Quantcast Finally Frugal: June 2008

The bumpy road to financial independence. . . .


Friday, June 27, 2008

Good news and bad news. . .

Bad news first.

I invited a new friend over for dinner last night, and was stood up! I had been looking forward to it---I happened to have a free evening (i.e. no work, no school), which doesn't occur often these days. Although we made our plans a few days ago, to be truthful, I suppose I can't really say I was 'stood up'---it might be more accurate to say that I was 'rainchecked', because he's swamped at work. I guess I'm not the only one, eh?

On to the good news.

He let me know with enough time that I spent exactly zero money on our dinner. I hadn't visited the grocery store yet, nor had I even begun preparing any food. Being that it's the end of the month, I was stressing a bit about the extra money I would be spending. Instead, I found myself with a lazy, sunny evening on the deck (free!), reading a couple of magazines that have been sitting around the house for months (also free!).

So, whether or not this guy gets another invitation to dinner at my house, this situation does beg the question: how does one entertain without spending loads of cash? Here are a few ideas I came up with last night as I watched the sun go down:

  • Go for a walk or hike: Portland is full of parks, large and small. There is a great one near me called Mount Tabor, which has some nice trails, plus lawn areas that have views of downtown. Most parks are accessible by public transportation, and a short drive would take us to some other amazing hikes, without using too much gas.
  • Bike rides! Again, with Portland being a very bike friendly city, it's an easy ride to the waterfront (or to a park!). Bring an inexpensive picnic and you can have a lovely day by the river for very little money.
  • Free events. Powell's Bookstore often offers author readings and lectures. I've only been to one since I've lived in Portland (Calvin Trillin), but that's because I haven't regularly checked the Powell's Bookstore website to see what's coming up. Best of all, these events are free! Working on a university campus, there are also loads of free and low-cost events all the time.
  • Movie night--at home. The library has DVD's that can be rented (free, of course), although this takes some planning. I've found that these movies often have lots of holds, so signing up for a DVD and being flexible about when to watch it are key. When this doesn't work, renting a $4 DVD from a video store is a good second choice.

I'm sure there are more ideas for free or low-cost entertaining and socializing out there in the blogosphere. I'll keep looking, and if you have any suggestions of your own, feel free to comment!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Small victories. . . .

Through taking the bus and grouping my trips, I still have a little over half a tank of gas left this month! Usually, I use at least a tank a month, which lately is running about $45. By being much more aware of my driving, and thinking about other ways to get where I need to be, I've succeeded in halving my gas needs this month!

Here are some other tips to save on gas, since most of us need to drive at least some of the time, if not every day:

  • Don't use the A/C. As the weather grows warmer (in the 90's here in Oregon this weekend!), the urge to turn on the air conditioning in the car grows stronger and stronger. What I've started doing is bringing an ice cold bottle of water with me in the car (sometimes half frozen). Taking sips of this cold liquid helps cool me down without using the gas-sucking A/C.
  • Drive the speed limit. This is a no-brainer, I guess. Driving faster than you really need (or should) uses more gas, so an easy way to decrease your gas usage is to slow down.
  • Check your tire pressure. I have a nail stuck in one of my back tires (note to self: must get that fixed), which means that I have to keep an eye on that tire, because it deflates quicker than the others. The benefit to this is that each time I top up that back tire, I take the time to re-inflate the others. Some experts believe you can increase gas mileage by 25% just by doing this on a regular basis.
  • Remove the roof rack, if you have one. I used to have a bike rack on my car, for the three times a year I took my mountain bike somewhere far away. Eventually, I realized that not only was the rack unnecessary, it was also cutting down on the aerodynamics of my car.
  • Make sure you're regularly maintaining your car. Tune-ups, changing the air filter, and getting regular oil changes can make a big difference in how efficiently your car runs.

Although my car is over ten years old, and only gets about 20 MPG these days, making little changes can add up over time to big savings!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Apologies. . . . .

I'm sorry for my blog silence over the past few days! I thought when the term ended I would have almost two weeks of relaxation and school-free bliss, but that was not the case, unfortunately. How is it that I've been busier than ever?

I think what happened is that I've tried to cram so much (socializing, cleaning the house, getting the yard in order, making travel plans) into my two week break that I became overwhelmed. The worst part is, I've not been keeping close track of my spending---I'm afraid to look at my bank account!

