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Archive for March, 2006

Harry and David gift card deals on Ebay

March 31st, 2006 at 04:44 pm

Thought somebody might like to know about this--

I was browsing the gift card auctions that were about to end, and found one for Harry and David $50 gift cards in the $30+ range. That is, about 65% of face value, where most other gift card auctions run 85% of face value and up.

When I started searching, I discovered there were quite a few of these auctions, and most of the sellers had multiples to sell. I wondered, what's the deal?

Turns out some Costco stores have been clearancing them at $40 for $100 worth of gift cards. People are buying them up and selling them on Ebay. They make $10 or so per card, and it's still a great deal for the buyers on Ebay.

You could combine the discounted gift cards with a 10% off coupon from the Entertainment Book, or a 15% discount through Passport to Fun. I just ordered 3, for holiday gifts for the in-laws. Luckily, I already have the money on hand in the Xmas account. Smile

Disorganization and Beer

March 31st, 2006 at 05:52 am

Before going on errands yesterday, I ran my report in Quicken that tells me how much is left in the Everyday Expenses budget. I was thrilled--it looked like there was lots of wiggle room, and it was ok to take advantage of whatever deals I came across.

But when I got home, I discovered to my horror that I'd never taken last weekend's receipts out of my purse and entered them in Quicken! Much more of the budget was gone than I'd realized.

By that point I had already bought some extra grocery items at Aldi and Wal-Mart, and worst of all I invested in a 30-pack of beer for $18. It was a pretty good deal, and will probably last us all summer--but we sure didn't NEED it, especially if it meant blowing the budget. I never would have bought it, had I been organized enough to know the true budget balance remaining.

Aargh! I guess this makes a good case for Flash's Visa debit card idea. Even if you forget to record what you've spent, the remaining balance on the card wouldn't lie.

Well, at least now I can drown my sorrows with the beer. Wink

Weight, again

March 27th, 2006 at 06:45 am

OK. The last time I wrote about trying to lose weight was back in January, and I've gained 4 pounds since then. Right now (at 231 lbs) I'm only 7 pounds lighter than my absolute worst weight. As you know, I'm overdue for a doctor's appointment, and I fully expect a lecture and an increase in my bp medication. Oddly enough, the more pressure I've put on myself to lose weight before my next appointment, the more food I've been shoveling in. It has to stop.

I know I can lose weight, and I know that having an official program to follow, and some kind of support group, really helps--because I've done it before. The problem is, I think I need something that I can stick with for the rest of my life. And the cost of such a thing is a huge factor.

Over the years I've signed up for Weight Watchers (several times), Jenny Craig, and various gyms. You always reach a point where things aren't going well. Your weight hits a plateau. Something happens in your life that makes it hard to get to meetings or to the gym. It's hard enough to stick out the plateau, or get back in the swing of the program. If money is tight as well, it's awfully hard to keep shelling out money for something that doesn't seem to be working, or you don't have time for at the moment.

I can just see someone in one of those places wagging their finger at me, saying if I was really committed to lose weight, I'd spend the money to keep up my membership, or to buy the latest gadget the company is trying to sell. That kind of guilt-inducing salesmanship makes you feel like even more of a failure. You leave feeling not like someone who's making a good budget decision, but a fat, undisciplined loser.

So I've signed up for TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly). It's a nonprofit group, which I'm hoping makes a difference. There's a yearly fee of $24, which includes a magazine. I found the basic guidebook on Ebay for $7.50 shipped. If you go to actual in-person meetings, there are local chapter dues (very small, from what I've read), and you might have to pay a 50-cent fine on a week when you gain weight. But you can do it completely online if you need to, and save on the chapter dues. I think that money-wise, it's something I can stick with over the long haul. Wish me luck!

First dental appt in a year & 4 months!

March 24th, 2006 at 05:23 am

The Health Savings Account mess is finally getting close to being settled. The actual checking account is set up, the first direct deposit from DH's paycheck has shown up, and all the deductions taken out of previous checks have been credited to the account also. We've received the debit card, but not the checks yet. So I can start taking care of things where I can use the card, like I getting my prescription filled, and going to the dentist. But I can't go in for my long-overdue doctor visit yet, because our family doctor doesn't take credit or debit cards.

It's such a relief to see things moving, finally. I had used all the refills for my blood pressure prescription, and only had enough to take me through March 30. I assumed I'd have to go into the office before I could get more, but I didn't want to go in til I got those HSA checks. With the mess it's been so far, I couldn't imagine paying for the office visit myself ($65) and then figuring out how to get reimbursed. The checks might have come before March 30, but I couldn't be sure. I was starting to get frantic.

