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Archive for May, 2006

Utilitarian Walking, and why I don't do it (yet)

May 31st, 2006 at 05:16 pm

Found an interesting article when I was googling on daily grocery shopping.

www.burlingtonfreepress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050...

The gist of it is, we fatties would weigh less if we walked to the store instead of driving. There's an Eckerd very close by, and the IGA would even be doable if I had one of those grocery carts. Post office, doable. Library, very doable. I don't mind walking, and the area is safe. So why don't I do it?

The answer is, "What would people think?"

If we lived in a city with good public transit and few parking spaces, where lots of people didn't have cars, no problem. If we lived in an upscale, intellectual town or a college town, people would just think I was being ecological.

But we live in an older suburban area with several seedy apartment complexes nearby. Everyone drives everywhere. Mothers are so worried about their kids walking, they drive them to the school bus stop. If you aren't a total loser, YOU HAVE A CAR, even if it's only an ancient Nova.

When you see someone around here walking with shopping bags, or you see an adult riding a bike on the main road through town, you assume one of the following:

They've had too many DUI's and have lost their license.

They haven't lost their license yet, but their insurance has gone so high they can't afford to pay it.

Their car was repossessed.

They live in one of the seedy apartments.

They probably don't work, because how would they get to a job without a car.

At the very least, they must be very, very down on their luck.

Now, they might be doing it for the exercise, or the environment, or their car might be in the shop. They might be highly disciplined financially, and are saving money for a house, or graduate school or a cruise. But that's not what's going to pop into most folks' minds.

Well, I've gotten used to going to Aldi's, and buying greeting cards at the dollar store. I've admitted to people we have the $10 a month cable tv. I suppose I could learn to walk more places and not care what people think. Wink

This week, I'll try walking to either Eckerd's or the library.

NJ on $15 a day

May 31st, 2006 at 12:20 pm

It's that time again--almost to the end of my 4-week "month" of May (ending June 3). Again, not happy with how I've managed my Everyday Expenses budget.

So I've come up with a money game to try in June: Each day I have $15 to spend, and can only go over if there's a surplus left from previous days.

My natural tendency is to stock up at the beginning of the month, when there's finally a new batch of money to spend. I'm just not very good at estimating a month ahead what we're really going to need or what's going to happen. Work schedules change, people get sick, cars break down-- and then I wish I had cash on hand for pizza, instead of a freezer full of pork chops.

Also, when sales are too good to pass up, I can't pass them up, and end up having too much money tied up in toilet paper or something.

This way I'll be forced to pace myself through the month, not go overboard on sales, and I'll always have the option of using part of the day's $15 for take-out or some forgotten item, if necessary.








Sick of allergy season

May 29th, 2006 at 12:56 pm

The worst part isn't what you'd think. Generic claritin does a pretty good job of controlling the sneezing and runny nose. What it can't do is give me my energy back. I feel like I've been unplugged. Or like deflated balloon. I don't feel like I'm ever fully awake or rested, no matter how much I sleep.

If I hadn't been through this for years, I'd think I had mono or something. But I know from experience it's just a matter of waiting it out. When things in the environment change, I'll feel better.

What this has to do with money--I just don't have the energy to run around and take advantage of sales and things. I went to only one grocery store this weekend, and did the best I could there. I ordered socks and nylons online from Just My Size because I dont' have the energy to run out shopping. I'm not cooking much; we've had takeout two days in a row.

I figure it's more important to reserve my energy for higher-priority, higher-stakes things like getting out to do a $50 test drive tomorrow, and getting out to the election job training.

OTOH, it's a good time to do easy stuff like being online, and catching up on my reading. For example, I've gone through Flash's food company contacts and signed up for some newsletters I never knew about.

Everyone have a safe and happy holiday! And wish me a change in the weather.

