Friday, August 29

Frugality can be great exercise!

We're desperate for room in our one-bedroom apartment. And moving up to a 2 BR is a no-go, given current rents for those hover around $900+.

So this morning I found myself huffing and puffing to and from the car with boxes. Lots and lots of boxes. Thank goodness I picked a ground-floor apartment!

Tim's eczema is also on his feet, where it tends to cause splits. So guess what happens when he doesn't use his hemp oil product regularly on his feet? Well, let's just say he's finding out now.

So after one trip where he started limping on the way back, I ordered him onto the couch. That, however, meant I made about six or seven separate trips.

Most of the items were wedding stuff that I bought that we never used. As the trips wore on, I started to feel increasingly sheepish about buying them.

Not that anything was terribly expensive, but they'd been taking up room in our closet for about a year. And I'd told myself that it was for a purpose: They would be used in the wedding. Nothing of what I carried out today made the cut.

  • Plates:
    • We hit some 50% off sales and got all white plates.
    • We figured it didn't matter if they didn't match, so long as they were all white with no other colors.
    • Then, three or four months later, we found an amazing sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond and nabbed 98 matching clear glass plates for under $40.
  • China:
    • Pretty white and silver design
    • 50% off at a thrift store sale, so $15
    • Nearly a whole set
    • Was going to use it for the bridal party table
    • Ended up not having a bridal party table

  • Glasses:
    • Again, 50% sales.
    • But then I researched and found out it was about the same price per-glass to get glasses at Ikea and they'd all match.
    • And no one used any glasses at our reception so I ended up returning those for a full refund.

  • Dessert wine glasses
    • To float candles in. Looked really pretty in my head.
    • Got them all at thrift stores for under $20.
    • Figured the sets could be placed at different tables and it wouldn't be as obvious that they didn't match.
    • Then we remembered that potentially a lot of little kids were coming. Nixed anything with flames.

  • Random utensils
    • Got at estate sales.
    • Then we priced them at Sam's Club and got everything we needed for under $30.

In all, that's probably about $100 of items. Granted, it was collected over a long period of time. But still, we could have used that money elsewhere. And we definitely could have used the space!

Also given away were a bunch of things that the pack rat in me couldn't get rid of, initially.

  • Boots from Payless. About 3 months later, I found a fantastic pair of Aerosoles that actually zipped (I have big calves) and were on sale for $50. (Payless is great for seeing if you would actually wear some style that, in regular stores, is fiendishly expensive.)
  • Some jeans Tim had grown out of.
  • Some books (I rarely buy but when I do, I tend to give them away for lack of space)
  • Four pairs of shoes. I particularly loved a certain pair of stocky-heeled mary janes. But I couldn't remember the last time I'd worn them or even reasonably make a case that I'd wear them soon. It was an emotional parting, but given that they were a 21st birthday present, I finally said goodbye. The other pairs were even older and equally unworn in recent memory.

I think I'm done paring down possessions for the moment. I usually do it at least once a season to stay on top of clutter.

But all this got me thinking, how much of our "stuff" do we keep needlessly? (This was particularly poignant as I was carrying boxes of 30 plates.) Each time I declutter, I find things I'm ready to give up, when last time they were too dear.

So it's not just the fact that these items cost something (usually) to obtain, but also that it costs us space and sanity to house them. We feel cluttered and messy. (Well, I actually am messy. But it's made worse by so much stuff.)

How much do our things own us? So that we find ourselves working to obtain them, house them or even just deal with their presence. And that's not even touching the sum we all spend on storage solutions!

What do you find yourself regretting having bought? Is it a shirt that you swear you'll wear, but end up thinking it's too tight? Maybe a cool new gadget? Or something exercise related?

Or do you perhaps not regret buying, but keeping certain things for too long? Maybe books. Or -- and here's my Achilles heel -- gifts from others.

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Thursday, August 28

We are not amused

This is more housekeeping than actual posting, because our computer imploded last night thanks to a nasty malware program. Which Norton insists we downloaded and won't help us with until we pay extra for the help. More on that later.

So I may or may not be without a computer until Tuesday, as we have no desire to spend $200 to buy a new operating system.

I am still going to try to do some posting and will check my email for comments, etc, at libraries and rely on the good graces of my mother.

First, let me sprinkle in some good news: More giveaways!

Between some smart frugal scrounging and raiding some extras already owned, I've come up with some decent giveaways.

So, at least so long as I can keep it going, I'll be doing weekly contests, starting on Mondays and running through Friday or Saturday. They won't always be obviously about frugality -- but, really, what's more frugal than FREE?!

I've ordered a couple of personal finance books that I'll peruse, review and then give away. And I have come up with quite a few pampering (bath/skin) items that I'll put into some small gift baskets and ship to the lucky winner!

It's a good reminder that frugality doesn't mean deprivation.

That's about it for today. Though since I'll be a little quieter than usual, I want to encourage yu to check out my blogroll partners:
  • Brunette on a Budget had an interesting piece early this week: "Can money buy happiness? In short, yes." I think money can certainly a buy a lot of nice things. But for me it's more lack of stress than happiness -- knowing I have padding in the bank. That said, it took courage for her to say this stuff. Honestly, she's right when she says we feel like we're supposed to say "no" and that it makes us better people.

  • Pushing Thirty: My Debt Deadline has a few interesting posts. She's considering whether or not to take on a part-time job, weighing the pros/cons. Also, Monday, she asks whether an auto club is worth the money.

  • ModernGearTV always has something new and interesting. While the blog is focused on things, I love it because a) the writing is fun and tends to make me giggle and b) she's very clear about wanting intentional consumption, not just mindless consumerism.

Also check out The Freebie Blogger. I don't usually have much use for freebie blogs but this one is fab! She has a $10 off Body Shop coupon (min purchase $10 only!!!!). You can sign up to get free advance books from Random House. And the staple of all freebie blogs: weekly store specials (but she combines them with coupons you can print off her site for extra savings).

Finally, I want to encourage you to sign up at PFBuzz (click through on the image to the right of this post). It's a social bookmarking site ONLY about personal finance. Plus, in order to get more steady readers, the webmaster is giving a not-so-small referral fee of 50 cents each. Please don't abuse this, but if you know folks who have a genuine interest in frugality/investing/etc, this is a great place to send 'em. Plus it's an excellent spot to bookmark your own blogs! So click through if you're interested. Think of it as my getting 50 cents closer to that new operating system, worst-case scenario.

Wednesday, August 27

It's not skimping!

On Monday, I read an interesting little piece on MSN's Top Stocks.

It seems there's a mini-baby boom in the U.S. And now's the time, it seems, to invest in certain stocks: Disney (especially because of the Baby Einstein brand), LeapFrog and Gymboree. These are companies that consultants say will see a lot of business from the boom.

So what on earth does this have to do with frugality?

Well, sure, it's not apparent. But it is about parents. (And if you just groaned, feel free to blame/email my mother for that lovely punning tendency.)

Anyway, here's the line that tripped my miser-alarm: "Parents don't skimp on their children."

Above the high-pitched wail of said alarm, I couldn't think of anything. I just kept rereading those words.

I always thought skimping implied forgoing basic necessities and niceties, usually because of monetary concerns.

Sadly, none of this really should surprise anyone. We're in a credit crisis, which is following on the heels of a subprime crisis. All because of a sense of materialistic entitlement that seems to pervade the country.

