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Taking advantage of training freebie

May 19th, 2012 at 06:32 am

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that librarians in my state were eligible to sign up for free, three-week subscriptions at

Text is http://www.lynda.com and Link is
http://www.lynda.com, a website that offers tutorials on tech and business topics. I jumped on it! At work, I'm responsible for doing our little class on Microsoft Word, now that the person who used to do that class has been cut back to virtually no hours. I'm not that familiar with the old version, let alone the 2010 version we recently put on a few public computers. In addition to doing classes on request, I also need to help people on the computers throughout the day and should really get better acquainted with all of Office.

I have to say that having only three weeks of access to the tutorials has motivated me to use it. I have a list of other free tutorial sites that I've never gotten around to using simply because I didn't have a deadline. I like the Lynda.com tutorials I've used so far, and I like how they keep track of which lesson you're on, let you keep a queue of other ones you're interested in, and suggest appropriate followup tutorials when you finish one. I'm seriously thinking of paying for a membership when my free time is up, however--if I no longer have a deadline to take advantage of it, will I continue using it?

There's a lot more there that would be useful to me beyond the Office training. Although our operating budget at work was cut back drastically, for some reason we got approved for a large capital expenditure on new computers, and I'll mostly likely have to set up and maintain them. They'll probably come with Windows 7, which I've never used. I've been keeping an eye on job openings at other libraries, too, just to be on the safe side. One job description appealed to me but would have been a stretch--they wanted someone who knows several programming languages in addition to having the MLS. My library school master's is 25 years old this month, and while I have experience on my side, I feel as if I don't update my technical skills it will be hard to compete with more recent graduates who have training on all the current things. That is, if I really am laid off, eventually. I'm still having a hard time gauging how likely that is.

Beyond possibly paying to watch these tutorials, is it time to consider buying a new computer at home, with Windows 7 on it? (I can't just buy the software because my PC doesn't meet the requirements.) Over the years, I've found that it's hard getting up to speed on new things if I only have access to them at work--there's never enough time to just sit there and learn, undisturbed.

I'm in a quandary every day about whether to spend money or not, because of a possible layoff. Should I not buy clothes because I might be laid off, or should I buy them because I need decent outfits on hand for possible job interviews and because in the fall I'll be working a lot of 6-day weeks. Should I not spend money on a new computer and tutorials because I might be laid off, or should I spend the money because I might be laid off. Should we go ahead and spend the money on home improvements because DH and I have the time right now to be here and monitor the work, or not? (If DH had to go back to work, and I had to take a job with a longer commute, and neither of us had any vacation time built up yet, it would be nearly impossible to manage.)

Any thoughts?

Back after 2-1/2 years

April 22nd, 2012 at 02:04 pm

A quick test message will have to do for now--just lost a long post about why I'm back, but I don't have time to redo it.

Basically, there have been cutbacks at my job; I'm scared and feel the need to save money like crazy. However, time and energy are always an issue and I don't know how I'm going to manage it.

Gee, I hope this works!

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.


Paying myself back rather than the cc

March 16th, 2009 at 08:56 am

I've gotten back into that vicious cycle that Carol Keeffe describes so well in her book*--one month you charge some groceries and toothpaste, the next month when you pay the bill it leaves you short to buy the new month's groceries, and you end up using the credit card again and again each month.

When things were really wild over the past few months, I'd just shop when I could. I didn't always have cash with me, and didn't always know for sure how much was in our checking accounts. I didn't want to overdraw an account, so I used the credit card to be safe. If I was using the credit card, I couldn't go to Aldi, and I didn't have time to shop the sales and use coupons, either. I didn't always take time to record what I spent. Often I had to charge things that were really for my mother, which confused things even more. (She doesn't have a credit card of her own.)

Result--a balance I've been paying off each month, but sometimes painfully so.

This weekend I "borrowed" $140 from our bills account to cover a big food shopping trip. I've got a lot of catching up to do, as we've used up a lot of stockpile items, and a lot had to be throw away because it got spoiled or was way out of date. I'll probably have to "borrow" some more next week. So far this month I've already spent $284 on groceries and we're only half through.

But at least I can pay myself back at my leisure with no interest adding up. And it's enabling me to take advantage of some really good sales and coupons, like a series of $5 off $40 coupons at one of our stores.

* "How to get what you want in life with the money you already have"

One last entry

August 11th, 2008 at 05:45 am

My own mother had full-blown stroke on June 1, and it's basically changed my life. Several times I've had ideas for entries about how caregiving can affect your finances, or my observations on Medicare. But I just haven't had time to write.

In fact, I haven't had the time to read the other blogs, and when I checked in to read new posts in the forums, there were hundreds more than I had time to check out.

DMom is actually doing pretty well, living in one of her two houses and trying to sell the other one. But she's not supposed to drive, so DH and I are doing a lot of running, and we're the ones trying to empty out the for-sale house. I don't see things calming down any time soon--when one project is done, there's another one waiting to be started.

So, it's been fun and fulfilling, but this blog has to go. Best of financial luck to everybody. Smile



Death in the family

February 19th, 2008 at 06:02 am

One day we got a call that my MIL had a stroke, but not to worry because it appeared to be mild. A week later we were hundreds of miles from home, attending her viewing. I can't believe everything happened so fast. She was 90, so it shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was. She was still driving til the end, and had just cooked a big dinner the night before the stroke.

Since this is a financial blog, I'll try to write about things from that perspective.