This week, classes start up again, and I'm hoping with the return to this schedule, I'll be back at the blog on a daily, or at least every-other-day basis. One of my New Year's Resolutions for 2008 was to find a better balance between work, school, and LIFE, and while I've added more fun to my life, I've not cut back on work or school. Do any of you do this? Take on more than you can handle (or think you can handle), trying to take every opportunity, not missing out on anything? While trying to simplify my life (and succeeding in some areas), other areas are out of control!

In trying to get my life back, I came across some easy behavior changes that might help:

  • Make time for yourself. Take a walk, meditate, or visit the park.
  • Cancel subscriptions to magazines you don't have time to read (I have stacks of National Geographic sitting unread in my home right now)
  • Cut back on television time. This doesn't apply to me as much, since I watch the news in the morning and that's about it.
  • Stop being a slave to communication: home phones, cell phones, text messages, voicemail, email. All of these things are time-suckers.
  • Say 'no' instead of 'yes'. Determine which activities you really have time for. For example, I don't have to work six days a week---I can probably work four, and still be okay financially.
  • Focus on goals you'd like to meet. Focus on doing a few really well, rather than many in a mediocre way.
  • Focus on values---I think in my quest to pay my debt and increase my savings, I've forgotten that I also want to have more 'down' time in my life, more time to meet new people in a relaxed way (not in the daily hour or two I have free between jobs and school).

I think the key to possibly finding more balance in my work/school/life conundrum is to find balance in the battle to destroy my debt. I've been so focused that other areas of my life might be getting squeezed out. I am still going to work toward repaying my debt, don't get me wrong. But I may need to slow down---I only have this one life, and I'm not sure I want to look back and remember working myself to exhaustion!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The origin of shopping. . . .

When I made the decision to move from California to Portland two years ago, one of the first things my mom said was: "Who will I go shopping with"? When a good friend comes to visit, shopping is the main focus of our 'recreational' activities. When bored or depressed, I used to use 'retail therapy' to fill my time and ease my worries. I almost never shopped for necessities; nearly always, I went out in search of something to buy, without a list, and without a clear need to be filled.

Why is this? Well, a new book called 'Consumed', by Benjamin Barber may help explain this.

"The exact point at which a life of frugality – led by most people until the 1950s – developed into one of comfort, before slipping into absurd excess, is impossible to determine, admits Benjamin Barber

Since basic human needs – food, shelter, clothing – have long since been met for most people in the developed world, marketing professionals now bang their heads together to reinvent and recreate goods in order to sell more stuff.

Hyper-consumerism is a major contributor to environmental problems, yet so-called green marketers are as guilty as your average marketing man. "Don't fool yourself," warns Barber. "Green consumerism is still consuming. The simplest way to go green is not to consume, or to consume less, but these people want you to consume their way, because if you stop consuming they don't make any money."

While I haven't yet read this book (it's available at the library though, so I'll be picking it up soon!), it might be helpful to understand the marketing mechanisms that drive our consumer spending society. And understanding the tactics that are used to make us want a new cell phone every nine months or new boots with a 1.5 inch heel instead of the perfectly good one in the closet (with the 2 inch heel) may just help us to fight back, regain our frugality, and return to the values our parents and grandparents held in the 50's and before.

I sincerely want to avoid the shopping-as-recreation habits I held up until very recently. I want to concentrate on my immediate needs: food, shelter, and yes, relationships with family and friends. I'm hoping to replace my retail therapy with more laughter and real-life experiences.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On the other hand. . . .

Yesterday, I wrote a post about some products that may experience price increases as a result of the higher price of oil. Today, almost as if pre-destined, I came across an article that actually discusses items that have decreased in price in recent months! Unfortunately, none of these things could be considered 'necessities', like food, shelter, and in some cases, gas. But all the same, it was nice to see that there are still some items that have been immune to inflation so far.

For example:

  • If you're in the market for a new TV, guess what? You may very well pay less than you would have six months or a year ago. This is due to the fact that electronic items are designed to become obsolete in a very short timeframe these days----that fancy TV you bought last year is already 'old news'; you could probably pick it up new as 'last year's model' for a steal.
  • My favorite, women's clothing! I've been oh so very good at ignoring my impulse shopping. I haven't even entered a Banana Republic in ages, much less actually purchased something there. But guess what? The prices of women's clothing have decreased about 4% over the past year, while men's and children's clothing has increased in price! Now might be the time to stock up on turtlenecks, jeans, and other wardrobe staples.
  • Although airline prices are steadily rising, it turns out that hotel rooms are actually becoming cheaper. This slight decrease is a result of fewer business travelers---more supply, less demand = lower prices.
  • If you live anywhere near a theme park, aren't you lucky? Why? Because people just aren't splurging on activities like these in the current economic environment. As a result, the prices for tickets have decreased accordingly.
  • If you can't afford the theme park, how about a new toy for the kids? These are also getting less expensive, mostly due to low overseas production costs and a shrinking demographic (there are fewer 'kids' out there these days, I guess).

