Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Saving money with frugal principles: Part 1 – Use it up

Frugality is about more than just saving money. Since I started reading and writing about it, I’ve seen more definitions of frugality than I thought could possibly exist. Frugality has to do with thrift, with efficiency, with stewardship. Frugality helps the environment, it saves money, it saves time. Frugality makes our lives simpler, happier, and more worthwhile. Sounds like something I want more of in my life. My money life has been going in so many different directions lately, and I want to focus in this idea of less, this idea of making everything simpler.

So how do I go about being more frugal?

The most basic frugal principles, according to The Complete Tightwad Gazetteare “Use it up, use less, make do, or do without.” Each of those things uses the basic principle of “less” and applies it in a different way, so I thought that might be a good place to start thinking about my frugal victories and failures.

Use it up

What it means: Using it up is essentially cutting back on waste. Use food before it expires. Get all the soap out of the bottom of the bottle.

Why it’s frugal: It’s fairly obvious that reducing waste is a frugal thing to do. When you throw out less mayonnaise or cilantro, you save yourself money and make more efficient use of the resources available to you. You also reduce the trash you’re putting into the environment – more from the packaging than from the actual food you throw away – and the environmental impact of the production of the product.

How I’m doing: I made what to many would be a very silly discovery recently: you can take the lid of squeeze bottles of mustard. That might sound really dumb, but I had been balancing bottles on their tops, shaking them for several minutes, practically standing on my own head to get the mustard out of the bottle. Then it occurred to me that I could just take the lid off the bottle and use a knife, like I would with a normal mustard jar. When I did that, I got at least 3 more sandwiches out of a mustard jar than I would have by getting frustrated and throwing it out.

On the other hand, I need to get better at using food before it expires. I have piles of mushy greens and herbs in the bottom of my crisper and science experiment leftovers in the back of my fridge. The food you don’t even eat is the least frugal purchase of all.

My frugal goals: Use food in a timely manner. Plan meals so that food with a likelihood to wilt or go bad is used earlier in the week and more hearty vegetables are saved for later in the week. Buy less of things (like cilantro) that I simply cannot finish before they go bad. Find at least one product – dish soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, toothpaste – each week, and see if I can find a way to get just a little bit more out of the bottom of the container.

Pondering PayPerPost

I got an email yesterday that my blog had been approved for PayPerPost. I had honestly forgotten that I had even applied. When I first signed up a month or so ago, I got a message that my blog was ineligible because I had to maintain it for at least 90 days, but now I suppose I have overcome that burden and qualify.

For those not in the know, payperpost is a company that pays bloggers to post about various products and services (a marketing scheme known as astroturfing). I'm not sure how I feel about it now. When I signed up I saw dollar signs, but now I've become much more zen about my blog and see it more as a way of interfacing with the world than a way of making money (really, the two cents or so per day from adsense is not paying my bills). I'm wondering if implementing paid posting would in some way damage the integrity of my blog, and am relatively certain that it would hurt the readability and in some way annoy my loyal readers. On the other hand, if I can pick and choose what to write about and limit paid posts to once a week or less, I could maybe minimize those issues while still picking up some (much appreciated) extra money. I'll have to think about it some more.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lowering my monthly bills

This post is my contribution to Biblical Womanhood's Frugal Fridays series.

I've focused so much on increasing my earnings and decreasing my spending on
groceries and restaurants this summer that I didn't give much thought to my monthly bills. In my calculations, I always just assumed cable and phone to be fixed expenses, like my rent or health insurance. They are, of course, not.

So I decided to examine them and see what could be eliminated. Cable and internet, while discretionary expenses, are things we really use and enjoy, so cutting them off entirely wasn't really on the table at this point (although they might be in the future). Our house phone line, on the other hand, seemed worth looking into.

We rarely, if ever, call out on our house line, and since we always have extra minutes leftover on the smallest cell plan we could get (we mostly use free weekend or mobile to mobile time), we could easily make that substitution. Nobody calls us except one friend who is local, and he could easily make the switch too. Our apartment call box is hooked up to our local phone, but for $5 a month we can have them use our cells instead. To cut out a $25 expense in favor of a $5 expense seemed like a no-brainer.

Except not.

Our internet right now is DSL through the phone company for only $20 a month. When we used cable internet it was between 40 and 50. I called the phone company and asked what happens to our DSL if we cancel our local phone, and I was told we'd have to switch to "dry loop" DSL which would cost $40 a month. Not much in the way of reducing our expenses. Our options became cable internet for $45 a month, DSL for $40 a month, or DSL and phone for $45. Hmmmmmm.

She then offered to link my cell phone bills to my landline bills and give me a one time credit of $25. While not the $20 a month decrease I'd been hoping for, it sounded worth doing, especially since I could just cancel next month. When she went to do it though, she found she couldn't because of the 15% discount we're getting on our cell phones through hubby's job (15% every month > $25 once). Hrmppphh.