First of all, when you're in a crisis situation like this, you can't always do things the cheapest way. We took Amtrak, which probably cost a bit more than driving would have been. But we didn't want to drive that far in wintry weather, on roads we weren't familiar with. We could have gotten a AAA discount if we could have made our reservations sooner, but we didn't know the date of the viewing and funeral til after the discount deadline. I also just found out we could have gotten a discount on one return fare with a coupon code, but I didn't have time to search for codes beforehand.

I'm glad that we still had a credit card, and I hadn't closed it out as per Dave Ramsey. It was nice to be able to charge the train fare, reserve the rooms, buy DH some clothes and pay for the local obituary FAST. I had enough to do without running around, getting extra money into the account that has the debit card and waiting for the deposit to clear. OTOH, I'm glad we had some money in the Emergency Fund so we can pay the bill off right away.

It's a good idea to always have suitable clothes on hand for a funeral (or wedding), and sufficient traveling gear. We hadn't traveled in years, and had gotten rid of some crummy old luggage without replacing it. I had to run out and buy a cheap set of suitcases at the last minute. (Nope, I didn't have the time to check where they were made!) Luckily, I'd bought DH some dress shoes on sale awhile back, even though he rarely needs them. He also still had a suit that fit. But he needed a new shirt, and a coat to wear over the suit. His old bomber jacket would have just looked embarrassing. It would have been a lot less stressful if we'd had all of this stuff on hand to begin with.

My oldest BIL is executor, and when we last saw him he was having trouble even finding my MIL's social security number. He hadn't really been involved with her paperwork over the years, and lives at a distance, so he's going to have quite a job finding and making sense of things. I'm more determined than ever to arrange things so DH can manage if something happens to me. He doesn't do computers at all, so this will mean converting back to paper in a lot of ways.

Finally, and most importantly, my MIL's eulogy reminded me to spend less time on finances and more time on enjoying life. The contrast with my own mother is marked. MIL didn't end up with a fortune, but she had a lot of travel and other fun under her belt. She enjoyed trying new things when she had the chance. My own mother has been very careful about money and everything else over the years. Rather than trying new things, she's apt to wonder "why would anyone want to do that?" She's a worrier from way back. So I've been thinking about how I'd rather hear my life summed up, at the end.



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:

Text is http://stressless.savingadvice.com/2006/05/01/kissing-and-coffeepots_7883/ and Link is
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.

Full Plate Part 2 - Family Stuff

December 12th, 2007 at 06:28 am

It started about 4 weeks ago.

DMom finally decided to have the bathroom redone in one of her houses, so that one house was completely livable and she could sell the other one. She's been driving between the two houses almost every day for over 20 years. Did I mention she's 90 years old???

DH and I attended meetings with the remodeler with her, moved furniture and breakable stuff so they could get in and work, made phone calls, made sure there was food and coffee in the house, etc. DH also got a shed torn down and some yard work done while it was going on.

For 3 weeks, we took turns being at the house at 8 a.m. to let the remodelers in. DMom couldn't sleep there because there was no bathroom, and she couldn't drive down herself to meet them because she doesn't get that early a start in the mornings. We'd wait til she got there, then tried to get on with our own days.

We thought it was only going to be 2 weeks, so we scheduled our own roofing job for week 3. But as it turned out, I was at DMom's with her remodelers while DH was home dealing with our roofers.

At the end of the job, we discovered the toilet they gave DMom was not nearly powerful enough...you don't want to know! I ended up working a split day, managing a toilet changeover for her during my afternoon off.

It was getting to be very stressful because while sitting at DMom's house, we were holed up in her living room which is crammed with old, crumbling dirty stuff she doesn't want to get rid of. We saw tons of things that need to be thrown out, given away, cleaned, or stored. We could have gotten a lot more done while we were there anyway--but she just kept saying No, No, No. She couldn't deal with that much change all at once. Very frustrating.

Finally at the end of the projects, DH and I sat down after dinner to relax, but it wasn't meant to be.

My BIL, who lives with my MIL (also 90) has had bipolar disorder for many years, which has been pretty well controlled with lithium except during extra stressful periods. Well, it was starting to have medical side effects and they changed his medication.

I won't go into detail, but we've spent many hours on the phone with family, the security guard in my MIL's development, the mental health crisis people. The police and crisis folks were at the house 6+ hours before he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. He'd been holding MIL practically hostage, pulled out the phone lines so she couldn't communicate with the outside world. He was suicidal, and there's a good chance there's still an old gun on the property that he hid somewhere. The police looked for it, and couldn't find it.

We are all very apprehensive about how long the hospital will keep him, how he'll be when he gets out, and how to keep my MIL safe. I called the social worker's office at the hospital but only got an answering machine and no call back yet. I emailed the Red Cross's Lifeline service (the I've fallen and I can't get up thing) but it bounced back as a bad address. More frustrations I really don't need.

We've also got DMom's car at our mechanic because lots of repairs have been adding up and we felt it wasn't safe for her to drive. It looked like she hadn't gotten an oil change for over a year! She's just developed a bladder infection and since her car's in the shop, I'm driving her to doctor appointments and the drugstore this week.

I've been spending money like a drunken sailor--can't even tell you what on. I had to raid the Bills checking account for stuff that should be coming out of the Groceries checking account, but I don't see how it could be helped. I can't see my financial life getting back under control until things start to calm down. I've been lurking on a Debtor's Anonymous email list, and know I would be taken to task for Vagueness (not writing down everything spent, not spending within a budget). My mental reply to the DA folks right now is, "Get Real!"