Thursday, June 23, 2011

Frugal Packing

Frugal Packing Rule #1 when it comes to frugal packing, is always pack light.  I'm going away for five days, and bringing a backpack, purse and suitcase.  This is far too much luggage for a five-day jaunt, but I have a plan.

When I went to the smaller version of this conference in January, I was shocked to find that there are large amounts of swag to be gotten.  Most of this stuff is stuff I don't personally want, but when I tried to sell my haul online, I found out that other people want it enough for me to make a tidy profit.  Hence the suitcase.  Fingers crossed that I get enough goodies, to pay myself back for the hotel room (unlikely, but I can dream).
Suitcase is currently full of snacks
Frugal packing rule #2: Bring snacks!  Everything in the airport is overpriced, and you will get hungry on the way to your destination.  Cut out the middleman and bring snacks you actually want to eat rather than settling for greasy chips or the airport Chili's.  I'm bringing extra snacks to fortify me during the daytime parts of my vacation since I have a lot of free evening meal opportunities.

Frugal Packing Rule #3: Bring used paperbacks and don't bring them home.  I collect used paperbacks from the library booksale rack.  These cost $1 each, and then when I'm done, I just leave them behind-- like the Johnny Appleseed of books, except I'm not teaching people how to read books, just placing them in their eyeline.  There is nothing better than feeling your luggage get lighter as you go through your journey, or leaving a book on a bench in the airport, and then seeing someone's face light up as he or she finds it.  Gratifying.

And I'm off!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Other Ways I'm Saving Gas This Summer

I can't afford a super fuel-efficient Smart Car,
so I'll have to think of  something else
Gas prices are going down, but they're still too high for my taste.  Fortunately, when the weather is nice, you have more travel options, so here are a few I'm taking advantage of this summer:

  1. Walk while in town.  As soon as it started getting nice outside, I made the vow that if I'm staying in town to go to something, I'm going to walk there rather than drive.  This works out well anyway because parking downtown at night is always a hassle, and plus I live in a pretty city and have a scenic walking route.  The only times this vow backfires is when I need to pick up or drop off a heavy item, which rarely happens, and if it does, see #3 below.
  2. Public transit.  This one is a no-brainer, and on particularly hot days, we get one of those lovely ozone advisories and the statewide bus system is free for all!  If I don't feel like walking the whole way to where I'm going, or if where I'm going is just slightly too far to walk and arrive in a presentable (read: not sweaty and out of breath) fashion, I hop on the bus and cut the journey in half.
  3. Cluster errands.  I have a friend who told me that she only goes to stores if she has to go to a meeting nearby.  This not only cuts down on her shopping, but it saves gas since she can claim back the miles from work.  I haven't gone that extreme, but I've been clustering my errands more and more and finding it saves me time and gas.  If I have to go to Target, I always go before or after work since it's closer; I go to the grocery store across the street from work; if I have to go to the post office or UPS store, I do it on my way home from work.  It's the one handy thing about having two jobs, the plethora of stores near work.
  4. Windows down while in town.  I rhymed it so you'll remember.  When you're on the highway, having the windows to your car open creates drag and actually makes you use more fuel, but when you're start/stop driving in town, having the windows open is much more fuel efficient than running the air conditioning.  If your car is unbearably hot after being parked in the sun (note: park in the shade whenever possible), run the A/C for a little while with the back windows open to vent out the heat, then shut it off and bask in the breezes.
  5. Bike. This one is pretty obvious.  I actually don't have a bike and I'm afraid to ride with traffic, so I'll skip this one, but you brave biking folk look so sleek and speedy when you zip by me.  Just obey the rules of the road! has a huge list of other fuel-savings tips on their comment board--see if there's anything else there that can work for you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Moneywise Monday: Beg Borrow Steal

Well, not so much begging or stealing, but borrowing totally rules.  As you've all heard me go on and on about, I have a conference/ mini-vacation coming up in New Orleans--actually, I leave this Thursday, woot!  So I'm still working on getting that credit card down to zero before I go, which won't happen because I leave on Thursday and get paid on Friday, but that's just details.

