Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Doing good: e-cards

Right now, for every holiday greeting you send, Robeez will make a $5 product donation to Kids In Distressed Situations. If you leave a comment below with your email address, I'd be glad to send you a card.

If you have a blog, you can make an even bigger donation. For every post about the Robeez campaign, Robeez will donate $25 in product.

Get sending!

More e-cards that donate:

Cupcakes for a cause
Send something sweet

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Doing good: Knit one Save one

My good deed for today was to crochet a baby cap for the Knit One Save One campaign at Save the Children. They'll send the caps to their infant care programs throughout the world, and send personalized letters to President-Elect Obama, encouraging him to help eradicate poverty. It was so easy to follow their pattern, and since it is so small it took little yarn or time.

Other good deeds so far:

  • I baked cookies for my kids at school.
  • I gave some of my CSA vegetables to one of hubby's labmates.
  • I added a dollar to my grocery order to help the local food bank.
  • I walked around my neighborhood and picked up trash.
  • I covered a colleague's class for a few minutes so she could get a break.

Nothing huge, but I hope it is making a difference. Please share your good deeds too, it helps keep me motivated!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Doing good this holiday season

This holiday season I've decided to focus on doing good (as opposed to doing well). Given my recent feelings of defeat, I'm hoping that this project will help me feel better while at the same time helping other people.

I'm commiting right now (and I hope you'll all help me stick to it) to one good deed every day. I know everyone is busy, so these may not be huge or time-consuming actions, but I just want to know that I'm doing something.

Today, I'm focusing on things I can do in my pajamas without getting up from my computer, so here's a few:

Go to Give and follow the links, and Geoffrey Beene will donate between 5 and $10 to domestic violence charities.

Sign up at Stouffer's Diner Club and you will get 100 free points, plus points for any Stouffer's meals you've bought. Right now, you can donate your points to Feeding America. Every 20 points gives one meal.

Sign up at Uncle Ben's and sign his petition and the company will donate to Feeding Hunger's Kid's cafe program.

I'll hopefully find more online donation programs over the next couple weeks. I also plan to dig into my stockpile and make donations to my local food bank and domestic violence shelter and to look for Random acts of kindness I can do throughout my days. Hopefully I'll be able to do some good deeds that involve more time commitment in volunteering or more substantial donations as well, but I'm giving myself credit for any good that I add to the world.

Any suggestions on good deeds I can do are more than welcome!

See also
Free and Easy Ways to Help Charities
More Ways to help charities
Click to donate

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Giving Thanks

This Thanksgiving, I had several grad students over for what I intended to be a simple Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn't. Once we started talking to people, everyone wanted something particular, and my husband kept promising them we'd make it. So much for simple. Oh well. At least we have plenty of leftovers to eat this week, and I was able to send everyone home with some food as well. Feeding people really does make me happy.

So, despite my exhaustion (and my dread of Monday and returning to work), I really do have a lot to be thankful for.

I'm thankful that we have good friends to spend holidays with when our families are far away.

I'm thankful for a family that loves me and laughs at my jokes (Even when they're not funny).

I'm thankful for the food in my fridge and freezer.

I'm thankful that I have a good enough job that I can afford this.

I'm thankful for my grocery and HBA stockpile because it lets me give to the foodbank without hurting my budget.

I'm thankful for all the deals bloggers that help me acquire food cheaply and the green bloggers that inspire me to make good choices in my life.

I'm thankful for my CSA baskets every week.

I'm thankful for the (artificial) Christmas tree my husband insisted we buy after Christmas last year, even though I resisted.

What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Feeling defeated

Okay, please forgive me for whining more.

When I posted about my busy day, it was a really lame excuse for not posting. Everyone has busy days, everyone has responsibilities, everyone makes choices. I think the real reason that I haven't posted lately is just that I have been feeling so unbelievably defeated, so completely boring and whiney and vulnerable all in one, that I didn't feel like sharing it with the world. I don't mind working hard and being busy if it's making a difference, if it's changing things, but it seems lately like so much of what I'm doing is just completely futile. I'm drowning in laundry, in dishes, in ungraded papers, and no matter how much time I devote to it, it demands more. In everything, my housework, my professional work, my financial life, I just can't seem to get ahead. I can't even seem to stand still.

I have this image of myself as a domestic goddess, baking pies and ironing shirts, of a coupon queen with a stockpile the size of Big Ben, of a teacher of the year, of an internationally recognized advocate and philanthropist. And instead I'm spending my days folding laundry and grading quizzes, or worse NOT folding laundry and grading quizzes and instead just watching TV and whining about the laundry and the TV. I need to do something that matters.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pink Dish

Let's Dish, a company who sells prepared meals, has started a project called the Pink Dish campaign, where they provide free meals to families affected by Breast Cancer. If you write a note about it on your blog, and email them with the details, they will donate an additional $5 to the campaign in your honor. Please consider taking part. Thanks!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why I haven't been posting

6:30 AM - Tumble out of bed. Coffee is ready in the pot, thank goodness (and my timer). Make breakfast (toast from my homemade raisin bread) for self and hubby. Get dressed. Gather belongings. Pour rest of cup of coffee into travel mug.

7:00 - Run out front door. Get to car, realize I've forgotten cell phone, run back upstairs.

7:15 - Arrive at work. Dig through piles on desk, looking for Homecoming essays that have to be judged by this afternoon.

7:30 - Begin entering grades.

7:45 - Meet with NHS officers to discuss new service project

7:55 - School begins. Teach.

3:12 - School ends. Discipline 8th graders then sprint outside for parking lot duty until 3:30.

3:30 - Shuffle middle schoolers into the building for after school care, shuffle high schoolers out of the building.

3:40 - Return to classroom. Read college essay for senior who's been waiting patiently. Tidy desk. Enter grades.

3:55 - Shuffle high schoolers out of building. Again.

4:05 - Get in car. Drive home.

4:20 - Arrive home. Turn on Gilmore Girls. Reheat morning's coffee. Start dinner prep. Start laundry.

5:00 - Husband arrives home. Serve dinner.

5:25 - Start washing dishes.

6:00 - - Sit down on couch. Fold laundry (where does it all come from?)

6:30 - Start grading papers.

8:45 - Make husband's lunch for next day. Set up coffee pot and turn on timer.

9:00 - Fall asleep on couch while trying (again) to watch Heroes from DVR.

Something's got to give.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Money Mission for Monday: Start Over

As you may have figured out, I've been busy lately. And while I've been out earning a ton of money, and my balance sheet should be much better than it was, I honestly have no idea how I'm doing financially. And so I'm giving you the same mission I'm giving myself this week: wherever you are, however you're doing, take a few minutes and start over.

Take stock

Figure out how much money you have and how much debt you have. This may mean going through your files and checking several account statements. If you don't know how much money you have, there's no way you can set goals for it.

Also, take a few minutes and go over your check book register, bank statement, and credit card statement to figure out what you spent in the past month. This will give you a good idea of how much you should budget for this month, as well as giving you the chance to start to notice any leaks in your purse.

Make a plan

October starts in two days, which is a great time to start over from a budgeting perspective. Based on what you spent last month, develop a loose budget for next month. Even if you always make a budget, try starting from scratch this month. You may find a different perspective or technique helps you find new ways to cut.

Set at least one goal for what you want to do with your money this month, this year, or this decade. Start working toward it, even if it's just in little steps.

This is a much bigger mission than most, but it's also got a lot of bang for its buck. By starting over, evaluating, and making a plan you'll start to feel more in control of your own money even before you make any changes in your life.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Quick Spotlight

Frequent commenter Abby has her own blog now called I Pick Up Pennies. It is frequently clever and always insightful and offers good looks at a variety of issues pertaining to frugality and saving money. It's well worth a look and I have enjoyed it frequently over the past month, when I've had two moments to sit down. Check it out.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rumors of my death are at least slightly exaggerated

I'm still here. I've worked 10 hours a day every day of my three day weekend and then spent hours with friends every evening, playing dominos (my darling husband doesn't seem to notice the truest level of my fatigue). I'm not feeling much more chatty than that, except that I would like to state for the record that I enjoy talking about money MUCH MORE than I enjoy earning it.

I shall return.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thoughts on media fasts, simplicity, and the frugality of sleep

Let me begin by saying that school is starting again. I am in the process of radically turning over my persona, my daily schedule, and my budget, and so I am a bit - how can we say it? Off? (The turning over in my mind conjured up images of turning over the soil on a farm, and I hope it turns up the same kind of richness and freshness.)

I've spent the past week putting together my classroom, in itself a haven of minimalism and simplicity. I have my desks arranged simply, have 2 posters on my wall and a few quotes ("To be great is to be misunderstood" and "We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race") and a shelf full of books, and I am finished. I spent more of my time visiting with my colleagues, each in a tizzy over "getting their rooms ready," and chatting about life, love, and learning, trying to listen more than I spoke. It's been a quiet time for me, and a pleasant one, and a good transition with the coming onslought of teenagers which I have begun to look forward to.

