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Stockpiling to save time, not necessarily money

March 28th, 2009 at 06:53 pm

All of a sudden, I'm finding myself buying in bulk, in a big way. I'd love to have a year's supply of whatever is practical. Two things spurred me to do this--

1) My mother casually mentioned how her friend buys blueberries in season and freezes a whole year's supply. It reminded me of how I like to buy a big carton of red-skinned sweet potatoes in the fall, and eat them all year. It's nice to know they're there, and that I don't have to run up to the farm market every few weeks. And I don't have to think about them every time I make a shopping list.

2) I had another scare this past week with my mother--nothing serious, but something that's going to take extra time again, taking her to doctors and such. Something is always coming up. I just can't devote that much time to grocery shopping. Many weeks I only have a few hours to myself, and I'll be darned if I'm going to spend them all looking at circulars, sorting coupons and running to sales.

So I'm starting to think big. So far, I've ordered some stuff on Amazon and joined BJ's Warehouse (like Sam's or Costco, but a smaller chain). I'm going ahead and spending like crazy, but at least I'm using my price book. My goals is to get stocked up as much as possible while on a vacation week, and then try to relax and enjoy my spring and summer as much as possible. It's throwing any concept of a weekly grocery budget out the window, but I think it'll be worth it.


Coffee makers - not Made In China

January 30th, 2008 at 08:20 am

A few months back, I read the book "A Year without Made in China." One thing that stuck with me was how impossible it was for the author to find a new coffee maker that wasn't made in China. I wondered if it were really true. Well, our cheapo 18-month-old coffee maker just died so I decided to find out for myself. I'd written about it here: http://stressless.savingadvice.com/2006/05/01/kissing-and-co...

It's not that I'm completely anti-China. I have some clothes that are extremely well-made, that I love. But I'm tired of buying appliances that die after a year or so. It's bad for the environment, and it's a hassle to have to shop again. And since we drink so much coffee, I don't want to use things made from Chinese metal, which I've read often have toxic impurities in them.

The only stand-alone, electric appliance type I could find that were made in America are by Bunn. The info I found was from 2004, so it may no longer be so. They cost $100 and up. But even American-made electronic parts fail eventually, and I'd like to reclaim some counter space.

If you can get used to boiling water on the stove to make your coffee, and don't need to make a potful, there's the Aerobie Aeropress. If you need to make it by the pot, it appears the 6-cup manual Melitta system is made in the USA. I'll know for sure, either when I hear back from customer service, or mine is delivered. I ordered mine directly from Melitta USA's website, and it came to about $15, shipped.

If you're willing to branch out to other countries, there are French press pots made in Germany, stove-top drip systems from Italy, it looks like the 10-cup manual Melitta is made in Canada, and there's the Eva coffee brewer from Denmark.

If you know of other ones, please do leave the info as a comment.

I know from past experience that the glass carafe for the Melitta isn't going to last forever--we always seem to break them eventually. So I'm still looking for a stove-top all-metal system that doesn't require ongoing filter purchases. I saw some intriguing vintage coffee pots on Ebay, and would like to get one eventually. I was excited to see a aluminum stove-top Dripolator at Vermont Country Store, very similar to some vintage ones on Ebay--but then I saw the same thing at Fantes.com, where they said it was... made in China. So I think I'll go for a vintage one to have in reserve.

Next time--kettles!

Of Memory Banks and Banking Memories

December 19th, 2007 at 06:57 am

I've been a Quicken enthusiast for 15 years, but I'm getting very close to giving up on it. Working on this blog entry has been a way to think it through...

128 MB. That's how much memory my computer has--and that was supposed to be the minimum requirement for running Quicken 2008 Deluxe. Well, actually running turned out to be an exaggeration--limping, crawling, or stumbling maybe. (FYI--I started using Quicken on my first computer, back in 1992. That old Quicken version had all the features I needed and worked just fine on 4 MB.)

I decided I was willing to live with the slowness and the quirks because I really wanted to play with the Savings Goal feature. But after installing a security update, it got even worse--now it won't open up and run at all.

I've put in many hours of troubleshooting already, and have another list of things to try from my new email friend, seemingly located in India. Why did I start using it in the first place, what problems did it solve, and do I still need it now? Is it worth putting in even more time trying to get it to work?

Era # 1 - No need for Quicken. Or even a calculator!

