Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Car Curse

I have never had luck with cars, and I've never really been interested in driving, which is part of the reason I didn't get my license until it was time to go to college. While I do love the freedom and independence that comes with having a vehicle, there have been many, many times that I feel the cost has outweighed the benefit (usually I think this on sunny, temperate days).

This was my first car--a 1994 Dodge Colt (this is an internet picture, not my actual car).  I loved this car because very few things could go wrong with it.  It had no power steering, no anti-lock breaks, a manual transmission, manual windows, manual locks and wheels so small they looked like golf cart tires.  I could fit that thing into almost any parking space, but often broke a sweat trying to maneuver because it didn't have power steering--yes, that is possible.

In the four years that I drove the car, I had relatively few problems with it.  I had to replace the clutch--expensive; I got broken into and my dashboard was ripped to shreds by thieves after my CD player; and eventually I totaled it.

Enter car #2
1997 Ford Contour.  It certainly looked flashier than my previous car, but it was a bucket of trouble from day one.  Fords are apparently notorious for having electrical problems, and this one had all of them.  The light in the trunk would stay on and drain the battery, and it took about 12 mechanics to figure that problem out.  Eventually I was on a first name basis with the service manager at the dealership (where I eventually started going after no regular mechanics could do anything for me), and I spent more hours waiting around, eating free cookies hoping for good car news but never hearing it.  Finally, they just told me that the amount of money it would take to fix the problem would be more than the value of the car.

Then they unscrewed the light in the trunk and told me to do without.

Car #3
Chevy Malibu--delightful in its generic-ness.  Apparently everyone in the world drives a Malibu because they're all I see on the roads.  I even put a bumper sticker on it just so I could identify it in parking lots.  I did get a very good deal on this car, and for that I am grateful, but it has also been just one problem after another.

1. The theft system, which is a passlock system, kept tripping when I was trying to drive the car.  Passlock is a system where when the car thinks its being stolen, it cuts off the fuel supply and the car just dies.  Then you have to insert the key, turn it halfway, and wait for ten minutes for the system to disengage.  It was going off so frequently, I was scared to drive for fear of being stuck in the middle of the road--which did happen a couple times, but thankfully, it was only on side roads.  Also, one winter, it went off so often that my battery went dead and I needed a jump start.  Finally, the dealership figured out that the key was the problem, and it hasn't been an issue since, but I had to bring it in about five times before they learned this.

2. I had to replace the brake pads and rotors a couple years ago
3. I replaced all four tires after that
4. Last year my power steering went out, which was a $600 repair.
5. The blinker cuts in and out all the time--I usually get about ten minutes of blinkering per car trip, but that's only when it's cold out.
6. Now the emergency brake light has been staying on all the time, even though I haven't used my e-brake in years.

I finally brought the car in, and they told me that two tires need replacing, some calipers (that cost $113) are worn through which is why the e-brake light is staying on; and the whole console that controls the blinker is completely fried and wants replacing.  Grand total: $1000. I realize that in the past two years, I've driven significantly more than most people, but this seems ridiculous. 

How often do other people have major car repairs?  I would accept fixing my car annually if it was a much older car, but it's a 2005!  Is it just that nothing is built to last anymore, or do I just have particularly bad luck?  This is the area of my life where I do not know enough to negotiate and I do not have the time to shop around, but that just makes me feel like a sucker.  After this repair, I am parking the car unless it is pouring out or I need to leave the state.

How does everyone else deal with this?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Super Sporty?

honestly, the changing clothes aspect is what
 freaks me out the most.
I've always said that I would be interested in attempting a tri-athalon, but I neither swim nor bike.  I mean, I do know how to swim, I took lessons as a youth, but I certainly don't have anything resembling a technique, and I've barely been in the water since age twelve.  Likewise, prior to about six months ago, I hadn't been on a bike since junior high, and riding my new bike has quickly taught me that I'm really not very good at it--my legs were burning after a mere two miles!

Here's the rub though.