Frustrated, I thanked her and hung up. Desperately wanting to do something about my monthly expenses, I called my cable company and asked for a special. For those of you who are timid about doing this, as I used to be, I wasn't rude, I didn't threaten to quit, I didn't abuse anyone or ask for a manager. I simply called the sales department and said "I was wondering if we were eligible for any discounts." She checked and said they could give me a rate $15 lower than what we were currently paying for the next three months. So with that phone call I saved $45. I just have to remember to call back in three months.

But what to do about the phone and internet? Hmmmm. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Money and happiness

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it is that makes me happy, what is worth working for, what life it is that I'm looking for. Yesterday, I wrote about how much I enjoy quiet, and how a media fast and a good book can make me feel at peace.

The more I think about, the more I realize that it's not abour the money.

There are some things I want that money certainly can buy me. I want to travel, I want to take a cruise, I want a house, I want to be able to afford to work part time. But then there are the things that I want that money can't buy, and the more I think about it, the more I realize how much those are the things that I want, the things that will make me really happy.

In You Don't Have to Be Rich: Comfort, Happiness, and Financial Security on Your Own Terms, which I just finished reading last week, Jean Chatzky writes about how after a certain point, money doesn't actually make people happier. People are most likely to be happy when their lives are organized, their relationships are strong, and their careers are in line with their values; money can help or hurt, but usually doesn't have as big an impact as one would think. It is, instead, the misconception that our happiness is tied to money that leads to most of our unhappiness. In her words:

"So what do we do? We go after the money. We chase it like there's no tomorrow. And as we do that, we lose time that we could spend having a leisurely dinner or taking a long walk with the love of our life; we lose time we could spend hitting the StairMaster or making a sandwich rather than driving through a fast-food joint for a grease-fest; we lose time we could spend taking classes that might lead us to a career we'd truly enjoy."

And the more I think about my own life, the more I realize that the things I'm giving up while I'm chasing the money are really things that are more important to me. Chatzky suggests that the things most likely to correlate with happiness are things which don't cost any money at all: dancing and volunteering. So what do I want, what makes me happy?

I want to exercise several times a week. I love the calm and release that comes after a long walk or a short run, and I love the feeling of getting stronger.

I want to spend more time with my husband and really enjoy his company more, to fully focus on him.

I want to spend more time with my friends, to be able to have a cup of tea with a girl friend in the middle of the afternoon and have a nice long chat.

I want to lay in the sun with a good book more often.

I want more quiet in my life.

And yeah, dancing and volunteering sound pretty darn good.

And so I pose this question, dear reader. What do you want that money can't (necessarily) buy? I'm most interested in what it is that pfbloggers think, but even if you're not one, please join the conversation. Leave a comment below, or write a post on your own blog and I'll link to you. What brings you happiness? What do you want?

See Tehnyit's list here

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Some peace, at least

I haven't turned on my computer since Friday. That's amazing to me. What's even more amazing is that I haven't been sitting, anxiously desiring to turn it on, worrying that something would happen that I didn't know about, that somehow I'd be missing out on something.

On Saturday we went out of town to celebrate our first wedding anniversary (goodness does time fly), and spent nearly two whole days just enjoying each other and the world around us. Then I came back Sunday night to find my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)had already arrived. While hubby went to take a nap, I curled up on the couch to read. And haven't stopped since.

Which is of course a lie. We went out to dinner Sunday night. I worked 3 hours yesterday morning and went grocery shopping. I went out for coffee and cards with friends last night. But in between and when there's been time, I'm reading. Not racingly, hungrily like some of my friends. I am in no hurry for this to be done.

Yesterday I got my oil changed in my car, a task I've been putting off. When I went though with my huge span of afternoon, and was told it would take an hour, I cheerfully helped myself to a cup of of coffee and a cookie and curled up in a chair in the waiting room.

And I'm starting to realize, the longer I leave the computer and radio and TV off, that this is the kind of life I've been searching for. If I could do nothing but tutor a few hours a day, read books, and play UNO with friends, I would be the most content person on the planet. This is what I should have been striving toward all along. And truthfully, it's not such an expensive lifestyle.

I will, of course, go back to work full time in the fall and then I won't have so many hours of coziness stretched out at a time, but I can learn to carve out the quiet where it is. The simpler life I'm looking for probably isn't something so external at all; not something to search for, but something to live.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Off to a great start

I'm proctoring a test this morning for my part time job, which means I have a lot of quiet down time while the kids are working. Well, this morning I woke up early enough to get a little organized and prepared and take my time going out the door (what? no mad sprint? my oversleeping skills are down apparently). So I filled my 24 ounce water bottle thinking, more wawter will make me feel better and be healthier and cheaper than skipping next door for a cup of coffee halfway through the test.

Then I put on my brand new flip flops (a gift from my MIL), walked out my front door and down the stairs to my car, and realized I'd forgotten it.

But since I was early, I had time to go back in the building and get it. I went back up the stairs, observing as I did that it was starting to rain and I should leave soon so I could drive slowly. Hurriedly, I ran in and grabbed the bottle, locking the door again behind myself.

So there I was, running late, water bottle in hand, brand new flip flops on my feet, the rain increasing in intensity, and of course it happened. I stepped to fast, my shoes were too slick, the stairs were slippery with rain, and I slipped.

