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Archive for October, 2005

Getting ready for a new week

October 30th, 2005 at 04:21 pm

Even beyond the latest car problem, last week was a rough one. By the time the weekend rolled around, I knew I had to keep things simple and just try to catch up with myself. I did one big shopping trip at Pathmark, didn't use one coupon, and spent $76. Usually I match coupons to sales and go to 2 or 3 stores. But I just didn't want to spend the time or energy.

DH and I both have gas in our cars, and some cash. There's enough food in the house. The laundry is caught up. Tonight I'm dealing with those stacks of paper that build up so fast, and doing a little actual cleaning. We got some extra sleep, and got out on walks. We have movies to watch and books to read.

I don't even know how much money I spent over the past week--I probably overspent, what with the Pathmark shopping and $15 for Chinese food. But I think I'll be able to start the work week feeling caught up, and calmer. And that's the most important thing to me right at this moment.

mjrube94, and, another car repair. Sigh.

October 25th, 2005 at 03:50 pm

mjrube94, I've sent you a private message to you about the Pioneer telephone referral.

On the way home this afternoon, my windshield wipers stopped working during a steady rain, in rush hour traffic. Naturally they stopped sticking straight up in front of me, making visibility even worse. Took it straight in to the mechanic's, and DH brought me home. The car can just stay there overnight; it will be easier than us trying to take it over tomorrow morning.

The last two car repair bills are not paid off yet, and I have exactly $30 available in the emergency account. Sony cc to the rescue again, I suppose. At least I can look forward to the free movie tickets we'll be able to get as a reward from Sony, soon.

Long distance carriers - again!

October 25th, 2005 at 06:32 am

I was hoping I wouldn't have to go through this process again for a very long time. We had AT&T, then Qwest, and most recently something called Primus (originally called Isterra). I myself use a 2.9 cents a minute phone card for both local toll calls and long distance calls. But even with the numbers programmed into our speed dial, DH has never gotten used to using it. So we need to have a back-up long distance/regional toll service set up for when he uses the phone.

Primus has been fine, but now somebody over on Fatwallet noticed they started slapping on a $5 a month fee for low usage. I immediately checked my bill--and unfortunately it's true. That comes to an extra $60 a year, which I'm just not willing to spend. At that rate, we might as well use the Virgin Mobile phones at 25 cents a minute for our long distance!

So, back to the drawing board. I checked at http://www.lowermybills.com and it looks like Unitel, Pioneer and Big Red Wire are my best bets. Would be curious to hear if anybody has had good or bad experience with any of them.

It's not a big deal, but I dread yet another series of tasks to do and follow up on. Call Verizon and ask them to take the PIC freeze off (on so we wouldn't get slammed). Decide on and arrange the new service. Watch for it to start up. Call Primus to make sure they stop billing us. Call Verizon to have the PIC freeze put back on. It could go on for weeks.

Sometimes I really miss the old days of Ma Bell handling everything, and no choices to make except Princess phone or standard...

Debt tally update

October 22nd, 2005 at 07:24 am

I last added up our cc debt on September 15. That day it was $4527. As of today, it's $4210, for a net reduction of $317 in about 5 weeks. I don't think that's too bad, especially since I had to charge that additional $500 car repair bill. On the negative side, I can't remember the last time I had to actually pay interest--but this month I ended up paying $6 to Citi because I didn't have quite enough to pay it off completely by the due date. Here are the details, to keep me honest--

Firestone - $427 (0% runs out in December, want to pay off asap)
Citi - $20 (paid off balance with an extra payment, this is new gas purchase)
Discover - $2874 (0% til next spring)
Sony - $889 (0% for another 11 months)

What I'm trying to do is kind of let the Sony balance build up and start paying down extra on Discover. Assuming I won't be able to pay off the Discover by the end of their 0% period, I'll want to do a balance transfer to the Sony card--but they charge a 3% BT fee. So the lower the balance is at that point, the lower the fee.

OTOH, I don't want to miss out on the cash back from Citi. So I'm using it where they offer the 5% back (grocery stores, gas and drugstores) and using the Sony everywhere else.