My new gym has a very nice pool, and I would kind of like to use it.  Especially since the month of February was my most injury-plagued month ever in my life (one injury, but a stupid, tenacious one), and I started remembering that swimming is a great, low impact workout that could be perfect for a gimpy girl like me!  I emailed a friend who used to be sporty but who has since given it up, and asked her if she had some goggles I could borrow.  Not only did she lend me goggles to keep indefinitely, but she gave me a swim cap (which I'm a bit scared to try on), and while we were chatting, something else came up.

Apparently, she still has a really nice racing bicycle that's just chilling out in her scary basement.  It needs a bit of work, but could be totally serviceable--and she'd let me use it.  So now it seems like my biggest excuse: I don't want to pay a ton of money for a good racing bike, is out the window.

I'm trying not to get ahead of myself because presently I've only ridden my bike once and I still haven't gone swimming, but there's a germ of an idea there.

I mean, if life gives you lemons, you make lemonade ergo, if life lends you a nice racing bike, you must do a tri-athalon?  Even with the free bike, this sounds like a lovely new way to spend gobs of money on gear and registration fees all in the name of 'health.'  Or you could look at it as a great way to potentially kill myself doing the Escape From Alcatraz Tri-Athalon that Danie and I talked about doing two years ago... remember that, Danie? How awesome would it be to escape from Alcatraz?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Link Love: The Rules edition

Didn't care for the show, but I do like Jaime Bamber
He's the cheekbones on the left
I like rules.  I like Law and Order (not the tv show, I find it boring and tedious), I especially like it when you can access an expert who will tell you something that you want to know in a thoughtful and helpful manner.  Therefore, I present to you, my list of the best blogs for helping with certain aspects of life that we all need help with--even if we didn't know we did.

  • For tips on how to blog, I turn to Jessica Quirk at What I Wore.  She is also one of my go-tos for outfit and fashion ideas. This woman is stylish and smart, and I totally want to have lunch with her, maybe just follow her around for a while, but not in a creepy way (promise).  She also does her blog as a business, has interns, and gets invited to fashion week events--clearly she knows what she's doing.  Her book, What I Wore, is how I first discovered her--thank you new books cart at the library, and it's a very thoughtful and well-done instruction manual on matching, dressing for your body type, outfit remixes and looking like you have style, even if you may not.

  • Manners, life is much better, for everyone, when you deal with people who have manners.  I'm not talking about going completely overboard like the British do sometimes, but rather just knowing how to act in certain social situations.  Oftentimes, special occasions come up rather infrequently, and you're not quite sure what to do (at least this happens to me pretty often).  Then I get stressy and nervous and don't have a good time.  Reading up on the rules of decorum beforehand can alleviate that stress, and allow you to actually have a good time!  Living the dream!  Lauren Conrad tackles some frequent and infrequent social situations for which we may all need a manners brush up in: The Ladylike Laws.

So many social rules!

  • If you want to take your manners to the next level, check our Forever Young Adult's How to be a Ladynerd Downton Abbey series.  Even of you don't want to be a full-on LadyNerd, it might really come in handy to know how to make a home-made fascinator or serve a high tea.

  • Wasting food sucks and it's just like throwing money away, but I often find that I can't or don't know how to store produce properly to make it last.  Enter: This handy list from My Thirty Spot: How to Store Fruits and Vegetables so They Don't Rot.  I printed this off, and I keep it in my kitchen with my cookbooks--genius!
If anyone else has found awesome online tutorials etc., please give them a shout out in the comments.  We can always learn more.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Weekly Frees

*Warning: This post may sound a bit braggy, but I hope that all will realize that it's in the spirit of celebrating AWESOME

A rather scruffy-looking hipster type came into my library the other day and asked me to hang a poster for him.  I said "of course!" and he informed me that he had already hung one in the bulletin board area, but also wanted to score the primo end of the bookcase poster real estate.  This vexed me because double-dipping like that is a bit selfish when we have so many other things hanging up, and the control freak librarian in me does not appreciate his just hanging things up willy-nilly.  I have a system for god's sake!

To throw him a bone though, I put the poster up in the coveted real estate, but didn't hang up the second one he had given me.  It's a compromise.

