Monday, January 31, 2011

Small Changes

Thinking back over what I've bought in the last two months, I realize that I've made a couple of tweaks that have likely saved me money. Let's see if they actually did and see how much.

Half & half--I have two cups of coffee every morning. While I drink my coffee, I blog or read blogs, play online scrabble and have my soothing morning "me" time. I love this ritual. I've already switched my coffee brand to Trader Joes, which is significantly cheaper, and I've started making slightly less coffee. Previously, I would end up throwing away about 1/2 cup, or in the summer using it for iced coffee, since I don't drink iced coffee in the winter, I've actively made less *pat on the back for ingenuity*

I also switched to the 1/2 gallon size of half & half. Now, you may say something like "That's horrifying! 1/2 Gallon of fattening half & half! Who needs that much?!?!?" You would be right to think this. It is truly daunting to pick up that giant container, though I'm sure no one is judging me (like I imagine they are), but it's a better value!

Half & half has an extremely long shelf life, and I use a little each day. Before, I was buying two quart cartons per shopping trip for $2.25-$2.50 each, now I buy the same amount, just in a freakishly large container, for $4.19. Less packaging, less money, same half & half. As an added bonus, I've been using slightly less and I think it's because hefting around such a container gives me a bit of pause in the morning. Savings $.30-$.80 e/o week. Over the course of a year (average it to $.50)--$26

Tea-- I did switch brands after all. After finishing my trial box of Tetley's, I did come to enjoy it quite a bit. I've got two more boxes waiting in the wings--purchased with $1 off coupon each! That's 80 tea bags for $2.38! It doesn't get much better than that. I've already done the math on this one, and this switch will save me $39--more with coupons! Plus, I've signed up for email deals from Tetley. I have no idea if that will pay off, but I'll find out.

Eggs-- Since getting my pie plate, I've become a bit of a fritatta nut. Eggs these days aren't super cheap, about $2.19/dozen where I live but most of the fritattas that I've made have broken down to about $.33/serving. That's not bad at all, and those servings are delicious, nutritious, portable (i.e. can bring to work with minimal fuss) and filling. I've got a new recipe to share soon, as well...

Grains-- I've mentioned my plan to start eating more barley, but it takes so long and so much effort to prepare. Same goes for the quinoa. Well, I've made an effort to take the excuses out of using these inexpensive and healthy grains by making them ahead and freezing them. I made a ton of barley in the slow cooker, and ended up freezing about half--I used 1/2 immediately to make veggie burgers. Then when I had other ingredients that I wanted to mix with the barley, I just had to thaw it out.

Same goes for the quinoa, I finally bought a very small mesh sieve for about $2 at Target, so now I won't have to use my french press to rinse the quinoa. The french press works very well, but is a huge pain to clean, which put me off ever making quinoa. Now, I just line the mesh sieve with a paper towel (the quinoa is so tiny it can still slip through), and rinse away. It takes half as long and cleanup is a snap.

Yogurt-- I've already mentioned my kick-ass reuseable, single-serving yogurt containers, but I'm going to mention them again because it's working out fantastically well. Even though they're disposable, they are holding up very well through my washings. Even if they don't hold up, it was only $.54 for the container and the yogurt it came with--I will not weep if I have to throw one out. I brought one to work the other day with some quinoa pudding that might have otherwise gone uneaten. I'm going to Trader Joe's to stock up on quart-sized yogurt, and then it's on to savings!

Saturday, January 29, 2011 Month One

It has officially been one month since I started testing out Overall, I'm pretty pleased, but, as usual, there have been a few drawbacks as well.

  • It's very pretty. I like the interface a lot. Once you've made up your budget categories, it lays them all out with a horizontal bar that moves as you spend in each category. The bar is also color-coded to let you know when you're getting close to your limit. Green for good, yellow for "getting close" and red for over the limit.
  • It also lists out all accounts--savings, credit cards, student loans in the left column. It's quite convenient to have all that information at a glance. I still double-check my accounts individually, but it's very handy having it all there.
  • It encourages me to save. I've got my savings goal clearly laid out, and is cheering me on. I don't know why, but that makes me feel very special. The friend who recommended this program to me said that he's saved my regularly and just more than ever before since he started using mint.
  • If you go over in any budget category, it sends you an email warning. This is handy because you can't hide your head in the sand and ignore what you've done. Even if you're lazy about signing into mint, it still keeps you updated.