Now, I'm not actually encouraging you to go out and start purchasing any of this stuff---aside from maybe benefiting from cheaper hotel costs, if you have a family reunion to attend. It's simply nice to know that there are some things that we don't need to worry about, as far as inflation. I only wish my mortgage, my gas bills, and my grocery costs could appear on a list of things that are decreasing in price. . . . .

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Watch out for price increases. . . .

We're all struggling with the price of gas---now that it's well over $4.00 a gallon, I know I've changed my commute habits in the past month to drive even less than I did before. But what other products might potentially increase in price as a result of the high price of oil? Some items you might not expect, like:

Lipstick: 100% of the ingredients and probably much of the packaging in lipstick are made from petroleum products.

Paper: while paper is mostly derived from trees, as you would imagine, what you may not know is that 25% of its production relies on petroleum products (such as the process of turning pulp into paper).

Tupperware: resin, which is used in the production of this plastic product, is set to increase by about $5 million in 2008, leading to at least a slight increase in the price of this ubiquitous product.

Asphalt shingles: the price of re-roofing your house just went up. Asphalt shingles are made out of what's left when crude oil is refined. Might want to consider getting that new roof now, rather than waiting!

Shampoo: everything from the plastic for the bottle to the actual ingredients in your sweet smelling shampoo could be derived from petroleum products. Even the glue on the back of the label is made out of a petroleum product!

Tires: 62% of a tire comes from petro-ingredients, including the artificial rubber and the carbon blacking.

Pretty much anything made out of plastic could increase in price over the next years. So how can you avoid spending more on household goods?

  • Try to avoid purchasing items packaged in plastic, for example laundry detergent, or purchase products that have been 'concentrated' and therefore downsized in terms of their packaging.
  • Attempt to purchase items in packaging that can be re-used; did you know you can buy your shampoo from some beauty supply stores, and just bring in your own containers?
  • Use both sides of your paper when printing; re-use paper for taking notes, making grocery lists, and composting.
  • Think about replacing things like tires and roofs sooner rather than later, to avoid paying higher prices that are sure to come.
  • Avoid non-essential items that contain petroleum products. This would be difficult for me, a lipstick fanatic. I feel naked without it. Then again, I had no idea it was filled with oil products.

Again, I'm seeing an overlapping benefit to saving money and helping the environment. The less plastic products I purchase and throw away (or even recycle), the better for the environment. At the same time, by reusing my old tupperware and using my lipstick down to the nub I'm saving money, which is always a good thing.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Frugal quotes. . . .

I am (still) reading Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle, by David Wann. Since I love insipiring quotes, especially those relevant to frugality, simple living, and happiness without 'stuff', I was delighted to find that each chapter begins with a collection of quotes. Here are some of my favorites so far:

"Happiness is a way station between too much and too little." Channing Pollack

"Fear less, hope more, eat less, chew more, whine less, breathe more, talk less, say more, hate less, love more, and good things will be yours." Swedish Proverb

"If it works, it's obsolete." Marshall McLuhan

"Too many people spend money they haven't earned to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like." Will Rogers

"The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot." Michael Altshuler

"To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug." Helen Keller

"The point of life is not to slave away for years until the age of 65 and then say, 'Phew, glad that's over!' Rather it is to make sure that we do not die with our music still in us." Lance Secretan

"Nature uses as little as possible of anything." Johanes Keppler

"When you have Enough, you have everything you need. There's nothing extra to weigh you down, distract, or distress you. Enough is a fearless place. A trusting place. An honest and self-observant place. To let go of clutter then, is not deprivation; it's lightening up and opening up space and time for something new and wonderful to happen." Vicki Robin

This last, by the way is by Vicki Robin, one of the authors of Your Money or Your Life, one of my all-time favorites frugal reads, and one of the books that set me on my way to living more simply, paying off debt, and beginning the journey toward financial independence (not wealth, exactly, but removing myself from the 'earn to spend' mentality).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Frugal emergency. . .