Since this is the American Library Association's annual conference, it is a huge event (picture 11,000 women and 500 men in sensible shoes descending on The Big Easy--sorry hip young librarians, you know it's true).  I've never been, but the Midwinter Conference that I went to in January was pretty overwhelming, so this one may just do my head in.  I am trying to be organized and plan things out beforehand, but there's only so much you can actually plan before you get there and know the lay of the land.  I found myself wanting to buy a tiny computer, or map out internet cafes (do those even exist anymore?)  Just so I could get there, figure out where everything is, and then plan.

That's not a very good strategy because it's potentially very time-consuming and/or impossible and buying a tiny computer for one conference is just silly. I also tried to plan things, and make copious amounts of printouts, but that's an awful lot of paper, and I don't like using/carrying around a lot of paper.  Then I remembered that a dear friend bought a netbook a while ago, so she could do work on her train commute.  I made a call and asked if I could borrow it, she acquiesced, and now I am in possession of a teeny tiny computer that is exactly what I need to help navigate the conference and the city!  Huzzah!  I may even do some blogging while there--who knows!

Blogging will be a bit spotty this week since I'll be working extra hours before I go, and frantically trying to pack, but I'll be back soon to tell you all how I scored tons of free meals!

Anyone else have some moneywise successes this week?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cutting down on Paper

I grew up in a rag-centric household.  There was always always always a washcloth hanging off the kitchen sink tap, and mom would use it to wipe down counters, wash dishes, etc. I can't recall us ever having paper towels, and even napkin use seemed extravagant to me.  If I ever went to a friends' house where they used paper towels, I assumed they must be very rich.

Fast forward to my college years and a series of ads by Sparkle Paper Towels that basically said "reuseable towels are a paradise for germs.  You need to install a paper towel rack in every room of your home--including the bathroom."  The paper towels in the bathroom seemed silly to me even then because this ad was basically saying that by purchasing fancy guest towels, you were poisoning your fancy guests.  But I think I internalized it more than I realized.

For many years, I didn't have on site laundry, so I relied on paper towels because washing clothes was such a pain in the ass it happened really infrequently--and I hate doing laundry.  There were times, every now and then when I would go through a phase of frugality/greenness where I'd decide "No more paper towels for me!  It's all cloth all the time!" But, sadly, it never really lasted, probably because it occurred in conjunction with a vow to keep the house cleaner (usually lasts a week).

Now, I live in an apartment with a clothes washer in the basement, and I am taking the cloth plunge.  I cleaned out a very small garbage can that we never used, and decided to make that the rag can, and that lives right in a corner of my kitchen.  I cut up a couple free t-shirts that I never would have worn into small squares, and have been using those to wipe down the counters in my kitchen for about two months now.  When the rag can fills up, I just wash those with the rest of my towels.

It was a bit of a challenge at first to remember to go to the rag drawer instead of the paper towel spindle (which is so convenient!), but now that I'm in the habit, I barely think of it.  And now that I'm in the habit of using rags, I'm back to feeling extravagant and weird when I use a paper towel!  I'm still using paper towels as napkins (though only 1/2 sheet).  Usually I try to just eat my meal without a napkin, but sometimes, damnit, I want a napkin!

Since starting this experiment, I think I've replaced the paper towel roll once. I don't really know how much I was spending on paper towels before, but I felt like I was buying them all the time.  I currently have four and a half rolls in my house, I'll update this when they're all gone (which will hopefully be a very long time from now).

Anyone have any insight as to the best fabric to make cloth napkins from?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I read about this site in a magazine a while ago and then promptly forgot about it.  Good thing one of my intrepid readers reminded me! is an online savings account that helps you track savings goals, and allows friends and family to help you meet those goals as well.  Unlike, smartypig is a site that you actually contribute money to for savings--it's like a really pretty and smart online bank.  You can share your success with other people as well, and once you've met your goal, you have the choice of taking your money in a debit card, gift certificate or bank transfer. Everything is FDIC insured and the interest rate is currently much more than I'm getting on my regular savings account, so I decided to take it for a test drive.

