Sunday, December 30, 2007

December Review

I started off the month with a bit of realism, but maybe not enough. It was way too easy to get off track with even the best laid intentions. So how did I do with my goals?
- Focus on high interest credit card. Well, I focused. Unfortunately, I didn't make any headway. The good news is I'm not any worse of than I was.

- Call the company and see if they will lower the interest rate. Well, that didn't happen. I will have to put that at the top of my list for 2008.

- Snowball payments from debts I've paid off in November to this card. In trying to get through Christmas without going further into debt, I ended up putting extra money towards the holidays instead.

- Choose Christmas presents that are useful even a year from now. Wrapping should also be reusable, recyclable, or a gift in itself. This I was successful at. I kept costs to a minimum. I shopped at my favorite non-profit store that sends all profits to area organizations. I also purchased locally from artisans and used reusable wrap.

- Bump up my monthly contribution towards my Roth IRA to $75. Done.

I'm still working on those New Year's Resolutions, but as I'm leaving tomorrow for the trip I missed Christmas Eve, I'm not sure when those will get posted. If I'm not able to post until I get back, I wish all of you and yours a very prosperous, happy, and debt free New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Flying During The Holidays

The holidays can be a very stressful time for everyone, but those of us that have to fly can run in to some really interesting challenges. I was supposed to leave on December 24th getting in just in time on Christmas morning. That was the original plan. What happened after that was the most aggravating experience that I've been through. First, my plane was cancelled because it wasn't full. Then the plane that I was switched to was late because someone forgot to order it. When the plane arrived, we made it out to the tarmac twice before going back to the terminal for engine problems. They had to order a part from another city and fly it in. We were taken off of the plane and stood in line for more than an hour to get rerouted and assured that our bags were taken off. When it was my turn to get rerouted, the plane was being re-boarded and I asked to make sure my bag wasn't on it. I was gold that I would need to run down to baggage claim to get it. To make a long story short, they could not reschedule me without 3 or 4 hubs until 12/31 and they lost my bags.

Personally, if I treated my customers the way I was treated I'd be fired, but we are expected to take this with a smile on our face and a "Thank you sir may I have another," attitude. Personally, I spent Boxing Day on the phone with customer service representatives of United and Travelocity voicing in a very professional, polite, and firm way by dissatisfaction with my treatment. So far, I've been offered a $200 coupon towards a future flight. I'm not done, but my story will have to wait until I receive further response.

So why am I writing about this? Because we as consumers need to stand up for our rights in order to make companies change the way they treat people. When voicing complaints, its important to voice expectations in a manner that is firm, but not rude or obnoxious. The idea is to state dissatisfaction without shutting down the lines of communication and if possible get the names of the people involved. Most importantly, don't forget to give kudos to the people who are going above and beyond. Its good karma.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Weekly Review

Below is a list of posts I particularly enjoyed this week. I hope you find them interesting as well.

Wisebread - Make Your Hobby Pay Its Way by Philip Brewer
I love keeping busy with hobbies. Unfortunately, I have two problems; one problem being that two of my hobbies are expensive and the other problem is the fact that once I'm done with a project, I don't want to look at it again. Its true. I don't create anything for myself because I'm tired of looking at it when I finish it.

Being Frugal - Your Children Are Watching What Are You Teaching?
I can relate to this post because my family didn't discuss finances. My father had no idea of his parents finances until as executor of their estate he had to wade through finances. (Let me tell you, people who have lived through the depression have a habit of hiding things in strange places. If you ever have to sort through a person's estate, make sure you check in books, under lining, under carpeting, and in all other strange hiding places.) The post discusses children's idea of where money comes from and the mysterious unending source known as the ATM Machine.

Zen Habits - 14 Stress Free Ways To Kick Weight Loss In The Butt
Okay, truth is this one has nothing to do with personal finance, but we are dealing with the holiday season with all of its sweets and goodies. Before we know it, it will be time to make those resolutions.

No Credit Needed - $10 A Day Equals 3/4 Of A Million Dollars
NCN does a fantastic job with charts to help figure out how long it will take to save money. I think about all of those $10 lunches that I could have saved had I taken my lunch.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

December is full of possibilities and a good time to get a start on resolutions

I told you some time back that I rejoined a gym. I'm determined to get my money's worth from the dues I pay. I admit that I got a sweet deal with monthly dues only $24 per month and no initiation fee. Before you ask, no I did not have to sign up for any long term commitment. It has taken a bit of time to get in the swing of things, but this is what I've figured out so far...

If I go three times a week (far under the recommendation of my trainer), it will cost me $2 per visit. That's less than bus fare for one day and equal to two cheeseburgers at McDonald's.

Theoretically, you can loose up to two pounds per week the healthy way, which would equal $3 per pound lost. That's the cost of one weight watchers frozen entree (not on sale.)

I'd also like to go on the record that I learned my lesson some time ago that designer gym wear is a complete waste of money. I am happier with my cheap men's sweat pants and t-shirt. (I choose men's because they are usually $10-$20 cheaper than women's.)

I take my bottled water from home and reuse bottles a few times before recycling them. It's pennies versus $1.25 per visit.

Now you may be asking at this point, "Why doesn't she just get out and walk or bike? It's free." Well, to be honest, some of us need a bit of motivation and I'm willing to pay for that extra push. You may have noticed that I mentioned personal trainer. I'm only paying $10 per session and am only committing to 5 sessions to get me started. The $50 they usually charge is too rich for my blood. The moral of the story? Look for every special and ask if its going to be on special anytime soon!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I've Been Tagged!

Dawn over at One Woman's Journey has tagged me with a Random Things Meme. I have to admit it's my first meme, so please be patient if I stumble along the way.

Here goes -
1.) I have two cats that I rescued when their original parents ran out of space because of a new baby. I learned very shortly afterwards that I have developed allergies to cats. Go figure. I've had cats all of my life at one time or another. One of them insists on writing my blog with me, but hasn't figured out how to do anything but the hunt and peck method. It takes a bit of time while we argue about whose blog it is.

2.) I asked for my first shares of stock for Christmas when I was 12 years old. My grandfather was really surprised by this, but obliged me and bought 6 shares of Costco at $12 each. (That was a while ago.) Unfortunately, my thirst for personal finance knowledge has been more diligent than my willingness to wait and save.

3.) If I won the lottery (which would be pretty difficult since I rarely play and only in the company pool) I would continue to work. I don't understand people who would "call in rich." Wouldn't you get board?!? I would consider changing jobs.

4.) I wrote my first letter to the editor when I was in the 5th grade. It was to complain about the lack of school funding. Now, I think if only schools had all of the programs they had when I was a kid.

5.) I love taking classes. Photography, belly dancing, wine appreciation, career focused classes, it doesn't matter. I love to learn new things. Unfortunately, people often look to me as a know it all because I'm full of useless bits of information. Just call me Cliff Claven.

6.) Have you ever wondered who chooses school mascots? There are some pretty weird choices out there and many that wouldn't strike fear in a rival opponent on a good day. I've been watching to see who is going to make the bowl games and to be honest I don't get it. It's like if Franklin would have gotten his way and our national bird would have been the turkey. Would that have instilled confidence in our allies during WWII?

7.) Why do prescription medicines have commercials? Most of the time people don't even know what the advertisement is supposed to do for you. Do people really go into their doctor's and say, "I'd like to pay an ungodly amount of money for another prescription so I can brag to my neighbor that I'm taking it."

Bonus random thought for in the PF community. The Feds are lowering the interest rates with the hope of staving off a recession brought on by the sub prime fiasco in the housing market. The mortgage sector is taking advantage of this by offering loans with lower interest rates. Is this really a good decision or are we digging the whole deeper? To really prevent a recession we need to build interest in purchasing domestic products instead of foreign. Let Paris Hilton use her power for the good and start that trend.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

December Goals - The challenge of the holidays without adding debt

December is an interesting month because its a new month for goals, but its wrapping up 2007. My goals for this month are going to be simpler because of all the craziness that is around the corner. I have to juggle work expectations and prepare for a long vacation as well as get ready for Christmas in two places and a long trip. So, the December goals are...

- Focus on high interest credit card. Call the company and see if they will lower the interest rate and snowball payments from debts I've paid off in November to this card.

- Choose Christmas presents that are useful even a year from now. Wrapping should also be reusable, recyclable, or a gift in itself.