Happiness Units

May 27th, 2006 at 03:22 pm

Does anyone else remember Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown? Smile

She has a chapter on money, and I always remember her saying to make sure and spend your money where you'll get the most Happiness Units in return.

Well, it's corny but it's a good point. I'm looking over my spending for the past year, trying to see where I haven't gotten enough happiness units for the money. Those are places that will be easy to cut.

The first obvious category is book/cd/dvd buying (exclusive of Netflix). I spent $132 and the shocking thing is, all but $33 of this was on mailing costs. Mostly for various swapping programs, which were supposed to save me money. The fact is, I sent a lot of stuff out and so far have gotten little in return.

I haven't bought a NEW book in over a year. I bought one DVD that was so obscure even Netflix didn't have it. The rest of the $33 was for used books, most of which I bought to try and sell (unsuccessfully).

So, although $132 is that much in the whole scheme of things, it really didn't buy me much of anything.

I'm going to budget $84 in the coming year (36% reduction), and try to get a lot more for the money. First priority will be trying to get something for the credits I've already earned at the swap sites.

It's my blog anniversary!

May 26th, 2006 at 02:28 pm

Can't believe it's been a whole year! I have to say, I am feeling much less stressed this year than last, and being here has a lot to do with it.

When I look back in Quicken, things aren't dramatically better than they were last year. But they're going in the right direction, I'm still learning a lot, and I feel much more in control of our finances.

Here's a comparison, year to year for our liquid net worth (just checking, savings, gift cards and cc debt).

May 26, 2005 - Assets $3665, cc debt $3756, net MINUS $91

May 25, 2006 - Assetts $4625, cc debt $2948, net PLUS $1677.

Total improvement over the year, $1768, or about $147 a month. Pretty sad, really. But an improvement, and I'll take it.

Haven't come up with any specific goals yet, but I'm psyched to tweak things a bit more and do even better in the coming year.

Honesty just cost me $37.10

May 25th, 2006 at 01:32 pm

We finally got our first bill from the lawn-mowing guy, and he forgot to bill us for the first mowing of the season. So I wrote him a note about it, and enclosed payment for all 3 mowings.

If I didn't pay him what I knew I owed, I'd feel terribly guilty. I also do things like give extra change back to cashiers when they make a mistake in my favor--and certain people have laughed at me for it all my life!

I'm no angel, though--if it were some big corporation that made a mistake, I probably wouldn't say a word. Wink

But when the cashier is right in front of me, a person who will get in trouble if her drawer is short, I have to give the money back. And the lawn-mowing guy is a nice fellow who's just trying to make a living so I can't stiff him either.

I wonder what most people do.

Election job progress

May 25th, 2006 at 12:56 pm

It was last November I signed up to work the elections. In January I got a letter with a card to mail in, saying I was still interested. Then, nothing.

I came across the January letter last week while I was going through papers, and almost threw it away. I figured it was a lost cause. But then I thought, why not at least call and find out what happened?

Long story short, the guy I talked to was almost sure they could use me somewhere--and not way off in November, but in June, for the primary! There is training next week, for which I've taken a vacation day. I'm just waiting to hear which session they're putting me in. Then, if all goes well, they'll let me know where I'll be sent to work on June 6.

I feel like I should create another category for blog entries about patience and perseverance! So much of what I've been doing to make or save money just seems to take a long time; lots of waiting and follow-up.


An investment that pays 400%

May 23rd, 2006 at 01:29 pm

Try paying for coupons. (Actually, the sellers all specify you are paying for the service of having the coupons clipped rather than for the coupons themselves. Legal issue, I guess.) I'm so pleased with how this has been going for me lately, I figured I'd post about it.

I set up a lot of saved searches on Ebay, and each morning I get an email with links to auctions that match the search. (I also have searches set up for gift cards and other products I'm looking for.)

This morning I saw a lot of (6) $1 coupons for cat food our cat likes. I snapped them up immediately for $1.19. If I'm figuring this right, I'll be saving $4.81 by spending the $1.19, which means I've increased my purchasing power by 404%.