And yet, and yet. When I come home from school, I am tired. I am drained. I am not used to being away for 8 hours, to waking up before 7 in the morning. I am not eating like I was at home, and I feel lost with my laundry undone and my dinner not started. So I come home, I do my chores, start my dinner, and I sit. I sit and stare at a wall, read a book, or work on some knitting, but I sit in the quiet. I want the quiet.

And so, there have been 3 days this week that I have not turned on my computer at all. That thought used to give me anxiety - I'd be so behind, I'd have to catch up, I'd miss something - but really in truth it's given me peace. When I had time last night, I turned my computer on, checked my RSS feeds and email, and was ready to turn it back off again. It's almost like breaking an addiction. When I've been away from it for a while, I craved it not more but less. It was a relief, since I'll have less time now, but a surprise. I just found an extra hour a day to read or exercise or swim. And I just found myself some peace.

And this week, what I'm most inclined to do with that extra hour is to sleep. In the afternoon with the sun streaming in, at 8 o'clock at night, whenever that hour turns up, I just want to stretch out and take a nap. I don't want to spend or go out or do anything that costs me money. And I couldn't be happier doing it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The frugality of being a homebody

Lately I've had quite a few posts that involved, in some way or another, not going out. Before people start to think I'm a monk, or that I am extremely self-sacrificial, let me just clear the waters and explain how much I prefer staying home.

Now don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the occasional adventure and it's lovely to have friends over or to go to the park once in a while, and I do all those things and I do eat at restaurants and see movies too, but most days the place I'd most prefer to be is home. In my pajamas. Either in bed or curled up on my couch. Preferably alone and most often with the house quiet (or with a softly read audio book playing). And so, while it would be nice to have some books, a few DVDs (because really, I like movies), and gallons of coffee, I don't require much. Pretty cheap, eh?

Not everyone is made like this, though. My husband for example looks for constant entertainment or stimulation. If I leave to get the mail, he makes a phone call to keep busy while I'm gone. He needs music on his phone to tide him over between the music in his car and the music on his computer. He doesn't mind running errands: the post office, the pharmacy, the bank (all of which give me massive anxiety) because, hey, it's something to do right?

While extroverts thrive in social situations, introverts are drained by them. Now, while it's very possible for an extrovert to be frugal, I wonder if somehow it isn't harder. So, I ask, how many of you frugalites and frugalistas are homebodies and how many of you are socialites?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Money Saving Mission for Monday: Raise your insurance deductibles

Ready for another money saving mission? Don't worry, this one doesn't involve giving anything up, it just involves spending less money.

Check your insurance deductibles. If you have money in emergency savings, and you should, you should be able to raise your insurance deductible.
Insurance is the transferrance of ris, and if you have enough money to "self-insure," then technically you wouldn't need any insurance at all. A totalled car or a medical emergency, however, is probably more money than most of us can afford. It makes sense then to maintain enough money in savings to cover your deductibles: if you have a $1000 car insurance deductible, you need $1000 in savings. The same for your health insurance and prescription plan. By raising your deductibles you will save money on your monthly premiums; be smart about it though, it doesn't save you money if you can't afford to cover the deductible and have to take out a loan.

While you're at it, consider how much your insurance is saving you money. Would you save more money by paying a higher premium for a plan that covers a higher percent of your medical expenses, or vice versa? Do you use your dental or prescription plans enough to make it worth what you pay for them (and can you self-insure against emergencies that would cost you a lot out of pocket)?

So, dig out your insurance statements, or log onto your company's website, and make sure that you're not paying too much. Then you can walk around grinning and telling people that you "just saved a bunch of money on your car insurance"!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Free meatballs at Ikea?

I was at Ikea the other day, helping a friend pick out furniture, and I saw a sign that said:

"Bring in 12 inches of newspaper and get a free meal in the Ikea cafe!"

The newspapers are used to wrap purchases in the checkout lines (Ikea charges for bags now, too, how European), which warms the cockles of my green heart (Reduce, reuse, recycle, in that order). Since I hadn't brought my newspapers and Ikea is almost 2 hours from my house (we were in the city for the day anyway), I haven't tried this, but it sounds excellent. I will gladly trade my newspapers for meatballs any day.

Has anyone done this?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Frugal Principles: Do without

It's time for another Frugal Friday, and the last in my prolonged series on how to save with frugal principles. In the most famous adage of frugal principles, Use it up, use less, make do, and do without, "do without" is definitely the hardest for most people - although, of course, it is the most frugal of all the frugal principles. I think the reason for this is very simple: while the other three steps all have to do with creativity, with finding more efficient ways to still get everything that you want, doing without implies deprivation. You don't get to have what you want. You have to give up the things that you want:

Give up cable.
Give up lattes.
Give up going out.

And this is of course very hard for a lot of people. They'd rather a list of 100 ways to "make do" or to get more for their money, then a single suggestion that they do without something they want - even if that one suggestion would save them more money than the rest combined. None of us want to feel deprived, to feel like we can't have what we want. So one of two things happens: we either ignore the doing without part of the equation completely, or we go whole hog - and generally burn out.

The key as always seems to be to find a happy medium, to reframe the question. What are the things in my life that I'd just as soon do without? What do I own or regularly pay for that brings me no joy? What can I cut out without hurting, or while even making myself happier in the end?

But I know, the frugal among you will say "Well, there's nothing. There's nothing more. My life is already pared down and I need to cut back more." So you need to reframe the question again: How can I turn the space in my life into more joy? Can I do without cable if I let myself rent a movie once in a while? Can I do without going out to dinner if I have friends over for coffee more often? What is it that brings you joy about the latte? The caffeine, the foam, or the trip to the coffee shop/break from work? How can you replace whatever you like about it with something else?

So, what are you willing to do without?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Festival of Frugality wrap up

This week's Festival of Frugality is up over at Frugal Homemaker Plus and includes my article on Lazy Green Living.

Lots of great information this week, so be sure to head over there and check it out. My favorite articles include:

The finer things in life
37 hacks to save on electricity
Counting my pennies' 30 day plan


Monday, August 4, 2008

Frugal Mission for Monday: Check your prescriptions

Mission for Monday is a new series I'm going to try out: every Monday I'll give you (and myself) a quick mission to help save money. These are meant to be one time things that take maybe 15 minutes. For newbies they'll probably be great advice; for veterans they might still be good reminders.

Today's mission: Check your prescriptions.

I wrote a post last year about Saving money on prescriptions, but it's been a long year since then, and my husband takes a lot of different prescriptions now, so I recently did another quick search for available discounts. Out of the four he takes monthly, one has a $20 coupon that can be printed 12 times a year, 2 have monthly $20 rebates, and the fourth mails out periodic coupons and vouchers. My savings? At least $60 every month. I'm almost embarassed that I waited this long.

Your task: go online and search for all the prescriptions you take. See if the manufacturer's website has printable coupons or rebates, or at least a mailing list you can get on.

While you're at it, talk to your doctor and pharmacist about available generics. With the $5 generic programs, which most stores will price match, it's a better time than ever to switch.

Friday, August 1, 2008

20 reasons frugal living makes me happy

1. Having more money in savings quells my anxiety about financial emergencies.
2. Having less stuff makes my house easier to clean.
3. Cooking from scratch gives me yummier food.
4. Finding ways to re-use or repurpose things is a fun and creative challenge.
5. Spending less time shopping means I have more time to eat, sleep, and read.
6. Being counter-culture is soooo cool.
7. Frugal living is green living, which eases my conscience and makes me feel good.
8. Coupon shopping gives me tons of free shampoo, toothpaste, and Cheerios which I can donate to the foodbank - and philanthropy makes most people feel good.
9. Saving gas means I have to fill up less often and I don't smell like gasoline.
10. When I slow down, turn off my computer and TV, and stay home for a day, I enjoy things like a cup of coffee on my porch more.
11. Eating out less often makes it feel more special when we do.
12. Less laundry. 'Nuff said.
13. Drinking water with meals and cutting out fast food and junk makes me thinner and healthier.
14. Shelling peas feels more productive and worthwhile than opening a can.
15. Stretching things means I have to run errands less often, and I avoid the driving, the shopping, and the waiting in line (which drives me stir crazy).
16. I like wearing t-shirts I've had since college. Or high school. But those just to sleep in, I swear.
17. Cloth napkins make my table look prettier.
18. Free samples in the mail are like presents when it isn't even your birthday.
19. I have more money in my budget for the occasional splurge, and I can enjoy it more because I know I can afford it.
20. I get to be part of the amazing frugal blogging community.

Please share your reasons!! For more frugal inspiration, check out Frugal Friday at Biblical Womanhood.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Peasful morning

I spent a peaceful morning shucking peas:

And listening to The Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Lifeon Simple Living Radio

(Can you forgive me my punning?)

