Friday, July 31, 2009

The Benefit of Having a Plan - July Savings and Spending

Yesterday I wrote about my July income. The other part of the equation is comparing my spending and saving to my budget each month. Here's the breakdown for July:

In most areas I was right on target with my budget. This has been something I have been really working on a lot over the last year - not only figuring out the numbers, but also figuring out how to make it all work. I've written a lot about making finance personal, and gotten a lot of great comments in agreement from all of you on how budgets need to be customized to the person. There is no "one size fits all" budget. Of course, once you have a budget, it can't just be some sheet of paper that gets tucked in the back of the drawer - for far too long that is what I used to do. I'd make these great budgets and live with them for a month or two before I forgot about it or got bored with it. This past year I have found that my budget needs to be a living, breathing, changing document. It has to have the flexibility to fit with my circumstances, but also, I need to find ways to make my circumstances fit the budget.

A couple of examples are my Car Maintenance and Gift funds. Each month I was allocating a set amount to each of these areas, figuring that some months I would spend it, and some months I would save it and add the extra to my emergency fund. But you know what? Life doesn't work that way. Some months there are multiple birthdays, weddings and special occasions - other months have none. It is frequently feast or famine. I found that in the quiet months I would end up with extra in my budget but in the busy months I always ran short. Car Maintenance is the same way. There are months I don't need to do repairs, but on the months that I do it was almost always more than amount I was budgeting. It took me awhile to realize that what I needed to do was have small saving accounts for these items and have the amount automatically put into them each month. That way my budget comes out right each month and the money is there when I need it. This is working far better for me than the old system.

The other change, that I have mentioned before, is the use of the envelope system...

If you've been reading my blog you know that I've been trying an experiment of using the envelope system for Grocery and Home Improvement expenses for the past two months. These were tough areas for me, I had set budgets for them that I knew I could live with, but was regularly going over. The envelope method has helped a ton in this area! This month I spent all of my Grocery money, but I didn't go over. In my Home Improvement fund I actually have $26.00 still in the envelope!

But once again, this month I learned something about myself, or perhaps I should say I was reminded of something that I have known about myself - I am a planner and I work much better with a solid plan. Usually I make make bi-monthly menus and plan my grocery shopping accordingly. That way I always have a list of dishes I have all the ingredients for, ready to go. I come home, pick something off the menu and start cooking, knowing it will be something I like and that everything is at hand. This month was kind of a wonky month. For some reason I didn't make my menus, instead choosing to wing it. Not smart. I just don't improv that well, especially when I am busy. I spent all the Grocery money, but with very little left over and actually running short at the end of the month. It was fine, I mean I had food I could eat, but I had a couple days where I had to get a little creative there. That wouldn't have happened if I had planned better. So, tomorrow I plan on sitting down with cookbooks and menu planning pad and being a lot more organized for August. I will feel better, eat better and spend less.

Interestingly I not only spent all my Grocery money, but I actually went over my Dining Out budget. It was only by $22.14, but still. Some of it was that I was a bit more social this month, and I am totally okay with that - spending time with friends and family is important to me, but some of it was dining out because I didn't have a better plan. Again this goes back to the difference between knowing I have great food waiting to be made and served up, and having to come up with something on the fly with the weird ingredients I had on hand. Sometimes it seemed easier to grab a meal out. That's something I can fix by simply making a menu and stocking up on some healthy ingredients for quick on-the-go meals.

The other area I went over in my budget was my "Misc." category which this month paid for my haircut the other day and some expenses relating to the garage sale. Again, it was only by about $20, but with a little better planning, that could have been avoided.

However, I was able to save considerably in a few areas - my utilities were way down (I do the budget plan and they reset this month, giving me one month of gas that was prepaid,) and auto fuel was also low. My electric and cell phone bills were also lower than budgeted. That, combined with my home improvement excess, (minus my overages) means that I was able to save $192.37 this month! Money not spent is money saved baby! It will get added to my income meter on the right there and be moved into the House Painting fund. Sweet!

So, over all July wasn't my best month, but not the worst either. Some lessons learned, for sure. On both the income and the savings side, I am expecting August to be even much better.

Photo by: Djnn76

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fighting Foreclosure July Income

Well, I am taking a look at the last month and naturally, a little disappointed in my extra income. This is the lowest amount I've gotten to date. However, it isn't all bad news! Remember, I reset my budget this June and am not counting all the gains that I get every single month due to all the work that I did last year - both in increased monthly savings and increased earnings. I started June 2008 being $900 in the hole every single month and by June 2009 I was getting $250 more than what I needed. So, though that number on the sidebar there is low, I still paid all my bills on time and in full and had money to set aside.

There are other bits of good news as well - this month has been great for book sales. Of course most of my transactions are $3.00 or less so it takes a lot to make a significant amount of money, but still, I've been very pleased with how things have been going. Especially since things were so slow the month before. I love having book sales - even though they don't add a lot, those little snowflakes of income really boost my mood.

Plus, there are good things on the horizon...

Part time job 1 has some work available from the end of this week through next week. Happily I was free almost every single time they needed someone, so I will be picking up 5 shifts over the next week. That will be fabulous! In addition, I just got my contract for part time job 2 in the mail. They need me 3 weeks out of the year, one in October, February and May. I am glad to have that work all lined up! Those extra paychecks really add up.

The garage sale I had this year was a lot of fun and helped my budget by nearly $200. I am hoping that I can plan another one in early fall and make a little more money. Not only does it help earn a little extra, it also helps me clean out my closets and drawers! That's always a good thing.

The other good news is in spending. I continue to be pleased with using the envelope system for Home Improvement and Grocery purchases. While I admit, the pantry is a little low right now and I am at the edge of the grocery budget with just $4 left in the envelope, I still have food to eat and only one more day before I can go grocery shopping if I want to. Since this was continually an area where I went over in my budget in the past, I am proud that I am reigning it now.