Since I didn't hang up the second one, it's been sitting on my desk for the past two weeks.  Even though I'm totally anal about the bulletin boards, my work space is a cluttered mess most of the time.  What happened though was because I hadn't hung up the poster, I actually read the damn thing, and found out that there is free acupuncture to be had in honor of the five-year anniversary of Providence Community Acupuncture!  Bonus: It's within walking distance of my house!

I'd never had acupuncture, but I've been having back pain and days long headaches, and my doctor (who I'm thinking of breaking up with) can't see me until April.  I'm more than willing to take a chance on Eastern medicine if it works. Plus, it's free!

In addition to free acupuncture this week, I also scored some more free theatre.  With that free theatre came three free beers, about three platefuls of free food and plenty of abs.
This guy barely wore a shirt--that's culture 
Seriously, I'm still not sure if I actually liked the play, but watching this guy walk around was like an anatomy lesson.  As my friend and fellow theatre-goer, Candace put it, "I didn't even know people had muscles there!"

Over the weekend, I visited a friend in Albany, NY, and we hit up the New York State Museum, which is not only a fantastic museum, but it's free!
I think it looks kind of like a Chinese pagoda--thoughts?

We also visited the Saratoga National Historic Park, a free day trip and the site of a major historic battle that partially determined the outcome of the Revolutionary War--important stuff.

While in Albany, I also attended the 3rd annual Mac & Cheese Bowl, which was not free, but for the low-low price of $15, I got to sample 32 types of mac & cheese from restuarants all over the New York capital region.  Well, I would have sampled 32 varieties, but about half had meat in them. No matter, I got seconds from the ones that didn't!  By the end of about an hour of near-constant cheesy pasta eating, I was feeling a bit sick, but also quite happy.

All in all, a successful, frugal and adventurous week!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Out-Frugaling Myself!

My number one rule for frugal work eating is: Oatmeal.  Even the most organized person will forget to pack his or her lunch from time to time, and having a constant stash of instant oatmeal at work can be a huge money saver.  Sure, it's not the sexiest lunch, but it costs about $.20 per package for the store brand, $.25 per package for the name brand.  Compare that with going out to get a sandwich, which probably means getting a drink as well, and you're saving almost $5.  Plus, oatmeal is filling and good for you.  If you don't like oatmeal, I bet you can come up with some other thing to stash at work for those forgetful days.

Since starting new job, I haven't been taking my own advice at all.  I haven't gone out to lunch, except my first day when I used a giftcard I got for my birthday, but I also don't have my oatmeal stash--thankfully, I haven't forgotten my lunch...yet.  I was making a grocery list the other day, and I realized that while I may not have the packets of oatmeal I usually bring to work, I do have the ingredients to make my own, for potentially greater savings!

Ingredient #1 Quaker Old Fashioned Oats!  My using these oats in this way is also a good thing as it takes me forever to go through a whole drum, and though I rarely eat oatmeal at home, I always have some on hand--it's comforting somehow.

Ingredient #2 Those pecans that BF's mother inexplicably gave us for x-mas!  BF's mother has a tendency to gift food that she got a good deal on at the Ocean State Job Lot (weird remaindered store--kind of like Big Lots).  Sometimes it's good, oftentimes it's weird and we wind up giving it to the food bank.  In the case of the pecans, I like them, I think BF may be slightly allergic to them, and we don't really bake so I have no idea what to do with them.  They'll go great in oatmeal.


Since they were whole pecans, I crushed them with a hammer, which was great fun.

Ingredient #3 Chopped Dates, which I frequently have on hand because they're tastey in salads.  I may also pick up some raisins because I love them, and they're cheaper than dates.

Final product!

When I do the math, it's about the same for the make-your-own variety of this as it is for the little packets, but I'm saving on packaging, and I don't have to add another thing to my grocery list.  Plus, given my history with wasted oatmeal and my confusion as to what to do with the pecans, I'm coming out way ahead in the not wasting food area of my life.  Plus, since I'm making my oatmeal myself, I can put in more of the good stuff i.e dates and pecans than if I was using the packet.

I'm pretty stoked.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Weekend Reading: The Rules of Inheritance

American cover-author
Note: Just because the word Inheritance is in the title does not a personal finance post make.  I wish I knew the rules to inheritance meaning the way to inherit lots of money, but I do not.  I don't think there are any rules except to enter a gold-digging marriage with an old man, and I do not suggest that--ew.

