Thursday, July 31

Cutting back

The next few days are going to be intense: Tim is quitting smoking.

He was a smoker when we met, but since he has asthma he wanted to stop. Fall of 2006 he quit and stayed a non-smoker until right before the wedding. The stress of being unemployed and getting married apparently combined to form a new smoking habit. Then, at the end of the honeymoon, we found out his grandmother had died. So I didn't push the quitting issue when we first got back.

He's been trying off and on again for about a month, to increasing frustration on my part. When he started lying about smoking, it was the last straw and we had it out. I told him that if he was going to be a smoker, be a smoker. But that he needed to decide and the excuse that it's too hard and "now's not a good time" wouldn't work any more. There never will be a good time, I told him.

So he started again on the cold-turkey plan... and smoked a cigarette around 11 p.m. that same night. But, in his defense, he did the adult thing and made a doctor's appointment to see about medications.

Turns out there are two, besides the patch (which wouldn't stick to Tim's skin because of all the lotion he uses for his eczema): Wellbutrin and Chantix.

Wellbutrin is actually an anti-depressant that targets anxiety, and obviously there's plenty of anxiety when you're quitting any bad habit. Interestingly, though, the stop-smoking program is called "Zyban." It's exactly the same as Wellbutrin used for depression, except that it's often not covered by insurance companies (or barely covered). So the doctor told us to be quite sure we didn't so much as breathe a word about nicotine. Otherwise, pharmacists literally have to give you Zyban instead of Wellbutrin.

Chantix, the doctor warned us, was far more expensive and barely covered by most insurance plans. This drug takes away the actual nicotine cravings but not the anxiety.

The third option, the doctor said, was to take some mild tranquilizers for three days -- which is how long it takes nicotine to work its way out of your system.

Miser that I am, I prayed Tim would want the Wellbutrin; but I told him whichever he thought would help him better was worth any amount. Luckily, he chose Wellbutrin (yay!)

I've agreed to give up candy/desserts in solidarity. He said part of the problem is he feels alone when he quits. I offered to give up sugar altogether, but since he's the cook he really didn't want that hassle. So, I'm okay to eat fruit and drink juices. But anything that can be construed as a dessert -- even sugar-free stuff -- is nixed. I've been trying to wean myself off junk food more anyway. So, as I pointed out to him, we're both doing something we don't like in order to help our health. My only caveat is that I get sugar on my birthday, no matter what. But as that's 18 days away, I'm none too worried.

So why am I posting this on a frugal blog? Well, firstly because I sometimes forget that others don't find minutae of my life as fascinating as I do.

But more because I think this is a good time to stop and think about how much vices cost. For me, it's junk food. That's expensive stuff. Yes, it can cost a lot to eat healthily, and fruit is often not cheap. But when it comes to desserts, the prices are getting ludicrous. Relatively small bags of mini-Snickers cost upwards of $5 in the grocery store. I don't care how badly I'm craving chocolate/peanut/nougat goodness, I'm not paying that for a fix! Combine that with the shrinking product packaging (and no corresponding price-shrinkage) and it's just too expensive to be a junk-foodie.

My hope is that after a few weeks of no sugary snacks, I'll realize that I can be perfectly satisfied without them, and so can buy less. So assuming I spend, say, $10 a week on junk food (and I'm sure it's often been significantly more), if I can cut down to junk food just once or twice a week I can spend probably just $5. Over the course of a year, that's $260 that I've saved -- and countless calories!

And Tim's cigarettes? A $5 pack every two days means more than $900 a year! So these changes could have a huge impact on our debt. Granted, we have to figure out a way to save the money, and not fritter it away on other things...

What luxury or vice do you spend too much on? How much could you stand to cut back and how much would it save?

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Wednesday, July 30

The basics

Okay, well this is the first post. A lot of pressure on me to be witty and such, especially since I just watched Lewis Black's "Root of All Evil" wherein blogging was made fun of.

On the chance that people actually read this -- which would imply this isn't the navel-gazing exercise I suspect it may be -- I suppose I had better fill in the broad strokes from the profile.

Yes, this is a frugality blog. Yes, my husband and I are paying down debt. That, at least, is probably familiar territory to many of you.

