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Archive for April, 2006

Can't close the books yet

April 30th, 2006 at 11:29 am

We'll be going to the grocery store, to get some vegetables and perhaps some shrimp (supposed to be 78 cents for a half dozen?) to go to a barbecue. We'll perhaps play croquet, and enjoy the mild sun. Since I do water aerobics tomorrow, I may not close out my challenge books until Tuesday. I know I made it, it's just a matter of how much I am able to carry over into May.

Excellent Trade In

April 28th, 2006 at 03:55 pm

We were blown away by how many trade dollars we got at the books store; $40.78! That will help with quite a few birthday and Christmas presents. And, we also have more shelf space, since we are no longer keeping books we have no interest in re-reading. A no spend day, which always helps, and a productive day. I take advantage of my perky moments.

Shaping Up to be a Good day

April 28th, 2006 at 01:00 pm

My Guy got into the purge mood, which usually hits me much more often. So our pile for donations is nice and big, and I like being leaner. Weíve got a bunch of books weíre going to try to get some trade from-most mine. Weíre gonna walk to the bookstore, which will be .7 miles there and back. I know that with my Challenge, I have to think gifts early, and getting trade will help with that. Most folks Iíd get a gift for has at least one type of book theyíd like.

This last week Iíve not missed water aerobics once, I walked to work once, and Iíve been very conscious of eating well, eating right. No migraine, and good energy; a nice rare not too lazy day!

So, after hanging laundry and walking to the bookstore, Iíll feel proud, and maybe even purge some more. The less crud I have, the less I have to clean and dust. I want to only have things I use and love.

Free Food: A Dilemma

April 27th, 2006 at 11:04 pm

Iím trying to live on minimum wage: free food is wonderful.
Iím trying to lose 20 pounds by September 13: free food is dangerous.

As a civil servant, I rarely go to meetings with coffee offered, let alone treats. Today I ended up at a meeting with a breakfast spread that included fresh fruit, bagels and lox, and then one with a catered lunch. I did the best I could under the conditions; selected the healthiest items, ate and was happy, and gave thanks that my dilemma today was how to handle free food. Others faced worse difficulties today.

I Saw Sedaris

April 27th, 2006 at 10:59 pm

In February, pre-challenge, I bought tickets to see David Sedaris. It is very rare I buy tickets like this; the last time was to see Spalding gray, in the late '90s. My Guy and I have loved to listen to Sedaris on National Public Radio, and read him in the New Yorker or get his books. The $45 tickets were a huge treat. I was shocked at the time; it had been so long since I had gotten tickets for a performance that I had really thought it would be maybe $18, or perhaps as high as $25. If I had been on the challenge in February, I still think I would have gone, however it would have made a huge dent in my budget.

It is an unpleasant decision to have to make: 20 pounds of cheese or an unforgettable memory. Usually I choose cheese, since so many unforgettable moments are free. Tonight I was glad to have paid for this memory. I felt joyful in his presence, and am sated. And, the next time a favorite performer comes around in 2014, Iíll probably pay for tickets to see them. I donít mind payingÖ.every 8 or so years.

Laziness and Frugality: How?

April 26th, 2006 at 07:26 pm

I wrote a little piece on how being lazy and frugal can go together. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that people in my life think that my thriftiness takes a lot of effort.

Lots of frugal things might take more time; hanging laundry, or being crafty, or baking bread from scratch. When I have some energy, I do the active stuff, and prepare for those times when I wonít be up to it.

I admit I have a lazy streak. Some people arenít lazy, but the complexity of their daily lives might lead them to think they donít have the time to be frugal. It was a critical turning point for me when I realized some frugal activities are low effort, and could frankly be easier than costlier solutions. Here are ways in which laziness has worked for me.

Meals at home
When I do cook, I cook simply, and I cook a lot. Cooking one night can cover many meals. For most of the time when I donít feel like cooking, Iím prepared. If I make pasta and sauce with some vegetables, I put a couple big tubs in the freezer and some smaller ones for lunches. I just have the regular freezer in the fridge, but I can sure get a lot of loaves of bread and tubs of food in there. Crockpot meals can be as simple as three ingredients. Bulghur, broth, canned tomatoes. Whole chicken, can of coconut milk, piece of lemongrass (from Asian foods store) makes Thai chicken. It may not be as good as a restaurant meal, but it is low effort and frugal and Iím not picky.

If I make muffins, itís as much time to make a triple batch as a single batch. I can make muffins once every two weeks, taking advantage of an energetic moment. Thatís breakfast and snack food for pennies.

Take out
To fight the urge for takeout when I canít deal with cooking, I try to keep a couple low (no) effort but tasty things at home. I have a nice frozen pasta & cheese concoction in the freezer I made a while ago. In a normal mood, Iíll just use the lentils and stew and plain stuff. But when I need comfort food, and have the takeout urge, I can bring out that sorta special dish, which was the result of a simple recipe tripled. Even when bone tired I can press the microwave button. Weíve also used canned soup as Take Out-not much effort to microwave or heart on stove. Even when we splurge on a fancy $1.75 canned soup for these moments, weíre still saving big bucks. Itís less time for me to open a can of soup than to go to a place for take out.

