Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pre-Vacation Spending Fast

In April, I'm going on my first real vacation in a few years.  I've been on shorter trips recently, of course, but this is the first vacation in a while that's long enough for me to need to make sure all the food in the fridge gets eaten before I leave.  Since I'm a little apprehensive at the idea that I'll be spending money every single day for more than two weeks, I'm going to go on a spending fast before I leave so I won't feel any guilt for splashing out.  I'm pretty good and living low-key while in regular life and then splashing out while on vacation, but I always like to start a vacation with a bit of a deficit, which makes vacation mode out that much sweeter.  There are a few things I'm going to do to set myself up for the most enjoyable travel experience I can get.
  1. I usually try to lose a little weight before I go on a long vacation since I know I will inevitably gain weight while traveling.  Traveling is great in that I will be moving much more than I do at my desk job, but I will also be much more gluttonous.  Losing weight and eating mindfully before setting out on a trip helps me both identify what is real hunger as opposed to just convenience or boredom eating, and it helps ensure that my clothes continue to fit while I'm away.  I also find it much easier to diet before going on a trip, because I know that there is an end point to the diet. I will, of course, be bringing looser or more forgiving clothes on this trip, but I can't wear them every day.  Also, there's really nothing worse in my mind than returning from a trip and immediately feeling guilty for having nothing that fits to wear to work, or having to buy new clothes.
  2. I am going to avoid the grocery store except for the absolute essentials.  I did a January pantry/ freezer cleanout, which got rid of a lot of items that had been lingering in my cupboards for far too long, but I could have actually kept up that cleanout for another month or more easily.  This time around, I have even more incentive to stick to it, so that I can leave the fridge nice and clean for my house/ cat sitter while we're gone.  I'll also, obviously, save money on groceries, which is nice since paying for hotels already has me smarting a bit.  I already have a few restaurant dates on my calendar for before I leave, so buying fewer groceries will help finance eating out, which is kind of the opposite of usual rules of frugality.
  3. I've been doing slightly more online shopping lately. A lot of what I've ordered has been returned, but I've also been looking for "the perfect X", which has necessitated ordering and sending many things back, and just spending more time being tempted by items in online stores.  Since I don't want my house-sitter to have to deal with a large volume of packages, I need to not order anything else until I get back, or just not at all.  Even though I'm being very deliberate with my purchases, this will help me avoid temptation since I won't even be looking.  Even the most deliberate shopper gets tricked sometimes!
  4. I'm doing a very slow and methodical closet clean out.  Travel always forces me to consider the functionality of my clothes, since I need to pack things that are comfortable, move well, clean easily and don't take up too much room/ have too many complicated pieces.  If I'm being honest, that's how I would like my wardrobe to function on a daily basis too, so by analyzing items I currently have, thinking about situations I would wear it and determining how many potential uses I could get out of it, helps me decide if a particular item of clothing is really as useful as I would like it to be.  I've been slowing siphoning things out of my wardrobe since we moved over a year ago, and since I realized I had a bunch of clothes I hadn't really unpacked or missed.  It'll be fun to come home to a closet that is more reflective of what I actually wear, and that will have room for my travel clothes once I've unpacked.
So maybe this all makes me sound like a bit of a crazy person since a lot of it is only tangentially related to travel, but I find that planning a trip unlocks the organizer part of my brain and gets me excited in a 'take on the world' way.  I might as well harness that energy to improve the rest of my life!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Five Frugal Things

Things have been quiet on the frugality front here recently, mostly because we just haven't been very frugal.  Long story short, the fiance and I have been living on one income, under a fair bit of stress, but now things are finally starting to turn back around!  As we're currently readjusting, I'm trying to be sensible about spending, and am a bit pleased with the restraint I've been showing.  So here is a mini pat on the back for me in the form of Non-Consumer Advocate's Five Frugal Things:

1. We moved into a much larger apartment recently, which means that our rent increased.  Fiance has a new job, but didn't start until about a month after we moved.  Despite the vast empty space and the desire to feel completely settled, I have not made a trip to IKEA to buy things to fill it up.  Instead, I've made a couple trips to thrift stores, and have been trolling craigslist for used items.

2. Along the same lines, we now have a balcony and need items to put on it. In particular, fiance, being a guy, immediately wanted a grill.  He was watching craigslist and sending emails to people when he say a curb alert for a free grill.  He managed to get there first and he had the foresight to bring a screwdriver which meant he could dismantle in and fit it in the car while other people kept driving by wondering if the grill was still there.  One tank of propane, a set of grill tools, and a good scrubbing and we have the ability to cook outdoors!