I need a new iPod.  When I bought mine, about six years ago, I got the largest one in the market, which was 80 gigs.  Well, it's now full and I've been frantically going through and through trying to find stuff to delete, which I really don't like doing.  Problem is, despite my love of minimalism, I do have hoarder tendencies, which may be genetic, and those tendencies have always included music.  When I had 600 CDs, it was a bit of a pain in the ass, but now that it's all electronic and stored in a portable device, why not have as much music as I can?  I imagine that a situation will present itself some day where I will need to school someone about some obscure musician, or will want to listen to as many cover versions of  Superstar by the Carpenters as I can find.  I shouldn't have to give up that dream!

I can get an iPod that is twice the size of my current model for $249.00, and I can probably sell my old one pretty easily.  I'm going to enlist to reach this goal, so we can all learn something, and so I can store my music for the next ten years instead of having to go through and delete all the stuff I haven't listened to.  Once I figure out how it all works, I should be able to put a widget in the sidebar of this blog so any interested person can monitor my progress.

I really hope I like this, because I think it's a pretty great idea.  Anything that makes savings fun is a win/win in my book; and the implications for major purchases like college education or buying a house are pretty swell since parents or grandparents or whomever can contribute at their convenience.  It sure beats that $5 bill I used to get in the mail from my Grandma for birthdays.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Moneywise Monday: Found Money

What a good week, moneywise!  I stayed on track with my frugal challenge of no non-essential spending, and I managed to find some extra money.

I've mentioned before that I'm a librarian.  The library that I work at gets frequent book donations, and we have a big book sale twice a year.  Sometimes these books are in good condition and are something someone would actually want to buy; far too frequently, people give us ancient encyclopedias that have been collecting dust in a damp basement for years and should really just be thrown out.  So when people donate books, we go through them and determine what people might actually want, and get rid of the other stuff. 

The other day a guy came in and dropped off a bunch of old textbooks and asked for a receipt for tax write off.  After he left, I started looking through the box, which also included old notebooks with math homework and other odds and ends--in short, it was a collection of crap his wife had told him to get out of the garage. 

I was a bit annoyed because at the library, we don't have a lot of use for old textbooks, and also because the guy who dropped them off asked if the tax write-off was higher because they were more expensive books (answer: no).  We can try to sell them, if they're English lit anthologies, but lay people just don't often want old calculus books (can't imagine why).  As I was looking through this box, I got a bit curious.  I entered one of the ISBNs from one of the textbooks into Barnes & Noble's textbook buy-back website, and found out that they would buy it for $20.  They were willing to buy another one for about $30.

I paid the library the $2 that they would have sold these books for, and then re-sold them to BN for about $50!  Free money for me just because someone was too lazy to appraise their stuff before they dumped it at the library!  Before you worry that this was unethical, let me assure you that the library would not have sold these books to anyone for more than $1 apiece.  While it would be awesome if we could go through all our donations and re-sell them online if they're worth something (and many libraries do), we just don't have the staff or the volunteers to undertake a project like that. 

I have a friend who actually made quite a tidy profit re-selling things from library booksales, so it's certainly a good idea to check them out when you can.  You never know what you might find!

Any other Moneywise success stories this week?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Food Waste Friday: It's About Time

This week's food waste is not nearly as sexy as previous weeks.  In fact, it's one of the least-sexy foods out there--Old Fashioned Quaker Oats.  I know what you're thinking: Does oatmeal really go bad?  The answer is not really, but for this batch, it's time  to let it go.

The backstory:  For some reason, before I moved from the Midwest to the East coast, everyone warned me about the cost of food.  Even my landlady, before she sent me the lease asked, "Are you prepared for the cost of living?  The cost of food?"  I don't know why everyone was so fixated on this point, but like the paranoid gal that I am, I believed them.  After all, once five people tell you something, you start to think they must be right.


I packed up a bunch of non-perishables and shipped them to my new apartment only to find that many of the items I'd paid to ship actually retailed for less than in the Midwest.  So I basically ended up paying $2.50/box for Tuna Helper, which is certainly not a good deal.  The only items I've noticed that cost significantly more here are: strawberry jam and bread.  For the jam, I switched to generic, and my quality of life is just as good. For the bread, I just try to buy it on sale.