So, even though things weren't quite as good as I would have liked, I cannot complain. I have money in my pockets and the bills are all paid. Since I paid off my credit card and car last month, I feel like a bit of the stress has been lifted off. Now, all I need to do is get enough put away to paint the last two sides of my house! My birthday is in September and I would love to have it done by then!!

Photo by: pixieclipx.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Budget by Date - When Are My Bills Due?

I've been working on a new type of budget - one based on time.

That's right, time.

You see, I get paid twice each month, on the 7th and the 21st. Almost all of my bills (well over half) are due sometime in the middle of the month so they are paid out of that 7th paycheck. The other part of my bills are paid after the 21st, and so come out of it, but here is the sticky part - my 7th paycheck is not enough to pay for all the bills that are due then. This means I have to save some out of the 21st to pay for the next month's bills. The question is, how much? How much many dollars have to stay in my checking account from the previous month to pay for the following month?

Confused? Try living it.

I needed to calculate that carryover number for a couple of reasons: 1) I hate worrying about money. If I know how much has to be in the account, then I will make sure that happens, but without knowing the dollar amount, I feel like I am floundering. Knowledge is peace of mind. 2) If something does go awry, I'll know. That gives me the chance to fix it... rather than finding out when I get an overdraft slip in the mail. 3) Extra money that I earn and that is left over is going to my house painting fund. I need to know how much I can take out, while still leaving a buffer.

The first thing I did was print out a couple of my bank statements, and then I went through and made a list of my bills and when I pay them...

Here are some examples:

7th - Gas bill, cabin
7th - Electric bill, cabin
7th - Gas bill, home
7th - Monthly transfer to car registration fund
7th - Mortgage, cabin
8th - Mortgage, house
13th - Gas credit card
18th - Electric bill, home
1st, 7th and 14th - Weekly transfer to insurance fund
1st, 7th and 14th - Weekly transfer to Christmas fund

21st - Monthly transfer to water bill fund
21st - Phone bill
22nd - Monthly transfer to trash bill fund
22nd - Monthly transfer to emergency fund
21st and 28th -
- Weekly transfer to insurance fund
21st and 28th - - Weekly transfer to Christmas fund

Even though I haven't included the amounts in here, you can easily see how heavily loaded the first of the month bills are. In fact, the last part of the month is almost all transfers - these are small amounts I take out each month and have auto-deposited into accounts I have set up for specific annual reasons, like my Christmas fund and my insurance fund (which pays for auto and life insurances.) In addition, after that first paycheck each month I have been taking out the money for my envelope system grocery and home improvement budgets. That makes for a sort of lopsided bill payment schedule. See I have the money to pay for everything - I just need to make sure I have it when I need to pay it.

So, along with listing all my monthly expenses by date, I jotted down the amount of each bill. This allowed me to add up all the expenses and figure out exactly how much I need in my account at any one time - as well as that magic carryover number. Now on the 30th of the month I know how much I need to keep in checking for the following month, which also tells me how much extra I can siphon into that house painting fund.

My time budget is not going to replace my standard budget, but it did point out a couple of things. For one thing, I realized that instead of doing weekly transfers, I would be better doing monthly transfers at the end of the month. One of the first things I did was adjust those to one lump sum to be transferred on the 22nd. I did the same thing with my car registration fund transfer - moved it from the 7th to the 22nd. (I should note that some of these funds are for very small amounts of money, but I hate having "unexpected" bills of $100 or more. Because I budget monthly it is so much easier for me to have a little taken out regularly over the course of the year rather than have something hit when I am not prepared.)

The other thing I realized is that I don't have to wait until the 7th to take out my grocery & home improvement money. Actually, it is smarter to take it out on the 1st. Making these changes will take some of the burden off the 7th and spread it out a little more evenly. It still isn't a perfect system, I still have to make sure that there carryover, but its getting better, and I definitely have a better handle on it.

Photo by: RG of CS.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nine Frugal Hairstyle Tips

Today I am going to get a much, much needed haircut. My hairstyle is pretty simple, it is just long and straight, but I haven't seen a stylist in awhile and I am starting to feel a bit like Rapunzel. My ex was a hairstylist, so for quite awhile I had direct access to great hair care. Now I see a friend of my sister's who, conveniently, just happens to work across the street from me. So, from having a few stylists "in the family" as it were, I thought I would put together some tips for saving money on hair care. Don't worry, I am not going to tell you to shave off all your hair or let it grow long like Crystal Gale. Nor am I going to suggest dreadlocks or a using a flowbee. Your hairstyle is your own and your own personal style. I'm just going to list a few ways you might be able to shave (ha!) a few pennies off:

1. Talk to your stylist. Do you go to the same person every time? If so, and you are looking to cut down the cost of hair care, be honest with them, however do not expect or even ask for a price break. To ask them to discount their prices for you is not only downright rude, but it also implies that you do not value their work. Besides, in many cases the prices are set by the salon, not the stylist. Instead, ask them to help you figure out ways to meet your budget. Maybe change your style slightly so you can go a little longer between cuts, possibly changing the products used (some color options cost less than others), or skipping on extras like after cut blow drying. Enlist them to help you get the look you want at a price you can afford.

2. Sometimes one aspect of a cut is more important than the other. If the color is key, you might still want to spend more on a top notch colorist, but can get the cut done elsewhere, or vice versa.

3. If you don't have a stylist that you are dedicated to, consider shopping around. Many people have had luck with the stylist schools. For me, this would be fine, since my cut is basically just making sure it is cut straight across, but for some people this isn't an option, I know. In that case, talk to your friends. Get referrals from them and ask them how much they are paying. Look for someone who will treat you right, but at a price that is comfortable.

If you have a particular cut or type of hair, a less expensive salon or school may not be an option. If so, you might want to look at other small discounts...

