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Weekly Goals: Happy Mail

We returned home to the usual pile of backed-up mail, with a couple of nice surprises. The Murray McMurray Poultry catalog, so I can start the search for my Urban Homestead laying flock, and a check for $101.52 from canceling the extended warranty on my old car. I was hoping for a bit more of a refund on the warranty. $100 was nice to come home to.

Last week in review.
Crochet 8 washcloths for gift-giving. Accomplished with flying colors. More on this in an upcoming post.
Garland making and planning. Not Done. Did not recruit the Mother-in-law into these antics. I’ve narrowed it down to 2 options. 1 involves buying something to re-use. The other is making something disposable. I’ll decide this week
Participate in Small Business Saturday for a free $25. Done. I wanted to get The Marriage Plot for my reading enjoyment, but it was not to be. A lovely Fiestaware serving bowl was had instead.

This week is a little more complicated.

No Grocery Shopping. I’ve declared the rest of November (and this week) a grocery moratorium. We are eating leftovers, and freezer meals. There will be no trips for food until Saturday, at the earliest.

December Menu plan/Grocery Budget. Since we are operating between meal plans and budgets at the moment, I have a little time to work out what to eat and how much to spend for December. This should also include the much dreaded Christmas Party menu.

Make a decision on the garland. This will involve a little bit of experimentation.

Find receipt for expensive Headphones. In my ongoing earbud plight, I realized 1 pair of defunct headphones is rather expensive, and likely has a warranty. A quick email later, and sure enough they do. Now I need to see if I have the receipt. Not sure that I do. It will require a bit of searching.

Conscientious Consumerism: Research Shoes. The Husband and I are both in need of new shoes. He needs work boots, and I need daily wearers. I have my eye on a pair, but need to price them out locally, see if there are deals to be had and where the shoes are actually made. We need another pair of boots for The Husband, so his current ones can be re-soled and put back in the rotation.

Get Zipper Fixed. Also related to The Husband’s workwear. He has a nice Carhartt jacket with a very broken zipper. Heavy, industrial zippers are beyond our limited capabilities. I need to call our seamstress and figure out if its fixable.

Deal with Speeding Ticket. Ahem. Let’s say, I am less than thrilled about this little gem, and loathe to just pay it. Need to determine if it can be contested/deferred via writing. The ticket itself is vague on details.

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Nickel and Diming Myself

As I was putting together this post, my blog buddy Miser Mom published a lovely piece about the mathematical theory behind the accumulation of small changes with big results. I’m not a math geek, but this inspired me. Partially because it’s what I was writing about at the moment, partially because it totally validates in a very real math-y way all these weird idiosyncratic habits I’ve developed. Tips and trick that probably should have been included in my 25 Things. They weren’t. They are small, yet effective ways I trick myself into stashing meager sums of money. Meager sums of money, which thankfully add up. It’s very easy to delude yourself into putting away a few bucks here and there. It’s when I go back and track those dollar here – dollar there techniques I’m shocked at how much I’ve socked away.

If you’re maybe a little bit OCD like me. You can trick yourself into playing all sorts of games.

Rounding, up and down. Deposits are rounded down to the nearest dollar. Expenditures are rounded up. Not only does this streamline entries into my trusty Financial Empire spreadsheet, it creates a natural cushion. I don’t fret about the occasional missed expense. Every once in a while, I balance my checking account to the ‘true balance’ (or somewhere close to it) and put a portion of the cushion into savings proper.

Saving change and singles. Nothing new here, except I’m vehement about my collection. I pay with the largest bill possible to maximize the amount of change I’ll get back. I never pay with change. Never. I’ve also been known to ‘liberate’ under appreciated change from co-workers. Hey, if they are going to neglect those pennies, they don’t deserve them! I got a handy dandy change roller for Christmas years ago, and I’m proud to roll my own. I hoard the rolled change along with other small cash windfalls and deposit it once it hits a respectable number. Usually about $20.

Dealing in whole numbers. This is where the OCD comes in. I’m a little strange about keeping account balances at nice pretty numbers. There’s no $1,178.12. Yuck! $1200 is so much nicer and only $21.88 away. Of course, I can afford to put away another $21.88. So, after the monthly interest payments hit my savings accounts, when the account balances are all kattywampas, I make a deposit to get to the nearest $100 or $50 or even $25. Doesn’t really matter, just a nice pretty round number.

