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

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

WFMW: Putting away laundry

For this week's Works for Me Wednesday, I thought I'd write about one of my biggest organizational challenges: my laundry.

I always seem to be behind in my laundry. We have a lovely tri-sorter hamper which is almost always overflowing (for just two of us!). For the past year, I've tried to develop a laundry routine to alleviate that. On days when I work, the first thing I do - theoretically - when I walk in the door from school is to start a load of laundry. On Saturdays I wake up and strip my bed to wash my sheets. On Sundays I wash my towels.

It's a great system, and I am mostly able to keep up with them. I'm usually even able to remember when it's time to move the clothes to the dryer. My problem, and my bottleneck, occurs when it's time to fold and put away. I always have clothes in a basket on top of my dryer and I usually also have clothes sitting in my dryer. They get wrinkly, I can't find anything, and the task of going through them all becomes more and more daunting and overwhelming.

In the past week or so, I've been trying a little laundry hack that seems to be making a difference, if only psychologically.

I went through my closet and grabbed all my empty hangers and put them in my laundry basket. Then, when the clothes finished in the dryer, instead of putting them into the basket, I pulled out everything that needed to be hung up and immediately put it on a hanger and hung it over the doorknob. Then the only things that ever even went into my basket were t-shirts, pajamas, and underwear. As I walked out of my laundry room, I grabbed the hung clothes and took them immediately to my closet.

Then in the evening, all I had to do was spend 5 minutes in my bedroom folding the few stray items and putting them directly into drawers. I could wait a few hours, and nothing in the basket would wrinkle. There was no frightening mountain of clothes to dig through. I didn't need to find a place to lay things flat or run back and forth to my closet for hangers.

It may seem like a small thing, but it Works for me

Monday, March 3, 2008

Supermarket savings course

Crystal at Biblical Womanhood has a discount this week on her Supermarket Savings e-course. The price is temporarily discounted to $8.97, and when you buy a course for yourself, you get a free course for a friend.

I purchased this course about a month ago. It includes audio recordings, with accompanying workbook pages, access to a message board, and several e-books that help with recipes and menu planning. Since I've been couponing and discount shopping for a while, I already knew some of what she teaches, but it was good to hear it again and there was enough new info to make it worth the cost. If you're brand new to coupon shopping, though, this course will revolutionize the way you look at grocery stores.

(Disclosure: The link to the course above is my affiliate link and I will get a small commission if you buy through it. Feel free to surf directly to Crystal's site and sorth through her products if that makes you more comfortable.)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Financial frustrations

My husband and I have done a lot of great things this year, as far as our finances go. For the first time, I started putting money in my 405(b) at work and have managed to consistently max out my match. We opened a brokerage account and have been dutifully investing $100 every month into a good value mutual fund which we intend to keep for at least 5 years (probably more). I set up a direct draft from my checking account into my ING account - which is my emergency/summer fund - of $150 a month.

I know all this. I know I have money stashed and money automatically going to fund my goals and needs. I know that we're doing a lot better than we were doing last year. So why do I feel like we can't make any progress?

For the past few months, I've been working my butt off. I was working my second job, I was doing surveys and dealbarbie offers, I was unplugging small appliances throughout my house. I've been making my own bread, cooking more and more meals from scratch, clipping coupons and matching deals. Every month, I think to myself "Look at all the extra money I will have at the end of the month to put toward our debt!" And then every month, we get to the end of the month and. . . I don't.

This month, I got my last part time job check for a while, and it was a big one. At least, I thought to myself, this money can go straight to our loans. (I never include the extra checks in our normal budget, so they are a bonus when they come.) Then my husband came home from work and set, nervously, that he really thinks his car needs new tires. I sighed and handed him the check. Oh well.

I know that this is silly. If he needed new tires and I hadn't worked extra, we would have had to tap into savings. I know that by working hard, I am helping our financial situation. It just seems like . . . we never get anywhere. But maybe until hubby finishes school, I have to be content with treading water and maybe occasionally taking small strokes forward. Sigh.