Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do Good: Army of Women

If you are a woman and you've been looking for a way to make a difference, consider signing up for Army of Women and their landmark study Health of Women. It is a giant, comprehensive women's health study focusing on finding causes of women's cancers. They need both cancer patients and survivors, and women who have never had cancer. As a member you will participate in surveys and be eligible for clinical studies that will help to unlock some of the mysteries about women's health. In short, they will accumulate information from participants over time and keep track of what factors seem to affect cancer growth.

This is a great opportunity to make a difference in women's health.

Goals and resolutions

It's that time of year again when we all set goals and resolutions. I have a tendency to overreach, as I think most of us do, and end up frustrated when I can't keep up. This year I'm going to try to be a little bit more moderate in my goal setting, and set some short term and some long term goals so that I can have more of a sense of accomplishment.

1. Post to my blog at least once a week. Blogging used to be a source of encouragement and inspiration to me and I've let it fall by the wayside. Every time I say I'm going to start posting again, I try to post every day and and then give up when I can't think of anything brilliant to say. So, I'm going to post at least once a week this year, whether it's a how to, a check in, or a simple deal or charity post. I just need to keep my hand in it to keep my chops up.

2. Actively pursue gainful employment. I'm hoping to get my teaching certification in the mail by the end of January and then I am going to hit the streets and apply to substitute at every school district in the area. My goal is to be on at least 3 substitute lists by the end of February. I'm already ramping up my tutoring and part time teaching, so hopefully I'll be able to keep up that pace.

3. Increase passive income. I currently make about $1 a month from my Squidoo lenses and about $2 from performance payments on old Associated Content articles. Not exactly enough to retire on. My goal will be twofold: to create at least one new lens and one new article every month, and to try at least one new method of earning passive income every month.

4. Save another $10,000 for a downpayment on a house. Since all of my income goes directly into savings, this should be a cinch if I even maintain my current earning pace. Hopefully I can save even more.

5. Reduce the grocery budget from $300 a month to $250. We had some start up expenses when we moved cross country, but I'm getting my pantry stocked again and hopefully I can get back in the swing of saving.

I know I should probably set some health, clutter, and personal development related goals, but for now five sounds like enough. Please feel free to share your goals in the comments or to leave a link to your resolutions post.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas day and that the rest of your Christmas season is filled with peace and joy. The spirit of giving is alive and well.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Frugal Christmas shopping: Less is more

This is the second part of my series on Frugal Christmas Shopping.

Last time I focused on how to get good deals on things you knew you needed to buy. Today I'm going to get a bit more philosophical and talk a little bit about what you really need to buy. There's a tendency at the holidays to let things get a little out of control, and there's always a point of diminishing returns when it comes to joy and appreciation. There are, for example, some small children in my family who rip open every one of their gifts in about five minutes without looking at any of them, and then are immediately bored and start asking for more gifts to open. This could be seen as very anti-materialistic of them (who cares about possessions?? I just want to play!), but I think it's really more of a sign of people losing sight of what's important. This can happen to adults just as easily, maybe even moreso as we rush around trying to get our holiday preparation and shopping done. So, as with many things, the solution may be simplify, simplify, simplify. But how, you ask?

10. Sit down your spouse or significant other, and any close friends - particularly those who have a tendency to escalate gift giving - and agree ahead of time on a set number or value of gifts which will not be exceeded. Some people who care about you may be reluctant at first, but convince them that it will make you happier to get less, not more.

11. If you have a large family, or a large group of friends, who typically all give each other gifts, consider a gift exchange instead. You can draw names for a Secret Santa, or each bring a gift to a party and play a gift swap game (there are many variations). Often these types of exchanges are more enjoyable than simply opening presents because, as with most things, it's the experience we remember not the thing.

12. Start a new tradition. Instead of exchanging gifts with your friends, consider getting together for a cookie exchange or to go caroling. Your holiday spirit will get a bigger lift and you won't have to stress about shopping.

13. Just say no. Sometimes, it can seem like you're being hit up in all directions, from office gift exchanges to extra family commitments to events for your kids. If something is going to bring you and your family more stress than joy, don't participate. You are honestly better off not being in the office Secret Santa than being the grumpy Scrooge in it.

14. Give no clutter gifts. Some of the best gifts I ever got were charitable donations. You might also consider memberships to museums and zoos, or tickets to events. When I was little, I had a cousin who used to give us tickets to various shows and sporting events. I can honestly tell you that I don't remember a single other gift I got those years, but I remember going to Disney on Ice, or seeing a basketball game with my dad.

15. Reconsider teacher gifts. In my years as a teacher, I got many lovely gifts. I truly appreciated the spirit behind all of them. What meant the most, though, was a personal note written from a parent or high school student. I've had to throw out candles and mugs over the years, but I still have every single letter.

16. Slow down. Instead of everyone opening gifts at once, spread the process out so that it takes the whole day (or even start at night on Christmas Eve with one teaser gift!). Somehow
with gifts, like with food, when you take your time less seems like more.

Check out more Frugal Ideas at Life as Mom

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Time to Give: Gifts that give twice

It's the holiday season, and I am always looking for more ways to give, both to the people I know and love and to charities that do important work. The ideal for me is to give gifts that do both: bring joy to the people around me and help people around the world.

Because I'm very anti-clutter, whenever possible I like to give gifts that won't just end up sitting around people's houses. Both Heifer International and Oxfam America have unique collections of clutter free gifts that help to end hunger and poverty in the world. Through Heifer International, you can give things like sheep and goats to villages in need and send your family a card. The Oxfam program is similar, but with a larger variety and price range of gifts. What I like best about these two programs is that you are giving a donation in someone's name, but they are also able to see exactly what that donation will accomplish.

If you would rather give something tangible, consider giving a gift that also triggers a donation and supports humanitarian work. Mercy Corps coffee is grown through a partnership that allows $2 from the sale of each pound of coffee (that's 1/3 of the price) to go directly back into Mercy Corps charitable programs. I also like the artisan collection at The Child Health Site because it does good in two ways. The items are made by artisans in the developing world, thus supporting the growth of small businesses internationally. Plus, every purchase triggers a donation through The Child Health Site to charities that support children. If you aren't into the artisan items, you can check out the large number of items for sale across The Hunger Site suite, many of which raise awareness and all of which trigger donations to good causes. Or, if you are looking for a more traditional gift, consider shopping through iGive, a charity portal that allows you to give to the charity of your choice while purchasing at the stores you normally frequent online.

While I'm on the subject, consider the sources of your holiday cards. It may be a little late for this year, but Feeding America has a collection of Christmas cards that raise money and awareness to help fight hunger in America. One of my favorites though is St. Jude's Ranch, a shelter for homeless and abandoned children which sells recycled cards made by the children themselves. They also accept donations of used card fronts. Read the website for more details.

Please feel free to share with me your favorite ways to give gifts that give twice, and check out more ways to give at Saving and Giving.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Frugal Christmas shopping: Deals and Points

Around this time of year, everyone is looking for ways to save money without skimping on purchases. I'm hoping this will be the first of a series on the ways I save (or even earn!) money on my Christmas purchases.

1. Coupons. Most online sites have coupon codes available. You can often get coupons by signing up for email lists, but you can also just do a google search for the name of the store and the word “coupon” or “free shipping.” Lots of brick and mortar stores have coupons available too. Bed Bath and Beyond famously accepts those 20% off coupons they send out in the mail, even if they’re expired and you have one for every item in your cart. They also have a 20% coupon available for signing up for their email list. Old Navy also has great in store coupons available, just search around the site for new coupons added every day. JC Penney and Kohls will also send you high value in store coupons if you sign up for their mailing lists.

2.Gift cards. The grocery store where I shop gives you a discount on gas based on how much you spend in their store, and Discover Card gives you 5% cash back on grocery purchases this month, so if I am buying someone a gift card I will generally see if they have it at my grocery store to maximize my rewards. Sometimes I even go there to buy gift cards for purchases I know I will make. This way I get the rewards and can spend the gift cards like cash. If you’re getting a restaurant gift card, though, check the individual restaurant first. Many have much bigger gift card bonuses than I would get at the grocery store.

3.Points programs. Swag Bucks is a great way to earn Amazon gift cards. I also tend to save up my My Points credits and some of my survey credits for this time of year and use them to buy gift cards. It’s a great way to get some free money while you shop.