My parents live in Northern California, in a small town that is basically surrounded on three sides by wildfires right now. Since the town is located on a ridge, there are limited options to escape if all roads are cut off by fire. At one point yesterday, a man came and pounded on their door, letting them know that they needed to "get out, and immediately". While packing up the car, my dad saw some search and rescue officials driving by in a truck, who told him that while they needed to be prepared, they didn't need to leave right away. Judging by the news reports today, it appears that the fire will be contained by Monday---unfortunately, approximately 65 homes have been burned, along with more than 20,000 acres.

I happened to see the news stories yesterday afternoon, and gave my parents a call, which is how I learned all of this. My mom was extremely calm, doubting that the fire would make it to the center of town, where they live (although they do live close to a canyon where the fire was raging below). I was curious to hear what my mom considered 'crucial' items to take with them in the event that they did need to evacuate.

She was incredibly blasé about the entire thing. She said they had packed up the computer, irreplaceable photos and documents, some clothing, and were prepared to get the dog and cat into their crates if need be. She said "really, those are the only things that have any importance. Everything else is just stuff".

Last night after I had talked with my parents, I looked around my own house, and thought about the things that really matter to me. Some photos, my passport and ID, my journals, my cats. That's about it. The rest, while comfortable and attractive, really is just stuff. I'll need to remember this as I struggle over the decision to move to a smaller (and cheaper) place (although, my little house is already less than 1000 square feet).

What would you take if you had to leave your home on short notice?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Not to beat a dead horse, but. . . .

Okay, I swear this will be the last post (for awhile, anyway) about the joys of public transportation and the potential for saving hundreds of dollars by ditching the car. I just have to share a website I found, through the night job, of course! It's called 'The World Carfree Network', and it's an entire movement, begun in Europe ten years ago, to support government and citizen investment in alternate transportation options. The best part, they're holding the first U.S. conference ever, in Portland next week: 'Carfree: towards carfree cities'.

I won't be able to attend, unfortunately, due to both my day job and my night job (I'm working six days a week for the foreseeable future), plus the fact that the registration fee is $440! Even by using my student status, I'd be paying $125 for the week. However, it appears that the conference will be broadcast over the internet at some point, so I intend to check out the video link for (hopefully) free access to the information presented at the conference.

I'm hoping that events like this will convince not just big cities, but also suburban and rural areas, that public transportation is a worthwhile investment. I relocated from a relatively rural area two years ago in order to be in a location that provided ample bus and light rail systems, but I don't think everyone should have to move to a city to benefit from money-saving commute options.

In the meantime, for my rural and suburban readers, how about carpooling? This is something I could have done before I lived in Portland---but driving my car gave me such a feeling of independence (and gas prices were still low enough) that I just never followed up on the opportunities. Now that I'm relying more and more on public transportation, I get that same feeling of freedom by leaving my car in the garage. . . .

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Apropos of yesterday's post. . . .

For my night job, I read a lot of online newspapers and magazines, many of which are from international papers. It's interesting to read the opinions that journalists and citizens of other countries hold about the United States, and the financial and environmental issues we all face.

Yesterday, I wrote a post highlighting the fact that many Americans are increasingly choosing to take public transportation to work, rather than spending the cash to fill up their gas tanks every week. Lo and behold, last night I came across an article from a British paper, commenting on the opinion that our next U.S. president, whomever that turns out to be, should follow in the footsteps of the UK and other European countries, in reducing congestion and sprawl. I have to say, I studied abroad in Europe on two separate occasions, and I rode my first city bus, my first 'metro' (subway) train, and my first passenger train while in Europe. I also, by the way, benefited from universal health care systems, which were great (don't knock it 'til you've tried it, folks)!

Apropos of a comment left by a reader yesterday (thanks, Leonard!) regarding home energy savings, I also came across an interesting article about an 'eco-home' in the northern reaches of Great Britain. Amazingly, the entire house uses FOUR lightbulbs (LED), and although this house is located in a town that is at the same latitude as Alaska and Greenland, the owners haven't used the heat in three months! This is due to insulation with compressed foam, and argon-gas windows. From the article, it sounds as if the cost would be prohibitive for people like you and me, but imagine if this type of home insulation were affordable! My optimistic side thinks that sometime in the next two decades we'll all be living in homes in which eco-friendly add-ons are the standard.