  • People decided they deserved big houses -- as big as they could get.
  • People thought, "I could get a lot more car if I just leased instead of buying."
  • People decided they should get the biggest, newest and/or best technology -- even if they had to put it on the card

So we end up with a whole bunch of people who are in danger of becoming homeless -- but have great plasma television sets.

And since the average parent thinks his kid derserves everything, well, it's even easier to go crazy.

Since children learn from example, they will, of course, inherit this attitude about conspicuous consumerism. How could they not? They're given more toys than they can play with (not that my parents were somewhat guilty of that). Then, they're put in front of the TV which handily tells them what they need. And there are always new products to want. Something bigger, better and (it practically goes without saying) more expensive.

And as their parents cave to every little quickly-discarded fad -- from Furbies to Tamagachi and back again -- they learn that they deserve everything they want. And what they want is whatever they see.

But doesn't being a responsible parent also include knowing when to say when? Doesn't it include raising kids who know they don't deserve anything?

So many people, in the midst of the economic woes, are wondering where this attitude came from. People blame lax credit standards, but that, I think, was just a case of opportunism. I honestly don't know when it started. Probably, it's been building since mechanization started easing the physical toil of most people's jobs.

What I do know is that, since credit cards have become so ubiquitous, our country has never been the same.

MP Dunleavey points out that credit changes the way we think about money -- and not for the better. Once you've been in debt, you're likely to end up that way again.

And if you don't believe that, you haven't been paying attention.

Heck, I've only been around for 30 years, but I know we've scraped out of a couple of recessions in just the last decade or so. Things were bad, we became more circumspect -- at least initially. But, instead of really cleaning up our act, we were like grounded teens: Biding our time until it was okay to go back out. Then we just started the process over.

That's why I'm pessimistic about how many Americans will actually make lifelong changes to their spending habits. There are too many defensive people out there, blaming everyone but themselves

In a few cases, people were actually lied to. But more often, they were victims of their own greed. They bought into the hype that they deserved it all.

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Monday, August 25

We have a winner!

Okay, so I know that I said I'd give a gift card away if 10 people entered. But it was close. And you ladies put a lot of effort into typing your ramblings.

Plus, I feel infinitely better now, knowing I'm not the only one with that many things running through my mind like that. So I think that's worth a prize.

For the record, it was a really hard choice. I've spent the last twenty minutes scrolling up and down the comments, trying to decide.

But I think in the end the winner has to be Meg. If for nothing else than wondering about shaving her legs & what to do with chickens in the same post. (Just tell me you didn't shave the chickens, Meg!)


This week I'm giving away the book, "How to stop worrying and start living." So far, no entries. Should I take this as a hint that I should come up with better stuff in the future? Or that you're just busy?

I'm making this up as I go along, folks, so let me know!


Am I people's worst nightmare?

**Giveaway alert! Read through to the end!**

Okay, so as many of you already know, I wrote a slightly controversial piece about emergency funds and it was... well... controversial.

Almost everyone disagreed with me. Some produced reasoned arguments; some had extenuating circumstances (such as self-employment). A lot of folks just kept insisting that I was leading myself down a dangerous path.

Whatever the arguments, most of the comments contained one cohesive element: I began to realize that these people’s definition of emergency is what Tim and I call our life.

A brief overview

Most of you know, but just for the record, our financial situation is as follows:

  • I am on disability, earning $832/month
  • My husband in on unemployment earning $1364/month
  • His quasi-COBRA (the company is too small for the real thing) is $476/month
  • My meds not covered by Medicare are about $100/month
  • Rent is $700

I think we can safely say that our current financial situation is not exactly most people’s ideal.

In fact, I had trouble coming up with ways it could be worse. Finally, after some brainstorming, I came up with a few:

  • We could have a mortgage
  • We could have a car payment
  • We could both be on disability
  • We could have children to support

Nightmare? Really?

When you’re busy surviving your life, you don’t have a lot of time for reflection. So I was a little shocked to realize we are living out most people’s worst fears.

This comes with a weird mix of emotions. I was oddly proud, vaguely indignant, and, most of all, I was frustrated.

I always got the sense that we fear disability/unemployment because it limits our options and our income. With so much out of our control, we fear that our finances will come crashing down around our heads.

But Tim and I are surviving. We’re even chipping away at debt .

Still, people seem convinced we’ll fail.

Safety first

The thing is, I think I touched a nerve. Emergency funds allow people to believe they can actively insulate themselves from tragedy. They’re a kind of security blanket: They don’t really have magic powers, but just having them around makes you feel safer.

And there’s nothing wrong with needing to feel safe. The world has so few absolutes, we’re practically forced to manufacture some of our own. After all, if we faced the real amount of uncertainty in the world, we’d never get out of bed. (And even then, the roof might fall on us.)

So, people need to feel safe – no crime there. What worries me is when the issue of safety supersedes critical thinking. In the grip of fear, people don’t act so much as they react.

This feels familiar

Anyone who has ever been serious ill can probably tell you how it changes peoples’ mannerisms. For me, it was going out in a wheelchair. Very educational.

There are two main reactions from the public when you’re young and sick. People either can’t look at you or can’t stop looking at you. (I have yet to figure out which is worse.)

It’s pretty awful when people studiously avoid looking at you. Once I got close, people suddenly found store window displays fascinating.

Seeing me meant accepting that the world doesn’t play fair. And while we all know this on some level, I think it’s seen as bad taste to rub it in.

But the people who did look at me weren’t any better. They stared and stared, looking so earnestly for some clue, some explanation.

If we can name something, we have some control over it. Even more, as we name and define things, we are able to distinguish between ourselves and the “other.” And when the “other” is sick, we need to differentiate ourselves just that much more.

Going the distance

And so when you find yourself talking to people about your condition (or accident, or whatever) you find them nearly desperate to praise you: you’re so strong, so brave; they could have never survived the way you did.

By making you larger than life, they can comfort themselves. You’re strong; you could handle getting sick. They couldn’t. So they’re safe.

How much choice do these people think we have? I was paralyzed and on a ventilator. It’s not like I could exactly scream, kick and bite, or lock out the physical therapist.

Moreover, I was constantly being told that mine was a temporary condition. I would get through this, they said. So I did. Mainly because I wasn’t sure what else there was to do.

Stop the world, I want to get off

So all those people who think they couldn’t handle what I handled… I have some bad news. You don’t really have a choice.

Whether you’re laid up in a hospital bed or getting a pink slip, you don’t get a lot of say in life’s major moments. The universe doesn’t bend itself to your needs – even when you think your world is breaking apart, it’ll be going on its merry way. It’ll probably even whistle a jaunty tune.

I understand that it’s hard to think clearly when you feel helpless. But, sometimes, that’s just what you are. You can throw a fit or whimper in a corner. You’ll probably give in before the universe does.

When you get right down to it, you can only have a breakdown for so long. Scream and cry, if you want. Throw things, wail, and gnash your teeth. Be my guest. Eventually you’ll be tired, dehydrated and hoarse.

  • So you get up for a glass of water, and you notice the dishes are still in the sink. You're pretty sure that's penicillin growing on them.

  • The papers are piling up outside your door. Neighborhood children have built (multi-level) forts out of them.

  • The cat's litter box is starting to offend neighboring countries.

I’m not saying you jump right back into life. It’s much slower a process than that.

