Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It is All Relative...

Despite the fact that I had a wonderful Christmas and a financially successful December, this has been a tough week. The worst item of all was work related - my company had to lay off three employees yesterday. Two of them worked for me, so I had to let them know personally. These were long term employees and I've been having a rough time with it. We did great severance packages and all that for them, but somehow, it doesn't help. I still feel rotten. The decision was made because of the economy, basically we just had too many employees for the amount of work. Even in my present financial situation, I offered to take a pay cut if it meant we could keep folks. My boss, however, said that that can be a great financial strategy if you expect a quick recovery - but in our situation we don't see anything changing anytime soon, and we can't ask everyone to take a pay cut for what might be years or recovery.

It doesn't help dealing with all this that I have a cold. Seems like the virus was sitting in wait for me until the day after Christmas - my first day of rest - to hit like a sledgehammer. Usually colds don't last very long with me, but this one has been sticking around. Fortunately I am well stocked in juice and vitamins. I wish I could shake it off though.

Some good news, however, is that I am working on making one of my goal for 2009 happen - selling items on eBay. One of the reasons I think I have a harder time with my eBay sales, despite their lucrative nature, is that I don't have it well organized. Every time I want to sell something, I have to set up an area to take photos, get out my rulers, scales and packing materials and so forth... basically it is more of a process than it should be. (Especially since everything is scattered hither, tither and yon around my house.) So, last night I started working on putting together an area where I can keep everything together - items for sale, boxes, bubble wrap, etc.. I think that if I can make it even easier to do, I will be more likely to do it.

This past weekend I had a little basement flooding. Not too bad, fortunately, and everyone I know had basement problems. It's what happens when mountains of snow melt overnight and then are followed by 2" of rain. Anyway... last night I spent some time in the basement cleaning up the mess and at the same time doing some organization. I picked out an area (near where I store the books I have for sale online) that could be "eBay central." A friend of mine offered to lend me some clip lights and I have a big roll of newsprint craft paper, so I am going to create a little photo booth down there. My sister and brother-in-law (bless them!!) bought me a new camera for Christmas, so I should be all set and have no more excuses!

In addition to eBaying, I still have more furniture to sell. I've been a bit quiet on that lately since I didn't think too many people would be shopping Craig's List over Christmas. Plus, I've had something going every night that there hasn't been a snowstorm! However, the weather seems a tad more under control and I know my schedule is, so I'll be able to get back to that. I also have a few more books that were given to me to sell that I need to post.

So, despite the rotten end to this month - I'm looking forward to a brighter 2008.

Photo by: destabee (Who also has some other great bird photos!)

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Budgets - Lessons Learned

Ah, my Christmas shopping is long done and now I just have a few things to wrap and some homemade gifts to finish up and I will be more than ready for Christmas. Good thing too - because I blew my Christmas budget. That's right, I saw the line and like Santa over rooftops, I went sailing right over it. Sigh....

Actually, it isn't all that bad. I put away a small amount each week into a Christmas budget, which gives me $650 for Christmas. I've been doing this for a couple of years now, and I absolutely love it. It really does take the financial burden off. I also create a budget based on estimated spending amounts. With my family this is pretty easy since my sister and I set them towards the beginning of the holiday season. Normally I keep a notebook in my purse and write down what I buy for whom and how much it costs. That $650 just gets put into checking to cover costs. This year, however, I did things a little differently.

First of all I created a spreadsheet, rather than using a notebook. I then added in the exact amounts spent from receipts, rather than from memory. Purchases were all made with a credit card, for which I set up automatic payments for, or made with cash specifically taken from my Christmas fund account. This really did help a lot with the tracking of money. Another new thing that I did this year was track other holiday purchases on my budget - Christmas cards and stamps, ingredients for dishes I made for holiday parties, etc. These things all came out of the Christmas funds as well. However, since I had never counted these before I wasn't sure how much I normally spent. That threw my budgeting off because I underestimated. The good news is that now I know and will have much better figures for next year.

As far as gifts go, I overspent on each close family member by a little less than $20. The good news is that for friends I was able to come in right at or slightly below budget. I have one friend who I am $.94 under budget on - that's just about perfect.

So, what I have I learned?

Even though I went over budget, I am really happy with how everything turned out. I was able to get everyone I love gifts that I am really pleased with, without adding one drop of debt. I also now have a much better idea of how I need to split up my holiday funds. Next year I am going to add just a little more to my Christmas fund, maybe get it closer to $700 so that I can cover not only presents but also party food, activities, cards and so on. That is only $1 more a week than what I am doing now - and it is going into an interest paying savings account, so I make money off it as well.

I should quickly say that the $12.50 I set aside each week is part of my "I need $900 a month" budget. However, I know that if something should happen, I could stop making those payments in a heartbeat and access that money if I needed to. There isn't one person in my life that wouldn't understand if they didn't get a gift from me. But, if I can make it all happen just like I did this year, then I am going to. It makes me incredibly happy!!

Something else I can do for next year is to start a little earlier. I started my online shopping around the middle of November, which worked out pretty well, but there are certain things that I could have bought earlier. That would have meant less last minute running around, which probably could have kept me closer to my exact budget. A few of those items that pushed me up over the limit were total impulse purchases brought about by shopping in stores rather than online.

Another vow I have made is that from Dec. 15th - Dec. 25th, I will not shop in any store that is not 1) local and 2) have approximately 50 parking spaces or less. Yesterday I braved a mega-grocery store. Big mistake! It was crowded, people were irritable, and even though they had all check out lanes going, I waited 30 minutes just to get my two small bags of groceries. In contrast, this morning I stopped by a local specialty food and wine store and an Ace Hardware. People were friendly, happy and there was plenty of parking. It was such a difference from yesterdays trip, that I am going to vow to save my sanity and only do last minute stops before Christmas in small, locally owned, unique businesses. No Target shopping for me!!

So, are you ready for the holidays?

Photo by: KevinThoule

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Goals for 2009

I've been thinking a lot about goals for the new year. I have to believe, deep in my heart, that 2009 is going to be a better year for all of us. This last year has been a hard one for so many people, including many of my friends and loved ones. In some ways it has been a year of education for all of us. I have had so much personal growth, and I know others who can say the same, but it didn't come without a price. That, however, is a topic for another day. Today I want to write about New Years resolutions - except I am not going to call them that. Resolutions always seemed doomed for failure. Instead, I am going to have 2009 Goals.

Here's a working list of what I have so far:

  • One Month of Emergency Savings - Before the end of 2009 I will have (at a minimum) the equivalent of one month's worth of emergency savings set aside in my emergency fund. This amount will be the sum of my regular paycheck, my tenant's rent and the $900 I need each month.
  • Credit Card Paid Off - I will have my credit card completely paid off. It is currently less that $950. At the rate I am paying ($75.00) it would take me just about a year to complete. However, I will have it paid off early.
  • Car Paid Off - In some ways this is a given, my current loan is scheduled to be paid off in June. Still, I am putting it in the goals because I plan on keeping my car for a long time - no new car loans for me!
  • Three eBay Items Per Week - Of all the many things I do to raise cash, eBay is one of the more profitable - and least desirable. I can't deny that it regularly raises a nice amount of money, but for a variety of reasons, I don't enjoy doing it nearly as much as everything else I do. I regularly find myself with a mental block and don't work on it as much as I should, so, in addition to my other sales opportunities, I am going to list 3 items on eBay each week.
  • Get an Additional $900 Per Month - You knew this had to be in there, right?? In 2009 through either savings or additional income, I will make all my financial goals.
Home Improvement
  • Repaint My House - My house has to be repainted. In fact, it is at the point where the longer I wait, the more it is going to cost me due to wood rot. Last week I met with a loan officer for a state specific homeowner's loan, designed to help people in Michigan with home repairs. I will investigate a few options for similar type loans and have it all in place to repaint the home in the spring.* This will increase property value and make me feel a whole lot better.
  • Create a Compost Pile - In 2009 I have a few home improvement projects I would like to complete, one is making an area for compost. I have a weedy unused area behind the garage. It is not pleasant looking and a waste of space. This would be a perfect place for a compost pile, which would make my yard and home more environmentally friendly, would be great for my garden and would be a good use of bad space.
  • Winterize the Home - I thought I was doing a pretty good job of winterizing this fall, but now that it is 14 degrees out, I can see I really over estimated what I did. I will have more than a couple winters in this home before I sell it, so one of my home improvement goals is to make a list in January of all the things I can see that would help (caulking windows, adding weatherstripping, etc.) and starting as soon as possible go room to room making the old girl a little more draft resistant.
  • Paint My Bedroom - This goal has two facets: 1) Make the home more "sale-able." This room is currently painted a light mint color and shows dirt and scuffs. One of my long term goals is to prepare the home to go back on the market, so this is part of that plan. But 2) might be more important - repainting is just one more step in reclaiming the home for myself and wiping out the grief from my past marriage.
  • Fix Up the Attic - This is a goal fits hand and hand with the above two goals. My attic has a little storage/office area. I have recently realized that this area is very poorly winterized. I am going to clean out the room, give it a paint job and make it into a desirable storage area while at the same time 1) winterizing it, 2) making it a selling feature and 3) practicing my new home improvement skills. This will be a great room to get my feet wet in DIY projects, since it is only the attic it won't be quite as painful if I make a few learning "blunders" along the way.
Personal Growth
  • Self Schooling - This semester I was not able to afford to take a college course. Instead I am going to design my own course and read books and work on projects in my chosen field. Next summer I will be back taking courses.
  • Gratitude Journal - A few years ago I had a gratitude journal. Each night I would write down 10 things that happened during the day I was grateful for. They could be big things like my health and loved ones or little things like hearing bird song or seeing the first crocus of spring. Somewhere in all the busyness I got away from my journal. In 2009 I am going to make sure to write in my gratitude journal every night ( or every night I can.) I found it to be a very peaceful and helpful tool for happiness. I'm going back to it.
  • Thank Friends and Family - In the goal above I acknowledge the wonderful things I have in my life to myself. I am also going to take time to acknowledge the special people in my life to them, whether through a note, email, phone call, cup of coffee, or a comment in their blog.
These are my 2009 goals. I am going to look at them each month, just as I do my $900 a month goals. By putting them here and regularly reporting on them, that will give me the inspiration and accountability to be able to check them off one by one. Many of these goals are stepping stones, actions that will help me get to my long term goals....

3-5 Year Long Term Goals
  • Go through the house room by room making it more comfortable for me while also making it market ready. This is so that when the housing crises is over and things settle down again, I will be ready to list my home.
  • Create a portfolio of experience to make myself an ideal candidate for the master's program I want to attend.
  • Go to school for my master's degree.
  • Have a fully funded emergency fund. (Year 1 - 1 month, Year 2 - 3 months, Year 3 - 6 months.) This will allow me greater flexibility for returning to school.
  • Be living in a place I love doing work that makes me happy.
So, what are your goals for next year? Tell me one thing you are going to do -

* In case you are wondering, no, this is not a project I can do myself. I own a huge Victorian home built in 1847. It is all wood and massive. This has to be done by a professional.

Photo by: Covs97

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Goal for December Made!

If you take a look at my sidebar over there, you will notice a rather large jump recently. Well, I've made a few sales on Amazon lately and... no, I am just kidding. While I have had some nice sales lately, the bulk of that money came from a year end holiday bonus from my employeer.

We had a company meeting back at the end of November and my boss pretty much laid out that the bonuses this year would be slim - and compared to the roaring late 90s, they were. However, in the "will I have a job tomorrow?" 08s, they were much larger than expected. I had a great time handing out the payslips to my employees - it was so fun to see their eyes light up. Mine too, to be honest.

There is some question on what I will do with the overage. Right now I am considering putting a portion towards my credit card and the rest in emergency savings - goodness knows I could use a boost in that direction. Since the end of May when I started my blog and drive to make $900 to keep my home out of foreclosure, I have only gone over my goal once. I think that is to be expected - there will be good months and bad, and building up various income streams takes time. Putting the overage that I get into savings will help protect against the down months.

So, why don't I put the whole thing toward the credit card?

Well, I could and it is certainly something I am considering. If I were able to pay off or almost pay off the credit card, I would have an additional $75 per month. Theoretically, that $75 could then go into savings. However, since I start each month needing $900, it is more likely that $75 would go towards regular bills. My credit card's balance is under $950, and the interest is practically nil, so I think I feel better putting a chunk towards it and keeping the rest pretty liquid. As wacky as my life is, building up my emergency fund is pretty high on my list.

In fact, I've been working on my goals for 2009 and getting my emergency fund built up is a big one. More and more I find that being frugal isn't so much about having a lot of money - it is about making wise decisions so you don't have to worry later.

Appropriate Christmas coins photo by: Ronayne.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Festive Frugality

Well, it is a regular Winter Wonderland up here in frosty Michigan. It started snowing last night and it looks like by the time it is all done we may be getting anywhere from 10-12 inches of snow and ice. This morning going into work was literally some of the worst driving conditions I have ever dealt with. Not one road that I drove on had been plowed. I got stuck twice.

Tonight I have a gig working part time temp job #1. It is my last night for the year. If the roads are still bad, I'll just bring my car home and then walk down. I've done that before and it is pretty easy way of dealing with the weather. Looking at the calendar ahead, the next gig will be at the end of January. Part time temp job #1 will have some work then, and part time temp job #2 will have a nice week of work in February.

I haven't been updating this blog as much as usual, there has just been so much going on, it feels like I haven't had the time I normally do. On top of that, a lot of my money this month has come from working second jobs, so not a lot of really interesting things to report. However, I did have two absolutely perfect winter evenings this past week that were so much fun and cost practically nothing:

Frugal and Fun Winter Outing #1

Going to look at Christmas lights! One of my friends and I have done this the last few years. We both love Christmas lights (though we differ on opinion on which is better - colored lights or the classic white lights.) Tuesday night he picked me up and off we went. The roads were pretty bad, but for driving around super slowly in residential neighborhoods, they were fine. Our first stop was to my neighborhood Starbucks. Yes, I know Starbucks is the frugal woman's nightmare, but I do have a fondness for their peppermint mochas - especially during the holidays. My friend had a Starbuck's discount card and I had a gift card my friend Tracey gave me, so total cost of my mocha? $0. Is there anything more festive than driving around on a cold snowy night, looking at Christmas lights and listening to Christmas songs and drinking a hot peppermint mocha? I tell you, there is not.

The funny thing was that while we were at the coffee shop we ran into a friend and his girlfriend. They asked what we were up to and we told them that we were going to go drive around and look at lights. They both looked at us like it was an incredibly odd thing to say. In fact, so did some random customers who happened to overhear us. Doesn't anyone else drive around and look at lights anymore? This was a Christmas tradition when I was a kid! I love it.

After a couple of hours of lights it was back to my house for popcorn and a couple of Christmas classic cartoons. It was great!

Frugal and Fun Winter Night #2

I had to change my heading, because my other wonderful winter evening wasn't going out - we stayed in....

On Wednesday one of my girlfriends came over for pizza, wine and girl talk. We both were in our comfy clothes, hanging out on the couch, splitting a veggie pizza and a bottle of wine that she brought. The pizza and everything cost a bit more than my free mocha from the night before, but overall we spent a lot less than we would have had we gone out to a restaurant - and we certainly wouldn't have been as comfortable and I don't think it would have been as much fun. This reminded me of getting together with girl friends during high school, and it was so nice to be able to talk as late as we wanted, not be interrupted by waiters, and not go home with smokey smelling clothes.