My left foot flew out from under me, and I grabbed the railing with both hands before tumbling all down the stairs, but not before smacking the back of my arm against the top of the railing. And of course, in my efforts to save my bones, I let go of the water bottle and it fell over the railing, down two flights of stairs to the concrete below, spilling water on the already wet ground and cracking the lid in half.

As it turns out, I was running too late to grab coffee on my way here, and though I'm now wet and cold and I'm short one water bottle, my hip and ankle are sore and my arm is bruising, and the near biblical rains are keeping me from going next door and soothing myself with that cup of coffee.

So ... I guess as far as curbing my spending goes, the water bottle did the trick.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Some much deserved Link Love

When checking my stats, I realized that the following really amazing bloggers have my blogrolled! I had assumed no one was actually reading most of the nonsense I wrote, and it is an overwhelming compliment to be linked by such fun and talented writers as these:

Fabulously Broke in the City has an amazingly prolific blog on everything from fedoras to portfolio diversification strategies. She will inform and entertain you for hours.

Piggy Bank Raid is the pfblog of a freelance writer trying to get control of her spending. If you get a chance, go read her blog and then tell her why she should keep blogging!

Messing Around is the blog of Robert and Erin, a Christian military family, seeking simplicity for its spiritual rewards. Much of their blog is heartwarming and inspirational.

Please, if you have my blogrolled and I didn't mention you here, it means I don't know!! Leave me a comment so I can give you some link love too!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Why I shouldn't buy a hybrid car (but want one anyway)

I want a hybrid car. If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know by now that I have a heart of green, and that environmentalism is important to me. The more I read about hybrid cars, the more I love them and the more I really want to get them. As of my last research, the Hybrid Civic gets 50 mpg. I love the idea of helping the environment, of using my purchasing power as a vote for environmentalism, of reducing reliance on oil from hostile nations, of saving money as gas prices go through the roof. I love it, love it, love it, and I read about regularly and hungrily everything I can find about them.

So why shouldn’t I get one, at least right now?

1. They cost too much. At 22,000 for a Hybrid Civic, versus about 16,000 for a standard two door Civic, the price is right now prohibitive. As a personal finance decision, it simply is not a good one, and with debt and struggling, I’m not in a position to spend that much to make a statement. To make the price up in gas savings, at $3 per gallon, I would need to save 2000 gallons worth of gas, which I probably wouldn’t any time soon because

2. I already own a fuel efficient Civic Coupe. I generally get upwards of 30 miles per gallon, and have managed 40 when driving on highways. By my calculations, I would have to drive 150,000 miles on my car to get my money back. While I can probably get that out of my car (although maybe not), that would really only matter if I was buying a brand a hybrid instead of my current car, rather than as a replacement.

3. In addition to being a bad decision financially, replacing a two year old car is probably also not a smart environmental decision. Because the differences in mileage are so limited, it doesn’t seem likely that the environmental benefits of a hybrid will outweigh the environmental costs of the manufacturing. In fact, some argue that the environmental costs of producing nickel metal hydride batteries for hybrids make them even Worse than H3’s.

4. A recent study showed that an increasing number of hybrid owners buy them out of vanity. Reading this, and watching the hybrid car episode of South Park, makes me feel a bit obnoxious about the whole thing. (Really, the cloud of smug. Brilliant!)

Which brings it back around to where I started. I do want a hybrid because of what it says about me. I want it because it makes a statement, because it says something to auto manufacturers and to anyone who sees me driving it. I want to feel like I really am part of the solution to the problem, somehow and in some way.

But maybe I’ll wait a few (or more) years. Because I’m not sure I can afford $22,000 worth of smug.

Carnival Wrap Ups

This week, I participated in two Carnivals:

The Carnival of Personal Finance at the Mint

I recommend

Moneymonk’s post on the American Dream

Rocket Finance’s description of making 32 dollars in 32 days


The Festival of Frugality at Money Walks

I recommend:
Comfort and Style on a Cheapskate’s budget from Nature Moms

Frugality, Morality, and Harry Potter at Graceful Retirement

Monday, July 16, 2007

Book Review: Heat, by Bill Buford

I recently finished reading Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford. This book is not about personal finance – at least, not really. Heat is the author’s story of his experiences inside a number of different restaurants, in both New York and in Italy, and what he learned about food and the people involved in its production. One part biography of chefs like Mario Batali and Marco Pierre White, one part memoir, and one part essay on cooking, this book completely changed my outlook on what we eat.

A former editor for the New Yorker, Buford began by working in the kitchen at Batali’s New York restaurant Babbo in order to write a profile of it for the magazine. While there, he began to learn the intricacies of not only Babbo’s kitchen but the process of preparing food in a restaurant, and the nature and quality of the food we eat. This led him on a journey which involved quitting his job and moving to Italy to study in not one but two small town kitchens. There he learned more about how what we prepare and eat defines who we are.