4.Amazon Associates. If you are going to do a lot of shopping on Amazon, it makes sense to sign up as an associate and add the items you are going to buy to your own zstore. Then you make money off of your own purchases. You can also have your friends and families set up zstores in lieu of wishlists, and all earn a little extra money from buying each other what you wanted anyway.

5.Ship to store. If you can’t find free shipping coupons, it’s generally much more frugal to select ship to store. You can pick up the item at a store near your home, or near your destination if you are traveling. This way you can shop from home without having to pay for shipping, and can even avoid having to carry gifts in your luggage.

6.Cash back. If you’re shopping online check out EVReward first. It lists all the big cashback portals and lets you know which ones offer the highest rate of return for your purchase. If you haven’t used cash back portals before, sign up for several to maximize your sign up bonuses.

7. Store Rewards. Sign up for all the free store rewards programs available. Stores are giving you free money to shop at their stores. Often they will run promotions where you will get bonus points for your first purchase with the program. I will often sign up, buy something, and then come back to the same store to use my points. This is a bit time consuming, but you can always just save your points for later in the year when you need something.

8. Read deals sites. Slick deals, Fat Wallet, and Hot Coupon World constantly post promotions with very limited time frames. If you don't check often you will miss some of the best deals.

9. Win it. This time of year, many companies offer sweepstakes or instant win games to promote their brand. A good sweeps site like Sweeties Sweeps is a great place to learn more about this. While you may not win the car or vacation, many of these contests have smaller prizes like gift cards or free products which are much more winnable - and somebody has to win the car after all. Unfortunately since there's usually a delay (8-10 weeks sometimes), much of what you win now will get to you after the holidays. There's always next Christmas!

If you have any other ideas on ways to find great deals (or secret deals) at the holidays

Monday, November 23, 2009

Do good this Thanksgiving

A few more sites that let you do good by helping charities at no cost to you:

Help Feeding America Take a food related trivia quiz and Kraft Foods will donate to Feeding America

Good Egg Project Pledge to eat well and contribute to your community and one egg will be donated to Feeding America.

I'm a big fan of Feeding America this holiday season. They distribute food to a network of food banks all over the country, usually food that would otherwise go in a landfill. I love charities that help the hungry and the environment at the same time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Saving for a house

Now that we're finally getting settled in and planning to stay in one place for a while, we've been talking about buying a house. Especially now that the tax credit has been extended to June, we've been trying to accelerate the efforts. I'm trying to put all the pieces together, ask all the right questions, and do all the right things, but it seems like there's a lot to know. My first inclination is to just pile up as much money as possible and wait, whereas my husband's inclinations is to get out there and look at houses and talk to mortgage people as soon as possible. I have a feeling there must be a balance somewhere in between. So for right now the goals are as follows:

1. Save at least $30,000 for a down payment. We can do this by allotting as much as we can out of our monthly budget to savings, and also by putting all extra income and windfalls directly into the savings account. In order to do this soon, I'm going to step up my efforts to find a "real" job, get as many hours as I can at my part time job, and max out as many of my extra cash opportunities as possible.

2. Talk to a few mortgage brokers to see how much we qualify for, if there are any issues with our credit we need to clean up, and what the best mortgage rates are going to be.

3. Look at some houses in the area to get a more concrete idea of how much we can expect to pay. We've already checked some listings online and been to a few open houses, so we have a rough idea, but we're going to try to do this a little bit more.

4. Make a budget based on our current (fixed) income and our estimated house payment, and spend at least 3 months living on that budget, putting the difference between our current rent and the estimated house payment directly into savings. This will assure us that we can afford to make the house payment, even without any increase in income.

I know there's more to it, but this is where I'm going to start from. Time to get things moving a little.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where I get coupons

I originally wrote this for a friend of mine who wanted to know where I kept finding high value coupons and how I managed to get great deals, but I thought some of my readers might benefit from it too.

Word of Mouth coupon sites (that mail out full size products and coupons for free products)

Bzzagent Sends big packs of free stuff, but you have to take surveys to qualify for campaigns, and then report back on how you spread the word to earn points and get into a higher qualifying bracket.

Psst Randomly will send you coupons for General Mills products.

Kraft First Taste Same, but for Kraft. Also sometimes has high value printable coupons on the website.

Vocal Point Kind of like Bzzagent, except you don't need to report back. I have a hard time finding offers on their website, but sometimes they send stuff out randomly.

SC Johnson Regularly gives out SC Johnson gift packs that come with lots of coupons

Coupon clipping sites

These are coupon clipping services that charge a handling fee for multiples of newspaper coupons.

The Coupon Master
Coupons Unlimited

Blogs I read to find out about new deals, etc.

Money Saving Mom posts deals for lots of grocery, drug and big box stores
Freebies 4 Mom mostly posts freebies, but also posts rebates and printable coupon deals

Monday, October 26, 2009


My husband and I went to a local apple farm yesterday and picked a peck of apples (haha, yeah, it makes me laugh too). For only $9, we got about 15 pounds of fresh, local, unwaxed apples.

I'm not sure what to do with them all! I have been peeling and cutting all morning and have a pot of applesauce on the stove and a dehydrator full of apple slices. My fruit bowl is already overflowing with apples. Time to look up more recipes.

If I get a chance, and can find my camera, I'll post some pictures later. Right now though, I'm just glad to feel normal and productive again.


Peel and slice approximately 3-5 pounds of apples. Dip in lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. Put in a pot on the stove with 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, then transfer to a mixing bowl and beat until desired consistency. Add cinnamon as desired.

(Not much of a recipe, I know, but that's how I do it)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Getting Settled

I'm finally in my apartment, and I even have all my boxes unpacked. I went to the grocery store, I did laundry. My life is starting to feel normal again.

Not everything is easy, though. Our apartment is smaller, and I'm still looking for places to put everything. I have to check google maps before I go anywhere. I spent 40 minutes on the phone with the cable guy trying to get my service turned on. And I still feel like I don't know what to do with my days while hubby is at work. I know I've always been home all day in the summers, but when he was in grad school, he really only spent 4 or 5 hours at the lab in the summer. Now he's gone for 10 hours at a time. I can do all the laundry, clean, and go to the store, and I still have hours left to fill.

I know I need to get some kind of job, if not for the money at least so that I have something to do, but I don't know where to begin looking. My teaching certification hasn't come through yet and until it does I can't even get on substitute lists. I have a part time job that I transferred, but so far not much work has really come up. I'm considering looking for some kind of temporary or freelance work to fill the gap.

From a budgetary standpoint, we're just fine. Even if I don't make any money at all, we will still have enough money to cover our bills and put some money in savings. But I don't know how to do anything but worry about money and pinch pennies, so that's what I'm going to keep doing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Do Good: Join My Village

I've written about a number of ways you can make a difference with your computer, and I just found this new one. At Join my village, you can unlock donations for a village of your choice in Malawi just by taking simple daily actions. Every time you take a short quiz, General Mills will donate $1 to your village. Plus, they will match your personal donations, up to $50 per person. So, let's get out there and do some good!

Monday, October 12, 2009


So, apparently, when you get up and move halfway across the country, things don't go the way you planned. I'm living in a hotel, eating out every meal, drinking about 4 cups of coffee a day, no job, no teaching certification, and no real plan for what I'm going to do next. My husband is at work all day and I am lost. I am in a whole new city with a whole new life. Everything is new and different.

I've never been good at change. I'm not very good at adjusting to new things. I want to write about it, I want to get back into blogging, but I don't even know where to begin. I'm just struggling to avoid getting fat, broke, and depressed. If anyone has any advice on where to begin finding a direction for my life, please contribute.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Uprinting giveaway winner

I flipped a coin, and the winner of the Uprinting poster print is


Congratulations, I'll be emailing you.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Giveaway: Free poster print from uprinting

Uprinting who sponsors my blog, is giving me a free 18x24” Rolled Poster Print to give away to one of my lucky readers, as well as one for myself. Since I'm in the process of moving, I intend to use my poster print to decorate my walls with pictures that remind me of the early days of my marriage and make the new place feel like home.

In order to enter, just leave a comment below explaining how you intend to use the poster print if you win! You can get bonus entries by blogging about the giveaway with a link to both me and to uprinting, or by tweeting my link @uprinting. If you do either of those things, just leave a comment below saying that you did.

In case you've signed up for uprinting giveaways before, this one is 100% free and includes shipping for the first time.

I will announce a winner on September 29.

For more information visit

Poster Printing

Online Printing

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A time to give: Giving with your computer

You may have noticed the new charity banners on my sidebar. Whenever possible, I like to use the Internet and my computer to help me help charities I care about. Here are a few of the sites that I use to give with my time instead of my money.