When I talked to the doctor's office, they said if the pharmacist called in, they could approve a 30-day extension on the prescription to carry me through. Thank goodness! Then I called the dentist, and hallelujah they take credit cards! (That means the HSA debit card should work.) So I've got a checkup and cleaning scheduled for April.

This is not to say I anticipate smooth sailing from here. I tried to get on the Blue Cross website and have had nothing but problems trying to register DH and myself, and then logging in. I want to be able to go online and check what's covered under the high deductible insurance part, and any restrictions on where I have to go--for example, for mammograms.

One problem was, you can't use the Mozilla Firefox browser on their login page, it will only work with Internet Explorer. I only figured that out after spending well over an hour on the problem, over two days. They don't tell you this anywhere on the website--I even googled within the site to see if I'd missed a statement of system requirements. Nothing! Now when I login, I either get a page meant for Blue Cross employees, or one that says my login failed because I don't have an FSA. Well I never said I did! Frown

Phooey! I guess I'll stick to calling them for the time being.

Dad's Hidey Hole

March 22nd, 2006 at 10:07 am

I keep running across the idea of having a little secret cash tucked away in the house, in the sugar bowl or whatever. The experts say to have it for emergency preparedness, in case of a hurricane or the bird flu. It was mentioned in the book "How to hide money from your husband," as something wives have done for generations, partly to protect themselves if husbands leave or die. Generally, it seems to be a way of protecting against some dire emergency. A good thing to have, but not a very happy thing, and about as exciting to save for as a root canal. So I haven't done anything about it.

Well, I finally remembered that my dad kept a little something hidden away, and it was a much more cheerful affair. It was his Hidey Hole. I asked my mother about it recently, and even she never knew where the hiding place was! I'm sure my parents relied on it for little emergencies, unbeknownst to me. But it was also used for treats and unexpected opportunities. If the ice cream truck was coming, Dad might go into the bedroom, shut the door, and retrieve ice cream money from the Hidey Hole. If I had the chance to go somewhere that I couldn't afford on my allowance, I might be handed some money from the Hidey Hole. I have the feeling it was Hidey Hole money he took to rummage sales in case there was a deal too good to pass up. For years, he got a kick out of using an electric frying pan he'd bought for a quarter. Wink In other words, it was a fund for the unexpected, whether good or bad.

I think there's enough extra cash coming in right now that I can start my own Hidey Hole. Just calling it that gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. And deciding it can also be used for fun things has made it a much more attractive idea, too. Current balance $40; where it is--not telling! Wink

Great day at Entenmann's Outlet :)

March 20th, 2006 at 07:45 am

I had an early errand to run, and since I had some extra time and was near the Entenmann's Outlet, I figured I'd stop in.

A long while back I stopped counting on them as my main source of bread and rolls. Too often I'd go in and they'd be completely wiped out of regular bread. But if you hit them on a good day, it can be worthwhile.

Today I got all this for $5.03--hot cross buns, crumb cake, 16 hot dog rolls, multigrain bread, and onion rolls. All of them with expiration dates almost a week away. They were running a buy 2 get one free deal on the bread and rolls. I got the crumb cake free because I'd filled up my frequent-buyer card. And I think they plain forgot to charge me for one item.

The full retail value if I'd paid full price at the supermarket would have been over $17. This is going to stock the freezer for awhile. Smile

Neat Aldi Menus

March 16th, 2006 at 08:51 am

I was googling around this morning, trying to get some new inspiration for thrifty food shopping. I stumbled upon a neat website where someone has put together sets of fall/winter and spring/summer menus using only items that can be bought at Aldi's.

This is the page for the fall/winter menus.

http://www.momadvice.com/food/aldi_meal_plan_fall1.asp

Go to page 2 for the shopping list, then the menus and recipes start. There's a link to the spring/summer menus in the first paragraph of page 1.

I found a few recipes I'd actually try, plus some good general ideas. Like cooking frozen ravioli in the crockpot right with the sauce. No more waiting for water to boil. Smile

Also, on another site, someone was talking about price books and said they base theirs on Aldi prices. Because it's not worth running to a sale unless a price is lower than you could get at Aldi's every day. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Ebay stores?

March 15th, 2006 at 11:16 am

The 10-cent listing fee for today spurred me on to list a few items on Ebay. With photos from the digital camera--Yes!

Not that I got my listings for 10 cents. I like it when other people offer Buy It Now, so I use it when I list something. Also, I've been through listing items for a very low starting bid, and having them go for that price. There's no way I'm going to let a rare book go for a penny, so I also set reserve prices.