In addition to shipping out Tuna Helper, I also brought along with me in my car the above drum of Quaker Oats.  Keep in mind that I packed my whole life into that car--everything I thought I would need to start fresh, and apparently that included instant oatmeal.  I had the notion in my head that I would live in romantic poverty--lit by candlelight and subsisting on rolled oats exclusively.  That's just not how people live outside of communist Russia.  Damn books!  Another point to keep in mind that I moved to Rhode Island almost four years ago, and had had that Oatmeal on hand for quite some time already.
Yeah, that's February '08.  Or, 3.5 years ago.
That is some seriously expired oatmeal, but I've still been working my way through it.  There are bugs in it, but I can usually skim them off the top, and I figure they won't hurt me.  But you know what?  I don't have to eat bugs--I'm better than that.  And I finally acted by throwing away the approximately 3 cups of oatmeal left in the drum.

I feel fantastic, but my shelf where the oatmeal always sat looks weird to me.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Has Anyone Out There Gone--Reuseable?

I apologize to any male readers out there, but this is a question strictly for the ladies.  We all know that one of the biggest expenses that comes with being female is paying for feminine products.  To that end, there are a variety of cheaper, reuseable options out there that are gaining traction.  I'm intrigued by some, but I also feel like I need more information.

When I was in college, I tried something called Instead.  It was a disposible cup that you could use for up to 12 hours at a time.  I can't honestly say what I thought of it because every time I used it I was so terrified of leakage that I was just constantly running to the bathroom and feeling on edge.  I decided that it was too stressful to be convenient, and went back to my old familiar Kotex.  Well now there are silicon menstrual cups that can be re-used for up to ten years.  The one I've heard mentioned the most is the Diva Cup.

I am seriously intrigued by this notion because of the significant savings attached to it, but also the fact that you create so much less waste, you don't have a stinky bathroom trash can, and you don't have to worry about changing/carrying tampons all the time-- that's a win-win-win as far as I'm concerned.  But it's also kind of weird, how would you get it as sterile as you'd like it to be and... it's just kind of weird.

So I'm curious, has anyone gone this route yet?  I'm willing to try it for the sake of reporting back, but I'd rather not be the only one-- is anyone else willing to try it and report back to me?  Just so we can get a good all-around view.  Or is this just to personal to try out on a blog?  I await your feedback, readers.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Frugal Challenge

Despite my best efforts, the amount owed on my American Express card is far, far too high.  Part of that is down to all the race fees I've paid recently, my semi-frugal minibreak, higher gas prices, six months of car insurance, oil change, haircut--but whatever the reason, it needs to get back to $0.00 ASAP!  Especially since I have another semi-frugal vacation/conference coming up.  For the conference, I've been planning out how to get as many free meals as possible, so there's some significant savings, but there's also the money lost from missing work (curse of the part-timer), and the added expense of adventuring.  I've got money socked away in my travel fund to pay for all the shenanigans I plan to get up to in NOLA, but there's nothing better than to go on vacation with a clean financial slate--much more relaxing.

To reign in the spending, I'm issuing to myself a frugal challenge until I leave for New Orleans on June 23: No non-essential spending.  I may buy food and gas and pay my bills, but I don't need anything else.  I'm also going to try to find some extra money--there always some way to make a little extra.

As always something else will come up over the course of the month that I'll need to pay for, so I'll evaluate that on a case-by-case basis, but the goal is to get this credit card back down to zero before I start my vacation. Total amount owed: $800.  Since my utilities bills are pretty low this time of  year, I should just be able to do it, but only if I stay on track.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When Hobbies Overwhelm Your Budget

Walt Disney World Marathon.  Look how far back that line
of people goes.  And people run in costume (not me).
I don't have a lot of hobbies, which actually makes me feel quite boring.  The rule with me has always been: Just give me a book and I'll be happy.  Well, a few years back, I started running.  Then my father, who has been a runner for 20+ years tricked me into running a 1/2 marathon by promising me an all expenses paid trip to Disney World.  I'm no fool and I'm all about value (plus I love Disney World!), so I totally took him up on it even though I had no idea how to train for a half marathon and would end up making myself very sick.

Fast forward six or so years, and I now run about four half marathons a years plus other races sprinkled in between.  Every spring, I go a little crazy registering for these things, and this year there are more races than ever.  So far this year, I've run two half marathons and a 10k.  The typical half marathon costs ~$50, and the one I'm doing in August costs $100 (it had better be the best thing ever or I'm going to write them a strongly-worded letter! grumble), so I'm feeling a bit skint these days.