Morning Routine
Iím not grumpy in the morning, but I donít like to get up and do too much stuff. So I prepare the coffee the night before. Iíve even put cereal in a bowl on the counter the night before, which My Guy found funny, but I do what it takes. If I was even lazier, I swear Iíd stick instant coffee in a cup with water in the microwave the night before. Having my coffee made for me, at a Java Store, would take much more effort. If I make oatmeal, three or four tubs go in the microwave. When energetic, the night before Iíll stick some fruit, yogurt and milk in the blender and stick the blender in the fridge. I have no excuse to not eat breakfast. Even if Iím running really late, I can grab the ever-present muffins, or a tub of oatmeal to microwave at work. I get out of bed at 6:45 and Iím at work at 7:30. Yes, thatís forty-five minutes including commute.

Housecleaning
I like simple and plain. My house lacks clutter. Itís very simple to clean, because not too much is in it. Living room is a couch, a book case, a TV, and a coffee table. Thatís it. Cleaning means folding the blanket on the couch and taking coffee cups from the table to the kitchen. The less I take time to buy, the less I need to clean. A Laziness Bingo.

Lunch
I always have my tubs (see above) and my muffins. Sometimes Iíll hard-boil a few eggs, and stash those. Itís hard not to find time to grab some combination of these, plus maybe a vegetable or piece of fruit. If I still manage to not grab a lunch, I have an emergency stash in a drawer at work. On a more energetic day, I brought in a bag of nuts, canned sardines, canned veggies. If I didnít have a desk drawer I could stash it in my car.

Grocery shopping
I donít like grocery shopping. So I donít do it very often. Our ideal is one run to the main store with good deals and bulk foods, then one trip to the outlet/seconds store, in a month. Sometimes we might go twice, but never even close to weekly. We stock up a lot on non-perishables. Some fresh foods are pretty hardy: eggs, carrots, apples, cabbage. If we run out mid month, oh well. Itís easier to get up the oomph to shop once a month than once a week. Yeah, I might miss a loss leader special -maybe I'll make that special trip, but if not, I can live with that.

People just starting out being frugal, peeking out from behind their credit cards at the promised land of No Debt and Growing Savings, should know that there is a form of frugality that fits everyone. Thrift is a mighty big tent. Those of us who arenít on the go-go-go all the time are welcome in it.

POO Box

April 25th, 2006 at 06:05 pm

Not really clear what a POO box is? Neither were the 200 or so people across the State I e-mailed today, for work. Since I was discussing addresses, they may have gleaned that I meant P.O. Box. But thatís not what I wrote.



Lazy and Frugal....

April 24th, 2006 at 08:52 pm

...can go together.

Some days, I just don't have the energy to spend money. No desire for a mall trip, a makeover, a new appliance, anything. Don't want to take the time to online shop.

And I can't be bothered to get take out or go out, so I'm eating what's in my freezer. But I know I get lazy, so when I make stew or lentils or whatnot, a bunch of tubs go in the freezer-laziness preparation.

Somedays my frugality is more active, but lazy days don't dent me. I may be lying on the couch reading, doing nothing, but that nothing includes no spending.

Dollars out today: zero.

That really Long Post.....

April 23rd, 2006 at 08:32 pm

...may have made you turn heels and run. I should beware the lengthy posts. I promise, just a little chat here and there for at least a week. I just was typing away, had no idea it was such a behemoth until I looked later.

Why Iím Doing the Challenge

April 23rd, 2006 at 01:26 pm

Yesterday I posted the details of how my challenge is going, and then I realized some folks may not know why Iím doing the challenge. I decided to do the (modified) minimum wage challenge 02/25/06, after reading the ďChallenge::Live on $5.15 an hour::ď thread under General Discussion; mine is modified because I am using the California minimum wage of $6.75. My original reasons are far outnumbered by the rewards Iím seeing. I decided to do this for a couple reasons, but I find am getting more than I expected.

I am getting:

a clear sense of the value of a dollar.

a sense of freedom in not spending everything I make.

additions to my frugal toolkit.

more creative, to cook better meals and put together better gifts.

excellent clarification on where I am getting good value in my spending.

an ability to savor my treats instead of taking them for granted.

the satisfying feeling one gets from taking on a challenge.

the security of knowing that I am prepared if I hit a financial rough spot.

more money to use for long term plans; retirement, house down payment.

a clear idea that healthcare is broken; I am exceeding lucky to have an insurance plan that costs me $44 in premiums; Iíd like to see all people have the ďluxuryĒ of affordable healthcare.

more exercise, in trying to decrease gas use, hanging clothes, etc.

a better diet, in going out less and eating beans, grains, and vegetables.

an enjoyable, if slightly odd, hobby.

a sense of gratitude.


The idea that a good life could be lived on a low income if needs were taken care of before wants is an idea has been percolating for me since I was in my early twenties. It took me a while to act on that idea.

When I grew up, my parents spent what they made. Payday was treat day, the day before payday the fridge was bare. I think that with the double income of white collar professionals, we could have been in a lot better shape than we were, but we had a paycheck to paycheck instability. I didnít learn to save. I got my first real job at 15-1/2 to the day, and I spent a lot of that money on frivolous items-an obscene amount on meals out.

In my late teens and early twenties I made poor money decisions, but I did subscribe to Amy Dacyczynís ďTightwad GazetteĒ newsletter for a bit, so that planted a seed. I donít believe that being exposed to information is ever a waste; when I needed to change financially I had a direction to turn to.