I'll try to report back on this in another 4 weeks. It helps to add the figures up once in a while, and see the big picture.

I'll be so glad when it's paid off and I don't have to do all this juggling.

Girl's Day Out

October 21st, 2005 at 12:10 pm

Just one girl, me. Smile I had a floating holiday to take, so I had the day off work. Even though it's been raining all day, it was still nice.

First I went and did the PNC offer, which by the way I found over on Fatwallet.com (I should have given credit). It's actually even better than I originally noticed. When you sign up for the rewards program on the debit card, they automatically give you 10,000 points, which qualifies you for a $25 gift card of your choice right off the bat. So it's really a $60 deal instead of a $35 one. Hope all goes through ok--the customer service person wasn't sure how the special web deal worked, and had to call in to find out. But I do already have the $10 Best Buy gift card in my hot little hands, so that's something.

Next I drove over to the town we used to live in 10 years ago, before we bought our house. It was already upscale compared to where we were able to buy, and it's only gone onward and upward since we moved! The crummy old Superfresh is now a fancy Genuardi's supermarket, which was my first stop. I've been seeing some good sale prices there on http://www.cairo.com, and figured I'd get one of their savings cards. I scoped the place out and was able to get a few sale items already. Very nice, especially the 1/4 of the store that was actually a sit-down restaurant.

Also discovered there was a Baja Fresh in the same shopping center, which I'd like to try someday. (With a discounted gift card of course.)

I'm trying to use up last year's Entertainment Book coupons before they run out on November 1. So I used a bakery coupon and got some nice stuff for 50% off. If any of you follow true crime, maybe you remember the case where the NJ rabbi hired someone to kill his wife, and the wife was well-known as a bakery owner? Well, this was one of her bakery locations, and I'd never been there.

Had a coupon for Hallmark also, so I went to look at Christmas cards. It was pleasant to look at everything, but I just couldn't get psyched to spend $3.99 per card, even with a coupon.

Now I'm off to polish my nails, for DH more than myself. Gotta keep him happy; I just usually don't have the time or patience to sit around waiting for them to dry. No dinner to worry about as we're getting pizza. We have beer, movies and books on hand, so I anticipate a nice relaxing evening.

My Stress is definintely Less today. Smile

Allowance account for me?

October 20th, 2005 at 07:23 am

With all the new-account offers out there, I want to be careful and not let things get out of hand. Keeping on top of paperwork is not my strong point. But now I'm thinking of opening a checking account in just my name, because a local bank is offering $35 in gift cards to open one.

Link for PNC bank offer -- http://pncbank.com/offers/0,3810,7723,00.html

Here's the thing. DH gets a set amount of cash every two weeks that is his to spend. Neither of us needs to account for where it goes, because "DH Cash" is already a budget entry of its own. It's simple and it works because 99% of his purchases are with cash. Also, it helps that he's not buying anything for the household out of it. It's all his money and that's that.

Now with me, I'm buying things in stores and online. I'm buying things with cash, credit cards and a debit card. I'm spending money on household things, and for myself, and sometimes picking things up for DMom. It gets really confusing. For years, I haven't been sure how much I could claim for just me, or how to manage it. I get cash out that's supposed to be for me, and it ends up getting spent on groceries, dry cleaning and the post office. Whenever I spend money for something I want, whether with credit cards or cash, I end up wondering if I should have.

Inspired by Jorge, I did just rename an ING savings account for Concerts and Events, but that's really for things DH and I would do as a couple. Concerts, air shows, class reunions, etc. That still doesn't cover things for just me.

I figure a separate checking account would be better than a savings account or a cash envelope, because I'll be able to spend money directly from it with a check or debit card. (And this debit card even has a rewards feature.) When the balance gets toward zero, I'll know my personal spending for the month is done. Much easier than running budget reports in Quicken all the time. I just have to figure out how much can go into my little account, and remember to have my stuff rung up separately from household stuff.

I wonder how other people manage their personal allowances, vs. the houshold money they are handling.