3. The weather today is perfect--warm but not hot, low humidity.  I shut off the a/c and opened the windows.  Our new place is two levels, and the upstairs is getting a lovely breeze, while the downstairs remains cool due to a concrete floor.

4. We have ceiling fans for the first time in YEARS.  I love them, they are perfect at keeping the place cool and not stuffy.

5. While moving, we were able to re-use all of that bubble wrap I acquired to insulate my windows in the old place.  I love being able to re-purpose things!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Winter is Coming

I know technically winter is already here, but New England seems to be struggling to understand that.  Today is supposed to be 55 degrees and rainy, and then it's supposed to dip back down into the 40s.  I also got an email from National Grid telling me that they're raising their rates 20%, and it's supposed to be a particularly cold season this year.  So, I'm preparing.

Right now, the fiance is finishing his PhD and has no income, so I'm keeping us fed and warm all on my own.  My student loan payments have also increased, for reasons I don't understand, and my car has been acting funny lately.  Long story short, I don't have a lot of money to toss around on frivolous things like heat, so I'm going to do a bit of experimenting to see how I can pay little but still stay reasonable comfortable.

Strategy one: Bubble Wrap
Apparently you can use bubble wrap to insulate your windows.  This is something I remember reading about a while ago, but have never tested.  It's a bit ghetto, but so am I!  According to this article, bubble wrap cuts the energy loss from windows in half, which certainly means it's worth trying.  I also like the fact that it still lets in light.  So far, I only had enough bubble wrap on hand to do three windows, but I put a request on freecycle to see if anyone has more they would give me.  I might just buy some if I can't get it for free, but I certainly wanted to ask first. Maybe it's just a placebo effect, but I do feel like there's less of a draft coming from the window behind the couch.  Of course, it's also warm today, so it could also be that...

Strategy Two: Draft Dodgers
The bubble wrap will stop the window panes from leaking in the cold, but there are also those cracks where the window closes that can let in drafts when it's windy--which it frequently is.  I live on the third floor near the water, so I certainly get some cold breezes, and hopefully, employing draft dodgers will stop some of that.  In case this is confusing, I'm not talking about people who avoided serving in World War II, I'm talking about this kind of draft dodger:
You could also call it a draft stopper, but that's a lot less hilarious.  Basically, this is just a tube of fabric filled with some kind of malleable stuffing like buckwheat, rice, beans, etc.  You want it to mold to the surface it's on, so it fills in the cracks where the drafts come through.  I actually bought one of these at Bed Bath and Beyond years ago for like $20, so my strategy this time is to make my own.  I have some torn pants and a big bag of rice--it's on!

Strategy Three: Window Plastic
Having grown up in Minnesota/North Dakota, I am intimately familiar with window plastic.  This is my third option, because I don't really want to go this route unless the bubble wrap and draft dodger strategies really fail.  Window plastic works really well, but it's also time-consuming to put up, the cat hates it and always tries to tear it down (and usually succeeds), it's pretty ugly, and it's single use.  Once I have a stash of draft dodgers and perfectly sized bubble wrap, I can re-use those every year--not so much with window plastic.

Strategy Four: Think Warm
Have the time, I feel like coldness is just a state of mind.  I always feel warmer when I have this going on the background:

Friday, November 7, 2014

I've Lost My Loans

A little while back, I got the most beautiful letter in the mail that I have ever gotten.  I finally filled out paperwork to have my loans forgiven--after asking three different people if my current job qualifies me for that, and I mailed it in and promptly forgot about it.  About a month later, I got the letter in the mail telling me that I qualified, and the next step would be for my loans to be transferred from my loan servicing provider back to the federal loan system so that they could keep track of my payments and eventually forgive the whole thing!

I immediately texted everyone I could think of to share this good news.  I grabbed the cat and did a spinny dance with him, I told fiance' while hopping up and down, and then I waited to see what would happen next.

I monitored my current account with Granite State Management like I always do, and when it came time to get paid for October and the balance was still showing in that account, I made my payment like always.  Then, before the payment posted, another huge payment showed up bringing me down to a zero balance.

Awesome.

Except now I don't know who to make my payments to.  I haven't gotten anything else in the mail, and when I email Granite State to ask them who paid off my loans, they told me Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority had.  So I went to that page and set up an account, then emailed them and asked when I could start making payments.

