funeral of a young man, a brother of a coworker, whose name was Don. So was my father's. Because my coworker and my mother are the same religion, the ceremony had a very familiar feel. To top it off they sang one of the same songs that my mother chose especially for my father. That was hard.

Then the loan officer who picked up the phone at my credit union when I called on Friday? Don. The customer my boss asked me to contact personally to take care of a few things? Don. And old friend from out of state I haven't talked to in months who just emailed me out of the blue? Don.

This is the kind of thing you could write in a novel and no one would ever believe it. Proof positive that life is stranger than fiction.

The thing is, when I start feeling blue, I have two urges - spend money and eat. Typical chick stuff, right? (Although come to think of it now, maybe that is why my ex and I spent so much of our marriage either cooking or shopping.) Since my life has changed, I have changed in some ways. This time it wasn't shoes I wanted to buy, but paint for the bedroom and books on home improvement; expenses that I could "justify" to myself as being financially smart. ...and they would be - if it weren't for the fact that the only reason I wanted to buy them now was that I felt like shopping.

My other urge is craving certain foods when I am depressed. On my way back from the funeral it was all I could do not to drive into the nearest coffee shop and get a enormous vanilla latte with soy. I thought about driving out of my way so I could hit one of my favorite locally owned coffee & tea shops; I had to make myself take the expressway instead. When I got to work I was still craving it, so when I started fantasizing about the Starbucks just down the street I knew I had to do something drastic. I made myself a "poor girl's mocha" - one packet of hot chocolate (free from work), a dollop of fake creamer (also free), half a cup of the super strong coffee my boss makes (they can't hardly give the stuff away) and the rest of the cup of hot water. One hot cup full of sugar, caffeine and chocolate. That bedded down my coffee craving but started my chocolate craving. Again I was saved by a sympathetic coworker and a snack sized Milky Way bar. (Okay, two Milky Way bars.... maybe three.)

Then, on my way home that night I had to fight the strongest craving of all... Indian food. I love Middle Eastern, Indian and ethnic cuisines, so much so that I have learned to make them myself. I wasn't craving homemade, however. I was craving the bright warm atmosphere of a favorite local Indian restaurant. A place where I could sit in the corner with a good book and feast on the wonderful food. I wanted the smells, the flavors, the people, everything. I kept thinking, "I still have room in my dining out budget!" Fortunately about a mile from the restaurant I remembered I had pasta at home. I very rarely have pasta in the house anymore so I could have it as a treat instead - the pasta would be my indulgence. (It was fabulous, by the way.)

You know, when I am feeling sad and blue that is when I want to turn to the credit card. I think that purchases, whether they be a good bar of chocolate or a fine meal out, will make me happy. And they do - for as long as they last, but what I am starting to realize is that the thing with buying happiness that way is that it is fleeting. As soon as the wrapper is thrown away or the last glass cleared, I am right back to being sad again. Purchases made from depression have no staying power.

I'm doing fine now. I've made my peace with the weekend and spent some time at dad's grave. Life is like that though, there are going to be hard times occasionally. I just wish I didn't have these urges. I wished I wanted to, I don't know, go for a long brisk walk instead. Don't they say that is the best thing for depression - as well as your waistline? So why is it I want to sleep late and gorge instead?

Oh well, there's always free hot chocolate and bad strong coffee...

Photo by: ph0t0s

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Organizing My Life, My Finances and My Basement

Am I wrong here? It seems like the more frugal I get, the more organized I get! (Or want to be.) It started with my finances. In order to make my budget I had to start tracking every thin dime spent. To do that I created a running file of all my statements, that way I could have the most recent statement for any bill right at hand. Then I started selling things for friends on eBay and Amazon, which meant I had to set up a tracking system for that. Shortly after I read this great article by Prime Time Money about creating a financial "dashboard." I took his idea and then made myself a personal finance balance sheet. The great thing about it was that it actually made me feel a bit better. Sure, I'm struggling each month, but my "empty credit" (ala credit cards) is really low. Most of my debt is in real estate, which means my net worth looks pretty decent on paper.

In addition, as I mentioned in another post, I am trying to slowly reorganize the house. It's kind of a strange place to be in. The house was jointly lived in by my husband and I until our split. Then I took what I needed and I moved out. When the dust settled and I had to take the house back over, he took what he wanted. Ultimately this means he ended up with some of my things, I ended up with some of his. Occasionally it makes me irritated, like when I see he took the $50 afghan that I bought that perfectly matches my couch - which he left. But you know, it isn't worth fighting over. I have absolutely no desire to go over there and demand the heavy ceramic planters that I paid for and spent hours picking out and lugged home. Am I bitter? A touch, but there is no use dwelling on it. For the most part I can just let it go and accept that what is - is.