As I read the book, I was fascinated by all of the little mini-lessons in cooking that Buford works in, (Polenta, he discovered, doesn’t need to be stirred. That’s why you can cook it so long, and that’s what makes it so good. ), the tips from the Babbo kitchen (Pasta water is used to thicken sauces and is the key to most everything), the investigations into the history and origin of food (when, exactly, did eggs replace water in pasta?) and the discoveries about what factors effect food quality (if steak feels heavy in your stomach and grainy on your tongue it is because of just that – the grain it was fed – and is an inferior product). Even moreso, though, I was fascinated by the light and passion with which the food was described. Each discovery is life changing, is an enlightenment. One egg can be so important.

In the end, this book reaches a place that’s truly amazing – Buford realizes that food knowledge that has been passed through generations may now be lost: “The Maestro will die. I will die. The memory will die. Food made by hand is an act of defiance and runs contrary to everything in our modernity. Find it; eat it; it will go. It has been around for millennia. Now it is evanescent, like a season.”
Read this book. Then go cook something, from scratch, with your hands. If it can make one this passionate, this aware, this human, it must be something really special.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Officially an investor

So, I am officially an investor. After the discussions on my posts about my money mistakes and my decision on whether or not to pay off my car loan, I’m sure you can all tell that this idea makes me a little nervous. While on our vacation, though, my husband and I met with a family member who is a financial professional and he convinced us to take the chunk of extra money we had (from a windfall, not our summer savings cushion), as well as a small monthly deposit, and to invest in a good value fund. He suggested we do this outside of a retirement account, while at the same time maximizing the match on my 403(b).

The reasoning was pretty simple: I could put money in my ING account and it would be better than paying extra on my car loan at less than 2%. Even factoring in the risk of having to replace the car, paying down the car is not a great financial decision. The student loan, on the other hand, is something I’m less sure of. It’s a HUGE loan, and the interest rate is 7% on a big chunk of it (the average rate is probably closer to 6). Even factoring in tax deductions, it’s hard to make enough to cover that, and while I can’t possibly total my masters degree (it’s done and in the books, thank goodness), debt still incurs with it some degree of risk. What scares me even more is that we were told that we should keep the investments out of a retirement account so we have the money when we want to buy a house. Aren’t we planning to buy a house in 3-5 years? Doesn’t that make this a terrible place to put our down payment money? I don’t like to repeat my mistakes?.

But, the idea of investing got my husband really reved up. He was excited about it, and numerically it was a pretty sound decision. In fact, he was so psyched that he seemed more willing than I’ve ever seen him to start making and sticking to a budget, so as to allow that contribution to steadily increase as our income does. Since it is “found money,” and a small amount per month, since we have an emergency fund, and since we can probably afford to do it while still paying a little extra on the debt or socking money away in money market accounts, I decided I was willing to try it. And since I can do math too and given our ages, I see the potential growth of this, I am starting to get excited too.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Carnivals this week

This week, I had posts in two different carnivals.

The Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted by Broke Ass Student included my post on Food, Money, and Love. I also enjoyed

The account of the relationship between dieting and money at Living behind the curve.

Mr. Credit Card's question of whether we are spending too much time on personal finance

and The Financial Philosopher's take on enough.

I also took part in the Festival of Frugality, hosted most charmingly by Mr. Credit Card.

Some posts to check out:

Reduce Air conditioning Costs

Personal Finance Garbage


Clean your whole kitchen with baking soda and vinegar

One way to save money and help the environment is to use less toxic alternatives for cleaning. I find the best cleaners to be baking soda and vinegar, which can do an amazing number of different cleaning tasks around the house. To help you discover their true power, I drafted this how to plan for cleaning your entire kitchen using only baking soda and vinegar. This is a pretty intense kitchen cleaning, and not everyone will need every step every night. Order is somewhat important here, so read the whole thing before you start so you know what steps to skip.

Before you start, make yourself a spray bottle with a mix of vinegar and water. Proportions are not exact: my rule is a little vinegar to a lot of water. :) Keep this handy.

After dinner:
1. Put a pan of vinegar in the oven and turn it on to 200 degrees fahreneheit.

2. If you have any very dirty pots and pans, particularly any with crusts on them or food stuck to them, put a little baking soda in the bottom and cover with water. Put the pots back on the stove and turn on your burners to bring the water to a boil.

3. While the water is boiling, wash the rest of your dishes. I confess that I use a dishwasher for my tableware even though I know it's a hot water hog (you could, by the way run this with baking soda for detergent and vinegar for rinse aid - but I don't). The dishwasher saves my sanity. Anything that isn't going in the dishwasher, wash in the sink. . . Again you could use baking soda for this - but I don't.

4. When the water in your pot is boiling (probably halfway through your dish washing), turn it off and let it cool. Scrape the bottom a bit with a plastic spatula to make sure the crustiness came off. Once it's cool, wash the pot in the sink with a sponge or rag, it should be very easy.

5. Put a bowl of vinegar and water in the microwave and heat it for 90 seconds.

6. While the vinegar is heating, sprinkle osme baking soda in your sink and scrub it a bit with a sponge or rag. Don't rinse it down the drain yet.

7. With your spray bottle, quickly wipe down the counter with a rag or towel. I use yesterday's dish towel and take out a clean one for the dishes every day.