It got me thinking--would it be more worthwhile to set up an Ebay store? They give you the first 30 days free, then it's $15.95 a month. My mom's interested in selling some stuff, too, so maybe it would be worthwhile. I like the idea of having it more like Amazon, where the items can just sit at my set price til the right buyer comes along. For some reason, I really dislike the whole auction thing, as a buyer or a seller.

I wonder whether they still charge the monthly fee if you're on vacation? What if you have to close your store completely, and then want to open one again in a year or so--will they let you back in? If anyone knows, I'd appreciate the info.

In addition to the shower curtain, music box, and two books on Ebay, I listed another book on Amazon and got a $20 rebate ready to go. Went to Aldi's yesterday. Basically, I've been working on stuff that will catch us up financially rather than going on to anything new that will cost money.

Have been overspending, no two ways about it

March 14th, 2006 at 07:04 am

Everyday Expenses for the four weeks ending 3/11 came to $693. Frown My goal was $522, and I feel like it's a good month when it's in the $540's. So I overspent here about $150. I actually spent less than budgeted in every area except groceries--less on gas, take-out, pet food, everything.

Like I mentioned before, I didn't make one Aldi trip this month. I guess 50 cents to $1 less on each item really adds up. Also, we've been making use of our stockpile for several months, and it finally got to the point where we had to restock--on fairly expensive things like an $8 double-pack of Jif. And being sick didn't help because I didn't have the energy to bother shopping sales, using coupons, etc.

In addition, we didn't make much progress in the Net Worth area. (Only counting cc debt and emergency savings, not IRAs and such.) Last month, total cc debt was $3724. As of March 11 it was $3906, an increase of $182. The emergency savings account is down to $442 from $611 last month, a decrease of $169. There was one true emergency during the month, a dryer repair of $80.

$182 cc debt + $169 savings loss = $351 decrease in liquid net worth

I looked reasons, and I found $273 of discretionary spending on things like getting my hair colored (when I felt too rotten to manage it at home), buying make-up, books, clothes, the deluxe/state version of TaxAct, yet another new coupon organizer, a cabinet for over our dryer, etc. $273 discretionary + $150 overage on groceries = $423 on extras, that didn't absolutely need to be spent. $423 - $351 net worth decrease = $72, the amount I actually could have spent on extras without overextending myself.

Most of it was stuff I would have spent money on eventually, and I really can't muster up much guilt about any of it. The problem seems to be, I'm losing patience with waiting for things til we can afford them.

Darn, I was feeling so proud of myself for having more financial control lately, when I really haven't!

Organizing on the cheap

March 10th, 2006 at 12:41 pm

I have a clothing problem right now, everything from needing some new things, to having messy piles of clothes around, to where I get dressed, to how I process the laundry and get it put away again. So I went on an organizing discussion board, where as usual people had some great ideas.

However, perfect solutions and great ideas can be expensive. Like hiring someone to build closets. So I'm trying to take the general principles people mentioned, and find the cheapest way to improve things that will do the job.

I keep thinking of the way I agonized over buying silverware a few months back. I went from thinking about spending $200+ on replacing missing pieces in "my pattern", to spending $10 at Target for just enough pieces to hold us between dishwasher loads. Getting to that solution took a long time and was *painful.*

For some reason, this time I haven't had as big a hump to get over about what's reasonable to spend and what isn't, and what's adequate to solve the problem. I know we're getting over $200 back on our taxes and some rebates, and I don't want to spend more than that. If that means a couple of new hampers and $25 assemble-it-yourself drawer units instead of built-in closets, so be it.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love those closets. And there was a time I'd feel like a lesser person if I couldn't afford them. But anymore, feeling like I'm in control financially feels better than almost anything I can think of spending money on. It's a big change in outlook for me, and I wanted to make note of it.

Easing back in

March 6th, 2006 at 07:28 am

DMom's computer is set up and at her house. I'm finally feeling back to normal after being sick. The snow is gone. And I'm finally starting to feel caught up with paperwork and household stuff. So it's time to come back.

I knew I was going to be over budget for this 4-week Everyday Expenses cycle, but I just ran a report this morning that showed me how bad it is. So far I'm well over $600 with nearly a week to go. By the time I get gas one more time and go to Petsmart, it could reach $700.

I know it was because I was short on time, what with extra projects, being sick, and dealing with the snow. But things like this happen all the time, and I can't be running over budget every time they do. So I looked things over to see if I could figure it out.

The main thing I noticed was, if I get to Aldi's once or twice in a month, I'm within my budget. If I don't get there, and especially if I'm going to Stop and Shop instead, I'm way over budget. So the key seems to be MAKE TIME FOR ALDI's, no matter what else is going on in my life. And try to stay out of Stop and Shop.