I've learned to be careful about getting more than I can use before the expiration date. I've seen lots of 20 of this same coupon, but passed on them because I'd never use them in time. 6, I will use.

I also use a non-Ebay clipping service, where you can choose individual coupons in the specific quantities you need. I'm using www.cnfcentral.com (formerly Dab's Forms) because you don't have to get multiples of each coupon you choose. If I only get Worcestershire sauce once a year, I don't want to be forced into buying 5 coupons for it. But if you want multiples anyway, there are many other sources. A good discussion on them is here: www.dealagogo.com/showthread.php?t=31959

Since I'm getting so much at Aldi now, there are only a limited number of name brand items I can use coupons for. This targeted approach gives me a quick way to find the specific ones I can use.

Discretionary purchase today--MP3 player

May 20th, 2006 at 08:02 pm

I've been thinking about this for months, and finally took the plunge, for many reasons.

There was a good deal at Staples for the model I'd been thinking about, but with much more storage than I'd ever hoped for. It came to a little over $58. Creative MuVo TX FM with 1GB of storage.(Thank you Fatwallet!)

This model should work with the downloadable audio books they have at the library where I work. (Not all models do.) It has a voice recorder, which I'd thought about buying separately for a long time anyway. You can also store data on it, so it will take the place of a USB thumb drive, which I've thought about too.

It is also a lot cheaper than getting involved with a broadband bill every month, or satellite radio. My dialup is still ok for most things, but lately for downloading radio shows it's been awful. It's supposed to be 56K but often it's been in the 30's or even 20's. This way I'll be able to download podcasts and radio shows on my dinner hour at work, and have enough to listen to for days. It should be quite a time-saver over the way I've been trying to do it.

It also may give me some brownie points at work (which one can always use). Wink My boss is disappointed that not many people are using the audiobook service. But it's hard for us on the staff to talk it up and give people instructions, if we've never used it ourselves. So in a way, I could classify part of the cost as a work expense. Wink

I'm holding off on the leafblower for now, and will use part of the Ace gc for poison ivy killer, which is a necessity right now.

Whole Foods Market fans--an Ebay FYI

May 19th, 2006 at 01:03 pm

I was just looking at the gift certificate section on Ebay, and this one jumped out at me.

Someone has a $100 Whole Foods Market gift card that ends in 17 hours, and right now it's only bid up to $32 including shipping. The item number is 9521702264 if you want to check it out.

Catching up on odds and ends

May 18th, 2006 at 07:48 pm

Cancelled YourMusic.com. I signed up through Inbox Dollars, and was glad to get a CD that DH wanted, for $5.99. But I don't need to be spending $5.99 every month on a CD right now.

Got $5.99 credited to the Citicard. I'd ordered stuff from Roaman's that turned out to be defective and dirty. Roaman's didn't charge me for the return shipment, but they refused to refund the shipping charge on the original order. I called Citi and said I didn't think I should be stuck with $5.99 when I'd gotten absolutely nothing. They were very nice about crediting my account.

Requested my Citi rewards check for $68.

Decided to lower the amount I'm paying to HSBC from $290 down to $250 a month. I thought I could afford the $290, but now that I figure in the lawn mowing, it's obvious I can't. The account won't quite be paid off by the end of the 0% period, but I don't mind paying $10 or $15 in interest for the final couple of months. Better than feeling strapped for the next 6 months.

Found out how getting a blood test works, under our new insurance.

Subscribed to the other Sunday paper on a half-price subscription sale. Their coupons are much better; it will be well worth it.

Went to Eckerd's last night for bargains; spent $11 after $9 in coupons were taken off.

Ordered another batch of Dealpass gc's. Only have a few more months to take advantage of these; don't want to lose the opportunity.