  • It doesn't calculate negative balances on credit cards. I frequently overpay my visa card, mostly because it's the card I use the least, and I don't want to miss a payment. Also, since it is the card I use the least, it often gets used for more fun things. What's more fun than a credit balance? Answer: nothing. Except sees something other than zero, and thinks it's debt, which ruins my good time.
  • Syncing issues. For whatever reason, I could not get to sync with my store credit card. It just wouldn't happen. Funnily enough, that is the one card that I would really, really like to be reminded to pay because I rarely use it, and therefore have forgotten it in the past. I'm going to keep trying, but man is that annoying.
  • It's a bit alarmist. I know I also listed the email warnings for going over budget as a positive, but there's a drawback as well. Example: I recently went to a gas station, and put in $30 worth of gas. Because I paid at the pump, the gas station did the thing where they put a $100 hold on your card while waiting for the actual charge to clear. These pending charges go to, which then sends me a frantic email telling me that I just spent $100 on gas. I know my car doesn't hold that much gas, and I know I only spent $30, but I still had to log into all my accounts and figure out what was going on, which ate up a bit of time. I wish that it would ignore pending charges and wait until they've officially posted before freaking out at me.
  • If you don't charge most things, it can be a bit tedious to update. Obviously all bank and credit card transactions update automatically, but if you use cash most often, you need to manually enter that information, which means it could be very easy to forget/skip. It took me a bit of looking to find out how to even enter that stuff in the first place, but once I figured it out, it was simple.
  • No refunds? I bought two pairs of shoes this month from (on the quest for the black shoes), but I returned them both. notices that my credit card had been refunded the money, but it didn't reduce the glaring red line that indicated I'd exceeded my clothing budget to the more subdued yellow line that doesn't assault my vision. I couldn't figure out a way to tell it that the items had been returned, so I just told that they were duplicates. Having to do that kind of ruins the automaticness of the whole thing, but maybe if I'd just been more patient, it would have worked itself out.
Just like when I started with this, I'm still keeping my backup budget, but I'm getting more and more sold. Since it is so automatic, I'm spending very little extra time keeping up both systems, so why not just do it that way? I think this is a very good system for people who are less-than-meticulous about keeping a budget just because it does so much for you. I think it may also send email reminders when a bill is coming due, but I always pay bills so early that I haven't gotten one of those yet--anyone know if this is an actual feature, or did I totally make it up in my head?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Frugal eReader

If you didn't get an eReader for a holiday gift this year, odds are you've been hearing about them more and more. As a librarian, I hear about eReaders constantly, and I always forget that some people don't think about them as much as I do. Here are my suggestions for those considering picking up this gadget. These are based on my own personal experience, and what I've learned over the past year.

The biggest eReaders are the Kindle from Amazon, the Nook from Barnes & Noble and the Sony Reader. Kindle and the Reader have been around the longest, but the Nook is fast becoming the new eReader to buy. To use, they're all pretty similar. The Kindle has a number of different versions (it seems like every year there's a new one), and two different screen sizes --6" and 9.7". The Sony Reader has three different versions and three screen sizes--5", 6" and 7" all with touch screens. The Nook has a 5" screen and comes in standard (black and white, no touch screen) and full color touch screen.

They all work basically the same, but as far as frugality is concerned, there is one huge difference-- on all eReaders except Kindle, you can download library books. Kindle uses a proprietary digital format that you can only get from Amazon, whereas the others are compatible with Adobe Digital Editions, which is free. In my mind, this is a no-brainer, I bought a Nook, and have spent about $15 on books for it whereas if I had a Kindle, I would either never use it, or go broke buying books.

There are cheap ways to get Kindle books, and they give you some free ones too, but from where I'm standing, I'm a little broke from shelling out $150 for the device, I don't really want to spend any more on books. The cheapest way to get books will always be to borrow them.

In addition to borrowing books for free from the library, you can also get free classics on any digital device via Project Gutenburg. This means you can search from thousands of texts on which the copyright date has passed, and the works are now in the public domain. In lieu going into a lengthy breakdown of copyright law, I will instead use an example: You know when you go into a bookstore, and you can get a really nice copy of something like Treasure Island or Wuthering Heights for about $5 whereas a new bestseller retails for $25? It's because the authors of Treasure Island and Wuthering Heights have been dead so long that their estates no longer receive royalties from sales of their books. It's also how people get away with writing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Project Gutenberg is awesome. Yes, there are a lot of stinkers in the collection, but I am now the proud owner of the digital works of the Bronte sisters and Louisa May Alcott, which makes me quite happy-- and I don't have to return them.

