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Archive for May, 2006

Iíve Lived at Minimum Wage for Three Months

May 31st, 2006 at 03:16 pm

When I decided to take on the minimum wage challenge, I didnít realize both how little and how much it would affect my life.

I apologize for this image being sideways; it was the only way I could make the print big enough to read, without fiddling a bunch more, which I can not do due to major head pounding.

For new folks, a reminder of how Iím determining income: California minimum wage of $6.75 at 40 hours a week at 4.33 weeks a month is $1169, less 7.65% FICA ($90), one-half percent SDI ($6). Iím assuming no federal or state tax liability, due to low income; that may be an erroneous assumption. $1169 Ė $96 = $1073. If I sell a book on half.com or recycle, Iím allowing that income. It doesnít add up to much, my extra income is averaging $8.31 a month.

Iíve put $117 in ďsavings,Ē and Iíve started an emergency/big purchase fund that has a whopping $5.88. I have $278.82 ďbankedĒ for non-monthly expenditures; for example, I have budgeted $51 a month for car insurance, which I pay semi-annually.
The areas I thought would be more difficult were eating out, entertainment, and gifts. The area that has actually been the most difficult is medical.

Iím using the YNAB budgeting system to track my expenses for this challenge; the spreadsheet cost me $19.95, so Iím considering this my $20 dollar challenge. My spent of $1073 is $519 less than my average per month last year. (I know I have some banked, but it will be spent on non-monthly budgeted purchases.) Adding back in the $39 I put into "savings" under the challenge, I saved an additional $558 for the $20 challenge. This makes for $1674 in savings in three months for my $20 Challenge.

It Pays to Help. Or Be Patient. Or Be Lazy.

May 29th, 2006 at 12:15 pm

My Guy has been thinking for many months now about getting an exercise bicycle, or a trainer to put a bicycle in, or a recumbent bicycle. We read Consumer Reports, and we price shopped a couple of times. It turns out that recumbents are expensive, and trainers are more expensive than we would have thought. (If itís just something you hook a bike to, shouldnít it be much, much cheaper than an exercise bicycle?) Recumbent exercise bicycles are great, but evidently one needs to spend more to get a quality one- more so than with regular exercise bikes. So we had just kept pondering. We are often that way with big purchases, whether shared or individual. That way when we do finally take the plunge, we are pretty comfortable, and itís definitely not an impulse buy.

We went down to Clearlake this weekend to help out My Folks with their little piece of property. Do some landscaping, learn how to start gas and water, etc., for when we caretake, and spend some time getting to see D before she and my dad take off for other continents. I was the labor; My Guy actually has a background in this type of stuff, so he and D were the Planners. Well, there was a shed of stuff that was gonna get hauled away, and I figured we should really de-clutter and take advantage. I looked in another shed, and there was exercise equipment.

As we dragged a bike to the Garbage shed, I realized it was a recumbent, in great shape. D wouldnít be using it for at least a couple years, if ever. We loaded it into the car, and brought it home. This model seems to be going for $599. (D bought it at a Garage Sale, not sure how much, but definitely not even close to $599.)

My Guy went 6 miles this morning. We are happy with our find. I plan to "earn" TV by biking when watching.

Auto-Pilot Your Way to Frugalville

May 26th, 2006 at 06:14 pm

Iím on auto-pilot, thatís what it is. I couldnít exactly come up with right term of why Iíve been doing fine on my (Modified) Minimum Wage Challenge, without lots of effort, but Priceplus nailed it. Iíve often noticed that heís a man of fewer but more pertinent words, and heís done it again.

I do not have to work at living frugal now; Iím on auto-pilot. Iíve kept my old good habits going, that enabled me to even think about doing this, and my newer habits (eating out much less) are starting to sink in.

It makes me think of Jeffreyís post on collecting 101 Painless ways to save. How many of us do frugal things that feel very easy to us, and we canít see why anyone would think bulk purchased cooked from scratch plain oatmeal would be Painful? We think hanging clothes is just another same old. Others of us may have been shocked at the idea of cutting things out, or buying things used, or making things from scratch. Well, itís not so much a matter or hard or easy, or painful or painless.

If you have never hung laundry, and have always had clothes come out of the dryer, hanging clothes takes getting used to. Maybe you need a rack or a line. Maybe you currently wash 6 loads at once and canít hang it all. You might not have cloths pins, not know that clothes dry in the house or on mild days, not like the look of the hanging clothes, be put off at the stiffness.