You know, I have always really enjoyed going out to restaurants, and back when I was flush with cash, I went out a lot. Now I have been viewing it more as a treat, and I find I value it more. I also have found that frequently staying in and just relaxing at home with friends is just as (if not more) rewarding.

Photo of Christmas Lights by: Donna Grayson

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's That Time of Year...

Things have been pretty busy around here the last couple of days. My company just rolled out a brand new product which has been taking up tons of my time and energy. This project is the result of something I have been working on and off on for about a year, with absolute focus for at least the past four months. It went live on Tuesday, so I have been spending the last few days constantly checking for technical bugs or oddball glitches. I'm really pleased with the way it turned out though, and what's more, my boss said he is going to turn all similar operations over to me for the future. It's nice to know your work is appreciated!

On top of work things, there have been part time jobs. I worked two last weekend, plus completed two Mystery Shopping trips, some paid surveys and sent out some eBay and Amazon sales. When people ask me what I've been up to, I don't even know where to start!

There have been Christmas things too - I've been wrapping presents, sending out cards and still trying to take part of some holiday traditions. I've spent some lovely time with friends and family lately at little gatherings and get togethers. You know, I wasn't going to send out holiday cards this year in order to save money, but it is something I do every year. Though it is a bit self serving, I also wanted to send something out to family with my last name on it - I've gotten a lot of mail from them lately with my formerly married name on it. It's funny, after I first got divorced I didn't really care what name I was called, but now that it has been over 6 months and some time has passed, I am really ready to be done with his name. Hence, I rather enjoyed putting those address labels on the cards! I bought most of my gifts online, but there are still a few in and around town I need to get. Nothing huge, just little things. I've been knocking those off in the mornings and on lunch hours, so that is wrapping up nicely.

One thing that has been hard this week is that a friend of mine lost his father. He passed away on Saturday, and though his father had been ill for quite sometime, the timing of his death was unexpected. It has got me to thinking...

Being at the visitation and the funeral the past couple of days has reminded me of all the wonderful people that I have in my life, even those that I don't see that often. It really brought home to me how very lucky I am to have these amazing people that I can rely on. Christmas time is when we are supposed to think about these things, but sometimes in the hubbub of holiday whatnot, that gets a little lost. This event, though terribly sad, also reminded me of all the good things and people I have in my life.

It also has spurred another thought - I am working on my resolutions for the next year, and I have decided that one of them is going to be regularly making sure I am touching base with folks I love - whether it be a card, email, phone call or getting together for a cup of coffee, I am going to make sure that I am regularly letting people know I care about them.

I guess that is what Christmas is all about.

Photo by: zacharmstrong

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Things I've Been Grateful For This Week

The last week has been full of gifts, large and small, and some realizations about all that I have to be thankful for:

Blog: After writing about my experience with FuelClinic.com, Doc Miles wrote a very nice bit about my blog. You can see it here.* "Fighting Foreclosure" has been such a wonderful resource for me, from just giving me a place to vent to getting great ideas from other bloggers, I have to say that it has been a huge component in keeping me on track and inspired. People's comments and mentions like Doc's never fail to brighten my day.

Family: Earlier this week my sister joined me at a Christmas program on the icons of a local Eastern Orthodox Church. It was a nice program, but even better was the chance to spend some time one on one with my sister. We both braved some pretty nasty roads to get there, but the evening made it worth it. I really have a wonderful family, and lately I've been thinking a lot about how I need to spend more time with them.

Friends: Last night my best gals came over for a few holiday cocktails and some social time. It was a low key affair - everyone brought something to nosh and we just sat around catching up. It great night! Life has been so busy lately, (for me and them,) that I haven't seen some of them for months. Other than the fact it took place in December and I put out holiday M&Ms, I can't even say last night was a "Christmas" gathering - it was more just a quiet night of friends and food. (Lots of food - I am munching on leftover grapes as I write this.) They are such wonderful people, I am so lucky to have them in my life.

Work: I'm working four jobs today and two tomorrow! I am working my full time 40 hour a week, doing a Mystery Shopping gig at lunch, heading to Part Time Temp (PTT) Job #1 after work. Once I get home I need to package up some items I sold on Amazon. Yay! Tomorrow I have another Mystery Shopping Assignment and another PTT job. That should make this weekend pretty profitable. Boy, I would love to see that sidebar hit $900 this month! Even if it doesn't, I am so grateful for these opportunities, especially the PTT jobs given to me by friends!

There's more...

More Friends: On Sunday I am getting together with different, but also wonderful friends. One of them is sponsoring a dinner for some of us who are having tough times right now, which brings me to -

More on Work: I have two friends who are out of work right now. They are both brilliant and would be such good employees. I find myself being more and more grateful for the chance to just come to work every day. I am really glad that my company is working on some exciting products that has been making my job interesting (if a touch stressful) the last few weeks and that we are striving to bring in more income so our company can continue to employ everyone we have here. When I hear of all the unethical and borderline ethics that companies are engaging in right now, I am so grateful to be part of a good place.

Health: My friend Catie's godfather is suffering from cancer right now. I've known him for years. Talking about it with her reminds me of my own father's struggles with lung cancer. I realized recently what a gift it is to simply be healthy. I had a spate of about 4 years where I suffered from chronic pain, so I know what it is to be unhealthy. Just the fact I can get out of bed each morning and feel good is a huge blessing.

This year has been a real lesson for me in how to value the things you have. I don't want to say that I took things for granted in the past, because I have always been aware of them, but I certainly didn't have the appreciation that I do now. Perhaps that is my silver lining.

* EDIT: Doc.'s blog seems to be down right now. You may have to check back later.

Silver lining photo by: Paul J. Thompson

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Decorations and Deals

Couple of quick Christmas deals going on right now:

1. BeingFrugal alerted me to the fact that Amazon is doing a free MP3 download of Christmas tunes! Not all of them were to my taste, but I picked up a few to add to my Christmas playlist. (The Amazon MP3 downloader is pretty easy to use, by the way.)

2. I found a great article over on pfbuzz on 50 Frugal Gifts You Can Give This Christmas. There are a lot of fun ideas in there! What I liked about this article is that the ideas are based around the individual. Mom always said that it was the thought that counted, and these could be really thoughtful - and frugal!

In other Christmas-y frugality, I made a decision this year to go through all my Christmas decorations and either put them up, or get rid of them by donating them to a charity. There will be no more storing of items that I am not going to use! I put together a bag of things (mostly items that were given as Secret Santa gifts and the like) that are going to the mission this week. I will say my house is totally decked out in Christmas because of this - there are decorations all through the house! It makes me happy though, and why not? I didn't buy anything new so all that it cost me was the time to put them up.

The only thing I saved that I didn't put up was a big Christmas tree candle holder I have. It is silver and it has a dozen cobalt blue cups to hold tealights. I love it, but the silver tarnishes so badly that even if I spend time with polish, it looks dull quite quickly. This is not an expensive item (I think I bought it at Hallmark years ago) but I really like it. I noticed that I have a can of Rustoleum hammered metal spray paint (I LOVE this stuff) in my basement, so this spring I think I will do a little custom paintjob on it and make it usuable again.

One of my favorite things about holiday decorations is Christmas lights. I absolutely love pulling up in the driveway and seeing my Christmas tree all lit up. I have it on a timer so it clicks on just before I get home. There is something about seeing those lights that always makes me smile.