8. The vinegar should be heated. Remove it from the microwave (if you are congested or have a headache, give the hot vinegar a sniff. Woo!). There should be vinegar and water droplets on the walls of your microwave. Use your towel to wipe it down.

9. Pour the vinegar into the sink, using it to wash the baking soda down the drain. It may foam up in your sink, which will help clean, and the baking soda and hot vinegar will keep your drain clear. Rinse the sink with hot water and dry it with your towel.

10. Drop the (increasingly dirty) towel on the floor. Spritz the floor with your vinegar solution and move the towel around with your foot to polish the floor. Give any incredibly dirty spots and extra spritz and come back to them. Now put the towel in the wash because it's probably pretty gross. I find that if I do this quick clean a few days a week, I very rarely need to do a serious mop, which I consider a serious pain (and for which, by the way, I do use vinegar).

11. Turn off your oven. Leave the vinegar tray in there; it will continue to evaporate. In a few hours when the oven has cooled, wipe down the vinegar droplets as you did your microwave.

Voila! A clean and healthy kitchen.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Popular Searches

I thought I'd respond to some of the most popular searches that bring people to my site. I wholeheartedly admit that I stole this idea from Dawn at Frugal For Life

"I am grateful for all the money in my life."

I just want to say how awesome this is. It goes along with the concept of having enough. I do believe, with all my heart, that when we acknowledge the abundance in our lives instead of complaining about things, that more good will come into our lives. This is something I need to work on too, and may well write about more in the next couple of days.

"How much money Associated Content"

The short answer is, not much. I'm not sure if they changed their pay structure or if my writing got worse, but I was making about $13 per article last summer, and now I get about $5 per exclusive article I submit. I tend to submit non-exclusive content, namely my favorite blog articles, and for those the pay is usually closer to $3.

"Savon new prescription gift card offer" and "Pharmacy Coupons New Transferred Prescriptions"

To find these, I must refer you to a good couponing forum. I use a Hot Coupon World, but there are certainly other popular ones.

"24 and $100,000 in debt"

I hear you. I'm a couple years your senior and just about there. My only advice is to spend less than you earn and to constantly put extra money toward your debt. Just keep plugging at it, and stick around.

"I hate debt"

Ah, now there's someone after my own heart.

And the most popular search that brings people to my site:

"Chocolate croissant"

Hmmm. I really can't help you, as I usually splurge and buy mine. You could try All Recipes or the Food Network's websites. My favorite croissant recipe is from Tawra at Living on a Dime

Break Even success! Week 5 Update

I finally did it!! Not by much, but I did it! Last week I came really close, but this week, for the first time, I finally broke even and am even ever so slightly chipping away at the negatives that I've built up.

Honestly, I didn't do very much this week other than work. The tutoring picked up, and I went from 6 hours to 17 hours. Some of those hours were proctoring a test, so I just got to sit and read and write, and some of those hours were trainings and update, so they weren't all high paying hours, but I definitely did better for having worked.

We were underbudget on the groceries this week by about $15. It's not as much as I would have hoped, given last week's extensive buying, but at least we are under budget. We were also underbudget on our eating out, but only because of my rule that gift cards were to count as neither earnings nor spending. We had a restaurant gift card that we'd been sitting on for a few months (it was an end of the year gift from a student), and we hadn't used it because it was for a place that wasn't part of our ordinary routine. We used it on Saturday for a nice "date," and then went out on Wednesday to our favorite buffet with b1g1 coupons, spending a grand total of $8. Yay!

The "extra" money making activities fizzled this week. I'm going to try to get back on the ball with that this week, even as I increase my hours a little bit more at the tutoring job.
-8.10 Associated Content articles
-1 Survey
-392 Teaching
-12.50 Ebay
-10.81 half.com sales
-17 Under Budget restaurant
-15 Groceries

$36 Profit


Total for summer 763 deficit.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How to Oversleep

If I am expert at any one thing, I would have to say it is how to oversleep.

Oversleeping can take many forms. During the school year, when I have to be up for work at a given time every morning, I perfect the art of the snooze and dash. While it may be difficult to master, it is in essence a very simple thing. It involves setting an alarm clock then –here’s the delicate part – when the morning comes, hitting the snooze button. Repeatedly. You must hit the snooze button every five minutes (or seven, or whatever interval your particular alarm clock designates) until finally you hit the exact last moment you could possibly wake up and still get to work. You then must sit bolt upright in bed, hop out of bed, and move with the speed of a comic book hero through your entire morning routine, in an sort of unconscious flurry which provides a frightening fluidity, until you find yourself in your car.

My record was 10 minutes, from bed to door, fully dressed with book bag and full coffee cup in hand.

In the summer, oversleeping takes a different form for me. In the summer, you see, there is no moment of panic. There’s no dash. It’s just a slow realization that, even though I once again set an alarm for 9 in the hopes of having a full and productive day, it’s 10:45 and I should probably get up.

So how do I accomplish these overwhelming feats of oversleeping? Here are some simple tips to help you accomplish it every time.

1. Stay up as late as possible. When I have to wake up at 6, 12 will do the trick. 1 is better. If you have trouble staying up this late, consider the use of caffeine at night or intense aerobic exercise after dinner.