In high school and college, my finances were simple. I used a passbook savings account, a Christmas Club, and cash. With passbook savings accounts, you could see exactly what was in your account at any time by looking in the book. With the Christmas Club, you also knew exactly where you stood at all times. You could tell the balance by the number of coupons that were already taken out. And the bank always had a little display out showing what week the Club was on. If it was Week 10 and you were only paid up to Week 8, you knew you had some catching up to do.

Note, the bank provided the only tracking tools I needed.


Era # 2 - Chaos

For roughly 15 years, maybe 1977 to 1992, I could have used something like Quicken if it had existed and if I'd had a computer. I started to keep a checking account, started opening charge accounts and credit cards, and bought some savings bonds. The passbook savings accounts started to disappear, replaced by Statement Savings. The Christmas Club books started to disappear, and now worked like Statement Savings. Note the key here is the word Statement. Without the passbooks and coupon books, I now had to keep track on my own, between statements.

My tracking tools were a paper check register, deposit receipts, a pencil, and a calculator. Eventually I added two more tools--duplicate checks, and teller-provided printouts of recent transactions. They both helped me catch things I forgot to record in the register. My writing is rather large, and I've always had trouble writing in check registers. And even with a calculator I had a terrible time balancing the checkbook when the statement came. I really had no system at all for keeping track of credit card balances.

The first years DH and I were married, we lurched from one financial crisis to the next. It got so bad I was getting cash advances on one credit card to pay the minimum payment on another one. Low income, overspending, and chaotic record keeping all contributed. If payday loans had been invented yet, we might have been sucked into that. My best AND my worst purchase back then might have been that first computer I bought--for $2,000, financed on our Sears card.


Erica # 3 - Golden Age of Quicken

For the next 15 years, 1992 to 2007, I really came to rely on Quicken. It came on that first computer, so I gave it a try. It was intimidating, but the first time I went through the checkbook balancing process with it, I was sold. SO much better than doing it on paper. It seemed like a miracle. I really got into setting up categories and classes and fiddling with the budget feature.

Our financial life got more complicated. Credit union account with several subaccounts, IRAs, stock DRIP plans, more savings bonds. I opened even more credit cards for bonuses and 0% offers. I bought gift cards at a discount and had to track the remaining balances. I started selling books online, and tracked all the business income and expenses in Quicken, too.

But even with all that tracking, we've still had more unpleasant financial surprises than I would have liked--mostly due to counting on Quicken's budget feature. As I've written before, it doesn't take into account the timing of paychecks and bills. It will indicate a surplus for an upcoming month overall, without warning you that you'll go negative for a day because a big bill is due just before a paycheck. It gave me a false sense of security about spending money. So I'm no longer using it for budgeting, and I've spent a lot of time entering expected transactions months in advance, just so I can make sure we won't be going into the red at any point.

And I think our finances got so complicated partly BECAUSE of Quicken. If I'd had to deal with it all on paper, I would have kept things simpler. It seemed so easy to just keep adding accounts and categories in Quicken, til it suddenly became overwhelming.

Lately I've streamlined things. I don't have the bookselling business anymore. We don't own stocks outside of our IRAs. I'm not doing the gift card thing. Practically every transaction in and out of our accounts is predictible, if not automated. Direct deposit of paychecks, automatic transfers to savings, automatic bill payment. We still have two credit cards, but hardly ever use them. I'm trying to use cash instead of the debit card whenever possible.

There just isn't as much to track. And once again, the bank is providing the main tool I need--not in the form of passbooks and coupon books, but through online banking. Maintaining a complete written or Quicken register on my own between monthly statements just isn't as important. The headache of reconciling the account once a month when the statement comes isn't really necessary if I've been keeping up with things online.

The way I'm feeling now is, the computer is a great tool for managing finances. I wouldn't want to go back to pencil and paper. But maybe Quicken was only necessary during that period where banks were pretty much leaving us on our own, without the tools to track thngs between statements. Now with online banking, maybe the Quicken era is ending. I'm pretty sure it is for me.

How to eat healthy and lose weight with Aldi

April 24th, 2007 at 05:36 am

No, I'm not entering the blog contest. Wink Actually, I'm not even starting this project til May 1.

I signed up over on the Let's Lose A Person thread, and am getting nowhere. I need some way to jumpstart my weight loss, some way to make it interesting enough to stick with. The accountability of blogging helped me to get out of debt--maybe it could help me lose weight, too.

So, for the month of May, I'm going to eat nothing but Aldi food and see how it affects my weight and other health factors. I made a doctor's appointment for May 1, so I can get official weight and blood pressure numbers. And I'll be getting some long overdue blood work done this week, so I'll know where I'm starting with cholesterol and such. The trick might be getting a slip for more blood work after only a month!