- Bump up my monthly contribution towards my Roth IRA to $75

Now to plan for those 2008 goals.... but thats another post.

Weekly Review

There have been a lot of interesting posts this week, but the following is a list of the ones that really stood out for me.

The Simple Dollar - Everything You Ever Really Needed To Know About Personal Finance On The Back Of Five Business Cards A good basic reminder on why I am on the path towards debt elimination.

Wise Bread - Grandpa's Penny, If You Never Spend It You'll Never Be Broke by Sarah Baughman Wisdom from generations before that we've forgotten along the way.

Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge - Best Way To Use Up Medical FSA Funds
Its December and time to have a look at our benefits during open enrollment again. I read somewhere that only 4% of employees actually take advantage of the Medical FSA offered through their employers.

One Frugal Girl - Clutter Free Christmas Gifts A good reminder that in my quest to simplify my life and become debt free, I shouldn't burden others with clutter either.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

November Goals in Review

The Reduce A Bill Challenge at Working for Financial Freedom comes to a close for a second month. I committed to 10 No Spend Days and upped the anti by limiting days I dine out to no more than 3 a week that I pay for. I made it for 11 no spend days but I only made the paying for meals out no more than 3 days a week for half the month. So I will chalk this goal up to successful, but at an 80% success rate. We will have to see if Working for Financial Freedom is up for another month of the Reduce A Bill Challenge. I think I will try a different bill if she does.

My personal goals included adding another $100 to the emergency fund. I paid off my Personal Line of Credit so I would check that one as a success and as soon as I receive payment for house sitting, I will be able to deposit that.

My second goal was to pay off the first of three credit cards. It was really close, but I did it and I can't tell you how happy I am for that. Now I get to switch focus to a more difficult card.

Finally, I sent off another $50 to my Roth IRA. Its a slow process, but I know that everyone is going to be selling off some stocks at the end of the year to take profits or losses for their taxes and I want to be in a position to buy some bargains if they are available.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Big Yeah! Two More Debts Down The Drain

I wrote the checks to pay off two debts today.

First, I paid off a Visa card that I've been working on since 1998. This was a bad case of paying a very small amount and watching the majority go towards interest. Somehow this card was a low priority because it was a low interest rate. The problem is that it never got paid off because there was always something of a higher priority. So I'm happy to announce I now have $50 per month to snowball towards another bill.

The other debt that I paid off also satisfies one of my November goals. I have paid off my step father which is a huge weight off of my shoulders. It wasn't a large debt, but I never feel good borrowing money from family.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Weekly Review

November is almost over. The turkey has been carved and we have completed another fantastic Thanksgiving weekend. I hope everyone had an opportunity to reflect on all we have to be thankful for. This marks the start of the shopping season for Christmas. Lets make a goal for the month to not go any further into debt.

Some of the articles that I've particularly enjoyed this week are:
The Simple Dollar discusses 12 Important Things to Talk About When Your Relationship Gets Serious

Zen Habits reminds us How To Doggedly Pursue Your Dreams In The Face Of Naysayers

No Credit Needed tells us Exactly HOW I Pay Off Debt Mortgages Or Credit Cards Early

Not Keeping Up With The Joneses reminds us that it doesn't have to cost a lot for treat yourself in Feeling And Looking Great On The Cheap

Dual Income No Kids consults with Benjamin Franklin On Frugality

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Spending Triggers - Do You Know How To Spot Your Triggers and Not Give In?

No Credit Needed has been running a series on 33 Days and 33 Ways to Reduce Debt and Save Money. His most recent post challenges us to identify our spending triggers.

As NCN points out in the post:
"If you are aware of your ’spending triggers’ you can
A) avoid situations where you might be tempted to overspend.
B) discuss your financial goals with your friends and family, so that they will be “on your side” (helping and not hurting).
C) be absolutely committed to living on a budget."

Personally, my biggest spending trigger is the need to spend time with others which usually entails a meal or beverages. Its amazing how much money is spent if I don't keep a stringent eye on this category. Anyone following this blog will attest that I have made this a subject of my monthly goals and it is usually the one that falls short.

So, when you are kicking a habit whether its smoking, eating, drinking, biting your nails, shopping, etc. the first rule of thumb is to know your trigger so you can take steps to prevent it. As an ex-smoker, I knew that I had to change where I had lunch since I usually had a few cigarettes when I finished eating. Instead, I brought lunch to work, saved money by packing my lunch and not smoking. In my efforts to kick my spending habit on meals, I am working on stocking my kitchen with appealing meals and making lunches ahead of time so I don't have to think about it in the morning before work.

Holiday Season Challenge - Planet Friendly Wrapping

For this season, I've made a goal for myself to use only planet friendly wrapping. Think reduce, reuse, recycle. Instead of wasting wrapping paper that's been chemically treated and ribbon that is made out materials that won't break down in the landfill, consider other options.

Reduce -
- Instead of buying rolls and rolls of paper just to get different designs, swap old patterns with friends to get variety.
- Use containers or materials that can be reused for other purposes, cloth bags that can be used again, a kitchen towel tied with a ribbon, or a decorative bowl.

Reuse -
- Save decorated bags and reuse them for other presents.
- Packing materials can be reused over and over again. My office gets a lot of gift baskets. Once everything has been eaten, claimed, and picked over, I grab the seltzer (the shredded paper used for filler) before its thrown away to reuse for packing or my own baskets.

Recycle -
- Use the end of newspaper rolls as wrapping paper and let kids decorate it or pull out your crayons and try a doodle or two yourself.
- Use those great paper bags with handles that you get from stores and cover up the logo with a decorative, fabric cut out.

Even if you only make one adjustment in your tradition it will have a big impact not just on the planet, but also on your budget!

Happy Thanksgiving... the day after

I really want to say how thankful I am to have to opportunity to be part of this great blogging community of debt reduction and personal finance. I have had some interesting challenges lately, but have been able to refocus on my priorities because of the great feedback I've received. I hope that I've been able to return the favor once or twice as well.

This week I completed one house sitting job, started another, and put up Thanksgiving orders for a bakery I used to work for. Thanks to all of this extra work, I am able to reach one of my November goals and repay my step father for money I borrowed in June.

Tis the season to pick up extra work and I will add that to my list of December goals. It will help offset the cost of my visit to see dad especially with such a horrible exchange rate. I'm not sure how much additional debt I'm going to be able to pay off.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Update to the Quiet Time

I have made some very positive steps towards paying off my debt and I've made some very big steps backwards as well. First, I will only complete part of my goal for the "Reduce A Bill Challenge." I will complete my goal of 10 No Spend Days and will even have a day or two more than the original goal but, I have not kept to my goal of limiting my spending on meals out. December will be a great time for keeping that number down as vendor and company sponsored lunches will pay for most.

Next, I spent a lot of money on a plane ticket to visit my dad for Christmas. It was a difficult decision because I feel like I should be using that money to pay off some debt or build my emergency fund, but as a very smart reader pointed out you only have so much time to spend with family. Oh yeah, did I mention he's in Europe so it is even more difficult to pop over to see him.

As long as I'm confessing my spending, I joined a gym again. I got a screaming deal and there is no long term commitment so I'm comfortable in that decision. I need to loose weight that I've been packing on since I quit smoking. Its affecting my health and its preventing me from doing things because I'm self conscious.

Now the good news... I've been house sitting for quite a few people which is helping to pay for my spending choices. I'm also helping out an old employer and putting up orders for Thanksgiving which will also bring in some spending money. At the end of the day, I will owe my dad for a plane ticket, but I will have paid off another credit card.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sorry for the Quiet Period

I just wrapped up one house sitting job today. That means I will get a large snowball for my debt in a couple of days. My no spend days have been going well and I should reach my goal well ahead of schedule. Finally, I have paid off another debt. I'm not counting it as a true accomplishment as its my line of credit attached to my checking account. The check to pay for my parking space has not cleared for two months so I decided I would transfer it to my line of credit until it gets straightened out.

My struggle lately has been whether or not I'm going home for Christmas. First, my dad's health is deteriorating and he's depressed so I know my trip home will help. Second, instead of the usual two days off for Christmas and New Years I will have four without taking vacation time, so I can schedule a longer vacation and only dip into a week's worth of vacation time. I won't have the same opportunity next year. The draw back... that's a decent chunk of change that could go towards debt. Decisions... decisions...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Weekly Review

It's been a crazy week. I've picked up a few house sitting jobs to bring in some extra money, but they are on opposite sides of the city. I am focusing on paying off another credit card by the end of the month and I know all of this craziness will be worth it when I mail in that payoff!