There are other eReaders on the market that I know nothing about, like the Borders Kobo, or the Sharper Image Literati, but I do know that these too can borrow books from the library.

I certainly don't know everything about every eReader, but if you are considering buying one, please make the decision with your eyes open. Do some research, visit them in the store, learn the pros and cons and figure out what really works for you. There are a few caveats that go along with borrowing books from the library as well:
  1. You have to plug in your device in order to borrow library books. You can purchase anything wirelessly on every device, but in order to borrow, you have to be plugged into your computer and manually drag the book file to your device.
  2. Not every book the library owns is available digitally. I had to tell this to a girl recently who was under the mistaken impression that every book we buy for the library comes with a digital version as well (no idea where she got this idea). The library buys eBooks just like it buys regular books. When you check out the digital copy, it means that someone has to wait until you're done reading it and return it before they can borrow it--just like a physical book. Many people have the mistaken impression that digital means it's like a website that anyone can look at. Authors and publishers still own the work, you're just buying or borrowing the right to use one copy. So...
  3. Make sure your library owns books you want to read. Because of copyright protection, and because of the run on eReaders this year, my library system is scrambling to pump up the eBook collection. For most libraries, this is a fairly new collection, and may be a bit spare i.e. they won't have everything you want. I would recommend seeing what's available to you before buying the device. There's no point in buying the device, finding out after the fact that your library doesn't have anything you want, and then blowing a bunch of money buying books just because you really, really want to use it.
Also Consider the size and weight of the device you're purchasing. It's meant to be portable, but if it weighs five pounds and requires a special case to cart around, is it really convenient? I bought the Nook because it is slightly larger that a mass market size (smallest size) paperback. This means that it fits quite easily into my purse, but also that the screen is quite small, and I do a lot of page turning, which gets annoying at times.

I wrote another post for my library blog detailing a few of the other drawbacks of eReaders. Convenient though they are, they still aren't books, and just like anything, there are pros and cons. I certainly don't regret my decision, and I'm pretty proud of myself for doing as much research as I did (I almost never do research before buying things), but I still prefer a good, old-fashioned book.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

February "No-Buy Month"

This is an experiment that I've tried in the past and failed spectacularly at. The idea is, for the month of February (since it's so short, this is painless!), you buy nothing except essentials like gas, food, utilities and rent/mortgage. The outcome, is that you'll save a significant amount of money that you can then use to pay down debts or bolster your savings.

Well, I went a little crazy when I tried this, alienated my friends and on the last day of February I went to the mall and shopped with abandon. I honestly felt deranged. Clearly I'm not cut out for a super-strict philosophy.

I'm tempted to try it again though, but obviously I'll have to make some changes. For the past several months, my clothing spending has been out of control. I really, really need to reign it in. Yes, February is the month retailers start rolling out all the cute new summer clothes (seriously, why do they do that? Then I have to wait four months before I can actually wear them), and I always get tempted by the sundresses, but I will avoid, avoid avoid.

February= no buying clothes month with one caveat. I need a new pair of black flats. My current pair are falling apart, but I can't find a pair that I actually like that are in my size, if I do find them, I'm allowed to buy them.

Looking over the rest of my spending for 2011 so far, I'm doing well in all categories. My recent vacation was paid for with my travel fund, so I'm fine there, but I also haven't really worked at one of my jobs all month, so my earnings are about half what they should be. I need to dial back the spending and get back on track.

The no-buy month rules are as follows:
  • No clothes--except for black shoes if I find them
  • Keep all other categories well under budget
  • I rarely go out to eat anyway since I work all nights, but since I only get two days off a month, I'm not going to cut it out completely, BUT I am only allowed to eat out at a restaurant where I already have a gift certificate or Groupon.
If I adhere to these rules and earn my regular income, I should be back on financial track by March! Anyone else going to attempt a No-Buy Month?

Friday, January 21, 2011

To Pursue or Not to Pursue?