2. Make your bed as comfortable as possible and the rest of your home as uncomfortable as possible. There’s nothing like waking up in a frigid room to make you want to stay in bed for just a few more minutes.

3. Cultivate a snooze habit. This is the big one. If you start by letting yourself snooze the alarm (just once . . okay, maybe once more), then you will absolutely find yourself snoozing again the next day. Pretty soon you will be able to hit snooze without even knowing you’re doing it, and then you will guarantee that you will oversleep.

4. Set your alarm much much earlier than you really need to get up. If you have to get out the door by 6:30, and know that it takes you about half an hour to eat breakfast and get ready for work, then set your alarm no later than 5:15. It will give you that extra urge to hit snooze the first few times, and once you get past those first few, it’s a breeze to keep doing it.

5. Do something you dislike or dread first thing in the morning. Avoid anything pleasant or worth looking forward to at least until after lunch.

6. Keep all light out of your bedroom. Make sure that when you wake up at 8 in the morning, your room looks exactly like what it would look like if you accidentally woke up at 4 in the morning.

7. Make sure your spouse is a comrade in arms on this one. Nothing will keep you from enjoying a good oversleeping than a significant other forcibly pushing you out of bed and saying “no really, get up!” You should instead advise the party in question to encourage you to cuddle when your alarm goes off.

I suppose if, for some reason, you didn’t want to oversleep in the morning, you could reverse these tips, but why would anyone want to do that?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Addicted to saving money?

I think I have a problem. I spend hours every day at my computer, reading and writing about money. I keep a blog and I write about money. I read about 6-10 blogs a day, all about money. I participate in 2-3 forums, all of which are about money. I listen to podcasts about money, I watch video clips about money, I read books about money, I search for articles that will tell me how to save money. I click and click and click.

When did it all become about the money?

I am saving money, it’s true. I’m making some money too, between the clicking and the writing, but the truth is I don’t feel like I’m a very interesting person right now. A lot of it, I know, is the anxiety, but I’m just tired of walking around all day thinking about saving money. I want to play, I want to read a book that has nothing to do with money, I want to write poetry again.

Does this mean I want to stop saving money? No, of course not. But the truth is, the reading is not what is saving me the money, it’s the doing. I may find one or two more little tricks to save money, but the truth is I already know most of what I need to know to save money. I just need to get off my rear end, shut off the computer, and do them. I need to have more time in my life, more life in my life. I’m saving money so I can afford to do things I love, but I’m not doing things I love.

It seems like anymore, I don’t save money to be able to afford what I need or want. I save money to save money, for the thrill of saving the money. After a while, it does become like an addiction, where my tolerance level rises. The same amount of savings stops being enough, stops providing the thrill. I need more, more, more. That’s not healthy.

It’s pretty easy to lose perspective. I think a lot of us have a tendency to fixate on one or a few things that are important to us. It’s important, though, to remember to balance that with other things.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Break Even Week 4 Update

I am so close.

This week, I made exactly $420. Exactly my break even number. If I had stayed strictly to my budget, this would have been the first week I’d broken even. Bud I didn’t.

This week, as I said yesterday I overspent my grocery budget. I overspent my entertainment budget a little too because we went out to dinner Thursday night (on serious travel burnout) and then again for our typical Saturday night dinner with friends. The interesting thing for me is that even though we went out twice, we were only $10 over our entertainment budget, when in past weeks we’ve done a lot worse than that. Maybe it was coming back from being away, maybe it was because we’d been to restaurants with our parents so much, but I realized Thursday night that we can have nice dinners we really like and giant sweet teas at the deli for only $15 for the two of us. And we like the deli. We really like it there, we love their tea, the food is always more than sufficient (and for $15 we got huge “I spent 11 hours on a plane and have only eaten one meal today” dinners). $15 for dinner makes us really happy. So why are we spending so much more than that?

I also made a lot more money this week than I have. Since my weeks run Thursday to Wednesday, this week included a marketing workshop I did for my employer, which paid significantly more than usual. I also had a rebate come in and some other things. I’m including my interest to my ING account which paid out, since the end of the month fell within this week.

Payouts are also coming in from things long since done. I got a $25 payout from Helium today, which I requested about a month ago and which I’ve been earning since January. I also got a very unexpected $3 payout from Daytipper from a tip I submitted at least 6 months ago and never expected to be compensated for.

I still need to do better though. I started a second class today, and have another one starting next weekend, so I’m going to go from working 6 hours a week at my part time job to about 18. More and more, the realization is coming that I’m just going to have to work for my money, but again 18 hours is something I can easily live with and I’m very grateful that it’s available.

I applied for a couple of online keyword writing jobs this week as well, and I am going to try to spend more time writing for Associated Content. Hopefully, if I get enough things going, pretty soon I will start to see some actual progress (and maybe even catch up a bit).