I do the same thing with the balance on the Big Fat Mortgage.  Once the monthly payment applies, I make another small principle payment to get it down to an agreeable number.

Conversely, if the balance on my checking register is left at an odd number after the weeks spending, I stash that couple bucks. If I have $323, I take $3 and put it towards the cushion, or the mortgage, or the Emergency Fund. Most of the time, that then leaves those accounts at ugly numbers, which starts the ugly number elimination all over again. Do you see how my affinity for whole number starts to work to my advantage?

Interest trickle down. Big fan of Targeted Savings accounts here. We have one currently collecting dust for travel, and much more robust Vet and Garden accounts. These are never going to be big balance accounts. That’s not their purpose in life. Their purpose is to protect our long term savings. They don’t make much interest, and what interest they do make doesn’t really do them any favors. I roll all monthly interest from any miscellaneous accounts into our long term savings. Again, it’s not much, but it’s another deposit. Even better, one that doesn’t cost me a thing.

I know it. I’m kinda crazy. Not only have I cultivated these habits, I actually look forward to doing them. I’m constantly upsetting my own apple cart, for the pleasure of setting it right again with small payments. It’s one of my ways of actively participating in my finances. These habits don’t make up the sum total of my monthly savings. However, they nicely supplement the budgeted amount, and they do add up over time. Epsilon says so.

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Sunday Spending: Calling November

Welcome to Sunday Spending, my (mostly) weekly check in where I come clean about the ridiculous amount of money I spend on groceries (and the like) in my on-going pursuit to both maintain a budget and eat/buy with a conscience.

I know it’s only the 26th, but I’m calling it. November is DOA from a groceries perspective.
With a trip to the in-laws who keep us well fed, combined with drowning in the sea of leftovers still waiting for us in our freezer at home, it’s safe to say the rest of the month will not involve a shopping trip. Even if we are out of something vital, I think I’m beyond caring at this point. We can make do for a few more days.

Last week’s spending was usurped by hosting a dinner for some of my favorite people. My starry eyed affection over rode the fact that I managed to spend, an additional $37 in the course of two trips to our local market. These were for last minute items, like butter and chicken stock, which we found ourselves surprised to be completely out of. Also multiple gallons of organic milk for a successful batch of cream cheese and a botched first attempt at smoked mozzarella. I’m working up to a cheese making post. Don’t worry.

So, $37 + $701 as of our last big trip = $738 for November.

Let’s sit with that a moment.

$738 is better than $745, which is ever so slightly better that $750. Still consistent with a downward trend. $12 is a 1.6% decrease from $750. Hmph. That’s including the fact that we served a big fat dinner for many, which didn’t compromise on locally produced items I’m proud of. I’ll take it.

December, of course, presents it’s own unique challenges. We have another, even bigger event, we are hosting. Plus, Christmas Dinner. The good news is our meal plan was pretty much derailed for the last couple weeks of the month. How is this good news? I’m not going to have to come up with new options for what to eat, and though I haven’t inventoried it yet, I suspect we have much in the freezer than will be repurposed for this month.

After my long Holiday weekend, I’ll catch up with the December budget and meal plan.

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Black Friday?

If you are surprised I won’t be participating in the Black Friday Mayhem, you haven’t been reading very long. Please take a moment to review the bidding on how much I hate the Retailer-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named and how I haven’t shopped Big Box at all this year.

The very nature of the No Big Box Challenge excludes me from the bulk of Black Friday opportunities. Although, I could get myself down to Costco at the crack of dawn or stay up late tonight to check Amazon. But, I’m not gonna. I’m just not interested. After a marathon gym visit, I’m spending today enroute to my in-laws in rural Oregon. Right about now, I’m careening through a winter wonderland, crocheting or reading or chit chatting with The Husband, on my way to the lovely post-Thanksgiving meal waiting for me at the end of the line. Schucks. Poor me.

Oh, I’ve participated in the Black Friday melee before. Just last year, I was with the hoards at my local Target vying for a loss leader digital camera. A camera I missed out on by 1 measly person, and an incompetent, sleep deprived sales associate. In years prior, I got up early squirrely for the privilege of slapping down my credit card for digital photo frames and DVDs, SD cards and sets of sheets.