Monday, July 28, 2008

4 Lazy ways to be more green (and frugal!)

There is really nothing I enjoy more than being lazy. Sitting with a cup of coffee and a book or taking a nap in the middle of the day are my kind of entertainment. Sometimes, though, I get overwhelmed by all the things I know I should be doing in my journey to make my life more green, and to save a bit of money (so I can work less of course, what other goal would a lazy person have?). The good news is that there are lots of green changes you can make in your life that don't take any effort: in fact, many of them actually require less effort than what you are already doing.

1. Do less laundry. Unless you are exercising or have a job where you have to work in dirt all day long, do you really need to wash your clothes every time you wear them? Instead, assess your clothes and hang them back up if they are still clean. Then, when they are dirty, wait until you have a huge old pile of laundry and do a gigantic load of laundry in cold water, no sorting required. Easy peasy!

2. Cook less. Especially in the summer, it's a good idea not to cook every single night. Turning on your stove uses energy, and heats up both you and the kitchen. Plus, it's a pain. So every so often (or more), have a salad night, a cold sandwich night, or even eat cereal for dinner like you did in college. And once a week have a free-for-all leftover night to make sure none of the good food you paid for ends up in a landfill.

3. Pay your bills automatically. Sure this takes some effort upfront, but it will be one less thing for you to do and to worry about every month from now on. Go online and set your bills up to autopay. This will save paper, save gas for shipping, and save you time and the money for a stamp. While you're at it, make sure your paycheck is direct deposited and your bank statements are paperless.

4. Stay home. Probably the greatest lazy green tip of all. If the mere thought of figuring out bike routes or public transit makes you tired, just think about whether you need to go out and spend your money at all. Stay in, play a board game, eat from your pantry and just chill out on your couch for a while.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Filling my freezer little by little

One of the things I've been doing lately to combat my Weakness for restaurant food is trying to put up fully cooked meals in my freezer for days when I just feel blah and don't want to cook. My husband is a big fan of once a month cooking and all its variations, but I tend to get overwhelmed by big projects and making two gallons of chili, a lasagna, and a big pot of beef stew in one day makes me nearly want to crawl under my bed and hide. So, instead, I've been babystepping towards a freezer full of meals.

I was reading Love food, hate waste a lot lately and the obvious idea occured to me: freeze my leftovers. A lot of the meals I usually make tend to be too much for just the two of us, and then the leftovers go in the fridge and I have to either adjust my meal plan or end up throwing out the food when it finally goes bad. Instead, unless I have a specific plan for the leftovers, I'm popping the 1-2 extra servings of dinner into my freezer so I'll have it for another day. Right now, I have two servings of chicken taco meat and a container of barbecue pork (both from my crock pot). Since I also have rolls, tortillas, and shredded cheese in my freezer, it sounds like I have two easy dinners already taken care of. I'm hoping to save them for the first few weeks of school when I'm tired and cranky and overwhelmed.

Now that I also have all my beautiful CSA vegetables, I'm going to have to double time at getting things into the freezer in order to prevent food waste. Anyone know the best way to freeze or preserve summer squash?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Today is my two year wedding anniversary. How should we spend our afternoon? (G-rated please, and the answer is not "writing a blog post.")

Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Review: How to be a budget fashionista

How to Be a Budget Fashionista by blogger extraordinaire Kathryn Finney of The Budget Fashionista is a fun little book on how to dress well without spending too much money. Targeted at young professional women, this book carries off it's casual, slightly irreverant tone without ever coming across as silly or offensive. Instead, it breaks down buying clothes to its most basic components so that the fashion-challenged (like me!) can learn to dress well for less.

Budget Fashionista is broken down into three parts: Know your budget, know your style, and know your bargains. It begins with a simple discussion of budgeting and ways to save and earn a little extra, to scrape up a good pot with which to update your wardrobe. While this may be useful for a lot of women, and while it was quite pleasant to read, I found it a little basic. The heart of the book is in the section on style. With lighthearted quizzes, descriptions, and exercises, Finney helps the reader to define her personal style and then gives recommendations of what to buy for each style type. This gets down to specifics (with a chapter called "Clumpy, Frumpy, and Lumpy: The importance of good undergarments" how can you go wrong?), explaining what articles of clothing are staples and what are just extras. The overall message is to invest in some good basic timeless articles and then to buy a few trendy items for fun, on clearance or deeply discounted, since these items are less likely to last in your wardrobe.

The third section on where and how to find bargains gets into the detail and nitty gritty about everything from sample sales to yard sales, and how to get the best deals at each. These are really practical tips, no hypotheticals just actionable points ("join the mailing list," "shop in the children's department").

I think this book would be particularly great for young women who are just out of college and trying to figure out how to wardrobe themselves for new professional jobs - without going into debt trying to do it. It's also got useful tips that just about anyone could use, along with fun tools, resources, and quizzes. It's a great, quick read for anyone who wants to know how to buy great clothes for less.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The fast pace of life

I can't believe how fast the summer is going by. Hubby and I just got back from spending 10 days with our families and while that usually seems like the upper limit we can tolerate, it seems to have just flown by. Still, by the end, I was ready to be home and to sleep in my own bed again.

So, for the past ten days I haven't worked at all and haven't made a penny. Plus, since we went to another wedding and I had to buy a dress and a gift, we spent a chunk more money. The only thing keeping me from feeling panicked is that I know that I have a somewhat large summer emergency fund sitting in my ING account - which is I guess the best reason to have it.

And life continues to go by. I realize that every time I write about simplifying my life or talk about the little things that bring me joy I say that I want to sit on my porch in my pajamas, drinking a cup of coffee and reading a good book. And yet I don't think I've done that all summer long. So, I'm going to brew myself a nice cup of french pressed organic coffee and spend my afternoon engrossed in a good book (I finished all of One Hundred Years of Solitude during my vacation, and let me tell you - wow is all I can say. Anyone have thoughts or opinions on The Namesake?) Because while I understand living like no one else so that later you can live like no one else, if there's no little joys in your life, it's hard to understand what's worth saving for.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Save the world for free by playing games!

Just a short post to let you know about two new sites I just found. If you love Free Rice as much as I do, check out these similar sites.

Free poverty is a geography game that donates to the UN's program to increase clean water. You have to locate places on a map of the world and the closer you get, the more water you donate.

Save the world with music is a music trivia game that also donates to clean water charities. This one works with an organization that provides well pumps to villages.

If you know any other similar sites, let me know!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Break Even 2008 Week 4 Update

Okay, here goes:

On the food budget, still $10 overbudget on groceries, ARGH. I say, "Really this week, let's not buy too much," and it never seems to work. I'm going to need to convince hubby to have a "pantry challenge" for at least one week this summer just to get to where I can find all my food again.

On the eating out budget, $5 under! Yay! We only ate out once, and we had a really great time. It's such a relief to me since this is the first week we've stayed within our budget on this.

On the income front, still working a lot. That's going to end soon, though, as this was the last week of my 8 hour a week class. Have to find more ways to earn money.

And since it's the end of the month: overbudget on gasoline (as expected), underbudget on electricity (yay!), so I'm doing pretty okay.

So, here goes,

Break even number = 245
Overbudget on food = +10
Overbudget on gasoline (for month)= +12

Underbudget on electricity (for month) = -10
Underbudget on restaurants = -5
Income (Part time job) = -580
Savings account interest = -8

Making my expenses -336 for the week and putting me $512 ahead for the summer! That means that I could theoretically not work at all for 2 weeks and, as long as I stay on budget, still be coming out even. Woo Hoo!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Make $1 for eliminating junk mail!

Right now, Green Dimes, a service which helps remove you from junk mail lists, will pay YOU a dollar if you sign up for their new basic "do-it-yourself" program. You can get that dollar through a check in the mail, use it to donate a tree through their programs, or get a free issue of their green magazine. There are a lot of free programs out there that help you lower your environmental impact by cutting out your junk mail, but this is the only one I've ever seen that pays you! And of course the only thing more frugal than free is getting paid to do something you ought to do anyway.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why I love CSA

I recently signed up for a share in a CSA, which stands for Community supported Agriculture. For a seasonal subscription fee, I get a basket every week of fresh, naturally grown vegetables from a local farm. The contents of the basket change week to week based on what's coming up at the time.

At about $25 a week, it may not at first seem like the most frugal choice for me. I don't typically spend that much on fresh produce; it's nearly half of my weekly grocery budget. I probably won't save any money on food by having it However, there are a lot of reasons why I consider this to be a good choice for me, and why it may even save money in the long term.

1. Community. When I picked up my share yesterday, the owner of the CSA offered me homemade lemonade from a pitcher on her kitchen table and then walked me back to show me her garden. I played with her dog and met her kids while she clipped me herbs right off the plant and asked what kind of peppers I liked. I feel much better about buying produce from someone whose dog I've played with than from a huge corporation.

