Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Frees today and tomorrow!

I was about to compile a list of frees and I found that Friendly's is giving away free iced lattes today and Sonic is giving away a free 10 ounce root beer float tomorrow. I can't find any evidence of the Sonic deal on their website, but it's on several deal forums, so it's worth a try.

Also, while I was researching this I came across the fact that Krispy Kreme is giving out free doughnuts on Friday, June 1 to celebrate National Doughnut day. What a sweet week!

Here's the rest of my (less exciting) list:

St. Ives Lotion
Tide Coldwater Detergent
Honey Bunches of Oats Cereal


Toughing out Frugality (Repost)

As I'm still treading water mentally, I'm going to enjoy another day on the couch with my feet up and instead treat you to this repost of an article I wrote about this time last year for my Writing Up blog. It's a good reminder for me, and hopefully will be a good one for you.

Everyone always seems to be looking for easy, painless ways to save money. I know I certainly am. I'm starting to think, though, that there is very little to be gained from such ventures. In order to notice significant savings, savings that will genuinely affect your life and future, you need to make bigger changes.

Saving on energy

I can't believe how many articles I've read on unplugging chargers and eliminating phantom loads. Do you know how much this can save you? Maybe $20 a year. Now, I'm not the kind of girl to say no to $20 a year, but let's think about the big picture here. The majority of electricity is used by central air, laundry, and refrigerators. So, to effect real savings in your energy budget, you need to be hotter, do less laundry, and stop staring into your fridge. But consider it: being just a little bit hotter for a month will already save you what you would have gotten by chasing all your phantom loads.

Saving on gas

How easy is it for me to say, don't drive. Walk to the store. Ride a bike to work. Carpool. Do I do any of these things? No. I would like to, and I have good intentions, but they don't end up happening. I tried playing the games the articles suggested: tires inflated, less junk in the trunk, regular tune-ups, and I'm sure all these things help, but I haven't seen the change in my pocketbook yet. The one big change I've managed to keep up with is to not use my car's air conditioning. I've read dozens of comparisons of the relative virtues of air vs. open windows but how about just accepting that in the summer, you'll be a little hot when you drive? How about wearing seasonally appropriate clothing and parking in the shade? Now, it's only May, and I may not be so glib in July, but at least I can cut back. And maybe driving will become so unappealing that I'll get off my butt and take a hike.

Saving on household items and decorating

I think the Saturday Night Live sketch did this best when it said "Don't buy stuff you can't afford." Honestly. Rather than spending 5 hours arranging silk flowers for $15 to save on the $30 pre-arranged flowers, why not just skip the flowers until you have money to pay for them?

None of this is fun advice, and please don't think I'm preaching because this is as much for me as anyone else. I've spent months reading everything possible on pain-free ways to cut a budget and I'm starting to think I'd do better by going back to believing in Santa. If I want to save money, it's going to hurt. I'm going to feel it. It's time to hunker down and get used to it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I want to be a writer (Repost)

(This is a respost of the last post from my writingup blog, which is now most assuredly gone forever.)

I want to be a writer. I don’t really care what I write, just so long as I get to write every day. I think that writing would be just about the best job in the whole wide world. Here’s why:

1. You get to write. In fact, you’re required to. It’s kind of the whole point.

2. You get to make your own hours. Sure maybe there would still be a lot of them, but you could start and stop them whenever you wanted.

3. You don’t work for anyone. You aren’t at the whim of some employer who is going to get on your case for something stupid. Well probably clients do that, but it’s not the same.

4. You don’t have to do the same thing all the time. You can change it up and vary what you do through the day.

5. You can work from home. You don’t have to go out in public at all if you don’t want to.

Is this really what it’s like? Is this just my fantasy? Does this have any bearing on the world of working writers? Is there anyone in the known universe who would pay me for something so wonderful and so absurd as writing? Do I have what it takes? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m ready to find out. I’m afraid. I’m not ready to give up the candystore, so to speak (If I had her money, I’d be richer than she is). But I’m not sure I have the energy to write if it’s my third job. It’s just too much.

