Saturday, June 30, 2012

Linkfest: Long June Edition

I'm back from all my work travels and I'm mostly over the jetlag and caught up on laundry. I'm looking forward to a quiet few weeks!

If you read only one link from this post, please let it be this one!
This article at Rolling Stone is one of the most moving, scary accounts of the recession I've ever read. I read it sitting in my backyard, keenly aware of how truly lucky I've been in every step of my life, and how very easily it could all crumble away. Not something I'm frequently reminded of, but frankly, it's an important lesson to remember.

There's some great stuff in this article at the Atlantic about why women still can't have it all. I particularly agree with the line "Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work." I think that's generally true for both men and women, but probably a little more true for women.

A tricky thing about our modern life is how to get copies of pictures you're in or that were taken by other people - when they're just posted to Facebook, no one gets copies made anymore! Lifehacker has a great tutorial about how to automatically get your hands on digital doubles.


Trent recommends you check out the library - it's not just for books anymore! I've mentioned before on here that my library even lends out Kill-A-Watts so you can check the electricity usage in your home - for free!

I have bad luck when it comes to TV - if I like a show, that means it'll be cancelled, probably in the middle of the season. Luckily, I09 comes to my rescue with a list of books for fans of cancelled TV shows.

Harkening back to my first link, Trent talks about the value of family-friendly benefits. Peanut and I effectively made this trade-off - we went with much lower salaries for the chance to own a home, have a little more space, and work less time-intensive jobs so that eventually we'll be able to have a family and actually be around to enjoy it!
 
Money Mate Kate details the steps she recommends for dealing with travel mishaps - great advice from a seasoned traveler! Don't spend your time in line at the airport, whining to a harried customer service rep - take the opportunity to see some sites while you're stranded.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Linkfest!

Don't be a hot mess! I can't agree more with Steph on her rant about 20-something women. It's not cute to be ignorant about your finances. It's not responsible to refuse to learn how to support yourself. And it is not sexy to be a hot mess!

Great posts from The Frugal Girl about how she plans her menu, especially coming up with menu ideas. This remains a challenge for me! What are your tricks for coming up with fresh, healthy menu plans on a regular basis?

Money Saving Mom asks the readers for their most frugal recipes - and there are some great ones in the comments!

Krystal at Give Me Back My Five Bucks writes about how to survive unemployment. I'm very lucky to have been employed consistently (even overlapping-ly!) since I started working full time, but that's not the case for everyone, especially in this economy. I totally agree with her on all points, especially on applying for unemployment assistance!

I haven't been doing the #couponchallenge long enough to notice this happening, but I sure HOPE my budget isn't increasing instead of decreasing! (via Money Saving Mom) It can be tricky to not buy something just because it's on sale plus a coupon - but if I wouldn't buy it at full price, I don't need to buy it at half price or cheaper, either.

Here's a guide to scouting out the best Target clearance deals - I've been rather wary of Target, even though I found that many of their food items are cheaper than my local grocery store. It's just way too easy to also "stock up" on other things that I don't need while I'm there.

This is an excellent essay on why privacy is important - even if you've got nothing to hide.

A summer bucket list from Ready Set Simplify! Here's what's on mine:
** Go watch at least one free movie in a park
** Go to a drive-in movie theater (I haven't been since I was a little kid!)
** Sit in my backyard and drink lemonade (okay, I've been doing that one for weeks....)
** Go to a wave pool
** Read lots of books

Every once in a while I am totally wowed by a company that "gets" what technology can do to help them better serve their customers. I just got wowed by UPS. One Frugal Girl posted about a service called UPS My Choice, which registers your name and address and then will send you an email the day before they try to deliver a package - IMMENSELY helpful for those packages that you're not expecting! I've signed up and I can't wait to see how it works.

Lifehacker lists some bizarre food pairings that help to boost the nutritional value of both! Broccoli and mustard? Okay, sure!

I'm off on my second work trip of the month, so I'll be scarce around the blogosphere over the next week. Never fear - I am #couponchallenging away!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mid-Month Goal Check-Up

It's already the middle of June so here's my mid-month goal check-up to make sure I'm still on schedule.

1.  Find a long-arm quilting rental place. I have done some research on where I can go to do this, but I need to measure my quilts and do some calculations. The places I'm considering require a class in order to use their machines (makes sense) which increases the cost substantially over what I was expecting. It may be more cost effective to hire someone to quilt these pieces for me instead. It's not quite as personal, maybe, but no doubt they will be quilted better than I could do!

2. Continue the #couponchallenge. Ongoing! I'm researching a newspaper subscription right now.

3. Keep careful track of my spending. Doing much better than last month - during my first work trip of the month, I tracked everything to the penny, so that was great. I just have to do that on my second trip, too!