One thing I am not crazy about, however, is seeing ice on the driveway. My mother (bless her heart) bought me snowplowing for the winter as a Christmas gift. It is fabulous! Sometime in the night he drives over, and by the morning snow is "magically" removed from my driveway. However, it isn't a cure-all. For one thing, it obviously doesn't get walks and steps, so I've been keeping that up. It hasn't been too much of a problem, and my neighbor even did the walks one day so that was nice. But the snowplow guy also can't do my entire driveway. I have a really tight "L" turn at the top where there is a turn around. It is hard sometimes to get my little buggy around that corner - it is impossible for the big plow. So, he does a Y shape, getting the driveway and the area in front of the garage. As I said, it has been wonderful, but with the melting and freezing we had yesterday, my drive where he had plowed the night before was a sheet of ice. I carefully salted it, but still managed to take a tumble last night. I'm fine, just a little scraped knee, but I will be getting to the hardware store this weekend for more salt.

My Christmas shopping is nearing to a close but I have a few little items still on my list - I think I'll see if I can knock a few of those off on my lunch hour.

Photo by: DoubleGrande

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How I Choose a Health Care Professional

Yesterday I had an appointment with my dentist. Let me tell you a bit about my experiences with health professionals - the fact is, as has been written here in my blog and commented on by friends - I am by nature a bit of a hermit. I just don't have an affinity for people.* I think this makes me view health care pros in a different light than other people.

For one thing, I don't believe in loyalty if you aren't happy with the service. Too many people go to the same doctor year after year, even though they don't like them, just because that is their "family doctor." It is one thing if you are happy with your practitioner - my mom has been going to the same dentist for over 30 years and loves him, but if you don't like the person, stop using them. I know why people do it - for one thing it is easy, rather predictable and there is that old adage about the "devil you know." Plus, there is something to be said about someone who knows your family history, but let's face it - you are paying these people to take care of you. They are the ones who should be providing good customer service, you shouldn't be suffering just because he knows all about your great Aunt Sadie's lumbago. Or maybe they are providing good service, but you just don't "click." Find someone new. Finding a new doctor/dentist/etc. is a pain, but worth the effort in the long run. (I find friends' referrals are the best way to go.)

I also believe in finding someone who meets your needs. For example, one of the things that drives me crazy about doctors, dentists, hairdressers, massage therapists and so on is their drive to make small talk. Now I know I am mostly alone on this one - most people like their hairdresser to ask all sorts of personal questions. Personally, I find it annoying. It isn't like the person on the other end of the hairdryer, stethoscope or tongue depressor really cares where I went to High School. It is always a touch too personal to me. I don't know why the person rubbing out the big knot in my back has to know if I have pets. In my opinion, they should do their job and work on me, and I will do mine and pay their bill. Now as I said, I realize I sound like a complete curmudgeon when I say these things, yet it is how I feel. Why deny that? So my task is to find good practitioners, giving good service, that don't spend half the time with a dental pick deep in my jaw asking me questions about my last vacation - or telling me about theirs. (Yes, I actually switched from my last dentist for precisely this reason.) On the other hand, if you like your practitioner to give that kind of personal touch, than that is what you should find. There are plenty of reasons to dread going to the dentist without their personality being one of them.

There is one more rule of thumb I have too...

If I am not comfortable with their suggestions or health recommendations, I tell them so - then ask for an alternative. This goes with anything I don't feel is necessary. Doctors can occasionally bully us into feeling like sheep. I won't take that. If I have questions, I ask them - even if it means writing them down first and hauling out my notepad later. If I don't feel it is necessary to be weighed, I tell them. And you know what I have found? So far, every doctor that I have expressed my concerns to has appreciated my input. They respected me more and were more willing to take time with me. Perhaps it isn't so much that they treat us like sheep, but that we expect them to be shepherds.

However, I would never put down the brave men and woman who work on us (and yes, I consider them brave - would you want to do what they do? I wouldn't!) My point is simply that like any other relationship, it will be far more successful if you work to find someone you are compatible with - even if you are as quirky as me. Find people that fit your personality if you can. By taking this route, I really respect and appreciate my doctors, dentist and other service providers. I am extremely happy with them and I feel our working relationship is a really positive one.

....and they almost never ask me about my vacations.

* Despite the fact they sometimes have to haul me out of my cave, I am fortunate enough to have some of the best and most amazing friends and family in the whole wide world. I am one lucky woman!

Photo by: jbelluch

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Happiness at the Concession Stand

So, I mentioned the snowy bad weather we had last Saturday, but I forgot to mention one of the amusing things that happened.

I was working that night at a local theater. When I came in, the house was 86% sold. All of us kind of rolled our eyes and said things like "Yeah well, we'll see how many of them actually show up." Well, Michiganders are a hardy and brave people and weren't about to let some snow storm get in their way - we only had 2 pairs of tickets that weren't picked up. Frankly, that is average even on a regular night. In fact, when the final count was done we were closer to 89% sold - even people without tickets had driven down through the snow to see the show!

Anyway, one of the concession stand folks was out due to the weather. Since she didn't come in, one of my favorite volunteers, a gal named Sandy, had come in to work the counter. She asked if I could find someone to give her at hand at intermission. My luck finding another volunteer was abysmal, so I jumped in to help out. I've done it before and they have simplified things (including pricing) to make the job an easy one. Here's where the funny part comes in...

Sandy and I made bank! We hit a record for this particular show! Now it may have been because Sandy and I were having entirely too much fun behind the counter and people couldn't help but play along. When kids came up and couldn't choose what they wanted - Sandy started counting down. 5 - 4 - 3 - and before 2 the kids quick grabbed their Mike and Ike's with big grins. Me, I picked for them. One young lady couldn't decide between Hershey's, Twix or Starburst - I told her she was a Twix gal and she agreed. The young man who I told needed peanut M&M's also happened to agree with me. What can I say? Maybe I have a natural inclination to pick out people's favorite candies like the woman in Chocolat?

However, I kind of doubt that the reason we did so well in concessions was really because Sandy and I were fabulous, (which we were.) I think it was because of the roads. People had struggled to get down here, now they felt they deserved a little treat. Honestly, I am betting that if the roads had been clear, we would have never sold that much candy. People who would normally be thinking of their diets were grabbing cans of Pepsi and Skittles. In fact, I think you could track the weather and the candy sales on a chart and find that on the really bad days, there will be a regular spike!

I confess, it even happened to me. After my walk home through the snow I was ravenous... so I ordered a pizza. Now, I haven't ordered a pizza for just myself in well over 2 years. If I have it, it is as a social occasion, but that Saturday night I was craving something hot, cheesy and delicious, preferably delivered to my front door. Why?

Because I deserved it.

Photo by: Andy Wilson

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Gas Mileage Today vs 6 Months Ago

For awhile now I have been using FuelClinic to track my actual gas mileage.* I find it kind of fun to keep track on how my vehicle has been doing. I definitely notice the difference when I travel across the state or go up to my cabin in the woods. On one hand, I spend a lot more money in gas since I can pretty much make it on two tanks of gas a month if I only do in-town driving. On the other hand, my calculated mileage actually goes down, because those long trips, while they require an extra tank of gas, are all highway miles which equals better mileage.

Another interesting fact is that since I have been using FuelClinic, I have used 92.67 gallons of gas in the 87 days I've been tracking it. That means I use just over a gallon a day. That seemed really low to me, until I realized that I am averaging about 27.46 mpg. So if someone were to ask me if I used a gallon a day, I would think that sounded low, but if they asked me if I drove about 30 miles per day on average in any given month, I would say that was about right. Funny how that works out, isn't it? Honestly I feel like I drive a bit less than 30 miles a day, but I know that there are weekends where I am driving considerably more, so on average that makes sense.

