Monday, April 30, 2012

Quick Update

I am back from a week's vacation, which was absolutely lovely and not (too) spendy. I went to the American Quilt Society's annual show in Paducah, KY, where I saw absolutely breathtaking quilts and got some fantastic deals on fabric and patterns. The deals were 50% off or more, so I think I'm not going to pick up any new projects except at the quilt show from now on - you can't find those kinds of deals elsewhere!

I also saw two sides of my family, drove through six or seven states, played blackjack for the first time, and am super glad to be home with Peanut. I'm a little less thrilled to be back at work - I wish I'd given myself a day to get back into my routine!

What have you been up to for the last week?


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Linkfest: Rainy day edition

To start: a poll. How would you spend 30,000 credit card rewards points? Peanut and I put EVERYTHING on our credit card (which is no-fee) in order to get rewards points. I shopped around the rewards website to see what we could get, and here's an interesting list:
* Kuerig coffee maker
* Radio flyer wagon
* Wii Fit
* Turkish bathrobe
* Gift cards to various retailers in various denominations
* Turkish bathrobe
* Breadmaker, ice cream maker or Emeril crockpot
* Golf bag or golf clubs (not both!)
* Carryon suitcase
* Account credit or check to cash

The credit or cash are the worst options in terms of "value". I am 99% sure I already know what I'm going to get - what would you get?

The Motley Fool guest posts on Get Rich Slowly detailing how you'll probably need less in retirement than you do now. This was a great post for me to see, since I'm kind of panicky about not saving enough for retirement, even though we save between 12-15% of our gross income between Roth IRAs and pre-tax contributions.

The Non-Consumer Advocate faces a position I'd like to be in - when you make less money one year to the next but don't really notice in your standard of living. We'll make less money this year than we did last year, but I feel like our standard of living has drastically improved, now that we're living in our own house and everything. I'd like to see how it plays out when we have a year where we DON'T do something drastic like meet the love of our lives (four years ago), move in together (three years ago), get engaged (two years ago), get married (18 months ago), move across the country (one year ago), and buy a house (three months ago). You know, just for comparisons' sake. That'll help me actually notice a difference like earning slightly more or less than a previous year.

Andrea (from So Over Debt)'s guest post at the Daily Money Shot is a great one (as usual) - how her parents raised her to be a financial disaster, by accident. Very insightful!

Well, it's a short linkfest for me this week, as I'm off on vacation with my mom and sister (on a budget!). Here's wishing y'all a lovely week!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Paging Amy Dacyzyn

I picked up The Tightwad Gazette from the library the other day, and I'm getting a kick out of going through it again. I first read it years ago, when I first moved to New York and didn't have two quarters, much less six, to rub together for bus fare.

It made me wonder - what are your seriously crazy frugal hacks? Here are some of mine:

  • "Best by" dates on food are more of a guideline...if it smells fine, eat it!
  • I totally wash ziploc baggies!
  • I've been known to resteep a tea bag for a second cup of tea.

Please share your tips in the comments - and also leave a link to your favorite seriously frugal blog, if you've got one!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mid-month goal check-up

I figured since by this time of the month I'm usually like "goals? What goals?", I'd add a mid-month goal check to my to-do list (along with handy calendar reminder). That way I can actually get things done! With no further ado, here's where I stand with April's goals.

1. Get the oil changed. Done!

2. Set a budget for my trip. Budget...sort of set. Travel and stuff is now taken care of, so I just need to figure out what I'll spend on food and sundries.

3. Have a low-key birthday. On schedule!

4. Try four new recipes. Doing well so far - I tried a lentil and tofu curry last week (yech!), made homemade strawberry-rhubarb freezer jam, and if it counts, I threw together a leftovers fried rice tonight, using up a bunch of odds and ends and fixing lunch for two days all at once.

5. Clean out the filing cabinet. Yeah....about that...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Linkfest: Weird weather edition

Yesterday I got a sunburn riding around in a topless jeep and gardening. Today I watched hail litter a yard and readied myself to hide in the basement from tornadoes. Tomorrow, it might snow. Where am I, again?