4. Be gentle on myself. Going pretty well. I've been careful not to fill up my evenings and weekends since I'm spending half this month traveling for work, and I'm feeling pretty good - not overwhelmed or irritable.

How are your June goals going?


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Coupon Challenge #4: Watching for Sales to Match Coupons

Don't worry - I haven't fallen of the couponing bandwagon, but I've been doing some traveling so I haven't been doing as much grocery shopping lately!

At any rate, I feel like I'm sort of getting the hang of things a little bit. I've got a nice stockpile of coupons going on, and I'm starting to figure out how to match up those coupons with sales to get the best bang for my buck.

First, I've signed up for circulars - both paper and digital - with the stores in my area. One grocery store already delivers paper circulars to the mailbox of residents in my area, so that's nice. I've taken to reading through the circulars in detail, paying special attention to any store coupons that are contained within. I make a note of the dates during which the sale or coupon prices are good, and try to plan my shopping within those dates. I think I've only managed one stacking deal (store coupon + manufacturer's coupon) but it's still early days.

One of the ways that this sale + coupon method works best is learning how to stock up. The price book is helping me to identify "stock up prices" -- prices that are the best available for a certain food item (below $2/box for cereal - that sort of thing) and I'm also keeping an eye out for products for which I'm brand-loyal (Arm & Hammer toothpaste). When either the stock up prices are available or a store coupon + manufacturer's coupon deal is around, even if I'm not almost out of toothpaste or whatever, it's time to stock up as much as possible.

Watching the circulars for sales has also inspired me to go hunting for specific manufacturer's coupons - if I don't already have one in my stash, it's worth visiting the company's website and Facebook page to see if I can find one there.

A surprising lesson I've learned this week is to shop for personal care items at the grocery store. Generally, we're told that the grocery store is a bad place to buy things like health care items, cosmetics, or other products. But in several cases, I've found that my grocery store is as cheap as or cheaper than Target (or in the case of my preferred deodorant, they carry it and Target doesn't!) or a drug store like Walgreens. This can be extra valuable because my grocery store doubles coupons once a week, and neither Target nor any drug stores near me do that. I could have saved an extra $2 this past weekend if I'd realized this about twelve hours sooner than I did.

If you're doing the #couponchallenge, how's it going for you? What are you learning about the stores in your area?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Linkfest!

Growing potatoes in a bag? Why, I don't think I mind if I do!

JD Roth asks why don't people talk about money? I definitely agree with him about fear of judgment being a factor. A year ago, I wrote about being shy about how much I made. Now that I've taken a substantial paycut by moving away from New York, has my situation changed? I have no reason to be embarrassed that I make more than them - if anything, I now make less than they do (with a comparably lower cost of living, of course). But, no - I still feel icky talking about how much I make, because I'm afraid they would judge me for giving up a good salary in New York for so much less in the midwest. It's completely bizarre. Peanut and I are always wondering about our friends' financial situations, but we would never ask. We have been very open about the house-buying process, but beyond that...I don't know, it gets squicky.  How do you feel about talking about money with people you know in real life?

Krystal at Give Me Back My Five Bucks talks about adding an egg to ramen noodles to increase the flavor and health factors. I regularly add frozen veggies to my ramen as it's boiling, but I have never added an egg. Have you? I'm tempted to try one of her suggestions next time!

Packaging that's designed to keep you from using all the product is an annoyance of mine - Squawkfox goes in depth on precisely how much of her lipstick is unavailable to her, and how to get to it. There are lots of great ideas in the comments for other products!

Hey #couponchallengers: printable coupons for June! And some natural and organic coupons!

Two interesting discussions about the modern loss of privacy. I try to be reasonable about protecting my privacy - I have different email addresses for different purposes, I don't save my credit card information anywhere, and I don't fill out any more than the minimum information necessary on social networking sites (and not all of that is 100% accurate...). I do feel that it's a probably to lose privacy, because once given up, it's hard to recover.

Budget and the Beach has a very interesting post on the morals of frugality - Bending the Rules (to save a buck or two). My take? Stealing is defined as depriving someone else of the use of something they are legitimately entitled to. So, sitting in unfilled better seats at a volleyball tournament? No harm, no foul - presumably if the rightful seatholders had shown up, they would have moved. Parking without paying? A risk I wouldn't personally take, because of the risk of a higher fee to pay a parking ticket. Filling up shampoo bottles from home with the gym's expensive stuff? Definitely stealing. Unsecured wi-fi....well, using it doesn't "deprive" the owner so I don't have a problem with that - but I sure wouldn't do anything where my information could be captured over it! Where do you draw the line at bending the rules to save money?

