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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.