I've stumbled into a situation that really calls into question the whole, "Is it really worth the effort?" question. That's a question that crops up often when people talk of couponing. Some people claim that their time is more valuable and the would rather spend it not clipping coupons, but instead paying full price and gaining an hour. The couponers turn around and say things like "I enjoy clipping coupons and saving money, therefore, I'm not wasting my time."

I fall somewhere in the middle, but that's a whole different debate than the predicament I'm in right now.

Before I get into exactly what happened, I need to give you a bit of background.

I live in a triple-decker or multi-family home. We're on the second floor, which means that above us, usually, are Landlord and his partner. Below us, is Elderly Neighbor. Presently, Landlord (who is a college professor) is on a yearlong sabbatical around the world (nice life). In order to still pay him rent while he's away, we have deposit slips for his mortgage account, write checks, and deliver them directly to the bank. It works well, usually.

This past month, we wrote our checks like usual, deposited them at the usual bank, and went on with our lives.

I started using at the beginning of the year, and one thing that they do is send me an email if I go over in any budget category. It's a pretty handy feature, but you can imagine my surprise when I got a frantic email from them telling me I had gone over in the rent category.

Somewhere along the line, someone added six dollars to my rent check, and instead of paying the usual $530, I was charged $536. No problem, I emailed landlord and told him that the bank screwed up, I will just pay him $524 next month.

This is where it gets weird.

He received the correct amount deposited in his account. We deposited two checks for $530 apiece, with a deposit slip that added up to the correct $1060--yet I was charged $6 more. Where did the money go? My landlord doesn't have it; the deposit was correct so I'm sure the teller's drawer balanced at the end of his/her shift, yet I'm $6 poorer and have no idea who to yell at about it.

If I was clipping coupons, I would thrill at saving six dollars. Funnily enough, the bank where the deposit went was the one that just told me they wanted to charge for a $5/month maintenance fee, which caused me to close my account, so I certainly don't want to give them $6, but I don't know if they have it.

Since this is such a bizarre situation, I have to think that it's probably going to take a lot of time and effort to deal with it. Landlord is in China, so communicating with him takes a while, and I'm not even sure which bank to approach first--if I choose to deal with it.

Anyone have any advice?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Baked Spanish Tortilla

I bought a pie plate! That means I'm going to be making quiches and fritattas in a somewhat over-the-top way, but that's alright. I love me some eggs, and now I have a new and exciting way to eat them. So my first foray into egg cookery, I decided to take on Spanish Tortilla. Of course, as soon as I realized that I could finally make this delicious dish at home, I also found out that Spanish Tortilla is usually fried thus negating my need to the pie plate. So I improvised.

Just in case anyone doesn't know, Spanish Tortilla is not like the corn or flour tortillas you can buy in the store, it's more of an egg bake with potatoes and usually onions. Since I hate onions, I left them out.

8 large eggs--this is approximate, I used up my carton of medium eggs, and then moved onto the large ones. Well, turns out that my pie plate is huge. I beat about six eggs, poured them in, then realized I still had room.
4 large russet potatoes cubed very small
1 cup ricotta cheese--this is not absolutely necessary, I just happened to have some I need to use up. Add it in if you have it on hand, leave it out if you don't.
1 cup sharp cheddar shredded
six cloves garlic
Olive Oil
Salt pepper and preferred spices--I used a bit of parsley and some mustard powder

  • Cube potatoes very small and boil in water until fork tender.
  • Pre-heat oven to 350
  • In a mixing bowl, crack eggs and beat together until completely mixed. Add in ricotta cheese and mix with eggs until smooth. Add preferred spices.
  • Dice garlic and put in a frying pan with several glugs of olive oil. Saute until garlic is golden brown, then add diced potatoes. Stir potatoes to coat in oil.
  • Pour potatoes into pie plate and push to the edges making the layer as even as possible.
  • Pour egg mixture over potatoes to that it comes up about 1/2 inch below the rim of the pie plate.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheddar over the top.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35 minutes, or until golden brown. Stick a knife in the middle to make sure it's cooked all the way through.
Potatoes ~$1,Cheese ~$1, Eggs $1.50, Ricotta $.50, Spices and Olive Oil $.50 = $5 for 8 servings or $.63 apiece.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bank fees are in the mail

There has been a lot of talk recently about major banks claiming that due to recent government regulations, they will need to start charging maintenence fees to formerly free checking accounts.