They just emailed me back and said that they don't have my loans, but to set up an account at myfedloan.org.  I did that, but while I was setting it up I couldn't help but wonder why I was doing so much work to try to make payments, and why the people I'm making payments to can't be bothered to tell me what I need to know.

When I was transferred out of the federal repayment system to Granite State Management, no one could tell me anything for six months and I sat there willing to make payments but unable to actually make them--and accruing interest that whole time.

I LOVE that I have the option to get my loans forgiven (eventually), but I hate being left in this limbo!  I'm not the only person this is happening to, why can't the process be more transparent!?!?

/rant

Friday, September 19, 2014

Five Things Friday

1. I've been scraping the bottom of my moisturizer bottle for a few weeks now, and usually manage to get just enough out of it.  This morning, that wasn't happening, but I could see some still in the bottom that the pump couldn't reach, so I got out the exact-o knife, and lopped the top off.  I was amazed how much moisturizer was still stuck in what I'll call the shoulders of the bottle.  At least two week's worth!  I have a backup bottle that I've already bought, but I can hang onto this one for quite a bit longer and use up every last little bit--that feels good.

2. My allergies have been out of control this past week.  I don't even know what it is that I'm allergic to, but I'm stuffed up, foggy, headache-y, my eyeballs hurt, and I generally feel like I'm hungover all the time, which sucks.  Thankfully, I have a huge stash of allergy pills, and since I get them so cheaply, I'm not trying to ration them aggressively like I used to do when I was taking Claritan.  Doubling up the dosage has helped significantly.

3. I don't much care for the original, but I like this version.  And there's kittens!  Kittens on the internet, who would have though?

4. I spilled water all over myself as soon as I got to work.  This reminds me to be grateful A. That it wasn't coffee and B. That I have an office I can hide out in while my shirt and pants dry.  I'm also pretty glad I'm wearing a blouse-y shirt that dries quickly.

5. On Fridays, Gentleman Scholar and I make homemade pizza and watch a bad movie (sometimes we watch a good one, but usually it's a 'so bad it's good' one).  Tonight's offerings are homemade pizza with green olives, farm fresh tomatoes from my veggie box and mushrooms.  We will be consuming that while watching the classic Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino pairing: The Devil's Advocate.  I saw this one on video way back when it came out, but I don't remember it that well. I was re-reminded of it via the How Did This Get Made? podcast, and decided that it would be a perfect addition to Pizza + Bad Movie Friday.  I'm pretty stoked.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Five Things Friday

My blogging lately has been awfully inconsistent, but perhaps starting to do a Five Things Friday will keep me more on task!  Falltime is my busiest time of year, so I'm just struggling to keep my head above water right now, but there are some interesting things happening too if I'd just stop and pay attention once in a while.

1. I signed up for a fall farm share.  My last experience with the farm share, was not great, but I still didn't want to completely thrown in the towel.  There's a group who coordinate with a bunch of local farms and this group delivers veggie boxes all over town--including to my work.  One of the biggest hassles with my previous farmshare was having to run there right after work and pick out the veg that were leftover from all the people who got there right at 2pm (note: who the hell can go pick up produce at 2pm?).  This time, they pack up a box just for me, and I get an email when it has arrived.  I also only get a box every other week, which will be much more manageable.  I'm very excited about this!

2. Fall temps mean more open windows and less A/C.  I'm excited to get that bill back down to a more comfortable range.

3. Gentleman Scholar aka the fiancee has officially moved into my place.  We've done pretty well with selling a lot of things to the new batch of incoming grad students, and we'll still have a few more things to sell after we're more settled.  Right now my apartment looks a bit like a jumbled mess, but not nearly as bad as I predicted.  Plus, it's nice to have him around more (and the cat has been scamming extra feedings, so I know he's happy too).

4.  I got a couple of those 0% interest credit card advance checks.  Normally I just tear those up and throw them away, but this time I noticed that it's 0% interest for over a year.  My thought is, I can take an advance of cash at 0%, make a large student loan payment to one of my giant 6.5% loans, and actually start making a bit of progress again.  Paying the card back off in a year should be no trouble, and this will save me a bit of cash long term.  It may be genius, it may be folly.  I'll report back!

5. The high temperature is supposed to be 74 today!  It has been cooling off beautifully at night, and that makes me so, so much happier.  Once my leg is healed from my stupid running injury, I'm going to get back out there in the mornings without having to worry about being unable to cool down before work!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I Did It!