Little bits and pieces

October 18th, 2005 at 05:21 am

Yesterday went well, especially considering it was a Monday. It's my longest day out of the house, and the morning is usually spent trying to catch up on the weekend mess. Usually I run out of the house late, having left things undone and feeling behind. This week I actually got to work early, and had lots of stuff ready to take to the post office on my dinner hour. I got a lot done at work, too. So I treated myself to a caramel-flavored coffee for $1.05 on the way back from dinner--positive reinforcement. Smile

What I got into the mail were: 2 rebate offers, 1 prescription reimbursement form, 1 package of awful correction pens (they're supposed to send me a new, better product), and a book that sold on Amazon. All little bits and pieces that will help us keep in the black.

I wonder if anyone else has had this experience--on the prescription reimbursement form, they asked for the prescribing doctor's DEA number. All the other info they wanted was on my receipt, except this. I called my doctor's office and they wouldn't give it to me--they put me on hold a long time, and passed me from person to person. What it came down to was, they said don't give that information out to patients because it could be used fraudulently. They kind of made me feel like a drug-addicted criminal, just for asking! And I'm sure the number is on the prescription forms they hand out every day, anyway. All this hassle just to get $7 back from Blue Cross for blood pressure medicine. What I ended up doing was putting on the form, doctor's office will not provide, please call them at xxx-xxx-xxxx. We'll see what happens.

There were booksales at two libraries this past weekend, but DH and I each had our own reasons for skipping them. DH ran short of cash last week, when he overdid it at the last booksale we went to. I felt very behind after spending so much time on the car repairs last week, and just wanted to stay home and catch up. I'm sure we won't have long to wait for another sale to go to, though. Like they stay about streetcars and men, another one is always just around the corner. Wink

I was supposed to be cutting back on groceries and such this month and next, to catch up on overspending in September. But now it's turkey time at all the supermarkets, where if you spend a certain amount you get the free turkey or ham or a % off your next shopping trip. And, there are a lot of sales going on at Pathmark for things we'll need over the next few months anyway. So I'm continuing to spend, and stocking up. Beyond getting a deal, it just feels good to see a full pantry and know that in the next snowstorm all I'll need to do is walk up to Eckerd's on the corner for milk. One thing I'm trying to do is make one rebate purchase a week at Pathmark. The purchase goes toward the free whatever, but it's not actually money spent because of the rebate.

Am almost caught up on watching all the Monarch of the Glen episodes that are on DVD. They play it on public tv around here, but I'd missed some episodes so I've been borrowing it from the library. There is something very satisfying about watching upper-crusty people, living in a castle, having to learn to cut down and pinch pennies...

Another car repair--glad yesterday is over.

October 13th, 2005 at 05:20 am

For the past few weeks, something in my car hadn't been right. Some kind of loose feeling in the front end, and a vibration coming up through the steering wheel. At first it only happened at higher speeds, then it kept getting worse. It got to the point I was avoiding the freeway I usually use, and driving on slower local roads instead, because I was afraid of what might happen. I was trying to avoid a car repair until I had more emergency money saved up. But I got to work late a couple of times because of taking the longer route, and the problem just kept getting worse, so I figured I'd better not wait anymore.

Yesterday I spent the best part of 5 hours getting to and from the car repair place, and waiting for it. The repair cost $508 and there was only $80 available in the emergency account I opened awhile ago. So onto the 0% Sony cc it went. Part of the job was an alignment, and when I drove it out it was pulling to the side--the alignment was worse coming out than it went in! In addition, I discovered that the fan for the heater and a/c now only works on high. It worked yesterday. I was extremely suspicious that they either bumped something by accident, causing the fan problem, or caused the problem deliberately, to create more work for themselves. Especially because I also didn't have this front end problem until just after they did the timing belt a few weeks ago.

(I did some research online, though, and discovered that the blower resistor, which controls the fan speed, is a weak point on my car. One poor guy on a message board is replacing his 3 or 4 times a year!)