Because of the various moves, (and frankly because I am still not completely unpacked,) there are still pockets of disorganization. As a frugal person however, I am finding that organization can be one of my best friends.

Obviously, being organized saves time - I feel better knowing that I can lay my hands on what I need, when. I'm not wasting time looking for things. My kitchen is doing great in this regard, especially since I spent August shopping out of my my own cupboards. The next room to tackle is my office - way too much of that is still in boxes.

Tidy Room = Tidy Mind - I just recently rearranged some of the furniture in my bedroom area and while I was at it I cleared all the clutter off the horizontal surfaces where it tends to collect. You know what? I feel the difference. I feel a lot less stressed there than I do in my still cluttered office area!

Finding Stuff I Didn't Know I Had - One of the areas I am trying to organize is my workshop. When my father passed away my husband and I were given a lot of his tools. Unfortunately, they got mixed in with my husband's tools. It is so hard to say whose is whose. I tried to divide them up, but I think some things went that shouldn't have. I have no way of knowing for sure though. So, in order find out what I have and make things tidy, I decided to hang some pegboard I had. One water stained edge needed to be cut off though, and I started thinking how nice it would be to have a jigsaw. In fact, at one point I even put one in my basket at Lowes (I had a coupon) but then put it back because I had other things that were more important to purchase. Anyway, guess what I found tucked in the back of the shelves? My dad's jigsaw. In fact, since undertaking the Great Workshop Clean Up I have found a number of handy tools I thought I would have to buy.

Saving Me Cash and Raising My Credit Score - One of my favorite organizational benefits is that since I have got all my bill paying organized and online, I haven't had a late payment in years. Not only am I not paying overdraft and late fees any more, but I just got a free credit report from my credit card and found my credit score was 780. I'm pretty darn happy with that. Even though I decided not to refinance at this time, that score would have gotten me the best rate.

I keep thinking about how much things have changed. The author of Until Debt Do Us Part left this comment in my post about staying financially motivated: The lessons you learn from the journey that you are on now will serve you a lifetime. I think they're right. Each step, one by one, gets me closer to happiness and peace of mind - and hey, isn't that what we are all really after?

Organize This:

Your Frugal House: Five Ways To Save Money in the Home Office

I've Paid For This Twice Already - The Beauty of Organizing Your Money

Prime Time Money - Build a One -Sheet Dashboard-Style View of Your Finances

Photo by: Olivetti

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Waiting to Refinance

I am a huge fan of online banking, especially since my local bank has a nice, fairly easy to use web site. Yesterday I was on there and noticed they had really low rates on their fixed mortgages. There are two loans on my home which were taken out simultaneously. This was back in the free wheeling days of loans with no income verification and the process was to use one small loan as the down payment and the other as the bulk of the mortgage. The larger of the two loans has a good fixed interest rate of 5.75, however, the other smaller fixed loan is at 7.75. One of the items on my list of financial goals was to look into refinancing that second loan.

So, I saw their low rates and gave them a call. The loan officer was great, but the first thing that he told me was that there was a new law enacted three days ago that says that if your home has been on the market you have to wait one year after you have removed it to refinance. My home was on the market from January to June, so that puts me out of the running.

Nonetheless for curiosity's sake we ran the numbers. I could refinance the whole kit and caboodle for their low rate of 5.65%, however, then I would have to add PMI. In addition, they are only lending up to 90% since the whole FREDDIE MAC/FANNIE MAE fiasco, and I would be on the razor's edge of that. (Since housing values are so low right now.) It was possible to do, but not guaranteed. When he crunched the numbers, I would have a smaller payment each month - but then you had to add in the PMI, so my savings might be small for the out of pocket costs of the appraisal and so forth.

We looked at just doing the second loan, but then that would have to be considered a home equity loan which didn't qualify for the really good rates. Again, my monthly fee wouldn't be effected that much at all. The loan officer said that it makes sense to refinance if you can save a half a point or more over 4-5 years. I don't even know that I am going to be in the house for 4-5 more years.

So, I decided to wait. Now that I know the deal, I can watch the market and see where we are in June when my one year is up. I have to say though - what a difference the credit crisis has made! When I bought the house loan officers were stumbling over themselves to give me money, now I actually had one talk me out of it. Shows you how the world has changed.