Changing gears.

Memoir is a tricky, tricky genre.  It seems simple enough, everyone has a story whether they know it or not, but I've found that while a lot of people have a story (or many stories) very few people can identify the ones worth telling, or tell them in a way that is actually entertaining and insightful rather than self-indulgent and horrible.  I've read many memoirs in my life because when they're good, they're really good; but when they're bad they are horrid.

Thankfully, The Rules of Inheritance is one of the good ones, though it's really difficult to say that I enjoyed this book (that will become clear, stick with me), it certainly made me think.

Claire Bidwell Smith was 14-years-old when both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer within months of each other, "I've already come to the conclusion that I will probably be parentless by the time I am thirty" she realizes.

What follows is a story of tragedy and loss but ultimately redemption and healing. What makes this book worth reading, is the way that the author relives the experience--warts and all-- and takes the reader on the journey of loss and finally realizing in the end that while it's never easy to lose the people that you love and need most, you can live through it, and find good in it (but not in a schmaltzy way).  Claire's mother dies first, while she is in college, and her father dies years later when she is a young adult.  Her mother was a powerful force in her life, as I think mothers are with most young girls--for good or for bad, and she realizes after her mother is gone that if her mother had not died first, she would have never gotten to know her father.

Australian cover-author's mother
I just included it because I like this cover better
Insights like that are the reason this book works so well.  And because memoir is such a personal genre, and death is so universal, any reader can read this book and parallel his or her own experiences with grief and loss even if those experiences are completely different.

Personally, I'm not close with my parents (we're not enemies, we just don't have much in common), but I've never thought about how everything I know and do would change so fundamentally if they were gone.  I've never thought about it because I honestly believe that they'll live forever, and because I choose to focus on more pleasant things. More than just losing a check and a card on my birthday and at x-mas, I would really lose my safety net (the one I hope I never really need, but am always glad is there). Despite the fact that this book deals with a young girl losing both her parents at a very young age (mid-twenties is a very young age), it's really not a downer book, just a thought-provoker, and it provokes thoughts that I never would have arrived at otherwise.

Another reason that the book works is because of the honesty of the author.  She isn't trying to detail a grand experience (like a self-centered frenemy) or write a 'woe is me' melodrama, it's just an account of what happens to Claire when her parents get sick and ultimately die.  She's no stoic, she makes poor choices, she drinks too much, she shaves her head she drops out of college, but eventually she grows up and figures herself out.  It's a coming of age story about someone for whom the path to growing up wasn't quite traditional.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book (which I donated to the library) and compensation from, but my opinions, as always, are completely mine.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

You Are What You Read?

I've always been a bookish young lady.  Growing up, most of my allowance and baby-sitting money was spent on books; I mentally referred to the public library in my small town as 'my office'; and if I met Judy Blume today, I'm pretty sure, nay, certain, I would lose my shit completely.

I still re-read the books that I enjoyed as a youngster and despite my voracious reading habit, I still find that I missed a few classics here and there.  My friend Melissa was reflecting on her best-loved books a while ago, and mentioned the works of Alida Young, in particular, a cautionary tale of the dangers of steroid abuse: Dead Wrong.

Oh no!
I never read Alida Young when I was growing up, but she seems to be in the Lurlene McDaniel/ Beatrice Sparks camp of writing cautionary tales about young people who go through incredibly trying ordeals and often die.  Other Alida Young titles include: What's Wrong with Daddy?  Is Chelsea Going Blind? and I Never Got to Say Goodbye.

Naturally, I immediately requested Dead Wrong from the library and read it the other day on my lunch break.  What struck the most, however, was not the message that steroids are terrible (I do already know that, and have no desire to bulk up), but the fact that money and the family's struggles with it are just as much of a theme in this book as steroid abuse is.

The parents in this book own a small business and work very long hours trying to bring the money in, which ends up being one of the reasons that the older brother uses performance-enhancing drugs--he needs a college scholarship.  The main character hates that her parents are always working, and begs them to buy a computer so she doesn't have to use her teacher's or a friends, but they tell her that they can't afford it.  