$420 Break even number
+$10 Entertaiment overbudget
+$70 Grocery overbudget
-$370 Teaching/tutoring
-$5 Essay Grading
-$10 Rebate
-$7 ING interest
-$.07 Paypal Dividends
-$25 Helium
-$3 Daytipper
Deficit $80
Total for summer: $799 deficit

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Food, Money, and Love

I am embarrassed to report that I spent $120 on groceries this week. That’s $70 over my grocery budget or almost 2.5 times what I wanted to spend. Part of it was that we were just coming back from vacation and your cupboards were bare, part of it was because we bought some pricier need items that we don’t buy very often (an 8 pack of paper towel rolls, the last one of which by my count has lasted about 8 months and is not in earnest gone yet, a roll of wax paper, an enormous bottle of mouthwash), but mostly it was for one big reason. I took my husband with me.

Now, I’ve read lots of grocery money saving articles that say the tip for saving money is, “Leave your husband at home.” This doesn’t work for me. My husband really likes grocery shopping. He doesn’t like it the way I like it. I consider it a game, stalking the bargains, stacking coupons and deals, seeing how much food I can get in my cart for a given amount of money. He considers it an extravaganza. “Look at all this wonderful food!” he says, in a variety of ways, as he walks through the store touching everything his eyes alight.

I’ve won him over in a lot of ways towards grocery couponing. As we walk down the aisles, he’ll usually say “do you have coupons for this?” instead of “can I try this?” He keeps a mental pricebook for dry goods which is much more complex and complete than anything I can keep on paper. When he realizes I’ve found a great catalina deal or drugstore rebate deal, he’ll drive me from store to store, or even take turns going into the store with me because he knows I’m shy of “spinning” deals. He really is a big help.

His weakness, or maybe his strength, has to do with meat. He loves meat. He loves eating it, he loves preparing it and boy does he love BUYING it. Not just any meat though. Good meat. He loves finding bargains on things that I would never have dreamed of buying in the first place. “Look! This Angus beef T-bone steak is one third off!” Yeah, and still costs as much as the rest of the groceries in my cart.
So this week, he got that look on his face, the look that means we’re in for a meat festival in our home. “I’ve decided,” he says, after we’ve been grocery shopping and I’ve slightly exceeded the weekly budget, “that this week I’m going to buy the Pork Tenderloin.”

The Pork Tenderloin deserves caps because, for my husband, this tenderloin is a legend. He saw it at Sam’s Club and immediately started devising hundreds of uses he could find for it, and formulating exactly how he wanted the butcher to cut it. It really is a fairly reasonable price (which, being his territory, slips my memory for the moment), but it’s a huge chunk out of the budget. I could see there was no arguing with him though, so I sighed and got back in the car. An hour later we left Sam’s with the Pork Tenderloin (8 pounds), 6 pounds of ground beef, 6 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, a bag of nectarines, a case of applesauce, five pounds of carrots, and I don’t quite remember what else. We spent another $60. Ugh.

I was frustrated, I was angry, I was anxious. I didn’t know what to do, as my husband sat next to my, grinning and glowing about his great finds and chirping about exactly how he was going to prepare them. He didn’t let me down either, by the end of the weekend, we had a freezer full of 3 different kinds of burgers, pork chops, meatloaf mix, and cubed pork for chili and barbecue. “We don’t need to buy meat for a month!” he said. (To me it looks like longer than a month.) If I can get him to wait a whole month before buying more meat anyway, it will be a major accomplishment.

But I can’t be mad. As I watched him cheerfully pack burgers (frugally, I may add, with breadcrumbs, vegetables, and sauce added to each mix), and babble about all the good food we could eat, I started to realize why buying meat makes him so happy. This is one more way in which he provides for me, when as a student he often feels like he doesn’t completely do so financially. He is filling our freezer with food as a sign of love, as a way of offering me security. And in a way, it does that. Even though he spent a lot, he did get reasonably good deals on the food, and it is nice to have a freezer full of food, to know that if something goes wrong, or our budget goes awry, we will at the very least, eat.

So I kissed him and thanked him for the food, and went off to try to redo our budget for the rest of the month with the same amount of love.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy independence day

To my fellow American readers and bloggers: Happy Independence Day! Celebrate by spending time with your family, eating at a cookout, watching fireworks, but most importantly by enjoying and celebrating our Independence and Freedom and remembering what made it possible and what it stands for. We must constantly preserve that freedom by listening, observing, speaking, taking action, voting, and being part of the system. We have the right to say and believe what we want; it would be ungrateful for us not to avail ourselves of it.

And for all my readers, everywhere: Find your own independence. Find your own freedom. May we all be on the way to being completely free in our lives, completely financially and personally independent (and amazingly interdependent as well).

Once more, Happy Independence everyone.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Acres of Diamonds

If you've never read this, it's definitely worth a read. It deals with everything from appreciating what you have to starting your own business. It has some Christian religious overtones, but it certainly does not rely on them. Enjoy!

Acres of Diamonds

Saving on prescription medicine

Fortunately, I am blessed both with good health and with health insurance. Hubby, however, has a few medications he takes every month. Even with insurance, the costs of these medicines can start to add up, so I use a variety of strategies to try to reduce the cost of these prescriptions over time.