4. While my hair is mostly low maintenance, I do tend to like salon shampoos and conditioners. However, if I use one brand for too long, it will stop working for me. No mater how much I scrub, my hair simply won't feel clean anymore. That's when I know it is time to switch shampoos. Recently I tried a sample of the new Head and Shoulders Volumizing shampoo and loved it. I haven't used H&S since I was a kid, so I was really surprised! I am going to pick up some and start switching back and forth between it and my more expensive salon shampoo. Hopefully this will keep my hair from getting over saturated by one brand. It will save me money by stretching out what I can use - plus it will make the salon shampoo last longer.

5. If you do like higher end shampoos, look for them at stores like Ulta. Prices there are similar to what a salon charges, but unlike a salon - they offer specials and coupons on a regular basis.

6. You have probably read this in other blogs, but most folks use way too much shampoo and conditioner. A dime to a quarter size dollop is really all you need - slightly more for longer thicker hair, less for finer short hair. If you haven't, give it a try. Decrease the amount you are using a bit at a time and see if you notice a difference.

7. Barter - If you have a stylist that owns their own business or rents a chair, some may be willing to barter. For example, my ex used to trade haircuts for two bottles of wine from a wine salesman. He also swapped cuts for massages from a therapist. One thing to note here, if you get your hair colored, remember that the stylist is purchasing that hair color for you. So, depending on your cut and what you have to trade, you might want to offer to purchase the supplies. You wouldn't expect a mechanic to install free parts, would you?

8. Air dry your hair - Okay, this is not an option for some of you ladies, I know. I will say though that the hair dryer eats up a ton of electricity. If you can let your hair dry naturally (or do as I do and wash it at night and let it dry while I am sleeping) you will cut down on your electric bill.

9. Be kind to your hair and your body - Most of us know that over-processed hair just stops looking good after awhile, and let's face it, there is little a stylist can do in that situation except cut it all off. Do what you can to treat your hair well, use more natural products and keep the backcombing to a minimum. Also, be sure drink lots of water and make sure there is Vitamin E in your diet - there is absolutely nothing like having clean, shining hair - naturally.

Photo by: Eleventh Earl of Mar

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Monday, July 27, 2009

The Week of the Garage Sale

I think this is the first week I have gone without posting since the start of my blog! Sorry about the interruption in service there, I was busy trying to make money by having a garage sale. Make no mistake about it, having garage sales are a ton of work. I made almost $200, which was fabulous, but I would hate to calculate my return per hour spent on planning, setting up, cleaning and manning the sale. That's why it is worth it to have some other benefits built in to the event...

1. I got to spend time with some of my favorite people in the world! M
y sister came over sign making night and we got to hang out and then I had several dear friends help set up, help man the sale and sometimes just stop by to hang out and chat. It was fabulous!

2. I got to meet a lot of my neighbors. As I wrote about recently, I have been just starting to meet the folks in my area. I don't consider myself much a social person, but there are real advantages to getting to know the folks who live nearby. One neighbor wants me to let her know when I have my next sale, since she will try to have one at the same time and we can double our signs and other efforts and hopefully get more folks to the sales. Another neighbor offered to lend a hand with one of my house projects. Another gentleman stopped by who used to live in my house back in the 80s. He was a lot of fun to talk to!

3. I cleaned out my garage. I hadn't realized how badly my garage needed a cleaning until I went to have this sale. It was pretty bad! I swept it all out and moved out all the lawn equipment to another spot for the sale. Now I am going to use this as an opportunity to reorganize as I put it back in.

4. It was an ego boost. I got so many wonderful compliments from so many folks on my house and garden. Since I am still in process of getting the house painted and getting the yard in shape, it was so, so nice to hear people letting me know that they liked what I was doing. I live in one of those "edge" neighborhoods. It has some beautiful homes, but also some rough looking ones. There are a lot of rentals, and while some are well cared for, some aren't. It is definitely an up and coming neighborhood, but there is still some "up" to go. I got the feeling that neighbors definitely appreciated the work I've been doing, which was nice.

5. We moved out a lot of "stuff." Most of my items were priced at $2.00 and under, so to make $200, I had to sell a lot of my former treasures. (Well, a lot of it was also my mother and sister's who both generously donated their stuff to the sale and said I could keep the money that was made from it.) Some of the things I sold were from my marriage, and it was great to see objects that bring me pain going to good homes and people who were exited about having them.

So, that is what I have been up to all week. I'll try to write a Fighting Foreclosure/Getting Nine Hundred Guide to Garage Sales later this week. In the meantime, I need to catch up on my blog reading!

Photo by: lesleyraez

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Auto Repairs and How to Keep Your Car on the Road

I spent last weekend (which was cold and rainy, by the way) up at my cabin. On the way up north I heard the Car Guys on NPR talking about an article they had on their website about how to keep your car running forever. Since one of my goals is to keep my little buggy going as long as I possibly can, I made sure to look it up. You can find it here: Best Ways to Keep Your Car Running.

I admit, I need to do some routine maintenance for my car. I've been keeping up on my oil changes (mostly) but I missed my 30,000 mile check up ah... 10,000 miles ago! The article recommends taking a look your owner's manual to see what is needed, as they put it:

If you're wondering how often to do these things, there's a book that explains it all to you. It's called the owner's manual. You'll find it in your glove box, shrink-wrapped in plastic, because — if you're like most of us — you've probably never looked at it. In the back you'll find a list of service intervals, and the services that are recommended during each of them. If intervals in the book stop at 120,000 miles, that doesn't mean you're done with maintenance. Go back to the beginning and start over (so, for instance, do all the services called for in the 7,500-mile service at 127,500). Nice try, though.
Because I really am inspired to keep this car running as long as I can, that is on my to-do list for this week - look at the manual and see what services I should consider doing. My car is running great - and I want to keep it that way. Again, to quote the article, "It's the stingy man who makes the most boat payments!" Getting these things done on a regular basis will mean less expensive maintenance down the road, I know... now all I have to do it come up with the money...

