Friday, August 30, 2013

When saving money...doesn't

I made a mistake while trying to save money the other day that ended up costing me more than if I'd just not tried in the first place.

I bought a bag of coffee from the grocery store. I had several coupons for different brands, and it was double coupon day. I finally figured out the best deal was on a bag of Starbucks coffee but I got so carried away with the math that I forgot to grind the beans before I left the store. I saved $2, just a bit below what it would have cost me to buy a bag of the kind of coffee I usually buy, which is already ground.

I realized it a few days later, but wasn't planning to go back to the grocery store for a while. I was planning to go to Target, which has a Starbucks inside it, so I took the bag with me. I waited in a long line and briefly explained the situation and the barista nicely agreed to grind it up for me. I felt bad, though, because she was the only one working and there were six people ahead of me and a long line forming behind me as well, so I bought a bottle of Tazo tea for $2.

So, my big coffee money-saving plan was basically a total wash. Except this morning I had a cup of the coffee and, guess what, I just don't like it as much as Seattle's Best. If I could go back in time, I'd just as soon buy a bag of that without a coupon and then I wouldn't have had to deal with any of this nonsense in the first place.

I know this isn't the only time I've done something like this. Have you ever accidentally spent more, or at least broke even, just by trying to save money?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Three from the Simple Dollar

Thing the First:
The best way to save a bunch of money: move. Word! Our money goes a lot further in the midwest than it did in NYC.
Thing the Second: Frugality is not the point - frugality is a means to accomplish your goals.

Thing the Third: The Salad Dressing Principle. Peanut makes his own dressing for all salads (oil, either red wine or balsamic vinegar and some herbs) but I stick stubbornly to my beloved ranch. I hereby promise to take a whack at making my own!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: The surprising true costs of 9 common expenses. The ones that stuck with me the most were smartphones and your job. When I was working outside the home, I had a hard time tallying up any expenses that my job was costing me - but now that I'm eating all my meals at home and not driving most days, it's pretty obvious!
Thing the Second: Yessssss. "The fact is, men can’t have it all, for the same reason women can’t: whether or not the load is being shared 50-50 doesn’t matter if the load is still unbearable. It will not become bearable once women lean in, or once the consciousness is raised, or once men are full partners, always, in domestic life. It will become bearable when decidedly more quotidian things become commonplace—like paid parental leave and affordable, quality day care." This excellent piece in The Atlantic discusses why leaning in won't solve all our problems.
Thing the Third: I'm loving the series about makingunder your finances from Fiscally Chic. What a great way to describe how I feel about paying off our student loans - we have cleared the clutter!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Enslaved

"There are two ways to conquer and enslave a country. One is by the sword. The other is by debt."

I saw this quote, attributed to John Adams, on a billboard alongside the highway a few weeks ago. As I was driving, I was listening to Marketplace Money from American Public Media, this episode about credit and debt. Peanut and I had just paid off his student loans a few days before, and were waiting for the transfer to complete so we could see a zero balance where before there had been a big number. 

So it's no surprise, really, that that quote stuck with me for such a long time. We can be enslaved by so many things - literally, by other people, but also by relationships, by jobs, by ways of living, by the things we own, by the things we tell ourselves. I would guess that debt is the most common enslaver in our modern society. Most people I know have some sort of debt, and I know that some of them are staggering under its burden. 

I don't believe there's some great conspiracy out there where the government or the market or The Man is keeping us all down with debt. But the effect is the same, isn't it? People who are dependent on their jobs to pay their student loans and credit card bills don't have much choice when their boss tells them they need to stay late. They work such long hours that they don't have time to cook from scratch, depending on less-than-ideal prepared foods or fast food, which can cause health problems resulting in medical costs, which mean you have to keep your job so you have health insurance but then you're working long hours and in order to unwind you spend money on entertainment - going to the movies or watching tv, where you see ads that show you all the things you want to buy, but in order to buy them you have to keep working and you're working so much that you have to spend all your money on convenience...it's a vicious cycle that we've gotten ourselves into. 

There's been a lot of research into happiness in the last few decades, and I remember when they discovered that $75,000 per average family (or, more accurately, about $20,000 per person) is the happiest income. Beyond that, additional income does not increase happiness in any measurable way, and well beyond that, it measurably decreases happiness. But we are inundated with messages telling us that we need "more", "better", "new". And if we can't afford it, we can get it on credit and pay it back later. Without even realizing it, we just volunteered to be slaves. David at Raptitude put this in really great perspective a few years ago - Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed

Stepping off the treadmill of work and career advancement has got me thinking about these things in a different light. I really liked my job - I had a very cool career and I got to do some really neat things. But I am happier and more fulfilled in a way that I would not have expected. I don't feel an urge to go shopping and acquire things. It's easy to talk myself out of spending money on non-essentials. I have more fun enjoying free things like going to the park or sitting on the floor making faces at the baby than I ever did going out for happy hour with coworkers. My life has slowed down. I check my email less frequently, and talk to people a lot more. I don't see or hear much advertising, so I don't really know what's "hot" and I don't feel an urge to go buy it. I feel a lot freer, and since we paid off our last non-mortgage debt, freer still. I feel more creative, and have been doing a lot of baking and more cooking. I have been reading books that open my mind and make me think instead of books that just entertain me. Sure, we have less money, but it turns out, we don't miss it as much as I thought we would.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I'm done "engaging with brands"

I'm giving up on product testing sites. I've been a member of some of them for years and years, but I think I'm done.
Part of it is that they've gotten so popular that the products aren't very good - instead of being given a product to sample, I'll be given coupons for that product to give out. Or I'll be sent a cheap marketing trinket with a single-use sample instead of enough of the product to really give it a try. And the social media they ask you to do now! I try to keep my social media personal, not tweet after tweet about products with eight hashtags in each one. I just can't be that chipper.
I'm also done with the paying-you-pennies for your time things like Gigwalk and JingIt. I gave up mystery shopping for a similar reason - my time has a value, and if I'm not getting paid enough for it then I'd rather use it for leisure than trying to monetize every moment of my waking life. I set a dollar value on focus groups a long time ago, and while I've done fewer since then, I've been better compensated.
I was getting irritated with all of these "opportunities", but then I stumbled upon this blog post at Serious Pony and I got serious. At no point in my life, and at no point in the future, am I ever going to think "If only I'd spent more time engaging with brands."

And so, goodbye guerrilla marketing. Goodbye, sites that take a year to earn enough to send me the minimum payment of $10. So long, Facebook pages of brands that I "liked" in order to get a coupon. Syonara to all the advertising disguised as "useful content" that I can "engage" with. My mental resources and my time are not for sale.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The big news reveal

Okay, frugal fans - I hinted at some big news last week, and I finally got confirmation to announce it.

Peanut and I have paid off all our student loans. 

This is CRAZY. This is INSANE. We are now debt-free except for the mortgage. 

We paid a very large lump sum from our savings account, leaving just a small emergency fund. It's enough to handle a couple months of unemployment, or replacement/major repairs for one of our vehicles, or all of our insurance deductibles (but not all of those things at once). It's big enough that I am not panicking, but small enough that I'm going to be watching our spending until we get it built back up again. (Technically, it wiped out all of our sinking funds for car repair and tax payments and deductibles and all that, so we'll build those back up too so we don't have to hit up the emergency fund for everything.)

You might remember I paid off my loans last fall. If we had kept up with only the minimum payments on Peanut's last loan, it would have taken us a little over 11 years to pay it off. We saved almost $4,500 in interest by taking the plunge now.

Overall, in the last seven years we have paid back more than $101,000 on what was originally $71,684 of student loans. (It is outrageous that it took only seven years to increase by 30%!!!) The highest interest rate was 8%, the lowest was 5.01%. I can't even imagine how much we would have paid in interest if we had only done minimum payments over the lives of the loans. Many times the original amounts, that's for sure.

Our reasons for paying off our loans now, when we are down to a single income, are many and varied, and I plan to do more in-depth posts on those reasons soon. But the biggest reason was freedom - it's one less bill to keep up with, one less burden hanging over our heads, one less obligation that could keep us tied to a situation we don't want to be in. In the end, I couldn't justify the pitiful amount we were earning on our savings compared to the amount we were paying in interest, and it made more sense for us to drop to a smaller emergency fund for a little while in order to be able to keep more of our money in the long term.

It's a crazy feeling, guys. Crazy. Wahooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: Oh, man, if you are into sewing AT ALL you need to check out ReFashionista. I can't even tell you how inspired I am. I have already refashioned a couple of things - nothing as interesting as what she does, but I took the turtleneck off a shirt and turned it into a headband. I haven't decided what to do with the shirt yet. I also combined a cardigan with worn elbows and some knee high socks with worn heels into a neat punky little number.

Thing the Second: This article at A Practical Wedding really struck a chord with me. Staying home with Baby M was a no-brainer once we realized the extent of her medical fragility and I realize how very lucky we are that we can afford to protect her this way. Still, it's a choice I am at times uneasy with - depending on Peanut for money, not using my master's degree, leaving a job I liked for an uncertain future. I decided to try embracing caring for our family as my job, and not look at laundry, dishes, or cooking as chores but as aspects of my profession, skills I should become better at and things to reclaim from outsourcing of any kind, and it has helped my attitude a lot. I'm going to read Radical Homemakers - has anyone else read it?

Thing the Third: This looks like an interesting movie: Made in the USA: A 30-Day Journey. The filmmaker spent a month trying to buy only products made in his home country, and discovered that in some cases, it's almost impossible.