The trouble is, I need hobbies.  People need hobbies.  Certainly one could say that my hobby is frugality and saving money, but I don't need to do anything to make that happen--actually I just need to not do things to make that happen.  Running these races gives me a goal to strive for, keeps me fit, and gives me bragging rights and a collection of ugly medals.
The cat likes my medal collection, but he's already thinking about the next race
Since this is my big hobby other than reading, and my reading hobby doesn't cost me any money at all (ok $20/year--maybe), am I allowed to go a little crazy in the summer?  I know a girl who has done 11 half marathons since January!  That's race fees plus the cost of travel (I don't know how she affords it), so that makes my paltry four half marathons a year seem very reasonable.  But I also know I shouldn't compare myself to anyone else.  She probably has more money or less sense than me.

Plus since these races only occur during a six-month period of the year, it seems a bit alarming when the charges start coming in for the registration fees, but if I spread it out over the course of the year, it's not so bad.  I'm just brainstorming and thinking out loud, but how do other people with hobbies fund them?  Perhaps I need yet another savings account for hobby money?

Honestly, I don't know what is a reasonable percentage of income to budget toward hobbies.  No one ever seems to talk about that when they make up those spending/saving pie charts, it just all falls under "entertainment."  I'm lucky in that my chosen hobby is pretty cheap after the initial startup cost of shoes and running gear (though I do tend to acquire more and more gear as the years go on--it's kind of a problem).  Does anyone else have a sound strategy for dealing with hobby money?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Moneywise Monday: A Semi-Frugal Minibreak

I stayed kind of in the middle of the peninsula.  Very nice.
Bf has been working hard for the past month on a presentation for his Ph.D. He has been completely stressed out--sleeping poorly, cranky, etc.  When I discovered that I had three days off over Memorial Day weekend, I knew I needed to have some kind of adventure, and when I asked if he wanted to come with me, the answer was a firm "no".  So, I took myself to Cape Cod to give him some undistracted time, and me some vacation.

Cape Cod is about 90 minutes (barring traffic) from where I live, but since I've lived in Rhode Island, I've never actually been.  Ninety minutes is just a bit too long to go just for the beach, I don't know anyone with a house there, and honestly, I don't really know what you go to Cape Cod to do besides ride bikes and go to the beach.  So this was an exploratory trip as well as an "I want to get out of town if only for 36 hours."

Since it's not the high tourist season, I got a decently-priced hotel within walking distance from the beach.  This hotel also had an indoor and outdoor pool, so I still got to go swimming even though the ocean is far too cold.  but the smartest thing I did--I packed a lunch!  Food on the Cape is expensive, since there are a lot of fancy people who go there.  Since I am not fancy, and already own a lunchbox, what is more sensible than throwing a couple ice packs and some frittata, yogurt and asparagus in my lunchbox and having a lovely picnic?  Since I brought my own food, I only paid for two meals instead of three, one of which was breakfast, which is the cheapest meal of the day.

Aside from the food savings, nothing I did really cost any money at all.  I went to see a play that a friend was in--$20, but the rest of the time I just wandered around, read and lounged.  It was completely restorative, and I highly recommend it.  Total trip cost: $125 + gas, and I now understand the appeal of Cape Cod, and feel slightly closer to the Kennedys.

Anyone else have a moneywise success this week?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Food Waste Friday: Mango Chipotle Salmon

You may wonder why this appears to be in a cat food bowl.
Well, everyone in this household had to do their part before
this food got wasted--including Wee Watson, the house mascot
and Feline Companion.  He didn't like it either.
We eat a lot of the Starkist flavor fresh tuna packs in this house, and I don't know if I bought this salmon one by accident or how exactly it ended up in our house, but it's been here a while.  I'd see it on the shelf, but never really knew what to do with it, so there it stayed.  Then one day last week, bf was looking for an add-in for his mac and cheese (we usually use the hickory smoked starkist tuna pouch, which is fab), and we were out of everything but the Mango Chipotle Salmon.  Not to belittle his choices, but it's pretty clear that mango chipolte and mac and cheese is not going to be a winning flavor combination.