Photo by: Rustman

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Frugal Grocery Store Question

Okay, so I have a question and I would love to get some feedback and advice from you all -

Awhile back I opened up a grocery store credit card for their gas incentives. They were offering $.10 off a gallon through Labor Day. That promotion has obviously ended, but I am still getting $.05 off. It is actually a store sponsored Mastercard, so it could be used anywhere, but I got it specifically for the gas promotion at their stores.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile you know that I have a little over $1,000 of credit card debt that I am working on paying down. I have nixed credit cards from my wallet, however, I chose in this case to go ahead and get and use the card specifically for the gas and the gas promotions only. Since I already have the gas money budgeted, I simply pay off this card with that amount each month. So far, it has been working great. In fact, it has helped me keep track of my gas spending in a nice easy way.

I must not be the only one that is using their card that way though, because last week I received an offer in the mail offering a $10 rebate on any $100 total purchase not made at their stores or at their pumps. I was going to throw it away. I don't have any $100 purchases that I need to make right now, but then I had a second thought...

There is one other item in my budget that, like gas, has money set aside each month and requires me to go to a store and purchase it - groceries. After reviewing the offer carefully and noting that it specifically allows for groceries purchased at another store as long as the total purchase is over $100, I started thinking. I could go to another store, purchase next month's groceries (specifically stocking up on nonperishables) and get $100 worth of food for $90. I could even take along a calculator (it wouldn't be the first time) and see how close I could get to $100 without being under. Ideally $100.01 would be perfect.

My grocery budget each month is $125.00. I seem to be hitting that or slightly under. Technically it would leave me another $25 or so to spend at the Farmers Market for fresh veggies, since the Market is my preferred place for produce. Since I already have the money set aside, I could simply pay it off - just I like have been doing with gas.

I don't know though, it feels like the edge of a slippery slope. I am trying so hard to pay for everything in cash now. Am I opening myself up for trouble or is it being a frugal shopper? What are your thoughts?

Feast on this:

Information on My Grocery Budget

Gas Pains (Information on my gas credit card)

Photo by: BrittneyBush

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Thursday, September 11, 2008


I recently signed up with InnoCentive.com today. I found the link on Pepperjam and thought I would take a look into it.

The idea is fairly nifty: they post challenges in business, life science, computer science, etc. and they are creating a network of people who are interested in those fields to put together solutions to solve them. For example, one of the challenges I saw was about social networking sites - how to make them better, different ways of using the technology and so forth. The winning solution is paid up to $10,000! Now, I don't know a thing about social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook, but I know there is a lot of people out there who do.

What I find rather interesting about the InnoCentive concept is that they are going straight to the people - the armchair inventors and the basement tinkerers. The cash prizes are huge, which to be honest intimidates me a little, but at the same time, if I saw a challenge come up that I felt I knew something about, why not submit it? Who knows, right? All it would cost me is the time it took to think it out and write it up - signing up for the website and being able to submit solutions is free.

I've been all over the web site looking to see if there was any "catch." So far I haven't found any. Does any one else have experience with them?

Here's some info from their website:

Founded in 2001, InnoCentive.com connects companies, academic institutions, public sector and non-profit organizations, all hungry for breakthrough innovation, with a global network of more than 145,000 of the world's brightest minds on the world's first Open Innovation Marketplace™.

These creative thinkers -- engineers, scientists, inventors, and business people with expertise in life sciences, engineering, chemistry, math, computer science, and entrepreneurship -- join the InnoCentive Solver™ community to solve some of the world's toughest challenges.

Let me know what you think!


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Amazon A-Z Guarantee Claim, Getting a Refund

So, I've been selling with Amazon for a couple of months now. Usually when I get an order the first thing I do is take its duplicate listing off of Half.com. That way I don't have double sales. (Although that did happen to me once - a book sold on both sites within an hour of each other. I refunded the second buyer and wished I had more copies of the book!) Once the other listing is removed, my next steps are to add the selling information into my spreadsheet and update my sidebar on the right on this blog. My next step is to go to Amazon and print off the packing slip.

That night I bring the packing slip home, pack up the book securely, label it and put it with my things for the next day. On my way into work the next morning I drop it off at the post office, simple, right?

Well, apparently not for everyone. I recently placed an order from Amazon for a used book. After being a seller and seeing the prices that people list their books at - I will never buy new again! Anyway, that was August 11th. I haven't seen hide nor hair of my book since.

Normally, with my current financial state I wouldn't be buying books at all, but I decided to take the plunge on this one because it was on how to make my business grow. I was very excited to read it, and I assumed that when I was done I would be able to resell in online. I figured I wasn't so much buying it as renting it.