For posts that really hit home for me, check out:

The Simple Dollar ~ Lying To Yourself About Money Or Anything Else I particularly relate to this post because this is my Achilles heel. If you don't acknowledge it, it can't be wrong, right?!?

Wise Bread ~ Managing Your Charitable Giving, by Phillip Brewer I'm a big advocate of being smart about charitable giving. There are lots of people out there that want to separate us from our money. Let's not fall prey to poorly managed organizations or groups selling snake oil.

Being Frugal ~ 50 Frugal Christmas Ideas You can't ignore it. The holiday season is upon us. Prepare now and you can have a debt free Christmas.

One Frugal Girl ~ Does My Generation Care About Quality One Frugal Girl looks at how different generations value quality and how we are changing more and more into a disposable society.

Working For Financial Freedom ~ Procrastination Is Expensive An excellent example of the games we play with ourselves that help us get into trouble with our finances.

Donating Your Time

Today, I had the pleasure of helping my mom pick up donations from Trader Joe's and deliver them to a needy organization. It's such a wonderful feeling knowing that I can not only give something back to the community, but help to keep perfectly good food out of the landfill and get nutritious food to those that might not have it otherwise. Heading into December, the focus turns to giving. I've never had a lot of money to give, but I do make time. Its frugal and each volunteer hour saves the organization about $40.

Next weekend I'm volunteering at another organization to sort books. The organization gets donations of books from a local bookstore and we get to sort through them to pull out the children's books to send to classrooms. I admit there's a perk. I also get to pull out books that they can't use for other organizations. A small town library is in need of new books and the organization my mom works for teaches parenting skills to teen mothers. She gets any books for new moms.

At the end of the month I'm volunteering for a charity event that will feature a live and silent auction. You may ask why I do so much. Well, I have to admit I don't usually make this many committements in one month, but I find its a great way to spend an evening out and its really easy on the budget.

No Spend Days Update

The first full week of the "Reduce A Bill Challenge" is over and we are 11 days in. I'm happy to say that I have 3 No Spend Days down and 7 more to go. I had three meals out that I paid for, but all of them cam in at less than $15 each including tip. With $10 going to my emergency fund for every No Spend Day, that's $30 to deposit.

To check out how others are doing on the Reduce A Bill Challenge, Working For Financial Freedom has set up a page dedicated to the challenge. Want to challenge yourself? There is still time to make the commitment.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Weakening Dollar - How Will It Affect You?

I love reading about personal finance and investing, but I'm not always good at sharing information. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one to tell you the next big investment. Nobody really owns that crystal ball unless they can spot the trendy investments and grab onto the coat tails. I also believe in taking everything with a grain of salt. One of the "investment gurus" that everyone is familiar with is Jim Cramer, the loud and obnoxious advisor seen nightly on MSNBC. Well he also hosts a website called While checking out Yahoo!Finance, I found this fascinating article featured on TheStreet by Jeffrey Strain, 5 Ways To Survive The Dollar's Dive.
The article outlines 5 areas that the decreased value of the dollar will affect our lives and offers some helpful advice on how to prepare for it, including paying off as much variable interest rate debts as possible because banks will increase interest rates to appeal to foreign investors.

Check out the full article at

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Get A Jump On The Holiday Shopping Season

While poking around The Motley Fool, I found an interesting article on Black Friday and websites that leak holiday ads before they actually come out in the papers. The article, titled Holiday Spoiler Alert ~ Sites Already Leaking Deals begins by giving out three websites that will give you the inside scoop on holiday sales out the day after Thanksgiving.

Now before you think that this is some sort of espionage or someones making a mint off of selling company secrets, the company's are are getting free publicity and able to find out what their competition is up to.

The article finishes up with outlining a clever how-to guide for taking advantage of the sales without having to get up at the crack of dawn. This is the most appealing part. While I like a good bargain as much as the next person, I am not a morning person and the doors seem to be opening earlier and earlier. When they stop bothering to even close, I'll be right there in line at midnight.

For the full article, check out

Home Improvement How To

A house can be the single largest investment you ever make, so why not take advantage of free opportunities to make sure your investment is well taken care of. Minor repairs and improvements don’t have to be left to the professionals. They tend to cost a bit of money. Instead, check out Home Depot’s free clinics. With subjects ranging from installing a faucet, learning to tile, and electrical basics, their classes provide a base for building a solid foundation of home improvement education. Not near a Home Depot? Don’t worry. They also have online classes. Check

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thanksgiving Is Only Two Weeks Away

We are entering what is considered one of the most stressful times of the year. Expectations are high, time is short, and finances are stretching, so how do you prepare? My family is working on redefining expectations while working together to discover what is truly important to each of us. It still gets a bit stressful. My great aunt has been the hostess for many holidays, but we are working on transferring the responsibility and workload to my mom and I. I've hosted a couple of Thanksgiving feasts, but this year will be at my mom's. We will also invite a few people that don't have a place to go for the holiday. Rather than expect her to take care of everything, the meal will be shared between a number of family members and friends. Mom will take care of the turkey and gravy. I usually get potatoes and rolls. My great aunt is in charge of pie (her specialty!) There are certain traditions we keep, but we also switch things up a bit to try new ideas and keep things fresh.

So how do we take advantage of Thanksgiving, switch it up, and utilize it for our frugal lifestyle?Use my family as an example and share the cost by asking family members to bring a dish or two. The bonus is you also get to share in the leftovers.

November and December see the most sales in the grocery stores because the competition is high to lure our grocery budgets out of our pockets. I tend to save more left over grocery money in September and October to prepare for two months ripe with stock up opportunities, specifically baking supplies and cuts of meat and poultry that lends itself to frugal meals that stretch to multiple meals. No Credit Needed has posted an example of a grocery store price book he uses to track bargains.

Take advantage of Thanksgiving leftovers to really stretch you grocery budget. Start planning the menu now so you know how much to put aside for which meal. Don't feel like you have to finish the whole turkey in three days. Freeze portions for later use.

Keep an eye on the stock market and search for bargains there too. While the fall is a great season for good returns (minus that black monday thing of course), its the move to cut loses before the end of the year tax deadline that is where to find the deals.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Its Official!

The 99th Festival of Frugality is up at I've Paid For This Twice. My post on Dining Out was included. This was my very first Festival I've participated in. Check it out along with other scholarly advice.

Monday, November 5, 2007

November - A New Start On No Spend Days

Its the 5th of the month and I already have 2 No Spend Days under my belt. I'm working on starting out this month strong since I fall short by a hair last month. In case you haven't heard, I'm participating in the "Reduce A Bill Challenge" over at Working For Financial Freedom. There is still time to make the commitment. Just stop by the blog and sign up. Don't forget to post updates. If you need extra support, I recommend checking the comments and seeing what other participants are doing. Heather at Not Keeping Up With The Jonses and I are working on the same goal and its exciting to compare progress and cheer each other on.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Week In Review - A week of firsts

I've meant to start a weekly highlight of blog postings I've enjoyed during the week, but until this week have not had much success getting myself organized enough to do it. Well, its a new month and a great time to get to those things I've been putting off. So without further procrastination...

The Simple Dollar discusses Customer Loyalty Plans and how to make them work for you in his post How to Maximize Customer Loyalty Programs - Even If You've Never Tried One.

Being Frugal shows us tips for a children's birthday party with Frugal Birthday Party Planning.

No Credit Needed is adding another day to his 33 Days and 33 Ways to Reduce Debt and Increase Savings. He's created a great tool for those needing help with budgeting. Check out Single Page List Of Monthly Expenses No Credit Needed Notebook Page 2.

Its time for a new month of the "Reduce A Bill" Challenge. Check out Working for Financial Freedom's site to join the challenge.