That seems to be a big problem this month. I have nothing coming in! Don't get me wrong, all the changes I have made over the last year has made it so all my bills are being paid in full and ahead of time. Theoretically I could "coast" for awhile if I wanted to, but I just can't. I have too many goals I need to complete in the next year.

One thing I am working on is a garage sale for this weekend. Hopefully that will bring in some extra money and will clear out some much needed space. It is also a nice time to hang out with some great friends and chat with my neighbors. There is also a little part time work available starting at the end of next week. I put in for as many shifts as I could possibly get, even volunteering to learn another department if they want. Hopefully, the two things will really help, because I still have to get the rest of this house painted and I am afraid I might have to borrow it from my mother......

Photo by: Miz GingerSnaps

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fast, Fabulous and Frugal Comfort Food

I've had a couple of rough days at work lately and last night I was feeling the need for some comfort food. Fortunately, I had just read Small Notebook for a Simple Home's post on 20 Tips to Waste Less Food. One of Simple Notebook's tips was to make fried rice out of day old rice... and it just so happened that not only did fried rice sound like the perfect comfort dish, I also had all the ingredients at hand.

I used a basic fried rice recipe I found online and then modified it to fit what was in my kitchen. Here is the recipe:


  • 1 - 2 green onions, as desired
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons oil for frying, or as needed
  • 4 cups cold rice
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons Soy Sauce or Oyster Sauce, as desired

Wash and finely chop green onion. Lightly beat the eggs with the salt and pepper.

Heat a wok or a frying pan and add two tablespoons of oil. When oil is hot, add eggs. Cook, stirring until they are lightly scrambled, but not too dry. Remove eggs and clean out the pan. (Note from me - eggs continue to cook when you take them out of a pan, so the best thing to do is slightly under cook them, otherwise by the time you eat them they will be overdone. This is especially true in a dish like this where the eggs will be cooked twice.)

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Stir-fry the rice for a few moments, using chopsticks or a wooden spoon to break apart. Stir in soy sauce or oyster sauce, as desired.

When rice is heated through, add egg back to the pan. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the green onion. Serve hot.

Note: If you are adding other ingredients, increase the eggs to 3.

I, of course, made a few changes to this recipe. Here's what I did...

It just so happened that a friend and I had made a stir-fry this weekend with chicken and all sorts of great veggies. The leftover rice I had was from that. I also happened to have a small handful of mushrooms and the middle heart of a bok choy. After cooking the eggs, I added my oil (I used sesame, but only because I had it on hand and I like the flavor.) I didn't use 4 tablespoons though, you can cut that down to just what you need to coat the pan. After I cooked the eggs, I removed them per the instructions, and then re-oiled the pan and quickly stir-fried up some garlic and the diced mushrooms.

After a minute or two, I dumped in the rice and then I used one tablespoon of soy and one of fish sauce - again, these were just things I had on hand. Finally I returned the eggs and added the chopped bok choy and the green onions.

It was so, so good. Better than a restaurant version and so very quick and easy! It was the kind of dish that I wanted to just keep eating - not because I was hungry, but because it tasted so good!! The thing I liked about this dish though, was that it felt so flexible. You could add any leftover veggie - broccoli, carrots, corn, peas - even leftover mixed vegetables. I could also see myself adding nontraditional ingredients like cauliflower or green beans.
Adding chicken, salmon, shrimp or pork would be great too!

So, here you go - a frugal, functional, quick and easy dish to help you use up the last of the leftovers! I can't wait to have the rest for lunch!

Photo by: brilarian

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Living Together Before Marriage - The Frugal, and Not So Frugal, Side of It

Before I got married I lived with my fiance' for around a year. My goal was to see if I could live day in and day out with this person. I could see we were heading towards marriage, and for me, it was a chance to "try it on" if you will. I guess I thought that was why the majority of people chose to shack up, but according to this study, I was wrong:

Almost half of cohabitors of both sexes said spending more time together was a reason they moved in together, with only 9 percent of men and 5 percent of women citing "to test the relationship before marriage," the study of 1,294 unmarried Americans ages 18 to 34 indicated.
It is probably for the best. As you all know, my relationship ended in divorce. I'm not alone there - according to the study 50 to 75% of people that get married have lived together first. However, census data tells us that almost half of marriages end in divorce. Let me tell you, from a financial standpoint, two of the most expensive things you can do (and most stressful) are getting married and getting divorced.

Which brings me to another reason people move in together... cost. The old idea that two people can live much cheaper together than apart is not necessarily true. There can be cost savings, but there can also be hidden expenses...

Ask any "saver" who has ever tried to live with a "spender." Just as water will seek its own level, spending levels change when these two types hook up. The spender may end up saving more, but you can also bet that the saver will end up spending more. It is hard to be a financial curmudgeon when your partner is throwing dollars around like a ticker tape parade! After all, they always look like they are having so much fun...

The idea is that by living together you can save on gas, utilities, food, home furnishings, and of course, rent. I agree that couples who are actively working together to save money this way can do it, but I also submit that purchasing habits change when two people live together. For example, take food. I know I experienced this, and Get Stuff Done has mentioned it on her blog - living alone I tend to eat less expensive, more vegetarian meals. When I lived with someone, he liked big meals, and hey I'll admit, I enjoy eating them with him, but it was a kind of shopping I hadn't really done before then - at least not to that level. I don't have facts and figures from that time of my life unfortunately, so I can't do an exact comparison, but I would guess we spent at least twice, if not a lot more, on groceries than I do now. Also, my ex loved wine and I too, became a regular wine drinker and that added up in a hurry! That increased the cost for him as well, because I know for a fact that we bought better bottles of wine together than he did as a single man.