It was in my late twenties that I starting cleaning up my life, including my finances. At this time I had been pretty low income. I had been $6.75 and hour part time (30 hours a week or less), and then became lucky enough to go to $7 an hour full-time, 37.5 hours a week with benefits. During that time, I was able to pay off old debt. I had also always managed to find money for alcohol and cigarettes-it was a priority to me at the time. I had somewhere between $3000 and $6000 in debts, medical bills, and fines, and though that might seem low, it felt crushingly large.

Living within and below my means became a tool for me to not feel afraid financially. I didnít mind eating oatmeal if it meant not owing any more money. I was much more scared of debt than I was any deprivation I might have felt. We never went hungry, we always paid rent, but things were tight. I balanced my checkbook daily because sometimes I had as little as $5 in my account.

I got a job as a civil servant, eligibility worker in welfare, interviewing clients who needed Medi-Cal or food stamp benefits. My starting wage in 2000 was $8.43 an hour. I later moved to cash aid, where my clients received cash aid welfare. A lot of these people seemed to not have the frugality skills to live within a small income. I have a lot of compassion for people on aid, regardless of whether life choices or unforeseen circumstances placed them there. I donít want to get in the welfare debate. I also do not want to get into the Minimum wage debate; I am not arguing that minimum wage is a fair wage. (I will say I think that affordable health care for all would go a long way to helping families make it on lower incomes.)

What I am saying is that our overall culture does not teach frugality. Some of my clients had a series of brutal knocks in life, and being frugal would not have prevented domestic violence, abusive parents, job loss, drug or alcohol abuse, low education, injury and illness. However, during those times of stress, I was seeing that if money was spent differently, at least some of the stress could be lessened. When I started as a worker the food stamp level was $130-something maximum for one person, and people were telling me that they could not eat on that. I was spending much less than that. These folks did not want to buy foie gras, steak, or caviar; but they were buying a lot of name brand items, a lot of convenience foods, a lot of snack foods. One client told me, when granted food stamp benefits, that she was glad that she didnít have to get the 4 loaves for $5 deal anymore. This was at the time that I was buying 50 cent loaves at the bread thrift store, at the same time that I could have spent $2.50 a loaf if I wanted too. I realized that I had a different head space than other people.

Now 6 years later, Iíve been promoted a couple times and make what I consider pretty decent money, especially for my area. I still buy bread at the thrift store. I had been spending more as my income went up, but I had still spent below my means. As Iíve spelled out in prior posts, my per month average spent last year was $1592, and that included a week long trip to Oaxaca and a weeklong trip to Belgium and Poland, and many meals out.

What some people still fail to see is why I would line dry and wash Ziplocs and buy bulk bulghur. Co-workers and friends see frugality as something to be used when broke, but something that a better income can free you from. I donít have full cable (I have the $9.95 twelve channel deal), and folks wonder why I donít have full cable since I can "affordĒ it. A friend gave me a bunch of paper grocery sacks, and I found a receipt in one. This person spends regularly, but I was shocked at what a ďnormalĒ household buys on a grocery trip.

Iíve been through three phases: low income with debt, low income without debt, and higher income living below means.

For the people in debt:
Getting out of debt was one of the most satisfying moments ever. It was definitely incentive to not ever go into debt again. I bought a used car and paid cash, because I couldnít deal with the idea of car payments. Living low, regardless of oneís income, is a great way to free up money to pay off debt more quickly and avoid new debt.

For the people on a low income:
I want to show that living on a low income does not have to mean hunger and deprivation and boredom and insecurity. Other people on this site, in the forums and blogs, speak eloquently about making do with little. Iím giving the detailed numbers based on my real life to show that under certain circumstances it can be done. Admittedly, the minimum wage in California is higher than most of the country, but the cost of living is higher too. Iíve already acknowledged that if I were actually minimum wage Iíd cancel my cable, my Netflix, drive less and walk more, spend less on dining out and clothing, have a cheaper apartment, etc. The money I saved on those would be going to an emergency fund. I admit I am childless, am not disabled, and no longer have any debt. I am living pretty high on my $1073, though-with bulk foods and thrift stores and ingenuity, a person could do a little with a lot. If I had started this challenge with nothing-no home, no furniture, and the clothes on my back-I could use Freecycle and thrift stores to get the minimum basics while I put all my money into an apartment.

For those of us who are making decent money:
Doing this exercise has been invaluable for me to see where I get good value from my spending. I have overspent on clothes, because I donít like clothes shopping, so I go twice a year and get what I need at one or two stores. If I shopped smarter, by checking thrift stores occasionally, I could get better clothes for less. I splurge on silver and semi-precious stone jewelry, $10 to $50 per item, and I donít regret a single purchase. Jewelry is my favorite souvenir from traveling, and I wear my pieces all the time. So I know that Iíve been getting not-so-good value from clothing purchases, but great value from jewelry purchases. A lot of spending on items where I get low value comes from having more money. It is rare that if people get a raise, they still spend exactly what they used to make. I used my extra money to pay for the convenience of one-stop clothes shopping, not for higher quality or more flattering clothes. Iím trying to see if I can choose not to spend money on convenience. I can put a lot of my money into retirement, or investing, if I donít pay for unnecessary convenience.

Now, I donít say that any particular purchase is bad. Take the oft-quoted lattť factor. I myself donít appreciate lattťs and I brew coffee at home and bring it to work in a travel mug. However, I know people for whom the lattť is a truly enjoyed daily treat. They get good value out of the purchase. Where we get value is an individual decision; for some spending less in some areas lets them have a stay at home parent, for others (me!) spending less in other areas lets me travel a couple of times a year.

