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Money Saving Monday: Netflix down. Clothesline up.

Moving onto Money Saving Monday without doing a Sunday Spending. Cardinal Sin! We had a weekend full of Halloween festivities, errands, soup making with friends, and fighting off an apparent tummy bug. So, while the shopping got done (barely, and only thanks to The Husband), I do not yet have my numbers tallied. I can say already though, this month was less graceful than my recent priors. More on that when I sit down and do my math (eventually).

Anyway, Hello Monday! Read more

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Saturday Link Love: Conscientious Consumerism

A subject near and dear to my heart. This week, a couple of my favorite blogs had some great posts, followed by thoughtful (and heated) discussions about just that topic.

The Frugal Girl answered some questions about her feeling on sweatshops, and where we procure our clothes.

Over at Get Rich slowly, there was a very interesting discussion about the true cost of Halloween Candy.

I’m all about the big effects of small purchases, and how they impact our lives and the world around us. Both of these debates have spurred me to write my own guide to conscientious consumerism. What are my criteria? How do you balance it?

Last, but not least, I’ve been following the journey into a Tiny House over at Rowdy Kittens. This week they finally did it! I can’t help but be excited for them. Even if a tiny house isn’t on my horizon (no garden or room for pack o’ Mutts), I’ve found their journey very thought provoking. What would go into my own tiny house? What process would I go through to cull, and downsize and cull some more? It’s something I reflect on when I’m putting things into Stuff Purgatory, and certainly when I’m planning to bring some other new thing into my own not-so-tiny house.

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Car Debt

It’s no secret. I recently took out a fat car loan to finance a shiny new 2012 model, currently depreciating in my driveway.  I have my reasons. I’m secure in my expenditure and how I went about it. That doesn’t mean I don’t intend to vanquish this debt in a very big way.

I set this loan up to be a very small payment. On the off chance that everything fell apart tomorrow, we could a) keep making minimum payments or b) sell the car, pay the thing off, and come out with enough for a cheap replacement. But, debt is still debt. It makes me uncomfortable. I want it gone. Certainly not in 5 years. Not even in 1 year. I’m thinking along the lines of pronto. Stat.

So, I’ve been twiddling with the budget and bankrate.com calculators. My brain is a-swirl with further thoughts of living on one of our incomes, and re-directing the rest exclusively towards debt (car loan and mortgage, in this case).

Consumer debt is something I haven’t dealt with in at least 4 years. The Husbands lemon of a SUV was the last of it.  That was gone prior to the Leap. This could be a good refresher course in trimming the budget, refocusing our spending, and paying off the car in a hurry. To put my money where my mouth is. Not literally. That’s unsanitary. In practice though.

Bringing me to this public declaration;  I, Dogs or Dollars, shall pay off my car loan by June of 2012.

That’s right in 8 months, I will resume my nearly debt free lifestyle.

The magic numbers in Excel say I can do it. In theory, I’m sure I can. 1/2 of the Husband’s income will be redirected toward car repayment. That’s a nice safe number. Even if he gets laid off tomorrow (its happened before), we could continue to direct unemployment funds toward car repayment. This goal has a safety net.

Since, I’ve already confessed to the loan amount, I know you are doing the math in  your head.

$16,000/8 months = $2000 a month, plus a bit of interest.

Eeep! That’s a hefty car payment. I’m looking at it a little differently. That’s a lot of cushion in our budget. If I can manage to put that much money aside for 8 months, under threat of public humiliation, it will effectively be out of budget. After that, I can point it toward something else. We are isolating that money from our living expenses. That is really the point of all this. That and I just really hate debt.

Watch me go!

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Barter Results

The long and short of it is, bartering is awesome. As I mentioned, I love it when it casually happens in my day to day life. Its particularly awesome, however when a bunch of people get together with barter in mind.

I attended the very first shindig for Backyard Barter. Another shameless plug for my friend’s organization. Really, its wonderful folks. If you’re in the Seattle area, join! If you aren’t, start your own!

I had no idea what to expect. I went with 6 bars of homemade oatmeal-lavender soap. We’ve made a couple of batches of this, most recently last spring. It’s based on instructions from The Simple Dollar. We’ve used it extensively in our home, and also as gifts for Christmas, Birthdays, even baby shower favors. It gets good reviews.