Almost finished putting our upcoming transactions in Quicken, through the end of the year. It really helps to see our cash flow ahead of time. If we're going to run short, better to see it coming and find a solution early on.

Quandary--how to budget for summer expenses

May 18th, 2006 at 12:25 am

I have a routine now for expenses that come up once a year, or even 4x a year like our property taxes. Money goes into a specific account monthly or weekly, all year round. I set up the automatic deduction once, and I only have to change the amount if the bill goes up. The beauty of it is, I don't have to remember to do anything, or have the discipline to get the money in there every time.

Looking at our upcoming cash flow, I realized things are going to be tight in our main checking account all summer. Why? Mainly, lawn mowing expenses.

This is a different kind of bill--it's around $80 a month for six months of the year, then there's no bill at all for six months. In addition, the bill hits at just the time of year we'd also like to take care of outside projects and go on day trips.

There's got to be some simple way to even these expenses up throughout the year, but I haven't quite figured it out yet. I DO know I don't want to have to remember to set up automatic deductions for six months, stop them, and restart them again.

Spring Cleaning here too

May 17th, 2006 at 05:06 pm

Unfortunately, Contrary1, I am my own housecleaner. ;( Lucky you.

Yesterday and today have been Flylady-type days. www.flylady.net

Yesterday I did my version of her Weekly Home Blessing, except I haven't done it for many a week. Also did two 27-fling boogies: 27 items of bad food thrown out from the kitchen and pantry, and 27 items of clutter moved out of the house for Goodwill, etc.

Today was a version of her crisis clean, where you work 15-minute segments in different areas. My sink is now shiny. Well, as shiny as a vintage 1970 avocado green sink can be at this point. Wink

Will be heading out for errands soon, including getting my hair cut and colored, doing one of the test drives, and getting to Goodwill. I'd still like to get more cleaning done, and get the tomato plants in, before heading back to the working world on Thursday night. But things are definitely looking better around here, which is quite a relief.

I Vant To Be Alone (sometimes)

May 16th, 2006 at 12:51 pm

Being an introvert and also rather distractible, I need a certain amount of peaceful alone time once in a while or 1) I can't get anything done, and 2) I start to go absolutely bonkers.

The kind of time I mean is--

No music playing in the background that I don't want to hear. No TV in the background that I'm not watching. No questions or comments about what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, how I'm doing it, or why I'm not doing something else. If I put the cat out on the front porch so I can work in the kitchen unmolested, nobody letting the cat back in. If I leave a light on because I'll be coming right back, nobody turning it off. If I turn down the heat or a/c, nobody turning it back up. Nobody saying they'll be ready to do this or that together soon, and then keeping me hanging for hours. Actually having time to finish my own projects without watching the clock.

Even last week I knew I needed it pretty desperately, so I scheduled a half vacation day for yesterday. Wouldn't you know it, DH decided to take the day off too, at the last minute!

What this has to do with money--I just got an email about a possible $75 survey, and instead of feeling excited, I just wanted to cry. It was just another "should" when so many other things in my life are already going undone. Not wanting to pursue another $75 is proof to me of how frazzled I really am!

It's my day to get together with DMom, but I think I'll cancel. I can't concentrate on her until I feel like I'm caught up on my own stuff. I probably should have cancelled last week, looking back on things.

(I didn't qualify for the survey anyway--what a relief!)

Telecommunications costs

May 14th, 2006 at 01:11 pm

Five Cent Nickel over at PFBlog just did an interesting poll on how people are connecting to the internet. Results, here: www.fivecentnickel.com/2006/05/08/money-poll-11-internet-acc...

One of the commenters said he was spending $60 a month for DirectTV, $50 a month for his cell phone, $55 a month for internet, and complained of how much technology costs. He spoke of not having a landline with dialup, as it would cost too much money.

It made me want to look at my own spending on telecommunications overall; I wondered if I was really saving money having a landline. So I reorganized my categories in Quicken, and ran a report.