This reminded me that a lot of young adult and children's books I read growing up featured families that were struggling financially, and that in most of the young adult books I read these days (the current ones) rarely include characters like that, or even mention money unless it's spending it at the mall.  Let's take a look at some of the books I read that shaped me into the lovely adult I am today:

Ramona Quimby in the Ramona Quimby Series:
  1. The cat, Picky Picky, had to eat Puss Puddy brand cat food because it was the cheapest, and he hated it.
  2. In Ramona and her Mother, Ramona squirts out an entire tube of toothpaste in the sink, and her mom carefully scrapes it all back out and the family has to dip their brushes in the cup of paste until it's all gone.  When I first read this, I thought it was weird and gross, and I remember having what may have been my first lightbulb moment: this family is poor!  In my mind, that made these books even more interesting.
  3. The family always eats at home, and there is mention of crock-potting and eating pancakes for dinner.
  4. There are various job changes and layoffs over the course of the series, and even though the books are told from the perspective of a young girl who doesn't quite understand everything, money is often at the forefront.
Baby Sitters Club Series:
  1. Perhaps most of the families weren't poor, but Kristy's rich step-father was an anomaly which always got an extended mention.
  2. The BSC members all worked for all of their own spending money, and seemed to buy most of their own clothes.
  3. The only time the BSC girls seemed to go on vacation, they were also babysitting.  Even when they went to camp, they went as Counselors in Training and presumably got a reduced rate.
Sweet Valley High Series:
  1. The Wakefield twins shared a car that had previously belonged to their mother.
  2. Jessica was often involved in a hair-brained money-making schemes
  3. Elizabeth saves up for the duration of a whole book to pay for her word processor
  4. Many mentions of baby-sitting jobs, au pair gigs and internships (that Jessica always seemed to get even though she was wildly underqualified and seemingly uninterested).
  5. There were 'rich' characters--Bruce Patman, Lila Fowler, and then there was everyone else.

Contrast those titles with current 'classics'
  1. Gossip Girl Series: Rich kids in Manhattan whose only money concern is having the newest and best.  I used to read Gossip Girl books while on my break at the bookstore.  I would pretend that the latte and biscotti I was enjoying were not simply spoils of the barista life, but that I was the type of person who lounges in a cafe with coffee and a treat.
  2. The Clique Series:  I've only read one of these books, but they pretty much only talk about labels and shopping.  Apparently The Gap is unacceptable?  Who knew!  I rarely shop at the Gap because I think it's too expensive.
  3. Pretty Little Liars Series:  Fancy houses in a fancy part of Philadelphia.  There's some shoplifting, but not really because the characters are poor.  Many, many mentions of Escalades.
So what happened?  I realize that it's more fun to read about and write about people who have the means to have endless adventures, but if these books are supposed to imitate life and allow kids to find themselves within the pages, we may have a problem.  Did we get too comfortable during the heyday of the 1990's spending and forget what it meant to scrape by?  

So far, the current economic slump seems to be inspiring more distopian YA fiction than ever before, which seems to make the money woes of the present more far removed from reality.  Maybe the 'New Frugality' will take a place in the books for the next generation, or maybe we'll keep sheltering kids by making money trouble more fantasy than real life.  Of course, we have to consider that there is far, far more writing for young people these days than at any other time in history, but even if we look back at the very old classics, there was often mention of money and not having enough of it, and there were often secondary characters who were known as rich people--often the rich people were unhappy:
Little Women-- The March family constantly frets about money (even though they have a servant).
The Secret Garden--The characters have money, but are miserable until the poor neighbor boy teaches them how to play outside and make things grow.
Heidi--Lives in a mountain hut with her grandfather and sleeps on a bed of straw.  Also, spends time in Frankfurt with rich people who seem very unhappy.
Nancy Drew--Even though Nancy never worried about money personally, Bess and George often had the challenge of coming up with cash to go mystery-solving with their favorite chum.  Honestly, I remember wondering at various points in that series where Nancy got all her cash.  Then I decided to be a lawyer, since they're obviously rolling in it, like the famous Carson Drew.