I'm actually looking forward to working within a limitation like this--I think it can force you to be more creative. And being creative is usually fun. Wish me luck!

Long distance, again

February 9th, 2007 at 04:38 pm

Has anyone else tried to add minutes to their AT&T prepaid calling card lately?

I just went to do so, and discovered that their rates for in-state calls in NJ are tripling! It's even worse in some other states--up to 8x the cost of out-of-state calls. Be careful out there!

www.consumer.att.com/prepaidcard/fy/terms.html

I've had a system going, with Pioneer Telephone for out-of-state calls, and the AT&T phone card from Sam's for in-state calls as it was a bit cheaper per minute than Pioneer. Now I don't know whether to bother getting a different phone card, or just make all the calls through Pioneer. It's 4.5 cents/minute instate, and 2.9 cents for out of state calls.

Is it worthwhile to sign up with OneSuite to get 2.9 cents in-state, and save a mere $10 to $15 a year? Another account to worry about, another set of user names and passwords. Still debating, but right now I'm thinking not.





Second Successful Sunday

February 4th, 2007 at 05:31 pm

For the 2nd Sunday in a row, I managed to have noplace I needed to go, which means a full day to putter around the house getting ready for the week. Smile

I've done some cooking, which has made me feel a bit warmer, even if it's just psychological. Made beef stew, pumpkin bread, and then Yummy lured me into making some yellow split pea soup. None of this is exactly diet fare, but I'm trying to use up what I have around the house.

Also exercised, did a lot of laundry, and ran the dishwasher twice.

It's really helped to make my shopping list on Friday mornings, based on what we actually need. When Saturday morning comes, I just head out the door and start my errands. If I spent time going through the newest coupons and circulars first, I'd get out much later. And if I tried to take advantage of sales at too many stores, the errands would run over into Sunday. I like it this way much better!

Darned if I do, darned if I don't

February 1st, 2007 at 12:57 pm

Any tax preparers out there?

I'm working a split day today, and since a few more tax statements came in, I decided to start working on the taxes in earnest. I got so far as to go through the "review" feature in TaxAct, where they give you warnings about things you might have left out or done wrong.

"Please note that the IRS has implemented new review procedures for returns reporting more than $400 in other income. The review process may slow the processing of your return." They recommended making sure the income shouldn't fall under business income, and isn't subject to the Self Employment tax.

Naturally, my mind jumps ahead to "more likely to be audited" as well. So I moved my Election Board income onto Schedule C, figuring I could be called an Independent Contractor like DH was when he delivered newspapers some years back. (And doing it this way will be costing us an additional $79 in Self Employment tax.)

But that still leaves about $562 in other income from doing surveys, test drives and trial offers. I don't want to leave it off, because I wouldn't be able to sleep nights worrying that we'd get in trouble over it later. (My fear of the IRS is right up there with public speaking and death!) But if I report it, I'm liable to have trouble anyway because it's over $400. And I honestly don't see where else it could be reported but "other income."

It really reinforces the feeling I have right now, that I want to go to work, get my grocery shopping done with the least fuss, and live my life--instead of looking for deals all the time. The aggravation at tax time is one of the things that make it more trouble than it's worth.

Closed 4 accounts this past week :)

December 14th, 2006 at 11:35 am

One Sharebuilder account is closed, plus HSBC, the Chase Sonycard, and Kohl's. Despite all the reasons for keeping multiple credit card accounts open a few blog entries back, I just don't want the hassle--or the temptation of too many open accounts.

I've been reading Dave Ramsey lately, who says no credit cards, ever. However, I tried that before, and was burned*. So I'm opting for "moderation in all things" and at least reducing the number of accounts I have open. It feels good! Smile

(*There was some kind of business I needed to do, and they wouldn't take a debit card. I had to quick apply online for any old card I could find, that would give me an account number to use right away. Not the best way to choose a card.)



4-Week Report

October 21st, 2006 at 04:56 pm

Yay! Under budget this month. Which is a good thing, since I forgot to enter some spending in Quicken last month and the September total was more than I'd thought. $606 for Everyday Expenses in September, and $496 for October, averages out to $551, not much higher than my target of $545 a month. And we have two weeks of dinner in the fridge and freezer already, to start the new "month."

The HSBC balance transfer card is down to $799. Under $1000 for the first time. Smile There is $320 on the Citi card because I just ordered this month's discounted gift cards. Still and all, the total is $494 less than last month. Progress!