Back when gas was very expensive, I found a new route to go to work. It was a shorter trip and was only 30 mph rather than my 55-70 mph highway route. Except for when they closed it for a bit of construction, it has been my main route ever since. On one hand I know that even though I drive at reduced speeds and less mileage, I may not be saving money simply because there are more stop signs along the way. Yet, on the other hand, this route is actually quite pretty. You drive through some lovely stretches with big mature trees and glimpses of nice, well kept yards. I find it far more peaceful and attractive to the eye than the highway has ever been. Plus, this route never inspires roadrage like the highway did.

As gas prices went down, I saw a a number of bloggers asking if it would change people's driving habits. Well, I have definitely seen a difference in my driving habits, but I don't blame it on gas prices...

My driving has increased this month, but it isn't because of low gas prices. Truthfully, because my gas all goes on a credit card, I don't feel the difference in lower prices until the day the credit card bill is due anyway. My driving has increased just due to a busy life. I am driving from one job to another, driving to the post office to mail eBay and Amazon items, going to my home improvement stores to pick up items to fix the house. I've even done a little bit of Christmas shopping in there, although 89% of that has been done online.

Speaking of gas prices, I budget $150.00 per month for gas. Here's how I have done:

June - $144.59
July - $82.26
August - $113.89
September - $123.79
October - $138.88
November - $131.78
December - $31.34

Notice any difference there?? The December drop (which is actually gas purchased in November) is due to a few factors: 1) no driving out of town, so only two fill ups, 2) lower gas prices so cost per fill up was lower and 3) a ten dollar promotional credit on my card.

Now that is a holiday gift I can enjoy!

Photo by: Glynnis Ritchie

*Note: This is not a sponsored post. The service is free. I just like it so am passing on the information.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Snowy Winter Weather

I had two nice additions to my income this month. This weekend I received the paycheck from part-time temp job #1. This is actually for work that I did in November for a job that will be running through the 20th of this month. The company was kind enough to cut us a check for work done from November through December 1, and will cut another check after the 20th. That isn't usually the way they do things - usually the checks are cut after the job is completed, but they made an exception because of the holiday. The other income boost was from a business checking account I closed. A friend of mine and I occasionally did some business together and we had an account at a local bank. I had been really unhappy with the customer service from the bank and since we had a very small amount in the account, we decided to pull it, split the proceeds, and close it for now. If business picks up, we will look at other options then.

Here where I live, we got quite a bit of snow this weekend. Some came down on Friday, but Saturday was the big day. If any of you reading this know me in person, you know that I am unhappy driving on winter roads. Friday wasn't too bad - I got out of work and drove over to Part-Time Temp Job #1. I found that the outlaying roads were kind of rotten, but the closer I got to the business district, the better they were. So, I took it easy and went slow and didn't really have any problems. I did decide, however, not to go meet friends who were gathering at a bar for a friend's birthday. I would have loved to have gone, but I knew that I would have been constantly thinking about the roads and just not having fun at all.

On Saturday the weather was a lot worse. There was all the snow from the previous night and more and more was piling up on top of it. I went out and shoveled a couple of times - as a landlord I really feel it is important to keep the walks as reasonably clean as I can. I was supposed to do some Mystery Shopping on the other end of town, but I ended up canceling and rescheduling for next weekend. It just was not worth it to me to drive all over town. In fact, a friend of mine came over and picked me up so we could go to a little artist's holiday market that I love to hit each year, and his car was sliding all over the roads - and this was just maybe a mile from my home.

See, here's why I hate driving on bad roads - I hate feeling out of control. I hate that greasy feeling when your tires slip on the ice, or when your car goes slightly off to the side, even though you are holding the steering wheel straight. I have always been that way. Even if I am feeling pretty good and in control, I worry about the guy next to me and behind me - what about them? Will they end up sliding into my car? Perhaps it's because I was in a severe car accident when I was 15 and my cousin's car slid off the road, but for whatever reason, I hate driving in bad weather.

By the time Saturday night rolled around, the weather wasn't any worse and I had to make a decision - I was due down at the part time job at 6:00.

Unlike the Mystery Shopping, this wasn't something I could just cancel. I suppose if it were a true emergency I could, but it would have to be just that - a real emergency. In what I do, if you say you are going to do something, you have to do it. So, my question wasn't whether I should go or not - that was a given - the question was whether I should drive or walk.

I ended up walking. It didn't take long, just under a half hour. The snow at this point was coming in horizontally at me so I was completely whitewashed, but I had a hat, scarf and gloves on, good warm boots and warm winter coat. There was one point where I looked up and thought, "Am I really doing the right thing?" The snow was up to my ankles and the walking was a bit treacherous because not many people had shoveled their walks. Then I realized that I could barely see the traffic next to me, and even the stoplight in front of me was difficult to see with all the blowing snow. Then I realized that even though I was a touch chilly, I felt completely safe. Had I been driving, I might I have been warm, but been white knuckled the entire way.

At the job a couple of exceptionally sweet (and brave) people offered me rides home, but I refused. It turned out that by the time I got out, the snow had settled down and walking back wasn't bad at all. In fact, it was rather peaceful and I got to look at all the pretty Christmas lights on the way back. It got me thinking about how we are all so different in our risk tolerances. I'm a pretty aggressive investor, but a fearful winter driver. Others are just the opposite, and there are many variations in between. What works well for one person, wouldn't work for another. Many people wouldn't do what I am doing financially, but then again, I wouldn't do what they do. I think it comes down to two things - knowing what you want and knowing what you can do. Once you know that, the rest will fall into place.

Photo by: Etolene

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Balancing Work and Life

Both Friday and Saturday nights I am working at one of my part-time temporary jobs. Actually, I am working it the next two Friday nights as well. I admit I have a bit of a mental seesaw in my brain when it comes to non-passive "dollars for hours" work. Take this job that I am doing - I rather enjoy the work and I love the people I work with, but I also love sitting at home by the Christmas tree wrapping presents, which is what I'd be doing if I weren't working. I get this mental block when I think about going down there - I do not want to go. As it is, I already work 8 hours, then I am going to go work somewhere else for 4-5 more. It makes for a very long day. Yet at the same time, I know it will be absolutely fine once I get there, I even have fun. It is only the hour or two beforehand that I think about staying home, once I get down there, I enjoy it. Plus, I am so very grateful for this job. Let's face it, the extra income is wonderful and this is one of the few jobs out there where I can set my own schedule and like what I do. It is a perfect second job.

What is hard is deciding how much to take on. On one hand, you look at that meter up there in my sidebar and you can see that I can use every shekel I can get, which means I should work every opportunity I can get. A the same time though, there has to be a balance. I have to find the right place between making extra income and losing valuable time that could be spent with friends, family or just at home recharging. I also could be using that time to work on other income streams - for example, last month I was not able to do many eBay sales because I worked two different part time jobs. One was for a week at the top of the month and another was for 5 nights at the end of the month. That may not sound like a lot, but combined with the other activities in my life, it adds up. So, what's a girl to do?

To be honest, I don't have a perfect answer. I don't know if there is one. Most of me feels like I need to make hay while the sun is shining. These part time jobs o' mine only happen from September through June, so the summer will be mighty quiet. My emergency fund is doing okay, but it could certainly use a shot in the arm - and there is that annoying $971 on my credit card. If I can work as much as I can now, while still looking for ways to trim my budget, I can make it through the year.

Next year has some bright spots for me. Not only the big financial things - my car will be paid off and I will pay off that pesky credit card, but also, every month I am getting a better and better understanding of how my budget and money flows work together. Here's an example - I get paid every month on the 7th and the 21st. I pay all of my bills online. So, I set the payments to all happen either on the 7th or the 21st, depending on when they are due. (If a bill is due on the 1st, it gets paid on the 21st, if it is due on the 15th, it gets paid on the 7th, and so on.) All of this happens rather automatically, and though it is a bit embarrassing to say, I never really had a good feel for how much I needed in my account to pay on each of those days. That is, I knew what my monthly budget was, but I really didn't pay attention to what pays out when. Why is this important? Well, most of my bills are paid on the 7th and only a small fraction are paid on the the 21st. That means that money has to ride over from the 21st to the 7th, so if I look in my account on the 30th and see an "extra" couple of hundred dollars in there, it isn't money I can use. However, if on the 10th I were to see extra money, that really would be an excess. Up until I started really tracking my money, I never made that connection - and didn't understand why some months I seemed short while others were fine. Just understanding what is happening when is a huge boon.