And with that lengthy post, Iím hoping my reasons for this challenge are clearer. Whew.

Boring (Detailed) Update: Minimum Wage Challenge

April 22nd, 2006 at 12:35 pm

As Iím saying Iím making it on minimum wage, I feel obligated to post the detailed budget periodically. Iíve been very honest about all expenses and havenít left off any expenses unless I specifically said so. (For example, I travel for work about once a month; I am not counting what I spent traveling for meals, nor am I counting what I will get from work for meals as income. I usually come out ahead.) A couple times when my boyfriend has wanted to go out, Iíve declined him treating me. Iíve said either, no, nothing for me, go by yourself, or, I've paid my share and put it in my budget. It is challenging sometimes to have the disposable income and have to forego a purchase; but then, otherwise it wouldnít be a challenge, right?

Reminder on income: $6.75 CA minimum wage x 40 hours x 4.33 weeks per month less FICA and SDI = $1073. Iím counting income from recycling and selling books on half.com; I usually sell about one book every three months-itís not a real moneymaker, but itís something. I got $8.77 in April, less $1.50 in postage, for $7.27. Thatís real money on my budget.

March income $1073 plus $6.73 recycling = $1079.73.
April income $1073 plus $7.27 textbook sold = $1080.27.



Why could I only spend $986.97 in April? Itís because I overspent some categories in March-for a total of $93.30. Income of $1080.27 less $93.30 is $986.97. Why is my balance in April $170.79? Itís because Iím also carrying over unspent money from March.

Iím using the YNAB budget to track. I may not be using it exactly as designed. For example, Say I budget $62 for April for prescriptions and co-pays. Then I have a funky month where I spend $167.32. If I was absolutely true to the budget, I would not adjust the budgeted amount, and to compensate for my ďoverspendingĒ I would have $105.32 taken away from my May budget. Well, if I have under spent categories in April, I am adjusting those budgeted figures, and increasing the budget for prescriptions. Iím not ďtakingĒ money from categories I have to save, like the money Iíll need for my car insurance in July. Where I will move money from a budget line is where I can under spend, such as grocery or gifts or entertainment.

Now, with the YNAB, I have to enter all purchases twice; into my regular Quicken that Iíve used since Ď98, and into my YNAB spreadsheet. In the spirit of full disclosure, I neglected a double entry last month; I spent $10 in charity but only entered it in Quicken. Iím showing that I spent that $10 in April, as I didnít want to re-do the finals.

Full disclosure two: there is a radio show in town where one can buy ďgift certificatesĒ at less than face value for local businesses. For example, for this nice soul food place in town, $17 got me $30 worth. The general merchandise certificates are printed on blue paper, so I call them Blue Money. I do have left over Blue Money for restaurants that I bought in 2005 or Jan/Feb 2006, and I have used some. I havenít bought more (if I do it will come out of the budget), but my thought was that I already had them so I could use them. I certainly didnít stock up prior to the challenge. If people think it's unfair to use them, let me know.

Iím starting a combination emergency/big purchase fund. I know itís starting small, but if I manage to under spend in enough categories, I want to be able to have both emergency money, and a fund I can use to cover big purchases, such as a replacement dryer, or a new freezer.

I preferred the thrift store

April 21st, 2006 at 12:29 pm

I got back from Sacramento fine on Wednesday night. I was more thrilled with a thrift store run than being able to eat out-a surprise to me, but no unpleasant. Perhaps part of my mind is really seeing that longer term purchases such as clothes are better than short term ones such as eating out. I had a huge spree for $13.75 Ė three shirts, a couple a little nicer than usual because Iíd like to bump up my work appearance without being uncomfortable. A pair of flannel jammie bottoms, a muffin tin, bread loaf tin, and a pastry brush. The Deseret Industries thrift store is just beautiful-so organized and huge selection. Items are organized by type-short sleeve blouses, long sleeve blouses, then by size, then by color. With such a huge selection of quality clothes, I donít mind the prices being a little higher- $4 is not super cheap, but for a very nice work blouse itís not extravagant.

Migraine today, but still wonít be a no spend today-my medical line in the budget is gonna take another big prescription hit. Iím not thrilled about it, but itís not an extravagant expense.

Not Spending is Not Exciting

April 17th, 2006 at 08:09 pm

I'm into the groove of not spending much, and staying within my minimum wage budget without strain. I'm able to save over half my income this way, and I suppose that's exciting, but I can't tell a fascinating "I didn't go to the mall" story. However, my increased frugality has become a habit.

We've done 2 birthdays with low expenditure and high return, by being extra thoughful and taking time. We've starting cooking more, both grains and beans and other simple stuff at home, and nicer stuff to take to friends' houses. We cut out electric bill over 50%. When we go out to eat we savor the experience. We line dry regardless of the weather, after doing a second spin. We come up with non-spend solutions before solutions thet require an expenditure.

I had always felt in control overall of my spending and knew I lived below my means, but I have felt very good about living so far below my means. It's like I'm adding all sorts of tools to my toolkit, so that if anything bad should happen as far as income, I have a security blanket of knowing I can make do and be satisfied.

I knew my challenge was to live on minimum wage; I didn't realize an extra bonus would be to have an increased sense of gratitude for all that I have.

Okay, that was a little hokey, but, today it's true.

