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!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Savings of Being a Shut-In

Whenever people make the bold decision to slash their spending and live a frugal life in the most extreme manner, they usually stop going out.  After all, socializing is expensive. One drink leads to two, which leads to a need for a late-night snack.  Going out a lot requires outfits, which require shoes--it's a whole, expensive cans of worms!

I can now officially say that yes, the best way to save money is by not leaving the house, but also, it's totally not worth it.

Let me back up for a moment and take you back to the beginning of the month/ end of last month.  Life has been pretty sweet.  Work has shifted from being student focused to summer project focused, which is equally interesting, but a little less frantic; I've been taking rowing lessons, which I love; running has been going really well and I logged nearly 100 miles in May; weather has been mild enough that just having the windows open has been comfortable.  In short, everything was hunky-dory.

Then I got Mono.

That's right--the kissing disease.  The scourge of the Junior High School set. The disease that I was actually a bit smug about never having to deal with way back when, and that I kind of didn't realize that adults can get.

Symptoms of mono, for the unfamiliar include:
  • Extreme fatigue--like sleeping 18 hours a day or more fatigue
  • Sore throat--like swallowing knives
  • Loss of appetite--best diet ever!
That's it.  Lather, rinse repeat for about 4-6 weeks.

So far, the savings have been impressive.  I have zero interest in food and everything I eat tastes terrible to me, so I haven't been to the grocery store except to deploy bf to buy me the occasional jug of juice and a few other things.  I also haven't been out to eat, though I have ordered a couple pizzas (if I'm craving something, I'm going to go for it, even if I can only eat half a slice). I can't really drive, so that saves money on gas and wear and tear on my vehicle.  Drinking is just as out of the picture as eating. As much as I yearn to enjoy a beer, in practice, I do not. 

So there you go.  The theory that you will save money but never eating out and staying in all the time is true!  I've tested and verified it, though I will say, it is not worth it.  Despite the fact that I sleep 18 hours a day, I still have a fair amount of partly awake/drowsy time that needs to be filled with something non-strenuous.  I can't read, because I fall asleep immediately, but I can watch TV.  And I have, I have watched ALL the TV.  I am now officially sick of watching TV, which is something I didn't really know was possible.

So yes, staying home all the time will save you money, but it may also make you a crazy person.  At least I know I am getting the most out of my Netflix subscription!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Reviving Lip Gloss

One of the biggest and most obvious rules of frugality is to use up every little bit of the things you buy.  Most of the time, even if a container feels empty, there are at least three more days worth of product in there--maybe more.  Yes, at first you may feel like a crazy person for cutting open a tube of toothpaste or something similar, but I prefer to think of the situation as what would I do if I was all out of product X, but couldn't make it to the store for a couple days.  Plus, you paid for the stuff, might as well use it.

Today's story is about lip gloss.  It has been a long winter, and I have been going through lip gloss like crazy it seems. I have a really bad habit of washing my lip gloss, so I've made some executive decisions in that area recently.  For the home, I buy Eos lip balm:
The reason I buy it is because I would never accidentally put something that shape into my pocket, and therefore I don't have to worry about washing it.  Also, it sits up quite nicely.  I bought one for my desk, my reading chair and my coffee table so that way I always have some lip balm at my reach.

On thing that is weird about this container as well is that the lip balm itself, sits in a sort of rounded cone on top of a lip gloss grate that holds it up.  Below the lip gloss, is just empty space, so as you use it, more and more gets smooched down through the grate until it looks like this:
There's still a lot of lip gloss in there, it's just really hard to get out.  Thankfully, the container comes apart quite easily (with a pair of pliers), which leaves you with 7 small triangles of perfectly good lip gloss that are a real pain to actually apply.

What I ended up doing was taking those triangle, melting them in a ramekin on the heating element of my coffee pot, and then pouring the liquid back into the bottom half of the lip gloss container.  It took about five minutes total, and now I have enough convenient, useable lipgloss to last at least another two weeks.  I save myself a trip to the store where I will inevitably forget to buy the one thing I went there for, and I get the smug satisfaction of MacGyvering something.

SCORE!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tips For Getting Better Customer Service

There is no 100%, foolproof way to get excellent customer service every time, but there are good ways to make sure you get what you want,  even if the person you're dealing with may be being a bit rude.

Tip #1 Never Yell
It can be incredibly frustrating when you have a legitimate complaint and the person who is paid to help you is not at all helpful, but yelling will only make the situation worse.  Be calm, but firm, ask to speak to a supervisor if necessary.  It's also much easier to be assertive if you know exactly what you need to communicate.  Sure, sometimes a conversation can throw you for a loop, but as a customer, you can have expectations, but it's harder to give you what you want if you're screaming the place down.