Better the World is a new giving community. You can earn points towards cash donations to your favorite charity by visiting their website, filling out profiles, viewing ads, installing a browser toolbar, or by putting a widget on your website, social network profiles or blog (like the one to the right). You can generate lots of charitable donations for activities you do anyway.

Social vibe is a very similar concept. Donate to charity by installing sponsor messages on your websites or profiles, and by participating in the social community. Choose your cause and choose your sponsor. Some sponsors also give out "perks" but I have yet to get anything.

If you have more time, check out my list of Click to donate sites on squidoo with a great list of different ways to give to charity without spending money.

For more ways to give, check out A Time to Give at Saving and Giving.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Frugal Friday: Carpet cleaning

I have a giant dirt stain in the living carpet of my apartment from a plant I overwatered about a year ago (oops). I tried to clean it with carpet cleaner at the time, but it seemed a futile pursuit, so I just repositioned my furniture to cover it. Foolish, I know, and shortsighted because now as moving day fast approaches I am realizing that a stain in my carpet may prevent me from getting my security deposit back (not very frugal). I considered renting a steam cleaner (still not so frugal), but decided first that I'd give it one more shot on my own.

First, I attacked it with carpet cleaner, following the directions on the bottle. I sprayed, I waited, I blotted. Dirt was clearly coming out of my carpet, but it wasn't making much of a difference.

Then, I realized that I could spray plain water on my carpet and achieve nearly the same results. Again, I sprayed, I blotted. I used rags, old towels, paper towels. I tried stepping on the cloths to get more dirt out. Dirt continued to come out of my carpet. Clearly this was working, but it seemed like it would be a nearly endless process.

Finally I had a breakthrough. I sprayed the carpet with water until it was really wet, then I sprinkled baking soda over the entire area. The baking soda quickly became brown as it soaked up the dirt and water. I waited a few hours until the baking soda had completely dried then picked it up with my vacuum. Wow! For the first time I could actually see a noticeable difference in the stain. It's not completely gone, so I'm repeating the process, but it's a heck of a lot easier and more frugal than anything else I had thought of!

For more frugal ideas, check out Frugal Fridays at Life as Mom.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Saving money while moving

So, we're moving in a week (a week!) and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. In the midst of all the packing, decluttering, reorganizing and relocating, it's easy to get caught up and not worry about saving money. What I've realized, though, is it makes me feel a little more normal to try to continue saving money even as my life is turning upside down.

1. Sign up for hotel points clubs and frequent flyer miles programs, so that I can earn rewards for things that hubby's work is reimbursing us for.

2. Avoid switching to paper plates, etc until the last possible minute.

3. Sort through my books and figure out which ones to sell to the used book store.

4. Pack up a bag with some granola bars, a box of cereal, and some easy microwaveable shelf-stable food to eat on travel days, and avoid some restaurant meals.

5. Come up with creative ways to use all the food in my fridge and freezer, and try to eat at home every meal until we leave. (The last day, I'm going to invite all of the grad students in hubby's old lab to come raid the fridge and keep whatever they want so I can avoid wasting it.)

6. Call cable and internet companies in new city to see what discounts are being offered. If I don't get a good deal, I'll try to wait a month or so and just do without.

7. We have movers who are being paid my hubby's work, so I don't need to acquire boxes or pack, but I'm still planning to donate or get rid of a lot of things so we can move to a smaller apartment, and save a ton of money.

8. Use upromise insurance center to request renters insurance rates for the new apartment.

9. Print coupons for most of our favorite fast food and fast eating restaurants and put them in a folder to bring on the road.

My mind is spinning, trying to come up with more things. Does anyone have suggestions?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lazy Tuesday Link Love

I've been in need of a little inspiration lately, so I thought I'd share with you some of the fabulous frugal blogs that have been inspiring me lately.

Life as Mom, who hosts Frugal Friday every week, manages to keep her life organized, save money, and keep a sense of humor. This week I'm loving her post on Meal Planning Shortcuts.

Frugal Chick seems to be a girl after my own heart. With a focus on simplifying, decluttering, and frugality, her blog often speaks to truths that I've been looking for ways to say. This week I'm inspired by her check in and goals post, which has me wanting to set some goals of my own.

And the most recent addition to my must-read list is Saving and Giving, a deals blog that focuses on using your grocery surplus to help others. I am especially excited about her weekly feature A time to give and am trying to think of something to write tomorrow to contribute.

What have you been reading that keeps you inspired?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

When you have what you want, stop looking for it

Do you know that story that goes around the Internet all the time about the fisherman? You know, the one where the businessman comes down and basically tells him that if he would just work harder he could build a multi-national conglomerate which in the end would allow him to retire, hang out with his friends, and fish a little in the morning. Kind of like he already is.

I don't think I've quite learned that lesson yet.

I'm in a very strange stage of my life. I left my full time job in May, my husband finished his PhD last week, and we're moving at the end of the month. Everything about our financial situation (along with most of the rest of the details of our lives) is completely turned upside down from what it's been for the past few years. My husband makes about twice as much this month as he did last month, and next month when he starts his job he'll make more than we've ever made combined, even when I worked two jobs.

And still I find myself chasing the pennies. On the saving/frugal side, that doesn't bother me because to me frugality is a moral choice as much as a financial choice. On the earning side, however, I think I'm crazy. When I'm home during the day, I find myself trying desperately to be "productive," which often means doing things that add very little benefit to my life. I'm researching ways to make extra money, I'm taking surveys and doing GPT offers, I'm worrying and obsessing over every penny that comes in. I think that if I can just work hard enough, build some income streams, pay off more debt, than I'll be happy. I'll be able to afford to just work part time, to live a simple life, to have more time to cook, to read, to write, and to take care of myself.

Y'know, like I do right now.

The more I reflect on it, the more I realize that the lifestyle I've wanted, the lifestyle I've been scrambling for for the past three years, is the one I already have right now. And instead of enjoying it, of taking advantage of the opportunity - even if it's temporary - to really take time to relax, I'm spending all my time still chasing the money. They say that if you don't articulate where you want to end up, you'll never know when you get there. But I have said it, and I still didn't notice I was here. I don't know if it's just habit, or if it's my fear of change and the unknown, but I have not been willing to accept that I met this goal.

There will be time in the future for more financial goals. We want to have kids, to buy a house, and of course eventually to retire. But there's time for all that. Right now, this month, I want to revel in the simplicity of my own desires and enjoy my small and quiet apartment before the chaos of starting another new stage begins.

Because if I don't enjoy it when I have it, what's the point of working towards it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Coupon winner!

While it felt strange plugging 1-3 into, I want to get these coupons out today because some of them have short expiration dates. So, without furher ado, the winner is:


I'm sending you an email, get back to me ASAP so I can get these in the mail. Thanks everyone for the moving tips, and keep them coming! Who knows, maybe I'll find more stuff in my house to giveaway.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Giveaway: Take my coupons, please!

So, we just found out that my husband will be starting his new job much sooner than we expected (good news!), so I have about 3 weeks to uproot my entire existence (less good news). I'm a little overwhelmed right now thinking of all the things I need to do.

Because I plan to spend the next few weeks eating out my fridge, freezer and pantry, and then another 2 weeks in hotels and transit, I need to get rid of most of my coupons that don't have super long expiration dates. I hate to see good coupons go to waste, so I'm giving away a potluck envelope of coupons. To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below with your favorite moving tip before noon tomorrow (Wednesday). We will be provided with movers so I really need logistical, organizational, or sanity based tips more than packing tips. I will select one comment at random to receive the envelope of coupons. Since I have an average of 2.3 readers per day, you should have pretty good odds! :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My top 15 frugal tips

1. Wear clothes more than once before washing them. Unless you are incredibly dirty, pants should last at least two days. This is my favorite because it lets me be lazy, frugal, and green.
2. Use less soap, detergent, shampoo etc. Most of us use way more than is necessary.
3. Unplug things that use phantom loads, like anything with a clock that you don't use.
4. Use reusable containers, lunch boxes, and water bottles.
5. Use cloth napkins (even if no one else in your family will).
6. Plan your meals around what's in your pantry first, then around the sales.
7. Use the library. Most have not only books, but movies and music too.
8. Sign up for freebies. I generally read Freebies for mom about once a week.
9. Look for balance in your life. Don't go crazy pinching pennies if it means you can't have a chocolate croissant once in a while, but don't buy things that don't bring you joy.
10. Take care of yourself. Not doing so will cost you down the line.
11. Use your food in the order that it will go bad.
12. Pay down your debt. Interest will eat up a huge chunk of your monthly income if you let it.
13. If you like eating out, make it an event. Really enjoy it. Don't waste your money on junk you scarf down in your car; just pack some sandwiches.
14. Give. There are plenty of ways to do this without spending a lot of money.
15. Be conscious of everything you use and do. Is there a homemade or reusable alternative? Can you do without altogether?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Frugality with guests?