Illicit Thrill Coming

April 16th, 2006 at 08:15 pm

I travel for work about once a month. Tuesday I fly out at dawn, and then spend the night and fly back Wednesday late. This means that I will be eating out, without an impact to my wallet. It feels so...decadent. When I used to drive instead of fly Iíd bring some groceries and eat in the hotel room. I could still do that I suppose, but I meet a friend who stays at the same hotel and we like to go to dinner.

Now, I get paid per diem for my expenses. I always spend less than I get, so I usually come out ahead. However, Iím keeping the travel income and expenses out of the challenge. I canít say I get $32 for meals and spent $20 so have a $12 profit, when in real life I would not be traveling for work with a minimum wage job.

Speaking of which, a super frugal tip I have used: make a cheese sandwich and wrap in foil. When you get to the motel, use the iron to heat the sandwich on the outside of the foil. Voila-grilled cheese. This was probably a more pertinent tip before microwaves were in most motels, but I still get a kick out of it.

Challenge Report Card

April 15th, 2006 at 10:03 pm

Here's a mid-month update. I kinda had forgotten the $20 challenge aspect to it. (see below) My spent month of $1073 is $519 less than my average per month last year. Adding back in the $39 I put into "savings" under the challenge, I saved $558 in March for the $20 challenge.



So why is my budget less than $1073? Itís all spelled out at Jesseís YouNeedABudget.com site. For new folks: This is also my $20 challenge: I purchased JMJJ215ís budgeting software at www.youneedabudget.com, because I needed a way to track the challenge. I use Quicken for myself, but I am depositing more than $1073, so really needed a separate method, and I thought Iíd try YNAB product. Here it is in a poorly imparted nutshell: If I overspent a category in March, I have to reduce my spending in April to catch up. Even though I spent less than $1073 in March, in some categories, like Workout, I overspent, and have to under spend in this month.

Why do some categories have a balance higher than the budget? Itís the flip side of the above, in a way. If I under spend, that category has ďbankedĒ money. I donít pay $51 dollars a month for car insurance; I pay $304 two times a year. Using this system, I ďbankĒ that money each month, without any work; the budget does it for me. When the Insurance Bill comes due, Iíll have that money. So my balances are this monthís budget, less this months expenditures, plus last months unspent money budgeted in that category.

So, my spent this month plus my balance should equal my monthly budget, $1073, plus my ďbankedĒ money of $71.28. (Itís off by a penny above on the chart Ė itís a rounding issue, and I didnít want to redo the chart as a graphic.)

Making Magnets, Drinking Cocoa: Oh Yeah!

April 15th, 2006 at 02:15 pm

Today is a wonderful, stay at home rainy day. Iíve got the water on to boil, Iíll make homemade cocoa, or maybe some fancy mocha mix my friends got as a gift, didnít like, and passed on. (I accept re-gifts very happily.) I made some muffins; apple vanilla oatmeal, made low fat and low sugar, but the taste rocks. Breakfast was potato, zucchini, egg pie-an easy version of a frittata. The house is tidy; some clothing is hanging in the house to dry. I have a bunch of TV recorded form the week, and Iím gonna curl up and watch some mindless entertainment and not feel guilty. (I have only 10 channels, so through the week I tape even ďokayĒ stuff knowing that come the weekend, TV seems to be all sport on the channels I get- golf, NASCAR, ice skating.)

My Guy is making another birthday present. We bought a used book last month (my share $7.10), we got a couple of fancy beers (I had a gift certificate for a liquor store-donít ask. Or, you can ask, but itís boring.) Our friendís favorite band is Steely Dan, so we are doing the same thing we did for his wife last month; melding two pictures together: we have Our Friend in the middle of a lineup looking like a band member.

For anyone with a printer, I recommend this idea for gifts: making magnets. I had a ton of flat square and rectangle magnets; given out or mailed as promotional items. For example Synovate the survey folks, Pizza joints, things like that. Print something you like. Even if you donít have color printer or donít have photographic paper, you can write and print your favorite saying or poem. Or take a regular photograph and put it on the magnet. Cut to size, glue, and youíre done.

Iíve got a little clip of A World War II poster-ďFood is a Weapon-Donít Waste It! Buy wisely, cook carefully, eat it all.Ē I am going to make a little magnet for myself. Why pay for one, or advertise Papa Murphyís on my fridge, when I can float my own boat for the cost of a glue stick and paper?

Two Discoveries

April 14th, 2006 at 04:43 pm

I bought bulk popcorn and popped it in a paper bag in the microwave. It worked perfectly. I watched it close the entire time. No burning, and if for some reason it had burst into flames I would have caught it. Now I can have healthy, butter-free popcorn for pennies at anytime. For 1.22 in bulk I would guess I have 20 to 40 bags worth.

I bought some really cheap conditioner, 1.99 for a huge bottle, enough for months. Sadly, the conditioner is thin, and I needed a lot of it to condition my hair. I solved my problem. I am using it as a leave in conditioner. I tested it and it works great. Instead of double the normal amount, I use Ĺ the normal amount. Instead of lasting months it will last over a year.

I love minor victories like this.

Bill Thrill

April 13th, 2006 at 11:16 pm

I got our gas and electric bill, and it was the most pleasant shock I'd had all week. $127.09, down from $304.60 last month. (My share is one half.)

I thought it had to be a mistake, it's down over 50%!