With the exception of the sheets, I don’t have any of that stuff now. The photo frames were pixellated pieces of crap. The DVDs were dirt cheap, but shows and movies I wasn’t really interested in watching on a regular basis for all eternity. SD cards are handy, not particularly durable. So, what was it all for? Some of it I gave as gifts to people who were mostly underwhelmed to receive them. Really, it was about the rush of running down there to be the first in line. To get THE THING, before someone else did.

This ‘rush’ is a result of the sense of false scarcity, manufactured by our Big Box Corporate Conglomerates. They want and need us to line up at 2am to be 1 of 15 that’s going to get some whoza-ma-whats-it of the moment. A whoza-ma-whats-it that they, much like me, are either not going to have, or are hardly going to remember this time next year.

I could go on (and on) about how Black Friday items are loss leaders for a reason. Laptops made with left over parts. Technology that is obsolete before you even buy it. I’m over it. Anyway you shake it, it’s not Conscientious Consumerism. It certainly won’t ‘save’ you money.

Take tomorrow to contemplate your purchases, or plan on how to avoid them. What can you make someone for Christmas? How can you focus on quality over quantity? Maybe even strategize your Small Business Saturday purchases, with or without the AmEx subsidy.

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Thanks Full

After our festivities last Sunday, my little family will be spending a quiet day puttering, watching movies, possibly napping, eating leftovers and homemade Mac and Cheese. Makes me happy just to type those words. As I get rolling, here’s a list of the who’s and what’s I’m reflecting on today. I appreciate an entire day to appreciate them. That makes sense right?

1. The Husband. His continued support, and amazing skills, at pretty much anything from pie baking to house building. How did I get lucky enough to find the rugged renaissance man?

2. The Mutts. Their unconditional love and continued health. *knock on wood*

3. Quiet much-needed days off at home with said Husband and Mutts.

4. My BFF of the last 13 years. My partner in crime. She completes me.

5. Brand New People, specifically the BFF’s new baby. I am so grateful to get to know this already awesome little person and participate in her life.

6. The rest of my friends, new and old. I am fortunate to have this amazing group of supportive, creative people in my life, who I am so proud to know and spend time with.

7. 1 job, even if it is in Corporate Servitude. The situation is much improved over last year.

8. Having mostly First World Problems. We can take clean drinking water, electricity and sanitation for granted in this country. Thats a more unique experience than we realize.

9. Chocolate. Nuff Said.

10. Making the first payment on my car. 1 down, 7 to go.

11. Coffee, my muse, in the company of which, all things are possible.

12. Another year of making payments on the Big Fat Mortgage. Progress, however slight, is nonetheless progress.

13. Discovering that Glee Season 2 is now available on NetFlix.

14. The means to participate in my local food economy in a meaningful way. I spend a ridiculous amount on groceries to make sure most of that money goes to actual farmers. Not everyone can do that.

15. Learning to crochet. Having the patience with myself to go through months of try, try, trying again in order to complete a simple project I can share with my loved ones.

On this Day of Thanks, the important part isn’t the Turkey or the stuffing or even the Macy’s Parade. The important part, it’s the Thanks.

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Weekly Goals: Gobble, Gobble.

If you are reading this, and are someone who usually receives Christmas gifts from me, avert your eyes.

Not perfect, but pretty cute, if I do say so myself. I succeeded in last week’s crocheting goal, producing 4 of my cute little dishrags. These sets, bound with some repurposed ribbon, and combined with homemade soap and/or canned goods, will represent the bulk of my gift giving this season. Clearly, I gotta kick it into over drive if I hope to make any sort of dent in my Christmas list. I might be getting a little faster. Maybe. It’s certainly a good TV watching, mind numbing, long cold winter night’s activity to engage in.

With the up-coming long weekend, I’m going to be a little more ambitious this week. I’m doubling my goal. Going for 8 cloths by this time next week. It’s a good thing I am shortening my list of gift giving recipients this year.

We will spend much of our Holiday weekend in rural Oregon visiting my in-laws, and (hopefully) enjoying a winter wonderland. This is going to cramp my productivity on the home-front, but the long drive will be a primo crocheting opportunity (hence the planned increase in production). The down time once we get there will also be conducive to getting some writing done.