Is this something anyone else noticed?  Can you think of other books from way back that included poor or poorish characters?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Providence Frugality Audit

With props to Annabelle over at Shopping Detox, I though it would be interesting to take a look at my fair city through the lens of frugality.

A little background: Providence was founded in 1636 by a man named Roger Williams.  Williams had been kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his radical views about religion i.e. that we should have freedom of it.  He wandered to then unsettled Rhode Island, which was inhabited by the Naragansett Indians, got along with them (there's some more history that I'm leaving out here), and fast forward almost 400 years, and we have the city I now call home.

Providence is a pretty compact city, and is kind of organized like a broken wheel--neighborhoods radiate out from a central downtown area (where there is very little parking, many people say).  This is good in that it makes for a more walkable city, this is bad in that it's in the top ten of worst cities to drive in in the United States, but I blame Rhode Islanders and their not knowing how four-way stops work.  Public transit is mediocre and getting worse by the day, but you can live here without a car, so it gets frugality points for that.

+1 Frugality Point for walkability

Winters are relatively mild here, with the average winter low being 30 degrees.  Winters feel colder, however, because the air is so damp and the houses are often from the colonial era and are poorly insulated.  I have to say though, in the grand scheme of things, Providence winters are really not bad.  It typically doesn't get super cold until late November, and warms up around March.  Coming from Fargo, ND where we have blizzards in May, I'll give the frugal weather points to Providence.  Also, the summers get hot, but aren't unbearable, so you can get away with minimal air conditioning.

+1 Frugality Point for weather

Rents in Providence are pretty high, I couldn't find an apartment in any neighborhood for less than $600/month, but you often get a lot of space and character for that money.  Compared to my apartment in Fargo, which was $300/month, but then an additional $250 per month to heat in the winter, I think Providence is doable.  It's certainly cheaper to live here than in Boston.
This is not my house, but is an example of a typical multi-family
home found in Providence.  Each apartment is usually a whole floor. 
+1 Frugality Point for reasonable rents BUT
-1 Frugality Point because for high unemployment 

Providence is also great for free or cheap things to do.  Having both the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University means that there is a lot of cheap theatre, a world-class art museum (that's free before 1pm every Sunday or free with a pass from the library), tons of educational talks, lots of community events and Providence's coup de grace: Waterfire.  
Waterfire is basically baskets on the river that people fill with cedar and set ablaze, then there's music and street food and other things going on.  Honestly, I don't really get it, and I once had someone (not from Providence) ask me if he was supposed to bring his own chickens or if they would be provided.  Waterfire is not a cookout.  Waterfire happens about every other week in the summer, and each week is a little bit difference, like one week, will be symphony week, etc.  I usually go to one or two a year just because it's a fun energetic way to spend the evening, and you can drink beer in the streets.  It attracts hordes of people from all over, and is totally free (beer costs extra).  You can also pay extra and ride in a goldola right next to the flaming baskets, but I don't know why you would want to do that because it gets awfully smoky.

+1 Frugality Point for free or cheap access to culture

Providence also has one of the highest rates restaurants per capita than any other US city.  We have a culinary arts school (that educated Emeril Lagasse), and Providence is where the diner was invented.  The nice thing is that there are tons of good restaurants here, but that is decidedly unfrugal.  when I first moved here, I was eating out sometimes three times a day--not frugal, and I gained a lot of weight meaning my clothes didn't fit.

-1 Frugality Point for having so many delicious restaurants that I want to eat at all the time

One thing that one has to mention when discussing Providence and frugality is the current budget crisis.  The state of Rhode Island is broke and the city of Providence is in a very bad way.  Last year, when Mayor Angel Tavares took office, he announced that Providence is facing a structural deficit of $110 million for the fiscal year.  Providence has not been frugal in the past, but will have to become frugal in the future, or else... I don't know what, I guess the city declares bankruptcy like nearby Central Falls did last year.

-2 Frugality Points for being in a budget crisis

That means that Providence comes out even as a frugal city.  For the people that live here, you can get by fairly cheaply, but with the looming deficit and the mayor's pronouncement that things are grim, taxes are going to continue to go up and retirees currently enjoying cushy pensions are going to have to sacrifice.  It's the new austerity!  