This fellow is spending $1980 a year on telecommunications all together.

I am spending $862, including Netflix to keep the comparison fair.

Limited basic cable, $123
Basic landline, $265
Toll calls (phone card and Pioneer Telephone), $50
Cell phones (2), $153
Dialup internet, $55
Netflix, $216

That's a savings of $1118 a year, and I have basically the same services that he does. In fact, I feel like I'm better off because in emergency situations, if the cell doesn't work I have the landline, and vice versa. (Both cases have happened to us before.)

I'm wondering if anyone else here has added up what they're spending on telecommunications as a whole, and how much they're spending? Compared to this guy I'm doing pretty well, but how do I compare to other tightwads? Wink



Yippee! Getting a free (or almost) leaf blower soon

May 13th, 2006 at 11:42 pm

I know I shouldn't count my chickens before they're hatched, but if all goes well...

I'd called Discover Card to either cancel the card, or keep it if they offered me a deal to stay. They offered $20 in rewards after my first purchase.

The $20 just showed up. I can take the cash, or get a gift card worth $25, so I requested a gc for Ace Hardware. I was there today, and saw several leaf blowers priced at less than $30. I also have a $5 off a $25 purchase coupon for Ace in my Entertainment Book. And I just joined the Helpful Hardware club thing, so when I "buy" the thing, I'll also earn points.

It won't be the blower/vac model I was drooling over awhile back, but it will be free, or nearly so.

As opportunities like this keep coming up, I keep thinking about the book, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. What a role model for matching your talents with the opportunities you have, to get what your family needs and wants. If you haven't read it, do! (Have some tissues handy.)

Bargain hunting = Emergency room visit

May 12th, 2006 at 02:29 pm

Sigh. This week I took my mother along shopping to a discount chain store that shall remain nameless for the time being. She still drives, but doesn't roust herself to get out shopping very often. I thought I could kill two birds with one stone, picking up something I needed myself, and also getting her out. That's why I feel especially bad about this--part of my reason for the trip was to take care of my own business and save time. I keep thinking if I wasn't being so selfish, this might never have happened.

She was looking at canvas shoes. There was a style that fit her pretty well for $5.99. But it wasn't on sale, so she kept trying on the ones that were on sale for $5. Understand she has no need to save the 99 cents! While saying it was a waste of time and we ought to go home, she kept trying on pair after pair.

Suddenly she cried out in pain, removed the shoe she was trying, and there was a nail-like thing stuck in her foot! It turned out to be part of some kind of security device.

She pulled it right out, unceremoniously. I would have been freaking out, myself! I told her she ought to get a tetanus shot, if nothing else, and she decided if it required a doctor visit she better file some kind of report to the store.

Long story short, we ended up at the emergency room and neither of us got home or had dinner til after 7 p.m. She got her tetanus shot, plus a smear of Neosporin on a band-aid.

Hopefully Medicare and her supplemental insurance will cover it. The bill should be interesting in any case. Maybe I'll start a pool, and whoever guesses how much hospitals charge for emergency bandaids will win a prize. Wink

She also got a prescription for an antibiotic, which cost her over $60 after her Blue Cross discount.

I'm trying to see a lesson in this. It's one more reason to stop shopping at this particular chain, which I have grown to hate. Don't take my mother shopping? I could order things I know she needs from catalogs and bring her things from stores, even though she resists it. Keep your tetanus vaccine up to date, so it doesn't become an emergency? Look in shoes before you put them on? My mother should get Medicare Part D even though she doesn't see the point, because you never know when you'll need a prescription? Don't sweat spending an extra 99 cents if you can afford it?

BTW, she seems to be doing just fine.

Blinkies and coupons and carts, oh my! Want the job?

May 7th, 2006 at 12:08 am

I just went to Smartsource.com to print out some coupons, and noticed they were recruiting for part-time merchandising jobs. It sure sounds like fun, if you are into coupons! It would be too many hours a week for me, on top of my other job, but I figured someone here might be interested.