Here's where it gets a little, uh, unique. First, my husband's medical condition. Tim has really severe eczema, which he's had literally since the day he was born. Most doctors say it's the worst case they've ever seen. And if a flare-up gets particularly bad, he can often not stand to wear clothes.

More recently, he's been battling MRSA which (of course) loves eczema patches. He's had about 8 or 9 breakouts in the past 6 months. Between the two conditions, Tim's health made him miss so much work that his employer had to let him go.

So he's working on getting healthy again and trying to figure out what sort of work he could do, since eczema breakouts are bound to occur. (I'm encouraging him to look into the local vocational rehabilition center.)

As for me, well, mine goes back a long way too. When I was 19, I contracted a rare neurological illness called Guillain-Barre Syndrome

I won't go into the gory details (that's what the link is for) but suffice to say my case was severe and it left me with pervasive fatigue. I am on some medication which helps, but only to a certain degree.

Now, I know I shouldn't care about naysayers who will inevitably write in and say I'm a slacker or a drain on the system. But it's a touchy point. So let me be clear: When I say medication helps, I mean that when I take it, I no longer wake up and spend the first few hours of my day in an exhausted fog, fighting not to go back to bed, then giving up and taking a nap somewhere around 2 or 3 p.m. The medication means that most days I'm physically able to leave the apartment. And, often, I can run two or three errands in a day. Running three errands in a day, along with perhaps a walk for exercise, is an exceedingly productive day for me. And if I push myself too far, I become so exhausted that it seems like too much energy to chew, even if I'm hungry. If I really overdo an activity, I can become so tired that it hurts to breathe.

That said, I'm convinced there is work out there that I can do steadily for pay, because besides the fact that disability doesn't cover much more than rent, I miss the empowerment of earning a paycheck.

As for debt, we have under $2000 in his student loans left (this is down from $20,000 when we first met, thanks to deals with collection agencies, a loan from his parents, and general grit and determination on our part) but $10,000 on credit cards. $7000 of that is on a temporary 0% but it is still a lot more than I am comfortable with.

Currently, we're using hubby's unemployment checks to pay down debt. Out of a weekly $341, we pay $100 on the credit cards each week and $200 on the student loans every other week. (And yes, I know that's the same as $100 every week, but hubby insists this system works best for him.)

So that is the basic sketch of our lives. I hope I haven't made anyone run for the hills with all the talk of health conditions. I'm looking forward to posting about our progress and our life as this adventure continues. I hope I can snare some readers along the way to share the journey.

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Tuesday, July 1

Make money online

There are two main ways to make money online: Participate in online programs and monetize your site(s).

Neither will get you rich, but both can be a nice source of additional funds. Obviously, referrals help in both areas.


Participation is pretty self-explanatory. You can choose how much or how little you want to do. Some campaigns offer you points/money for reading emails. Others let you get cash back for shopping. Many also offer rewards for completing free trials.

The one caveat here: Try not to over-diversify. I learned the hard way that there are only so many companies that work with these rewards programs. If you sign up for a bunch of them, you end up limiting yourself. That's because you may find that you've completed most of the money-making offers before. So you can easily get stuck at an amount below redemption level.

My advice is to choose 1-3 programs, and stick with those. Of course, to make an informed decision, check out all of your options. Still, I would wait on actually completing any offers until you have had a chance to look at all the sites carefully.

That said, if you don't mind some inbox clutter, you can accumulate points from several of these programs simply by reading emails. It's slow going, but generally it's just a matter of knowing where to click and you're done. Then you really are getting something for (almost) nothing!

I started with Ebates because it's the most upfront.

  • When you sign up, you get $5. Easy.
  • Shop through the site.
  • Get $5 for any referrals you make
  • Get paid quarterly (once you have gotten $5.01 worth of cash back)

I find this program useful for purchases I was going to make anyway. (For example, I got my mom's gift subscription to More magazine from there and got 26% back. That was over $4, in just one purchase.)

Even better, you can sometimes combine a referral and money saving. Tim needed to buy a media reader from Best Buy. So I referred him to Ebates. We each got a $5 credit, and Tim got started on his own $5.01 minimum. The next time I need to buy something through Ebates, we'll put it in his account. Once the checks are in our hands, the media reader will go from $17 to $7.