Unfortunately it hasn't come. I have emailed the seller twice and not gotten a response. So, today I filed my first Amazon A-z Guarantee. They will look into the problem, try to resolve it, and if they can't, they will refund me. Although I wish I had my book, I am kind of glad that I had this experience. It is a real life example for what my customers might have to go through if they don't receive a book.

I'll let you know how it goes!

Photo by: soumit

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PF Bloggers, pt 3

I've been writing about the personal finance bloggers on my "must read" list lately. Here is part 3 in that series:

I get feeling that Debt Hater doesn't post as much now that she has achieved her goals by getting out of debt. Honestly though, that is one of the reasons I like her blog (not the lack of daily posts, of course) but the fact that she did it! She is out of debt and on to living her dreams. I love a success story. I also enjoy her fun sense of humor and great writing. She has a really interesting post about car insurance here.

Foreclosure Truth is another somewhat sporadic poster, but what I like about this blog are the facts. He tells it like it is. Many of his posts are about the housing market as a whole and how foreclosures are effecting us. I have to say though, that one of my favorite posts was his Foreclosures and Five Stages of Grief. One of these days soon I plan to write about my own responses to this post, since my own situation came out of a traumatic incident. For me this one really hit home.

Debt Diet is one of my inspirational reads - another person who is out there doing it. (Hmmm... it seems most of my favorite blogs fall into one of two categories - inspirational or informational.) Check out her A Year Ago Today post that talks about all she has been through and still kept going. A lot of people might have thrown in the towel with all her set backs, but instead she just kept on fighting!

Frugal Dad - So, in keeping with my Informational or Inspirational theme, this is a great informational blog. He's always coming up with tips and ideas as well as talking about personal finance in general. Lately he wrote a post called When it Comes to Emergency Funds, Size Matters. Not only did the title give me a grin, but the subject is one that is near and dear to my heart. Since I am still working my way out of debt, my emergency fund feels woefully underfunded, but this post helped me see it all in perspective.

The Simple Dollar is one of my "must reads" and it is worth checking back during the day because this is one of the most prolific personal finance writers I know. (And hey - I love to read!) One of the many things I like about his blog is how he continually drives home the same point - it isn't about being rich, its about peace of mind. Check out his recent post on Financial Success Isn't About Who Has the Most (or Best) Stuff.

Make Money Online - Finally! is an interesting read for anyone blogging or writing articles online for money. This is something I find fun to read, but not sure that I want to tackle myself. Still, I feel like I can pick up a lot of tips here should I ever decide to go into that area.

Bouncing Back From Bankruptcy another every day inspirational blog about one person just trying to get back on track. These are the types of blogs that are great reads when I am feeling all alone or getting depressed about money. There are so many people out there working on giving themselves better lives it's wonderful to see!

More on Blogs I Adore:

Personal Finance Bloggers, pt 1

Personal Finance Bloggers, pt 2

Pay It Forward Award

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Little More Personal and a Little Less Finance

I've been talking to some of my friends about a particular issue in my life and I figured it was time to "take it to the blog." It has to do with homeowner stress. It also has to do with learning how to give myself a break.

I have this strong urge to make my home perfect. This is true to some degree at the cabin, but by far it is predominately focused on the house. When I am home I find myself constantly noticing things that need to be done. Some of it is home improvement projects like repairing the broken board on the porch or fixing the fence. Others are more decorative like hanging artwork and moving furniture, while still others have to do with organization such as cleaning out the basement and the garage and finally clearing out all the boxes in the spare bedroom. Some of them are big like repainting the house, while others are small like organizing my DVDs. My friend Catie and I have a nickname these, we call them Noxious Toadstools. They are these little projects that pop up during the night that you know you should do - but for whatever reason, you don't. So they sit there poisoning your vision because every single time you walk by them you get a little zap of guilt. Dirty dishes in the sink, a loose toilet seat, that bag of clothes for Goodwill that is gathering dust in the corner - these are all noxious toadstools.

I have found since moving in the house I have been on a mission to eliminate all noxious toadstools from my life big and small. I want everything arranged, put away, fixed and organized. I suppose the goal is admirable, but the stress I've been putting myself under is not.

Don't get me wrong, I know it is impossible for any normal human being not to have a few noxious toadstools hanging about. There are only a limited number of hours in a day and I am just one person... who just happens to be working a full time job, trying to create a variety of income streams, writing a blog, going back to school, serving on the executive board of a nonprofit organization, maintaining two properties, and who occasionally wants to see her friends and family. Even if I took a week off of work I couldn't get everything done. Although naturally, that doesn't stop me from stressing about it!