Now, part of the savings was because we reduced our gas usage by 10 percent from Jan 1 to March 31, which gained us a 20% discount. However, that accounted for about 30 bucks.

Our current electric bill is 43% of what it was. Fantastic. I'm able to compare bills month to month online, and it will tell me about how much of an increase/decrease is accounted for by usage, taxes/fees, rate, days in billing period, etc. Our change in usage alone resulted in a decrease of over a hundred dollars. The rate even went up, and my bill plummeted.

Our usage went from 37 KWH a day to 23 KWH.

I think most of the decrease was just stopping heater usage-I didn't think they could be so much when used on low in small spaces for limited periods of time, but now I'm a believer. We already had flourescent compact bulbs, low appliance use, etc. I do feel, however, that my attention to detail-paying attention to lights being on, turning off my computer sometimes, line drying even more, made a dent too.

I needed good news this week, and this helps. I may be willing to go ahead and get the haircut I was delaying-since my prescription and insurance co-pays were such a hit this month. However, I overspent Medical by 40 some odd dollars, and underspent what I budgeted for electric by over 60 dollars.

Oh, did I need this boost. Not the money, just a bit of good news.

So Excited to Pay for Prescriptions!

April 11th, 2006 at 08:01 pm

My budget has taken a blow, from medical expenses. I almost got angry, and then realized that I better be d___ed grateful I have insurance. What if I didnít? I wouldnít be getting treated, or I may be choosing not to take my medicine. That would be worse. A lot of people have no insurance, and people are suffering right this minute. Has anyone mentioned lately that the healthcare system is broken? Oh, itís on the news every five minutes? But not fixed yet, huh?

I had $62 budgeted per month, the average last year of my co-pays, prescriptions, etc. Last month I was over by $3-I thought OK, fluke, it will even out. No this month I am at $107.32. Just relatively minor issues (later Iíll read that ďminorĒ and grimace) but it added up. I think next month will be better: hoping no doctorís visit co-pays, and small medicine co-pays.

The Challenge remains intact; Iíll try to cut other areas. I have $39 in ďsavingsĒ plus $72.38 held over from March, to pay larger later bills, such as insurance in July. I will aim to not dip into either of these, but at least they are there.

So, little things perk me up in the face of the above adversity. I am tickled by drain strainers.

We had no drain strainer in the bathtub for years, and a funky, non-fitting, just yucky one in the kitchen. I donít usually go to hardware stores, and what I saw idly in Grocery or Home stores seemed overpriced and like it wouldnít fit. (Old, old house.) When I visited my folks in January, they had an unused pack of 2 strainers, wire mesh. The large one works perfect in the kitchen sink, and the small one fits perfectly in the bathtub. No more worries about clogs. I am still enjoying that ďgiftĒ!

Pump It Up

April 10th, 2006 at 07:17 pm

This site pumps me up but good. Great energy. So many people are facing daily and major problems with wit, grace, and humor. Pumpity pumpity pump. Catch that fever.

My (Modified) Minimum Wage Challenge is on track. No spending to report. Not spending is starting to become a habit. Iím also getting used to not eating out much, which may relate to Ö

The Credible Threat Challenge: Iím making progress. I donít want to name a number, because day to day things vary, but Iím in the right direction.

My health is better today, I was at work all day, so some guilt is going away; I have issues with how many health issues I have. It felt like a productive day: putting away hung laundry, eating a healthy meal for the third meal in a row, feeling like if I chip away and keep moving in the right directions that I can achieve any goal.

Iíll pay all the bills in a few days. Our phone bill has a bogus charge from a company for a ďvoice mail box.Ē Itís funny, when I called to say ďHey you nuggets we ordered no such thingĒ I got a ďvoicemail fullĒ response. So the regular phone company is pulling it off the bill and notifying Bogus Company that there was a refusal to pay. I will keep trying to reach them, to give them heck. Some people probably donít notice and pay those thieves. No other bills are due though and I like to pay them all at once.

Goals: New Habits

April 9th, 2006 at 12:21 pm

In other blogs I see people writing down very specific goals. Iíve always heard that writing down goals makes it more likely to achieve them, and I love how concrete they can be, i.e. instead of Save Money or Lose Weight, itís "walk to work 5 times," or "Pay off $300 this month in debt." So Iím going to have some belated April Goals, and see if that acts to help me. Iíll have some ďone timeĒ goals, but I want to use this idea to help me develop new habits, as per 4/7 post.

Donít get me wrong, Iím still doing the Credible Threat, punitive and unrewarding as some perceive it. I am using the ideal of modest achievable goals to motivate me and help me avoid the Credible Threat Punishment.

I have been sick a LOT lately; either stomach crud or migraines or whatever. I always get sick easily, for no good reason: I used to think it was being a smoker and drinker, but I havenít done either in many years, so thereís really no excuse. So my two main set of goals will be money and health related.

*April Health*
Walk to work once a week. (I have drive the nights with water aerobics, and we still have some rain-will ramp this up.)

Eat breakfast daily (6 days a week will count to goal).

In bed every night at 10 with no TV after 10. (Friday and Sturday bed at 11.)

This is a small list, but I want these to become habits. I have a bunch I can stockpile for later. I donít want to be too ambitious.

*April Money*
Make appointment to get pre-qualified on a home loan

Make the Challenge.