Math is not something that comes instinctively to me, although I enjoy the budgeting process. The last six months of tracking each penny and watching every dollar has really opened up my eyes. That alone will be a huge benefit for next year, each bit of information I learn helps me with the following month. This in turn will help me moderate my spending and hopefully get me to a place where I can decrease my outside employment somewhat. I don't want to let go of it by any means, but I do need to find the right balance. Right now I am more heavily weighed towards scraping up every shekel I can find, but in the not too distant future I can see a time when I can let it even out a little bit more.

In the meantime I am just eternally grateful for every opportunity I have.

Photo by: Fogboy

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Friday, December 5, 2008

November Recap - How I Did Last Month

Last month was a pretty good month, all things considered. While I didn't manage to hit my $900 goal, I was able to come pretty close. In addition to bringing in quite a bit in income, I also managed to do some major savings on my budget, so the month was a success. I am still striving to hit that $900 number, but it is nice to know that by scrimping in other areas, I can still make all my bills and get them in on time. Here's a break down of highs and lows for the month:

Electric Bill: As mentioned in a previous post, I rocked my electric bill. I still have my budget set at $52.40, since that was what was estimated, but I came in at a sweet $24.92. I really had to consider for this month if I was going to put up a Christmas tree and Christmas lights or not. I love seeing those low bills - but I also love Christmas lights. My solution? I decided to go ahead, but I only have them inside on Christmas trees (one regular sized, one small one in my bedroom) rather than having any outdoor lights. I also have them on timers so they are only on when I am home. I love having the tree on a timer because then I can see it as I pull into the driveway at night. It's a little thing, but it makes me happy.

Water Bill: I pay this quarterly, but I keep track of it monthly, since it is just easier for me to have a monthly budget. It is projected for $39.23 per month, but came in at $26.37. This is another great win for me. Unfortunately I just got the bill for next quarter and it looks like it went up. It is still under the original projected amount, so that will work out okay.

Auto Fuel Bill: This gas bill is always a month in arrears, so this is actually for the gas that I purchased for my car in October. The reason for this is because I put all my gas on a store credit card and pay it off each month. So, my budget for this is $150.00 and October's gas came in at $131.78, for another nice little savings. The great news is that I got a peek at my November bill, which came yesterday, and it is sweet! Between not driving a lot and the decrease in gas prices, I saved a bundle.

Car Maintenance: Sadly, this one came in over budget. I don't actually put anything aside each month for car maintenance, which I know is bad - but there is just no more room to squeeze it in. When I have car repairs, it just has to come out of savings. This month I had to replace a tire, but fortunately it was only $29.50. That wasn't too bad, really.

Cell Phone: My cell was under budget by $.23. Not a whole lot of excitement I know, but this is the start of my discontinuing my cell phone warranty plan. This month the bill should be down by $3.99.

Groceries: I blew my grocery budget, unfortunately, by $33.97. I was doing great, right up until Thanksgiving. Then I had two recipes I wanted to make and I needed ingredients for both. In fact, one of them, a chocolate mocha ice cream pie, I didn't have one ingredient in the house for. I probably should have made something else, but I really wanted to try this recipe and when else can you make something like that? I needed an event when there would be several people to eat it with me, on a day when people wouldn't care about how many calories they consumed - it had to be Thanksgiving. Also, while I was making my grocery list I realized I was just one or two ingredients from making several different healthy winter dishes. By picking up some carrots, barley, tofu and a few other things I have everything I need to make a bunch of great recipes. Theoretically, this should mean my December grocery bill will be low, but you know, it is another fun time of year to try crazy desserts...

Dining Out: Even though I was over budget in this category by $7.90, I am still pretty proud of myself here. Early in November I worked one of my part time temp jobs. It calls for late nights and I went out after a few of those evenings with some of that gals I work with. Consequently I didn't have time to pack lunches the next day, and ended up eating out. These are all things I can fix for the next time I work this job by making up a batch or two of something easy to pack for lunches - soup or a casserole, for example. So, why am I proud of myself? Because I realized I was over budget midway through the month and even though there were several opportunities and temptations for eating out later in the month, I held fast. It took some willpower but I knew I had to do it.

Entertainment: No entertainment this month, which meant $50 stayed in my checking account.

Home Improvement: I ended up being over in this category by quite a bit, however, most of those expenses were for my tenant or landlord related: salt for walks, supplemental heater, plumbing products. Had I only counted the purchases made for my personal home improvement, I would have been well under budget.

eBay: I did more Amazon and Half.com sales this month, so my budgeted eBay fees were way under for this month. That is kind of a mixed blessing, because while it is nice to have lower fees that also means far less income from this category.

Gifts: Only one small gift purchased this month, so I was over by $28.00. I won't be able to say that this month though!

Income: I was rather pleased with income this month. While I still would like to earn more, I also realize that I did a lot of work in November that I won't get paid for until December. I don't count it in my budget until the check clears, so I'll be adding it in this month. Likewise I am doing some work this month that may end up being paid next month. eBay sales were a little low compared to other months, but that was due to me being busy working part time jobs - not because items weren't selling. Amazon and Half did fairly well, though so far December is looking like a better month. I also was paid $24 for Mystery Shopping and $3.00 for a Pinecone survey, so the small income streams are paying as well.

One thing that I don't write about a lot, but I have mentioned in the past, is my credit card. When I started this whole process, my credit card balance was at $1,466.11. As of last month's statement I am down to $971.31. I am currently paying $75.00 a month on it and whenever I have extra cash, throwing more at it. I know that paying that off would give me an extra $75.00 per month and frankly, would just make me feel better. I will definiately have it paid off next year as soon as I can, but in the meantime it feels great to have that under $1,000!

Beautiful November photo by: Bri...D

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

My "How to Unclog a Shower Drain" Success Story

Within the last 12 hours or so, I have had two success stories: 1) I sold a piece of my friend's furniture from a Craig's List ad and 2) I was able to successfully unclog my tenant's shower drain. I'm mighty pleased.

Success 1 - Furniture

Last night I met Rita, the person who emailed me about the sofa table, down at the building where the furniture was stored. Rita was great and really patient with me when I had a hard time figuring out how to open certain doors (and this was after I had made a test run and everything! ...I guess you can't plan for everything.) Anyway, she looked the table over and haggled with me a little, but not too much, then she handed me the cash and we loaded it up into her car. The whole thing took no time at all and it was great fun going up to Joe and Tracey's apartment afterward and greeting her at the door with cold hard cash!

I intended to measure more of the pieces while I was there, but we sat around talking until it was fairly late, so I will swing back down this weekend. Besides, I have plans for tonight and I am working tomorrow night, so it would be hard for me to set appointments, but I should be able to get another piece going next week. In any case, I am thrilled with how this first one went! Hopefully I can get her storage room completely cleared out soon!

Success 2 - How to Unclog a Stopped Shower Drain*

Last week I went to the tenant's apartment to measure her space for supplemental heater I was going to purchase for her. On her door was a note asking me to look at her bathtub since it was draining slowly. I looked - yep, it was going slow. It wasn't unbearable, it had completely drained within an hour, but it was definitely clogged.