I was already on edge because of PMS (thank goodness that's over!). Burger King kept about 6 people waiting in the drive-up line before taking anyone's order, and then they messed up my order. The receptionist at AAA told me to go the wrong desk to pick up the Entertainment Book, which used up more time. My day was so messed up I didn't eat lunch til 2 p.m. or dinner til 8 p.m. (Cold BK, warmed over.)

By the time I had the chance to call the car repair place back and complain, I was not a happy camper. I'm afraid my Inner *itch took over; now I feel kind of badly. I think when I take the car back in on Friday, I'd better take them an Entenmann's coffee cake or something.

If not for the PMS--If not for the day being so rushed--If I'd had time to come home, do an aerobics tape and take another shower before work--If I'd had a chance to eat right--If I'd had time to be online a little while and chill out. And most importantly--IF I'D HAD THE $508 READY AND WAITING IN THE SAVINGS ACCOUNT--I don't think I would have snapped. You can't control everything, but if just one or two things had been different about the day, it would have made a world of difference. And one thing I can control is having money socked away.

After this, I think I'm ready to start throwing all extra money into the Emergency Account, until it's built up to a comfortable level. Rebate checks, coins, etc. There are things I've been starting to hanker for, like those nicer razor blades, a gym membership, and so forth. But if using money on that stuff means continuing to deal with emergencies in such a stressful way, it's just not worth it.

Heartwarming experience at Aldi's today

October 11th, 2005 at 04:11 pm

I ran in just to get some fruit my husband likes, and as usual the lines were long.

Things seemed to be moving unusually slow, though, and I finally realized the woman at the front of my line was short of money. A lot of Aldi customers seem to be stretching their pennies, and I've seen this happen several times before. This woman was putting things back like cans of 39 cent beans, one at a time, trying to get it down to where she could pay the bill. The cashier was being very patient, and luckily nobody in line was grumbling or rolling their eyes. But it was still kind of a stressful, embarrassing situation for everyone.

Finally, the woman in front of me told the cashier, "tell her not to worry about it. I'll pay it." And she did! I wondered at first if they were friends or family members shopping together, but no--they were total strangers. The "Good Samaritan" said she'd had weeks like that, and she hated to think of the woman's kids going without food because she was a little short. The cashier said things were tight for her too, as a single mother. They both agreed at least they were better off than the customer who couldn't pay.

I'll tell you, when I came out to the car and tried to tell my mother what happened, I broke down and cried. When I finally got it out, she started to cry too. I didn't know whether to be sad that so many people were having a hard time, or happy that there are such nice people out there.

It just points up what I've heard before--people with less money are more generous (percentage wise) than wealthier people. I'm sure it's because they have a more intimate knowledge of how much the help is needed. In The Millionaire Next Door, I remember the saying "my favorite charity is myself," which is a good indication of the mindset I mean. Not that I don't want more money socked away. But I'd rather be someone who helps people out in the checkout line than a millionaire who's a jerk.

The trouble with freebies

October 10th, 2005 at 05:19 am

I've gotten a lot of nice free stuff that hasn't caused any later harm in our budget. Mostly, it turns out a trial product is good, but not much better than what I've been using. I don't have a strong urge to actually spend money to get more of it. For example, free bath stuff from Calgon. It's nice, but when it's time to actually buy something, usually I go back to Pathmark's store brand of bubble bath and I'm perfectly happy.

But the whole purpose of a lot of freebies is to hook you on a product and get you to buy it in the future. What if you see there *is* a big difference over what you've been using and you get spoiled? For me right now, it's Schick Quattro for Women razor blades. For probably 20 years I've survived using plain old disposable Bic shavers, and not even the sensitive skin or ladies' kind. They come out to roughly 12 cents or so a piece, on sale. The best price I can find for the Quattros even on Ebay is around $1 a piece, often over a dollar, $1.25 or $1.50. Which means each cartridge is 100 TIMES the cost of my old shavers. The best price I could find in a store was at Walgreen's, on sale, with a coupon and a rebate, and it still came out to over $1.50 a piece.