Also, I've Paid For This Twice Already is hosting the Festival of Frugality this week. I've submitted my first post and hope to improve participation in future weeks. Check it out if you are not familiar with it already.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Remembering Those Who Are Less Fortunate

Tithing, donating, charitable giving, it doesn't matter which name you use for it, giving back to the community is what helps to build a community. Tonight I was invited to a book signing that was a fundraiser for an organization that builds schools in Central Asian countries. An interesting point that the author made is that the amount the US spends to help build Iraq communities is quite a bit, yet its not as beneficial as it should be. Don't worry, this isn't a post where I get on my political soap box, rather an observation of our responsibility to ensure the money we give is being used effectively.
We are entering the season of giving when organizations mail out their annual request letters; school children are loaded down with brochures selling wrapping paper, cookie dough, and holiday greens; people are out ringing bells; and donation cans are passed around. Its also the season when questionable requests are made. Before you drop a few coins in the jar, see if its a reputable charity. Don't be afraid to ask organizations how much of each dollar goes to their programs and how much goes to administrative expenses. If your favorite kid is asking you to buy something, see if you can donate money or supplies to the organization rather than the marketing company that will give them $.05 for every dollar spent.
Make your donation work just as hard as if it were in your budget.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Costco - Land of Opportunity or Budget Buster?

I have the unique responsibility in my office to be in charge of the Costco run. My office is fairly generous because it supplies things like butter, cream cheese, brownies, and other items that help employees prepare lunch. I try to plan my trips and limit my purchases. Living on my own, its not easy to stockpile, but with some careful planning, I can take advantage of deals I find.

I buy prepackaged chicken breasts to keep in the freezer. It may not be the most economical way to buy chicken, but the convenience of cooking two up and keeping them in the fridge for a week of meals is invaluable.

Prepackaged meals are usually high in fat and calories not to mention more expensive than cooking from scratch, but if the choice of dining out or throwing something in the microwave it may be worth the purchase. I keep a few easy comfort foods in the freezer to prevent unnecessary fast food temptation at bay.

Solid Pack Canned Tuna is a good staple to have around for sandwiches, salads, and casseroles. Solid Pack may be appear to be more expensive, but its better quality and more cost effective if purchased on sale. I try not to spend more than $1.00 per can.

Chips are inexpensive and I can divide the bag out into convenient snack packs using sandwich bags.

Don't fall for the huge packaging. If you aren't going to use the item within a year, it may be a waste of space. One way to help fight this excess is to go shopping with friends, co-workers, or family members and splitting an item. While I don't need 12 cans of broth, I can easily store 6 and split a pack with a co-worker.

Check prices and cost per units. Just because Costco sells it doesn't mean its a bargain. Get familiar with the items you regularly purchase and don't be afraid to research items that look appealing. Impulse buys will kill a budget and many Costco purchases are made because you never know if the item will still be in stock on the next trip. Use the 24 hour rule. If you didn't plan on purchasing the item, don't. Go home and sleep on it.

Finally, take a set amount of cash with you. Don't take checks, credit, or debit cards. Its easy to justify a "few more dollars" if you have that possibility. Remind yourself you don't have to spend the whole amount either.

And the New Goals for November Are...

First, I've recommitted to the Reduce A Bill Challenge at Working for Financial Freedom. Last month I committed to 10 No Spend Days. I admit that I got close, but I didn't quite make it. This month, I'm sticking with the 10 No Spend Days, but I'm upping the anti by limiting days I dine out to no more than 3 a week that I pay for.
Next, I am going to add another $100 to the emergency fund.
After that, I am working on the first of three credit cards. If I really buckle down, it would be an early Christmas for me if I paid that off. Its set for payoff in December.
Finally, I am going to send off another $50 to my Roth IRA.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

October Goals In Review

Goals for October:
Pay back my stepfather for that emergency loan in June. There is $400 left. I have a $100 check for him that will make a dent. I also have a $200 check coming in from some contract work that will go to him as well. Its not the full $400, but its a good start.
Put $100 into my emergency fund. Thanks to the No Spend Day Challenge, I have that $100 to put towards this fund. That brings it to $300 in the fund.
Cut my meals out to twice a week and no more than $25 per week. Not a great month for this. I will need to work harder at this which includes reevaluating my menu planning and expanding choices to eliminate boredom. I am house sitting again this month so it also means planning for that time I'm not at home. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on how many meals you can make from rotisserie chicken.
Pay off $300 debt. I am happy to say I put another debt to bed so count this one a success!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Holiday Season Challenge - Catching Up With Friends And Family

Its really easy to get overwhelmed with everyone you want to see during the holiday season. Consider starting early and scheduling get togethers in November. After all, there shouldn't be an expiration date on time out with friends and family. There is no rule that states you must see everyone between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. Try scheduling time together preparing for festivities like baking, writing notes, creating gifts, or participating in holiday events. It's not about checking someone off of your list, but rather enjoying the time you spend together.

Gas Prices Hit A New High... Again?!?

Its the topic nobody wants to talk about and yet we can't avoid it. Gas prices are going up again. We complain and yet our prices are still no where near Europe's or other countries around the world. Europe has the benefit of already having the culture of walking everywhere or taking a scooter. In the US and Canada, however, we are much more spread out in most of the country and while the bigger cities have great transit systems, even more lack pedestrian friendly layouts.

In my quest to find new transportation, I have been revelling in the fact that it has only cost me $35 at the most to fill up my tank. I bought a Honda CR-V so I didn't think it would be that low, but anything would be less than my old car. Bessie would guzzle $45-50 every two weeks. OUCH! In my quest to find other ways to save gas, I found a website hosted by the US government, Check out this link for ideas on saving gas by adjusting your driving habits, tips on maintaining your car, and alternative means of transportation. Side benefit? Most of these tips help improve our effects on the environment too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gender Differences in Financial Communication

Do men and women communicate about finances differently? It's and interesting question to ponder and one that is inspired by I Will Teach You To Be Rich. In his post title Look How Men and Women's Magazines Write About Money, he examines the different messages and how they are delivered.

Money magazines are written with the male audience in mind because that is the larger percentage of subscribers. Women's magazines will include a finance writer but will discuss topics on spending more often that investing. Men are encouraged to take risks and focus on savings in terms of a portfolio. Women are encouraged not to fear money and to evaluate the emotional side of savings.

Points that aren't addressed include the fact that when women do invest they tend to have better returns because they research more and take less risk in choosing stocks. Women are expected to spend more on image than men including more expensive clothing, make up, regular trips to the salon, and shoes. Even dry cleaners charge more to women many times for the same articles of clothing.

There has been a definite changes from our mothers and grandmothers generations when men were expected to take care of the finances and invest. Unfortunately, women are still encouraged to spend rather than save. Young women see credit cards as status symbols and don't often understand the ramifications of their actions on future plans.

Our consumer driven society for the first time ever have a 0% for savings and most are living longer lives. Baby Boomers are starting to retire. This is the last generation that was taught Social Security will take care of them in retirement. Gen Xers don't believe Social Security will be there when they retire. Gen Y hasn't begun to consider retirement. No matter what the generation we need to take responsibility for our choices now and move away from the instant gratification lifestyle.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dining Out on the Cheap

One of the first things to go when cutting expenses is dining out. It's expensive and is rarely a necessity. So what do you do when temptation strikes or you are meeting at a restaurant for a meeting? Plan and allow yourself a splurge every once in awhile.

While I was in college, I had a number of odd jobs, but the one I was at the longest was for a restaurant. Not only did it give me some great benefits like free soup and salads as well as 50% off any menu item, it also gave me a great education in food.

I learned about different wines and that the restaurant mark up is 100-200% on a bottle. Restaurants make the most profit off of wines by the glass. You can bring your own wine, but you will be charged a corkage fee so call ahead to find out how much. It can range from $10-$30 per bottle.

I also learned how to dine out on the cheap. I took full advantage of my discounts, but I also familiarized myself with all of the Happy Hour specials at the restaurants and bars around town. Sounds like a lot of bad bar food? Not at all. Many area restaurants offer a $1.95-$3.95 menus that include hamburgers, sushi, pasta, chicken Caesars, and hummus plates. The only requirement is buying a beverage for a minimum that is typically a soda pop or iced tea. (Free refills)

Another trick is to buy an appetizer instead of a main course. My friends and I have been known to make a meal of a side salad and split an appetizer. If we are feeling like treating ourselves, we may split a main course.

Finally, consider lunch instead of dinner. You can typically get the same menu but smaller portions for much better prices.

Doggie bags aren't just for the dogs. Ask for a box before you start your meal and take half of it home for another meal. Weight loss gurus have been recommending this for some time as a way to lose weight. It also is good for the budget. Restaurants justify increasing menu prices by giving you more food and larger plates. It gives the illusion of better value for the money. In fact, most people just waste the food by leaving it or they add to the growing weight problem by eating everything on their plate like we've been taught since childhood.