Here’s what I took:

Here’s what I came back with:

That’s 2 Golden Raspberry starts, an awesome jar to use for fermenting, and 6 ducks eggs. Yes, duck eggs!

I am excited about all of these things. The Raspberries will go great with the run I’ve already started. I haven’t fermented anything yet, but I’d like to and that jar is a good size to start. Plus, duck eggs! Duck eggs! Duck eggs have a higher fat and protein content. They’re purportedly great for baking. I’ve always wanted to try it. They will got into our Friday Night dessert. I’m just not sure what that will be yet. I’m torn between a flourless chocolate cake or letting The Husband try to woo me with another batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies. I’m not a fan, so he is on a never ending quest to win me over.

I clearly underestimated the value of my soap. Next time, I’ll bring more. I’ll be prepared to drive a hard bargain.

Anyhoo, good clean fun. Supplies for my continuing adventures, and no money changed hands!
Yes, bartering is awesome! Wait, I already said that.

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Lessons Learned: A Recap

For those of you keeping score, a few years ago I got Laid Off. After that I took a giant (for me) Leap, which led me to having 2 jobs, 1 nightmare, and precipitated a not-so-triumphant Return to Corporate America, where my tail may or may not have been tucked between my legs. That’s all well and good. What the heck did it teach me?

Yes, life totally kicked my butt. This is not the success story of someone who gave up the trappings of their consumer life, took a huge pay cut and was all the better for it. I did not got skipping off into the sunset with 1/3 of my previous income.

No, for two years, I struggled and fought against former spending habits, small paychecks, and uncertainty.  Mostly against uncertainty. For whatever reason, I refused to accept my reality as the ‘new normal’, and not some grand experiment I was deigning to participate in.

I planned this great Leap. My departure. To leave on my own terms with my head held high and my world intact. When it didn’t turn out as planned (inevitably) I was faced with all this unanticipated risk. See up until the Layoff, we’d lived a pretty blessed existence. An existence, I’d largely took for granted. The Husband being unemployed for 9 months, was not even in my realm of possibility.

When all this risk landed square in my lap, it paralyzed me. It rendered me incapable of making any other decisions. Clearly, I’d screwed up. My desire to lead a different life had compromised our security.

The only thing I could think to do was retreat. Go back. Recapture the blessed existence that had treated us so well. Seek audience with your corporate overlords and beg for mercy. Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic.

I returned from wist I came. I didn’t reinvent the wheel. I didn’t change my life. I went right back to the old one, a little wiser for it. I’ve been here for 3 months, collecting ridiculously large paychecks, and spending quite a bit of time being bored at my desk. After all that I am back to sitting on my butt. It seems somehow anti-climactic.

As it turns out, The Husband is back at work. Has been since shortly before The Return. Maddening. The deus ex machina I’d waited for, happened when the ink was still wet on my offer letter. Ain’t that the way it goes.

So, did I fail? I’ve spent an awful lot of time in processing this experience. As I’m rocking the path of least resistance. Sitting on my bum, back at my corporate job, finally having a bit of time to reflect on “What the heck just happened?”. Retrospect, its a beautiful thing.  Here’s what I’ve come up with.

1. Appreciate what you’ve got. This is easier said than done. Whatever crisis you’re in, it’s going to look different to you after you’re through it. It very easy to think the grass is always greener somewhere else. It’s not. The grass is a different, equivalent shade of green. As much as I loathe Corporate America, it affords me a lot of flexibility in both time and money. Yes, I enjoyed the Pet Store subject matter on a day to day basis. However, the car situation? The Grocery Budget? Both would have been much more difficult without my corporate sponsorship.  Take a moment to appreciate the Devil you know. Try to do it while you are shaking his hand.

2. We would have survived. For all my doom and gloom, sky-is-falling thinking, we were obviously making it. Unemployed Husband, Pet Store job, Big Fat Mortgage and all. We could have continued to do so. Sure, it wasn’t the easiest existence in the world, but we did it. It’s only now that I can even acknowledge the success of that. Again, this is a reminder to live in the moment. Yes, I fought against living on 1/3 of our regular income, but I did it.

3. I don’t want to open my own business. At least, not a retail one. I would be tied to a brick and mortar store, married to a bunch of employees who drive me nuts, committed to Holidays, weekends, and long hours. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. It’s just not what I want my day to day life to look like. While working at The Store, I spent too much time marginalizing my home and social lives for the sake of whatever was going on there. Opening my own would be worse. I consider this a very cheap lesson in business ownership. Most people, actually have to do it. That costs a whole lot more.