Money Under 30 shares some common misconceptions about money. I couldn't really pick a favorite; there are some great ones there!

Lifehacker details how identities are stolen and how you can protect yourself. A key thing to know: usually if this happens to you, the only thing you could have done to avoid it is to always pay cash. Since that's not practical, the second-best option is to stay on top of your finances and check your accounts frequently, so that when trouble shows up, you spot it quickly.

I am totally with Daisy on this one: I don't get no-spend days. Many of my days are effectively no-spend days, but I don't track them and I don't set them as a goal. Skipping the grocery store one day for another doesn't really make a difference to my pocketbook - but stifling the urge to go shopping for entertainment always does. So I just stifle that urge always.

This "Any Questions?" post at The Non-Consumer Advocate has some great stuff going on in the comments.

Debt Ninja takes on a dilemma I dealt with a long time ago - what's worth more, money or time? Overtime is great because it can fatten up your bank account...but when it leaves you exhausted, only eating takeout, and crashing into bed as soon as you get home, is that extra cash still worth it? Ultimately, I didn't think so.

Jessie and Jordan budgeted for a baby even though it's not in their immediate future - Peanut and I pretty much did the same thing, which is part of what kicked off our move from New York. There's really no such thing as planning too far ahead!

A really fantastic post from The Frugal Girl - earn more or save more, do we have to choose? I agree that both elements are important. As I get older, I find that I am more and more interested in being more self-reliant, and earning more is frequently dependent on others (not just a boss or a company - but if you're self-employed, you're relying on the market and customers as well). Being frugal and learning to make do goes further to make me independent than earning more money could ever do.

Well, I'm off to read The Tightwad Gazette while waiting for my bathtub caulk to cure. This was a pretty handy weekend and I feel very accomplished - and also sore, tired, sunburned and sweaty. Here's hoping I don't wake up to two inches of snow in this bizarre Minnesota spring!

How was your weekend?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Odds and Ends

Peanut and I filed our taxes yesterday. We're not exactly procrastinators - we knew we were going to have to pay quite a bit thanks to his freelance work last year, and we see no reason to hand that money over any earlier than we're required to. We filed a few days before the deadline in case anything was amiss, and it was a good thing we did - one of our state returns was rejected for a small error, but has been refiled. Let's not talk about the nice used car we could be buying this weekend instead of paying taxes. :p

Peanut logged in to our bank account to balance the spreadsheet and noticed three mysterious fees for a "closed foreign account" - nearly $600 worth! Neither of us have ever lived overseas or owned a foreign bank account, so naturally, we are quite concerned. He's already been on the phone with our bank who is "taking it seriously" and has "temporarily" credited us the withdrawals until they can tell what happened. The rep he spoke with had never even seen these fees before - so it's pretty weird.

I can't figure out how to get grocery store coupons at my grocery store. I know, first world problems. But our grocery store sends out a little coupon book with coupons that don't appear anywhere else! I used to get the book automatically when we lived in an apartment building, but not anymore. I've signed up with the grocery store, given them my address, subscribed to their email newsletter, used their loyalty card - I'm handing over all sorts of information about my shopping habits and I'm not getting any coupons out of it! Tomorrow when I go in (knowing all about the sales that I can't access without that coupon book, thanks to their newsletter), I'm going to go ask the customer service desk what gives. I may also start buying the Sunday paper for the manufacturer's coupons, to see if it's worth a subscription.

What's new with you? 
 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

More on health insurance

Yesterday I finally sucked it up and made some calls regarding the $700 ultrasound I was quietly freaking out about. Turns out, there is a location that can do the procedure for an estimated $150 - TOTAL - and they are also closer to my house with more convenient hours. Win-win-win!

I called my doctor's office to ask for a referral to that location, and am just waiting on a call back so I can set up the appointment. Whew!