Bank of America announced early January their intention to test out monthly fees on customers who only use the most basic services and don't carry a large balance. My local bank, Citizens Bank, sent me a letter saying that I would be assesed a monthly fee of $5 for maintaining a balance less than $500 in my checking account. I closed my account a couple weeks later.

Chase is insisting to anyone who will listen, "We don't want to raise fees on our customers, but unfortunately regulation is forcing us to do it. And as a result, some customers may end up unbanked." Except the bank recently posted a $17.37 billion profit for 2010. I'm not saying I completely understand the banking business, but it really doesn't sound like they need to pass these fees along to us in order to stay afloat.

The New York Times has a much more comprehensive article about this who situation, and it includes some advice for those looking to avoid these fees (like me, and probably you). One thing they mention is that as soon as banks started announcing these fees, ING sent out a letter saying that they have no intention of following suit. In fact, as an ING customer, they've been aggresively telling me that there will be no fees, and offering me some pretty sweet incentives to open new types of accounts. I'm happy with them, and their rates, and if my bricks and mortar bank decides to start dishing out fees (which I'm almost positive they won't), I may become exclusively an ING girl. For now, I'm just sticking with my ING savings accounts*.

Obviously, do what's best for you, but the best way to get out of a potentially expensive situation before it costs you is to know what's coming and know your options.

*If any of my readers does want to switch to ING, I can get you a $50 referral bonus--email me at

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's a banner day!

For at least three years, I have been looking for a single-serving yogurt container with a reuseable lid. This isn't all I've done in that time, but it has been something I've wanted. When I bring lunch or even a snack to work, it usually includes yogurt. I often get deals on the single serving containers with the foil lid, but I hate creating that much waste.

Victory is mine.

I went to the SuperTarget on a whim yesterday because a co-worker suggested it while listening to me whine about how I didn't want to go to both Target and the grocery store, but I had Target coupons that were going to expire (it was a great conversation, you wish you were there). She suggested going to a Target I've only ever been to once before because they have a grocery store as well. Though I was a bit disappointed in the fact that they don't have tartar sauce (but like 12 kinds of mayonnaise), the prices are really good, and I picked up a few staples to tide me over until my next big shop.

And I found the yogurt. For $.53, this store sells Archer Farms yogurt in a 6 oz. container with a reuseable lid. This means that I can buy the 1 quart yogurt container, and just spoon it into the smaller ones when I need to bring it to work. This is not only more economical, but it creates less waste, and I am so stoked!

I can get a quart of vanilla yogurt at Trader Joes for about $2.50 or a quart of Stonyfield Farms for $3.99. I can get about 5.5 6 oz yogurts out of the quart, meaning that my cost per unit for the Stonyfield is $.80 and for the Trader Joes $.50. Considering that the yogurt I usually buy in single serving portions is ~$1 apiece (depending on my coupon situation) this is a tremendous coup!

In the past year, I've gone from bringing my lunch in a sandwich bag (which I always threw away--I hate washing bags) to bringing my lunch in a reuseable gladware container, and now I'll bring my lunch in a reuseable container as well. One lunch, significant savings, no waste! I imagine I'll find dozens of other uses for these small containers, but I just bought five to start--no need to go overboard.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture

This is something I've mulled over in my head plenty of times, the idea of how we become who we are. It's particularly interesting as some fundamental differences between my parents and I have become more and more apparent over the years, but others similarities have cropped up as well--namely, frugality.

When I was a kid, it used to drive me nuts the way that other kids seemed to have more toys more clothes--just more stuff than me. My parents have both worked in professional careers since I was in Kindergarten, yet it always seemed like my parents were telling me no when I demanded things. I started to assume other people made more money than my parents, or that we were actually poor and no one had the heart to break it to me; it's only now, fifteen years later, that I'm finally starting to get it. My parents are savers.

The problem is, this was never explained to me. Maybe I'm just obtuse, but I honestly think my parents could have served me well by explaining to me the concept of saving for the future, rather than leaving it to me to figure out. Since my mother is a banker, I always knew that I had a college savings account, and a regular savings account, but the regular savings account was always just money waiting to be spent, in my mind. She stressed the importance of looking after your credit score, but never really sat down and explained her own choices to live frugally and save/invest for the future.