The tenant told me she had already tried Liquid Plumber, so I emailed a friend of mine who I knew had a drain snake. He offered to lend it to me, but also suggested a product he had had really good luck with at Lowe's. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to carry it at the one I went to, so I bought something else. I should point out at this point, after reading a whole bunch of websites about unclogging drains (links at the end,) all of them strongly recommend never pouring chemicals down your pipes. I didn't know this at the time though, so I bought another pipe cleaning product that looked like it might work and gave that a try Tuesday morning.

That same day I happened to be talking to a guy at work about clogged drains and he mentioned that he had a drain snake and could bring it in on Wednesday. It was a good thing too - because sure enough, later that day I got an email from the tenant telling me that the product I used hadn't worked and now the water was up to her ankles. ("Oh gee - it's up to my knee! Oh my - it's up to my thigh!" Anyone know the quote?) So, yesterday my coworker brought in the drain snake and gave me a fifteen minute tutorial.

I had one question though - over the drain was a metal hair-catcher grate. It just lifted off. But in the drain, about 2" down, was another grate - and it didn't look like it would come out! My coworker assured me that it must come out and was probably just held in place by gravity. He suggested using a bent paperclip to pull it out, but he had obviously never seen this drain. That second grate was welded in place, and so I did what I always do in times of trouble and despair... I turned to the internet.

Here's what I learned: The best method for unclogging a shower drain is to first just look for clogs of hair and soap. I didn't have any of those visible.

The next step is to use your handy plunger. I tried this too - no luck.

Now it is time to get out the drain snake. If you can access your pipes through your shower drain, that's great! But if you have an older tub like mine, then you are going to need to access the pipes through the overflow valve. The overflow on a tub drains into the pipes, just like the drain in the bottom of the shower. My tub had a metal plate over the overflow which was held in place by two flat head screws and was very easy to remove.

Once the plate is off you can look down into your pipes - you may be a bit surprised how much gunk is even in the overflow part, I was! Now feed about 3' of the snake into the pipe, turning it as you apply gentle downward pressure. It is going to have to work its way through the P trap, so it will take a little finagling, but not too bad. Eventually you will feel the clog. Continue to turn the snake so that the spring shaped head works through the clog - then pull it out.

I was shocked at how easy this was. In fact, I kept trying to get more gunk out the drain long after I had cleared the clog - not knowing that I had already fixed the problem! The first time I pulled out the snake it was covered in big gobs of hair and soap. This was why I brought big rubber gloves and a plastic trash bags up with me. The total mass wasn't very big, so I reinserted the snake... twice. Neither time brought up any additional goo, so I finally figured out it was time to try the drain. I cleaned up the soap scum that fell off the drain snake (no sense having it go back in the pipes) with a rag, then flushed it with hot water... it worked like a charm!!

I ran the hot water for quite awhile without any problems, the drain ran smooth! The only problem I had was putting on the overflow plate, but that was just because it was an awkward angle, once I got the screws threaded it went on easily.

So, overall I am really happy! And to think, I was able to unclog the drain without bad chemicals or calling a plumber. I think the next time I have clogging issues, I am going to go out and purchase my own drain snake. If I add up the cost of the bottles of chemicals I have poured down my drains over the years, I could have a snake several times over! Of course, in my own home I am a big believer in putting a 1/2 cup baking soda and a 1/2 vinegar down the drains once a month to keep them clear and smelling fresh. It's cheap and environmentally friendly - and prevents these kinds of problems from forming in the first place.

Here are the links I used:

DoItYourself - Unclogging Bathtub Drains

This Old House - Clear Any Clogged Drain

*Tracey - tell Joe I was successful on the drain for me!

Photo by: morbidly_obese

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Selling Furniture on Craig's List

I've mentioned a few times that my friend Tracey offered to let me sell some of her furniture on commission. She moved not too long ago and decided to get some new furniture to go with the new space. Her and her guy have been meaning to list things online, but have been so busy lately they just haven't been able to do it. These are fairly big pieces, which means they can really only go to local folks, so that means Craig's List or the newspaper. Also, unlike eBay sales, people will need to see these before they purchase, so that means setting up appointments. After a number of meetings with her to see the furniture, get photos and then get keys and access to the storage area... it was Thanksgiving. I wasn't sure if people would be shopping for new bedside tables during the holiday, so I waited until yesterday and put up my first listing.

I've never worked with Craig's list before. The website feels a bit primitive to work with, but it is very functional. Adding a listing was easy - it only took me 15-20 minutes to type up my description and add the photos. After having put up tons of listings on eBay, Amazon and other sites, it was strange not to have all the extra features and gizmos, but kind of refreshing too.

So the ad is up and we'll see how it does. I only listed one piece to start - I kind of wanted to see how it would go before putting everything online. I have gotten an email on it and set up an appointment to meet someone, so we'll see how that goes. Naturally, I'll report about it here. I do have to say though, if you are thinking about listing items for sale CraigsList does has some advantages - namely that it is easy and free.

The other thing I need to do is measure the pieces. I can't believe I forgot to do that! I'm going to grab a tape measure and bring it with me tonight and get some measurements for future ads. Knowing the size is certainly something I would want to know!

Other than that, things look petty good for this month. I had a nice run on some Amazon sales of another friend's toys and I'll be working a couple of my second jobs this month. I also have a few more eBay items in the works that I have to try and get up soon for bargain Christmas shoppers.

So, what are you doing for extra holiday cash?

Photo by: danagraves

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Do You Hoard?

I come from a long line of hoarders.

My grandmother (on my mother's side) lived through the hard times of the Great Depression, so when her husband just up and disappeared one day leaving her with seven kids to raise, she knew how to make the most of every penny. My mother (second from youngest) was only 7 at the time. Eventually, my grandfather was declared legally dead.* My grandmother, stuck in a home with mouths to feed and bills to pay went back to school and became a nurse. She had never gone to high school and had only finished sixth grade. She was in the very last class allowed to attend nursing school without a diploma. As a nurse she worked the night shift - 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., mostly because it paid just a little more per hour and every bit was needed.

My mother grew up to become a teacher. She met and married my father who got into the automotive business (first repair, then sales.) I don't remember much about hard financial times while growing up. I remember there being concerns when my father was between jobs (car sales guys move around a lot,) and a few other times when things were a bit tight, but that is about it. Perhaps the only thing I really remember being denied was that copper colored satin jacket that I fell in love with when I was in junior high - my mom said it was too expensive, but I suspect it more about the jacket than the price! I don't mean that I felt spoiled - I knew plenty of kids who had a lot more than I did, we didn't have cable until years after most of my friends, but I always thought those kinds of things were about my parents, not money. Money was never discussed in my house - it was far more taboo than religion or politics.

There is, however, one thing that I saw growing up that was a constant reminder of my mother's poor past - food. Mom told me once that when she was a little kid she decided that when she grew up she'd get a good job and "never be hungry again." She was as good as her word. Complaining that there was "no good food in the house" was always a bit silly in my house... there was always food. The pantry, the cupboards, the refrigerator, even the basement were stuffed full of canned goods, boxes of mixes, frozen foods, and more. As a kid I would earn extra money cleaning out the cupboards and I remember making huge stacks on the counters of what I would pull out - there would be so much I would end up stacking the cans on the floor. Frequently my mother would have forgotten what she bought - though I guarantee she rarely bought anything that wasn't on sale or that she didn't have a coupon for (or both.) Even today she stocks up on food, though she lives alone. On Thanksgiving I went to slide an ice cream pie I made into the freezer until it was time for dessert - only to find there was absolutely NO room for the pie - in fact, there was barely room for a slip of paper.

Some people might think negatively about the amount of food my mother has stored up, especially considering how much one lone woman can eat in a given week, but I don't see it like that at all. I figure that it makes her feel safe. She knows that no matter what, she is prepared - and frankly she is far better prepared for natural disaster or unexpected company than I will ever be. She is not hurting financially, so if she wants to stock up in kitchen items, I say, more power to her.