Monday, May 28, 2007

School's out for summer: New challenges

Friday was the last day of school. For those of you who only know school from the student end of things, trust me when I say that this is just as much of a relief for teachers. By the time I come to the end of a school year, I'm ready to take a 48 hour long nap or stare at the wall for several days. I'm ready to take a serious mental break.

So, when I told myself all last week that once school was out I would start writing regularly, cooking from scratch, scrubbing the apartment from top to bottom, and finding new streams of income, perhaps I was being a bit ambitious.

Right now, I'm just tired. I'm mentally and emotionally more tired than anything, and I gave myself a coffee-free weekend to start to try to detox a little, so I'm physically feeling kind of slower than usual too. Writing is not the first thing on my mind. In fact, nothing is really on my mind right now except "suuuummmmmmeeeeer."

While I do worry about letting huge spans of tiem spread out before me without any goals or plans, I think it's okay for me to spend a few days, or maybe even a week, in this semi-comatose state. I do need to get my apartment cleaned and my clothes washed, I have a coupon train to sort and mail, and I have some tutoring students cramming this week for the SAT on June 2, so it's not a completely lost week. I don't, however, think it's a good week to be starting a lot of new things or deciding what I want from life.

That can start next week. For now, I'm going to go clean for a few minutes, then stare at the wall.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Festival Time Again!

I have a post featured in this week's Festival of Frugality over at Get Rich Slowly. As always, the festival features many excellent posts and is very nicely put together. Thanks!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Saving money for busy people

I've been so busy lately that it's been very tempting for me to fall off the frugality/money saving wagon. When I keep in mind, though, that money is what I trade my time for, and that wasting money is akin to wasting more of my time, I realize how important it is to invest a little time in frugality. I do not, however, have time to bake my own bread, go to four grocery stores a week, mystery shop, and pinch every penny. With that in mind, I've developed an array of money saving tips for when I'm too busy to focus on these things.

1. Dont' buy stuff. This doesn't take any time at all. In fact one of the best benefits for me of working 60 hour weeks has been that I simply don't have time to shop and eat out, and spend money.

2. Turn stuff off. It really doesn't take much time to turn off a light or turn down your thermostat, and then it's off. If you are in too much of a hurry to flip off a light switch on your way out the door to work, you pay for that light all day long.

3. Do less laundry. I harp on this again and again. Clothes don't need to be washed every time you wear them. Take a second to hang them back up and you will save yourself time and money later.

4. Let things go that don't matter. My apartment doesn't need to be spotlessly clean, but I do need clean dishes to eat off. I don't need to stockpile pizza rolls, but I do need milk. It's important to prioritize.

5. Take care of yourself. I take a few minutes every day to write, drink coffee on the deck, or nap a little in the afternoon, just so I can keep feeling like a person. If I get too caught up in how hard things are, I will be more likely to splurge and ruin my budget later.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Free Food!

One way that I have survived the past few weeks was by taking advantage of all the free food I could to avoid cooking, feel a little pampered, and keep the grocery budget down. We’ve been very fortunate that things have fallen as they did; we’ve not had to buy anything from the grocery store except milk, fruit, and a few rock bottom stock up prices which has saved me time as well as money. Here’s where all the free food came from:

1. From people/work – This was our biggest source, and one which is not really available to other people. Because my husband is a grad student, we were invited to several end of the semester parties. There was a department barbecue, a graduation dinner, and a meet and greet party, all of which had dinner. The even better part of this is that his advisor sent us home with trays of food, which we managed to make last us through 2.5 more dinners for a grand total of 5.5 free dinners from the college.

At my job, I get free lunch in the cafeteria if I eat with the kids. I’m sure to take advantage of this every day and will probably feel the hurt of it when summer starts.

2. From restaurants – We did break down at one point and order pizza. They messed up our order, though, and gave us pepperoni instead of sausage. We were pretty good natured about it and said we’d just take it, so they gave it to us for the employee price and we got two large pizzas for $6. That, along with salad from the graduation party, fed two of us dinner for three nights (it probably should have been more - we’re big eaters).