As for me, I had an energy audit done on my house last year. Improving my home's insulation was first on the list (I actually don't believe my 50's home has ANY insulation, and since I have a flat roof, I don't even have an attic in which I can easily---and affordably---add some), along with replacing the aged water heater and the furnace. These projects are a little out of my price range at the moment, but I'm keeping them in mind for the future, when I've paid off my debt and beefed up my emergency fund. The best part about the energy audit, aside from the fact that it was free, was that the technician brought a giant box of CFL lightbulbs, and proceeded to replace most of my old lightbulbs, also at no cost!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saving money on your commute. . . .

As I was eavesdropping on the light-rail (Max) system the other day, as I often do, I listened in on a conversation between two gentlemen discussing their commute. They talked about how long it normally takes to get to work via driving versus public transportation (not much less, when traffic lights and other drivers are taken into account), and more importantly, they went into great detail (to my delight) about how much they're saving by riding the Max versus driving their "gas guzzlers" (their words, not mine).

One of the men explained that he pays $20 a week to ride the Max (clearly, he doesn't have a TriMet pass, as I think this might save him some money), while it costs him $57 per week to fill his SUV's gas tank each week! That's a $37 a week savings, which would be, let's see, $148 in savings per month! Each of the men felt that riding the light rail system was a much better option than spending the money filling their gas tanks.

A few weeks ago, I broke down the cost of riding the Max versus how much it would cost me to drive to work, including gas and parking. I calculated that I save over $100 a month by not driving to work! It appears that with the recent rise in gas prices, which aren't supposed to decrease any time soon---if at all---Americans are seeking public transportation options and driving less than ever before! According to this article on CNN, Americans drove 11 billion miles less this March than in March of 2007! That's a 4.2% decrease! Meanwhile, Americans took an astounding 10.3billion trips on public transportation in 2007, an increase of 2.1% over the year before.

Although this may be an unpopular opinion, I'm kind of happy to see gas prices rise to the levels they have (we've enjoyed artifically low prices for decades anyway). If the rise in prices forces local governments to invest in public transportation options for people in suburban and rural areas, and if people are then enticed into saving energy by carpooling, driving less, and weatherizing their homes to save on heating and cooling costs, then a $2 or $3 rise in gas is a benefit to the environment. So far, I've been able to keep my gas usage steady: my home gas bill was $4.24 last month, which is even lower than it usually is in the summer, and my auto fuel cost has hovered around $40 a month, although I'm having to be more and more creative about getting around without using my car.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Buy versus rent?

Lately, I've been considering whether I should either sell my house or rent it out, so that I can rent an apartment 'closer-in' as they say in Portland. 'Closer-in' means someplace much closer to downtown, to the river, to shops and coffee houses, and restaurants. To me, closer-in means being able to walk to the grocery store, getting to work on public transportation in 15 minutes rather than 45, and being much closer to friends with whom I'd like to socialize more frequently. This article from the Washington Post is typical of the reading I've been doing lately; and it was written in 2006, before the housing market really went bust!

Since selling a home is nearly impossible these days (even in Portland, which hasn't suffered from the craziness that other cities have), I've thought about renting out my house (at about a $350 dollar loss---meaning the rent I would get would probably not cover all of my mortgage). Then I would need to find an apartment to rent in the $700-$800 range (at the most), so my total rent plus $350 mortgage coverage would still represent a savings to me. This sounded like a great idea. Until I ran the numbers to determine my tax savings with a primary home mortgage versus the tax savings I'd receive by renting my house out.

What I discovered is that by renting, I would lose about $8,000 a year in itemized deductions. This is because I would have to offset the roughly $17,000 in deductions with my 'rental income' (which I'm estimating would be about $1200 for my house in my location). This would result in my paying more taxes. On the other hand, websites such as this one actually tell me that renting is smarter than owning right now anyway, even with the tax deductions taken into account!

The only way this makes any sense at all is if I purchase an extremely cheap condo (again, nearly impossible in the areas in which I'd like to live) so I can retain the primary home mortgage interest deduction AND add the rental deduction I'd get by having tenants in my current home.

Complicated? Yes. And me with my limited math skills---I'm not even sure I'm calculating any of this correctly (I used Schedule A and Schedule E on the IRS website to estimate all of this).