Over time, you get into a groove. You know how much will fit on the drying space you have. You learn that hanging clothes on hangers can help you fit more on the line. You get used to stiff socks, and you put your work shirts in the dryer for five minutes when they are almost dry to avoid stiffness and ironing. You find a good place for the rack, and you realize that clothes pins can have lots of other uses as well. It used to take more time, but now you hang them lickety-split, maybe while watching the tube or listening to the radio. You get to be on auto-pilot.

Itís the same task: hanging laundry. But it went from hard to easy, painful to painless. There are skills out there that I didnít have, and when I worked to get them it was a learning curve, but now they are easy. And other ideas, Iím intimidated by, but can tackle one at a time.

It really goes along with my idea of habits being the key (my second favorite post, from April 7).

Take on one thing at a time, fine tune it to your lifestyle (go generic and store brand for almost everything but decide you must have Campbellís chicken noodle soup), do it over and over, and youíll be on auto-pilot.

Loss in Double Digits

May 25th, 2006 at 08:30 pm

Hit the 10 pound mark, halfway there. The nice part: I haven't made any drastic changes, just bumped up the good habits. Next goal: 176 for my Credible threat challenge. Then I'll aim for 165. Then 150. And that is it, I tell ya.

Nothing Exciting: Just Not Spending

May 25th, 2006 at 08:28 pm

Iím just bopping along in frugal land, racking up the no spend days without effort. I pack lunches, my needs are met, what do I need to spend on? Thatís a good thing, because May was not the best on medical expenses, and June promises some other hits, such as water aerobics, and July in car insurance.

Iíd like to finish May off with maybe a grocery run and thatís it. I think I might have another gas hit to drive 3 hours round trip to Clear Lake, but thatís to see family, and My Guy and I will have a fine time. Heís planning on packing lunches for the drive; so nice to not have to convert someone.

A lot of the free clothes I got are working out very well. Iíve gotten some compliments, and I keep blurting ďIt was free!Ē The nice thing is that a lot of people have responded ďThatís the best-free clothesĒ or ďI love getting hand-me-down from my sisterĒ (mom, etcetera.) Nice to know that my co-workers not only arenít snobby, but think free hand me downs are darned cool. Iím talking up Freecycle a lot.

There's a bill in California that might bump the minimum wage from $6.75 to $7.75. Boy, I'd be rich that that extra $150 plus.

Frugality Mini-Festival

May 23rd, 2006 at 05:36 pm

I Picked up the Freecycle peanut butter; three 18 ounce jars. Since My Guy can take out 64 ounces in a week, no fooling, these will not go to waste. I also got a bag of quick cooking oats, and a liter of tonic water. Iím so excited by Freecycle I put in for fluorescent light bulbs with small threads. I hoping they fit in our chandelier fixture in the living room.

The homemade granola I made is really good, so thatís good news. I ate pinto beans for lunch, along with fruit, and tortillas and beans for dinner. Frugal, healthy, and, bonus time, tasty.

For the weekend I might be driving to meet with one of my folks. My folks are going to be traveling the world come 2007, and we might be somewhat caretaking a small piece of property with a trailer about three hours away. It could be that in a way, it will be like a free vacation house. However no details are worked out; we just know weíll be very happy to see her and have the nice drive this weekend.

Tonight is bath night (as it so often is). I put in a good days work so will sleep the sleep of the just.

Mighty Fine day in Frugal Land

May 22nd, 2006 at 09:59 pm

I picked up my bag of Freecycle clothes. I hit the jackpot; hereís my haul:

Five tops, three dressy scarves, two purses, two pairs of pants, two sweaters, two pairs of sweatpants/sleep pants, one winter scarf, one skirt, one pair jeans, one dress jacket.


Some items Iím not sure Iíll wear, because they are not my usual, but Iím looking to explore a little bit, and this exploration doesnít have a price tag. I may choose to give away some of these items, and thatís fine.

I also have eight items for the ďsee if it fits in September; if not tossĒ hamper. The items I chose not to keep at all fit perfectly in a duffel bag I chose not to keep. I was trying on clothes for a full hour, and it was all free, all of it. That beats garage saling, though I was enjoying my quarter blouse today. I got a compliment on it from the director of the agency, and I blurted ďit was twenty five cents!Ē I could learn to tone my frugality enthusiasm down, I suppose, to look like less of a goober, but I get such a kick out of it. I think Iíd rather be a goober than embarrassed about my frugality.

I also got another call back from a Freecycle person that I had thought didnít get my e-mail; three tubs of peanut butter may be in my future.

We used a gift certificate that we had for the town the clothes were in, to make the 10 mile drive even less of a gas hit. It was okay, but I canít see paying actual money for what we got. Itís nice to know that when I do go out to eat, I get more of a bang for a 6.95 Mexican dish than a 12.95 plate with soup and salad deal. I also again realized that portions are too darned large. We could have probably split an entrťe and an appetizer; but since it was a gift certificate I donít regret it too much. My Guy is picking up the tip since the certificate was mine, so no expense, a point in the mealís favor.