This is kind of a strange Frugal Friday post because instead of giving frugal advice, I'm asking for it. We have family staying with us all week, and next week we're going to have a friend staying with us. Even though we have food in the fridge, we're going out every night. We're driving more than we ever do, and we're doing lots of tourist-y things, all of which cost money. I know that we have guests, and I want to just enjoy them, but in the back of my head, I'm a little worried about all the money going out - even when it's theirs and not ours. Does anyone have any good tips on being frugal when you have houseguests?

For frugal tips, check out Frugal Friday at Life as Mom.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Beware of spending triggers

The place where I work part time is right next to a coffee house. Almost time I go to work there, I stop in next door for a cup of coffee before I go and teach my class. I've made a habit of leaving time for this, have a routine for it.

That's crazy to me.

I have always been the kind of person who couldn't save money by giving up lattes because I didn't buy them. I make my coffee at home, when I'm drinking it, and put it in a travel mug if I need to go somewhere. So why, oh why, do I need to buy a $2 cup of coffee every time I go to work now?

It started when I was still working two jobs. After a full day of teaching, it was a treat - and a help in some ways - for me to get a cup of coffee before turning around and teaching for another three hours. I convinced myself that I deserved it, that I was working so hard and making so much extra money that it was easy to write off the $2 for a cup of coffee as just a necessary expense. It made me feel better and gave me a boost, and in a lot of ways that I do understand, that made it worth it to me.

But at some point that changed. I'm not sure when, but at some point in the process, getting coffee became something I did not because I was tired, not because I wanted it, but because I was on my way to work. I don't derive any particular joy from the cup of coffee, I don't feel like I really need it, I just get it because that's what I do. Now, I'm not opposed to splurging and buying a chocolate croissant once in a while if it makes me happy, but if I'm spending money on coffee just out of habit? That's just a waste.

I think most of us probably have some spending triggers, some circumstances that trigger us to buy something that we otherwise would never buy. So maybe it's time to examine some of those spending triggers and see which ones make sense and which ones don't.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Me, us, the house, the money

Since this whole stay at home wife (maybe SAHM someday, but not yet, hold your horses people) is new to me, I've been fumbling a little as to what to do. Okay, so I'm not really a stay at home anything since I do work part time, but after working close to 55 hours a week at school, my current 7 hour a week schedule seems like a vacation.

And there's the rub. I can't get my mind around whether this home thing is a vacation or a career. Should I be working or playing? How much of my time is free time?

My house isn't a disaster anymore. Regardless of what you may have read in the Feminine Mystique, housework doesn't always expand to fill the available time. So that means I have time. Not however limitless time.

And so, despite the fact that it feels like I have all the time in the world, I find that I need to make choices. And I don't always make the right choices. I'm so used to trying to be "productive," which has so often meant money, that I found myself wasting all my time looking for something productive to do. That sounds silly, but it's where I am.

I don't want it to sound like I'm bound by any 1950's ideal of what a housewife should be. But in our current division of labor, my husband works full time. I work part time, enough to help pay the bills and have a little money left for savings and debt repayment, and the rest of the time I'm home. The equity of this situation does bear with it certain expectations. So when my husband comes home to find me on the couch with my computer, cranky and un-put-together, dishes in the sink, and dinner not made, something has gone awry.

So my new set of priorities is this: Me then us then the house then money. If there's something I need to do to be a healthy, happy, positive human being, then I have to do it. That might mean exercising, writing, cooking myself a real lunch, or just scheduling in some quiet time. Then, I need to make sure I do anything for us, anything necessary to charge our relationship. So, meeting my husband for lunch once in a while trumps scrubbing floors. The next priority is to take care of the house. Generally 10 minutes a day is enough for cleaning, plus a little time to keep up with my laundry. The money comes last. While I'd like to make extra money, everything else has to be done first. If I'm not taking care of myself, my marriage, and my house, then the extra money isn't worth it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some tips to save money shopping for organic food

The more we hear about our food and the entire food production industry, the more a lot of us start to get scared. Buying more organic food is a great option to protect both your family's health and the health of the planet, but it can be very expensive. It is, however, very possible to eat more organic food without breaking the budget by implementing some simple (and some less simple) strategies.

  • Eat less meat and dairy. Probably the easiest way to save money shopping for organic food is to eat less meat and dairy - a proposition that isn't very appealing to most people. Meat and dairy, however, have some of the highest concentrations of any food we buy, and also tend to have the biggest price differential between conventional and organic. It doesn't make sense to feed your family organic carrots and conventional hamburgers, but it also isn't viable for many families to eat organic, grass fed beef every night. The best thing to do is to shoot for a balance. Consider having more meatless meals, so that you can afford to splurge on the organic stuff when you do eat meat, or at least to switch one meat meal a month to organic.

  • Join a CSA. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. It is basically a system where customers by a "share" in a farm's produce for a season. Members pay upfront, giving farmers much needed startup capital, and in turn often get first pick of the produce for the rest of the season. This can be (although isn't always) the most affordable way to buy local, organic food. Check out Local Harvest to see if there is a CSA in your area.

  • Look beyond Whole Paycheck. Most local grocery stores, and even Walmart, offer organic food these days. Ethical issues aside, shopping at these larger stores can be a great way to save money while still getting organic.

  • Buy in bulk. Natural food stores and some grocery stores often have bulk bins for grains, fruit, and some other products. Generally this is less expensive than buying the same organic products pre-packaged.

  • Cook more from scratch. While organic Oreos or organic mac and cheese can be very appealing, try to focus on buying whole, unprocessed organic products and creating your own meals from them. This will save you money and be healthier (and probably more fun!)

  • Use coupons. Whether or not you are a coupon queen, you can probably benefit from organic food coupons. Because organic food companies tend to be smaller, they don't often have coupons in the Sunday paper because they are very pricey to run. About Frugal Living has a great list of organic coupons that you can print or request online, but go ahead and try emailing any organic company you enjoy. The smaller companies are much more likely to mail coupons directly to you if you ask for them. Also, Go organic for Earth Day and Mambo Sprouts both offer booklets with coupons for a number of different brands of organic food.

  • Focus your organic dollars. If you have read much about organic food, you've probably heard of the dirty dozen, the twelve most pesticide-ridden products. If you can't afford to buy everything organic, focus on them. Also, consider changing your eating patterns. Some foods are much less expensive in their organic form than others. Eating more carrots and fewer apples, for example, could save you a ton of money.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Enjoying what you have

My apartment complex has a pool. Until fairly recently, I have looked at it longingly but used it only rarely, even when I was only working 5-7 hours a week. Why? Because I always felt like if I didn't have a long stretch of time to devote to "going to the pool," then it wasn't worth it. Then one day I realized, all I need to do is put on a bathing suit, and walk out to the pool. Even if I only have half an hour, I have time to go put my feet in the water or sit on the steps for a little while, and still change back into my regular clothes.

This made me think about all the other things that I have that I don't use regularly.

My video games, particularly Wii Fit which I used to really love
My DVR/free cinemax, with which I could record lots of movies to watch while I write or fold laundry
My books, which should be passed on to someone else if I don't want to read them again
My digital camera, with which I could create art
My fabric, yarn, etc
My kitchen and baking supplies

And I'm sure there are many more things. I tend to get overwhelmed by any relatively large project and so just leave things to do "later." But no more. I'm going to start pulling things out that I have and haven't enjoyed in a while and really make good use of them. And I'm going to go to the pool.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Do good: Plant some trees for free

Register at Cool Tribe and complete your profile, and they will plant a tree on your behalf.

Sign up for the Celestial Seasonings newsletter, and they will plant a tree.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Taking Care of Yourself is Frugal

On Friday, I wrote about Frugal ways to pamper yourself, but today I'm going to get a little more philosophical. A lot of frugal folks, particularly women, don't want to spend any money or time taking care of themselves. I know this because this is a trap I fall into when I start to get stressed or anxious about money. There are a lot of good reasons, though, why taking care of yourself is a very frugal thing to do.