So what's a girl to do? It appears that it may be better for me to stay in my little house (which I do love, if not the location) for a while longer, until it really makes sense for me to either sell and downsize, or rent and buy a smaller, cheaper place.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Why are we still using credit cards?

According to a recent Associated Press article, Americans decreased their credit card borrowing in April. Granted, it was still an increase (meaning, an increase in the billions of dollars owed to credit card companies). However, April saw a 4.2% increase in borrowing versus 6.4% for the month of March.

Unfortunately, some Americans seem to have simply transferred their borrowing habits to other areas, like auto loans, which rose to an annual rate of 6.5%, up from 5.5% in March. Dare I hope that these auto loans represent people who are turning in their gas-guzzling SUV's, opting instead for environmentally and wallet-friendly smaller cars and hybrids?

Banks are predicting an even greater slowdown in the U.S. economy, leading to recession (if we're not already there, that is). Bloomberg published this graphic indicating that while consumers are using credit cards more often to purchase necessary items like gas and food (as opposed to vacations and clothing), due to the housing crisis Bank of America shares will decrease in value by 24%.

Meanwhile, experts urge consumers to trim their consumer debt during a recession, rather than increasing borrowing. Here's the rub, though: the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates during economic downturns, making borrowing more attractive. Lower interest rates mean that borrowing is less expensive. The detail that truly frustrates me is that the government does this on purpose, to entice consumers to borrow more!

Here's a quote from Consumer Reports, which has a very helpful list of ways to survive a recession.

"In recessionary periods, the silver lining for consumers is that interest rates often decline, making borrowing less expensive. That is entirely by design, says Sweet, an economist at Moody's.

During the 1990-91 recession, for example, the Federal Reserve gradually reduced the federal funds rate from 8 percent to 6 percent in an effort to ramp up the economy. "The reduction in short-term interest rates reduces the real cost of borrowing," notes Sweet. "This is important for stimulating economic growth, as lower interest rates entice consumers to take on additional debt to finance their consumption."

And the Fed has been on a rate-cutting spree lately. In late March, after six rate reductions since September, the federal funds rate was just 2.25 percent, down from 4.75 percent seven months earlier."

Now, I know that we live in a society in which consumption drives the economy, whether I like it or not. I choose not to contribute to over-consumption and have lowered my expenses considerably as a result. It simply frustrates me that the government continues to rely so heavily on (and even encourage) consumers fiscal irresponsibility!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Finally Frugal Weekly Roundup. . . .

Another Saturday roundup! I didn't have much time to peruse my favorite blogs this week, unfortunately, so here are just a few of the ones I did enjoy and learn from.

J.D. at Get Rich Slowly writes about unit pricing, which I've been using as a frugal tool at the grocery store for quite some time. This is where you look at the per-pound or per-ounce price of an item, so you can compare it to the name-brand or even a product for which you have coupons. Extremely helpful in determining the best deals!

Meanwhile, Frugal Dad wrote a great post about putting a cap on monthly spending, especially 'discretionary spending'. As I've been struggling with the 'fun money' item in my budget this was a great read.

Over at The Simple Dollar, Trent gives us a review of a book that I will probably never read because it sounds incredibly frustrating. It's called 'You're So Money', and while some of the ideas in it sound practical, it also seems to be forwarding a consumerist lifestyle that doesn't appeal to me in the least.

And finally, since I've not yet gone grocery shopping for the month of June (I'm holding out as long as I can), I was very interested in a list of recipes that Lynnae from Being Frugal is using to plan her menus this month. She's attempting to supercharge her frugality this month, and I wish her the best of luck!

I'll be studying for a final most of the weekend, so I suppose I'm lucky it's rainy and cool. I hope it's warmer and sunnier in your neck of the woods, wherever you are! Have a great weekend!

Friday, June 6, 2008

June Zero-Based Budget. . . .

Well, this is a little late (that seems to be a theme for me this month), but here it is. I had difficulty getting myself to even start this budget, because as I mentioned earlier this week, I anticipated that this month would be a tough one financially. Actually, looking at the numbers, it appears that as long as I can keep my airline ticket to California under $200 (one of my goals this month), I should be fine.

As you can see, I'm splitting my 'extra' money between my emergency fund and my credit card payment. I've so enjoyed watching my credit card balance shrink that even though I really need to beef up my EF (due to the possibility of an impending strike), I decided to continue paying more than the minimum on my American Express.

Now if I can just find an air ticket to California that won't break the bank!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Being green to save green. . . .

