Monday, January 28, 2008

Fighting the Blues

It's been one of those days today. I taught two classes, went into the teachers' lounge and cried. I finished the day, got in my car and cried. Then I came home, made a pot of coffee, started a load of laundry, put a loaf of bread in the bread machine and chicken breasts in the oven, and collapsed on the couch to stare at the wall for an hour. Then I ruined the dinner.... and I cried.

I think I get these ideas in my head about what a perfect teacher or a perfect wife should be, and then I can never live up to them. It hasn't been this bad for a long time, though. I just feel tired and depleted and beat up. Maybe I just need to take better care of myself: take my vitamins, drink my water, start exercising again. Maybe it's something more serious. I'm really not sure.

What does this have to do with money? I don't know. I don't feel very productive and I don't feel very frugal or domestic lately. I've been digging deep to come up with something to write about or some advice to give, but I think right now what I really need to write about is what is, my reality, and hopefully that will get me back to where I want to be.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Frugal Principles: Use Less

It's time for another Frugal Friday!

Ages ago, I wrote part one on my series of frugal principles. The idea was to demonstrate how you can use the four basic principles (Use it up, use less, make do, or do without) through all the areas of your life. Since I already covered using it up, I'll move on to using less.

Using less detergent

I don't understand the measuring cups that come with laundry detergent. Does anyone really need that much liquid laundry detergent to get their clothes clean? I cut back to about half that and sometimes use even less for smaller or cleaner loads of laundry. I haven't noticed any difference. Essentially, you can continue to cut back until you start to notice a difference, then increase the amount just enough to make your clothes clean again.

Ditto for laundry detergent.

Using less coffee

Some people may think this is gross, but one way I save money on coffee is that when I make the second pot of the day (at home or work), I reuse the grounds and add half as much again. In this way, the second pot uses only half as much coffee as the first.

I honestly think the major savings here is on the reused coffee filter, which saves both money and wasted paper.

Using less energy

Whenever possible, use lower wattage light bulbs (or CFLs, better yet) or lower settings on appliances. Just like with detergent, decrease until you notice a difference.

Using less gas

Well, maybe a whole post on this another day, but the obvious essentials hold true: Drive less, combine trips, carpool.

Using less food

One unfortunate thing I've noticed is that the more food I cook, the more we eat. We don't need the extra calories any more than the extra expenditures. If you are cooking for leftovers, store the portion for leftovers BEFORE you start eating. This way you get a "free meal" and you don't overeat and feel gross and bloated later that night.

Also, try using smaller plates. Everyone can still have as many servings as they want, but they will tend to eat less because it slows them down long enough to notice when they're full.

Please post any other suggestions for using less and do prod me if I forget to move on to making do. :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Don't wanna go to work today

The worst thing about days off is when they are full and productive and fun, they make me not want to go back to work the next day. Similarly, though, when they are unproductive, they make me want to stay home and try again.

It's not that I don't like my job so much as that I like home more.

Okay, end whining.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What I got for Christmas

My in-laws ask us for Christmas lists every year, and this year I was given the specific instruction to ask for something completely impractical, so I asked for what I saw as small extravagances, pretty things that would make me happy: new placemats and napkins, potholders, a teapot. This got me affectionately teased on Christmas morning, but really in the end did make me happy.

Our friends mostly gave us gift cards, greatly appreciated by us because they packed so easily to come home and because they give us an excuse to eat out more often without blowing our budget.

My brother gave me what I've been asking for for years: world peace (well, a shirt that says "Peace on Earth," which is close, right?) and warm socks (yes, actual warm socks).

Our family gave us a lot of kitchen appliances: a waffle maker, a coffee grinder and french press, a bread machine. They also gave us lots of coffee, tea, and cookies, which will keep us blissful for quite a while.

We got some money, which will be put towards an extra debt payment.

And my big Christmas present from hubby? I'm almost embarassed to admit its extravagance. A Roomba. It makes me so happy to come home to a clean carpet every day.