I think I get some of it from my childhood. Growing up I saw my parents always working on the house. Each year it seemed that my mom tackled some project or another - new wallpaper for the bathroom this year, new landscaping the next - there was always something going on. That isn't to say that I lived in a construction zone, most of these projects only took a weekend, but I was constantly aware of the effort my parents, (my mother in particular,) took in keeping up the house. It was a source of pride for her and it was obvious that she felt that our home was a reflection on who she was.

..and it is true, your home is a reflection of yourself. We fill our homes with our favorite things, paint the rooms our favorite colors and display the things that mean the most to us there. So what does it say about me that the porch needs fixing, the artwork isn't hung, the lawn needs mowing? It probably tells the truth: here is the home of someone in transition, a person trying desperately to keep all the plates in the air, but not always making it. I recognize the truth of myself in my house - and I hate it. I want everything to be okay, to be fine. I am like the little girl in the dark, eyes squeezed closed, rocking back and forth and muttering "I am not afraid. I am not afraid..." Except in my case my muttering is "Everything is fine. I can handle this. Everything is fine..."

Adding to the stress is the fact that many of these projects require money and that is something I just don't have. I was talking with a friend about all of this recently. He generously offered to help me with any home improvement project I want. I had to tell him that it wasn't a lack of help that was stopping me - I have an amazing network of friends who have offered their time and the sweat off their brow - but who is going to pay for it? Who's going to buy the lumber, the paint, the tile? Seeing the crumbling paint on my home every day reminds me of my financial situation. I can't get away from that.

Yet, some of these projects date back to when my ex and I bought the house. The porch has had that same broken board since the day we signed the papers. The house has needed painting for a couple years. Why now? Why do these things get to me now, when they didn't bother me all that much before? One reason is an emotion I am not particularly proud of - spite. I try very hard not to talk ill of my ex in this blog since I think that kind of thing only leads to bad blood. I will confess though that there is a part of me that strongly resents him dumping this house on me - especially since we had an agreement that he would take it. I've accepted the situation and more than that, there is a part of me that wants to rise to the occasion. I want to show not only him, but everyone else, that I won't be knocked down - and more than that - that I can do it better. It's completely petty I know, and I don't like that I feel this way, but I can't help it.

When it comes to simple household things, not the home improvement projects, but the day to day things - the weeds in the garden, the bathroom that needs cleaning, the file cabinet I need to move into my office - these noxious toadstools are a bit of a conundrum to me. I know that doing them will make me feel better. I believe they are projects worth doing. I know they won't take me all that long to do. ...and yet, I walk right on by them while at the same time beating myself up for not doing them. It's a noxious toadstool death cycle!

So what to do with all this? I've only been in the house three months and already I find myself adding unnecessary stress to myself, but not knowing how to stop.

And that is why I have a therapist - to help me get through all of these things and emotions I am dealing with after the divorce. So I talked with her and she gave me a tool that has been very helpful. She told me to ask myself why I'm not doing something. Then either honor that reason or do whatever needs to be done. The important thing is to stop the death cycle of stress.

So, when I come home at night and I see light blue flakes of paint on the driveway and I feel my blood pressure starting rise, simply ask myself why I haven't painted the house? Because I can't afford it. Okay, that is what it is. Accept that it is the reality for now and move on - getting upset about it isn't going to get the house scraped any sooner. Another good example was a chair that I had upstairs that I wanted to put downstairs. I kept looking at the spot in the room and thinking about how I should get off my duff and move that chair. The night after talking with my therapist I found myself looking at that spot as I felt my hands starting to clench I thought, "Okay, why haven't I moved that chair down here?" Answer: because I was bone tired, it had been a long day at work and then I spent a couple hours helping my mother with some projects which were mentally exhausting. It kind of hit me then - instead of beating myself up, I should feel some pride in the work I did that day. Being bone tired from hard work is an honest emotion. The next night as I looked in that same spot, I realized I wasn't tired, my day had been fairly easy. My answer to why I didn't move the chair? A bratty "I don't waaaaaaaant to." Then I had two choices, I could accept that I didn't want to and stop beating myself up for not doing it, or I could get up and do it, and then it would be done. Either way would break the cycle that I was in.

I moved the chair.

(Of course now I want to paint it.)

The truth is, there is only so much a person can do. I know this and accept it, but I find myself holding myself to a much higher standard than I do anyone else. If my sister's faucet drips I don't think badly of her, but if mine were dripping I get all stressed about it. This is something I am really working on. I am trying to let things go and understand that the only thing making me feel bad is my own neurosis.

I know that no matter what there will always be noxious toadstools, they are a part of life. My goal is working on find ways to live with them so they are more like colorful mushrooms.

Photo by: tdaonp

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