But, while you sip that water, you realize that no one is going to fix this for you. So it’s either death by dust-bunny inhalation or rolling up your sleeves and tackling those dishes.

A lesson?

So, okay, people often don’t operate well when they base their actions on fear. So maybe we all need to take a closer look at just what we’re so afraid of.

I was terrified of Tim becoming unemployed. But as his health made him miss more and more days of work, I was constantly tense. I was just waiting for the inevitable. And I constantly wondered how we would be able to pay bills.

So when it finally happened, I was actually kind of relieved. When we found out he could get unemployment, we realized we’d be okay.

All that time and energy I’d spent on fear had been wasted on pointless speculation. It didn't help me prepare. It just frittered away my already-limited energy. Not the smartest choice.

So ask yourself: How much is your fear shaping your strategies, in life and in finance?


In this spirit, I’m giving away a hardback copy of Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. This book, which has been in my library for awhile, has an interesting approach to stress and fear.

So, here's how to enter:

  1. Refer a friend to the site. I’ll need them to leave a comment, including who referred them. (This gets your blog a mention, too, don’t forget. So it’s win-win.)
  2. Or you can save this story/blog on any social bookmarking site. Just leave me a note.
  3. Link to this story or blog on your own site.
  4. If you haven't already, go ahead and subscribe to this blog and let me know.

Multiple entries are possible, so do more than one or refer more than one person.


Saturday, August 23

Ooooo, free stuff!

Thrifty Jinxy tipped me off about the Shake the Salt launch party giveaway.

Over 40 giveaways (including parenting stuff and shiny, pretty jewelry)

You can enter until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, August 25th.

Hello low(er) interest rates!

We got back from the in-laws' as of early evening, so my posting should get back onto a more normal schedule. It's kind of hard to do a post when the Olympics are on (though you can hear two TVs thanks to the living room one's volume) and your MIL is talking to you.

I thought I'd just save up all my wit and wisdom for when I got back.


I could have sworn it was around here somewhere....

But seriously:

I'm here with an "I tried it" for a well-known frugal hack: getting your card rates lowered.

This took perhaps half an hour, total. If you haven't already done this, here are the couple of (very basic) steps.

First, I called my credit card companies to find out the exact APR. (I know, I know, it's awful that I was ignorant about them. Ostrich. Sand. You get the idea.)

One was prime plus 9.99, for a total of about 15.99%. Another rewards cards, which I had signed up for to get free honeymoon airline tickets, was actually the best rate: 14.99%. I was shocked.

The third I didn't have to call on. There was a bill in my mailbox. So I just checked the bottom of my statement. And nearly swallowed my tongue!

APR: 28.41%
Effective APR: 31%

Oh man I'm an idiot!

So, once I had extricated my tongue from the back of my throat, I called up that third card's company.

Here's the second (and last) step: Tell them politely, but bluntly, that you need them to lower the card's rate.

The representative was polite but said the company would not lower rates based solely on a customer request.

Accounts were periodically reviewed, he said, and rates were adjusted based on numerous factors. Notices would then be sent out in the mail, along with special promotions. I would just have to wait for that.

Ah, I said, but that is a promotional rate. I want my regular rate lowered.

He said no. I explained that, while I didn't want to do it, I was prepared to close the account. I love this card, I told him, but financially it would be ludicrous to keep it open. It was nearly double my other two cards' rates.

A little more back and forth and he still wasn't relenting. But if there's one thing I know it's that no major changes get made without a supervisor. Which is why I requested (politely) to speak to one.

What was amazing is how fast everything went from there. I didn't even have to say anything.

A supervisor came on the line and requested a few minutes to look over my account. Two minutes later, she came back on the line and said she'd lowered the rate. It would be reflected in the next one to two billing cycles.

Define "lowered," I said.

Turns out my new rate is 16-18% (though she had to give me the obligatory spiel about keeping the account in good standing or the rate would be yanked).

So, maybe 18% isn't exactly ideal, but it's a heck of a lot better than 28%. And when our financial situation is better squared away, I can lobby for a lower rate.

Next, I think I'll try my Citi card. I've had it since I was 18. I think I can convince them that, as a long-time customer, I deserve a lower rate for loyalty. Of course, I'll also argue that I'd be far more inspired to use the card (which I haven't in over a year) if the rate is lowered. Which means they'll make more money off me.

Have any of you tried this? What were the results? What kind of interest rate would you shoot for?

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Thursday, August 21

I'm feeling the love...

Lisa over at Living Easy has gifted me with an award. Shucks, Lisa, I appreciate it!
And following the rules, I have to gift it to up to seven more. But I've more commonly seen five. So that's the number I'm going with.

  1. My Money & My Life: I like her writing style and her ponderings -- which are frugal but also about other things.
  2. Pushing 30: My Debt Deadline: A Canadian gal whose writing I like and who is working toward freedom from debt.
  3. Life on Frugal Day at a Time: She and her husband are remodeling their home, but just got a double-whammy. Her husband is already seeking work. She was just informed her company is closing. I'm wishing her the best and I know she'll get through this.
  4. Win Your Battle with Finances: I have just found this blog but the writing is good.
  5. ModernGearTV: An interesting site for product reviews. I like this because it's not about just buying tons of stuff -- it's about buying smartly. Also, if you sign up for her newsletter you're automatically entered to win one of her many giveaways.

Wednesday, August 20

My fabulous (and frugal) birthday

Hello to everyone, from the newly-30 me!

I'm am back and still kind of riding a sugar high from my birthday festivities last night.

It was a small affair -- two of us to be exact, since my friends and I are kind of informal about birthdays. (When we remember to celebrate them, it generally involves taking each other out for a free drink or two.)

But Tim and I had a great time -- and I wanted to recount how much bang we got for our bucks.

  • First of all, we took the bus down. Parking downtown during the day is expensive! The bus, which is four blocks from our front door, is $1.50 each.

  • We are slow-moving in the mornings, so we didn't even leave the house until 2 p.m. Tim needed to do some mailing (he resells unwanted Magic the Gathering cards in order to afford new ones he needs).

  • So this meant we got to the restaurant around 3:30. But we found out that in half an hour, happy hour started. This included the $7.95 wings that Tim so dearly loves (for $4.95).

  • We window-shopped to kill time. The mall around the restaurant has high-end stores like Tiffany's, Cartier, BCBG and Barney's New York. I love looking at all the pretty stuff in BCBG, then looking at the price tags which tends to instantly quell any desire to buy the stuff. (Plus then I get to feel great about my $15-30 finds at Marshalls.) I thought Tim was going to swallow his own tongue at Barney's, which he insisted on going in.


  • We then sat down at the restaurant and showed the waitress that I had a "buy one entree, get one" due to my birthday
  • We ordered the wings as an appetizer. Tim was not kidding when he said they are the best thing he's ever tasted. They had a medley of flavors. I know there was a sweet & sour sauce; I think I may have detected an orange glaze, as well. There were also small pieces of a sweetish/hot pepper, and finally the wings were sprinkled in sesame seeds.
  • I found out they offered their own brand of root beer. Before ordering, I checked to be sure they give refills. It was wonderful stuff!
  • Great food (they have the best garlic fries in the universe. I can state this unilaterally, without even checking any of the outer planets... or Europe)
  • Our bill was $33 before tip (most of the food is $15-20, plus wings and two sodas). We could have gone some place cheaper but it was a special occasion, the food was amazing and we both drank an appalling amount of that root beer.
  • This also turned out to be the only real meal we needed, as it was late in the day.