4. I don’t want to work 40 hours a week. Sitting on your butt or running a store, whatever you’re doing, 40 hours is a lot of time. Before I took the Leap, I thought work felt long because I didn’t love it. Turns out, work felt long because it was. As I’m formulating this idea of what I want my existence to look like, I keep coming back to more freedom, less hours.

5. I’m so happy I did this. True, my life was total chaos for more than just a minute there. But, whats that saying about having rather loved and lost, than never loved at all? Ayup. I can relate. This was something I yearned for, for years. Then I stopped yearning. And did. Even if it didn’t turn out like I expected, I learned so much about myself (see above) as an employee, as a manager, as a wife, as a friend, and  as a consumer. I tested my metal. I would not trade this experience for anything.

6. This is not the end of the road. I’m re-grouping. I’m pondering. I’m writing. I changed my existence once. It wasn’t how I wanted it to go, but it may be worth trying again. I’m a little wiser. I have different expectations. You can guarentee I won’t spend all my days sitting in a cubicle.

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Money Saving Monday: Cancelling an Extended Warranty

This was a task from last week’s Monday Money Saving list. Turns out, its more complicated than I thought.

I’d like to preface this by saying, Don’t Buy an Extended Warranty. Just don’t. If you’re tempted, take the money you would spend on one, and stick it in savings account. Chances are you’d never spend more than that on covered repairs, so even if you have to tap into it, you’ll come out ahead, plus interest. It’s just a better deal.

If you did buy one (like me), here’s how you cancel it and recoup some of your money (apparently).

First, I called the company who holds the warranty. This is not the thing to do. You have to call the dealership you purchased the warranty from. It was at this moment, I realized this was going to be a larger pain than I anticipated.

Then, I called the dealership where I bought the car, and asked to speak to the finance person. They transfered me. And transfered me again. And then mis-transfered me. I called back. Phone call #4 netted me a conversation with Jim. Here’s what Jim informed me:

  • I had to come down to said dealership to do the paperwork, There was no way around this. I asked repeatedly.
  • I needed to provide proof that the car was paid off and…
  • Documentation of the mileage at time of total.

Hmmmmm.

I bought this car 2 counties away, in the valley I grew up in. They have lower sales tax, and it saved me some money at the time. Now its going to cost me a drive.

In case you didn’t get the memo, my car was totalled. In order to get the check from the insurance company, I had to trade them the title for the car. My car was paid off so long ago, I dont even have the statements from the credit company anymore. Why would I need those when I have the title, right?

I scraped together the letter from the insurance company (stating they paid me), my last service record (with the mileage), and a copy of my credit report (showing the credit account with a $0 balance). I had scheduled an evening appointment to meet with a Sales Manager and go over my paperwork.

Please note: It is not in the dealerships best interest to make this process easy. This cost them money. Money they collected back in 2005. It involves back billing commissions and I’m sure it’s a pain. However, they have to do it. It’s the law. They just aren’t going to make it fun.

So, its no surprise when I show up at 7pm on a Thursday, paperwork in hand, after a 45 minute drive through extremely crummy traffic, that no one is there to greet me. Or generally even aware of my ‘appointment’.

They finally scare up the Sales Manager, who has never heard of my situation, despite Jims promises, but is aware of the form to be filled out. She fills it out. I sign. She takes a copy of the letter from my insurance company about the totalling out. Informs me that the service record is not sufficient for the mileage. I will have to fax another form from the insurance company.

Wait. Why exactly did I have to drive up here again?

Oh, that’s right. To jump through your hoops.

Clearly, the ‘in-person’ requirement was thrown out there to deter me from pursuing the cancellation. In that vein, I fully anticipate having to call and follow-up on this again and again and again in order to ensure it actually happens. I’m prepared with my threats of contacting the State Attorney General’s office, the Insurance Commissioner, the Better Business Bureau, and even writing a scathing Yelp review. I’ll do it. Don’t tempt me.

I took copies of all the paperwork they have. I’m faxing in the mileage form this morning. After which, I will call to make sure they got it. I am armed with a business card for the Sales Manager, the name of their title clerk, and an expectation that I *will* get my money back. By my calculations it’s at least $200. That’s worth a little fighting.