2. Better food. The produce I get is organically grown and locally produced. I know this because I've seen it. It's also in my hand within 4 days of when it comes off the plant. This is the absolute best way to maximize the nutritional content of my vegetables (thus making me healthier, one say it saves money) and also the taste - oh my the taste. Tomato basil salad is practically a spiritual experience.

3. Variety and abundance. A share is really too much for my husband and me, so we are always able to share (hmm, pun unintended) with our friends. In the past, when we had farm subscriptions, we've had more dinner parties and meal swaps because we had stuff we just needed to use up. We're also much more likely to eat more vegetables because we have them, and to eat things we might not normally buy. In this way, we eat less processed food and meat which saves us money in the long term and short term.

4. Environmentalism. Supporting CSA, and buying local food in general, is one of the best ways to reduce your eco-footprint. Transportation of food uses an awful lot of fossil fuel and puts a lot of carbon into the atmosphere. By buying local, you avoid that. I also am using my dollar to support farming practices in my local community that I believe in, thus encouraging them to increase. Plus, I am extremely fortunate in that my CSA offers lower cost shares and donates to local food charities, thus encouraging food justice which is so important to me.

If you are interested in joining a CSA, check out Local Harvest, which is how I found mine.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Simplify, simplify, simplify

I was reading this post on Simplifying your life over at Zen Habits, and it's made me realize how much I want to cut back and simplify. I already talk a lot about being frugal and simplifying my stuff and consumption, but I also need to be more frugal with my time.

There are several reasons that living a more simple life would make me happier:

1. I would have more time available to devote to things that I love and enjoy, things that I find meaningful.

2. I would feel less rushed and overwhelmed.

3. I would feel less guilty for not accomplishing all my (often perceived or invented) obligations.

I think I have gotten myself into a very bad cycle with my time. First, I perceive a problem or absence in my life. I decide what it is that I want to do or wish to do. I decide it's impossible and instead fritter away my time on things that don't add to my life. I realize that it now really IS impossible, and dig deeper into the existence of the problem.

Part of this has to do with my complete lack of understanding of how long tasks will take, part of it has to do with my learned helplessness, but a lot of it is just procrastination and helplessness.

So, I'm going to start cutting back. In order to have more time to do the things I want to do (Read books! Go outside! Talk to friends! Spend time with my husband!), I'm going to spend less time doing the things I don't want to do.

1. I'm going to spend less time online. This will probably solve 90% of the problem. I spend hours searching for solutions to problems instead of just taking action. I fill my head with information that I have no time to process and which instead just makes me feel more stressed in the end. I actually feel guilty or anxious when I can't read all my RSS feeds or check my email, or keep up with every free online class I've ever looked at. I don't care about these things really, I don't value them, they're just easy, but they take time away from the things that do matter to me, so I have to say enough.

2. I'm going to develop a more doable routine for housework and laundry. I waste so much time re-washing laundry and get so overwhelmed by overflowing laundry baskets that I could just get it done instead of worrying (and medicating that worry with more mindless procrastination).

3. I'm going to stop checking my freaking blog stats, and my bank balances, and anything else that doesn't change significantly on a day to day basis.

4. I'm going to look for ways to streamline my other routines and I'm going to start timing some of my more frequent activities so that I know how long things take and don't find them as overwhelming.

And, above all, I'm going to make sure that I spend all of my found time doing things that add value to my life instead of just finding new ways to fritter it away.

Carnival is up!

The Carnival of Personal Finance is up at Greener Pastures. I'll post a wrap up later, but right now just go check it out!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Summer energy saving tips for the kitchen

Since summer tends to be the time when my energy bills are the highest, I thought I'd start sharing some of my best summer energy saving tips, and the easiest place for me to start is in the kitchen. The kitchen has the potential to both use a lot of energy itself, and to heat your house significantly, causing you spend even more on energy to cool it back down. By employing these energy saving tips this summer, you'll keep cool, eat well, and keep some of your money in the bank.

1. Don't cook. The most efficient way to keep your kitchen cool and green is by eating raw or cold foods. Try to eat more salads and cold sandwiches, more fruit instead of baked goods, and cold beverages in place of hot ones. This serves double duty: you don't spend energy on the cooking process, and you keep both your house and your body cooler. Bonus: higher water content foods like fruits and vegetables will be more appealing and refreshing to your dehydrated body. Who wants to eat heavy foods when it's 100 degrees out anyway?

2. Cook outside. If you are going to cook, try to move it outside and away from your house. You'll spend some money firing up the grill, but it will keep your house cool. Besides, nothing tasts more like summer than dinner off the grill. Bonus: I can't remember where I read it, but last summer another blogger suggested putting your crock pot on your porch. While they don't give off that much heat, this can't hurt. Plus, if you are eating outside, it will be more convenient to have your side items outside with your grill.

3. Use smaller appliances. Don't turn on your oven if you have a toaster oven that will do the trick. Use a microwave whenever possible. The smaller the appliance, the less energy it uses and the more heat it gives off.

4. Mind your refrigerator. Your fridge has to work harder and use more energy in the summer anyway, so be extra careful to keep the door closed. Before cooking, plan everything you need so you only have to open the fridge door once (in one monstrous trip, like Rachel Ray does where she always likes like she's thisclose to dropping something). When putting things away, stage them next to the refrigerator for the same reason. Put the things you use most often in convenient locations so you can get to them quickly. And I shouldn't even have to mention standing in front of the refrigerator deciding what to eat.

5. Keep your dishwasher closed. In the winter, I like to open my dishwasher to vent (I always have it set to air dry). In the summer though, I leave it closed during the dry cycle. The steam that goes into the air during the dry cycle will both heat up your home and add a lot of moisture to the air, which makes it feel hotter. Instead, dry the dishes with a towel if they are still wet.

6. Be careful of vent fans. If you are running the air conditioning, turning the vent fan on will vent all your cooled air out into the world, so use it sparingly. Of course, if you are a champ and keep your AC turned off, the vent fan will vent the hot air from your kitchen and may actually help.

For more frugal tips, chek out Frugal Friday

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Break even 2008 week 3 check in

Just a Break even quick check in this week:

I was $20 overbudget on restaurants again this week, partly from the last day of the adventure and of having company, partly because I have a problem.

I was $12 overbudget on groceries. For all that I preach grocery savings strategies, I can't seem to make it in and out of a grocery store for underbudget lately. My pantry and freezer are nearly overflowing and yet I just can't seem to help myself. Argh!

I had some rare ebay earnings too. We bought an extra copy of Wii Fit, knowing there would be a shortage, and sold it on ebay. After shipping and fees, we made about $25 profit. ::Shrug:: I'm kind of an amateur.

And I worked. A lot. By a lot, I mean 4 hours most days. It doesn't sound like a whole lot when I say that, lol, but hey this is my summer vacation.

Break even # $245
Overbudget groceries $12
Overbudget restaurants $20
Ebay earnings -$25
Part time work earnings -$490

Net expenses -$238

Since I was $62 behind last week, that puts me $176 ahead for the summer so far. Woo hoo!

This is the last week of the month though, which means that on next weeks' check in I have to settle up for my projected versus actual spending on gasoline. Trust me, I'm not looking forward to that.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My spending weakness

I am always fond of the confessional style of personal finance blogposts, so I thought I would spill the beans on my own weakness. My biggest spending weakness, my gazingus pin as the authors of Your Money or Your Life would call it, is eating out.

I like restaurants. A lot. We eat out at least once a week, sometimes two or three times. We don't go to super-expensive restaurants, we go to small local places, but we can still easily spend $10 each on dinner, plus tax, plus tip.

Now, I know compared to a lot of other people my age, I don't really eat out that much. A lot of my friends, many of whom are single and a surprisng number of who are in grad school, eat out most nights. They dont', however, consider themselves frugal, and they aren't (necessarily) trying to pay off significant amounts of student debt.

Sometimes it seems silly to me to save 50 cents a week on electricity by shutting off a power supply or unplugging my phone charger, and then to go out and spend $25 for dinner for 2 in a restaurant, when I could make dinner at home for $5. At the same time, I really do like restaurants, and I really don't necessarily like having my phone charger plugged in. Part of frugality means that you save money in areas that aren't important to you so that you can spend it on things that are important to you.

But, while eating out once a week, in a sit down restaurant, is a treat and really does make me happy, two or three times a week doesn't really make me any more happy than once. A lot of the time I eat out because it's easier, because I'm feeling uncreative, because I'm sick of the food I have in the house. I get that the solution to that is to include more different meals, to experiment, to play, to have fun in the kitchen, but none of that is as easy as it sounds. I read through cookbooks and cooking blogs and touch everything in the grocery store, and I still feel uninspired.