I hate to admit how much time I've spent on Ebay trying to win some at the low end of the prices I've seen in the completed listings. I'm in a quandary about whether to continue looking there, just buy them outright at the best price I can find, or give them up. Are they that much better that I should keep on using them? Are they 100x better? If I do decide to keep using them, should I spend $60 to buy them in quantity on Ebay, or just try to fit a full-price package in my monthly budget? I'm getting darned tired of thinking about it.

When I think of spending $60 it just sounds ridiculous--I'm used to spending $12 for a year's worth of Bics, for both my husband and me. Now I'm thinking of spending $30+ a year on just me, when we are thousands of dollars in debt.

If I just could find them wholesale, it might be profitable to sell them on Ebay myself--at least profitable enough to pay for my own supply!

Can't say yet what I'll do because right now I seem to be in the midst of a PMS attack. It always makes me impatient, which I'm realizing has consequences as far as spending. (Will discuss more in another post.)

Rethinking take-out

October 8th, 2005 at 10:29 am

No, I'm not going to try and cut it out. Take-out dinners once or twice a week help save my sanity. And frankly, DH would like to live on burgers, cheesesteaks, hoagies and pizza if I'd let him, anyway. It's a part of our life and I just have to keep the costs under control.

It's been pretty easy the past few months because of a pizzeria we discovered recently. I was counting on their $6 pizzas every Tuesday, plus cheesesteak/fries combos they had good coupons out for. The problem is, they seem to have gone out of business already! Frown I guess they couldn't make money selling the food so cheaply. It's a shame, because the food was good.

So now I have to get creative, and be more attentive to other deals that are out there.

I'll definitely be buying more Wendy's and maybe Burger King gift certificates through Passport To Fun.

I went through the Entertainment Book that expires Nov 1, to see what restaurants let you use the coupons for take-out. There are a lot that sound like regular restaurants, but don't say "dine in only," so they look like a possibility. (It's like pulling teeth to get DH out to a restaurant, so we might as well use them for take-out.) I found a post here about a free trial for the Entertainment Book which lets you print out 3 online coupons without buying the new book. And I called AAA to find out what their price was for the new books. ($5 off and no shipping because you pick it up at the AAA office.)

The only other thing I can think of right now is remembering to order Chinese food at work before 3 p.m., so we get it at the lunchtime price. The only difference is, you get a can of soda instead of an egg roll. Usually I don't think to do it til the end of the day; I'll just have to plan better.


October 6th, 2005 at 11:46 am

I'm borrowing this from Five Cent Nickel on PFBlog.com, where I just read about it. I tried it today, and it actually worked, as advertised!

Say you're out at a bookstore and wonder if you can get a book cheaper on Amazon. Or you're at a library booksale or yard sale and wonder if a book is worth trying to resell. What you do is call this number on your cell phone: 617-712-3574 and when prompted, enter the ISBN number from the book. It tells you the list price, Amazon's price for new, and the lowest used price listed by Marketplace sellers. Today at the booksale, it saved me from spending money on quite a few books that are only selling for pennies on Amazon. I was able to keep my spending to only $3, which included two books I wanted for myself, plus several I can sell for a total of about $18. And I don't have to go lugging a bunch of unsellable books to Goodwill, after lugging them all home in the first place.

If you want to buy a book you looked up through their number, they ask that you go to their website and order it through their interface so they get a small affiliate fee back from Amazon. In any case, it doesn't cost YOU anything but the cell phone call. I'm very happy with it--especially since I just saw an ad for a similar business that wants $4.99 a month for the service.

Library booksales = cheap books

October 5th, 2005 at 10:51 am

DH and I have been shopping at library booksales for years. I thought I'd mention it and pass along a few tips for anyone who hasn't tried it yet.

You just can't beat prices like 25 cents for a paperback or $1 for a hardcover--unless it's buying a whole bag for $1 which sometimes happens during the last hour or so of a sale. Sometimes during the bag sale we just grab a bag of miscellaneous paperbacks in good condition, just so we can turn the books in for credit at our local paperback exchange. If very lucky, there will be one or two items that will sell for a good price on Amazon, sometimes paying for everything else we bought.