At the end of the day, don't deprive yourself a luxury now and then. Just plan wisely and make sure you enjoy every aspect of the experience.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Another No Spend Day!

Not only did I successfully complete another no spend day, I also snowflaked $5.50 by taking back pop cans from work.

Retirement Preparation

Did you know its National Retirement Week? I didn't until I was visiting Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge. Sponsored by the ICMA and resolved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, National Retirement Week is another step towards educating people on the need to plan now for retirement no matter what your situation is.

Many people ignore retirement planning. They think they aren't making it paycheck to paycheck how can they save for retirement. 20-somethings think retirement is too far away to have to think about it. Many women believe their husbands are taking care of it for them. There are those that believe Social Security and Medicare will be enough. They are up for a rude wake up call.

If I knew then what I know now...

I wouldn't have cashed out my first 401k. At the time I thought it was my only option. It was just after the dot-com crash of 2001. That cost a lot of money and I lost years of compound interest.

I would have started saving smaller amounts earlier. I thought it didn't count unless I put in $144 per month.

I would have involved my mom earlier. I had a surprise when my grandfather passed away and my grandmother had no idea about their finances. When I found out mom was almost as unfamiliar I spoke up.

So where do you start if you haven't started? With baby steps! Open an account that isn't connected to your checking account or at a different bank altogether. Why not a high interest online account? Whatever it is get started. Learn about account types like the traditional IRA, ROTH IRA, and Rollover IRA.

Set aside a certain amount each week or month and make it regular. If you need to start with a smaller amount do it, but set a date to review your finances and bump it up to a higher level.

Don't be afraid to ask questions of your retirement specialist at work if you have one. Check out online education sites like America Saves or the Motley Fool. You don't have to be an expert, but educating yourself on the basics is important. Register for a class at the local community college. Looking for more information on investing? Check out the National Association of Investors Corporation (NAIC).

Monday, October 22, 2007

When Frugal is a Waste of Money

I returned a pair of shoes today. I purchased them at the Nordstrom's Rack which is like an outlet for Nordstrom's. I know from inside sources that the Rack has buyers for the store in addition to the merchandise that didn't sell or went out of season from Nordstrom's. I needed to purchase a pair of black shoes for work that I could walk anywhere in.

Confession time - I have been known to purchase a pair of shoes because they were a good deal when they didn't really meet my need. The pair I returned were sensible but a bit big in the foot which I justified because I could wear socks. They also pinched a bit across the top of the shoe. Again I justified it with the idea they would stretch out.

When I got home, I left the shoes in the bag to give myself a chance to think about my purchase. (It's kind of a backwards wait 24 hour rule.) The more I thought about the shoes the more I realized that I had just cleared a few pairs of shoes out of my closet that had the same problem. They kinda worked, but were going to be painful to break in so I kept them in the closet for another day (and another... and another...) Finally I decided to put them on EBay and try to recoup my loses.

So what does my shoe shopping habits have to do with Frugality? A bargain isn't a bargain if you don't get good value from the purchase. Better it is to spend a little bit more for something that doesn't have to be "broken in". Make sure to count the number of times used, costs of owning, and length of time the item lasts in order to get a better idea of true cost.

Halfway to the Goal

Today was another No Spend Day. The goal is to complete 10 No Spend Days by the end of the month. As an added bonus, my emergency fund gets $10 per No Spend Day. I'm halfway there with only 9 more days to go. Luckily, I still have a half of a tank of gas and will be done house sitting as of tomorrow night.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

When You Are Out Of Your Routine

I am a creature of habit. It's not the obsessive compulsive type, but it can become very disconcerting if I'm out of my routine for very long and wreaks havoc on my efforts to limit eating out or spending money. I've been house sitting for almost three weeks. My cats are being very needed even though I'm spending a few hours at home each night. There have been no planned menus and any lunch that I've taken to work has been leftovers from a dinner out. The bonus is that I've been able to catch up with people I haven't seen for awhile. I'm also earning extra money to pay bills.

Unfortunately, addressing my issues doesn't fix the time I've lost working towards my goals, but it does point out a weakness that we all have to address from time to time. Like giving up smoking or loosing weight there are triggers that you need to recognize in order to prevent going down the same path and making the same mistakes. What triggers your backslides? What can you do to prepare to prevent them?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Entertaining on a Budget

Saving money and living on a tight budget does not mean you have to give up entertaining. There is a new twist on an old idea that is becoming very popular, particularly during the fall and winter time. It's a soup potluck. Each person or family is asked to bring either a pot of soup, bread, desert, or beverage. Make sure there are two people bringing soup. This will help with variety as well as ensure there is enough for everyone. Soup is not only inexpensive to make, but can be made in large batches with extra to freeze for later meals.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Fall Day At The Pumpkin Patch

This past weekend I had a marvelous Sunday. My favorite 6 year old invited me to join her, her mom, and her friend on a trip to the pumpkin patch. The day was warm, crisp, sunny, and beautiful. We found a family run pumpkin patch that had inflatable slides, a petting farm, and freshly made carmel apples. We wandered around the farm and checked out all of the animals making sure to pet whatever was friendly. Next came the time honored tradition of picking out just the right pumpkin. My little 6 year old buddy chose the one with a ladybug on it. Her friend found one with a ladybug as well. Mom found the one with a slug and that left the spider pumpkin for me. I also had to pick up a couple of miniature pumpkins for decorations. When we finished with important details, we rewarded ourselves for all of our hard work with 2 carmel apples. The moral of this story?

Cost of inflatable slide: $0
Cost of petting zoo: $3 for food
Cost of pumpkins: $10 for 5 pumpkins, 3 miniature pumpkins, and 5 gourds
Cost of carmel apples: $8 (little expensive, but they were huge!)

Day out in the country with your favorite 6 year old: Priceless - Okay, I know you saw that one coming... true cost $21 for a day out for 4 plus extra pumpkins for cooking as well as jack o' lanterns

Four No Spend Days

We are half way through October and I have 4 No Spend Days down and 6 more to go. Tomorrow will be another No Spend Day because I will be at a seminar for work.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Reinventing Leftovers

Being single I find it challenging to cook and not get tired of leftovers. One way I have found to fight blah meals is to cook a base like chicken breast, marinated steak, or ground beef and save leftovers in easy to use portions for other meals. To put the pieces together, choose a starch and a vegetable or two to compliment the base. Suggestions include:
~ Pasta with mushrooms, and broccoli
~ Fried Rice with peas, bok choy, and carrots
~ Tortilla with tomatoes and peppers to make a quesadilla
Ground Beef
~ Potatoes with mushrooms, carrots and onions for a Shepard's Pie
~ Pasta with tomato sauce
~ Tortilla with olives, tomatoes, and lettuce to make a soft taco
Sliced Marinated Steak
~ Rice with bok choy, snow peas, and carrots for bento
~ Baked Potatoes with mushrooms and broccoli
~ Pita Bread with lettuce, tomatoes, and olives

Monday, October 15, 2007

Another No Spend Day!

We are halfway through the month and I've only had three real No Spend Days. Today was a challenge because a co-worker asked me to go out after work for sushi. I almost broke down, when we realized at the last minute the restaurant is closed on Monday. Now there's a sign!

Saving Energy While Living in an Apartment

This post is part of the Blog Action Day movement: thousands of blogs talking about the environment on October 15.

With all of the buzz words like eco-friendly, environmentally conscious, and green living, apartment dwellers seem to be getting the short end of the advice stick. After all, there is only so much you can do to make improvements. Here are some ideas you can do:

Water Conservation
  • Turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth
  • Fill a pop bottle with water, cap it and slide it into your toilet tank.
  • Run your dishwasher when full, otherwise supplement in between times by filling a sink a quarter of the way.
  • Save laundry until you have a full load. Partial loads cost money.

Energy Conservation

  • Switching out to CFLs can save you $30 per bulb
  • Turn off lights when not in use
  • Unplug appliances when not in use. They still use energy even when not in use.
  • Consider signing up for alternative power options available through the power company. It may cost a little more, but it reduces our reliance on oil.


  • If your state offers a can and bottle deposit, take advantage of it and return them. Use the money for a fun fund, vacation savings, grocery bill supplement, etc.
  • Consider container gardening if you have a deck or porch. Many vegetables thrive in containers including lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, zucchini, and peppers.
  • Want to save on fertilizer? Start a worm colony also known as vermiculture. The process is simple, uses vegetable scraps & newspaper, and no, it doesn't smell.
  • Instead of buying plastic bags for garbage, use the ones you've collected from stores. These are also handy for pet poop bags and diaper disposal.