So, if you kicked the eating out habit, how did you do it? Or if you have another spending weakness that you beat, how did you do it?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How to Grocery coupon Week 4

This is the third in my series on how to use grocery coupons. Be sure to also check out week 1 and week 2.

By now, you should be building up a stockpile and a decent pantry. You should see your need list shrinking, which frees up more money for your sales list and stockpile list. You should also have a somewhat decent coupon file by now. Keep your total grocery budget at the same level, but change the proportion of needs: sales. You should be spending more money on stockpiling every week. Also, as your price book fills up, you should start to recognize which sales are good sales and which are not. Something may deserve to be on a “sale” list but not a “stockpile” list.

Remember, you won’t see the big savings until you have your pantry completely stocked, thus allowing you to buy only those items which are on your sale list and for which you have a coupon, often reducing the price to almost zero.

Consider adding these tricks to your arsenal:

Trade coupons or buy from a coupon clipping service. This is a must if you want to get those 90% savings you read about. Your goal is to get multiples of coupons for items on your stockpile list (and I don’t mean 2 or 3, I mean 10 or 12), so that when canned corn or cereal or granola bars go on sale, you can use all your coupons at once and get these items for pennies.

Shop at a warehouse store. I put this back here in week 4 for one major reason: you have a pricebook now. This will allow you to see what is actually a good deal and what is not. As you develop a good coupon file, you may find this tip to be less and less useful. Warehouse stores often don’t accept coupons, and if they do probably don’t double them. You’ll often find better prices at the grocery store. Make sure that if you are doing your stockpiling at a warehouse store you are still staying within your grocery budget.

Sign up for companies’ mailing lists. Write to or call companies to tell them you like their products. You would be amazed at the coupons that companies mail to loyal customers. They are generally much better than the coupons in your newspaper.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sneaky frugalities

This Frugal Friday, I want to talk about what I call sneaky frugalitites. There are plenty of big, obvious things I do to be more frugal in my life, but I never want to forget the sneaky little things that I do. These are the things that stretch everything just a little farther, or make it last just a little longer, without anyone even noticing or feeling the difference. For example:

I empty free sample packets into my shampoo and body wash bottles. I used to try to use the packets, but it was a terrible pain, and plus this helps me decide how much to use, instead of being bound by the "single use" packet.

I sometimes add a cup of reconstituted milk or frozen concentrate orange juice to a half bottle of their fresh counterparts. It's not enough that I notice any difference in taste at all, but it stretches me to my next grocery day and saves me a run to the store.

I add a little bit of water to liquid hand soap and dish soap. Again, not enough that there's a noticeable change in consistency, but enough that it makes it last longer. I know I could just use less, but I don't need to ask everyone who washes their hands to use less.

I whip my butter in my stand mixer. This one is a bit more trouble than the rest, but it actually gives the butter a nicer texture, making it easier to spread, while at the same time mixing in air to increase the volume. This way less butter seems like more, saving us calories and money.

If I serve a stirfry, or other dish containing both meat and vegetables, two nights, the second night I'll just add more vegetables to stretch it a little further.

What sneaky frugalities do you have?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Break Even 2008 Week 2

So, this week was not the most stellar week of the break even challenge. Because of the Adventure, and because we had company for the whole week, we were a full $50 overbudget on eating out for the week. (Yup, that means we spent 3 times what we were supposed to spend. Oops.) We also had to give a wedding present, which was not prebudgeted (double ooops). Plus, I'm sure we are already overbudget for the month on gas, and I think our electric bill is likely to be higher because, with company here, I couldn't turn the air off during the day or leave all the lights and fans off. But, as the rules state, those will get settled up at the end of the month.

Also, with company here, and with several days out of town, I wasn't able to work much on generating any online or alternative income, so most of my income came from work. Since the hours I'm working now are temporary, I'm going to need to make more of an effort to get some other income streams started before they end, or this project will definitely sink.

There are benefits though. I worked quite a bit, so that makes up for some of the additional spending. Also, because we ate out so much, we were able to save some money on our grocery budget: I just had to make a quick stop for some cereal and fresh fruit.

Settling up:

Break even number $245
Over budget restaurants +$5
Unplanned spending +$150 (wedding present)
Underbudget groceries -$35

Part time earnings $260

$105 short

Last week, I was $43 ahead, which puts me a total of $62 behind for the summer. Yuck. Guess it's time to start working harder.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My So-Called Adventure

I'm 27 years old. I'm married, I have a few jobs, I have debt. I have an apartment full of clutter, and I am remarkably inefficient at getting things done around it. I feel tired, overwhelmed, and cranky.

So what I wanted to do this summer, more than anything (well almost anything. staring at a wall did come first) was to have an adventure. It didn't matter to me what I did, or where I went, but I wanted to briefly feel completely irresponsible, and to explore. We won't live in the lovely state that we currently call home (deliciously vague, am I not?) for all that much longer and I wanted to make sure I saw it before we left.

So this weekend we went. My husband's college roommate came down, we got in the car, and we saw 4 cities in about a week. We went site-seeing, ate at restaurants we'd seen on the Food Network, wandered through downtowns, and even went to a friend's wedding in between.

So why was it not satisfying? Why was it not everything I wanted it to be?

I'm not sure what the story is. I am glad I went, I'm glad I can say that I went, and I did have a good time, but by the end all I wanted was to be home and to get my laundry done. I guess I'm more of a homebody than I would like to be.

And because I can't help but mention it, while it wasn't an incredibly frugal adventure, I did manage to get through it relatively inexpensively (hmmm, I guess I fail at irresponsible). We only went places to which we could drive, in our car that gets more than 30 mpg (32 avg for this trip), we shared hotel rooms with our friend (who got one of them for free with his accumulated hotel points), and I even printed coupons for one of the museums we went to. My favorite frugal travel tidbit, though, is that because we researched restaurants, we went to some of the best places in the country - which were often out of the way and inexpensive - and when we did eat at expensive places, we ordered small dinners a la carte, so we could get exactly what we wanted without spending a ton.

But, all in all, I'm glad to be back.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Frugal Principles: Make do

It's Frugal Friday again over at Biblical Womanhood. This is the next installment in my extremely sporadic series on the frugal axiom "Use it up, Use less, Make do, or Do Without.

Today I'm going to talk about making do, and how this frugal principle applies to my everyday life. To me, making do is the heart of creative frugality: it's finding a way to make what you have or what you can afford work in place of what you don't have or can't afford. You might use this tip to avoid buying an expensive tool (an electric sander? I can make do with this sand paper), a high end brand of coffee (make do with the store brand), or simply to avoid an extra trip to the store (make do with blueberries when you intended to make a peach cobbler). This is a step towards frugality that can seem difficult and tedious - having to forego all the "luxuries" - unless you find a way to use your creativity to make it into a game.

I'm not the most creative person in the world, so this is one I still struggle with, but here are some things I've come up with:

  • Instead of buying a new dress for the wedding you have to go to this summer, make do with one you bought last summer buy adding a snazzy accessory, cute cardigan, or even by adding some stitching or changing the hem length. Hey, if there's different people at this wedding, you don't need to change anything at all! :)

  • Instead of running to the store to buy buttermilk to make a certain recipe make do with the following substition: add 1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar to your cup of milk and wait a second for it to start to bubble. There's a great list of Cooking Substitutions on Tawra's website, Living on a Dime.

  • Instead of buying trash bags, make do with the plastic bags from the grocery store.

And since I'm fresh out of creativity right now, here's a creative frugality challenge for you:

I have a stack of newspapers, a cardboard box, and a ton of plastic grocery bags, plus assorted household odds and ends (some leftover ribbon, yarn, twine, plenty of tape...). How many different making do substitutions can you come up with?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Monday, June 9, 2008

Break even challenge 2008

Just like last summer, I decided that one of my goals for this summer was to break even. Essentially, what this means is that I intend to make at least as much money as I spend, even without my full time job.

Last summer, I didn't make it. I got behind, and even though I broke even by the seek for most of the second half of the summer, I could never catch back up. Somehow, through magic, the money all worked, and we made it through the summer just fine on what we had in the checking account.

This summer is a little different. This year, I consciously saved money every month in my ING account, so that my savings are equal to my share of the expenses for two months. In short, I don't need to make any money this summer, so it's almost entirely a game. Also, because my car is paid off this month (Yay!) my break even number is a little lower this year at only $35 a day or $245 a week.

Other than that, the rules they remain the same:

1. Anything I spend over my budgeted amounts for groceries, eating out, or personal spending gets added to my break even number for the week.
2. Anything I earn or any money I save gets subtracted from my break even number.
3. Money I earn from my part time job is counted the day I earn it. Money I earn online or from other ventures is counted the day it pays out (because the lag time is usually so long, and sometimes the returns are questionable). Savings interest is counted at the end of each month, as are spending on household bills and gasoline.
4. Gift cards count as neither earning nor spending.
5. Money spent earning rebates, mystery shopping, etc, must be counted as spending, and fit in the actual budget. When the reimbursement comes, that counts as earning.