As if my day didnít ring enough frugal bells, one of my frugal buddies at work dropped off a vintage Pyrex refrigerator container, a half pint jam jar, and I note asking me if I want more jam jars.



These two women (Iím not sure which it was this time) have brought me beautiful cardigans over the last couple of years. I particular like menís golf sweaters.



I do my best to keep these women in plum jam, but I may need to ramp up my contributions-I so appreciate their gifts. (I tried direct repayment and didnít get anywhere.) These two women are so elegantly well-dressed, it thrills me to know that much of the clothing they wear is from thrift shops and garage sales. Neither of them carries any extra weight, so everything they do wear, no matter what the cut or style, looks beautiful.

Oh, and yet more frugal good news. I have a garage saling date for Saturday, and I made a big pot of beans so I have seven lunches in the freezer. Oh happy day.

Hike, Clothes, Gas, Bath.

May 21st, 2006 at 07:38 pm

I hiked quite a bit today; it was a very nice time with good friends, and a needed workout along with needed nature time. I live in an exquisitely beautiful area of the country, and each time I drive home I realize that I donít take enough advantage of that. We hiked uphill through the redwoods, to a meadow with wild flowers and oak trees, and got a beautiful view. I had sweat on my brow from hiking uphill. We stopped at the brewery afterwards, but one of the many benefits of no longer drinking is that I was quite happy with ice water only, so it was easy to be free. We sat on the back patio and enjoyed more sun. And then Iím the perfect permanent designated driver.

Iíve arranged my first successful Freecycle pick up. A woman listed a bag of clothes, sizes 12, 14 and 16, some ďslouchyĒ, some ďdressy,Ē all ďin good shape.Ē Iím picking it up tomorrow after water aerobics. I figure even one acceptable piece will be worth the gas money, and more will be gravy. Iím hoping that someone either has gained or lost a bit of weight and that these are nice clothes that just donít fit anymore. Iím a 16/14, working to a 12, so this is perfect. I hope the pickup goes well; the concept of Freecycle, an exchange of goods that benefits both parties with no cost, is very frugal, and ecologically sound as well. Iíd be thrilled if three items work well for me, especially for work. I lack items that are slightly dressier for work, so this is a need, not a want; something I thought of before asking to pick up a bag of stuff. If the items don't work, I have a collection of thrift store donations ready to go.

Very good day; only expenditure is a full tank of gas. The gas is less noticeable than the medical as far as budget hits, but I did groan for a minute or two.

The bath water is running; a luxury that I'm not sure I could ever give up.

Small Measures versus the Bad Mole

May 20th, 2006 at 09:59 pm

Except for regular bills, nothing much happening on the money front. And we don't have that many regular bills: rent, Netflix, cable, phone, and PG&E. So spending has been low. I was in Sacramento with a car, and I thought about making a Trader Joe's run, and I didn't need anything, so I passed. Then I thought about going to Big Lots just to check it out, but passed again. I don't have any needs right now. I even passed on the super cool Deseret Thrift Store, thinking if I hit it every two months it will be more exciting.

This is all good, because I have another medical bill for that "bad" mole - over a hundred dollars. This thing is going to end up costing me around $250 by the time I get all the bills from the various people who cut off, carried, or looked at the funky thing. I am determined to stay on the challenge, and not get derailed. I have to remember that the healthcare I am getting is better than many receive, and what I pay for it is not comparatively high at all.

Somehow against that new $100 making granola and adding herbs to the vegetable garden seem low impact. However, since I do love granola in my yogurt, and since even the bulk cheap stuff isn't really cheap, the granola is a good move. Now that I know a basic recipe works, I can explore less sweet, less fatty options as well.

Well, now that I ponder it, the granola and herbs this weekend arenít small measures. Anything that I do or learn to aid in healthy eating or long-term frugality is another tool to add to my tool belt. All my little tricks and skills can come together to keep me on the Challenge despite medical mishaps. That means being frugal has given me control and a sense of security-things that I value.

Tomorrow I go hiking with friends. Shared gas money will be the only expense, as I am packing a lunch.

A little gardening

May 19th, 2006 at 02:59 pm

Weíre doing a little gardening this year. Here on the northern coast of California, itís not the best gardening area for some items, but we though it might be nice to try. Tomatoes (the littler ones seem to do better), lettuce, cucumbers, and squash. In black pots, container gardening. It was a mini-investment: with the dirt it was $34. Weíll be able to use the dirt next year, especially since we have compost. I am hoping that we get at least $34 dollars of produce this year. That wonít be too hard, with the price of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers what it is. I do have to admit that My Guy has done all of it so far, while I was out of town. I told him Iíd pay half into it, so I canít yelp about the dirt cost.