Taking care of yourself saves money on healthcare. There are some obvious ways in which taking care of yourself saves money on healthcare: wearing sunscreen and taking care of your teeth, for example, are no brainers. There are other ways that spending some time on yourself can help though. Getting enough sleep and exercise, drinking water, and learning to manage your stress all improve your overall health. A little time now can keep you from getting sick and being totally out of commission later.

Taking care of yourself prevents impulse spending. For a number of reasons, when you feel taken care of you are much less likely to shop. First, if all you do is scrimp and save, sooner or later you'll burn out and have an "I deserve this" moment, which can cost quite a bit depending on what it is that you want. If you work little pleasures into your daily life, this is much less likely to hit you. Second, you'll be happier and therefore less likely to go shopping as a means of therapy. Finally, you'll discover how the things that you already have can bring you joy and won't really want as many other things.

Taking care of yourself helps you enjoy life more. It's hard to remember what you're saving for after a while if it's all business. Being sure to take good care of yourself will help you maintain a positive outlook on things. This can keep you focused on your frugal choices, and help to make them permanent.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

15 Frugal Ways to Pamper yourself this summer

1. Read a good book. There's nothing good on TV anyway, so curl up in the evening with a good junk-food type novel that is purely for enjoyment. Or sit on your porch or by the pool in the middle of the afternoon and soak up some vitamin D while you read.

2. Pull out all the bottles of various bath and body stuff that gets buried in your closets and use it.

3. Take a nap. In the middle of the day. You know you want to.

4. Find a local winery and see if they have free tastings. Grab your honey or your friends and go spend a frugal and extravagant afternoon.

5. Go to the pool/lake/beach/park, or whatever you can visit inexpensively in your area, and pretend you're on vacation.

6. Serve sandwiches for dinner. Or a cheese plate and fruit. Anything that saves you time, keeps your house cool, and is fun to eat.

7. Go to the bookstore and browse the books or magazines. Spend an hour in a comfortable chair reading a book, while your children and honey (if you have them) do their own browsing. Watch for free coffee coupons to make this even better.

8. Three words: Starbucks ice cream

9. Put on some music and dance. Research shows that dancing is one of the top two things that really make people happy.

10. Have a cup of tea in your nicest tea cup or a glass of lemonade in your prettiest stem glass.

11. Find some free yoga videos online and get your ohmmmm on.

12. Don't forget to play. Whether or not you have kids, schedule in some time to play a board game or throw a ball or frisbee around.

13. Take a walk. It's 104 degrees out here, so I tend to skip this one, but once it cools down, a walk really calms my mind.

13. Find your favorite "guilty pleasure" TV shows on hulu and watch them while dinner cooks or you fold the laundry (Gilmore girls is on if anyone shares my preferences ;) )

14. Pull out some stationery you like and write a nice letter.

15. Put cucumber slices or mint leaves in your water, soak your feet in any old basin, and rub some kind of a mask (storebought or homemade with wacky grocery ingredients) into your face, and pretend you are at a spa.

For more great ideas, check out Frugal Friday at Life as Mom

Uncertainty and money

It's been a while since I've moved into a stage of my life categorized so completely by uncertainty. I remember a time when I reveled in it, when quitting my job and moving across the country felt like an adventure. I know that I had some money anxiety then, but it seemed to be par for the course, and so I just accepted it.

I don't feel that way now. My husband is graduating and we're moving to a new state (our third!). In a lot of ways that is very good for our financial state and our cash flow, and really I am so over this grad student's wife thing. On the other hand, there's a lot of uncertainty associated with it.

We're not sure exactly when we're moving. Since I already quit my job, this might be a bit of a problem. We've never gotten by on just hubby's stipend before, and even though it will be higher as a post-doc, it might get tighter than it's been in a long time.

We're not sure exactly where to move to. The city where we will be living is a rather large one, with a number of different neighborhoods, and as much as we're trying to do apartment research online, it's hard to tell what the right place to be looking is until we can actually get up there (and again, we don't know exactly when that will happen).

I don't know exactly what I'm going to do. I've been a teacher for so long, and we'll be getting up there after the school year starts, so I don't know whether to plan to just substitute, look for another job, or just stay home and "keep house."

We dont' know how much money we'll net. Hubby's salary is a whole new thing for us, and will put us in a tax bracket we've never dreamed of, so it's hard to tell how much of it we'll actually see.

We don't know how much things will cost. It seems likely that the cost of living will be higher, so it's hard to make budgets.

I know this is a good thing in my life, but I just feel so completely unsure of anything right now. I don't know where to begin.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Do good: Do Something 101

Staples is partnering with Do Something, an organization which promotes teen volunteering to sponsor Do Something 101, a nationwide school supply drive. According to Money Saving Mom, there are lots of free or cheap school supplies at CVS this week. It seems like a great and inexpensive way to make a difference in a child's life.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Frugal Friday - Shredded Meat

This may seem like an obvious tip to many more seasoned cooks, but it was a new one to me: if you want your meat to go further, shred it.

I discovered this one kind of by accident. I was making chicken tacos for dinner, and I threw two chicken breasts in the crockpot with some liquid and seasoning. I came home, pulled out the chicken, shredded it with two forks and served it with tortillas, cheese and salsa for a really simple weeknight meal. It was then that I noticed the magic of it.

We had leftovers. A lot of leftovers.

Huh? Two chicken breasts is usually my pre-portioned meal for the two of us. When I serve it whole, we each eat an entire chicken breast, easily. But shredded, we had only eaten about half of it.

Curious to repeat, I threw some pork chops in the crockpot with bbq sauce the next week, and yup! We ate less of that too!

The key, it seems, is perception. One chicken breast on a plate seems like an appropriate amount of food, so we eat it. When the meat is shredded, though, our eyes serve as less of a guide than our stomachs and so we eat only as much as we actually want. I've since done similar things by slicing steaks or slicing chicken breasts in half, and have found it to be a universal in my house that when the food is in smaller pieces we eat less of it.

Since meat is one of the more expensive parts of our food budget, this is a great way to make it stretch!

For more tips, check out Frugal Friday at Life as Mom.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I want to be a domestic goddess

So, I've been spending an awful lot of time at home, and I've noticed that the things that I expected to take up almost all of my time - cooking and cleaning - well, aren't. When my house was a disaster I could spend the entire day cleaning it just to make some progress, but after a month or so of keeping up with it I realized it only takes a few minutes to keep it clean. My meal prep and planning is also a cinch, since I'm still making huge one-pot or one-dish meals with planned leftovers like I did when I was working. The first couple weeks I spent some of the extra time baking, but we can only eat so much bread and brownies before that starts to seem like a bad idea.

So, what exactly is it I should be doing with my time? I'm still only working part time, about 9 hours a week, and have the rest of the time to work on managing our money, improving our home, and . . . I don't even know what else people do. I wanted to take part of this summer to learn some new domestic skills, grandmother skills as I like to think of them, but I don't know what to learn or where to look. So, dear reader, I pose this question to you. What domestic skills are essential, and what are nice to have? Gourmet cooking? Decorating? Crafting? Ironing? (Please don't say ironing, please dont' say ironing, lol)

All comments are welcome!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

5 ways to earn some green by being green

As most of you know, I'm a pretty firm believer in helping the environment while saving money, and I've written about plenty of ways to do that (buy less stuff, use all of what you have, drive less and drive smart, turn off the lights, etc). Since I am currently jobless with no prospects in sight, I thought I'd come up with a few ways to help the environment while making a little extra money.

1. Write about it. On a blog with ads, or on a site that pays for content like Associated Content or Squidoo get on your soapbox and shout to the world about your favorite environmental issues.

2. Earn some quick online money. My new favorite site Planetup lets you earn 1 penny, donate 1 penny to charity, and offset about 8 pounds of carbon through their partners for every short (less than one minute) video that you watch. Planetup also has a great link exchange program which just started so you can offset some carbon while promoting your favorite online projects. Also if you like taking surveys, Hotspex will plant a tree for every survey you take, while earning you points that can be exchanged for frequent flier miles or gift cards.

3. Sell your stuff. It's amazing what people will buy on craigslist, so before you throw something out, try listing it. If nothing else, someone will take it free to haul and you'll keep it out of a landfill. I also like to sell books to used bookstores. I know I could get more money selling them individually online, but sometimes it's not worth the extra hassle for a few paperbacks. Plus I like to support those stores, since their business model is very environmentally friendly. I recently even discovered that my local used bookstore would buy magazines, earning me a few cents for something I would definitely throw in the trash otherwise.