The biggest lesson I learned last year was that I have to work. I had some idea in my head that I would be able to make it primarily from online earnings (GPT offers and some article submissions), and so spent the first couple weeks lounging, and getting further and further behind, confident that when things came through, I'd be okay. This year, I'm working right from the start, and if more money comes in later, all for the better, but it's easier to keep up than to catch up.

Week 1:

Break even number $245

Over budget groceries +$35 (We have company this week)
Over budget eating out +$12
Unplanned entertainment+$42 (We went to a museum)

Part time earnings -$290
Revolution Money exchange check -$42.50
Deal Barbie Payout -$45

Which puts me $43.50 ahead so far. Don't know if that rate is sustainable, but I feel pretty good about it right now.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

20 frugal or free summer fun activities

Looking for something frugal or free to do this summer? Here's a list of 20 summer fun activities which cost little or no money and provide endless entertainment.

1. Go to the park.
2. Go to your local library. Check out a book or movie, and check out the schedule for book clubs, reading rewards, lectures, and story times.
3. Consider joining your local museum or zoo. Usually, for the cost of visiting twice, you can go as much as you want for the whole season.
4. Stargaze.
5. Get wet. Play with a garden hose, run through sprinklers, get yourself a squirt gun - it doesn't matter how old you are, everyone likes to cool off.
6. Read. Sit on your deck or in your backyard, read out loud with your honey or kids, just read.
7. Be a tourist (in your own hometown). Check a guidebook out of the library, or read an article online, and check out all the local attractions you would take family to if they visited.
8. Learn to knit or sew.
9. Build a solar oven in your backyard and use it to keep your house cooler.
10. Do crafts with your kids or on your own.
11. Have a friend over for lemonade. My ideal day would be sitting in a rocking chair on my porch, drinking lemonade and gossiping with the girls.
12. Browse your local farmer's market. If you make friends, you might even be able to visit some farms.
13. Fly a kite.
14. Volunteer at your local food bank sorting food or filing papers.
15. Go to the mall. Not for the shopping, for the free air conditioning.
16. Take daily walks around your neighborhood or on the beach/boardwalk/nature path. Smile at strangers.
17. Sleep late!
18. Rent a movie from Redbox or take your kids to some free summer movies.
19. Go to a local winery that has a free tasting. Mmmmm.
20. Search the Free attractions directory and find something within driving distance of where you live.

What's #21? Please leave me a comment with your best frugal or free summer fun activities!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Two high impact free donate opportunities

Usually click to donate sites will donate between 2 and 10 cents per click. Sometimes companies offer higher impact click drives, on a temporary basis, as a marketing campaign. Two such click drives are running now:

Right now, Country Crock is donating a meal to America's Second Harvest for every small change you share at their website, Your Family Table

Listerine will donate $1 to Right to Play's Red Ball Challenge, which uses sports and play to help kids in developing countries when you click the red ball

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cleaning out my apartment: donating

The three bags of health and beauty items above went to my local food bank yesterday. The bags mostly consist of shampoos and toothpastes, but there is also some lotion and some packs of feminine products in there too. Most of this is stuff I purchased for free with grocery coupons, and which has been languishing under the sink in my guest bathroom for months. I feel lighter for it being gone, and I have all that extra storage space back, but mostly I feel good because it's going to go to good use.

If you donate goods to a food bank, soup kitchen, or shelter, you can deduct the full value (i.e., not what you paid with coupons and rebates, but what someone else would have to pay) from your taxes. Since we don't itemize deductions, I don't worry about this, but if you do make sure to get a receipt.

This is my first bit of progress on my goals for summer. Try to keep me honest at making steady progress!

Monday, June 2, 2008

My Goals and Priorities for summer

1. RECOVER. Rest and heal my mind, body, and spirit from the tortures I put them through the past few months. No matter what else I accomplish, I want to finally take some time for me and feel better, to invite more quiet into my life and more space in my brain.

2. Break even. Just like last summer, my goal is to make enough money to cover all of my share of household expenses. Extra money to put toward debt would be great, but only if it doesn't interfere with priority #1.

3. Have an adventure. I've been so busy, and so narrowly focused, for the past couple of years that I've forgotten to be young and have fun. This summer hubby and I want to take a (relatively inexpensive) vacation, without too much excessive planning. :)

4. Clean out my apartment. I really want to have less stuff. I'm going to start sorting, ebaying, recycling, freecycling, and donating as much as possible this summer. I'm going to start with my stockpile of health and beauty products purchased for free or pennies. Donating to the food bank always ups my mood, as does clearing stuff out of the apartment.

5. Get fit. Between Wii Fit and my apartment complex's fitness room and pool, I have no excuse for not getting in shape this summer. I would like to lose a few pounds, but mostly I would like to feel stronger, stand taller, and Fight the blues.

6. Write. I want to get into the habit of writing every day again. It doesn't matter so much where I write or what I write, I think that will work itself out in the end, I just want to make sure that I write every single day.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

School's out for summer

School ended Friday. My grades are in, my classroom cleaned out, my forms signed, and my last check in the bank.

I wish I had more to say right now but my incredibly frugal plans for the next couple days mostly involve curling up on the couch and staring at a wall for a while.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tips for the Frugal Bride

I confess: I wasn't the most frugal bride in the world. My parents were helping me pay, I was planning my wedding from a different state, and I really just wanted to do everything the easiest way possible, instead of doing it the most frugal way possible. Don't get me wrong: I wasn't wasteful. Neither I nor my parents would have been able to stand spending what some of the wedding shows suggest, even if we could afford it. Looking back, though, there are many ways I could have saved money and been a much more frugal bride, without in any way sacrificing the blessings and the happiness I experienced that day.

1. Don't get married on a Saturday.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for me was the fact that the hall where I had my wedding had a 100 person minimum. We hardly could find 100 people that we really wanted to celebrate our wedding with us. Had we chosen to get married on a Friday or Sunday, this minimum would have been waived and we would have gotten a 10% discount on the whole affair.

2. Don't fall for the "Oh mommy" effect.

I don't think of myself as high maintenance. When I went to shop for my wedding dress, I actually preferred the large bridal warehouse to the small boutique. The dresses, to me, were just as beautiful, were easier to find, and arrived more quickly. The place where I faltered, though, was on my headpieces. Bridal consultants are trained to wait for the "Oh mommy" moment: when the bride tries on that perfect dress that makes her say "oh mommy!" that's when the headpieces come out. My consultant had a tiera and a crystal-studded veil on my head before I even knew what had happened, and in the moment we agreed to buy it all. The headpieces, put together, cost almost as much as the dress! Not very frugal at all.

3. Skimp on stationery.

To me, a traditional wedding invitation was important, but I didn't care about save the date cards or programs, so we skipped them entirely. Since we were only inviting close friends and family, we were pretty confident that they were planning to come and that they knew who we were. If you don't care about invitations, consider paring down to one page invitations, post cards, or even e-vites. If you have a wedding webpage, there's no need for a double stamp sized invitation anymore.

4. Shop around.

Even if you do go for full invitations, you can save a bunch of money by buying them online instead of from a local store. Most of your extras: your cake topper, your garter, your guestbook, can also be bought more cheaply online, and you'll have more selection.

5. Pare down centerpieces.

A truly frugal bride could eliminate these altogether, but if you want something nice, try mirrored plates with tea lights, or a single floating orchid. Elaborate floral arrangements will probably just go to waste.

I know there is probably many a more frugal bride reading this, so if you have any other tips to share, please do!

For more frugal tips, check out Frugal Friday at Biblical Womanhood Online.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


It's very popular in the personal finance community to ask the question "Which is more important, making more money or spending less money?" I've also heard the delineation as "Spending less than you earn" vs. "Making more than you spend."

I've said before that I think the answer requires a little commonsense. I'm not going to work for 80 hours a week to buy a BMW, nor can I get my spending down to zero or pay my rent by clipping coupons and unplugging appliances. I need a more balanced approach. I need something that works for me.

But still. But still.

But still I find myself on this treadmill. I have a tendency to hyperfocus on things, to discover something and become completely obsessed with it. I consume information like crazy, like I'm starving for it, like it's going to solve some problem I didn't know I had or fill some whole that I can't quite name. And then I run out of information on this very specific topic, I start to encounter repeats, and I get frustrated. Why doesn't anyone have anything new to say??

My latest obsession, it seems, has been with the concept of passive income. I've been searching and reading, watching videos, signing up for email lists. I've glutted myself on information. I wondered if it would be the solution to all of my problems, if it would make my life suddenly better, solve my finances, pay off my debt, and allow me to quit my job, have tons of babies, and read ever novel in the world.