I think I've finally developed the habits of a lifestyle we can afford--and I'm finding myself very content. Last night I had a great time playing the free version of Bookworm online, and having a bowl of nearly-free Malt-O-Meal "sugar crisp" for my evening snack. I guess as things change, you still have to tweak, but I think my major, rather stressful lifestyle reworking is complete. (Ironic, now that my pay is going up!)

Full Baskets Foundation's Cheap Thrills

October 17th, 2006 at 06:14 pm

This one's for everyone who's going through a rough patch right now. Sometimes you just have to de-stress before you can figure out how to solve problems. It's time for a lot of us to take a deep breath and enjoy some...

Free (or almost free) Entertainment

Take a walk. Notice the details of your surroundings.
Sit in the sun for a few minutes.
Take a walk while it's snowing and admire the patterns of the snowflakes.
Listen to your favorite music.
Dance to your favorite music.
Watch the sun setting.
Sit or lie down and do nothing (relax) for 20 minutes.
Go to bed early.
Read an engaging novel.
Cook a dish you haven't made before.
Rearrange the furniture.
Check the newspaper and plan outings that are free or almost-free. (In our area, museums have reduced prices during certain hours.)
Visualize or write out your dreams and goals.
Read a comic book for children or for adults.
Play a board game with the kids.
Watch the kids playing together.
Listen to birds singing.
Plan to have friends over.
Sing, hum or whistle.
Sort through and organize your photos. Watch family videos.
Plan your next vacation.
Write a letter to a friend.
Smile at someone or compliment them.
Go pick fresh fruit, whatever is in season, apples, strawberries, blueberries.
Make something by hand.
Take a nap.
Watch a good film on television or rent a video.
Listen to a book on tape.
Plan a practical joke on a friend.
Browse in a bookstore.
Try your hand at drawing.
Work a crossword puzzle.
Go see a concert. (There may be free concerts locally.)
Go skating.
Go swimming.
Go cross country skiing or snowshoeing; go for a long walk or hike.
Go for a cup of coffee or other beverage.
Eat lunch outside in the sunshine on a terrace or in a park.
Clean the car inside and out.
Pick some weeds that have flowers and make a wildflower bouquet.
Check out a book from the library and teach yourself something new, how to draw, paint, cook, invest in the stock market, sew, or a myriad of other things. Check out tapes and learn a new language.
Turn on your favorite music and take a long soak in the tub by candlelight.
Take a long, hot shower.
Try out different ways of applying your makeup.
Do your nails.
Wear perfume when you're not going out.
Take the time to apply lotion all over your body.
Dress up when you're not going out.
Do your hair when you're not going out.

Do what I can to change a difficult situation.
Accept what I cannot change.
Find something good in what I cannot change.

I've found this list at various web addresses over the years, but it keeps disappearing. I don't know what the Full Baskets Foundation was or is. If anyone associated with them has copyright concerns, please let me know and I'll remove this entry.

$6.78 well spent, I think

September 9th, 2006 at 08:10 am

I stumbled across an interesting online book on simplifying, here: www.december.com/simple/live/ which listed those opt-out services for cutting down on junk mail and credit card offers. Since it fits right in with my simplification kick, I decided to take care of all this stuff this morning. Strike while the iron is hot, and all that.

FYI, the fees seem to have changed from what some folks here posted earlier in the year. The Direct Marketing Assn. people are now charging $1 per name for getting off mailing lists whether you do it online or by mail. Also, there is a $1 charge to register a Deceased-Do Not Contact name. I'm doing DH and myself, my mother (at two addresses), my dad (who died in 1986) and my uncle (who died in 1989).

The page for the deceased name registration is secure, so I had no qualms about entering my cc number to pay. But FYI, the page for the regular one wants you to enter the cc on an unencrypted page. I just won't do it; I'd rather pay for the stamps and live with the delay in processing.

I also did that phone number for opting out of pre-approved cc offers, for DH and myself. (Free, and it's supposed to stay in effect for five years.)


Still on the simplification kick

August 30th, 2006 at 07:12 am

I just cancelled the Schwab Visa I'd applied for because of a $100 gift card offer. They aren't honoring the offer because they said it had an expired code. Frown I held onto it long enough to use the account number for three trial offers and at least get those free gift cards. (Net gain $57.) Now they are all cancelled and there's no reason to keep the cc.

I still have other trial offers to cancel, and am working on that today.