If a medicine is not among the newest on the market, chances are there’s a generic version. With most health insurance, the difference is about $20 between a brand name and a generic. Without health insurance, it could be close to $100. Now, with Target and Walmart offering many generic drugs for $5, the distinction is greater than it’s ever been.

Generally, if there’s a generic available, your pharmacist will ask if that’s what you prefer. If not, talk to your doctor. Often they will prescribe the newest drug on the market because that’s what they think patients want. Sometimes there’s an older drug that will work as well for you.


For those drugs that we do buy brand name, I sign up for mailing lists from the drug companies for coupons and rebates. Do a google search for the name of the medicine you’re on, and chances are you will find the drug company’s website. Incentives can range from $5 to $25, to a voucher for free medicine. Keep on top of this, and remember to check prices. When one of our medicines went generic, it was cheaper to get it that way even with the $10 coupon off the brand name.

Gift card offers

Many national pharmacies (notably CVS, Target and Savon) offer gift cards for new or transferred prescriptions. If you have insurance, often the gift card amount can be greater than your copay, so you’ll actually be making money by doing this. If not, at least you are helping to offset the price of the drug. Look for the pharmacy coupons in weekly circulars, home mailers, and online. If you’re not on the pharmacy mailing list, figure out how to get on.

Some people like to transfer their prescriptions around regularly to maximize these deals, but I don’t recommend it. It’s important to have all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy, so the pharmacist can check for drug interactions.

Pharmacy Discount Cards?

I’ve never used one of these, but if you do a websearch, you will find about a hundred versions of this. They are cards you can purchase if you are uninsured that purport to give you a discount on many prescription drugs. If anyone knows more about them, please leave a comment.

Free Samples

When we got married, hubby was temporarily uninsured. Before he lost his insurance, he went to his doctor and explained and asked if they had any free samples available of the drugs he takes. The doctor called around to all the offices in the building and sent us home with a huge bag of sample packs that lasted us well past the one month. (By the way: I in no way endorse being uninsured if you can at all help it! If you are uninsured because of employment issues and not financial issues, go online and get yourself at least some major medical coverage. If you are young and it is temporary, you can get this very cheaply. It is downright terrifying to be without insurance.)

Drug companies load doctors down with this stuff. Whenever you get a new drug, and maybe even just periodically while you’re on one, ask your doctor if he or she has any free samples available. They’ll probably be more than glad to give you one.

Carnival of Personal Finance at Blogging Away Debt

If you haven't already, check out this week's Carnival of Personal Finance at Blogging Away Debt. Tricia does a great job at hosting what is once again an enormous carnival.

I particularly liked the article on Priorities for recent grads at Money and Values. This fits in well with what I believe about aligning your money with your core beliefs. Give it a read.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Break Even Week 3 - Vacation week update

So, I pretty much took the week off while we were visiting family for vacation. Because of the way I account for my earnings, though, I did manage to bring in a little money this week. I had some payments roll in from Associated Content, many of which were disappointingly lower than I expected them to be.

I also spent a total of 2.5 hours working on a presentation for my part time job that I had to give the day I came back (that was a little stressful when I was in the airport overnight, let me tell you). My boss told me she would pay me $50 an hour for my prep time, so I chalked up some money that way.

Because we were with family who really wanted to feed us, we hardly spent any money on food this week. We did spend money on entertainment but, since we were at home where we grew up, our money went a lot further. We spent money on 20 cent games of ski ball, $1 smoothies from the convenience store, Ice cream on the boardwalk, subs for lunch, and cake at the diner at midnight. It was as if we’d fallen back into a place in our lives where that seemed like a lot of money. Our total entertainment spending was $20 for the week, for which it seemed like we went out every night.

Totals for the week:
Break even number $420
Grocery spending -$50
Entertainment -$5
Associated Content Payments -$24.98
Prep Hours -$125
Surveys - $12
Movies sold - $16
Deficit $187

Totals for the summer 719 deficit
Each week is getting better, but I still am digging myself pretty deep. I’m going to keep up this, but I’m not feeling very optimistic right now about breaking even by the end of the summer.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Money anxiety

Moreso than an actual need for money for basic goods, I am motivated by money anxiety. I have a constant stream of what ifs in my head. What if we don't ever have enough money to retire? What if one of us lost a job? What if we had an emergency? In essence, a lot of my financial plans are motivated by fear.

The more I talk to people about money, and the more I participate in the pfblogging community, the more I start to think that a lot of us do plan our lives around this fear and anxiety. I talked to a friend the other day who has a ridiculous salary, a great portfolio of investments, an emergency fund, fully funded retirement plans, and no debt except his house. Do you know what he said? "I have to work overtime. I still don't have enough money. What if something happened?"

This made me realize that, although I am not in nearly that position, I probably sound very much the same to the people around me. It's not that I don't have enough money to meet my needs, or even my wants, it's just that I don't have "enough". Enough, that magic amount of money that will suddenly make me feel safe, make me feel that I don't have anything to worry about. I don't think that there is really such an amount of money.

So, while I am still going to work on the money issues, I'm also going to try to pay more attention to the fear. What are the things in my life that bring up anxiety? How can I plan for those things so that they aren't actually dangers for me? And, of course, how much money really is "enough"?