This is good, because the bill I had to pay to get the referral to the $700 place....was also $700. *headdesk*

Here's the thing: all that research I did last year regarding private dental insurance and high deductible medical insurance is really great in theory - but when I have to actually pay that high deductible out of pocket, it hurts. We've been building up a stronger emergency fund after buying a house (and buying jeeps, and paying taxes...) so we didn't have the full $3,000 deductible set aside separate from our emergency fund, which we probably should have. We can pay this bill (and truthfully, we could pay the $700 ultrasound bill, too) in cash, but it puts a dent in our overall savings plan.

Not to mention that because medical insurance is a pre-tax deduction, it's not like I actually got $2,300 more per year in my paychecks once I opted out of my company's plan. Will the high deductible plan save us money at the end of the year? Maybe - but I'm already a third of the way to the point where it will be more expensive than if we'd stayed with my company's insurance, and the year is only a third over. So...maybe not.

I think this is one of those things that no amount of reading or predicting will actually prepare you for. We're locked into this situation for the rest of 2012, but we will be revisiting it during open enrollment in October.

I wish I could tie my experiences into the larger health care discussion, but to be honest, the one thing I've learned from this is that it's nearly impossible to predict how a particular scenario will play out until you're actually in it. That's why I'm very cautious about anyone on either side of the debate who says with any authority that a certain outcome is guaranteed.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

We have a winner!

We have a winner for the $50 textbook credit! Random.org selected entry #4



Which means that Michelle P from Making Sense of Cents has won!How fitting that she'll use it towards textbooks for an investment class and MBA!

Thank you and best wishes to everyone who entered.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Well, call me Susie Homemaker

Wow, y'all. I'm in awe of myself right now.

Got home from work, made a frittata. It turned out delicious!

After dinner, I made strawberry rhubarb freezer jam - with rhubarb I picked from my own backyard! It's resting now, so I don't know how it tastes....but there's enough sugar in it that it's got to be good. Also, I did not make a hugely gigantic mess, despite not having any proper canning gear.

While the jam was going, I also made homemade fire starters, using dryer lint, egg cartons, and wax. Oh, yes. I have become that person. After testing them out, I may even sell them on Etsy. Isn't that the pinnacle of financial smarts - selling my used dyer lint on a crafty website?!



I'm really liking this urban homesteader kick. If you've got any blog or book recommendations for me, please send them my way!

Linkfest - rhubarb edition

The awkward tip from last Monday's Smart, Pretty and Awkward is brilliant - a perfect primer for your next meetup or networking event.

For bloggers who are worried about being hacked - how to scan your site for free.

20Something Finance takes on electricity costs - I just found out that my local library rents out Kill-A-Watts! I'll be signing up to get one and we'll see what kinds of savings I can reap as well.

A super neat thing offered by Hennepin County here in Minnesota - Citizens Academy. Learn about how roads are plowed, visit the jail and court, see the dump - what cool things! I want to attend one of these courses in the future and this would be a really cool thing to bring kids to as well!

Gretchen at The Happiness Project has such a knack for getting me to think about happiness in a totally different way. Last week's suggestion was to find a comfort food for your mind! I have a couple comfort foods for my mind, although it never occurred to me to identify them that way before. They are:
* reading an engaging novel
* having a clean home
* the "during" of a great yoga practice

It can be hard to gear myself up sometimes to clean or do yoga - but if I think about the benefits as comfort food for my happiness, I might be less procrastinatory towards them!

Consumerist linked to Money Under 30's post about the costs of having a baby - and while there's lot of good stuff in the original post, the comments on the Consumerist post are also worth a read!

"You won't ever have enough money until you realize that you already have more than enough money." This quote from Trent's Reader Mailbag is really sticking with me today. What a great reminder for me.

This weekend Peanut and I harvested the first few stalks off our amazing rhubarb plant from our backyard. Tonight I'll be making some strawberry-rhubarb freezer jam, but it's apparent that we're going to have a TON of rhubarb to go through all summer long. If you've got any great rhubarb recipes, please leave them in the comments!!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Liar, liar, pants on fire

Whoa!

Inspired by So Over Debt's crazy plagiarism story, I ran a quick google search on random sentences from every guest and sponsored post I have ever accepted, and what do you know - a post I accepted last June was not an original post.