I'm starting to unsubscribe from a bunch of email newsletters I'd signed up for at some point. Also, as catalogs come in the mail, I'm starting to call in and ask to be taken off the mailing lists.

I finally figured out that Citibank calls their automatic payment thing AutoPay. They sure don't make it obvious on their bill or their website. You have to request a packet to be mailed out, and then mail the application back again. I'm going to set it up to take the minimum payment automatically, just to keep me current if life gets crazy and I forget. I can pay the rest of the balance separately each month, as usual.


More simplification--automatic bill payments

August 27th, 2006 at 05:59 am

For a long while, I've had our two most important bills paid automatically each month--the mortgage and our car insurance. Also, heaven knows, I have lots of automatic savings deposits set up. I've been a little leery of automating any more, but it feels like it's time. I feel more confident that enough money will be in checking to cover the bills as they come due, and I also had that recent scare where I almost forgot to pay a cc bill. So this past week I set up the cable, phone and electric bills and the HSBC cc payment.

I set them all up through the billpay on our checking account, NOT at the payee's end. I don't want some unusually high payment taken out automatically, unbeknownst to me. I set up equal payments to HSBC so it gets paid off in January. The cable bill was easy, as it's always the same. A whopping $10.23. Smile

The phone and electric company weren't so easy, as the amounts vary. But I figured out that the phone bill averages just under $23 a month, so I made it an even $23. I'll be paying a little extra some months to build up a credit for the months when it's a little higher. The electric bill is a few dollars lower in the summer because we're on their "cool customer" program. (They can cycle off our a/c if demand is too high.) But I set it up for the normal amount; I can just wait and reap the benefit of those overpaid summer bills when they reset our budget billing in the spring.

I'm waiting to do the gas company, as they'll be readjusting our budget billing next month.

Still trying to figure out how I might want to automate cc payments for the cards I'm actually using.

I do feel like I want to build up more of a cushion in checking because of this, even though it doesn't earn interest. It would buy some time for DH if something happened to me, and he needed to figure things out. Also, I've got to write up what I've done and make sure he knows where the info is.

If anyone else has experience in fully automating payments and such, I'd appreciate any advice.

Supermarket loyalty cards and gasoline

August 26th, 2006 at 12:36 pm

Usually, the recommended coupon strategy is to get to the point where you're only buying items at their bottom sale price, with coupons. Theoretically, you could do this shopping at just one store because eventually, on some kind of cycle, everything will go on sale. And most of the time in our area, getting that bottom sale price means using a store's loyalty card.

For me, though, there's always something that has thrown me off. A coupon's about to expire and the store is out of that item, so a rain check isn't even going to help. So much is on sale one week that I can't afford to buy everything I'd like to. They have a 3-day sale and I can't get there during the 3-day period. They require you to buy 3 or 4 of some perishable item to get the sale price, when I can only use one. Which means I either have to start trying to catch the sales cycles at store #2, and #3, and #4... or pay inflated "regular" prices at that one store when I need something not on sale.

Now what if you only have one day to do errands, or have to use a taxi, or just can't afford all that driving anymore? If you can't hit all those different stores every week--which ONE store do you pick?

What I've found out is, your best bet for one-store shopping is probably one WITHOUT a loyalty card. I've found quite a few studies comparing shopping trips at stores with loyalty card programs, and without. All the ones I've found have had the same result--the total is virtually always better at a non-loyalty card store. It's almost shocking to read this stuff. Here is a representative sampling:

East Coast, in 2003--www.nbc10.com/consumeralert/1992223/detail.html

Midwest, in 2002--www.nocards.org/savings/regular_price_study.shtml

California, in 2000--web.archive.org/web/20001120044300/http://www.kfmb.com/bob/g...

I hadn't thought about it in those terms, but several of my current favorites are Aldi, Target, Wal-Mart and IGA--all stores without loyalty cards.

I have liked the feeling of going into a store, knowing I'm going to be getting a decent price even if there isn't a special sale going on, and even if I don't have a coupon. I can go at my convenience and buy exactly what I need.

And I feel like these stores respect me more by not making me play games. It's a much less stressful way to shop.

Now that I've read those studies, it kind of confirms that I've been moving in the right direction. So it's going to be the core of my plan to reduce errands and gas usage.

I can't get everything I need at any one of those non-loyalty card stores, but I should be able to get everything I need over time by rotating the trips. Maybe not at the absolute lowest price, but a fair price, and that's good enough for me considering the time and gas savings.

I Vant To Be Alone (sometimes)

May 16th, 2006 at 05:51 am

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!)