  • More window shopping -- this time at an all-silver jewelry store. Gorgeous stuff. But I still can't bring myself to pay $40+ for most pretty necklaces. And most of their wares were closer to $70-100.
  • We went to Cold Stone to get my free birthday signature creation. Tim was still full from the food, so it didn't cost us anything.
  • We also had the option of going to a free movie, thanks to Coke Rewards, but I didn't see anything all that thrilling in the theaters.

A small reality check

  • It was about 71% humidity here yesterday which made Tim's knee act up.
  • So we stopped by a couple drug stores until we could find the right kind of knee brace.
  • The ones we bought abuot a year and a half ago have finally been declared unfindable -- after about a year's worth of searching for them.
  • Since we needed these anyway, I don't count these as a birthday expense.


  • We got to Gameworks very thirsty (don't ask me why, given all the root beer we drank)
  • Before Tim ordered, I asked if they had happy hour specials. They did, so the whiskey/colas we ordered were $2.60 each. (We each had one, then Tim ordered a $2.50)
  • We went to check our card balance, since we knew there was a small balance left. The machine ate our card.
  • The woman couldn't determine which of three cards was ours, since we didn't know the balance. So she gave us one with more than 200 credits on it -- about a $35 value. We couldn't have had more than $10 left on our card.
  • We played a whole lot of skeeball and did well enough to get a stuffed Stewie from Family Guy. He's creepy with his big head, as seen below:

I'm pretty sure that expression says, "Confound it, woman!" Which is a lot funnier if you watch the show.

Cheesecake Factory

  • Our final stop was the Cheesecake Factory, where a giant slice of ridiculously chocolate cake was waiting for me and an apple strudel cheesecake was waiting for Tim.
  • Mom, being kind of heart, had given us a $25 Cheesecake Factory gift card (probably from MyPoints -- or from some of her extra money for buying Albertson's gift cards) So our dessert was free (and we still have $6.77 on the card)
  • Even better, when our check came, it offered us a $10 gift card for a feedback survey online. As soon as I came home, I filled it out and was informed the card would be mailed to me within 3 weeks!

By then it was 10:30 and my mom was kind enough to pick us up, as we were quite weary. I'm sure I'll pay for this for a few days to come, but it was a great day full of great-tasting food and some juvenile fun! In all, the activities listed here (other than the knee-brace) cost $46.70 over 7 hours.

A post-script: Okay, I really debated about putting this is in, but I think I need to be honest and not hide stuff from you guys. On our wanderings from the drug store to Gameworks, we window-shopped some more. But at Banana Republic we ended up finding two sale items I really liked.

Tim and I argued for around ten minutes about whether to get them. (He was in favor of it, I was in favor of not buying while in debt.) In the end, he insisted that it was my birthday and this was part of his gift. Also, that since we put $100 on the credit cards each week, these shirts would be more than taken care of in two days when we made the payment.

His main point was that it's tradition. On both of my other birthdays we've spent together, we've found and bought a dress I liked and an accessory or two to match.

Technically, while I wouldn't return them, I do feel bad about putting money on the card while in debt. This is the kind of thing I would generally preach against. But people have weaknesses. In this case, one of mine overrode my financial rules. Time will tell if it was "okay" or not.

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Tuesday, August 19

Yay, more free press! (& frugal posts!)

A quick bit of good news: Some blog carnivals have seen fit to publish some of my submissions. There are great other articles on these, so I urge you to check them out.

So without further ado:

The Relationships & Social Skills blog carnival is up and running. (My submission was "Why are we so afraid of no?") This has some great looking stories:
  • Relationship advice (incl "5 ways to be a better friend")
  • Social skills (incl "How to look great on a budget" and "No contact is great, but what if you work together?")
  • People skills (incl "9 great ways to approach someone & start a conversation" and "How to address an embarrassing problem" and "How to skillfully address suffering in the world")

The Festival of Frugality is also up and going strong. (My submission: "How to get something for nothing") There are too many to even list a couple per subject, so I'll just urge you to check them out yourselves.

  • Editors' picks including:
  • Frugal lifestyle, including:
  • Frugal family activities
  • Saving on food: Groceries, cooking and dining
  • Shopping tips: Sales and coupons
  • Spending and budgeting
  • Back to school savings tips
  • Saving on transportation
  • Personal finance journeys
  • Miscellaneous savings tips
  • Other

Monday, August 18

Happy birthday to me!

I forgot to mention the good news: J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly mentioned my "emergency fund" piece on his Sunday round-up. It's creating quite a bit of traffic flow as an awful lot of contention).

Between that and my guest post on MSN's Smart Spending, I think I may get spoiled by all this attention!

So thank you to both for the opportunity to drive some traffic to my site. And welcome to all Smart-Spending and Get-Rich-Slowly fans. I hope you'll take a look around. Be sure to read yesterday's "Martha Stewart of frugality? Not me" post all the way to the end.

I'm giving away a $10 gift card to the store of your choice if you write the best random-thought-pattern rant, ala Gilmore Girls.

And to all readers, I'm always open to suggestions if there are particular issues you wish I'd address. I am sure I won't get writer's for awhile, but if you feel like I've omitted something important I'd love some feedback.

By the way, I won't be posting or probably even moderating most of tomorrow. So if my usual-speedy reply is slow in coming, it's because it's my 30th birthday and I'm out gallavanting downtown and consuming large quantities of bad-for-me desserts!

And so, in that spirit, I thought I'd talk about all the cool stuff you can get on your birthday:

  • Red Robin's eClub: Emailed free burger coupon (though you need to be careful who you go with, since part of its claim to fame is humiliating birthday folks by singing waiters)
  • Cold Stone Creamery's Birthday Club: Emailed free Like-it-sized ice cream with two mix-ins.
  • GB online (Gordon Biersch): Free entree with the purchase of another. (For joining the club you also get a coupon for a free appetizer w/ purchase of entree.)
  • DSW rewards club: $5 off any purchase of $19.95 or more

Also, many spas will offer you a discount massage during your birthday month. So if you are desperately stressed, consider that!

Since that's about the extent of my knowledge, luckily we have Freebies for Mom who did an entire post about these handy-dandy benefits! Read up. I know I will (I have four months before Tim's birthday).

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Sunday, August 17

Martha Stewart of frugality? Not me

Okay, I know I began to allude to this in yesterday's post, but I might as well state it for the record.

The reason I felt so compelled to start a blog is because I could never find many frugal tips that could be applied to my situation. There are so many great frugal tips out in the world. But what about those of us with severe fatigue? Or other physical limitations?

I think of PF blogs much in the same way I think of home decor/crafting shows: There's tons of great ideas, but most of us have to find something a little less ambitious.

Of course, there will always be people who have the time/energy/talent to make a swan ice mold out of nothing but old newspapers, bag ties and cut up credit cards.

The rest of us are just trying to keep our the dust bunnies from banding together and staging a coup.

In other words, how do you accomplish debt reduction if you're not exactly the Martha Stewart of frugality?

And so I started this blog, in part to see who would join in the discussion. I'd be interested in getting the perspective of others living with disabilities -- and in that vein, I'm reaching out to some disability blog carnivals.

That said, this isn't just for people with Medicare cards. I think there are a lot of people are trying to find a balance between the advice they hear and what actually works for them. Because there is no magic one-size-fits-all.

So what to do?