I've been thinking about trying my hand at making home-made yogurt for a while, but I always balked thinking it would be too difficult... or I'd poison myself.  Finally, as a birthday gift to myself, I decided to just go for it.  My reasons for wanting to do this are threefold:

  1. I bring yogurt to work pretty much every day for lunch.  Buying a ton of small cups is a hassle, I hate going to the grocery store, and my steps into my apartment are incredibly steep and narrow. Everything that comes in must go back out via those steps.  I try to reduce both bringing things in and out as much as I can since if I load myself down with groceries, I am often too wide to make it easily up the stairs--thank you 1800s property.
  2. I tried buying the larger container to save plastic and keep my fridge less chaotic, but the large container doesn't really come in any good flavors.  I'm sick of Chobani vanilla and strawberry, and I never really liked those kinds anyway.  I'd been experimenting with just getting plain and adding things to it, which is fine, but not great.
  3. For the ~$4 I spend on one quart of store-brand yogurt, I can buy a gallon of milk that yields four quarts of home-made yogurt.  That's enough of a savings that I owe it to myself to at least try.
I used The Frugal Girl's recipe, and it was actually pretty easy.  It's a few steps, but there's a lot of downtime in between them, so you can still be doing other stuff. Typically, on Saturdays, I go for a long run, then laze around the house reading or internetting, so this fit into that schedule nicely.

I used one quart mason jars, which I had already, so I didn't have to bring anything new into my house (though I did buy some plastic replacement lids because the original ones that came with the jars were rusting).

I did have to buy a 'starter' yogurt, which is basically just yogurt that is already yogurt.  You add that to your heated milk, and it adds the live yogurt cultures that you need to make something other than just hot milk.  I accidentally, because the grocery store was crazy busy when I went, bought coconut flavored yogurt instead of plain.  At first I thought it would be horrible, but the whole batch has a subtle coconut flavor that is quite pleasant.

The yogurt came out pretty runny, unfortunately.  I don't mind runny yogurt, but it was kind of messy to eat, so I decided to strain it to thicken it up a bit.  I took one of my reusable mesh produce bags, and washed it out.
Then I rigged up a mixing bowl with my fine mesh sieve resting on top.

Then I put the whole thing in the fridge for the afternoon, and when I check on it a few hours later, I had a bowl full of whey, and slightly thicker yogurt!

If you like *super* thick yogurt, you can let it sit straining for much longer than I did (approximately five hours), but I didn't want greek-style yogurt, just something with a bit more tenacity.

Overall, I'm pretty please with the way this all turned out.  After straining, I had a little over three quarts of yogurt, which is quite tasty.  I used only equipment I already had, and saved about $8 off the cost of three quarts of yogurt in the store.  The amount of time I spent doing this was, I think worth the $8 in savings, and the savings in time spent at the store buying yogurt, hauling it home, trying to find space for it in the fridge, and then having to take out the recycling.  Also, since the mason jars are cylindrical, taller and don't bow out at the top like yogurt containers, they fit better in my fridge.  

The batch I made should be good for a month, but I don't think it will last that long.  I bought a bag of frozen fruit to add to it to mix up my lunch, but I also have dried fruit, powdered peanut butter, jam and I whole bunch of other things that would be tasty.

I think I'm a convert!

Ever made your own yogurt?  Any tips or tricks to share?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blast From the Past

I haven't bought a book in years--except Nancy Drew books, because I collect those.  In keeping with my semi-minimalist philosophy, I have exactly one bookshelf that is not quite full, and I don't intend to add anything too it. I get all the books I need from the library and so any money I spend has to be on books that are rare or unique.  Note: I know most Nancy Drew books are not unique, but they cost $1 at thrift stores and it's a collection.

Recently, however, I made the decision to buy a new book, and it's amazing how much I both thought about this idea and was insanely excited by it.

I'm an a book club, and we meet once a month.  For our next meeting, due to extended vacations in August, we're not meeting until September, so we picked a slightly longer book--The Goldfinch.

This is a book I've been planning on reading anyway, but I also know that the library waitlist is huge.  Also, this is a book that I kind of want to savor.  I love Donna Tartt, and she writes a novel every 12 years, I feel like I shouldn't rush through reading it.

I used to buy tons of books.  I was the girl with the overflowing shelves, stacks on the floor and piles on every available surface.  When I was a kid, I would save up all my money for trips to the bookstore where I would maximize what I had in a way to get the most words.  For instance, I always wanted to buy the beautiful Nancy Drew hardcovers, but at $3.99/each, that was too rich for my blood.  I could get the new Babysitter's Club and the new Mary Downing Hahn book for the same amount of money.  Then I would try to incorporate a classic, since the price point on those was a bit lower as well.  Love of reading meets personal finance at a very young age.