I gamely tried to use up the rest by making a sandwich to take to work, but bottom line is: I just don't really like salmon.  I know it's good for me, and I try to eat it sometimes, but I really don't like the taste.  I'm officially going to stop trying now.

Not to make this into a rant, but has anyone else ever noticed that there seem to be some foods that you're not allowed to dislike?  I grew up a pretty picky eater, so I got used to people getting frustrated when I would refuse to try things. But now I've grown up and I will try almost anything.  However, when I tell people that I don't like certain foods, like shrimp, for example, people seem to get offended.  "Oh, you must not have had good shrimp.  You should really try it again." Recently bf and I were talking about lobster and I said that I don't think I like it.  "Well how many times have you had it? Where did you eat it?"

My answer: "Maine, which is where you go for lobster."

Does this happen to anyone else?  Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that the same thing has happened occasionally with salmon, which is why I've eaten it so damn many times.  I feel like there's a failure to enjoy salmon on my part--I'm just not trying hard enough, or I haven't had the right salmon.

Let the record show: I do not care for parsnips, salmon, shrimp or steak (though I have to admit, I've never eaten steak, but I don't care for any other beef I've ever tried, so why would I waste my money on steak?).  That means there's just more for everyone else.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What's Old is New Again

If you follow me on facebook, you'll know that I just got an email from telling me that jelly shoes are back and they're now for grown-ups--along with a very grown-up price tag of $40.  For anyone who doesn't remember jelly shoes, they were basically shoes made out of a flexible plastic that kind of felt gelatinous.  They were the kind of shoes that you'd find in a giant box at a Wal-Mart or Target with the two shoes tied together (this is where all of my shoes came from until about age 10), and I imagine they cost about $5.

While they were awesome in theory, jelly shoes did not work so well in practice.  The plastic would steam up as your feet got hot, and then you'd start slipping around in them creating blisters unlike you'd ever had before!  But, they came in tons of rad colors, and I'm sure I talked my mother into buying me at least two pairs.  The best thing we ever did with jelly shoes was put them in the freezer.  They'd freeze in about five minutes, and then you'd stick your feet in the super cold shoes, and walk around squealing until they thawed again.  This never got old.

So this is just the latest in pieces of my childhood that are now available for purchase again.  Rainbow Brite and Transformers have been back for a little while and now I'm just waiting to see new commercials for My Buddy and Teddy Ruxpin.  What's most bizarre about this whole turn of events is that fact that I (and people my age) are being targeted so aggressively with all our old toys.  Whatever happened to being inventive and creating something new?  Is this what happened to my parents when they were my age?  I realize that most of the people I graduated high school with have full-time jobs and kids who might love Rainbow Brite, but for me (childless and part-time), it's just so foreign that I feel like the advertisers are trying to get me to reinvigorate my love for childhood toys--for myself.  I guess that is the case with the jelly shoes, actually.

I won't be duped though.  As kitchy and cool as it might be to show up to a party wearing new jellies, I remember all too well the pain that they caused to my feet.  And considering the $40 pricetag--that's not a pain I'm inflicting on my credit card.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June Goals

May just flew by and we are now into summer-officially.  That means it's time for a whole new set of goals.

  1. Buy a beach pass.  I have lived in Rhode Island--The Ocean State--for nearly four years and have never actually swam at a beach in this state.  It's criminal.  I've walked on the beach; I've run the Newport 1/2 marathon twice which ends on the beach, but laying out a towel and frolicking in the waves?  Hasn't happened.  I'm done waiting for someone to take me to the beach, I'm going by myself.
  2. Stay on track with spending.  My income is lower since my hours have been cut at one job, but I should be able to work a little more at my other one.  I need to remind myself though, even though I have some extra time--mustn't go nuts!  I need to plan out some adventures, and there are plenty of awesome free things to do locally in the summer.
  3. Keep focused on the retirement fund.  I know retirement is a superfantastically long time away, but I need to start this fund with a decent chunk of change so it can grow for many, many years.  I can't lose sight of that, even though putting away lots of money feels futile at this point.
  4. Remember minimalism.  I'm not a super minimalist, but I really do have everything I need to live comfortably.  I need to remember that when I'm tempted.
What are your goals this month?