4. Recycle. I will be honest and say that I have never exchanged cans for cash, although my high school marching band and childhood girl scout troop both collected them as fund raisers. I have been led to believe it's fairly easy though. To make it even easier, my parents' hometown has decided to encourage recycling by giving out recycle cans with a microchip that calculates the weight of the products you're recycling and earns you CVS extracare bucks. Cool!

5. Adopt a highway. This one is mostly for groups looking for a fundraiser, but many communities will pay groups to clean a stretch of highway. It's like a service project and fundraiser in one!

Anyone have any other ways to earn green will being green?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Frugal Friday: Speeding tickets and mindfulness

My number one frugal tip for this week is this: Don't get speeding tickets.

Earlier this week, I was driving along, on my way to my CSA pick up, listening to the radio and going over in my head my budget, what I was making for dinner, what I needed to review with my tutoring student that evening. All of a sudden, there was a motorcycle cop standing by the side of the road, waving me over.

Startled and confused, I pulled over my car and rolled down my window.

"The reason I pulled you over, ma'am, is because you were speeding."

All I could think to respond was "I was? I am so sorry!" and I really was.

The officer politely nodded, checked my license, said "You were going 38 in a 30, ma'am, and this is a high complaint area," and handed me a $150 ticket. In about 30 seconds, all my careful planning and frugal budgeting went out the window.

So why did it happen? I wasn't in a hurry, I wasn't feeling especially rebellious, I don't particularly like driving fast (and I mean, 38 mph, whoa baby).

It happened because I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing.

Obviously, paying attention when you're driving is crucial, and it could have been a whole lot worse than just a speeding ticket. But giving complete attention to the task at hand is important - and frugal - in almost everything. I can't tell you how many times I've added something incorrect to a recipe and made good food inedible, or picked up something at the grocery store that wasn't part of the sale, or thrown away a form I needed to submit a rebate. When we don't give our tasks the attention they deserve, we make mistakes, and mistakes can cost money.

So my goal for this week is to stop trying to do everything at once and to just do one thing at a time, with the proper attention and mindfulness. And to just slow down - both in my car and in my head.

See more Frugal Friday posts at Life as Mom.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I can't get over how much I loved it. I've read books on sustainable eating before, and I've read Barbara Kingsolver's fiction before, and this book had the best of both worlds. Telling the story of Kingsolver and her family's year of all local eating, this book read like a delicious memoir instead of as a textbook. The descriptions of setting and, of course, of food made this book much more positive than many other sustainable tomes. Rather than primarily a critique of the food industry, this book was mostly a celebration of local food. From endearing stories of gifts of plants to hilarious tales of turkey mating, Kingsolver manages to lend just the right tone to the whole story.

In addition to being just likeable overall, this book taught me a few lessons:

1. Asparagus, though difficult to plant, will grow back every year and signify the coming of spring.
2. If you're ever in Appalachia and someone gives you a plant, don't thank them. Unless of course you want to bring ill fortunes upon the plant.
3. There are chickens that lay multi-colored eggs. Really.
4. In the summer, be very skeptical of anyone who wants to give you squash or zucchini, particularly if you also have your own garden or CSA membership.
5. Acid should be added to tomatoes if you are canning them in a hot water bath because not all varieties have enough acid to make them safe.
6. Making soft cheese is (or at least sounds) fun and easy, and homemade soft cheese have less lactose.
7. It really is impossible to write a food memoir without at some point ending up in Italy (See also my review of Bill Buford's Heat).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The ordinary is extraordinary

I've been spending a lot of time quietly reflecting lately and something keeps popping into my thoughts. I keep thinking of something that I wish I'd told my students before I left, especially my graduating seniors. If I had them all in front of me again, what I would want to tell them is

"We keep telling you that you can all do extraordinary things, and I'm sure that you can. But more and more what I realize is that that's not what life's all about, that's not what matters. What matters is that you do the ordinary things in extraordinary ways."

And the more I go over this in my head, the more I realize that it's not the kids so much that I need to tell this to as myself. I am always looking for the big thing that I am going to do with my life, even now, even after years of career and years of marriage, still looking for the thing that I'm going to do that's really going to matter. But I think that I'm missing the point. I think that the truth of it is the essence of simple living that I've been in too much of a hurry to grasp: Everything matters. It matters how I fold my laundry, it matters how I talk to cashiers at the grocery store, it matters how I spend my quiet afternoons. I think everything in my life for a long time has been leading up to this one realization.

I don't need to do something extraordinary to matter. I just need to do everything in my life with care and love.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I'm still trying to get used to the idea that I no longer work full time. My last week of school was very sad for me, and at the same time very heartening because it showed me that I really had made an impact on other people's lives. Then last week, what with being my first week out of school, felt kind of like a brief vacation. That along with hubby's PhD defense (which he passed! Hooray!) made it hard for me to take the time to adjust and accept the fact that I have a different life now. I think when we move at the end of the summer, everything will be a little bit clearer, but right now I feel like I'm in limbo.

I've never been very good with change, and I'm especially not good with uncertainty. Right now all the change is a little bit overwhelming; I have to decide who I want to be now, and I'm not sure I'll be very good at figuring that out. I don't know how to be a housewife, I don't know how to be anything but a teacher and a student, and I'm pretty sure that I don't want to be either of those just now. Reinventing oneself isn't easy, and I am just realizing that it's something that is worth expending the time, energy and thought for.

Does anyone have any suggestions for what I ought to do, for who I ought to be now?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Errand day and other things I blow out of proportion

The thing I dread more than anything is running errands. I'm not sure why exactly. It's some combination of the driving, the waiting, the being away from home. It fills me with an overwhelming sense of anxiety. Since I hate it so much, I tend to procrastinate my errands until I have a big old pile of them which fills me with even more anxiety.

The worst thing about the whole scenario is that I have ABSOLUTELY no sense of how long anything will have to take. A simple trip to the post office or the bank, and I feel like I need to block out half a day. The grocery store, I have convinced myself, cannot be navigated in less than an hour. I map out complex routes to increase my efficiency, I wait until I have a long, uninterrupted block of time, and then I dive in.

And it's never as bad as I expected it to be.

Don't get me wrong: I still can't stand waiting in line at the post office. I have yet to find a time to go to the bank which is not incredibly unpleasant. But when I finish my errands, I always have - along with a sense of relief and accomplishment - a little voice in my head that says "Oh. That was it?"

I dont' know why I build these things up in my head to be so overwhelming and all-encompassing. I know that I am making myself crazy. And yet, I continue to do it.

So, what's the solution? Do you have any tasks in your life that you blow out of proportion and avoid?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Festival of Frugality recap

This week's Festival of Frugality is up at Personal Finance Analyst, and it's a great one.

Some of my favorite posts:

Frugal Tips from America's Cheapest Family is a great book review that takes apart a book I've been meaning to read.
55 best ways to Save Money is a huge list of great frugal tips from readers. Most of them are things we already know, but it's always good to hear them again.
Ten Ways to Save Money when you fly on your family vacation is a great rundown on ways to save on trips. I do most of these, but there are a few new takes on things that I wouldn't have thought of.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lazy summer

Usually I start the summer with vast and far reaching goals: make money, write more, spend less, organize/declutter, finish projects, write more, lose weight, exercise more. Then about halfway through the summer I realize I've accomplished almost none of it, and I get extremely disheartened. So this summer I'm setting only one goal for myself.

Be lazier.

Sounds easy, huh? Well, not for me. Somehow I'm no better at being idle than I am at being productive. I'm not working, I'm not in school, my house isn't especially clean and yet I will go through entire days without being outside, and end the day anxious about all the things on my list that I haven't done. What am I spending my time on? I can never remember or tell. Whatever it is, it doesn't bring me joy.

So this summer, I want to do less. I want to forcibly make myself sit and do nothing, or read a book (with permission to stop whenever I want). To eat slowly and taste my food. To sit outside and watch people go by. I'm just going to rest for a while and get off the treadmill, and once I learn how to do that maybe I'll know what it is that I want to do with my time.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Because I wanted to live deliberately

I turned my ketchup bottles upside down because I wanted to live deliberately. Hmm, somehow it doesn't have the same ring to it as what Thoreau said.

There are two kinds of frugality and finance blogs out there that I know of. One of them goes into details about things like how to make your own laundry detergent, substitute cheaper ingredients into recipes, and hang your laundry. The other type likes to insult writers of the first type. Lives for it in fact. Gets most of its juice from saying just how wrong those frugal writers are.