This is a fantastic article about e-book piracy and even more great thoughts in the comments, about e-book pricing and value.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

#couponchallenge Step 3: Organizing Coupons

Okay, I've got my price book so I can spot a good sale and I'm collecting coupons so I can pair them with a sale. How am I going to keep track of all this?

I'm doing a sort of combined organization method.

For printable coupons, I'm only printing what I'm 99% sure I'll use (there's a cost associated  to getting these coupons, after all!). Then I'm clipping and filing those by type (food, personal care items, cleaning products, store coupons, etc).

But I'm saving the entire coupon insert, and will just peruse and clip what I need before shopping. If I don't end up using any insert coupons before they expire, I'll save them and when I've got a big stack, I'll mail them to the military where they are usable despite old expiration dates.

For emailed coupons, I'm only checking that account right before I go shopping, so I'm not tempted to buy something I wasn't planning to.

One lesson I unpleasantly learned last week: KEEP THE COUPONS IN THE CAR. This makes for a wee bit of hassle when creating a shopping list, but let's be honest: I am much more likely to unexpectedly swing by the grocery store on my way home than I would like to admit, and the coupons won't do me one lick of good sitting nicely organized on my desk at home. So. The coupons stay in the car unless they are actively being sorted, clipped, organized, or consulted for list-making purposes. Hopefully that will increase my usage dramatically.

As for what I am using to organize them? Well, the inserts are in a stack held together with a binder clip, and the clipped coupons are in a plastic envelope that used to be my "envelope system" when I was on a cash-only basis my first few years in New York. I've no idea where that thing came from, but I've had it at least nine years and it's still going strong.

How do you organize your coupons?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Linkfest!

I love this question and the comments at Money Saving Mom - ideas for meatless meals that men will eat. I don't want to rag on Peanut, but he does fall into that stereotype of not liking a lot of my vegetarian meals. (Of course, I have been known to have a can of green beans and a piece of bread and butter for dinner, so he may have a point.) Anyway, there are a lot of things on there that I think BOTH of us would enjoy!

Two more great fill-your-freezer recipes from Money Saving Mom - chocolate chip cookie dough (YES) and energy bites.


Two questions in one of Trent's recent mailbag posts gave me some interesting thoughts. Are you a cash-spender or a cash-hoarder? (I have, at different times, been both. Right now, I think I'm a cash-hoarder. I hate spending cash!) And if you have a two-person household, how do you decide which hobbies are "too expensive" - especially when they're not yours? Luckily Peanut and I have not had a disagreement about this, even though we both have some could-be-expensive hobbies.

Two useful posts for those in the #couponchallenge: How to Use Coupons to Save Money and How I Reduced Our Grocery Bill by $80 in One Month.

The effects of comparison on happiness are almost always happiness-reducing.

Statistically, right now, your 401(k) is not that great of an investment vehicle. But here's what to do about it!

This looks just like the kind of book I'd like to read: The End of Money.

And lastly, The Nation eloquently highlights a number of the reasons I avoid doing business with Amazon - along with some new ones.

What good posts have you seen around the web this week?
 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Price book surprises

So I have already had a number of surprises from this little price book experiment. I wish I had done this years before!

First of all, Target groceries are CHEAP. I had convinced myself that Target APPEARED to have cheap groceries but in reality their prices were not good compared to the grocery store, but you know what? I WAS WRONG. There, I said it on the internet.

Here are some of the amazing deals I found at Target compared to my local grocery store:

Morningstar Farms products (the only meat substitutes I purchase) - Regularly around $5.25 at my grocery store. Target's standard price is TWO FULL DOLLARS cheaper, plus they seem to be on sale all the time for 2/$6. Pair that with some $1 off coupons, and I wind up with fake sausages and burgers for $2/box - a full $3.25 savings EACH.

Condiments and some staples. Targets prices on ketchup, salad dressing, bread, dried cranberries, flour, sugar, frozen dinners, pasta and sauce, canned soup, tortillas, crackers, canned vegetables and chili, and a number of other products range from a few cents per ounce cheaper to nearly half price. My sale "stock-up" price on frozen dinners at the regular grocery store is Target's standard price.

Hygiene products. Okay, not groceries, but Target's prices for things I regularly purchase where I am brand loyal (toothpaste, etc) are substantially cheaper than local drug store chains.

However, Target is not cheaper on everything. Their produced isn't consistently cheaper, but is a far smaller selection and what's available is frequently shrinkwrapped unnecessarily. Their eggs and milk are WAY more expensive than the grocery store. And so far, neither can come close to beating Costco on the price for certain things, including peanut butter, which we go through very quickly.