Other goals for the week, in no particular order, include…

Garland, making and planning. Every year I do a little something different to hang on our fire place. Mostly grade school style crafts; paper chains, popcorn and cranberries, pipe cleaner snowflakes. Cheap. Cute. Disposable. This year I might class it up a little. Maybe even make or procure something to be used multiple years in a row.

Small Business Saturday. Very mixed emotions on this AmEx promotion. American Express charges their merchants exorbitant fees for the privilege of processing their transactions. Ironically, the smaller businesses pay more. Yet, $25 is $25, particularly when it aligns with my

. I’m taking a risk here, I know, but

is one of my favorite books of all time. This should scratch my travel/spending itch and be effectively free.

It’s hard to be ambitious with so much fat and tryptophan coursing through your veins.

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Money-Saving Monday: Want a Discount? Just ask

I know I’m getting an awful lot of mileage out of my “spending indiscretion“. As I wrote out the details of my falling off the wagon, I realized, even though I got perhaps got a little carried away with my Conscientious Consumerism, I actually received a discount on every single thing I purchased. Why? Because I bothered to ask for one.

This is yet another benefit of doing business with real people. There is no mega monolith store to shop sale circulars for or wait for them to decide the price. When dealing with a business owner, I can ask, and they can refuse, agree or meet me in the middle. Very often I find they are prone to do either of the latter.

The store where I bought my fabulous new credenza offers ‘Happy Hour’ discounts. 15% off if you shop during his slow times. Done! Or so I thought, except I was a little early. No problem, I mentioned Happy Hour and he was happy to honor the price.

My vintage owls were slightly discounted because I bought two of them.

My awesome table runner, for said fabulous credenza garnered me another 15% off for being a returning customer with that etsy seller.

The wax for my beeswax candles came at a discount of $.10 to $.20 per ounce because I sent in the containers to refill. Since some of these candles were 13 to 20 ounces, that’s none too shabby. I also drove down to pick up my local purchase, saving myself shipping costs.

Even my new stash of cloth napkins, came to me with a discounted shipping because I bought from a seller in my own state. I emailed to point that out before completing the transaction. They were happy to give me a few dollars off.

All told, I figure I saved $78 during my big splurge. Sure, its a fraction of what I spent. But it’s money I would have parted with had I not bothered to ask. Being a conscientious consumer often isn’t cheap. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take what discounts and savings you can get. Make the system of dealing with real people work in your favor. Next time you are waffling on the price of something, why not ask for a few bucks off? What’s the worst they can say?

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Saturday Link Love: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

I worked from home yesterday. I begrudgingly admit this is a fringe benefit of my Corporate Servitude. A few times a month, I can spend the day at my desk at home. No commute, all the coffee I can drink, and a room full of happy sleeping dogs. Since we are in the midst of The Freeze Yer Buns Challenge, however, I refused to turn up the thermostat just because I’m home. My cubicle at work may be beige and blah, but its a heck of a lot warmer.

An interesting week’s worth of posts to share.

Speaking of dogs, my friend Miser Mom introduced us to her Miser Dog, and questions the nature of pet ownership and frugality. I’ve written about general ways to save money on pets, but by it’s very nature pet ownership isn’t really frugal, is it? It’s another one of those things I am all too happy to compromise on.

Sustainable Eats had a very thought provoking piece about Why Farmer’s Markets and CSA’s Aren’t Enough to fix our nation’s food problems. I agree. Although, I don’t know what the feasible solution is, other than growing more (all, as much as possible) of your own. Bulk buying is great, if you can swing it. But, there is extensive planning and some overhead which proves problematic. Farmer’s Markets are totally elitist. My grocery budget is living proof.

Lazy Man and Money is not a blog I usually read. However, I’m always drawn to the What Do You Want To Do With Your Life? question. Quotes I loved from this…

“The more I think about what I want to do with my life, the more I realize that I’m looking for an answer that isn’t there. I’ve found that if I do anything long enough it’ll get boring. “

Can I get an Amen? I’ve written before, that it’s about constantly asking the question, while realizing there is no finite answer. The hard part is keeping that process from being frustrating. I also like this…

“What do you want to do with your 8 hours?”

Now that is a good question. It’s not what I want to do with my life. Its how do I want to spend the 8 hours of my day everyday. Let me tell ya, even if the beige cubicle is cozy and warm, it’s not where I want to be.

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