Verdict: Frugal Failure on the road to recovery

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stuff You Don't Need

These are called pizza scissors--you don't need them
When my brother and I lived in the same town, we would frequently order pizza on a late Sunday afternoon, and then eat it while I did laundry and he just sat there watching tv (I watched tv too, while the clothes washed).  We would order the pizza, and then to kill time while waiting to pick it up, we would go to Bed Bath and Beyond.  I don't know what it is about that store, but it just soothes me.  Target is too dangerous, I always leave with something; Wal-Mart is just depressing and I refuse to go there; but BB&B is a store where I can frequently find what I need at a good price, but also happily leave the store with nothing, which is very rare with other stores.

It's also these frequent trips to BB&B that showed me the level of moronic gadgetry that exists in this world--mostly for the kitchen, and it is with great love for this store that I present you with a list of some of the dumbest shit I've seen available for sale (feel free to disagree with me, or add your own).

Panini Press.  A friend was freaking out on facebook a while ago about needing a panini press. She felt that they were a little too expensive, but knew that her kids love hot sandwiches and it would certainly get used a lot.  Cost per use dictated that, for her, this would be a great purchase.  But I completely derailed her way of thinking by asking one simple question: Don't you have a Foreman Grill?

Everyone in the world has a Foreman Grill, and if you don't have one, I guarantee that you can go to a thrift store and pick one up for $.50.  If that skeeves you out, get one from a friend.  If you live close to me, you can have our second Forman Grill.  In all of the apartments I've lived in over the years, both with people and alone, I swear I always have more than one.  We have two now because someone left one behind in BF's old apartment, and it has a bun warmer, so we totally kept it (bun warmers are a bit more rare).  Anyway, the point is, you may have a Forman Grill already and not even know it!  Use that to grill your sandwiches.

You're welcome.

Quesadilla Maker.  It's called a frying pan--and you already have one of those too.  If not, if you're sure you don't, buy one of those instead.  Go to TJ Maxx, or HomeGoods, or Burlington Coat Factory or the thrift store, and buy a frying pan.  Even if you eat quesadillas every single day, I really don't think you need one machine that only makes one food.  Plus, you should really eat some vegetables, which you can stir fry in a frying pan!

Single Cup Coffee Maker.  I know a lot of people have these and think they're super swell, but for all the convenience of brewing a single cup, you're wasting tons of plastic and paying up to $50 per pound of coffee.   From the New York Times, "For example, the Nespresso Arpeggio costs $5.70 for 10 espresso capsules, while the Folgers Black Silk blend for a K-Cup brewed-coffee machine is $10.69 for 12 pods. But that Nespresso capsule contains 5 grams of coffee, so it costs about $51 a pound. And the Folgers, with 8 grams per capsule, works out to more than $50 a pound."  Also, I've had coffee from these machines before, and I've never enjoyed it.  It takes two pods to fill a regular sized coffee cup, and the coffee just doesn't taste good.  If you're wasting coffee by brewing too much, brew less, or switch to instant coffee and make a cup at a time that way using a teakettle for the water, or even the microwave. K-cups are just instant coffee anyway.  I make four cups of coffee in the morning, drink those, and then have English tea the rest of the day.  I'm happy as can be.

This does not make your pizza more 'authentic'
Rice Cooker. To be honest, I've never had a rice cooker and I have heard that people like them a lot, so feel free to set me straight.  In my mind, it makes much more sense to get a crockpot that you can use to make a whole lot of other things besides rice (and you can also make rice in it).  A friend of mine got a rice cooker for her birthday one year, and she said that her parents had gotten her a cheaper ($50) one, which didn't really work that well.  My crock pot cost $30, and makes perfect rice every time.  It also makes me lots of stews, soups and other goodies.