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Sunday Spending: Red Peppers and Busted Budgets

Welcome to my once a week grocery check in. It’s my on-going process to shop (mostly) once a month, and somehow reign in my budget, while eating responsibly purchased and produced food.

Aren’t they beautiful? Red with green and a dash of lots of un-uniform other colors. Seasonally appropriate (for the east side of the state) and wonderful.

Last weeks shopping involved a stop at a different Farmers Market from the one we typically frequent. There, we discovered a farm less than 100 miles away that specializes in the bounty you see above. I scooped up a variety, and I’ve been mooning over them ever since. Sweet Italians. Hungarians. Even just plain ole’ Bells. They were lovely.

See we eat a lot of peppers. We eat peppers in eggs, on pizzas, in fritattas, in chili, in casseroles, on salads. I knew we ate a lot of peppers. It wasn’t until this week I realized that we must be mostly buying them from some place other than home.

Maybe its because I’m reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (curse you, Kingsolver), but I’m increasingly aware of what we are eating out of season. Peppers are a big one. This season I’ve already stocked up on raspberries, blackberries (in jam format and frozen), apricots, pears, peaches, apples, and pickles. This is a multi-benefit operation. The produce comes from close to home at the height of its season, it’s processed by me (and my friends and family) in my home, and I can enjoy it all year. Why not add peppers to that list, right?

Well, because it costs me a ton. ‘Stocking up’ has been busting my budget on a regular basis since about June. I’ve spent a small fortune over and over again on the next item in season to be preserved for the rest of the year. In theory, this will save me money later. I spent $60 on cucumbers for pickles, but I won’t buy organic pickles at $6+ a pop for an entire year. However, because we are in the midst of the growing season, it’s been a litany of one item after the next. Maybe as we edge further into fall, preservation will slow down and my budget can catch up. Maybe. In theory.

What’s a food conscious, responsible consumer to do? Well according to Kingsolver and company, we should be eating seasonally. Focus on enjoying and indulging in your favorite foods when they are in season, then let them go.

Yeah, I’m just not there yet. In the meantime, we bought $55 worth of delicious peppers from the Farmers Market, and packed them away.

In no way is this going to be enough to get us through the winter. Its a start though. Maybe next year we can be better prepared for the hard work and high cost of the growing season.

Also spent $14.71 at Whole Foods for some miscellaneous items; bananas, milk, cumin, eggs. Without the peppers, we’d still be well within budget. I’m contemplating extrapolating their cost over several months, much like we did with the beef.

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Saturday Link Love: First Ever

I usually read on Saturdays, not write.

Some of that reading, however, is on the interwebs. I thought I’d share the particular items of interest currently stirring around in my noodle. Since, this is the first ever edition, I’m utilizing the way back machine to reference some not all that current stuff. Things I’ve been hanging on to, and perhaps re-reading from time to time.

Get Rich Slowly remains my favorite PF Blog of all time. At this point its like an old friend. One I still find endlessly interesting. Two of my most recent faves…

Intro to the new Staff Writer, Tim Sullivan. This contains a line that I’ve found myself returning to several times this week.

Finding the balance between planning and risk is usually the roadblock that forces most into inaction.

Things that make you go Hmmmmmm.

And a slightly older post about turning paranoia into Plan B, in which we are introduced to my new favorite term and familiar past time; Awfulizing.

 

Both of these posts make me reflect on my own recent journey, and how I behaved during it. Awfulized? Yes. Stuck between risk and in action? Definitely. How do you accept uncertainty? No answer to that yet.

Throw in Trent’s recent words about crossroads over at the Simple Dollar, and the blogosphere seems to be speaking to me. Certainly helping me process and ‘get over’ some of this experience.

Moving on to some new friends, Well Heeled wrote a great post about expenses that are judged the most, for whatever reason. I like to call them Personal Finance Sins. Having just purchased a brand new car, this has been on my mind. It helped put things into perspective. Yes, we Americans are generally bad with money, but there is no always right solution. Walk a mile in someone’s shoes and all that. An appreciated reminder.

Last, but not least, Miser Mom wrote about her Waffle Iron woes. Another welcome reminder. Sometime it takes a chopstick, perseverance, and a call to the manufacturer to keep something out of the landfill and the money in your wallet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prolonged the life of an item (mostly vacuums for some reason) by months or even years, with free replacement parts from the manufacturer. Its almost always worth a Google and a phone call.