You'd be responsible for refilling the blinkie coupon machines, other coupon dispensers, changing the ads that go on the shopping carts, etc. You can apply online.

www.smartsourcejobs.com

Bookselling not what it used to be

May 6th, 2006 at 06:19 pm

I'm posting this to remind myself for the Nth time, forget about selling books online!!!

They were having a booksale at the library I was going to anyway, so DH and I went in to see what we could find. It was toward the end, so we could each get a bag's worth for $5. Most of what I picked up were out-of-print, nonfiction titles that several years ago might have brought $9 to $18 on Amazon. Out of 13 I bought today, 12 are going for less than $1. One is even going for -0-, just shipping! The other one is about $4.50, but there's a paperback edition going for practically nothing--so why would anyone pay more for a well-used hardcover?

Well, the library's budget's been cut, so I'll just consider it a donation. And there are a few paperbacks I want to read myself, and then can swap, so it's not a total loss.

My lesson for today is, the best thing for me to do is stay away from library booksales, and recognize that Times Have Changed.

More on pennies...

May 6th, 2006 at 02:56 pm

Maybe all the discussions lately about pennies, Nickel and Dimed, and change jars filling with found money, made this jump out at me as I was reading through Commerce Bank's annual report:

In 2005, their Penny Arcade coin machines counted a total of $350 million. That's a lot of coins--who says they don't add up!

They make it fun to take in your coins. Not only is there no fee, but you get a freebie if you've guessed the total of your coins close enough. This week I got a coin purse in the shape of their big red C logo. Previously I've gotten jelly beans in a red egg, an opener to undo CD wrappers, and a big red C spring-type paper clip. Also, the coin bank I use at home was a freebie from them, in the shape of a giant red C.

It's nice doing business with a bank who gives little goodies to existing customers, as well as new ones.

Yes, I'm a shameless shill for Commerce. Try them if you can; I'm sure you'll be happy and you'll help my stock go up, too. Wink

Four-week report, a bit early

May 4th, 2006 at 02:54 pm

I'm caught up on record-keeping and bill-paying. And the only groceries I intend to get before Sunday will be covered by the Pathmark coupons I just got. So I'm ready to report 2 days early.

Credit card debt now $2972, down $565 from last month. (I can't remember when it's been below $3000!)

Emergency savings now $716, up $205 from last month.

Everyday Expenses, $586. Higher than I'd like it to be, but I just don't feel like I overspent. I bought extra of several things because it meant savings in the long run. Also, with trying to watch my weight, I bought some diet stuff that will last a long time. For example, bacon bits are considered "free" calories but not cheap money-wise. I also spent almost $4 for a big box of diet fudgsicles, but they will last me for weeks.

And obviously, if our cc debt is down and our savings is up, we could definitely afford the overage this month. So I'm not going to worry about it.

KISSing and coffeepots

May 1st, 2006 at 12:21 pm

Keeping It Simple, Stupid, that is.

Our coffee maker died yesterday. Right after dinner I ran out to K-Mart, 1/2 mile away, and picked up the cheapest, most acceptable looking one I could find. It's a Black and Decker and cost $14. I have no idea whether it got good reviews or not. It has one on/off switch. It makes coffee. Good enough.

Last time, I tried to be a good little consumer and get the absolute best coffeemaker at the best possible price. I checked online reviews, I went to 3 or 4 stores, and ended up spending $55 at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It was a Braun with a programmable timer. Great reviews. Sale price. 4 buttons, two lights. It was a pain in the patootie from the first day we had it. And it died after 3 years and 3 months. What a lot of wasted effort!

Last night we had coffee going in the new pot within 1/2 an hour of the old one dying, and I was able to relax for the rest of my Sunday evening. And I don't even care if this one dies in a year, it will still be cheaper per year than the last one.