I'm unclear at this point whether it was a plagiarized post or a simple re-using of the exact same content by the same author, but I don't really care. I was promised an original and unpublished post, and the post had appeared in its entirety elsewhere only two weeks beforehand. I try to assure a certain kind of quality in the guest and sponsored posts that I accept, and one stipulation is that it needs to be unique content, something that isn't being plastered all over town. I know guest and sponsored posts aren't the most fun thing to read as a reader, so I do try to vet them before posting and I mark them clearly with tags and at the top of posts or in the header, so that readers who want to skip them can easily do so.

Because I believe in publicly flogging people who do sucky things like that, here's a warning for other bloggers: avoid DebtWatchers.net if they contact you regarding a guest post!

In future, all guest and sponsored posts will be verified for originality. I'm sorry I didn't catch the DebtWatchers.net duplicity, but I'll be watching for it going forward.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Negotiating medical costs

So now that Peanut and I are on a high-deductible health care plan, we are facing something of a crossroads - what do you do when the cost of the care makes you wince?

I have a cyst in my breast. I had an ultrasound done on it five years ago when it was discovered to make sure it wasn't anything more serious, and it was basically no big deal. It doesn't bother me and it doesn't appear to have changed in the time since a previous doctor found it. My new doctor wants me to get another ultrasound to confirm that it hasn't grown or changed in five years, as a benchmark. She noted that the location is exactly the same as last time, and the size is exactly the same, but an ultrasound would provide a second data point in case I had future issues. I see the logic in that, so I agreed to have it done.

However.

An ultrasound is really freaking expensive! The place she referred me to costs $600 for the facility fee, plus there's a radiologist fee that I haven't been able to determine yet. That's totally out of pocket for a scan of something that doesn't bother me and isn't likely to determine anything new and really wouldn't even help diagnose anything in the long run in the future. Ouch!

My insurance company's website indicates that there's a different facility with a significantly cheaper negotiated cost, so I'm going to call the doctor back and explain that $600+ is just too steep for a basically unnecessary procedure, but I'm happy to get it done if she'd like to refer me to the other location. I feel a little weird about this - I've never discussed financials with my care providers, because I've always had insurance that had a $20 or so co-pay and then I'd go on my merry way. And it kind of feels like arguing with doctor's orders, but I just can't stomach paying close to $1,000 for something that really doesn't seem necessary to me at all.

What would you do? Have you faced something like this before?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Giveaway! Enter to win free books for a semester

CampusBookRentals.com is a site that offers textbook rentals to save the cost of buying textbooks from the local campus shop. I rented textbooks a few times in graduate school, and the price difference was really astounding. (Example: the Norton Anthology of American literature is nearly $50 on Amazon and likely a whole bunch more at your campus shop, but just about $20 to rent for the semester.)

One of the neat things about CampusBookRentals.com is that they donate to Operation Smile, an organization that raises funds to provide cleft lip surgeries for children who could otherwise not afford it. I really like supporting companies that give back in some manner, so I was very pleased when CampusBookRentals.com reached out to me with an offer for my readers.

Those of you who are in school or know someone who's in school - how would you like $50 towards your textbooks next semester? If you're interested, enter per the instructions below. I'll draw a winner on Monday, April 9. 

Mandatory Entry: Leave a comment letting me know which classes you'd be renting books for. 
Extra entry (+1): Tweet about the giveaway and leave a comment with a link to your tweet (once per day).
Extra entry (+5): Blog about the giveaway and leave a comment with a link to your post (one time).

Full disclosure: I was not paid or otherwise compensated for this post, but the sponsor has provided the prize.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

March Recap/April Goals

March Goals
1. Figure out how to fund 2012 Roths. Sort of figured - we've started transferring $1,000 per month into our savings account with the intent of maxing out the Roths at the end of the year. I'd like to do it throughout the year, but the reality is that our spending has been really unpredictable lately and it makes more sense to stay as liquid as possible right now.

2. Book my April trip. Plane ticket booked. I still need to plan for food and fun spending, but otherwise I'm set!

3. STREAMLINE. Success! March was an amazingly productive month for me, both at work and at home, and I'm very pleased.

4. Take it easy physically. Pretty good. I kept up with yoga despite my hyperextended knee, and I've been working on a home practice that's designed to deal with the repetitive strain I'm starting to feel in my elbows.