How Much is Clutter Costing You?

This post is part of the Blog Action Day movement: thousands of blogs talking about the environment on October 15.

While cleaning my house this weekend, I realized something. If I'm paying rent on an apartment and all of this clutter is in my apartment, I'm paying rent to have clutter. I pay $600/mo for a 1 bedroom apartment, which where I live is really cheap, but I work for the management company and do favors for the manager. My apartment is about 600 square feet, so that translates into $1 per square foot. Think about it, that pile of papers that need to be filed is costing me $1 per month or $12 per year. The recycling that hasn't gone out to the curb costs $2.50 per month. The bag of clothing that should go to charity costs another $2.00 per month. Add another $4.00 for the boxes in storage that I haven't looked at for a year. That's $9.50 per month ($114 per year) and I haven't really even started on the stuff that is in drawers and cabinets. No wonder people keep buying bigger houses. As part of Blog Action Day, consider how much space we really need. How much space is determined by our consumer lifestyle?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Holiday Season Challenge - Keep It Simple

I lost count how many times I found the perfect gift and then, concerned about how inexpensive I did it for, went out and bought an expensive gift that had no meaning. I thought about this while reading The Simple Dollar's post, "Children's Gifts - Don't Spend A Lot On What They Don't Want." In it The Simple Dollar discusses birthday presents for a two year old. When thinking about what the child would want most, things like Hot Wheels cars, drawing paper, and books came up. Ask the child and it was apple juice. Out of the mouth of babes. In my own experience, I think of a couple of key times this was true for adults as well. For my best friend's first child, I knit her a blanket. At the last minute I panicked because I had only spent about $5 on the yarn. I ended up purchasing a silver spoon and sent it with the blanket. Before you think I totally lost my mind, I did purchase it at a going out of business sale for about $30, but when she called to thank me, she kept raving about the blanket and just mentioned the spoon. Moral of the story, the cost of the present isn't important, the thought is.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Today I got my FSA check in the mail. It's only $30, but that's $30 towards my credit card debt. Big YEAH! The best part is that there is another one that should arrive next week.

This will be a second payment this month which means it will go to reducing the principle. This card is slated to be paid off in December. Oh its just within my grasp!

Paper or Plastic - Neither Cloth

If you're looking for a way to cut your grocery bill consider alternatives to paper products.
The only paper product I purchase is toilet paper. (I'm just not willing to take on alternatives.)
Kitchen towels make great napkins and they're bigger than normal cloth napkins as well as cheaper. My family reuses them through a few meals unless they're particularly soiled. I don't buy Kleenex either. (Well, maybe when I have a really bad cold.) Hankies are easy to wash and environmentally friendly. Just make sure they have a decent thickness. Paper towels are a waste of money. Keep old kitchen towels for cleaning up spills. Cut up old t-shirts for dusting, polishing, and cleaning rags.

This posting was inspired by Being Frugal. To see more ideas, click here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Housesitting for Additional Income

Since I was in college, I have been house sitting for people to earn extra money. Currently, I am taking care of a house for 2 1/2 weeks. I confess that it makes me go a bit stir crazy because I'm out of my routine. I rely more on eating out and I use a bit more gas because of the distance to work. The benefit? I get to pay off another bill and I don't have to pay to do my laundry.

Unofficial No Spend Day

The day started out right. Lunch was paid for courtesy of a company anniversary and I had cans of Coke for the day. The day went well until the gas light came on. I wasn't expecting to get stuck in traffic. My No Spend day turned into a $10 spend day. I'm trying again for tomorrow. Set backs happen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What Advice Is Realistic for a 20-Something

An article caught my eye today on Yahoo!Finance that had been published in US News & World Report by Kimberly Palmer. In it Ramit Sethi, creator of the "I Will Teach You to Be Rich" blog discusses how most of the information out there on personal finance is written by "old, white men for old, white men," and too a point I may agree. (Maybe not quite so harshly.)

When I started reading about personal finance and investing I was 20 years old. My parents didn't sit me down and explain budgets, investing, or even shopping for groceries. Growing up, my mother had struggled as a single mom making ends meet. My father's frugality was often confused for being a cheapskate. He invested... with a full service broker and he collected as a business. Its interesting that there are two taboo topics that parents assume kids will learn, sex and personal finance. The sad thing is parents are often surprised when kids have difficulties tackling either one.

My mom helped me set up a savings account, but forgot to explain to me why earning a penny a month was beneficial. I couldn't see the big picture. I baffled my grandparents one year when I asked for stocks for Christmas. To their credit, I got 6 shares of Costco when it was at $12/share. That was the beginning, but there were a lot of bumps in the road to my education.

I agree with Famit Sethi, personal finance education is not one size fits all. Many books teach from the perspective of someone who has already graduated college, is married and possibly with family, and have a significant start on savings. They aren't taking into consideration purchasing the wardrobe for the new job, starting a discount / online brokerage account with a minimal amount to start, setting up a food pantry from scratch rather than relying on Taco Bell or McDonald's, or how to start out with the minimum and building your benefits as your budget allows.

My advice to someone starting out:
~ Do not rely on credit. It is a band-aid that will catch up to you quickly. Better to take your spare time, develop alternative means of income, and build your investment account. Get your shopping fix off of smart investment decisions.
~ Keep your roommates as long as you can. Not having to share a bathroom sounds like heaven, but all of the extra expenses will drain your budget quickly.
~ Take a cooking class and educate yourself on easy, healthy meals.
~ Cheap furniture is just that, CHEAP. Invest is better built pieces that will be around for a few years.
~ Challenge yourself with finding free meals served at community events. Combine entertainment and keep tabs on your grocery bill.
~ Don't get frustrated when your teller gives you funny looks. Make those deposits into your savings even if they are $5-$10. Its still a contribution to your savings.
~ Like cheap furniture, penny stocks are cheap for a reason. Make sure you research your investments before you jump into the world of Wall Street. That $3 stock won't look like such a bargain 5 years later when its still at $3.
~ 3-6 months of wages in an emergency fund is something to strive for but not a requirement. Don't be afraid to start small.
~ If someone tells you $500 isn't enough to do anything with. Walk away and don't believe them.
~ You are building your network everywhere. Make good first impressions to ensure future success.

Monday, October 8, 2007

YEAH! ~ My first No Spend Day!

Thanks to the inspirations of Being Frugal, Working For Financial Freedom, and Not Keeping Up With the Joneses I am officially on my way on the Reduce a Bill Challenge. This was my first official No Spend Day.

It all started with Being Frugal writing a post about her efforts to lower the monthly grocery bill. Mom of 3 at Working For Financial Freedom was inspired to reduce one of her own bills by going an month line drying clothing saving money on her electricity bill. Heather at Not Keeping Up With The Joneses came up with the idea of having 10 No Spend Days for the month of October. Talk about the power of the blogging community... I decided to join Heather in the quest for 10 No Spend Days. While getting off to a rocky start because of bad planning, I can now record my first day. Tomorrow will be another and if I'm to meet my goal, I'm going to need to step it up a bit.

The benefit of this exercise? No, its not Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough Ice Cream. It will be an additional $10 towards the emergency fund per day. That's what I would have spent for lunch, which is my downfall when it comes to sticking to my budget.

Are you ready for the Reduce a Bill Challenge?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Holiday Season Challenge - Double Benefit Presents

One of the things I try to do is purchase presents that are double duty. I purchase presents that benefit charitable organizations. If I need to attend a fundraising event, I bid on items that are less popular and will make a good gift. My city has a few stores that benefit local organizations and people from third world countries. (Just for the record, if you consider this way of contributing back to the community, this is not an excuse to buy all of those things that are just going to become clutter.)

Wow - What a Weekend!

I have been very bad about posting this weekend because I hit the ground running on Friday and am finally able to sit down and reflect. Friday after a stressful workday, I took a friend out for her birthday to see Body Worlds III and incredible combination of anatomy education and art. Not a cheap day, but an incredible experience.