Which gets me into another spending element - people tend to buy better things when they are going in on something than when they are buying it for themselves. The Blu-Ray player that was $150.00 on sale might have been good enough when we are alone, but suddenly the $599 one with all the extra features is a lot more appealing when someone else is chipping in. It slips in slowly and isn't even something you would notice, but those spending habits creep up. I suspect a little of it is altruistic - you love your partner and want something nice for them. You might be willing to sacrifice yourself, but are hesitant to ask you partner to. The same goes for home furnishings - ever notice how many people move in together and need new furniture? Beds, for obvious reasons, are frequently the first to go.

Utilities are another area that doesn't really save. Think about it - twice as many bodies to wash, dishes to clean, trash to throw out. Even electricity, which you would think people can share, is used by different people different ways. My electric bills are considerably lower than what my ex's were when he lived alone in the same house, simply because we use power differently.

Then there are those great savings on rent... of course, after you've been settled in for a bit, the place starts to feel a little cramped. Maybe one (or both) need an office or extra closet space. Maybe an extra bedroom for a visiting family member... next thing you know your hoursing costs just went up. That's what happened to me - my ex's apartment was just too small for us, and that's how we ended up with a house that I am still paying for.

That isn't to say that two people can't save money by living together. I think they can. Especially, if they are both on the same page in spending and have the same financial goals. Having someone to help go through the budget and sort out financial decisions can be fabulous. There is nothing better than having someone you can work with and who will help you achieve more.

Photo by: interpunct

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Friday, July 10, 2009

A Couple of Frugal Shopping Trips

I wanted to post about a couple of bargains I got recently. The first was last night's shopping trip to Target thanks to Money Saving Mom. I didn't do quite as well as she did (I had run out of allowable coupons to print) but I was still really pleased! After dinner with the family last night I stopped over to Target with coupons in hand. I bought 2 boxes of Kashi cereal, 2 boxes of Kashi granola bars and 2 boxes of their dark chocolate oatmeal cookies... all for $8.16. Considering the retail price on the cereal alone was $3.86, that's quite a bargain! I love Kashi products. I like the flavor and the quality, so I was pleased as punch with this deal.

Here's how it worked - the Kashi products were already on sale for $2.50. Then I used the Target web coupons combined with a manufacturer's coupon. Money Saving Mom had said in the comments of her post that Target's corporate policy is that you can use one Target coupon and one manufacturer's coupon together on a single item. (Though it may vary store to store.) Sure enough, when I got to the counter, the salesperson sorted my coupons by Target web vs. manufacturer's coupons and made sure I only had one of each for each item. Then she rang them all through and complimented me on my purchase... and even asked where she could get some of those coupons! Click over to MSM's post and she'll tell you where to print them.

The second deal was earlier this week when I had lunch with my mom...

ebates offers a 15% rebate on purchases through So, knowing mom and I were planning on going to a restaurant that has gift certificates on, I first clicked to ebates and then selected On I can get a $10 gift certificate for $4. However, they are also running a special right now where you can use adcode SEVENTY and get 70% off that. So, for $1.20 I got a $10 gift certificate, and ebates gave me a 15% refund, which admittedly is only $.18, but all it took was one click, and it dropped the price of the gift certificate down to $1.02. Not bad!

I especially liked this offer because my mom refuses to let me pay even a portion of the bill when we go out. She knows about my financial situation so it is kind of her way of helping out. However, she (like me) won't ever turn down a coupon. I showed up with the printed gift certificate in hand and was able to take care of over half the bill!

What about you? Found any great bargains lately?

Photo by: M J M

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How Do You Fight Apathy?

I've been feeling a bit apathetic lately. I am not sure how to describe it - I just haven't felt any desire to do much of anything lately, financial or otherwise. My motivation seems to have gone down the drain. I find myself sitting at home thinking I should do this or I should do that, but I can't find the energy to actually do it! I am sure it is just one of those cyclical things - I'm just in a bit of a slump.

Do you ever get these attacks of apathy? I can't even say I have the blues, because I am not sad, but I just don't seem to have any energy. What do you do to combat them?

I was talking to my friend Catie the other night and she had a good suggestion...

She has been giving herself some small, achievable goals. Of course, the hope is that once you start working on something, you'll have the motivation to just keep going, but if not, at least you know you're tackling a few things every day. I loved the idea, so the last two nights I have been trying it myself - I've set 3 small goals that I am determined to achieve before the day is done. Wednesday night I did laundry, wrapped my brother in law's birthday gift and watered the front planting bed (which is a project since it means either hauling a hose all the way around the house or filling my watering can over and over.) Last night I celebrated my brother in law's birthday with family, so I didn't have much time in the evening so, I set my goals accordingly. I cleaned out my black travel bag (the one I always take with me to the cabin), watered the back garden and swept the kitchen. I still don't really have any energy, but I do feel better about myself because I am at least getting a couple things done.

I've also been making sure I list a few books on Amazon and Half.ccom each weeknight. I figure at least I am working on something for my finances. As for the rest, I am keeping up with things the best I can and trying not to let my apathy turn into full on sadness.

How about you? What do you do to shake a slump?

Beautiful Photo by: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Energy Efficient Incandescent Light Bulbs

My friend David sent me an interesting article from the New York Times called, "Incandescent Bulbs Return to the Cutting Edge." One of the frugal things that I have done over the past year is switch over as many light bulbs as I can to cfls. This, along with being diligent about turning out the lights when I leave a room, has cut my electric bills in half.

However, there are some bulbs I have not been able to replace. For one thing, I haven't yet found a dimmable cfl that actually works, and while I have gotten used to the too-bright odd colored cold light of the cfl in most rooms, I still haven't been able to replace the incandescent bulbs in my favorite reading lamps. This New Your Times article says there is still hope:

For lighting researchers involved in trying to save the incandescent bulb, the goal is to come up with one that matches the energy savings of fluorescent bulbs while keeping the qualities that many consumers seem to like in incandescents, like the color of the light and the ease of using them with dimmers.
That sounds like a worthy goal to me! In fact, they already have some incandescent bulbs on the market that are more energy efficient available at Amazon and Home Depot...