As a result, I overcompensated in completely the opposite direction. I spent and spent every penny that came my way, and spent a lot of pennies that I didn't have as well because I was sick of being told no. I mentioned a while back that I used to spend all my money on crap that I would never consider buying these days, but I honestly think I did it as a weird form of rebellion. Every time I spent money on junk, it was like I was telling my parents "you can't tell me what to do!"

Fast forward to ten years later, and I'm writing a blog about frugality where I consistently tell people that stuff is overrated and you probably don't really need it. Life has a strange way of flipping back on itself, and I have to wonder if a lot of the way I am today is a result of the example set by my parents, or if I did get here all on my own. There's really no way to know for sure, but we can certainly speculate.

I do have to say, and this is from the hindsight is 20-20 perspective, my parents could have been a bit more honest with me when it comes to money stuff. They could have told me flat out, we live like this for this reason, we're not poor, we're just frugal. Maybe it wouldn't have penetrated my snarky teenage skull, but it was worth a shot.

Money is a taboo topic, but it doesn't need to be. I'm not saying everyone should post their personal budget online, but there are plenty of ways to have an honest conversation without giving too much away. I'm certainly not going to pretend to have more than I do just to--what? impress people? Is it impressive to have a little more money than someone else? Or is it just handy when you want to go out for dinner?

I think it's more impressive to maximize whatever you have--no matter how little. I get a lot of emails from people telling me that they're impressed with my adventuring despite the fact that they know I'm poor--that's high praise. In fact, a friend wants to have coffee and discuss how exactly I just afforded my recent trip to San Diego. I'm going to suggest she come over and have coffee I make, rather than going out for it, because that's one way I afford trips like that.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Frugal vs. Cheap

Another frugality blogger asked her readers for their opinion as to whether or not her behavior was cheap. She had gotten a coupon for a free item from a fast food place, and went there to get only that item and nothing else. She said that the employees of the restaurant were rather rude to her, and the other people in line sneered a bit. "Did I take it too far and veer into cheap territory?" she asked. All of the commentors were pretty unanimous, the restuarant gave out the coupon and didn't require you to buy anything else to get the deal--not cheap behavior

Later in that same post she mentioned that she and her husband brought in their own cream cheese when they ate in at Panera Bread. That was when I had to chime in on the discussion.

To me, and I think many agree with me, doing something like bringing in your own cream cheese to sit and eat in a restaurant is appalling behavior. If saving $1 is that much concern, get the bagels to go, but don't dirty a table, use the restaurant's silverware and most likely their bathroom if what you're doing is really eating food you brought from home. It's that kind of behavior that gives frugal people a bad name and that nets us those dirty looks if we use a coupon for just the free item without purchasing anything else.

To me, cheapness is mean, penny pinching behavior where you're saving money just for the sake of saving money and watching the pile grow. It's Ebeneezer Scrooge and Silas Marner behavior vs. Ben Franklin (though he could be cheap at times too). Who watches A Christmas Carol and thinks that Scrooge has some good ideas! Probably no one who reads this blog, because that person most likely doesn't want to pay for internet.

I read an article in the New York Times that more clearly breaks down the difference between frugality and stealing. It seems a bit shocking to call it stealing, but that's kind of what it is in some cases. For example, when you're staying in a hotel, they expect you to take the soap and shampoos--it's built into the cost of the room. What's not built into the cost of the room is when you loot the housekeeping cart as you dash out of there, or if you take the lightbulbs and ice bucket. That's cheap behavior, I think everyone can agree on that.

Likewise people who go to expensive restaurants and save money by tipping poorly. If the service is bad, that's one thing, but when you go in there thinking you'll drop 10% or less no matter what just to save money, that's just not right. I hate the fact that Americans are expected to tip so much too; I hate the fact that servers are paid so poorly that they rely on tips to make a living, but I don't eat out very often at sit-down restaurants because I know that the meal is going to cost more than what's printed on the menu.

What I really like about the article is that it invokes a rule that's easy to remember and repeat if you're ever in one of those situations where you're not quite sure if you're crossing a line: "when you wouldn’t feel comfortable asking a person in charge if what you’re doing is all right" you may be veering into cheap territory.