Then, in college, I worked at Barnes & Noble.  I read a lot of books for free while working, but I also purchased hundreds.  I just spent wily-nily, on anything I thought sounded interesting or looked good on a shelf.  I wasn't nearly as discerning, and my collection shows it.  I wound up with so many books that I didn't (still haven't) read, and a happy pile of credit card debt to boot.

Now that I work in libraries, I have no need to buy books.  After spending so much money on books I either didn't like or didn't read, it's too much of a risky proposition.  Plus, who needs the clutter?

I will say though, when I finally made the decision to actually buy this book, I felt that old flutter of excitement.  There is something truly magical about thinking through a purchase, deciding it's something you really want and then waiting a bit before actually getting it.  At first, I was going to just order it from Amazon, but then I remembered that there's a great independent bookstore close to my house, and I always lament that as a non book buyer, I can't really help them stay afloat.  Now I can!

The plan is: I shall walk down to the bookstore after work some evening and purchase my book.  I shall read it at my own pace without the threat of a three week due date and a long library patron waitlist hanging over my head.  Then I shall donate it to the library, because they need more copies and I don't need the clutter.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Save Time

Time is money, right?  This is the age-old frugality debate--if your time is worth X and it takes Y minutes to save $, is the savings actually worth it?  Note: I did not do well in Algebra, so that equation may make no sense, but hopefully the point comes across.

I'm a huge fan of saving time, and the biggest way I do it is by trying to live as unfettered as possible.  I try to minimize the amount of stuff I own, so that I don't have to spend a lot of time maintaining it; I try to streamline my grooming so that I don't spend 45 minutes of my morning staring into the mirror; and I try to streamline my tasks by doing a few things at once (if possible--and safe), taking out the recycling piecemeal as I leave the house to do other things rather than all at once, washing some dishes while my dinner cooks, etc.

One thing that I can't streamline is running errands.  I know a lot of people rely on amazon prime + subscribe and save to cover this need, but I can't really predict when I'll need the things I buy on the regular (or I could, but I'm too lazy), so trips to Target and the grocery store remain a necessity.

One thing I am a bit intrigued by is the Dollar Shave Club.  I remember seeing on Oprah (I think it was Oprah--a talk show of some kind, anyway), a woman who said she replaced her razor every six months--maybe.  I'm fully guilty of that as well, especially now that I've had laser hair removal on my legs and underarms (saves time!).  I still need to do some maintenance, and so I reach for my year old Mach 3, and wonder why it doesn't do the job as well as I'd like.

I would never become a member of something like Birchbox (cause I don't really wear makeup), or any kind of fruit of the month club, but I am intrigued by the notion of having things I like or need sent to my house on a monthly basis without me having to think about it.  I find it comforting.  I also like the fact that dollar shave club's basic razor actually costs a dollar, AND it's not pink.

Has anyone tried a service like this?  How do you save money and time on daily tasks?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Monthly Check In

It has been a somewhat frantic July, which was very unexpected for me.  Being an academic librarian, I was told that summers are slow and relaxed, people take vacation, and it's quiet and peaceful in the library for once.  It may be because I slept the entire month of June, but I feel like I've been frantically playing catch up all of July.

I'm teaching a summer school class, which is three hours a week.  This is awesome because I'm team teaching with someone who is really cool and we get along well; it's extra money since I'm technically an adjunct for another department on campus; and we got a great group of kids who I am very proud of.  But man, is it exhausting.

We had a syllabus and a vague idea of the lesson plan starting out, but then we realized that our particular group of students seem a lot smarter than we anticipated.  I know that sounds like a terrible thing to say, but these are all students who have been identified as "at risk", and we were told repeatedly to keep things really basic.  Then we got a group of geniuses and panicked about our course being too easy!

So yeah, this class is pretty much all I'm thinking about right now, which is proof I made the right decision in not becoming a full time professor--if I'm exhausted teaching 1/2 on one class, I could not handle doing four at once.

In addition to that, BF (now fiancee) is planning on moving into my place next month, so we're slowing siphoning his stuff over and trying to figure out where it's all going to fit.  He's frantically trying to finish his dissertation and apply for jobs, so I may be the sole wage earner for the foreseeable future.  Since I'm pretty much breaking even right now, that's a pretty scary thing, but we'll get through it--cause we have no choice!  Hopefully he'll come around to my frugal ways and also get a job somewhere close by--cross your fingers!