I haven't tried them yet, but I am very interested in the possibilities. Truth is, while I love the cost savings from the cfls, I haven't been fond of much else about them. Light bulbs that could give me the same cost savings but have a warmer light, no mercury, and turn on instantly would definitely be appealing. I would love to see a new line of high efficiency, long life bulbs that came in a variety of sizes, including floods and candelabra style, and that also had dimming capability.

In the meantime, I will stick to my cfls. If all the marketing information is correct, I shouldn't have to replace them anytime soon!

If you are thinking about switching to cfls, here are a few tips:

1. Start with bulbs that are on a lot, but aren't used for heavy reading. These are the "low hanging fruit." Ideal bulbs to replace are porch lights, garage lights, basement and workshop lights.

2. Try a few different brands. I have found that different brands have different colors. (Some of mine are peachy and one of mine is positively purple.) Find what works well for you.

3. Consider how you use the room and the lighting. For example, in my kitchen I put a cfl in over the sink. That is the light I use the most for washing dishes and prepping food. However, I have dimmable flood lights in the ceiling. I won't replace these with cfls, in part because I haven't found a good dimmable cfl flood, but also in part because this is a better light for entertaining.

4. The best energy control is simply not wasting it. Remember to flick the light off when you leave the room, unplug appliances and chargers that are sucking up energy, and use natural light whenever possible. You'll have those energy bills down in no time!

EDIT: Check out this post by Frugal Dreamer who was also able to make some differences in her bill through turning out those unneeded lights. Way to go!

Photo by: jnpoulos

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Budget Backfire!

Well, shoot!

My No Spending Challenge and my ultra frugal Envelope Shopping System for June ended up biting me in tush!

I have a fabulous 4% checking account through my credit union. Yes, you read right - my checking account pays 4%. However, there are a few rules to get it:

  1. Direct deposit
  2. Minimum of 10 debit card purchases
  3. Minimum 4 log-ins to their online banking system
  4. Receive eStatements (emailed bank statements.)
Can you guess why I didn't get my interest last month? Yep. I only made 8 debit card purchases!

Part of me is really irritated. I mean here I am, trying my hardest to save money and keep it in the bank and they are penalizing me for not spending it! In this economy, slapping people on the wrist for not spending seems a bit irresponsible.

On the other hand, I can't help but see the humor in it...

Last month I did so good at not spending money that I forfeited my interest rate. Let me say, this has never happened to me before. Ever since I've had the account I have had no problem meeting the requirements.

So, what to do? I really liked using the envelope system and frankly, it saved me a lot more than I would have earned in interest. I am definitely not going to go out of my way to use my debit card more just to get a little extra cash, (no matter how much I like bank interest) - that way there be dragons. It would be quick trip down a slippery over spending slope. I'll just monitor how it goes the next couple of months and see if this a fluke, or if maybe there is a better account for me. I am also going to write the credit union a letter. I see why they have the requirements they do, and I don't particularly think they are unreasonable, but nonetheless, I would like to express my opinion on the matter.

Heh. My boss always warns me to keep an eye out for unexpected consequences. I certainly didn't expect this!

Photo by: NoHoDamon

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How I Found My Part Time Jobs and the Power of Networking

Sharon of Musings of a Midlife Mom asked a question on one of my recent posts, " Where do you find your part time jobs?" It was a great question and definitely worth a post of its own - Thanks Sharon!

I found them through networking. Although, I got to tell you, I hate that term. In fact, I hate what networking has come to be. In the business world where I run, networking seems to mean these terribly awkward sessions of needy people sitting around tables flashing business cards and schmoozing up to other people they barely know. It's like speed dating with none of the long term glamorous romance. I am part of a couple of business groups and they all have "networking" sessions beforehand and I just hate it. It feels so.... slimy.

However, that is not to say that networking doesn't work, especially in its original intent. In fact, this article says that at least 60% of jobs are found through networking. By original intent, I mean simply getting out and telling people you know that you are looking for work. Putting the word out - talking to friends, family and neighbors about the kind of work you are looking for.

In this economy, I think it is easier to find small part time jobs than full time jobs. I don't have numbers to back this up, just gut feeling and personal experience. There are so many people out of work and companies keep laying more off all the time. The full time jobs are few and far between. However, that doesn't mean that companies aren't looking for a little part time help to fill in the gaps. They might need someone to answer phones a few hours a week, or give a hand at month end when the accounting department goes into high gear. They might need someone for a small project or to fill in when a regular staff member is sick. And the best way to find these jobs is to talk to people.

After all, these aren't the kinds of jobs that are usually advertised...

These are the jobs that are given to friends, kids, spouses and neighbors of another co-worker. Hiring someone is expensive - there is all the cost of advertising, then the time and energy of sorting through resumes, having interviews, making selections. I've done it. It is a huge investment of time and energy. Who wants to do all that for someone who will be coming in to help file for 4 hours a week? It is so much easier and faster to hire someone that someone already knows. Besides, there is a unwritten high level of expectation you have when you hire someone like that - they want to do well for their friend and their friend wants to make sure they do a good job, since they recommended them. It usually works out well.

I have several little part time jobs, all with very limited time frames. For example, I might have a two week period where I can pick up 4 shifts, or another one of my jobs offers me three weeks a year where I work 20+ hours. I got them by asking friends and letting them know I was looking for work. In one case it was a job I had done before and left; I heard that they might need help again and asked my old coworker if she could use me.