Tip #2 Be Organized
Especially when you're dealing with important money issues that could require following up.  For example, I mentioned a while back that I get my birth control through a federal program called Title X.  This means that every three months, I go to the clinic, talk to a nurse for about two minutes, and then take home my stuff. For some reason, I kept getting bills in the mail from my clinic.  This is not right, because this is a free program, and the bills made it look like I was visiting my doctor, whom I haven't seen in nearly a year.

I called the billing office a while back and the woman I spoke to said that it was just a charge that my insurance had charged them, so the sent me a bill, she didn't know what it was for.  So I went ahead and paid it, since it was a small amount.  Then I got another, larger bill earlier this week.  I called my insurance provider, and they told me that they were not charging me for anything, but if the clinic continued to do so, they would open an inquiry.  I called the clinic again, spoke to a different woman, who realized they were making a mistake, and the whole thing got cleared up.  After the call, I made a note in my google calendar of what time I called and who I spoke to, just in case I need to follow up again.

For my student loans, since I make extra payments that I only want to go to the principal balance of the loan, I have to send them an email requesting that the adjust the payment manually.  This always takes forever, but when I follow up, they do it right away.  They might think I'm the most annoying person ever, but I don't care.  I make a note in my calendar to check in a couple weeks to make sure they did what I asked, and then I follow up--again.

Tip #3 Use and Remember People's Names
This might feel a little awkward at first, but repeating someone's name back to them let's them know that you're paying attention.  Similarly, if you need to follow up on a situation again, you know the last person who helped you.  If someone in person is not wearing a name tag, ask their name.  People on the phone should always introduce themselves by name, so jot it down at the beginning of the call and make sure at some point to say something like, "I understand what you're saying, Martha, but..."  This is something I figured out when I was working in telephone sales.  I had to introduce myself to people at the beginning of each call, and the people who addressed me later by name were always the least distracted.  I adopted the habit, and it has worked very, very well over the years.  Plus, it makes the interaction feel more like an actual conversation, which almost makes the two of you friends for a brief moment in time.  Who doesn't want to help their friends?

Tip #4 Be Honest
Thankfully, I've never had this happen to me, but apparently there is a trend in retail where people just complain for the sake of getting free things--even to the point of trying to get staff fired.  For instance, the customer will act as if something wrong has been done to them, or as if there's something wrong with what they're purchasing, and then demand a discount.  Certainly you can ask for a discount if something is legitimately defective, but don't lie just to save a few dollars!  That's insane behavior!

Tip #5 Be Reasonable
If you're at a restaurant and you find a hair in your pasta, it's perfectly reasonable to expect a replacement dish and for it to be taken off the bill--probably for free dessert as well.  It's a unreasonable to demand the entire meal to be comped.  This does depend on the level of fanciness of the place, but I kind of feel that demanding extras when you've only been mildly inconvenienced is just unnecessary.  By not being greedy when something goes wrong for you, you're making it much easier for that restaurant to do right by someone else in the future.



Any other tips that you've discovered work in your favor in customer service situations?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tracking the Savings

I did it.

I bought my first smart phone.

I still feel weird about it, but I'm adjusting.

Basically, when I switched to Ting a while ago, I could not get my picture messaging to work.  I never thought I would consider picture messaging a necessity, but being without it for two weeks was driving me crazy.  Not only could I not see pictures sent to me, but I also couldn't take any to send to myself or other people.  I like to take pictures while out running, so I knew I would miss that, but I just didn't realize how much I rely on that feature.

I emailed back and forth with Ting's support staff, who were really great, but eventually I came to learn that Sprint is discontinuing that feature for all non-smart phones.  Since Ting uses the Sprint network, that meant me as well.

One of the great things about Ting is that there are no contracts.  One of the drawbacks of not having a cellphone contract is having to pay outright for a phone.  That means, depending on what kind of smartphone I settled on, I was staring down the barrel of a very big charge on my credit card.  So I waited.

I managed to go a whole month without my beloved picture messaging, but finally, in the span of one afternoon I:

  1. Found a really good deal on a used phone via Amazon
  2. Got a picture message of a friend of mine wearing Google glass that I couldn't actually see
  3. Got offered an extra shift at job #3
These occurrences were the perfect storm I needed to make me pay the $226 for an excellent condition Apple iPhone 4s.  I ended up going with the iPhone because pretty much everything else I own is Apple (which makes me feel a little hipster and filthy), and I just wanted the transition to be as easy as possible.

Now, I'm $200 over on my cell phone budget according to mint.com, but My monthly bill is half what it used to be, and I intend to use little-to-no data, so my bill should stay low.  I'm also going to keep track of the money I save via various apps, and count that toward how long it takes to recoup the expense of the phone.  I've already used Target's Cartwheel app to save a cool $.63 and earn a badge! It's amazing how excited I get about badges which both do and mean nothing, so I'm well on my way.

Now I need help from my frugal friends.  What apps can you not live without? How do you save money using your smartphone?  I shelled out a lot of cash for this thing, I want the savings to be worth it!