"Why are you spending time counting the number of grinds on the pepper shaker? Tearing paper towels in half? It's a waste of your time and brainpower! Do you know how much more money you could make/save by [insert topic of blog here]?? How can you guys be so stupid as to think it matters whether you get the last ketchup out of the bottle???????"

The thing is, they don't get it. They're totally missing the point.

People don't cut their toothpaste tubes open to save the 5 cents on toothpaste. We don't spin our laundry an extra time before putting it into the dryer because we think this will make us millionaires. Frugal folks are, for the most part, just trying to see what we can get away with, how to get by with the least possible stuff. For some of us, it's simply an exercise in austerity, for some it's an issue of stewardship and ecology, for some it's part of a larger budget plan.

But the point of frugal blogs is to remind us that the individual frugal choices matter. Doing more with less makes us aware of what we have, makes us focus on all of our decisions more. It's about being connected to the food we eat and the products we buy. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.

Thoreau would be so proud.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

CSA and vegetable wisdom

I've written before about how much I love my CSA. Last summer, one of my husband's friends was visiting when I picked up my basket and he got to see me process and cook my vegetables - and he even got to eat some. Apparently it made an impression on him because he went home and got himself a half share in a CSA near him. A few weeks ago, he had a picture of it on his facebook with a caption that read "Now I just need to figure out what to do with all this." I glanced over my husband's shoulder and said "Tell him to steam the asparagus, sautee the swiss chard with garlic and onions, and use the green onions in everything."

I was kind of amazed to hear the words coming out of my mouth. A year ago, I wouldn't have known half that. Some other things I've learned from my CSA:

  • I love chard. Collard greens not so much.

  • When it's squash season, you eat squash. And you eat it all because next week there will definitely be more.

  • Most greens don't need to be boiled for a million hours and I like them better when they're not.

  • The fresher the vegetables, the less you need to do to make them taste great. Except for collards which still usually need bacon.

  • When you eat fresh raw vegetables for lunch and dinner, it's hard not to lose weight.

  • In hot climates like mine, by the time the tomatoes come in, most of the lettuce is done, so the salads my mother made in my childhood are hard to make locally.

  • Husbands must be accounted for when planning vegetable sides. Even if they do like their green beans mushy.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Doing Good: Share a Little Comfort

Right now, if you click on the link at Share a Little Comfort Kraft will donate one box of mac and cheese to Feeding America. Yay!

Define splurge

I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and one of the (many) things that struck me was an offhand comment about Amish friends of hers. My rough paraphrase is, You can tell a lot about someone based on how they define the word splurge.

Now, I'm not suggesting I am as self-possessed and simple as the family in the book. I like things. I like good chocolate, I like my Roomba. On a global scale, I am more spoiled than most people in the world.

But my needs aren't too great either.

When I started talking to people about what I wanted to do with my summer off, I told them that the first thing I wanted to do was pamper myself for a little while until I felt better. People told me it was a good idea and started asking myself how I intended to pamper myself. Was I going to get a massage? a pedicure? some good wine?

Umm, no. All I really wanted was to curl up in my bed in the afternoon with a book. Maybe a cup of coffee. And for lunch I wanted to saute some vegetables from my CSA basket before they went bad (and to eat them without a 10th grader hitting me in the back of the head with a grape).

I'm not perfect, and I think my goal in life is to become the kind of person whose splurges are always this simple, but it makes me smile to know that in some things I can already be so easily pleased.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ways to Save Money this summer

So, once again it's summer and I find myself with plenty of free time and less than plenty of money. Oh, I have some savings, but I have no full time job nor am likely to especially soon. More time, less money, means it's a great time to start refocusing on ways to save.

  • Turn off the lights. Maybe turn off the computer too. It's amazing how much energy we waste during the course of a day.

  • When I'm home by myself or when we're both going out, turn the air way up (or off altogether). I really don't like the way air conditioning feels, and I'm willing to be a little warmer. I can wear shorts or drink ice water. Also, I need to check the thermometer on my porch and open the windows when it's cooler out than in, and batten down the hatches when it's hotter.

  • Hang my laundry. I've never done this before, but I'd imagine it'll dry very quickly in the 100 degree weather.

  • Cook from scratch. During the crazy last month of the school year, we ate out a lot. A lot. I plan to change that this summer. I would like to go even further, though, and try making yogurt,cheese, pasta, and more of our bread.

  • Use up the stockpile. I'm moving in the relatively near future so it's time to stop buying so much and start using it up. If I wasn't moving, I'd be reluctant to use up (or I might have to rebuy everything at full price), but I'd still try to use down a little to get through the income gap.

  • Find fun, free things to do. Since we live near a college, there are lots of free lectures and forums, and I am relatively sure there are some free outdoor concerts and movies too.

Anyone have any more great suggestions on things I can do this summer?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Gruaduation Day

Yesterday was graduation day at the high school where I teach, and since I won't be back next year it felt like graduation day for me too. Right now, I am filled with mixed emotions, maybe even more mixed than those of the graduates. I told several of my seniors, who were the first class I taught 3 years ago when I started, that at my own high school graduation I had expected to cry and then realized that I was in fact ready to move on. One of them came and told me afterwards that I was totally right, that she'd had no need for tears. I, on the other hand, cried buckets.

I don't know if that means that I'm not ready to leave, that I just haven't accepted yet that I'm leaving, that their graduation makes me feel old, that I cried because I'm so proud of them and their many accomplishments (which I am), or just that I'm an old sap and Pomp and Circumstance still makes me get a little weepy like it did for most of my high school career. I've never been especially good at change, and even though I tell myself that I'm ready for this one, it still comes at me all of a sudden.

But yesterday wasn't about me. It was about the graduates, my first little darlings, and all they've learned and achieved. It's scary to watch them turn into such mature and likeable adults (and some not so much), but at the same time it gives me a certain sense of peace and calm. I know that it's time for them to go out into the world, and that they are ready and will do great things. If anyone asks me any time soon why it is that I love being a teacher, the answer will be fairly easy.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

In need of more simplicity

Recently, Heather of Simple, Green, Frugal gave a talk on Voluntary Simplicity and it really got me thinking. The general crux of her post was that you need to decide what things in your life you really like and what things you really hate, and then find ways to increase the former and decrease the latter.

For me, the first group would include things like drinking tea and coffee, preferable with one or two very close friends, in the middle of the afternoon; reading a good book; cooking fresh meals from scratch, and knitting and sewing. The latter group would include working (well. . . not everything about working, but certainly the paperwork, office politics, faculty meetings, grading essays), waking up early, waiting in lines, putting things away and driving. I've been thinking a lot about this lately and ways to do more things I love and fewer things I hate. I think the truth is that a good deal of my time is spent doing things I neither love nor hate, things I nothing, like watching trashy TV shows and aimlessly surfing the Internet in a futile way to self medicate my exhaustion and frustration. I think it's time to start practicing more awareness of what I do with my time and finding things that I can painlessly eliminate.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On Goals and Purpose

"Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire Cat.
'Which road do I take?' she asked.
'Where do you want to go?'
'I don't know."
'Then,' said the cat, 'it doesn't matter.' "

Something about this passage from Alice in Wonderland has always gotten to me. In high school, I copied it into my notebook. Now I have it hanging on the wall of my classroom. I can feel, in my gut, the truth of it. But I still dont' know which road to take.

When I think about my goals, a lot of the time I'm talking about things like getting out of debt or saving up money. When I go deeper, I want to be able to stay home once my husband gets a job, at least for a little while, or reduce my hours to part time. Why? Because I want to slow down. Simplify. Stop feeling so rushed and panicked all the time.

But the more I think about it, the more I feel like I'm running away from something instead of to something. I'm tired and I'm stressed but that's not a good basis for a major life decision. I don't know what I want to do, what my purpose is, what it is that I'm aiming towards. Maybe though, slowing down, taking more time to reflect, to read and write, to prepare and eat whole slow food, will get me closer to understanding. I figure it's worth a try.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Giveaway at mommieswithcents

Holly at Mommies with sense is giving a way a Free $25 gift card and reusable shopping bag to new and current members of A Full Cup. Check it out!

Friday, March 13, 2009

How I save money on cleaning supplies

I don't use them.

Okay, so maybe this post was a teaser. Were you expecting recipes, money saving tips, ways to stretch a bottle? I've been there, done that, and the truth is most of it just isn't worth it.