*Future Goals:*
Reduce amount of bread/white rice/potatoes eaten: not sure how to quantify this one yet.
Reduce amount of cheese and peanut butter eaten. (Good protein but I eat way too much.)
Reduce bad TV watching. (Possibly make a limit of hours per week, or add no ďnewĒ shows unless I give up an ďoldĒ show?)
Take vitamins and meds daily.
Figure out what investment steps I should take with my money: increase deferred comp, increase my IRA, or what? Not sure how to make these one a discrete concrete goal yet.
Find a place in house to hang a laundry line.

Habits, Habits

April 7th, 2006 at 08:24 pm

Some of the thriftiest and healthiest things I do, I do out of habit. Some of my unhealthy and costly activities are also out of habit. I become more and more aware that habits can make or break me.

I realized with my low, low grocery bill that it was the accumulation of many, many habits. I had spent $100 a month last year (not including toiletries and cleaning products) but I went out to eat a lot, so on my (Modified) Minimum Wage Challenge I had budgeted $145 to compensate for fewer meals out, but only spent $85.27, $16 of that on Club Soda. That included two ďBigĒ grocery runs. None of the things I do happened overnight. I did not start buying oatmeal at the same time that I stopped buying pre-made cartons of juice. Powdered milk came into my life at a different time than the concept of having a max price Iíd pay for an item. (For me thatís an In My Head Price Book.) I didnít start putting leftovers in salsa tub Tupperware at the same time I decided to buy generic or store brand for everything. TVP and bulghur and beans entered my life at different times. But all of these thrifty skills and habits accumulated, over the years, to become a low grocery bill. I incorporate a new habit every now and then, and add it to the routine.

When I get up and go about my day, a lot of it will be a habit. Itís not that Iím unconscious, or unaware, but patterns make up the fabric of life. I do a ďpre-makeĒ of the coffee at night, and switch it to brew in the morning. I watch the same morning news, dress in the same place, and eat the same limited variety of breakfasts. I drive the same way to work and I park about the same place. I eat the same types of lunch out of my cottage cheese Tupperware. I come home around the same time. I usually bathe in the evening, in a hot bath. These small habits are comforting.

Some patterns will only last a while; for a while I was getting dressed in the living room every morning. Now itís in the bedroom. It may change again.

My task is to remember that new things can become habits. If I started a routine physical activity, and just kept at it, it would become a habit. Not going out to eat has actually started to be a habit on this challenge: the next time I do go out it will be a treat, to savor. If I always have a glass of water when I think Iím hungry, it will become a habit. Hanging laundry on the line was very awkward and time consuming and frankly mind consuming at first, now itís old hat. The first time I made muffins I was actually very anxious, and now I can whip out a batch. A batch a week is a habit now. I recycle a zillion things, but if I started that way it would have blown my fuses-I got in the habit of recycling some items, then added more and more over time. Itís no work now to recycle a battery or bottle cap: there are specific jars on my fridge for these two items-plop!

The first few days or weeks it can be tough. But I have to remember, have to, that once itís a HABIT, it just happens without extraordinary effort. Iíve gotten there with some frugality and house cleaning habits. I need to get there with some health habits. I have some bad TV habits. I need patience and persistence. I might look back someday and laugh at what seemed a looming task now. I mean, scared of muffins?

Activity and Incidents to Report

April 6th, 2006 at 07:34 pm

Spending: $20 co-pay for a doctor visits, and $17.32 for 3 months worth of two medications: $37.32 already for the month. Plus, another $20 co-pay will come in a week, for a follow up visit. I donít think getting rid of a ďbadĒ mole is a luxury, but for many people, medical care is a luxury. Iím hoping no visits in May, but I do have another prescription that will need to be filled then. On the plus side, the $80 ďmissed appointmentĒ bill I thought I might get doesnít seem to be coming. Knock on wood.

Other spending: a big grocery stock up, my share a whopping $27.37. Good grocery news: My Guy was very pleasantly surprised by how low our grocery bill is, and has taken pride and ownership in it. He made a cheapskateís Comfort Food Delight last night: can of condensed soup, and a lot of rice. Mix and eat. Not the healthiest, but filling, and not too unhealthy. If we went brown rice weíd be better off.

Iíll count my health insurance as paid and due; I havenít had paychecks yet, but I know the deduction will be the same; I get warnings of increases ahead of time, in writing. So, $43.70 there.

Rent paid on the 1st, $400. $508.39 spent for the month.

Now, our DVD player broke. Old me? Letís buy one. But Iím on my challenge, and My Guy is trying to make his unpaid time off last as long as possible, so he doesnít want to dip in reserves. Heís very computer inclined, so, our plan of action: move his computer DVD player into the living room, even though itís a computer one in a tower, for now. Price the parts to build a new one. The bonus will be: if he ďbuildsĒ the DVD player, it will act like a TiVO, with record capabilities. If that doesnít work, just keep using his in the living room. Heíd have to use the network to my computer to access things on DVD. But it will be cheaper. Meanwhile, I will keep on the look out for crazy cheap DVD players.

Iíve been hanging laundry on our wooden rack. Not the best-takes a long time to dry. The weather is getting better; hanging on the line will be an option soon.

Yes, Iím Doing April Too

April 4th, 2006 at 05:52 pm

People I know question how long I will continue on the challenge. Itís sad to me that they thought one month would be ďenough.Ē Even though I had been pretty frugal, itís been great to see the areas I had gotten too loose in. Iím at least 40 pounds overweight-why did I go out to eat so much? Itís not as if I was ordering steamed vegetables and broiled fish. I shrugged at certain expenses, such as my crazy electric bill, because I had enough money coming in to pay the bills, but I never worked at really lowering these bills. Iím learning from this challenge, and I am not feeling deprived.