Sheesh, but I wish I had the answer to this one. I'm still trying to figure out a good balance for myself.
  • How much can I do versus how much I want to be able to do?
  • How much can planning ahead keep you prepared and how much of life is just going to take you by surprise no matter what?
  • And how many allowances do you make for special circumstances?

For example, we have cable (just the basic stuff, no premium channels) and cable internet. But we're home all day. Every day. Is this a luxury we could do without? Yeah, probably. But the results would be pretty ugly. So, although those items are technically expendable, I've had to make the executive decision that they're keeping us sane.

And I'm sure lots of people would disagree with me about those. But our situation is very different from a lot of bloggers. And so I have to take all advice with a grain of salt.

There will always be people out there like one commenter from today who said that $1000 isn't that much money. And while he's entitled to his opinion, clearly his life is quite different from mine.

On the other hand, people like him make me feel pretty darn good about my level of frugality. (Cheap thrill, I know, but there it is.)

And now for something completely different...

For a moment, because I am tired and sleep-deprived and because it is almost my birthday (and my blog), I am going to go off on a slight tangent.

I had this class at the UW about decision making in politics. The point was basically that the human brain can only hold so many priorities at once. And it was something appalling like 3 or 5. When's the last time you had just three or five things on your mind?

So if we can only hold that many items at any given time... Well, I think we've found what's keeping us all from being perfectly frugal: Life.

Because life is terribly misbehaved. It doesn't limit the amount of crap going on in day-to-day life just because we ask it nicely. Instead, each of us has to learn how to juggle multiple (and sometimes conflicting) priorities. And no matter how good a juggler you are, you're eventually going to drop a ball or two.

And all this musing about randomness got me thinking about a great scene from "Gilmore Girls." Lorelai is complaining to her daughter, Rory, that she has to write a letter in support of her friend. But nothing's coming:

Rory: Sounds like you're overthinking this. Maybe if you just put pen to paper --

Lorelai: I tried that. I thought, I'll just sit down and write whatever comes. No judgment, no inner critic -- boy, was that a bad idea.

Rory: Really? Why?

Lorelai: Because my brain is a wild jungle full of scary gibberish. "I'm writing a letter. I can't write a letter. Why can't I write a letter? I'm wearing a green dress. I wish I was wearing my blue dress. My blue dress is at the cleaners'. 'The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.' Casablanca. Casablanca's such a good movie. Casablanca. The White House. Bush. Why don't I drive a hybrid car? I should really drive a hybrid car. I should really take my bicycle to work. Bicycle, unicycle, unitard, hockey puck, rattlesnake monkey monkey underpants."

Rory: "Hockey puck rattlesnake monkey monkey underpants"?

Lorelai: Exactly! That's what I'm saying. It's a big bag of weird in there.

And while I am lucky enough to have avoided the dreaded "rattlesnake monkey monkey underpants" phenomenon, I still lie awake at night, trying to shut my brain off. But I have this internal PDA that keeps popping back on and reminding me of all the things I didn't get done today, the things I need to get done tomorrow, the things I really need to start thinking about getting done tomorrow.... And so on.

And with all that noise clattering in my head (much like the state room scene in "Night at the Opera"), how on earth will I ever be able to sit down and make those swan ice molds?

Okay, I want to issue a challenge: I am interested to get a look at the "big bag of weird" in your brain. So I think we should all do a quick list of the overwhelming number of things nagging at us. It should provide some ranting/comic relief. And maybe it'll give us some perspective about why we're all so stressed out!

If I can get at least 10 entries (I'll count mine as one) I'll award a $10 gift card to the best one.

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Some late-night ramblings on disability and perception

It is ridiculously late as I write this, so please pardon the slight rambling-nature of this post.

But I needed to work some things out.

It has been in the 90s for the past three days. Tomorrow doesn't look much better. And, being in Seattle, we have no air conditioning. So after a day being stuck inside a stuffy apartment (despite fans blasting) Tim was miserable. I took pity on him and we ran out to see Pineapple Express at the theater four blocks away. (Hooray free movie coupons!)

So, the movie was not exactly Oscar material but it was exactly what we've all come to expect from Judd Apatow/Seth Rogan. While I know I ought to expect a tad more, there are times when I find some comfort in knowing exactly what I'm about to get.

I honestly never thought I would say something so bland -- I was raised to be rather critical of films. Tim has mellowed me out a tad.

Blandness aside...

Whenever we go to this theater, I get angry. Not the theater itself but the patrons.

There are two restrooms on the bottom floor, which are clearly marked as reserved for disabled patrons. The other restrooms are up a whooole flight of stairs. Maybe 20 or so total.

I think you see where this is going

I mean, it's bad enough that people use it on their way out. (Yeah, sure, I doubt someone on the way out of the theater will just happen to be a disabled person who really needs the restroom immediately. But it is just a sore point with me.)

But I often see people ducking in before their movies. Able-bodied people. And I just want to go up to them and say something.

I want them to feel bad about using a resource that is there to help people who can't climb the friggin stairs!

Are things always what they seem?

And it's at this point that I always catch myself. Because, really, I look okay most of the time. So if I were seen using that restroom, someone might assume I was a lazy person. (I try to use the upper level. But there are days when it's all I can do to be out of the house and at the movies. Stairs are out of the question.)

So what if I'm misjudging people who have legitimate, invisible disabilities?

Yet... Disabilities tend to betray themselves, however slightly. When my fatigue acts up, my feet don't pick up as well. I tend to shuffle. Sometimes my legs visibly shake.

These are slight things, but noticeable to anyone who has been through a bodily trauma. You see slight limps, areas of the body that get nursed or otherwise used less. Thanks to a rigorous physical therapist, I even notice pronation (whether someone is rolling a foot outside to inside rather than straight heel-toe).

The signs of illness -- past or present -- tend to glimmer to anyone who knows where to look.

Still, I could simply be assuming that everyone is like me

One time, I did confront a woman about use of the restroom. As I emerged, I remarked to her that this was for people with disabilities. She was very indignant and I beat a retreat. I apologized and said I sometimes forget that, like mine, some disabilities are invisible. She haughtily agreed and basically told me to mind my own business/asked who I thought I was.

And why did I think she was fine?

Because, waiting for my turn for the lower level restroom, I heard an exchange between her and a companion. Noting the line, the companion said there were more restrooms upstairs. The woman replied, "No, I don't want to go up there."

To this day, I remain convinced that no one with a legitimate disability would say "want."

Those who can't make it upstairs -- because of exhaustion or muscular problems or something else entirely -- use words like "can't." The word "want" is bandied around by people who have options.

And yet...

A matter of words?

I still get people underestimating my limitations because I use the word "tired" instead of "exhausted."

But, when you're pretty much always worn out, you don't tend to bother with distinctions. Tired, exhausted, worn out, fatigued, enervated. Whatever.

When you're tired all the time, distinction seems pointless. Your best days are akin to most people's bad ones. So why make a fuss about the degree?

That's not to say there aren't differentiations. There's a whole spectrum of nuances to fatigue that I don't think I ever fully appreciated before getting sick. (Well, I don't appreciate them now, but I see them more clearly.)

But if you meet someone who only knows black, white and maybe a few grays... How do you describe "amber" or "sapphire" or "teal"? Would you even bother trying?

Words or abilities

So, maybe I don't make thorough enough of distinctions. That's an exercise in vocabulary. If I say "I'm tired" instead of "I'm exhausted," the meaning remains: My body has called a time-out.