I step a toe into cheap territory on occasion, I admit it. I frequently bring my own water when I go to the movies. This is because I don't often want to drink soda, and the bottled water they sell at the theatre closest to me is $3.75 for 20 ounces. That's ridiculous, but maybe they have to charge that much because of people like me. So I break my own rule because I see the sign that says "No outside food or drink" every time they rip my ticket, and I'm certainly not going to fess up. I could bring in an empty bottle and fill it at the fountain, which is what I used to do, but then I can only really get it half full since water fountains usually have poor water pressure and a shallow depression.

Maybe that's a grey area, or maybe I'm a total hypocrite. I'm not sure. What are your thoughts on this?

Monday, January 3, 2011

As it is a new year and a brand new annual budget, I decided to try out a different budgeting software to see how it goes. I've heard a lot of good things about, it's free, and my current method is rather labor intensive whereas this one updates things automatically. I'm not abandoning my current method, but I'm trying out as well.

How it works:
You sign into your various accounts through's website and it pulls your financial data. This is handy because when you sign in, you get a long list including what is owed to whom and when, and also how much you have in savings. You can set savings goals and it keeps track of those, and it's all very pretty.

Initial setup:
It was very easy to add all of my accounts, and the whole process took about twenty minutes. I was very apprehensive about signing into ALL of my financial accounts through some new third-party, but since it was recommended by a friend and assured me that it won't do anything with this information, I decided to trust. I am a bit anxious, to be honest, but I'll give it a try.

After inputting your accounts, determines your monthly income and you can set up your budget. It figures out how much you pay on certain things and pre-totals how much you will likely spend in each category. This is where started to disappoint a bit. I charge pretty much everything, so has access to exactly how much I pay for certain things, but it consistently got it wrong.

For example, I noted in a previous blog that I spent $1110 on gas for 2010, or $93/month. tried to tell me that I spent $45/month on gas--believe me, I wish that was the case. I spend $200 on food per month and that includes eating told me that I spend $325 on groceries alone. They also sent me an email alert telling me that my payment of 762.39 is due on my Chase account 01/04/2011. That's simply not true, in fact, I've overpaid that card and Chase actually owes me $45. They also keep insisting that I'm overpaying car insurance and that I'm paying $1,800 every six months, which is 224% more than the average. Sure it is, and that's why I only actually pay about $600 every six months.

In addition to miscalculating a lot of what I owe, also miscalculated my savings goal. I told them that I'd like to have a years' worth of expenses in my emergency fund. According to my calculations, that's about $10,000. calculated $25,000--that's just extravagant! Sure, I'd like to have that much in my emergency fund, but I've got other things I need to pay for these days.

I'll keep using it, and see if these initial kinks smooth out. It is very handy the way all my accounts are right there, but I just don't know if I completely trust it. I feel like I've given up too much control.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010--not too shabby

I began 2010 with a diminished savings account and one 19-hour-a-week job plus freelance work, and end it with an almost replenished savings account in a better bank (I actually earn interest now!) and a second 15-to-19-hour-per-week job allowing me that savings replenishment.

Looking back over my budget, I underspent for the year in the food column by $43, but overspent on both alcohol and clothes. I don't set spending limits in my other columns, but my misc column was higher than I would have liked. I spent $1110 on gas for my car or about $93 per month. That figure makes me feel physically ill, but there's not much I can really do about it as I now have two commutes.

Despite spending an obscene amount of money on gas, I have saved quite a bit and also put some toward my student loans, though that money is just going toward interest at this point, but interest is tax-deductible!

Goals for 2011 are as follows:
  1. Replenish savings account completely. I want to have a minimum balance of $10,000 in my savings. This the amount of money that it would take to keep me financially afloat for a year if something should happen to both of my jobs. Once I hit $10,000, I will continue to save, but less aggressively, turning my focus instead to...
  2. Those blasted student loans. I'm in deferment right now, but will come into repayment in May or June (I should really figure that out). I intend to keep making the small payments I have been while focusing on savings until I'm in repayment, then I will most likely be putting every spare cent toward that large, scary number. Should be a superfun.
  3. Keep looking for tweaks to save money and keep socking money into the old travel fund. Just because I owe direct loans a limb doesn't mean I can't have some (responsible) fun (within reason).
  4. And my perennial goal--remember that I have pretty much everything I need and don't get caught up in the yearning for stuff. I have stuff--I'm running out of places for it.
How about you, what are your goals?