I'd say it's a pretty good haul, huh? So, what'd you get?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Some ideas for inexpensive vacations

I want to travel more, but with my savings and debt reduction goals, vacations are something that tend to fall by the wayside. A couple of months ago, though, I was talking to my mom's best friend and she said something that made me rethink my view. She said to me, "We've eaten sandwiches out of the back of our van in some of the most beautiful places in the country."

As she said this, I realized that of course there are ways to take inexpensive vacations, I just need to rethink my idea of vacations. Not every trip needs to be a cruise to the Bahamas, or a month long Paris excursion. Often the most meaningful vacations are ones where we explore what different places have to offer.

Take shorter trips

One of the best ways to make your vacations less expensive is to make them shorter. In the past year, rather than blowing all our money on a two week trip, my husband and I have been taking long weekends to cities that are within driving range. The long weekend breaks up the season and gives you enough time to see what most cities have to offer. Also, finding places we can drive to saves us a lot of money on airfare and helps keep our plans more flexible: we can come and go on our own timetable, not the airline's.

Visit friends and family

We're very fortunate that we have friends all over the country now who would love to have us stay. Often my husband and his grad school friends will piggyback a visit onto the beginning or end of a conference or other business travel. Since the airfare is paid for by the work part of the trip, and the housing is free since they stay with us (or he with them), these are very inexpensive vacations indeed. It's also much more positive and fun than visiting a random city where we don't know anyone.

Find the best deal

When we do fly (generally to visit our families), we always shop around to find the best deal. For flights, I usually check Expedia and Travelocity first to see who has the best deal. Before I book, though, I always check the airline's own webpage to see if they have a better rate. Continental, for example, guarantees that their own website will always have the best deals on their flights. Plus, many airlines offer bonuses, in the form of miles, points, or freebies, if you book through their websites.

If I do find the best deal through a portal, though, I always try to click through a rebate site, like or before I book the travel, to make sure that I maximize my rewards.

Sign up and accumulate points

I belong to just about every hotel, airline, and even train membership that's out there. Since I always fly the cheapest flight I can get, regardless of airline, I like to have all of my flyer numbers handy when I'm booking so that I can be sure that I'm being rewarded for all my travel. Some hotel memberships even have added benefits: when we signed up for the Holiday Inn club, we got a free upgrade; my husband's Omni membership entitles him to a free newspaper, morning beverage and wireless Internet.

I also use programs like E-rewards and E-miles to accumulate a few extra points here and there. The best resource I've ever found for free points is Free Frequent Flyer Miles, which lists a variety of ways to earn, transfer and use points. It's upgraded pretty regularly and is incredibly detailed and easy to understand.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Recovering from my vacation

So, the day after fall semester ended, hubby and I got on a plane to visit our families. The day before spring semester started we got back. While my Christmas was lovely (more on that another time, if I think of it), I feel like I've spent this past week recovering from my vacation.

Some personal finance/frugality related stuff I've done to get back in the swing:

1. Sorted through my mail. We got a couple of bills while we were gone and had them both paid the second we got back. There's a lot of comfort and security in knowing you have enough money to pay things when they come, not when the paycheck comes.

2. Made a budget. New year, new budget. Hubby and I sat down together and made a template for how much we were willing to spend in each category. We've already spend half of our January budget for eating out, but that as they say is a story for another day.

3. Grocery shopped. Our freezer and fridge were bare, so we had to go out and do a major stocking up trip. It was not our most frugal day.

4. Cooked. We spent today batch cooking, a task I really don't enjoy but which I do appreciate once it's done. We froze 10 waffles, 8 hamburgers, 4 containers of chili and 6 containers of spaghetti sauce. Not only does it save me time and splurges for weeknight meal prep, it allows us to buy things like canned tomatoes and ground beef in bulk, so that they are at least a little bit cheaper.

I'm finally beginning to feel like I'm caught back up with my life, but I'm exhausted. Man can I use a vacation.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Happy New Year

May your new year be filled with prosperity, good fortune, love, and most of all peace and happiness.