Basically, what I've learned from this exercise is that my assumptions cannot be trusted. I've signed up for Target's circular along with my grocery store (luckily, they are in the same complex) and will be splitting my grocery shopping between the two in order to maximize my savings. The grocery store could still be a better deal if I can pair a sale with a store coupon + manufacturer's coupon, or on double coupon days (which Target doesn't have) but it seems that making dividing my shopping could pay off fairly quickly with regular purchases.

Have you ever discovered that one store is substantially cheaper, much to your surprise?
 

Friday, June 1, 2012

May Spending Review

Alcohol $9
Business expenses (deductable) $3.89
Business expenses (reimbursable) $744.73
Car $187.33
Charity $10
Clothing $39.95
Entertainment $6
Food—dining out $246.51
Food—groceries $354.62
Gifts $244.97
Household items $6
House $1,392.29
Hygiene/Medical $662.91
Jeep $43.33
Student loans $403.83
Transportation $50
Utilities $323.52
Yoga $40

Total Spending: $4,768.88

Things of note:

UGGGHHHH, the FOOD SPENDING. Eating out was not so bad, but do you see why I wanted to do a #couponchallenge to bring down the grocery bill? I don't even know what the deal was here - we had two small trips to Costco (less than $30 each) and then just, I don't know, we seemed to go to the grocery store every day for something or other, and dropped like $15 each time It really adds up!

The car fund is a little higher than normal, but not because we drove more - no, we got a parking ticket! This is the second parking ticket I've ever received in my life (the first was on the moving truck in New York City) so I was kind of excited, despite being also bummed. Now we know how to read those meters that take credit cards and make you select a dollar amount instead of a time limit. Expensive lesson!

Gifts covers both the Mother's Day flowers that weren't and were, along with a bachelorette party and wedding gift for some friends. That's our last wedding for a long time!

And our utilities look a little higher than usual, too, but that's because while I was traveling at the end of last month, Peanut paid all the bills - except the electric bill. Their website requires lots of steps, and he didn't realize he missed the last one, so we got a notice that we were late and were dinged a whole dollar as a late fee. Whoops!

Between what we spent on groceries, the parking ticket, and forgetting to pay our electric bill, I'm surprised my pf blogger card has not been revoked this month. At least we managed to put money into savings this month - that sort of helps balance things out.

How'd your May spending go? Any plans for June?
 

May Recap / June Goals

May Goals
1. Start trying to live on one income again. Success! For this month anyway. We transferred the equivalent of my salary and Peanut's recent freelance work into savings - so we're headed in a positive direction once again!

2. Bring homemade lunch to work three times a week. I'm a little surprised at this one - but it was a success! Frozen lunches had just gotten too easy, but I have to say I definitely enjoyed my homemade ones (either leftovers or a big salad) a lot more.

3. Sort through the stuff my mom brought me. I give myself a success on this - I did consolidate down to get rid of two boxes, and everything is at least *put away*. But I didn't sort through all the boxes of papers and keepsakes - not yet, anyway.

4. Get back into the yoga home practice habit. This was a big fat fail. I think I did home yoga twice all month. I thought about it a little more than I had been, but I didn't actually DO it.

5. Break out and USE the super handy-dandy house maintenance and cleaning schedule that I created and stuck on a shelf. Sort of. Peanut and I did some house maintenance and deep cleaning, but we are not on the schedule that I would like to be on. That's another to keep working on.

June Goals
1.  Find a long-arm quilting rental place. I have now finished two complete quilt tops and am about to start on a third - but I don't want to try machine quilting on my machine. Apparently there are quilt stores where you can go in and rent a long-arm machine by the hour to finish up your projects, and I want to find one this month. I'm not sure I'll get to actually GO, but I want to do the research.

2. Continue the #couponchallenge. It's going pretty good so far, but there are a number of tips from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Couponing that I haven't implemented yet - I'd like to keep doing what I'm doing (price book, collecting coupons, matching to sales) and add to it those points out of the book that I haven't done yet (post on that to come!).

3. Keep careful track of my spending. Peanut and I have been a little lax in our spending tracking lately. We're still doing it, but every few weeks we realize that we have frittered away some cash with no receipt or memory of where it got spent. It drives me up the wall to see "balancing" as a transaction description, so I want to do my best to enter my numbers in consistently every day.

4. Be gentle on myself. I am traveling for two weeks out of June, and the time that I'm not traveling is already lining up to be extremely busy at work. I have been looking forward to my trips for a long time, but I know how I get when I overschedule myself. As such, only four goals this month!