It's time for me to regain a sense of perspective. I need to regain my balance, to fit more time for me and what I love back into my life, and to get back to hanging laundry, cooking fresh food, and reading and writing. There is room in my life for a bit more income, and for learning a few new skills, and once I find that space, I would love to share that information with you. But the truth is, until it's real for me, until I'm writing from a place of strength and truth, it's not going to mean anything to anyone else either. We need time to process quality information, and I've bombarded myself with so much information (quality or otherwise), that I haven't had the proper time.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Free Money

In case I'm not the last person in the blogging community to sign up, you can get a free $25 (and earn me a free $10) by signing up for Revolution Money Exchange with the link below:

Refer A Friend using Revolution Money Exchange

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

How to grocery coupon - Week 2

Do everything you did week 1, and:


Begin a pricebook. From your receipts and sales ads, keep track of the best prices on various items. Create a page for each category of items you buy and record the price, size, brand, store, and date. You will eventually look for trends in this, but right now, just record it.

Clip more coupons. This week you’re going to start clipping coupons for items that you don’t buy all the time too, but might like to buy. Don’t use these coupons yet but start filing them. Consider creating an alphabetical or categorical filing system.


Consider doing your “sale list” shopping at more than one grocery store. This means reading more sales ads and going to more stores, but if you are strict and only buy things on your sales list at each store, you will probably save more money. A trick to remember is that the store which has lower everyday prices (for your need list) will probably not have the best sales. Expensive stores use deep discounts to lure people in. Take advantage, without getting tricked.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tricks grocery stores use to get your money

1. Phantom Sales. Sometimes items are listed in the circular, or have a sales tag on the shelf, but are really only discounted by a penny or two. Keep accurate records in order to see what a real sale is.

2. End caps/displays. Is what's on the endcap the item that was on your list? Sometimes another brand of an item that is an advertised sale will be displayed. Make sure you're getting the one that's on sale!

3. Cross promotion. When you buy your sale item, is there a related item on a huge display next to it? Just because you're stocking up on peanut butter doesn't mean you need to stock up on jelly if it's not on sale. Do you really need to buy a new corkscrew?

4. X for $X deals. My grocery store often has things listed 3/$5, 5/$10 or 10/$10. Unless it says so, you don't need to buy that many to get the deal. My husband used to do this and was actually convinced by the end that he'd wanted exactly three boxes of granola bars. Do the math and buy however many you want/need.

5. Impulse purchases. Prepared meals (like roasted chickens) tend to be near the entrance so when you are frantic at 5:00, you see them as you walk in the door. Is that what you intended to buy? Is something else a better deal? Also, did you really want that candy or magazine?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Carnival of Personal Finance 151 is up!

Check out this week's Carnival of Personal Finance at Alpha Consumer.

I haven't had a chance to read much, but I will post a summary of my favorite articles some time in the next few days.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Heart of Frugality

Crystal, at Money Saving Mom, has been talking about how Less is more, and that kind of made me get back to the heart of my frugality and think about what really matters.

It matters to me that I live lightly on the planet, that I am a good steward of my environment, use resources wisely, protect and improve around me. I want to treat the Earth and the other people on it with respect, and so I want to make sure that I don't waste energy, water, food, or space. All of these things are really quite scarce in the grand scheme of it, and by being frugal I can conserve and protect them.

It matters to me that I make positive progress towards getting out of debt. I want to be able to live a life in line with my values and to be able to do work that I believe in, so I don't ever want to be in a position where I NEED to have a certain job to pay my bills. I want the freedom that comes with being debt free and by being frugal now, when our income is lower, I can give myself certain gifts for the future.

It matters to me that we have good food, healthy delicious food that nourishes us and brings us pleasure. I don't want to eat hot dogs or Ramen noodles every night, nor do I want to eat things that come from a box or a bag. I want to eat as much organic, local food as possible. Frugal cooking allows me to have fresh, high quality home cooked meals.

It doesn't matter to me that I catch every deal on shampoo, that I have a fancy car, that I have new copies of every book I've ever read. It doesn't matter to me that I have lots of stuff; it just matters to me that the stuff I have makes me happy.

And that, for me, is the heart of frugality.

For more articles on frugality, visit Frugal Friday at Biblical Womanhood

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Do you Squidoo?

One of the ways I'm trying to earn a little extra money online is by creating Squidoo lenses on some topics that interest me. Check them out:

Frugal Living
Earn Money Online
Click to donate

Do you have a squidoo lens? Let me know, so I can Squidroll you.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Off the personal finance wagon: a confession

I have a confession to make: I've fallen off of the personal finance wagon.

When I look at my posts from last summer, I see a young woman who had financial goals and plans, who had a system for tracking expenses, who made extra debt payments. I see someone in control of her finances.

How is it that now, with more money to my name, I'm so much less in control?

Over the past couple of months

  • I haven't made a single extra debt repayment. My stated goal when I got started was to pay down my debt, and somehow that has just gotten completely lost in the course of my life.

  • I haven't made a budget. This is probably part of the reason I haven't seen the money that should have gone to debt reduction. All the money comes in, all the money goes out. Any money I "save" with grocery coupons or by cutting my electric bill just seems to disappear into the cash flow.

  • I haven't tracked my expenses. Not only haven't I budgeted for my monthly expenses, I really couldn't even tell you what they are. Have I cut my electric bill? I have no metric for comparison.

I'm sure there are many other ways in which I've lost control of my monthly finances, but I'm not even organized enough to know what they are. And yet . . . and yet. . . in a saner, more financially literate frame of mind, I set up a few idiot-proof systems for myself, so that despite all this, I'm better off than I was a year ago. I started investing in my 403(b) to the match, I set up and autodraft to a high interest savings account (for my summer emergency fund) and another autodraft to a mutual fund. I switched my student loan repayment plan from extended to standard. My money is doing what it needs to do.

But I'm not. I feel like I'm completely out of control when it comes to my finances. It's not a lack of money so much as a lack of a system. I want to get back to where I was last year, when I could discourse intelligently on interest rates, but I just feel so overwhelmed and behind that I don't know where to begin.

Help please?

How to grocery coupon - Week 1

I thought I'd launch a short series of posts on how I use grocery coupons to my best advantage to reduce my budget. Without further adieu:

Week 1


-If you have not already, set a weekly grocery budget. For now, set this at the level you have previously been spending. We’ll decrease it later.

-Tighten your belt a little bit. Aim to eliminate about $10 worth of luxuries from your budget for this week. This is not forever, it’s just to get you started and to free up some money for “investment purchases.” Consider eliminating one meal out, 2 convenience meals, or 2-3 meat meals to free up this $10. This $10 will be a strictly stockpiling budget. Do not dip into it for other things.

-Make a list of items that you buy every week or that you must have in your pantry. This will be your initial stockpile list.

- If you have time, do a quick pantry inventory.

-Clip coupons from your weekly newspaper for items that you always buy. If you must buy an item this week, use the coupon. If not, place the coupon in an envelope or file box to be used later.

Divide your grocery budget into 3 parts:
-Make a “need list” of items that you will definitely need this week and are out of. Try to keep this list as thin as possible.

-Read the circulars from your grocery store (in print or online). Make a list of sale items that are on your stockpile list. This is your “sale list.” If you have coupons for items on your sale list, pull them from your file immediately and use them. Buy these items, whether you need them this week or not. Remember you are *only* buying things that you regularly use. Don’t buy frozen pineapple if you’ve never used it before.

-Make a “luxury list” of things you’d like to have if you can afford them. Add these things to your grocery list only if they are within your budget.

And with your $10 stockpile budget:
-Now, choose the 2 best-priced items from your sale list (the deepest discounts), and spend your entire $10 stockpile budget on these items. This is your stockpile list. If canned corn is 50 cents and it’s on your stockpile list, you can buy 20 cans. This will save you money later, when you don’t have to buy it for 80 cents a can.

-While you’re in the store, make sure you keep track of how much you spend. You should notice if you’re being overcharged or if a coupon you used didn’t get taken off.

Friday, April 25, 2008

My Frugal Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. I've been kind of low key about that. I'm not sure why. I've been having a rough time lately, and I think I just maybe wasn't ready to celebrate me.

Until my husband got home from work yesterday. He came home with flowers for me - pink alstromerias, the flowers we had at our wedding - which, while not frugal were exactly what I wanted. Then he took me out to dinner at the Outback, for which we had both a coupon and a gift card. We only bought entrees there, though, and water, and then came home and had cake (an ice cream cake from Coldstone bought with a gift card he had SNUCK OUT OF MY PURSE THE NIGHT BEFORE! I love it!) and champagne (a less frugal purchase, but here's how he did it smart: he bought a split, which was enough champagne for the two of us but not enough to languish in our refrigerator). Then I got my presents. Please don't laugh at me. He bought me a tin of tea, a bottle of wine, a pair of sweatpants, and two packs of socks! I was giddy with excitement. Especially after being scolded at Christmas for only asking for practical things, I was just overwhelmed with how perfectly the gifts matched what I really wanted. My totally unfrugal hubby really saw how happy it made me to be pampered the way I wanted to be, not in an excessive or extravagant way.