Saturday, was almost a successful No Spend day. I started it out working on a huge philanthropic project where I, along with 1,800 other volunteers were distributed among 11 different sites around the city. My particular project had 100 volunteers that repainted all of the halls of an elementary school. It was incredible to see so many people come together to improve a school that hasn't had a fresh coat of paint for the last 10 years. Bonus - Outback Steakhouse provided the free lunch at the celebration afterwards. Later that evening, I attended a fundraising dinner for another organization. The ticket was paid for by my company and included dinner, drinks, and entertainment. I almost had a perfect No Spend day, but had an incredible opportunity to purchase a couple bottles of wine that will be Christmas presents.

Sunday, is another almost No Spend Day. I spent money to pick up supplies for a friend's birthday party. I was given the money to purchase most of it. I did spend an extra $8.00 + $3.00 for cat litter. The party was a success!

This weekend taught me some valuable lessons... Don't put off purchasing kitty litter if you are planning a no spend day. It only leads to unnecessary cleaning to deal with odors. Don't over schedule. It only leads to unnecessary spending. Don't take a checkbook to a fundraising event unless you have already planned on spending money. And finally, falling asleep on the couch from exhaustion leads to a sore neck.

To make up for unsuccessful No Spend days I will make Monday and Tuesday true No Spend days. I'd go for Wednesday too, but I will need gas.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The "Reduce A Bill" Challenge

Thanks to the inspiration of Working For Financial Freedom and Being Frugal, I am joining their challenge for October. Originally inspired by Being Frugal's ability to lower her grocery bill through determined coupon use and organization, Working For Financial Freedom has created the "Reduce A Bill" Challenge. The idea is to focus on one bill or budget area to lower. Working For Financial Freedom is going to line dry her laundry for the month of October.

While reading through some of the comments, I found a response from Heather who is going to do 10 No Spend days for the month. These are days where you spend absolutely no money. This sounds right up my alley since I find that there is always a dollar here or there that ends up getting spent. Even on my best day I tend to forget about paying for parking somewhere.

If you're interested in participating, check out either site and record your goal in the comment section. Don't forget to think about what you are going to use that money you have saved for. Personally, I'm working on that $1,000 emergency fund.

Holiday Season Challenge - Focus On What's Important

Before the season gets any closer, take a moment, grab a post it, and write what is most important to you about the holiday season. Put it up somewhere you will see it everyday. Use it refocus when everything starts coming at you and you find it impossible to get everything done.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

It's Not Easy Keeping Momentum Sometimes

Fall can be a fantastic season... the changing color of leaves on the trees... trips to the country to pick up fresh veggies at the pumpkin field... starting back to school for parents and children. Unfortunately, it can also be an extremely difficult time. The days are getting darker earlier, the rain is coming down, stress is ramping up as the summer lazies become a memory.

Fall is a mixed bag because I find it a great time to get organized and set goals, but my hibernation instincts kick in as well. This week has been difficult to keep to my food budget. It may be due to being housebound with the ick. It definitely has something to do with a lack of menu planning. So how do you insure against a backslide?

First, let me use an example that I saw many years ago from the Cosby Show. Bill Cosby for those who are not aware has a PhD in Education, something that gives him a bit more credibility for family hour solve-it-in-20-minutes shows. The episode in question has Bill and Theo sitting on the bed in Theo's room discussing energy used to be successful in school. Bill's analogy is to picture a jet plane. A tremendous amount of energy is used to take off and land. It takes much less fuel to maintain its traveling altitude.

The same can be said for any endeavor we undertake. More energy is used to research, plan, create, and implement a project than it does to keep a project going. The question then comes up, is it possible to program an auto-pilot for those times that we need to take a coffee break? The answer is yes.
  • Keep track of the menus that you've planned so you can reuse them rather than creating a new one each week. Make about 6-8 and rotate them.
  • Put your savings on autopilot. If you have direct deposit, make sure you have a set amount put into your savings be it emergency, travel, retirement, college fund, etc.
  • Sign up for on-line bill pay. Forget writing out checks and remembering to put them in the mail. Talk to your bank or credit union for more information.
  • Consider DRIPs (Dividend Reinvestment Programs) to make your investments automatic. DRIPs are set up directly with large cap companies where you can invest a set amount each month directly with the company. The amount does not have to equal a full share and you are not charged a brokerage fee. The dividends you would earn off of the investment is then reinvested into the company's stock.
  • Invest regularly in your retirement by signing up with your company's 401k program. If you have a company match, make sure you are maxing out your contribution they will match. This is like getting a raise without having to bother your boss.

Do you have other great ideas? I invite you to share them by posting a comment.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Holiday Season Challenge - Bulk Grocery Fund

During November and December, sales are popping up everywhere and not just at the malls. This is the time to stock up on groceries you will use throughout the year including baking items, turkey, roasts, dairy, entertainment foods, citrus, etc. Don't miss out on the savings. Start socking away some savings today to be able to take full advantage of those savings in the coming months.

Sick Days

I've been out sick from work for two days. Add to that the two days I was stuck with sniffles at home over the weekend and you have a person going stir crazy. So what do you do when you can't go back to work yet, but can't stand sleeping for one more minute? Take advantage of the quiet time and organize.

If you've been following The Simple Dollar's One Hour Projects, today's posting is a wrap up of all of Trent's excellent ideas for taking control of finances.

Other ideas:
  • Write a To Do list ~ Catch up on all of those items you've been putting off
  • Fine tune your budget ~ When is the last time you checked the numbers
  • Write that letter ~ Do you have a complaint or compliment letter that you've been putting off?
  • Call your credit card companies ~ Ask about lowering your interest rates
  • Call your insurance company ~ Do you have enough insurance, too much insurance, or just the right amount?
  • File that box of paperwork that's piling up ~ You know you have one
  • Shred that paperwork that you don't need to save ~ You don't really need to keep statements from more than seven years ago unless its business or tax related
  • Write you menu for the week ~ It helps keep the grocery bill down

Monday, October 1, 2007

Are You Motivated By Rewards?

Over at the Simple Dollar, Trent has posted about material rewards in Should You Give Yourself Material Rewards For Meeting Certain Milestones. Rewards can be powerful motivators and come in the form of verbal kudos, food treats, material treats, debt payoffs, etc. In Trent's case, his posting discusses the change between material treats to being rewarded by debt payoffs and meeting financial goals while on his quest to become financially savvy.

In my quest to payoff my debt quickly, I'm finding that I feel guilty if I want to treat myself to something I really want. I'm not a techie. I don't need to have the latest gadget. I don't collect anything. Honestly, I get lectured at work because I don't spend any money on myself. So where is the balance? I just bought a new to me car, so that is my latest splurge. I could have bought a cheap car, but I've wanted a CRV for a few years. Is this considered a reward? Probably not. It wasn't set to be a reward.

My compromise? For each bill I pay off, I will invest $50. That way, I will be working towards a goal and still feel that thrill of getting a reward. If there is something I want, I will use the extra money I earn to purchase it. Otherwise, Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough is an inexpensive and tasty treat.

What rewards are you motivated by?

Holiday Season Challenge - Do You Feel Guilty If You Get a Deal?

Whether its for the holidays, birthdays, weddings, etc. I always feel like its not enough if I don't spend enough money. I find these terrific bargains, but if I didn't spend enough I'll add to the present until I feel like its enough. My challenge this year is to find presents that are useful, but also accept that bargains happen and the giftee will not know how much I spent.

btw ~ no, I haven't found one present yet, but I'm on the hunt for bargains.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

October Goals

Goals for October:
  • Pay back my stepfather for that emergency loan in June. There is $400 left.
  • Put $100 into my emergency fund. (I'm working on paying off a Line of Credit for the first $500. Then I will continue on until I have $1000 in an actual emergency account. So far I have paid off $200.)
  • Cut my meals out to twice a week and no more than $25 per week.
  • Pay off $300 debt (d).