At first, I was kind of shy about going to libraries we didn't belong to--but believe me, they don't much care if you are a member or not, when it comes to buying books at their sales. They just want to raise as much money as possible. The only exception is, sometimes they have a special preview sale for Friends of the Library members. But you can usually just join the Friends group on the way in, if you don't mind spending a few extra dollars.

It's a good idea to take along something cold to drink, and leave it in your car for after the sale. We've found that book shopping is thirsty work, for some reason.

If you plan on buying a lot, it can be worth taking your own bags. Sometimes they don't have enough bags on hand, and it's also easier to carry one or two large bags instead of 5 or 6 overloaded plastic grocery bags. Large department store bags with the boxy bottoms are good, also the plastic bags they sell at Aldi's for 10 cents a piece. For awhile I think I was known at certain booksales as "the Aldi bag lady."

Usually they also sell vinyl records, CDs, cassettes and videos, too. Although I haven't seen an 8-track for quite a while. Wink A good source for cheap kids' entertainment, exercise videos and such.

You can call around to local libraries to try and get the dates for upcoming sales, or check the websites for libraries in your area. But it can save some time to use this website: http://www.book-sales-in-america.com/ Just click on your state to get upcoming sale dates. The only problem is, they depend on the libraries or Friends groups to submit information, and they don't always get around to it. Still, it's a help. And the ads for bookstores and book scouting businesses are interesting.

Even though I've stopped counting on reselling books on Amazon, it's still a fun outing and a very cheap way for us to find books for ourselves. DH and I have a couple of days off together this week, and our first little trip will be to the county booksale as soon as it starts tomorrow morning. Smile

Free PIM software--a nice surprise

October 4th, 2005 at 06:17 am

I checked back to when I last felt overwhelmed with loose ends and unfinished stuff--it's been a little over a month. It got me thinking to how I should just schedule a catch-up day once a month, and keep a running list of things I'll handle then. It's just a matter of what method to use to schedule it and keep the running list. It's hard to find a system I can stick with and won't forget to keep up with.

The most organized I've been was when I was using some software called Time and Chaos. I've had two different versions of it on two computers--as far back as when they sent you diskettes in the mail! After my last computer died, I got very leery of depending on a computer to run my life. Even with files backed up, it was a hassle to get things going again. So I never got a new version of T&C for this computer.

Yesterday, though, I got to feeling so desperate I checked their website to see how much it costs now. Their newest version is $45, and from past experience it would be worth every penny--even though I don't want to spend it right now. But the great news is, the previous version is now available completely free!!! And although it's an older version, it still works for Windows XP.

I can highly recommend it, if you need something for appointments, a to-do list, telephone book, etc. It's great for setting up repeating tasks like "clean out the fridge" once a month, in addition to dr. appointments and such. Here's a link. Scroll down the page to the Legacy section to get to the free version 5 download.


Crazy Eights Sale

October 2nd, 2005 at 03:28 am

I feel like I've made up for lots of mistakes through a great sale at Stop and Shop.

I could see from the circular that their Crazy Eights sale was a good deal. You bought 8 items from a particular group of products, and got an $8 coupon to use later. Since many of the items were only $1, you basically got them for free. What they didn't say in the circular, that I only found out from a message board, was that you could do this over and over again. You could even take the first $8 coupon and use it to buy the 2nd group of 8 products, and so forth, so you hardly had to put out any actual money. I didn't know about this til late in the week, but I still managed to go 4 times!

I used 2 of the coupons and still have 2 to use this week--on things like B1G1F chicken, and Ragu on sale for which I also have coupons. Because of all the stocking up I've been able to do for practically nothing, it's not going to be hard at all to keep to my reduced food budget this month. Whew! Thank goodness for: Stop & Shop's sale, the info I can get on the internet, working part-time, and storage space.

Also, our property tax rebate of $350 arrived in our bank account yesterday, instead of October 15 as I expected. Saturday was a good day. Smile