In April I want to try and get pre-qualified for a home loan. I have been idly thinking of it. My income is pretty good for my area, but, and itís a big but, I live in California. House prices are just craziness. So I will find out if I can do the house thing or not. I donít mind finding out I canít. (I already know it would only be a smaller house if I could: a one or one and a half bedroom, no garage, etc.) At that point, I will need to make some investment decisions. I have a lot more than 6 months expenses in savings: not the best place at 1.25 percent. I have 457 Deferred Comp that I could increase contributions to-I hadnít yet because I couldnít borrow against it for a down payment. I have an IRA I havenít paid attention to. And I know nothing about investing. So once I find out about the house, the next challenge is to take the money frugality gains me and make it more active.

Credibly Threatened

April 1st, 2006 at 03:37 pm

I am motivated to lose my extra weight as I have not been before.

I had tried thinking reward before: I had told myself that if I got to 150 pounds (I'm 5"3-1/2" tall) I'd go on a spending spree of up to $500 for all new cloths. Now, that would be an insanse spree for me-I don't spend that much a year or even two years. But no movement forward.

Shame hasn't worked either. I am not necessarily embarassed by the weight- it doesn't matter if I tell you I'm 196 or not, it doesn't change my weight, and if you saw me you'd already know I'm plump. Even though I'm anonymous online, I don't see the need to pretend I'm a tall slim redheadhead. But I do feel a sense of shame that I have not been able to control my weight. I've kicked alcohol and other drugs, I've kicked cigarettes, why can't I just be more physically active and not overeat? But, the little internal shame talks don't work either.

(With quitting drinking and smoking, there is the reward of being successful on day one. You may be a shaking, sweaty, uptight mess that week, but -snap-you are a non-drinker, a non-smoker. With weight issues, I can be physically active and eat right all day, and look and weigh the same. It is frustrating for me. I try to just enjoy the process, but it's a challenge.)

The idea of being in a bikini bathing suit on a beach in Croatia is a mighty deterent. If I make my 20 pound loss, which I expect to do, I can wear my standard one piece and be fine. I carry weight in my belly, so the bikini idea is especially funky. I'd like to be the kind of woman who becomes rubenesque, and becomes curvier everywhere with some extra pounds, but my body does a portly older man thing; weird small butt with a big gut.

Once I've hit a five pound loss, I'll assume that I've gained some new good habits, and I'll look for other ways to utilize the credible threat. A friend who just quit smoking took the idea; she rewards herself regularly, so she didn't know how to use that, but the idea of taking AWAY a reward-no buying of books for 6 months if she smokes-was a motivator she could grab onto.

Has anyone else used the Credible Threat concept? I know for some it can seem too punitive, but for me, since I picked a reasonable goal (essentially a pound a week), it's working so far.

A Dollar is a 1/2 pound of Cheese

April 1st, 2006 at 03:12 pm

I love surveys, for no real good reason. I do Greenfield, and GoZing, and NFO, and some others. I used to do okay with the money, too: it seemed as if I'd get $2 or $5 pretty frequently, and $10 or $15 every few months. Once I got $75 for chatting about Feta cheese for an hour (online). But the money has dried up. I just checked, in 2004 I got $112 for various surveys, and in 2005 I got $22. So now, really, I do them for fun and to put my two cents in.

Well, I just completed one where the reward is a $1, that will be deposited into my PayPal account in May. And it made me think, $1 is real money. $1 gets me a half pound of cheese, or 3 months worth of bran, or a few crockpots of beans, or even a month of postage for me. Who am I to scoff at the dollar? I bought a fabulous pair of thick dark blue flannel jammie bottoms with a $1.25 last week. I bought 3 items at a thrift store for 84 cents.

I'm getting to know the value of a dollar more intimately.

March Minimum Wage Challenge Successful

April 1st, 2006 at 10:50 am

In March, I spent $1007.45. $1073 was my base budget (CA minimum wage $6.75 x 40 x 4.33 less SDI/FICA) plus the $6.73 recycling, for a total of $1079.73 available. I needed to underspend; it does NOT mean Iím ahead the $72.78. This is ďbankedĒ for non-monthly expenses, such as my car insurance in July. I did put $39.00 in savings, but I would like to not have to touch that at all.

Iíve managed to figure out how to include the amounts in a readable format, by making a spreadsheet excerpt a picture.



It's ironic that I started this in a month with an extra biweekly paycheck and my two tax returns. A lot more money came in than usual, and a lot less went out.

I did play poker last night. We have a group that attempts to play every other Friday, but weíve been a little inconsistent. Iíd say I play maybe once a month. I had saved my previous winnings, and had already decided to only play with ďwonĒ money. I hadnít really kept track last year, but this year had decided 1) to see how much I improved (or not) and 2) to ensure I kept better track. It had been hard because I rarely use cash. Iíd take out money, win, break even, sometimes lose, then Iíd spend the cash, and lose track. So I decided this year to keep it separate. Last time I won $42. I put that in a jar and kept it separate. Thatís what I have to play with, and itís outside the challenge and regular budget too. This time I lost $16. So if I play poker again, I have a maximum of $26 to play with. If I lose that, I will have to seriously evaluate whether this hobby is worthwhile.