Then, the best part of my birthday, we lay on the couch for the rest of the evening and watched silly comedies on TV and didn't do a lick of work. I didn't write, didn't grade any essays, didn't check my email. I hadn't realized how much I really just needed a little bit of peace.

Happy birthday to me!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Festival of Frugality highlights

I had a post featured in this week's Festival of Frugality. Please check it out. I especially suggest the articles below:

Locking Financial Horns at Bits and Pieces

Inconspicuous Consumption at Money Changes Things

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ways to save the planet (and some money)

In honor of Earth Day, I thought I'd bring you a lost of some of the most important ways to save the planet, while saving money at the same time.

Buy less stuff

The things we buy, particularly the extraneous things, put a huge burden on our planet. From manufacturing to transportation to disposal, the impact of a single object can be enormous. Multiply that times the number of things that you've bought that you didn't want, and multiply that times the number of people who do the same thing, and you have a huge impact. Annie Leonard does a great job of explaining this in her video The Story of Stuff.

Think twice before buying something, particularly a uni-tasker or the next new gadget. This will save you money and ultimately make you happier by decreasing the amount of clutter that you have to clean and deal with.

Use less energy

Cut back on your household's use of energy. The main uses of energy for most people are transportation and temperature control, so those are great places to start. Keep an eye on your thermostat, drive a little bit less, and find other ways to save gas.

But the little things count too. Check for wasted energy in your house. Unplug chargers and appliances that use energy in standby. Turn off your computer at night instead of just letting it sleep. Replace your lights with compact fluorescents. Turn your refrigerator up a degree or two. Every little bit that you can do will help save the planet.

Throw less away

Reduce, reuse, recycle. In that order. The most important thing is to have less to dispose of in the first place: don't buy disposables, buy food with less packaging. In most cases, this will save you a ton of money too, since whole foods tend to cost less and be healthier than packaged food.

The next step is to reuse things. Buying things that can be reused is a great start, but try to make everything into something reusable. A mustard jar can make a candle, a ripped shirt can become dishrags, old greeting cards can be reused to make new ones.

Finally, recycle. Even if it takes a little more time, recycling saves energy, saves landfill space, and preserves resources, which makes it a great way to save the planet.

Eat less meat

The production of meat is one of the most environmentally destructive industries on the planet. Becoming a vegetarian or a vegan is a great decision to save the planet, but even reducing meat can make a huge difference. And, since meat is one of the most expensive part of most people's grocery budget, this move should save you money as well.

We all want to save the planet. Hopefully, if everyone can do just a little bit, we can all work together to make that difference.

More ways to save the planet:

Save Gas
Cascading Changes
Vinegar and Baking Soda
Hybrid cars
Vinegar and Baking soda in the kitchen
Small Changes
More Small Changes

Monday, April 21, 2008

How to save gas in your everyday life

With Earth day approaching, and the media bombarding us with news of peak oil, global warming and the links between terrorism our dependence on foreign oil, everyone wants to know how to save gas. Many of the tips out there on how to save gas and improve mileage are either very basic or very complicated. I've attempted to compile a list here that should inspire you to get back to basics and hopefully give you a few new tricks to try.

1. Drive less. Walk, bike, carpool, or just stay home.
2. Combine errands. Cars are more efficient when they're not starting from cold. You can also plan your trip to pick things up on the way to save even more energy.
3. Turn off the AC. And, for highway driving, be tough and close the windows too.
4. Slow down.
5. Follow trucks
6. Drive a more efficient car. If you have two cars, choose the more efficient one for the majority of your driving.
7. Plan your trips to stick mostly to highways, avoid traffic and lights, and aim for optimum driving conditions. Sometimes a longer route is actually more efficient.
8. Keep your car well maintained.
9. Coast to red lights. You will be sittine next to the exact same person whether you accelerate or not. When you coast, you use the gas you already paid for, and may actually not have to stop at all thus saving even more.
10. Don't race. Accelerate slowly from a stop to save up to 5%.
11. Accelerate before you get to a hill, not as you are going up it.
12. Park at the high end of a parking lot and back into your space so that you can coast to the exit.
13. Leave enough space behind the car in front of you to avoid short stop and go driving.

Do you have any other great tips on how to save gas? Please leave a comment!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Not worth the gas money"

When I talk to people about deals I got, or ways that I save money, one thing that people say to me all the time is "You only saved $5 by going to another store? That's not even worth the price of the gas." I don't know quite why it irks me so much. Perhaps it's the dismissiveness of my methods, even when the person has asked to hear them. Perhaps it's the tone of superiority which implies that I don't know what I'm doing. Or perhaps it's just the fact that they're generally wrong.

Even with current gas prices, $5 would be almost a gallon and a half of gas. In my car (and yes, I know this isn't all cars), a gallon and a half of gas would get me nearly 45 miles. Yes, I would agree, if I'm driving 45 miles out of my way, it's probably not worth my time. But the extra mile down the road to Target? I think it'll be okay.

Don't get me wrong, I realize that there are reasons other than money to want to conserve gas. If the person said to me "I'm trying to conserve as much gas as possible, so I don't drive that far," I'd be okay with that, even respect and appreciate the decision. If they said, "I'm short on time, and I don't think it's worth the extra shopping time," I'd totally understand. If they even said, "You know, I really don't want to do that," I'd be totally cool with the decision. But just don't cling so strongly to this mathematically ridiculous excuse.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour tonight

Just wanted to point you to the Unplugged Living blog tonight to tell you about Earth Hour. Please, if you can, join me in turning off your lights for an hour tonight.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Fossil Fools

The Center for a New American Dream is running a contest to vote for the year's worst fossil fools. If you vote, you will be entered into a drawing to win carbon offsets for your home.

While you're at their websites, check out some of their other campaigns, like the freedom from junk mail campaign. Enjoy!

Friday, March 14, 2008

3 Ways to get happy without spending money

Lately, as I've been scouring the Internet and reading self help books looking for ways to get happy without spending money, I remembered some advice I learned from my family very early. When I was a little girl, if my dad saw me spending too much time moping on the couch or watching TV, he would immediately require that I go do something "outdoor, physical, and/or social." Looking back, that's pretty good advice (although I would often get clucked at for sitting at the picnic table in the backyard playing solitaire or reading a book, which I insist to this day fit the requirements - and still sounds like a nice way to spend an afternoon).

My dad hit upon three of the best ways to fight the blues, and none of them costs a cent. Natural sunlight, physical activity and social interaction are all natural mood boosters and will help you to get happy for free. So, here are some strategies I'm going to try to enact over the next couple weeks to try to boost my mood without spending my savings:

Get out

Not only is sunlight a natural mood booster which will automatically make you get happier, fresh air and interaction with nature help you to leave your stress behind. With daylight savings time, we have an extra hour that we can spend out in this natural sunlight, so get outside! Go for a walk, on a nature trail or down the sidewalk. Play with your kids if you've got 'em. Toss a frisbee with your honey. Stretch out on the grass with a good book. As for me, I'm going to grab some coffee in a warmed ceramic mug, throw on a sweater, and sit in a camp chair on my balcony watching the sunset. It doesn't get much better than that.

Get moving

One of my favorite movie quotes, from Legally Blonde: "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't kill their husbands. They just don't."

I say this often enough that my own husband seems to be exceedingly willing to part with me when I want to make time to get on the treadmill and run. :)

Besides the endorphins, though, there are plenty of ways the exercising makes you get happy. It is a great way to relieve stress and to stop yourself from going over and over your worries in your mind. It gives you more energy, helping you to get through all the tasks of your day. It makes you sleep better, so you wake up feeling refreshed. Then, of course, it reshapes your body, making you feel leaner and stronger and often building up your confidence in other areas of your life.

It doesn't take any special equipment either. Put on some music and dance. Jog or march in place, or around your neighborhood. Touch your toes. Just get moving and soon you'll start to get happy.

Get together

I've read again and again that, especially for women, the best way to lift your mood and improve your health is to socialize on a regular basis. This is the hardest thing for me, as I tend naturally to be a bit of an introvert. While I do enjoy the intimate company of close friends, I tend not to initiate it. I'm sure I could come up with plenty of excuses for not calling friends - I'm too tired, I'm too busy, my house is a mess, I dont' want to spend money going out - but the truth is, I just need to do it. The only way out of feeling drained is to feed the spirit, and I know that some of my happiest times have been simple dish sessions with a girl friend over tea on weekday afternoons.

So, at least once a week, set up a time to meet with your friends or to make some new ones. It doesn't matter what you're doing: play Uno for hours at an outdoor cafe, take walks, have tea and cake or cocktails. What matters is that you take the time to nurture your relationships and yourself. You'll be happier before you know it.

View other great tips at Frugal Friday