But, if you are physically unable to get up the stairs, you don't say "want." You say "can't" or "I don't think I'm up to it." You say, "Not an option." You say any one of a million things, but each one will always convey your lack of control over the situation.

The fact is that, even if I was wrong about that one woman -- and I'm still not certain that's the case -- usually the cynic in me is right.

Most of the people who wander into these lower-level bathrooms are too lazy to walk up 20 stairs. Because they have no idea what it's like to have to use the "handicapped" stall.

An ode to a bathroom stall

I sometimes wonder if anyone ever stops to consider just how much I avoid these larger stalls and special restrooms. (The answer, of course, is no. At least, I truly hope that the people in my life -- or who has ever even read the title of my blog -- has better things to do with their time than wonder about my proclivity toward regular-sized bathroom stalls.)

As a kid, I used to love those things. They were huge. And had awesome bars by the toilet. I think all kids find that kind of stuff fascinating.

My mom eventually impressed upon me that I should avoid such stalls, in case I take it from someone who actually needed it. But still I always loved it when all the other stalls were full and I wound up using the big one.

Then I needed one

At age 19, I found myself having to learn how to hold objects. How to write. How to walk. I had to build up all the muscles that had atrophied into disinterest in my three months of non-movement.

And during all that, I had to use a wheelchair to get around. That meant that bathroom time was a special kind of torture.

Even with a nurse and the helper bars, you're still hard-pressed to get yourself onto a toilet. And, by the time they actually get you out of bed, into the wheelchair, down the hall, into the bathroom, lock the door... Well, you're doing it on a pretty full bladder.

I remember being so bewildered at how I had ever thought the bars were "cool."

After that, I hated them with the kind of revulsion that comes only from dependence.

Even now, I can't ever look at one without remembering the pain and weakness in my limbs, how pointless it felt, fumbling to get out of the chair when I knew I couldn't hold myself up.

I can still feel the strong assurance of the nurse's arms. She held you in a rough way that came close to hurting. But she was the vital bridge between the chair and the toilet.

So even though you wanted to scream at her (nurses are always so nice and upbeat about the worst things), even though you wanted to go back to the time when the major hassle in life was finding a stall with toilet paper, a clean bowl and no drips on the seat... Even though all that is running through your mind, you don't begrudge her anything as she bruises your armpits lifting you up with her firm hands.

Because she is the only thing, besides sheer determination, that is keeping you from peeing in your wheelchair.

Spin a mile in their wheels....

It was a short stay in the wheelchair -- probably just two or three weeks. (Due to stress and a lot of various medications, my overall memory of that time is inexact.)

But even after I had graduated to crutches, and then to unassisted strides, I never again felt like like a normal, walking person.

I was always acutely aware that I had been in a wheelchair.

Back to the beginning

And so when I see these people choosing their convenience over others' needs -- over my potential needs -- I rage inside.

But what do I do about it?

Do I confront them, and risk being wrong? Will it really do any good? Especially from someone who looks able-bodied?

I still haven't figured this out. All I know is that, as I join blog directories and end up describing why I started this blog, I become acutely aware that this all ties together somehow.

Us vs them

I started this blog because I was tired (there's that word again) of all these great frugal ideas that I couldn't use.

And, yes, in my more bitter moments there are times when I wish I had the luxury of paying down debt with even one full-time salary, let alone two. (Eventually, I go back to a fairer state of mind. I realize that frugality and debt reduction are never easy -- regardless of circumstance. And that there are a number of people whose circumstances are tougher than mine, who'd view my life as riddled with luxuries.)

I started this blog because I realized that if I couldn't do a lot of this stuff, how did other disabled people -- who are likely to have low incomes and high bills, who are therefore likely to be in debt -- how did these people cope?

But did it stop at disabilities? Does everyone else have it peachy-keen?

What about the people who had a job or two and kids? How much of this stuff can they do?

And this is when I realize that my fatigue is not unique. It is simply exacerbated. It is a worse form of a bad symptom most of us have.

We all have limitations and all have to learn to prioritize and do what we can -- and then learn not to beat ourselves up about the rest.

But that's still no excuse for using a disabled restroom.


Saturday, August 16

I love yard sales

I *heart* yard sales.

Yeah, that's right: I said *heart*

Because there's no other way to emphasize just how thrilled and excited I get from glimpsing "yard sale."

It's the unknown.

You might find treasure (like when I found most of the serving trays for the weeding for a total of $13).

You'll probably find trash. (People don't want this stuff, after all.) But it's also good for a chuckle.

Mom and I were both manic about hitting as many as possible each weekend last year, to make sure we got all sorts of great stuff for the wedding. Between illness, vacations and generally bad timing, we've been pretty poorly organized this summer.


  • A full set of ionic curlers (and clips) for $3
  • A fab Christmas gift for Tim (can't say what because he reads this blog). Suffice to say, he'll have a hard time figuring out which is from a store and which I got from a yard sale.
  • Ankle boots for $1 (After 8 years, my Payless ones are beyond dead.)
  • A pair of jeans for 25 cents. (Technically, 75 cents, since the other two pairs didn't fit.)
Sadly, yard sale season will be dwindling soon. And I'm not up for too much scouting in this current heat wave. (Seattle folks are not cut out for this weather -- we have fans, no air conditioners.)

So let this be a reminder to shop early and often for birthday and Christmas gifts. You'd be amazed what you can find -- for yourself and for others.

What have you found this year that you just love? What's your favorite yard sale coup?

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A bit of good news....

The front page of today's Seattle Times had some good news!

The charity I wrote about is going to stay open thanks to an outpouring of community donations.

It's a pretty humanity-affirming article, so I suggest you read it if you have a moment to spare. Two people actually wrote checks for the whole $30,000 (the amount needed to stay open until grants can kick in). So now it has more than enough.

I started laughing reading the article out loud to my mom because I realized a donation they were referring to was mine. It even quotes my letter that I enclosed with the check. Strange bit of anonymous notoriety. Certainly a better start to a day that wasn't looking so hot. (I had trouble sleeping last night probably because of the heat and so got a whopping 4 hours of sleep in which I woke up 4 or so times.)

Suffice to say, this was enough to brighten my day.

Now I'm off to keep mom company as she goes to the farmer's market. I may even treat myself to a couple nice, ripe peaches. Yum!


Thursday, August 14

Why are we afraid of no?

Yesterday, we talked about falling off the budget, trying to please other people. I felt like it warranted a follow-up look at why so many of us have trouble setting boundaries.

So here's the deal: You hate to say no. Why? Probably because you want to make others happy.

It's a natural response -- and the world is a better place for this instinct. The problem comes when other people's happiness continually overrides our own needs.

I have met so many people (but, I have to say, especially women) who think that their needs are less important. I doubt they consciously think, "Gosh I have needs but they're trivial." Nonetheless, when push comes to shove, well... They shove their needs back and make room for other people's.

It might sound like such an obvious mistake. But an awful lot of people do it pretty constantly, myself very much included. It's something I'm working on -- and have been working on for many years.

So I understand what I'm asking when I say that you have to set boundaries.

Why won't we stick up for ourselves?

We know we should. We do. But it just seems so... hard. Mean. Rude.

The women who sparked yesterday's post said
they don't like to disappoint others.

