Monday, October 21, 2013

Something I can't believe I pay for

I think everyone has those things that they are kind of embarrassed to admit they pay for. Here's mine:

I pay someone to trim my cat's nails.

I can't believe I do this. It seems like such a basic thing to do myself, but I can't. I had a traumatic experience trimming a cat's nails too short a long time ago, and I happened to adopt the world's most skittish cat, who freaks out if you walk into a room - forget trying to grab his paw. He also happens to be pretty kneady (ha ha!) and the scratching post does not handle keeping his talons to a reasonable non-pointy level, so I take him in every other month or so and have the vet or groomer give him a good clipping. (Ironically, he is incredibly well-behaved and compliant for them, and they finish all four paws by the time I'm done paying for the service. I'm sure they do not believe me when I tell them why I can't do it.)
It costs me $10-12 each time, say $60 over the course of a year. Not a boatload of money, no, but that would be a nice dinner out for Peanut and I if I can ever get over myself and do this at home.
What do you spend money on that you can't believe you pay for?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: I love this post from ParentHacks, about inexpensive things that make life easier. I second the suggestion for easily matchable flatware - I only wish I'd done the same for glasses. That way when you need just a few extra forks or spoons or drinking glasses, you don't have to buy a whole set. 

Thing the Second: I'm a big fan of science fiction and fantasy. I've read all the Hugo and Nebula award winners in chronological order up through the early 2000s, but here's another great way to look at that list - favorites as ranked by fans and genre blogs. My favorites: Ender's Game, almost anything by Heinlein, and The Hitchhiker's Guide series.

Thing the Third: As usual, Trent's got some great advice. The way to think about the best value of something is more than just its price. Put your dollars behind your values, and be willing to spend a bit more for things that are worth it to you. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Recent frugal wins

Here are some frugal things I've been up to recently:

* Shopping at Aldi more. I go there about every other week to stock up on things that I can't get as cheaply at my grocery store.

* Pairing coupons and sales more effectively at my regular grocery store. This week, I got $98 worth of stuff for $56 (42% cheaper!!!). I think that's my best yet! Unfortunately, I also learned that I need to bring my entire coupon holder with me, because there were a few unadvertised sales that I had coupons for, and I could have paid at least $5 less and gotten more stuff.

* Saying no. I hosted a themed party and really wanted an accessory to wear to go with the theme. I managed to talk myself out of it every time I went shopping, and saved $6.

* Getting free stuff! I passed a beautiful dollhouse and doll stroller in someone's front yard last weekend. They kind of looked like they were free for the taking, but there was no sign and I didn't want to assume. When they were still there several hours later, I rang the bell and asked after them. And came home with them! Baby M will love these things when she's older, and they're exactly the sort of thing I'd be keeping an eye out for at garage sales or consignment. But free is even better than cheap! (Plus I saved some perfectly useful stuff from being sent to the landfill.)

* Repairing our basement after the flood. Peanut and I have hung all the drywall and started prepping the walls for painting. It's a lot of work, but so far all our expenses have been covered by insurance and I think we will come out ahead if we can do all the work ourselves.

* Keeping an eye on my investments. I rolled my old 401(k) from work into an IRA, and while doing so I checked out the fees that all of my retirement accounts are charging. One of them was twice the other, so I made some changes to keep more of my own money in my old age.

What frugal wins have you had lately?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Getting ready for winter

Winter in Minnesota comes early, stays late, and drinks all the booze in your house. The nights here are already quite crisp, and Peanut and I had a lot of work to do in the yard before the snow starts, so we took a whack at things last weekend.

We have a beautifully landscaped backyard, which we had nothing to do with. After living in our house for two summers, we had a pretty good idea what plants we liked and which we didn't, and we knew we wanted to add a more effective area for growing our own food - currently we've been planting zucchini and tomatoes and green peppers sort of wherever we saw a space. I got $120 for a focus group a few weeks ago, and we decided to try to do all our garden prep for that amount of money.

To start, we ripped out the bushes at the front of our house - they were big and ugly and required a lot of pruning and really added no character at all. Once they were gone, we moved six autumn sedum joy plants from the backyard to the front - much nicer looking! In the spring, you'll be able to see our windowboxes for the first time. As a bonus, we got to save some plants that I liked but were in the way in the backyard, and didn't have to buy new plants for the front.

We ripped up a bunch of stuff from the back as well - things that were taking over from where they'd originally been planted, or that attract lots of flies. There's a strip of garden along the path to the garage that we are going to clear out entirely. Then we'll build a raised bed and do a lasagna garden like Frugal by Choice describes, and leave it all winter. Hopefully in the spring, we won't really need to do any prep to the soil, but it will be ready to plant with all sorts of delicious stuff. The soil we have in the backyard is pretty sandy and full of clay, so if this works it will save us a lot on buying good growing dirt.

Aside from that, we just need to clear out the old ornamental grasses and dead lilies and that sort of thing. We'll probably only need to mow once or twice more, and then our yard can be shut up for winter.

Are you doing any outdoor winterizing?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I'm disgusted

I have been only sort of half-heartedly following the news about the government shut-down, partly because listening to the news too much makes me really stressed out and partly because I'm so disgusted with Congress for doing this. I mean, on the one hand, using the tools available (such as allowing the government to shut down rather than pass a spending bill) is an important thing to be able to do. BUT taking a day off before the shut-down rather than working on coming to an agreement, and accepting paychecks while refusing to work are really nasty. It makes me want to learn more about who's doing this, so I can vote them out of office next time around.

I don't get into party politics too much around here, and I won't this time, either. But this government shut-down might have a pretty devastating financial impact on my family, and I want to talk about it. I've seen a lot of comments on Facebook and elsewhere about how families receiving assistance such as WIC should "suck it up" and "get a job" and that sort of thing. (WIC is affected by the government shut-down, although the impact varies by state.) WIC is saving my family from nearly $700 per month in specialized formula costs. Despite being exclusively tube-fed, Baby M doesn't have the exact right diagnosis to have our insurance cover her formula, which is the most specialized, expensive type available. This isn't something that there are coupons for, or even something I can pick up at Target. It has to be purchased at a pharmacy or home health products company. We are extremely fortunate that Baby M's birth weight qualifies her for state aid as a secondary insurance, and as part of that WIC covers her formula expenses.

We're very lucky in so many ways and I realize that. Peanut has a good, stable job and I am able to stay home. We have excellent health care coverage. But we could not afford Baby M's formula out of pocket without spending down our savings, and it would be medically detrimental - possibly dangerous - to switch her to a more standard formula right now (though we have a plan for doing that over the next six months, if she handles it). WIC is a crucial part of our health care team, and the government is playing with that coverage with no thought as to what effect it might have on voters.

And we are the lucky ones. There are people who depend on WIC to feed their families regular food, not just special infant formula. These kinds of services are critical to the people who put Congress in office, and shame on our government for not spending money they have already approved on aid that people need. There are other ways to fight Obamacare or to make a point to the president or to get paid to not work. Shame, shame, shame.