 

 

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Bought a Car

A Brand. New. Car.

I planned a much sexier picture than this. The Seattle sunrise (or lack there of) had other ideas. There it is. Getting rained on in my driveway. The picture is slightly altered to protect the innocent cars identity.

It had 37 miles on it when I drove it away; With all the Bells, whistles and a something else I haven’t had in years and years: Consumer Debt.

Yes, I financed part of it. My savings are still safely tucked away, earning a little less interest than I’m paying on the car note, and helping me sleep at night. I have committed a personal finance sin, and I know it.

Maybe this is all just fluster bluster justification, but here’s how I went about consciously acquiring debt.

I narrowed my search to one car make and model. It gets wonderful gas mileage, average is 33mpg per Consumer Reports, and its not a Hybrid. Cost of ownership is good. Resale value isn’t even too shabby, which is something not often found in cars.

Because of this, and due to limited supply, these cars are hard to come by.

I started looking for late model, slightly used cars. Nada. Then I conceded to the 2011 model year. Still, no luck. It was 2012 or bust. Even those were in limited supply unless I wanted to wait 3 to 4 months.

Since I was completely without transport, and had only so much good co-worker carpool Car-ma to cash in, this was not an option. Maybe if I’d had more time I could have waited for a used one to show up. Maybe I should have rented a car to buy myself a few weeks. I didn’t. And I needed a car sooner rather than later.

I focused my search and negotiations on what I could get.

For a brand new car, I paid $200 over invoice. I’m not deluding myself. I did see the invoice. Despite what it said, the dealership still made money. After rebates and kick backs, probably more than $200. I couldn’t get anyone to even talk to me about and under invoice price. Choose your battles, I say.

I used the surprising amount of money I got for my totalled car, dug into the slush fund a bit, and got a nice 1.9% interest rate for the balance.

What was that balance you ask? $16,000.

I don’t deal in a lot of hard numbers here. For this, I’m making the exception. $16,000. Like I said, its been a while since I had non-mortgage debt. I’m kind of excited to see how long it will take me to vanquish it. Do I still have ‘the stuff’? I feel like I have a new opponent. Maybe paying it off in record time will help restore some of my ‘frugal cred’.

Let the Wild Rumpus start. Stay tuned for details. In the meantime, I’m over the moon about the 36mpg I get on the way to work. Ahem.  And my heated seats.

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A Barter Economy

Recent profitable trades in our household have included…

  • 3lbs of smoked salmon for a bunch of unused totes sitting in The Husband’s garage.
  • 2 jars of pickles (1 quart, 1 pint) for 5lb pack of the good green chiles (actually from New Mexico)
  • a day of very enjoyable labor at The Pet Store in exchange for  Dog Food
  • Watering Chickens over a weekend and taking home the fruits of their labor (eggs)
  • Dinner for a evening spent with Zombies.
The last one is reaching a little. We brought a portion of the meal to a friends house, where we dined and then watched the Season Premiere of The Walking Dead. This was much anticipated, and since we are cable-less, I think they take pity on us.
But in all those other cases, there was a very real exchange of goods for goods, or goods for services rendered. No money changed hands. No taxes were paid. Everybody wins. I love this.
The eggs are long since eaten, but those chiles and the smoked salmon are tucked away in my fridge. Ok, we’ve eaten some of the smoked salmon and will be enjoying more this week with pasta (yumm). Luckily, we procured enough of a stash to last us a while. The salmon was wild caught on the river I grew up on. I can’t feel any better about fish than that.
I could sing the wonder of real chiles, high-quality dog food, and evenings spent with friends too. That’s not the point. The point is. It’s amazing whats out there, if you open yourself up to it. These things weren’t sought out. They happened over casual conversations with friends, co-workers, and sometimes friends of friends. If you expanded your circle just a  little think of the possibilities.
Enter Backyard Barter. Speaking of friends, this is one of mines latest project. I’m tickled about it. An online resource for people to connect and exchange what they’ve got, with what you may need. Food is only the beginning. Knowledge, services, what have you. This is the perfect accompaniment to the Urban Homestead Movement.
I’ll be at their first ever event this weekend. With bells on. Pot Luckin’. Helping out. Hopefully swapping my homemade soap for some sort of awesomeness.

I am oh-so excited to add Barter to my mad survival repertoire. (See previously: Hunter Gatherer)

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