I'm sure that's part of it. But it goes deeper. What happens if you disappoint someone? Even someone you care about? Can't your friends and family survive a "no" once in awhile?

Sure, they can. But can we survive saying it?

I think many of us have been raised to think that the word "no" is much more soul-crushing than it is. I know for me, it's combination of my Type-A personality -- that I shouldn't have limits and should be able to do what anyone needs me to -- and fear -- that if I can't do everything for people, they won't have any use for me anymore.

And, yeah, when you say it out loud (or type it out) it sounds ridiculous. But I'm willing to bet it struck a chord with at least a few folks out there.

(I'm sure there are also slightly better-adjusted individuals who are simply afraid that if we turn down an invitation, the person will feel snubbed and hurt.)

So now what?

Okay, so we've figured out the underlying problem -- and how essentially silly it is, logically.

But that doesn't make it any easier to override.

Emotions aren't logical. They're instinctual and they have an annoyingly strong grip on your gut when you're trying to act against them.

So what can you do?

Well, first, when you feel like caving to others' needs, you have to ask why you're so afraid. You have to remember that, just maybe, you're overreacting.

Second, try to figure out a compromise so that you feel less guilty, but still are respecting your own needs. (Does anyone else ever get terrified by how New Age-y they sound when trying to be mentally healthy?)

These are really all you can do -- but I'll level with ya. This isn't something that will go away automatically. It takes work. And time. Lots of time.

Even so, it does get easier with practice.

Remember what's important

I know most of us want to put others first. But ask yourself, if you keep giving everyone everything you have, how can you keep it up? You have to reserve a bit of your time and energy for yourself. You need to be able to recharge, or you're no good to anyone.

And, if that rationale doesn't work... You may have more success sticking up for your budget than yourself. Your budget is important to you and to any partner or spouse you have. It's meaningful and it's your future. So if you can't do it for yourself, do it for your budget.

(It's not ideal, but whatever gets you to start forming that "N" and "O" is a good start.)

Letting others in

Here's another thing to chew on: When you say yes to everything, ignoring your own needs, obviously you're not being fair to yourself. But...

But did you ever stop to think that you're not being fair to your friends and family either?

These people care about you -- if they're worth associating with at all -- and so they care about your feelings. They want you to be happy. When you don't tell them how you feel, you're denying them a chance to be good friends/sisters/neighbors/etc.

Put another way, stop and picture you telling them that the last five or so times they invited you to a movie, you were put in a really awkward situation. Chances are, you're imagining these people being embarrassed or flustered -- apologizing and scolding you for not saying something sooner.

So if they obviously don't want to be forcing you into something, why would you let the situation arise?

Why I can say this

I have all the same impulses you do: Don't disappoint people, don't say no, avoid confrontation... I had, for years, deemed my needs to be less important than other people's.

And then, one day, I couldn't deny my fatigue problems any more. Suddenly, I couldn't put other people's needs ahead of my own -- though I certainly still tried. The results were pretty bad.

Finally, I had to accept that a Type-A personality isn't always healthy -- especially when you have health problems. So, little by little, I practiced saying, "No, I can't do that." And it was terrifying.

But the weirdest thing happened: Nothing.

The world didn't end; I didn't lose friends. If anything, they were eager to help. And when there were times that plans couldn't be changed, we would just agree to something at a later date.

I still don't get out as often as I would like, but that has more to do with my fatigue than friends unwilling to change plans.

I found out that "no" just isn't the huge monster I had built it up to be. It wasn't devastating. It wasn't even all that big a deal, truth be told. It's just two letters that let me keep my health (and sanity) from time to time.

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Wednesday, August 13

Is frugality an "either/or"?

Not too long ago, I wrote that perhaps the most important thing about frugality was mere thinking ahead.

I received two comments, both of which had the same tone: It's easy to think ahead, but their real weakness lay in social invitations. When asked to a movie or play or some other activity, they didn't want to spend the money. But they also hated saying no.

This startled me as a general concept because I had never before assumed that frugality left only two choices.

A whole spectrum of options

The cliche is that life is rarely black and white. And it's a cliche because it tends to be true. Similarly, frugality has its various shades.

Some people think that frugality must entail clipping coupons; others never bother. Some immediately cancel their cable; others keep it as the one allowed form of entertainment.

The word "frugal" means different things to different people. There is no one definition suitable for every scenario.

And for this reason, I never stopped to consider that people might box themselves into a corner of yes/no; black/white; social/recluse.

It's all about degrees

While it's admirable to want to save all the money possible, you shouldn't cut yourself off from any activity without considering other options. And there are almost always frugal options to be had.

Once again, it comes down to thinking ahead. If you have thought up some more affordable alternatives, you won't feel as uncomfortable when people invite you to spendy activities.

To get you in the spirit, I've listed a few broad categories I could think of, along with a few frugal options:

Evening movie
  • A matinee the next day
  • Seeing something at the cheap house (in Seattle it's $4 to see second-run movies)
  • Video rental
  • Meet up after the movie for a review and some quality time not spent in the dark, staring at a screen and not talking
  • Have free tickets ahead of time for these occasions
  • Have the person come over and watch a related movie (the same actor/actress/director/film series)
  • If the friend hesitates, promise to overcharge for soda and put down fly paper for sticky floors


  • Matinee is again a good option
  • Find out if there's a pay-what-you-can night
  • Offer to meet up afterward and check out the film version so the friend can compare/contrast.
  • The Entertainment Book tends to have coupons for local theaters.

Expensive outdoorsy activity
(Something that requires pricey equipment: rock climbing, kayaking,etc)

  • If given enough notice, try to borrow the equipment from friends -- or ask the people inviting you if they know anyone who would let you borrow some gear.
  • If not given notice, ask how much equipment rental is -- it might not be as bad as you think
  • Again, the Entertainment Book usually has buy-one-get-one coupons for a lot of athletic activities
  • Suggest alternative forms of exercise: taking a long walk around a scenic area, biking, hiking
  • Tell them to come over to your place after the activity and you'll feed them junk food. (They can afford it because they just burned all those calories.) Or if they're health nuts promise them Gatorade or trail mix or something.

  • Try to schedule it to coincide with happy hour
  • Drive to the bar and have a built-in excuse to limit your drinking
  • Suggest the cheaper version of a night at the bar: A trip to the liquor store, some good music and someone's living room. (Drunken board games are always fun)
  • Offer yourself up as the designated driver. (Some places will even give you free sodas all night)
  • Go out and just don't drink alcohol

Girl-bonding/pampering (manicures, etc)
  • Find out if there are beauty academies nearby. Gene Juarez has two schools here in Seattle that offer much more affordable rates. (The students are supervised.)
  • Buy some over-the-counter items (facial masks, deep hair conditioners, skin scrubs, nail colors) and make your own spa. If you feel really industrious (or frugal) there are plenty of recipes online for these items.
  • Suggest a night of chick flicks and junk food instead
  • Say that you aren't up for it yourself but you'd be happy to hang out while she gets herself pampered.

The point is, when you have alternatives, you have choices. You almost always have more options than you realize. It's time to make use of them!

Tomorrow, I have a kind of follow-up piece about why, exactly, we're so terrified of saying "no." Successful frugality depends on your being able to stick up for your budget. So this is an important issue.

I'm sure there are other categories that I'm not remembering, so feel free to write in some examples and I'll do my best to think up alternatives. Or, if you have thought up another alternative, please add a comment.