Last month, I wrote a post illustrating how little garbage I've created, since I began living more frugally. I'm much more conscious of what I buy, and therefore, the items that I throw away.

In doing some additional reading about even more ways to save money, I compiled a list of behaviors that will not only contribute to your pocketbook, they will help you live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle!

Line dry: The book I'm currently reading describes all of the resources and energy that go into creating a cotton t-shirt (growing the cotton, picking the cotton, transporting it, making it into cloth, etc); did you know that just drying that t-shirt in the machine over the life of the garment results in double the resources used? Kind of astounding, really. According to this website, you could potentially save $135 a year by not using the dryer!

Cloth diapers: Think you can't save money this way? Well, Trent over at The Simple Dollar actually analyzed this, and found that if you do it right, you actually can experience savings! And think of all the plastic you'll keep from sending to the landfill.

Invest in a thermos or re-usable hot/cold cup: This alone has probably saved me hundreds already. Because I bring my own coffee to work, I have no need to go to the local coffee-shop, where I'm likely to purchase an overpriced muffin along with my overpriced mocha! Added to this is the fact that I'm not using cardboard or styrofoam coffee cups. Think of the other foods you can put in a thermos: soups, tea, chili, anything you'd like to stay warm (or cold)!

Let the lawn go: While pretty, lawns are some of the most environmentally unfriendly plants to have in your yard. They use lots of water, and if you have a gas-powered mower or edger, you're adding to the pollution in your neighborhood. I won't even go into the dangers of pesticides getting into the storm drains and thus into local streams and rivers. Let your lawn go a few more weeks before cutting it. Let it go brown in the summer---it'll come back, I promise! Better yet, plant wildflowers, succulents, or other unthirsty plants in its place!

Collect that rainwater: Along with the lawncare, consider getting a rain barrel or other water collection device, so you can put that rainwater to good use in your garden. I dread my water bill every quarter, and am always looking for ways to conserve. Get Rich Slowly actually has an interesting post on this as well. . . .

Start a carpool: Many, many people don't have access to great public transportation, like I do. How about getting together with your coworkers (or people who work in your general area), mapping out where you all live, and learning whether you might be able to help each other save some money (and the environment) by carpooling to work?

I know some of you out there (you know who you are) have been living frugally for years; can you think of things that you do or have done that can help save money and reduce pollution at the same time?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June goals. . . . .

I apologize for the late post! I confess that I'm having a little difficulty focusing on my goals for this month, primarily because I'm anxious that it will be very tight financially and I'm hesitating to even create my zero-based budget!

Sticking my head in the sand isn't going to make me any less anxious, so today I'm committed to getting my goals out there and to updating my monthly budget. . . .


  • Add at least $200 to emergency fund to make up for $300 spent on drain repair.

  • Send at least $200 to American Express (more than twice the minimum) to continue the satisfaction of watching that balance shrink!

  • Keep gas bill under $40 this month. This might be difficult, considering gas prices. I've started taking the bus from my house a few days a week, to avoid driving to the transit center. Although it's a longer, less satisfying ride, it might help me meet this goal.

  • Find an airline ticket for $200 or less for my July trip to California. Pay cash!

  • Keep an eye on entertainment (fun) related costs, which were relatively large in May. I want to decrease this, without decreasing the fun in my life! I've tried very hard to find a balance between work, school, and having a social life, and when the chips are down, my social life suffers.


  • Increase personal learning about financial matters that I can share with readers.

  • Submit articles to five carnivals this month. I didn't meet this goal last month, so will work harder on being aware of what else is going on in the blogosphere and networking with my fellow bloggers.

  • Welcome at least 3,000 visitors to my blog this month. Last month over 3,200 of you visited me, which I find amazing. My goal this month is less than that, because many of the readers who visited came from the MSN Smart Spending site that highlighted one of my posts. Is it wrong not to try for 4,000? Can you tell I'm in an uncertain mood today?

  • Finish reading an amazing book, called 'Simple Prosperity', by David Wann, and review it on this site.