Also, a coffee shop in our area mailed out coupons for its grand opening: each was good for either a large blended mocha or a 12 ounce coffee and bagel with cream cheese. I had saved my coupon for weeks, knowing I would “need” it, so I was able to get what seemed to me a luxurious breakfast on my way to job #2 one Sunday.

3. In the mail – Here’s what I got in the mail as far as food: one hamburger helper single (GROSS by the way, but I ate it for dinner one night), a lipton plus vegetables side dish, a South Beach diet protein bar (weekday breakfast for me), a single serving box of Kashi (another breakfast), and three cans of diet soda.

4. With coupons – I got three avocados completely for free (actually, with overage) using a coupon I found in the store and was able to make some quick and indulgent guacamole. (Which I served with quesadillas made on 25 cent a pack tortillas, but that’s not free, so we’ll talk about that another day.) I got a free pouch of Betty Crocker potatoes. There might have been more, but I haven’t kept careful track.

5. With rebates – I bought a box of Rice-a-Roni’s new natural line with a try me free rebate and a coupon – so I actually made a few cents off it (or at least covered the cost of the stamp).

I try to cook from scratch for health and financial reasons, but when it’s this easy to get this much food for free or cheap, especially when I’m this busy, I’ll take it.

I'm still here

I haven't posted in a while. If there is anyone actually still reading, I'm sorry for the delay. I've been working and scrimping and cleaning house. I've been surviving. More words on how I've been surviving tomorrow, I hope.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

I hate debt

Hi, my name is story, and I'm in debt.

Right now, between a car loan and two student loans, my husband and I are over $100,000 in debt. After our rent, our biggest expense is our car payment, and after that it's our student loan payment. Combined, we make less than $40,000 a year. When I think about it too quickly, I get a little bit out of breath.

We budget pretty carefully, and I'm well on my way to being a master penny pincher. I work an extra job. My husband's loan is on a grad student deferment. We don't take out any additional loans, and we don't carry balances on our credit cards. From month to month we do okay, but in the grand scheme of things we're still drowning.

Being in debt limits our options, our choices for the future. We can't buy a house. When we've moved from place to place in the past few years, I've never had the luxury of taking my time to find a job I really like; I've just needed to have a job. When we start trying to have children, I'm going to need to think really carefully about whether I'm financially able to stay home with them. Whether to work, where to work, where to live - these are decisions that I want to be able to make myself, not have made for me by my creditors.

Worst of all, though, I'm afraid that at any given moment, everything could come crashing down. A reduction in income, an increase in expenses, another move, an emergency, any of these things could turn our cash flow negative in about five seconds. I don't want to walk around terrified anymore.

So I'm kicking it into gear. I want to spend the next ten months working my butt off, scrounging for extra money, selling my stuff and taking my penny pinching to the next level. That's not to say I want to stop enjoying my life. Rather, it's to say I want to get my life back. I want my choices back.

I'm making a choice. We're going to pay down a huge chunk of this debt, and we're going to do it sooner than later. One day at a time, step by step, I'm going to make positive progress toward cleaning up this mess.

Keep me accountable, could you?

Friday, May 4, 2007


Some Freebies that I found this week:

Free Schick Quatro Razor

Sunsilk Shampoo

Cascade Dish Detergent

South Beach Diet Bar

10 tough things about being a teacher

This is a riff off of and a gentle parody of the post 10 Reasons it doesn’t pay to be the computer guy from my very old friend Shaun at Life Reboot.

10. “Your” accomplishments are always really someone else’s.
You’re only doing your job when you’re helping other people do better. If they don’t do well, you’re letting them down and not doing your job. If they doll, well gee, aren’t those kids just brilliant?

9. You always have to work more hours than they say you do.

You may be told that you need to stay at school until at least 3:30, but you will definitely be staying until 5 some days. You will then be coming back at 7 to chaperone a dance, and coming home from the dance at 11 to grade thirty papers and plan your lessons for the next week.

8. If you need technology, it will undoubtedly be broken.

I have never managed to work in a school that could keep a copy machine working, let alone computers, a network, or a projector. You will however be constantly reminded of the necessity of using a variety of technology to support student learning.
7. Guilt reigns.