Some goals

This is a short post today -- life is a tad hectic here and also a revised post of mine runs today on Smart Spending.

Brooke over at Dollar Frugal wrote an interesting piece the other day about "groundhog day goals." This means she revisits her goals (and, when needed, sets new ones) each month: 1/1, 2/2, 3/3... You get the idea.

So she reviewed her goals for August. She then asked readers what goals they would set for September 9th. I thought this was an inspired way to do goals (I'm a big fan of slow & steady wins the race...) and especially to keep yourself honest.

Here are the goals I am setting for 9/9:

1. Get Tim's student loans down to $750. They are currently $1430.14. In two days, we'll be making another $200 payment. And we're getting a $200 windfall that should hopefully get applied to the loan as well. That would bring the total down to $1030.14 (plus interest). So I think this is do-able or we'll be around $50 off.

2. Akin to Brooke's "get sugar out of my diet" goal... I've been reducing my sugar intake and really enjoying the results. I went 10 days last time before caving. The last two days of re-withdrawal have been miserable. My hands are shaking much more, I'm far more irritable partially because of blood sugar, and I'm tired. This just strengthens my resolve. I am definitely having sugar on my birthday, but I want to start increasing the periods I go without desserts/sweets. By 9/9 I would like to have worked up to 14 days.

3. I want to double my blog's average visits per day. It was, when I set this goal, 75 on average (including weekends) but I want it to be at least 150.

4. Take more walks: My blog obsession has meant too many hours playing online, reading other PF blogs and playing with clip art for my blog illustrations and buttons. I am going to try to take a walk in the evenings with my husband at least 5 days a week. It will get me some exercise and get me away from the computer.

5. Lose 2-3 lbs of fat. This will have to be an eyeball-it kind of a thing, because I work out with weights once a week and so weight loss isn't as easy to gauge. But I would like to have my pants fit a tad looser within one month.

So what are your goals? Let's keep this goal-setting alive.


Monday, August 11

Why I won't save an emergency fund

I may get a lot of flak for saying this but I think having an emergency fund while you're in debt is a terrible idea.

Most frugal bloggers (and debt reduction plans) stress the importance of saving for an emergency fund while also paying down debt.

The rationale

Once you're out of debt, it's easy to fall back in with just one (even minor) event. A pet gets hit by a car and incurs a hefty vet bill; a kid's growing a little faster than you had planned for; or maybe you have to miss some work and you're out of sick days.

If you don't have an emergency fund (EF) in place, you'll end up financing the costs on the credit card.... And then you're back in the debt loop.

This sounds logical; but is an EF really such a good deal?

Let's say you find out you need $300. If you have an EF fund, you simply take the money out and start building up again. And you probably think that's better than charging the $300, which increases your debt.

But, in fact, an EF really won't make a big difference.

A way around the whole problem

The best way to avoid this pitfall in the first place is to make a payment each payday. Tim and I have done this for months now and it's much easier. The longer money sits in your account, waiting to be paid out, the less you'll inevitably have. A couple small grocery trips, a pizza out with friends and suddenly that extra $100 payment you wanted to make has vanished into the ether.

Additionally, paying your creditors every time you get paid means less chance of late fees and also more flexibility with unexpected expenses. You can simply make a smaller payment for a given month, while using the rest to cover that pricey surprise.

Going this route also means that your money isn't sitting in an account somewhere earning little to no interest, while your credit card balance continues to earn plenty.

Getting back to EFs

But there are times when even this plan doesn't pan out -- often because the unexpected cost times itself to happen right after all your payments have cleared. In which case, you're right back to the emergency-fund or no-emergency-fund question.

Let's assume that you have a credit card with 12% APR, which is 1% a month. You make payments of $400 against your balance, which is currently $5000. Meanwhile, you've been throwing $100 a month into your emergency fund.

So, for those with an emergency fund, your balance wouldn't change. But, because you were using $50 a paycheck to grow your EF, you're making just the $400 payments.

Month 1 Month 2 Month 3
Beg Bal 5000.00 4650.00 4296.50
Payments 400.00 400.00 400.00
Interest 50.00 46.50 42.97
End Bal 4650.00 4296.50 3939.47

On the other hand, if you threw all your money at debt, things are a little different: Your balance increases by $300, and your payments are $100 more a month.

Month 1 Month 2 Month 3
Beg Bal 5300.00 4853.00 4401.53
Payments 500.00 500.00 500.00
Interest 53.00 48.53 44.02
End Bal 4853.00 4401.53 3945.55

So you see, by Month 3, the balances are only $6.08 apart. And the interest paid is only $6.07 cents less for those with an emergency fund. That's a grand total of $12.15 for the trouble of always being sure to pay yourself first and not get the relief of having every possible cent thrown at your debt.

Of course, for some, building an EF is psychologically soothing: You have a safety net. And a lot of debt reduction is about finding what works for you -- whether or not it makes sense to anyone else. So long as your debt goes down, it really doesn't matter what others think.

That makes sense when you're talking about $12.15. But, as time goes on, the disparity gets much more pronounced.

With an EF

Month 4 Month 5 Month 6
3939.47 3578.86 3214.65
400.00 400.00 400.00
39.39 35.79 32.15
3578.86 3214.65 2846.79

Without an EF

Month 4 Month 5 Month 6
3945.55 3485.00 3019.85
500.00 500.00 500.00
39.46 34.85 30.20
3485.00 3019.85 2550.05

Starting in Month 4, the non-EF balance is $93.86 lower. That's almost twice what you're putting away in your fund each month!

By Month 5, the difference in balances has more than doubled: $194.80. And by Month 6, the difference is $296.74.

In fact, with my method, you pay off the credit card debt two months earlier (Month 12 instead of Month 14) -- even if you have another $300 "surprise" somewhere in that time period.

And let's not forget that, even if you put your EF into a "high-yield" account, you're still looking at no more than probably 6% in this economy. Even assuming your card's rate were actually 12% (and they're double that -- or more), that's still a losing proposition.

Caution: Not one size fits all

But I would like to take a moment to point out I'm not issuing an edict. This might not work for certain people. Looking at the numbers, we can make a couple of generalizations:

Throwing all your money at debt is better for you if:

  • The amounts you pay on debt are far enough over and above the minimum due that you can make smaller payments in the case of unexpected expenses.
  • You pay with each paycheck to give yourself added flexibility in dealing with "surprise" costs.
  • You don't get these "surprises" more than two or three times a year.

Having an emergency fund is better for you if

  • You have major unexpected expenses occur four or more times a year.
  • These expenses would mean a significant charge on your cards (if the EF weren't available)
  • You are unable to pay for "surprises" out of pocket and still make the required minimum payments on your debt.

That said...

Regardless of which route you take, you should be wary of too many unexpected expenses in your life. While, of course, you have to account for sheer dumb luck (or lack thereof), generally speaking if there are a lot of financial surprises in your life, that may say more about your budget than the unpredictability of this crazy ole' world.

In other words: You may want to sit down and take another look at your allotment of funds. Are you accounting for everything?

Most of us don't. I often forget gradual things, like wearing out shoes. I can't ever quite account for Tim's doctor co-pays for any given time span, because there will be two weeks without any visits, followed by a MRSA outbreak or eczema flare-up that necessitates anywhere from 2 to 6 appointments. Each with its own $15 co-pay. It just means I had to learn how to be flexible.

So tell me: Do you still think an EF is a good idea? Why?

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