Some meaningful quotes that I've discovered in Simple Prosperity, which may interest and inspire you:

"Inconceivable amounts of money and effort are spent to fill every consumer moment with a product, leaaving little time for healthy food, great relationships, or learing new skills. Because the real wealth makes us feel content, the marketers have learned how to ridicule it and portray it as 'boring'. You don't see a lot of ads for small, well-designed houses, backpacking adventures, potluck dinners, or other experiences and products that reduce the GDP yet elevate our gladness to be alive" David Wann

"You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy" Eric Hoffer

"I'm not sure people are meant to work full-time. Life is more complicated than that. We human beings need time to think, make music, weave baskets, play with kids and dogs, bond with each other, and care for friends and family. Those of us with demanding jobs that continually spill over into our personal lives often don't have the time for those things while we work full-time". Carol Ostram

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

May goals update. . . .

Early in May, I decided to begin writing monthly goals, as an added incentive to continue acting in a frugal way, while developing this blog into something useful and interesting for others. Here’s how I did last month:


  • Increase emergency fund in preparation for possible strike. My EF was up to over $1600, with the addition of my rebate check. Unfortunately, I had to use $300 to have a clogged drain cleared in my house. The good news is, I still ended up with more in my EF than I started with--my balance is $1347.03!

  • Send more than the minimum to American Express. I was able to send $488 to AE, primarily because I received three checks from my night job this month, increasing my income considerably.

  • Keep grocery bill to less than $85 for the month. I kept it to $77.29!

  • Use no more than $300 to purchase used bike, to ride to transit center in good weather, thus saving on gas. I spent a total of $177.96 on my bike and new tires. While I have yet to ride to the transit center (I’ve discovered a bus that will take me to downtown within three blocks of my house), I have used the bike for short trips, such as returning books to the library.

  • Finally (!!!) close Verizon wireless account, thereby saving $23.50 each month. After some initial mixups, I finally closed my Verizon account, and my recent bill indicates that they owe me almost $12! Freedom!


  • Continue to research and write posts that interest and inspire myself and others. This month, I started reading about Urban Homesteading, which created some interest from readers of this blog. I hope to continue learning about this frugal, environmentally friendly movement.

  • Submit articles to at least five carnivals this month. Hmmm, I think I submitted four articles, three of which were published. Not bad!

  • Increase monthly readership---I'd like to double this in May, which means I'll need over 2,000 visits this month. My readership actually surpassed 2,000 last month, and hit over 3,200! Many, many thanks to the readers who visit and comment on my blog. Receiving validation from all of you that my financial objectives are shared by so many has been amazing!
Tomorrow, I’ll post my June goals.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bread for the masses. . . .

Last Wednesday, when I met with a group of like-minded frugal folks to talk about our frugal strategies and motivations, I learned something interesting. There is a grocery store in town that will place unsold produce and baked goods outside the back (or in this case, the side) doors every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. I've heard of stores doing this, but never knew anyone with the exact details describing when and where to go.

Being that I'm trying to reduce my grocery bills even further (see this post for tips on how I've done this so far), I decided to get up a little earlier than usual and head over to this particular store to see what there was to be had.

I must say, as I pulled up to the store and parked my car (the store is located quite a way from my house), I felt a little awkward. Was I really going to walk up to the delivery entrance of this rather high-end local store, trolling for free food? I've often read articles by and about 'freegans' who basically dumpster-dive for their clothing, furniture, and yes, even food. While I can relate to the desire to eliminate waste and 'reduce, re-use, recycle', I'm mildly repulsed by the idea of eating food from a dumpster, to be honest. But here I was, inching my way into the world of eating something that was literally inches away from the garbage can.

Here's what I found: there were two or three wooden bins, containing the remnants of produce. I picked up two brown bananas, with the intention of using these to make banana bread later in the week. I passed over the blueberries that had escaped their plastic container and rolled around loose next to wilted greenery of some sort (lettuce? cabbage? kale? who knows?). I next turned to a shopping cart filled with paper bags. Inside these bags were perfectly lovely loaves of bread of all types, plus two or three different kinds of rolls. As I chose three loaves of bread from the hundred or so that were there, two possibly homeless people rolled up on their bikes and began eyeing the food as well. After a quick greeting, I stepped away from the shopping cart, with more bread than I'll eat in a week (one loaf will go directly into the freezer).

So, will I visit this store again? Probably, but not anytime soon. Well, maybe not until the end of the month, when my grocery budget is history and I'm jonesing for more bread. Who knows? Maybe next time the produce will be more attractive and usable, and I'll get more benefit from a 7:30 a.m. alarm and a 10 minute drive.

What do you think? Does the very idea of this disgust you, or could you see yourself eating day-old bread (at least, I hope it's only day old) you picked up from a shopping cart outside the delivery door of a grocery store?

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