The moment you decide that you will not work one more uncontracted and unpaid minute, it will immediately be proposed to you by a child, parent, or supervisor that if you were to do this one little thing it will change a child’s life forever. If you don’t, well (sniff, sniff), I guess he or she will find a way to get by.

6. You are always a teacher

You’re a teacher when you’re at the grocery store, when you’re at the movies. Children will find this an appropriate time to converse, play, or torture. Parents will think it completely acceptable to begin a dialogue about your grading system.

5. You are not a person.

You’re expected to know everything. You’re not allowed to have a bad day. You’re not allowed to be stressed or take it easy. You’re hardly allowed to call in sick, and if you do you better spend at least two days of extra work planning for and recovering from it.

4. Everyone thinks they can do your job.

Everyone you meet has had teachers and since it never looked that hard, everyone thinks they could do your job. They will never actually say that but will make it abundantly clear several times per conversation.

3. You are completely responsible for the lives of twenty human beings for about 7 hours a day.

They are not, however, your children. When they leave your sight, you have very little control over what happens to them, what they do, or who they become.

2. The money. . . well. . enough said.

1. Well, umm. . . .

… There isn’t one. The truth is, I love teaching and I wouldn’t stop. The other day I had a kid tell me that the reason he stopped plagiarizing is that I taught him how to write. The last time I got guilted into volunteering something, I cheered louder than any of my kids when we found out that they won. I can call an audible and talk my way out of a technology meltdown in about 5 seconds and you know what else?

I am always a teacher.

Is it easy? No. Do I sometimes feel overworked and underappreciated? Oh yeah. Sometimes in the morning I curl up on the couch and cry into my coffee because I just don’t want to go to school. But then sometimes at the end of the school year, I get a note from a kid that says “Words cannot describe how much you’ve done for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

And then I can’t wait to start again.

More on teaching:
Graduation Day
You can't save them all
Why I teach

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Festival of Frugality!

Yikes! I'm only two days late in posting this link, and I hope that Dawn at Frugal for Life can forgive me. Please check out this week's Festival of Frugality. My post on Scarcity is included, and Dawn did a great job of putting the whole thing together.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Chocolate Croissant Effect

You read a lot these days about the latte effect, and in theory I completely agree. The idea is that it’s easy to waste a lot of money on small things and that, over time, that money could add up to be enough to make a major difference in your life. If you eliminate a latte every day, then by the time you are 60 you will have a significant chunk of money saved up and in retirement.

It’s a great idea. Small changes really are the way to go because they are psychologically easier and they are sustainable. However, despite all this, I’m about to say something which is the complete opposite.
I call it the chocolate croissant effect.

A few summers ago, I was working an extra job to try to save up some extra money before I moved across the country. I didn’t need the money. I was just trying to work hard to get ahead and improve my life.

Downstairs from the place where I worked was a little bakery. It smelled good, it looked pretty, and it was one of the warmest and friendliest places I had seen. One day I forgot to bring coffee from home, and just NEEDED some (yes, I have a problem), so I stopped into the bakery for a small coffee, and I saw them.
Next to the register, on a plate, with a sign next to them, there was a plate of chocolate croissants. Ooey, gooey, fresh from the oven chocolate croissants. For $1 each.

Oh goodness.

I didn’t need a chocolate croissant. If I didn’t buy a chocolate croissant every day for a year, I’d have an extra $365. I wasn’t working an extra job so that I could afford chocolate croissants. But, oh boy did I want one. So, just that once, I bought a chocolate croissant. It was delicious. It really was just as good as it looked.

For the rest of that summer, I knew that the chocolate croissants were there. I didn’t get one every day, and I certainly didn’t spend $365 on them, but when I really wanted a chocolate croissant I got one. When I didn’t buy a chocolate croissant, I was fully aware that I was not buying one and was very proud of the money I was saving. When I did buy one, I took my time and thoroughly enjoyed it, instead of letting myself feel guilty about spending the money.

The truth is, I was still getting ahead. I was making between $60-$120 extra dollars a day by being there, and if a $1 chocolate croissant once in a while was all it took to make me feel good about it, then it was well worth the expense.