Search & Win

  • Search as usual and win Swagbucks, anywhere from 1 - 100
  • Get a code and redeem for even more
  • Redeem for a gaming console, iPhone, video games, gift cards and more

Also pretty straightforward: Swagbucks. It's a search-and-win site. The bucks are given out randomly, and spamming doesn't work. (Only your first 20 searches per day count.) They also give out codes most weekdays. So be sure to become a fan on Facebook (or a member of one of the many groups that track codes) and check out the blog at least once a day.

Be sure to check out MegaFridays, when the company gives away extra swag bucks. Refer friends, then every time they get a buck, you get a buck (up to 100).

Update: I've been with Swagbucks for a little over a month now. I'm up to 102 bucks already -- all through searching and codes. That's more than enough for 2 Amazon $5 gift cards. Eight more and I could get a $10 Barnes & Noble GC. With 22 more, I could get a $10 Starbucks card.

I got those points without referring anyone, and I've missed a decent chunk (at least 1/4) of the codes offered on the Swagbucks blog/Facebook. In addition, through searching, I've only gotten as high a denomination as 3 Swag bucks -- and then only twice. So it really is surprisingly easy to accumulate these rewards.

  • You get money for:
  • Completing surveys
  • Trial offers
  • Playing games
  • Clicking on emails
  • And you get a $5 bonus for signing up

This is a little more complicated. You can make money in a bunch of ways. The emails may seem paltry at 2 cents a piece, but you can store them up (there doesn't seem to be an expiration date) and just click through them while watching TV. It's pretty quick. So far, I'm up over $6 on just those. The payout is a little high ($30) but overall it's still an easy way to make a few bucks. Just be sure to compare cash-back percentages with Ebates before you buy. Depending on the store, the percentages can be different.

  • As the logo says, you get paid to take surveys.
  • Get $2 for filling out your profile
  • Most of the surveys are trial offers. So have a calendar handy and write down when you need to cancel. But it can be pretty lucrative, if you're on the ball.
  • This does have a high payout, at $50.

  • Squishy Cash gives you a $3 bonus for signing up.
  • You can do 100% free offers.
  • You can do free trials.
  • You also earn chips with most offers. These can be traded in for prizes.
  • The upside of this site is that they always seem to be giving out bonuses.
  • Bonuses are usually things like an extra $1 for 5 approved offers in one night, or an extra $1 for every $2 in offers you complete. It really encourages you to keep going.

  • Cash Crate is one of the wider-known sites.
  • You can choose which items you want to participate in.
  • There are 100% free items (usually pay up to $1)
  • There are free trials (just remember to cancel in time)
  • There are bigger-paying offers, such as DirecTV or Blockbuster Total Access.
  • Some offers also pay in tokens, which can be redeemed for gift cards or other prizes


There are three main ways that you make money from a site: pay-per-click (PPC), affiliate and flat-rate ads.

PPC: Google AdSense is probably the best-known PPC program. And pay-per-click programs are exactly what they sound like: You get paid each time a reader clicks through. Generally, your own clicks will not count and will even penalize you/endanger your account.

Affiliate: You make money when readers either make a purchase or become a lead. For example, credit cards pay you for each person who fills out an application. Or if a reader fills out a form for more information on a program, that can be considered a lead. While these do tend to pay reasonably, their revenue isn't exactly reliable when you don't have many readers. The more readers you have, the more likely it is that some of them will be interested in various services.

Flat-rate ads: Advertisers pay you to place text or image ads on your site. They pay generally on a per-month basis. These are, at least to me, the most desirable, as you can count on a set amount of income.

I am loving this program! I have been with them for under two months, and already I have two advertisers. That's $21 a month!

Okay, I'm not exactly close to independent wealth, but I happen to think it's a pretty great start. And I know that as my numbers grow, more advertisers will be interested.

There are actually a lot of reasons I like Linkworth, though:

  • It has a combination of PPC and flat-rate ads, so it's not limiting.
  • There are several kinds of advertising approaches to choose from, some of which may actually help you increase your traffic.
  • You can choose your own price range, which gives you some freedom.
  • The lowest you can get for a text ad is $15 a month. (The split is 70/30, so you get $10.50 a month from a $15 ad.)

PJN Promo

This is an affiliate network. They recruit stores, you decide which ones to advertise on your site. Some pay for generating leads, some give you a commission on any click-throughs that turn into sales. Currently, the company is offering new members $10 to get them started.