In my case, my jobs all came a direct result of people I am good friends with, however, I have heard that it is far more likely that the jobs will come in from a distant acquaintance or a friend of a friend. In other words, you tell all your friends and family that you are looking for an 8 hour a week office job, even knowing that they don't have any work available. But, your aunt files it away in the back of her mind and then when she is sitting next to her friend at church who is starting up her own business and could use a little office help, she thinks of you.

One suggestion - know what you want and how many hours you can work before you get into this. This is especially true if you are doing the part time job along with another full time job or have a family. The goal should be to add to your income - not burn yourself out. Frugal Dad wrote an article about this today that is well worth reading. You don't want to get into something you can't handle - saying you'll do "anything" means you could end up in something you hate, which will just add stress to your life and embarrass your friend when you quit. Also, having a plan makes it more memorable. Saying, "I'd love to find a small retail job on the weekends" is easier for people to help you with than "I need to make some extra money." Hey - who doesn't?

I've been very fortunate in my work. It is true that I do occasionally have some very busy months... and very slow ones like this month, but the type of work and the hours work well alongside my full time job. Anyone else out there working a part time job? How did you find it? What are your tips for success?

Photo by: caffeina

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Monday, July 6, 2009

A Tale of Two Lawnmowers

Shortly after I bought my cabin, I also bought a refurbished riding mower. There is a guy along the way to the cabin who buys and sells lawnmowers and other small engine yard equipment, fixes them up, and sells them. I have a pretty big lot (230' x 80') so a rider mower seemed like a great idea and I picked this one up for $200. (Up in the country where my cabin is, there are a lot of these "home businesses." I hired one handyman based off a plywood sign in his front yard, it is kind of how things go up there.)

Anyway, the mower worked well for a couple of years, and then one summer day, it died. My then-husband hired a friend of his to see if he could fix it. They went up to the cabin, picked it up, brought it back to the friend's house and he worked on it for a few weeks and then brought it back. It needed a few new parts and also had a huge mouse nest nestled in it.

So again, the mower works for awhile and then sure enough, once again, it dies. By this time, I am separated from my husband, so I ask a friend of mine go up to the cabin and help me out with it. He determines the battery is in need of charging, and once again, the mice have built a home in the mower... actually more than a home, this is a mouse mansion! It took us quite awhile to get all the bits out. But, eventually we get it running again and I am once again able to mow my lawn.

Then last fall, just as I am about to do the last mowing of the season, guess what happens? You got it, the mower dies again...

I know what the problem is, of course, it's those dang mice! My shed is anything but critter proof - it keeps the snow off, but not much else. It is obvious that the lawnmower is just too big of a temptation to them for nesting. I tried putting moth balls and Osage oranges (a folk remedy) on and around the mower to keep them out, all to no avail. So now what??? Fixing it again just seems like a waste of time. I can't keep the dang mice out! What to do? So, I leave it, knowing snow will come soon and I can safely ignore it for a few months.

But eventually spring comes, as it will, and before long my yard is a foot high. I eventually have to cut it... with a weed whacker.

Let me add a little confession right now: I know nothing about mowing lawns. Seriously, I am so lawn-clueless. See, when I was a young girl I had terrible allergies to cut grass, weeds and pollen, so when most kids were earning a few extra dollars of allowance money by learning how to mow the lawn, I was inside the house hiding from allergens. My allergies lead to asthma attacks, so my folks were justifiably worried about it, and while this was good for my health, it wasn't so good for my knowledge when it comes to lawn maintenance. I never mowed as a kid, then I lived in an apartment after college, and I bought my first home(s) when I had a husband who enjoyed mowing. I didn't even know how to run the lawnmower... let alone repair one. (I seriously had to read the instructions on the mower the first time I did it. I had two goals at the time - 1) make the lawn flatter and less embarrassingly long and 2) not kill myself in the process.) You might be able to see how all this yard stuff just makes me want to pull my hair out!! I know I can learn to do it... if I can just keep a mower working!

Fortunately, my neighbor occasionally mows is for me, so it isn't as bad as it could be. In part he does it because he is a good guy, but also in part because mosquitoes breed in the long grass and he is trying to save his own skin. I feel rotten about it, but I just don't know what to do. What can I do? New sheds cost thousands of dollars, which I just don't have. The tractor mower is too big to shrink wrap. I'm stuck.

Then a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine sends out an email that she is moving and selling a lot of her things. One of the things she was selling? A lawnmower. Not a rider mower, just a regular push mower, but a nice one that she gave me a more than fair price on. I went over, took a look at it, and bought it from her. I figured that it is small enough that I can keep it in the mudroom of my cabin, at least for the time being, until I figure something better out.

She agreed that I would take it the following week, and in the meantime, she would use the mower herself to runs some of the gas out of it to make it easier for me to transport. That same weekend I decided I had better take the weed whacker up with me to the cabin to do whatever damage control I could. While I was there, I saw my neighbor. He had mowed again, thank goodness, and when I profusely thanked him, he told me the grass had gotten mighty long. I don't think he was chastising me, but that's how it felt. I ended up telling him my lawn mower trials and tribulations. He then then offered to take a look at the mower for me. I was willing, though I told him I had another one on the way, but he had been laid off recently and said it would make a good project to tinker with. So, we rolled the mower out of my shed and over to his property.

This weekend I picked up the new-to-me smaller mower from my friend and headed up to the cabin for the long holiday weekend. I hadn't been in the cabin 15 minutes when the neighbor knocked. He said, "Well, I fixed your mower, and I have a proposition for you." It turns out that there was more that just one thing wrong with the mower... some of the problems hail back to the first time it was worked on. In addition, my mower model is no longer made, so parts were a little hard to come by. The result was that my neighbor had to get mighty creative in coming up with bits and pieces from other mowers, but eventually he prevailed. Oh yeah, and he also cleaned out the mouse nest... it was so big it filled a 5 gallon bucket halfway! I told you - mouse mansions.