I've had some financial issues in my own life, but nothing compared to what my grandmother or mother lived through, yet in my own way, I'm a hoarder too.

I'm not a hoarder in the same way my mother is. For the most part when it comes to food, I make a set of menus and buy groceries specifically for those menus. When the week has passed and all the dishes on the menu been made and consumed, the cupboards are pretty bare except for essentials like four, oil and spices. And that is where my personal obsession comes in - household essentials. When the olive oil gets down to the last inch in the bottle, I get twitchy. When the cumin jar is looking low, I start planning a trip to the spice store. It isn't that I have to be stocked up, but I absolutely hate running out.

But it isn't just food - it is all sorts of home essentials. Laundry soap and toilet paper, (though neither one of those will be a problem for quite some time) coffee, shampoo, cleaning products - any item that you normally stock in the house, I have to have a ongoing supply of. What does this mean? Well, if the bottle of glass cleaner is down to the last inch or so, I put it on the shopping list. If I don't get it right away, it will nag at the back of my brain until I do. I'm the same way with makeup - let me see the metal behind my eyeshadow and I am planning a trip to the store. The funny thing is it may take a month or two to finish that window cleaner, and even longer on the eye shadow! My purchasing needs are rarely "right now" - it just feels that way to me.

In my college marketing classes we were taught the "Just In Time" method for product distribution. It meant that base materials were delivered to the factory just as they were needed - not before and not too late. I always thought this would be a good method to use when running a home. However, much like many manufacturing plants, I found it doesn't work as good in practice as it does on paper.

It turns out that the hoarding method actually works really well - my method and my mother's. Because both of us refuse to run out, neither of us "has" to pick anything up at any given moment, which means that we have time to shop sales, look for coupons or other deals. Having a bit of a stockpile may make me feel a bit silly every time I reach for my dishwasher soap and see the brand new one sitting next to it ready to go, but it does give me the opportunity to get the best deals I can.

The other thing is does is make me feel just a little more secure. Like my mom, I feel better knowing that I don't have to worry about not having toothpaste when I get up in the morning. If you were to add up the amount of money that goes into building this safety net it is really quite small, all things considered. In fact, it turns out that hoarding is an excellent financial strategy for me.

I think my grandmother would be proud.

*It turns out he was just in Arizona.

Photo by: SideShowMom

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The Price of a Good Bargain

I just filled my gas tank up for $16.15! I don't remember the last time I did that - at least not on an empty tank. I have a credit card that I use only for gas and pay off each month. The reason I use it at all is because it gives me $.05 off a gallon. Gas here is $1.65, so got it for $1.60. The perverse part of budgeting means that I am actually looking forward to getting that credit card statement this month. Like everyone else, each fill up has cost me progressively less over the past month, so it will be fun to see November's bill come in under budget - December's too, if this keeps up. I never thought I would look forward to getting a credit card bill before but, here I am.

My other bargain for the day was transferring a prescription from the mega-grocery store across the street to a Rite Aid pharmacy. Rite Aid was offering a $30.00 gift card in exchange for transferring a prescription, so since I had one to be filled I transferred it over. The prices are the same, and in fact, the one prescription I have that isn't covered by insurance was actually $2.00 less than what I paid at my old pharmacy. I took a portion of my gift card and picked up a couple of stocking stuffers, and still have over $20.00 of it left. So, for transferring over my prescription and paying slightly less, I also get $30 in merchandise... not bad!

There is a downside to these bargains though -

In order to get the $.05 off gas, I have to go to the company my gas credit card is through. Oh, I can use it at other stations, I just won't get the discount. That isn't really a problem where I live, since there are a lot of these gas stations around, but it is minor inconvenience.

The Rite Aid card was more of a hassle. For one thing, there are only a couple of Rite Aids around me and neither are terribly convenient. They aren't bad, it isn't like I have to drive across town or anything, but they are located in places that aren't on my normal route. If I continue to leave my prescriptions there, I will have to make a special effort to go pick them up. Then there is another little quirk - the Rite Aid closest to my office is a bit of a fussy old store where all the elderly shop and work. Now, I don't mean to be ageist, but I have to say, today going to pick up my prescriptions was a testament to my patience. I watched a salesclerk ring up a senior's order and mess it up not once, not twice, but three times. Not because the clerk was particularly dumb mind you, but because they were busy chatting. She said over and over, "Oh my! It looks like I was distracted, I guess I goofed this up." Grrrr...... Other "long time" customers walked in front of me in line to chat with the sales clerks on their way out - it was like a big social club, of which I neither wanted to witness or be a part of - all I wanted was to get out of there and back to work.

Of course, it was probably partially my fault by going in the middle of the day on my lunch hour. Perhaps next time I'll plan on swinging by on a Saturday when I have more time and more patience. By then it will be January as well, and that might be better. I may still be stuck in line, but hopefully not also stuck listening to singing stuffed reindeer!

Photo by: Lost in Transit

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Christmas Shopping on Budget

I've been doing quite a bit of my holiday shopping lately. Fortunately I already had the money set aside for Christmas so it has just been a matter of setting a holiday budget and sticking to it.

The first thing I did was sit down with a spreadsheet and start a section for each person that I am going to buy for. My sister and I had already determined Christmas spending limits for family, so that was easy for them, then I just had to decide on how to split up the rest among friends. For each person I have a "Limit" field, all the fields total up at the bottom to the amount I allocated to spend this year. Now, each time I make a purchase I type it in under the person's name along with how much I spent. I set a up a few different formulas so at a glance I can tell how much I have spent on each person, how much I have spent in total, and how much I have remaining. It took a little work to set up all the calculations, but once it was done, it practically runs itself. I just have to remember to keep track of what I buy!

I am doing some hardcore bargain hunting though - making each dollar streeeeeeeeetch as far as it can. I'm using ebates and online coupons and anything I can find, but I am not shopping needlessly. I made my list and I am sticking to it, I'm just trying to find various ways of getting my items as low cost as I can. Wouldn't it be great if I could come in at under my Christmas budget? I've been doing the majority of my shopping online, which I love - especially if I can also score free shipping. That way I can avoid the crowds and the commercialism of the mall and packages arrive with holiday cheer - delivered to my office.

This weekend I went out for the first time on Black Friday in years. Truthfully, that kind of shopping isn't my thing. I get a bit weirded out by crowds, (just reading Passive Family Income's tale about shopping at Walmart gave me the shivers.) My sister and I spent a relaxing hour going through the ads on Thanksgiving and while I found a few things that I would like personally, I didn't find much that I wanted I wanted to buy other people. Who am I going to buy a tv for?? Personally, I tend to shop at unusual locations or websites. I did, however, see a couple of bargains I wanted... at Ace Hardware and CVS. I didn't even leave the house until 1:00 p.m., and while a few of the CVS treasures I wanted were sold out, they were small things that will undoubtedly be on sale again. Neither store was crowded and I was able to get in and get out with a minimum of fuss. Perfect!

I am going to be braving the holiday shopping crowds on Thursday night. A friend of mine and I are going to the "Shop Hop," a local event put on by small independently owned neighborhood retailers. I've gone the last few years. While some of these tiny eclectic stores do get a bit crowded, they also offer live music, beverages and food to curb the pain. And frankly it is fun - I always find a few unusual items for folks, and even if I don't, it is a very festive night out. I am looking forward to it!

I just glanced again at my budget - it looks like every person but one is over halfway done, and some are almost complete. Yay! I love that - it will give me more time to enjoy the season and less time in icy winter weather trying to find a parking spot at some generic retailer. My decorations (all but the Christmas tree) are up, and the trees here are full of snow. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Photo by: Chris_J

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