A Month In Review - Goals

Week Goal

  • Limit my meals out to $25 including lunches and nights out (I was lucky to be taken out quite a bit this week, so I only spent $11 for the week.)
  • Sort through and find three items to sell on ebay (I'm working on earning Christmas money.) (Still not successful, but I did sell a DVD.)
  • Send $50 to Roth IRA (Done!)
  • Earn and snowflake $25 from "other" projects including taking back pop cans, selling on ebay, focus group, or selling back books (I made an effort, but only made $6.50. I'll keep working at this one.)
Goals for September:
  • Pay back my stepfather for that emergency loan in June. ($600) He’s allowing me to paint a portion of his house to help pay it off. They may not be charging me interest, but I’m going to feel a lot better nixing that debt quickly. So far I have repaid $180. (I didn't get anywhere on this one, except paying $20 for an oil change on his car. That levels the debt to $200 paid and $400 owing.)
  • Put $100 into my emergency fund and get that puppy started. (Okay, I confess that my plan is to pay off my Line of Credit that is attached to my checking account as part of my emergency fund. I’ll kill two birds with one stone.) ($200 paid on my Line of Credit.)
  • Cut my meals out to twice a week and no more than $25 per week. (This is an area that needs a lot of improvement. I was successful for one week out of the month.)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

It's Nice to Know Even Experts Get Frugal Frustration

How much is too much frugality? Like living a green lifestyle its not a one size fits all. Each of us needs to evaluate what we are willing to do to reach our goals in saving money, getting out of debt, or becoming more earth conscious.

Laura Rowley over at Yahoo!Finance struggles with her husband on whether or not to take a brown bag to work in this week's article "Some Thoughts for Your Pennies." While assessing what is important and what isn't important her husband believes that buying his lunch during the week is not only an important part of building relationships with clients, but is also a big networking tool on the days he doesn't have a client lunch. Laura Rowley points out that at $8 per day this is a waste of resources, but much of our choices are based on priorities. She has finally conceded not to bother him about the subject. (btw, for anyone wondering what the big deal is for spending only $8 per day... that's $2,080 per year that could be directed towards debt or savings.)

Laura Rowley advises not to underestimate the power of the penny. Little changes throughout our budgets can reap big rewards. If you can save $.28/day that is a little over $100 per year. If you calculate David Bach's Latte factor, going without one $4.50 Latte per day is equivalent to saving $1642.50 per year. In my case, going without one $.50 can of Coke per day is equivalent to $182.50 per year.

Are you asking yourself yet why I included becoming more earth conscious in evaluating what we are willing to do to increase our savings and eliminate debt? The answer is simple. On many levels taking a bit of advice on being earth friendly will also be budget friendly. Changing out normal incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs will save money every month as will changing out shower heads to water saving, low flow heads and placing a plastic bottle filled with water in your toilet tank. Each of these steps will save you a few cents with each use, but the savings adds up in no time. For more information on saving money and being earth conscious, check out the New American Dream website.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Saving Money On Prescriptions

While I was picking up my prescription for allergy medication, I was behind a guy who was probably about 20 years old. He's obviously one of those lucky souls that hasn't had to budget for prescriptions before because he got three months of refills and balked at the cost of about $100.00. After he left, I made a smart comment to the pharmacy assistant that he was lucky not to know what some prescriptions cost. I then paid the nice man $40 for the co-pay for one month of my prescription. Medication is about as exciting to purchase as a vacuum cleaner. You know you have to pay for it, but you really don't want to.

The following is a list of suggestions for keeping those medical costs to a minimum:
  • Use ExpressScripts. You can get 3 months of refills for the cost of only 2 co-pays and its delivered to your door. (Its also a publicly traded company and no, I don't own it.)
  • If you can, consider generics. Just like everything else, do you really need to pay for the name?
  • Take care of yourself. Eating right, drinking water, getting plenty of exercise, keeping control of stress, and having regular check-ups will help save money it the long run.
  • Many over the counter medications were once prescriptions. I try to keep my costs down by supplementing with these over the counter medications for part of the year. Make sure you check with your doctor before changing any medications.
  • If your company offers a Flexible Spending Account for medical expenses, take advantage of it and budget in your co-pays. This will save you taxes that add up over the year.

Goal Progress

I did it! I avoided temptation. I may have offended a friend, but I stuck to my goals and ate the lunch I brought to work. Today was almost a successful no expense day except that I refilled by prescription for allergy medicine. Tomorrow is another day. Unfortunately, I wasn't successful in adding any snowflakes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Earning Extra Change

If you're looking for snowflakes to add towards your debt, don't overlook the smaller dollars and cents. The following is a list of ideas to consider to increase your income without committing to a 2nd job yet...
  • Returning cans and bottles for a refund ~ Many states offer a deposit program to help support recycling. I discovered awhile ago that no one was eager to take the pop cans back from work. This has brought in an extra $5 per month. Not an incredible amount, but it does add up.
  • Selling back used books, CDs, and DVDs ~ Get to know your local used book or music store. Often if you know what they are looking for, you can keep an eye out at garage sales and make a profit.
  • Volunteer for focus groups ~ Research firms are always looking for focus group participants and often pay anywhere between $20 and $75 for a couple of hours. Many times they also bribe you with food.
  • Garage Sale ~ The trend towards simplifying your life is not only good for the psyche, but also for the pocket book. Go through your house and see what kinds of things are just taking up space. Figure out what is really important to you and what is just clutter. Consider combining efforts with friends and family to really draw buyers in.
  • Consign clothes you don't wear ~ Many consignment stores are currently looking for good quality used fall and winter clothing. While you are switching between your pulling your fall clothing out of storage and storing your summer clothing, check to see which pieces still fit and which you are not going to wear anymore. Take them into a consignment store to see if they would better serve you as additional cash towards your debt.

Goal Progress

Today I made $4.00 selling back a DVD. That makes it a grand total of $6.50 so far this week. I did spend money today because a group of friends and I went out to dinner. Before you give me too hard of a time, I only spent $11.00 for the entire dinner and I took home leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Luckily, my friends are trying to save money as well. Tomorrow night the Food Bank has teamed up with Regal Cinemas for the "Cans Film Festival." For three cans of food you can support the food bank, get free admission to a movie and a free popcorn. Now that's a good deal!

Have you put together your list of free activities in your community yet?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Don't Be Afraid To Ask

Today I had a discussion with the bank. The check from the insurance company for my car was returned because it didn't have a signature endorsement. (Mental Note: Make sure you personally sign an insurance pay off check!) Because it went into an account that I rarely use, I didn't notice that it had been returned for awhile. We all know bank's like to make as much money as they can and mine was no exception. Not only was there a returned check fee, but there was also a daily fee.

I went into the bank to point out that it was their teller that endorsed the check not me. They knocked off half of the fees for me. Now, I admit that I'm not quite done. Some people may be happy with that and suck it up paying the rest of the fees. I am going to ask again and see what we can do by taking it another level.

If we are afraid to ask for things, we don't lose anything... unfortunately, we never gain anything either. On my to do list for this week is calling my credit cards and asking them to lower my interest rates. I've done this before with success, but it has been a couple of months. It's time for another try. The worst they can say is no.

A little HR secret... there are many articles out there proving that men are paid more than women. (It is catching up and I'm not here to start a sexism argument.) I would say that in my experience, men will ask where women tend to assume someone will notice. Lesson: Speak Up and Ask!

Goal Progress

I didn't earn any extra money today unless you want to count the $5.25 I will get for being a witness in a trial. I was successful in making it a no expense day. I brought my lunch and breakfast. I made dinner at home. I rode public transportation in the "free" zone to get to the courthouse from work.

Holiday Season Challenge - Start Shopping Sales, Clearence, and Overstock

Ideally, you should start shopping for the bargains right after the holidays to take advantage of all the great sales. Unfortunately, most people (me included) put it off. There are two months to go until the December rush is on. Stick to the goal of paying as you go and purchase a couple items with each paycheck.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Goal Progress

I was proactive today! I turned in receipts for FSA reimbursement which will bring me $30 and I returned pop cans earning $5.60. (Confession, I spent $3.00 of it on a pint of Ben and Jerry's Oatmeal Cookie Dough Ice Cream!) I won't count the $30 until I actually receive it, but the $2.60 will. That's $17.40 left to earn for the week.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Weekly Round Up

Reviewing my goals I set for the week, I realized that I am moving in the right direction, but I still need to improve on my follow through. To recap, my goals were:
  • Limit my meals out to $25 including lunches and nights out (Closer, but I still spent $45 on meals. $20 more than my budget.)
  • Sort through and find three items to sell on ebay (I'm working on earning Christmas money.) (Okay, that was a no-go.)
  • Send $50 to Roth IRA (Strike two.)
  • Earn and snowflake $25 from "other" projects including taking back pop cans, selling on ebay, focus group, or selling back books (Strike three. Not a successful week.)

Going into the next week, I am going to use the same goals as last week. I no longer have the excuse of dealing with my car, but I will also need to sit down with a serious to-do list to complete all of the tasks.