The gas and electric bill was down again, to $122.48. Our changes are making a difference. Big headache today, but if it calms down, some garage saling.

Back Home Again

May 17th, 2006 at 09:30 pm

I was on the road again. It looks like work is going to be like that for the next couple of months. I used my per diem money to go crazy on fruits and vegetables at the stands I passed while driving. (The flights were sold out.)

Strawberries, cherries, asparagus, pea pods, an apricot. I pretty much got drunk on fuit and vegetables. Driving in the sun, through the redwoods. It was nice.

Minimum Wage Challenge Mid Month Update

May 14th, 2006 at 04:26 pm

I got the medical bills I was expecting; the lab and pathological review bills for my ďbadĒ mole removal. A mighty hit: $126.94 total. In fact, for the $75.15 bill, I sent two checks-one for $35.15 is dated June 1, so Iíve already spent some June money!



Itís funny to me that I've been hit in areas that I have less control over, and that in other areas where I do have more control, such as entertainment or groceries, I've been okay. Iíve had less trouble than I expected curbing my temptations. (Aside from that ridiculous $17.93 purchase of 4 cups that sure taught me a lesson.)

For details of why the beginning budget does not start at $1073, or why the balance is greater that the budget less spent, see prior budget update posts. Essentially, itís lower than $1073 to compensate for any category I overspent last month, and the balance is larger for money Iíve banked. For example, I budget car insurance every month but pay it twice a year.

If worse comes to worse, I do have the $39 in savings for each month, $117, for emergencies, but I really would rather not touch it. As it is Iím only saving three and a half percent of my net income.

If anyone ever has any questions about what the expenditures were in detail, Iíd be happy to explain any of them. The oddballs I can think of right off the bat: ďMisc.Ē In April I subscribed to Kiplingerís Personal Finance Magazine, to learn some investing basics, and that $3.59 didnít seem to exactly fit in to household or entertainment. And in May, I mailed something for $9.84, but it wasnít exactly a gift, so I called that miscellaneous.

I thought April was a tough month, but I think May might even be tougher. Since my car has been fixed up, and my health seems to be going well, Iím really hoping that June and July donít have those hits, where more than 25% of my budget gets spent in the categories of health and auto service.

Garage Saling

May 14th, 2006 at 01:02 pm

Yesterday I spent $2.80 at garage sales for 12 items, at an average of 24 cents an item.

What I got:

a small frame

Tupperware thingy perfect for spaghetti

four gifts - Jeff Gordon ponchos stuff for two NASCAR fan friends, a porcelain lemon for a collector of fruit things, and a wool sweater in excellent shape

A very nice high quality childís sweater that I will give to some grandparent or parent at work (I stuck it in the bag of clothes for a dollar bag)

Clothing for me: one piece footy jammies (these things sell new at $35!), a sweater, a nice blouse, and a pair of slacks

A shirt for My Guy


I spent perhaps two hours at the sales, and Iíd say used no more than half a gallon of gas maximum.

I canít recommend garage sales enough. Iíve heard various arguments against it, but I feel they have their place. ďItís too easy to buy things you donít need.Ē If someone has trouble scooping everything up I understand that. But if you avoid garage sales for this reason, you miss the items that you do need. Iíve been wanting a crock pot with a lift out crock for quite a bit. I was able to get a very nice one last week for $3. Iíd have missed it if I hadnít gone to the sales.

One thing that I plan to use sales for this year is gift shopping. Iíve gone to thrift stores and garage sales with a different mindset: if I see something a friend would really like, I buy it, then stick it in a gift box until a birthday or Christmas comes along. Iíve gotten nine gifts for $4.90 so far, an average of 55 cents apiece. Since I didnít have to pick out a gift, what I have selected has been very spot on-I feel confident that most of these gifts will please the recipient.

Now, you wonít always get lucky, but sometimes you hit the jackpot. One year I was getting cases of 24 canning jars for a buck. Iíve been looking for footie jammies for years, and now I own them for a quarter. I also saw other peopleís jackpots waiting: at this one sale, there was a large quantity of beautiful large sized womenís clothing. A woman who wore a 2X to a 4X would have had an excellent selection of high quality clothing that looked very well taken care of, at excellent prices. Even though I didnít need any of those items, there was part of me that was excited for a woman to come along and see that smorgasbord!

One last thing about garage sales: they give me an appropriate sense of sticker shock when I am at regular stores.