True, I do have a bottle of Windex under my kitchen cabinet, but it's the same bottle I've had for 3 years, and it's still more than half full. And sure, I've been known to work some magic with some baking soda and vinegar, and I do use commercial dish soap. But most of the time, for most cleaning jobs? I don't need any cleaning products.

It happened somewhat slowly. At first I was gung ho about mixing up a spray bottle of vinegar/water to keep on hand and using that to clean the counter every night. Then, when that started to run low, I just added more water because I was in too much of a hurry to take out the vinegar. Then I added more water.

A few months later, I realized I had been cleaning my counters with just water every night with no noticeable difference.

My floors usually get wiped down with a damp rag, either wrapped around my mop or just moved around with my foot if I'm feeling lazy. My mirrors get wiped down with a microfiber cloth - sometimes with some water, sometimes dry. My dusting is done with a feather duster, which I shake outside.

I've seen recipes for homemade cleaning products, and to be honest I couldn't be bothered. I mean, I can see using some alcohol or bleach on my counters when I have been working with raw meat - although to be honest, I think soap probably does the trick. But did you notice recipes for window cleaner always have blue food coloring?

Now maybe I just don't keep as clean a house as some people. I don't feel the need to wash my windows with ammonia every week, or to turtle was my shower walls. But as far as I'm concerned, a spritz of water and a bit of elbow grease keeps my house plenty clean enough. It saves time, money, and the environment. The trifecta!

Read more frugal tips at Frugal Friday hosted by Life as a Mom.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Extra Money Maker: Swagbucks

Search & Win

Just in case I'm not the last person on Earth to find Swagbucks: Sign up to earn gift cards for your every day searches. There are also lots of free Swagbucks codes that post frequently to frugal blogs and such, so it's a great way to earn a few extra bucks in amazon codes. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

When the spender becomes the saver

So my very spendy husband said to me the other night (when I was nearly asleep in my chair), "Why are we spending $60 a month on phone and DSL? We only get the phone line so we can have the DSL, and we could get shiny, speedy cable Internet for way less than $60."

Me: "Ummmmmm but DSL used to be cheeper?"

Him: "See, the cable company website has this $30 a month for 6 months offer. We'll be moving in about 7 months, so we can just cancel when it goes up."

Me: "Ummmmmmmmm"

Him: "We'll call tomorrow and switch. Then we'll be saving $30 every month."

Me: "Ooookaaaaaay...."

Him: "And we can get free Cinemax from Dish Network because we have paperless billing, so I called and signed us up for that, and then set the DVR to record a bunch of movies, so we can watch them when we have friends over or are looking for something to do."

Me: "Sounds .... good....?"

Him: "Ooooooh. . . IPod Touch....."

Me: "No."

Woo hoo, maybe it wasn't all a dream.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Doing good again

Charity Fundraising

Thanks to Hotels Combined I sent $20 to
World Vision without spending a cent.
How? - Find out here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I'm so boring (and so are my tips)

Every time I set out with an earnest "This time I'm really going to start blogging again," it turns out to be a bust. I feel overwhelmed, uninspired and just overall not much like writing. I can't build enthusiasm without momentum, or momentum without enthusiasm.

Earlier this week, I read Mighty Bargain Hunter's take on Why frugality tips suck and I really think it hit the nail on the head as to my problem. Any list of tips seems to me to be pedestrian and boring, overdone and repetitive. "Turn off your lights! Use less laundry detergent! Pay off debt!" Anyone who reads frugality blogs already knows what I'm telling you.

But I guess I always knew that. The blogs I like to read either have frequent deals updates or recipes (which I would not be all that good at), or tell a story, let me feel like I'm really getting to know the person on the other end of the blog. So, I know, in my heart of hearts, what it is I need to write. I need to write about my own journey. Sure, there will be frugal living suggestions throughout that, but mostly what I need is honesty.

So, this time, I'm really going to. . .

Oh bother. Oh well, if you're still listening, let me know that you'll make the journey with me.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Feeding what pig?

On my way to work yesterday, I heard a story to NPR about anti-saving commercials that have been airing in Finland. The basic premise of these commercials which feature a demonic looking piggy bank (go ahead, click through to the NPR blog and look, it's worth it. I'll wait.) and the tagline "Don't feed the recession." The basic premise is that by saving more money, frugal folks are essentially hurting the economy and furthering the recession.

I'm not an economist, but that sounds to me like a lot of bunk. Sure, spending less means fewer retail jobs available, but how many of those jobs are already taken by people who buy so much crap that they can't get by on one job? If we all just stopped spending so much, we could all work less, and there would be plenty of jobs to go around. What's more, putting money in the bank will help the banks, which I'm pretty sure have been having some trouble lately. Since congress seems to have avowed that saving the financial industry is crucial to saving our economy, maybe that's a pig that needs to be fed.

I don't know, maybe I'm totally off base with this. Are frugal folks bad for the economy? Should we feed the pig?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Simplifying again

I don't know how it happens, but somehow around the middle of the academic year, my life always ends up full of junk. Some of it is physical junk (piles and piles on my desk, stuff on every shelf of my closet), some of it is time commitment "junk" (I've had to be somewhere every night this week), and some of it is psychological junk (worries, anxieties, anger). No matter how clearly I try to set goals, priorities, and expectations, I never seem to make progress because I am always putting out fires. Even when I have a moment to myself, I just feel so overwhelmed that all I want to do is crash and vegetate. I can't see through all the junk.

I remember in my last life, in my last move, I only worked part time and we lived on almost no money. I baked bread, we never went out to eat, our furniture was all from Kmart and Ikea (okay, so most of it still is). There were a lot of things that I didn't like: I didn't really have any friends, I wasn't putting away any extra money. But there was a lot about it that I remember fondly. There was quiet in my life . I went to the library, and read actual books for pleasure. I had time to write, to walk, to breathe.

I don't think that that's a life I can really completely get back to, and in a way I probably wouldn't want to. But I do want to clear out some of the junk that is between me and some kind of peace. I want to stop the flow of stuff into my life, even if I can't get rid of some of the stuff I have. I need to find ways to carve out moments of peace for myself.

I don't want to set any more goals or requirements for myself because, in the end, I think that will just bring me even less peace. What I do want to do is give myself permission to say no, and to accept that sometimes I am going to have to or want to say yes and not to beat myself up about that either. I want to use the things I have (lotions, candles), give away some of the things I don't want, and let go of some of the things I do that don't add significantly to my life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No more newspaper

I cancelled my newspaper subscription this week.

The truth is, I don't really read the newspaper. Most of my news I get from the Internet. The newspapers would just pile up and every couple weeks I'd have to take them to the recycle center without even reading them.

A few months ago, I cut back to just weekends, but I kept getting the newspaper mostly for the grocery coupons. With a good grocery couponing strategy, I know I can save a huge chunk of money on my grocery bill. The truth is, though, that between using up my stockpile and my CSA baskets, I haven't been buying as much food lately anyway. I don't use more than 2 or 3 different coupons. So, instead of having to sort through a whole newspaper, I'll just buy multiples of the few coupons I use from a clipping service or trade for them on a message board.

By cancelling my newspaper subscription, I'm saving $50 over the next three months, as well as saving time, stress, clutter, and waste. Woo hoo! I feel freer already.

Monday, January 19, 2009

New carnival!

This week's Carnival of Personal Finance is up and running, and Pecuniarities did a great and creative job of hosting.

My favorite articles of the week:

Live frugal but in moderation

What would you do if you lost your job tomorrow?

What's in my pantry?

Lots of great stuff, check it out!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Year, new goals

I know I'm a little late to the party with the goal setting for 2009, but I thought it a worthwhile endeavor anyway. 2009 is going to be a very strange year for me. My husband will (will!) be finishing grad school this year, which means we will be moving and will both be changing jobs some time mid-year. This affects my goals a lot. Our income will definitely increase a lot, but there is a chance I will be without a job temporarily (although his new income may be higher than our current combined income). I also have to consider short term cash flow issues involved with moving and save accordingly. With all that in mind, in 2009 I hope to:

1. Increase my savings to cover 3-6 months of expenses, plus an extra cushion for moving expenses.

2. Pay off at least one of hubby's smaller student loans. While it may not be our highest interest loan, it will make a much more immediate difference when his loans finally go into repayment and we get those first few bills.

3. Cook more from my stockpile. Since we'll be moving in six months or so, I need to start using things up and stop buying more.

4. Find new ways to generate passive income.

5. Continue to find at least one new way every week to help charities that fit into my time and budget.

Please feel free to share your own goals!