He hadn't planned on buying any parts, but one thing lead to another and before long, he had spent over $100. He felt pretty bad, knowing that I didn't have the money, but said it became an obsession, seeing if he could get it running again. He then offered two choices - I could sell it to him or, I could give him the mower, and he in turn would mow my lawn with it. I leapt at the second choice. I mean really... I give him a worthless (to me) lawnmower and in return he mows my lawn for as long as it runs? Deal!!!!!!!! He has applied for a job in another part of the country, and if he gets it, he will have to move. If that happens, he'll give me the mower back, but until that happens, he'll take care of the yard. Awesome!

Of course, now I have a smaller mower in my mudroom... but I have no doubt I will find use for it too. I'm telling you, I am repeatedly amazed and grateful for all the wonderful people in my life, friends, family and random neighbors alike. How did I ever get this lucky?

Photo by: Lawrence Whittemore

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

June In Review

Here's a quick review of my June budget and goals for the month:

I was able to trim some extra dollars out of my budget this month, but I also had some expected, and some unexpected expenses, that essentially wiped those out. I admit, I am a bit disappointed in this month, but these things do happen, I guess. It meant, however, that I didn't hit my goal for the month.

First, lets look at some wins - my electric bill was only $23.29 this month, which was my lowest bill to date! I was quite happy when I saw this come through. My auto fuel bill was also well under budget, so that was good, although I expect it will be higher for the next couple of months as we get further into summer. As mentioned earlier this week, I also did well in groceries and in home improvement. Finally, I also came in well under budget for dining out and entertainment - on both of which I spent less than half of my allocated money!

Other wins were in the income side. I made money this month through some book and CD sales, a paycheck from my part time job, mystery shopping and from surveys. I was pleased with the income I was able to get, though it wasn't nearly as much as I have been able to do in past months. Most of that is due to the fact that the majority of my part time income has dried up for the summer. In June I got a few shifts, but there won't be any in July. That just means I need to get creative!

Now, let's look at the downside...

June is a strange month for me. Not only is it when I really began my little Fighting Foreclosure blog, but it is my fiscal year end on a number of things. Some of it is coincidence and some of it is due to the fact that this is when I was divorced and I put certain bills in my name. For example, one of these "year end" expenses is that this is when my budget utility plans reset. My budget plans mean that I pay the same amount each month on my gas and electric bills for the cabin. It really helps even out the costs. The price of my electric service up there really went up this year and it turned out that what I was paying each month wasn't enough. I have had shortfalls before, but usually I caught them in time and made up the amount a little bit over a few months - this time I missed it. The year end wrap up bill showed I owed $116.00 over what I normally pay. I wasn't expecting that!

The other expense was a yearly trip I go on each June with some very special friends. It is just a two day jaunt and I had budgeted for it, but it still took a bite out of this month's excess income.

So the final number I get to add to my $900 goal is $42.65 that I was able to save out of my planned budget. Add that to the income that I earned and my total is $352.17. Better than nothing, but not nearly as good as I thought it would be!

The important thing is that the bills were all paid on time and in full. The credit card is still paid off and unused. My fund to paint the house is growing, slowly, but still growing. I also have some ideas for July, including a garage sale, so here's to a better month in July!

Photo by: gari.baldi

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Survey Sites I Like

Do you do surveys?

Personally, I think they are kind of fun. I don't do every type of survey that comes along, in fact, I keep it down to just three companies that I like. That also keeps the spam down as well! Much like Mystery Shopping, it isn't a big source of income, but I get a few bucks here and there and that has all helped towards the goal. I was working on my final numbers for the month and I realized I got almost $20 from surveys in June. That is almost double from what I usually get. If you have a few minutes throughout the day and you think they sound like fun, here are the three I do:

Pinecone - Pinecone pays cash, typically $3 per survey. For awhile I was doing several of these a month, but they have slowed down a little. I am sure the economy put a bit of a damper on it! Still, I got one today and it was kind of fun. In addition, they occasionally send you products to try in the home and then report back. You get to keep the product and get $3 for each follow up survey about how you liked it. Pinecone has very strict sign up requirements, though. The only way to sign up is to find one of their ads or get an invitation link from a member. These links are only good for a limited time. Fortunately, I got one last week, so I can pass it on to all of you. If doing surveys sounds like fun, click here.

MySurvey - MySurvey gives you points that you can use towards cash or gift certificates. Honestly, the points are fairly small so it can take quite awhile to earn up enough, however, the bright side is that surveys tend to be very fun and very short. When they have ones that run a little longer, those pay more points. This is one of the reasons I good month - I just got a $10 check from MySurvey last week!

The other site I like, I have written about before...

Socratic Forum Surveys - They tend to have a lot of technology based surveys. If you are the owner of your own company, work in any kind of IT Field or are a buyer for technology, you will get quite a few opportunities with them. Socratic pays out in cash or the better deal is with Amazon gift cards. I have gotten about $15 - $20 in gift cards from them.

A few other things I do - UPromise also has surveys you can do. I have written about them quite a bit, mostly because I love their program. They give you money towards college (and it is transferable so you can give it towards your niece or Godchild or mother - whoever is going to school.) You can get the money through buying certain things at grocery stores, shopping online, filling out surveys or shopping at local restaurants that are a part of the program. It just so happens that several of my favorite watering holes use the program, so I get more that way, but I will usually do the surveys too.

Just as one last note along this subject - I have also been having fun with Swagbucks lately. It's a search site, sort of like Google, that rewards you in points (aka Swag "bucks") that you can turn in for gift certificates from Amazon as well as a bunch of other things. Honestly, this is probably one of the fastest payouts - a $5 gift certificate is only 45 Swagbucks, and you can easily get a couple a day.

None of these are going to make your fortune, or even pay your cell phone bill, but they are kind of fun ways to snowflake a few extra shekels.

Photo by: D Sharon Pruitt of Pink Sherbet Photography

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