5. Read my car's owner's manual and plan maintenance. Yes, for fun, I read our car's owner's manual. I know, my dazzling life is hard to keep up with sometimes. In it, I learned that we should change the oil every 4,000 miles - not every 3,000, but not every 5,000 either. So, at this point, I am slightly overdue for an oil change, but at least I didn't get it done at 3,000 and waste money.

April Goals
1. Get the oil changed. Needs to happen!

2. Set a budget for my trip. And stick to it! I'm really only covering food and fun, so it shouldn't be that much. But I want to still set an intention and stick to it.

3. Have a low-key birthday. My birthday falls in the middle of the month and I want to keep it simple this year, but I still want to mark it.

4. Try four new recipes. Pinterest has been giving me all sorts of ideas for recipes to try...but that's only useful if I use them!

5. Clean out the filing cabinet. It hasn't been done in a while and it should be.

What are your goals for the month? 

 

March Spending Review

Blogging $24.00
Bank Fees $6.45
Business expenses (deductable) $3.89
Car $138.43
Charity $10
Clothing $34.31
Entertainment $29
Food—dining out $293.36
Food—groceries $373.95
Gifts $41.57
Household items $305.33
House $1677.64
Hygiene/Medical $128.63
Jeep $4,449.84
Student loans $403.83
Transportation $50.02
Travel $155.60
Utilities $362.73

Total Spending: $8,488.58

Things of note: 

Yes, well, the jeep. We got a pretty good deal on it, all things considered, and it made one of Peanut's dreams come true.

We bought paint and some outdoor seating for our house - I'm trying to hold off for the lawn furniture sales, but we did get two chairs from Home Depot and then another two from an estate sale. Soon I'll be putting pansies or something in the window boxes!

How'd you do with March spending?

Linkfest

This post is brought to you by the first fire that we made in our fire pit in our backyard. I am delighted with our house, and my delight grows with every warm and sunny day.

A lot of One Frugal Girl's ways to waste less time apply to everyone, not just mothers of newborns! My favorites, and the ones I've had a lot of success with myself, are 1) to read Google reader in list view, skimming headlines and clicking only the articles that really interest me, and 2) to stop requesting all the freebies just because they're free!

I'm not over ee musings' post on pf topics she's over! My pet peeve is the post apologizing for not posting regularly, with no actual content!

Small Notebook continues easing our lives with tips for keeping your medicine cabinet organized. I grew up with boxes the same way she describes, but since my parents were in medicine, our boxes said things like "contusions", "analgesics", and "surgery". Mine are a little simpler nowadays, but I do like to keep things grouped together and neat. Today's big success was finally unpacking our "linen closet" - the upstairs spare bedroom - of all things beauty and medicine related. I now have drawers for "face stuff", "body stuff", "hair stuff", and "travel" (all those little sample sizes!).

Nerd alert - I love diagramming sentences. I don't do it on a regular basis or anything, but if my mind starts to wander, I sometimes catch myself diagramming sentences in my head. So I really loved this New York Times blog piece about the history of the practice and whether it's relevant anymore - or ever was.

Another hit from Small Notebook this week - help your future self. Keeping this in mind did a lot for me in terms of helping me set up routines for going to bed on time and taking my lunches to work and that sort of thing.

Her Every Cent Counts ponders what if I don't want to be a leader? I had this thought on and off for a few years before we left New York, and I gradually came to the conclusion that I really don't want to be a leader. I'd rather have my life be my life than be The Boss, the one who has to deal with all the Problems and make all the Decisions and ultimately be Responsible. I'd rather show up to work and then leave work at work and go home where I'm building the life I'd prefer to be living. It's weird to think about sometimes - like there's no room for growth at my job except becoming the boss of my department when my current boss leaves, but I don't think I'd want that. So I'm not sure where that leaves me in terms of what I'd do instead, but it feels a lot better than stressing over actually getting her job and when and all that.