Pizza Cooker.  Just use your oven, what is wrong with you?  Is the notion that a gadget like this cooks more evenly or something?  Even so, if your oven can't cook pizza properly, either figure out a way to make it work, or get a new oven.  The only way I could see someone needing a gadget like this, is if they lived in a dorm room or studio apartment with no oven, but this might violate the dorm room hot plate rule, so do some research first.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Oh no

It seem we are 1/3 of the way through the Newlyweds on a budget weight loss competition.  I had a feeling that that was coming.  Drat.

Today I'm pleased to announce that I have lost two pounds!  Certainly that's not a huge number, but honestly, my body builds muscle and hangs onto weight like a fat kid hangs onto cake, so I'm not too surprised.  Some recent developments RE: my health and fitness goals.

  1. I've started taking fish oil supplements as suggested by Why Women Need Fat, and I have to say, I feel like when I take them, I'm not so ravenously hungry all the time.  certainly I get hungry, but it's less of that OMG if I don't eat now I will die! feeling.  But there may be another reason for that, which I will outline in bullet point 2.
  2. I haven't been able to go running.  I've run 7 miles this month.  To put that into perspective, I usually run 25 miles a week.  It's February 14th, and I should be hovering around 35 miles right now.  I had some back issues a while back and they seem to have radiated down to my right leg.  I spent most of last week trying not to move, and now, I still can't run, so I've been trying to do other things.  Walking is a bit iffy too, but I can use the elliptical machine backward!  Not being able to run/walk has no doubt quelled my appetite significantly, so the fish oil thing may just be hooey.
  3. I have been doing the yoga, which may be how I hurt my leg.  Seems about right that I finally start stretching and hurt myself doing it.  Yoga two times a week makes me happy, but it's not the kind of euphoric cardio I crave. God, I miss running, I watched this video of Kara Goucher the other day, and got a bit choked up.  That was partly because I'm happy for her, but mostly because I want to run, damnit!
  4. I've been eating less/better, and feeling better because of it.  Hopefully, once I can get some cardio back in my life, I will drop some weight.
  5. The days are getting longer, so I will soon feel confident riding my bike to work.  I know, I'm a fraidy cat, but I also wanted to get some extra reflectors/flashing lights for the after dark biking--I want to live, damnit!
So there it is.  How's everyone else doing on the weight loss challenge, or, if you're not doing that, your other New Year's resolutions?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pay Yourself First

Yeah, he looks like kind of a weiner
A long, long time ago, when I first realized that I was poorer than I should be and that it was probably my own fault, I read the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  This was the point in my life where I had finished my first master's degree (the frivolous one), was working part-time for minor ducats at my first library job and was contemplating a cross-country move to go to graduate school for library science.  I needed to not only pay off lingering debts, but also save as much as possible before I headed off into the great unknown that was The Ocean State.

So I turned to personal finance gurus Robert Kiyosaki and Suze Orman who gave me such sagelike advice as "Pay yourself first" and "Don't spend more than you make."

The don't spend more than you make advice is a no-brainer, but the pay yourself first one is something that I still struggle with and question whether or not it makes sense.  Kiyosaki claims that by paying yourself first i.e. putting money into savings for yourself before paying anyone else--like your credit cards, you will find a way to find the money that you need for your bills, and then you will also have savings.  It's kind of like the out of sight, out of mind strategy where you hide your savings in a separate account that you rarely see so you won't be tempted to go buy shoes.

Except, I've tried this strategy, and then had to dip back into savings to pay my bills--cause you need to pay those.  I'm a big fan of keeping the lights on, and would prefer to love $.01 worth of interest in order to do that.  So, I like the idea, but it's not always the best move.  Also, I don't want to be rich, just comfortable and Kiyosaki seems to have nothing but derision for those of us who don't want to be millionaire entrepreneurs.  While it might be an adventure to make money that way, it's just not me.  I'm a wage slave (for now), and I'm just fine with that.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this was the fact that I'm still adjusting to my new salary and frequency of wage-earning.  I'm used to getting paid every week, and now it's every other week.  I'm used to my money going directly into my savings and IRA, now I have to tell it to go there, and it's a bit painful.

I regret nothing!
It's totally cute!
I mentioned before that my Visa bill crept up over the month of January, and now I'm paying the price (literally--insert rimshot).  Obviously, I want to decimate that bill, but I also want to get my saving plan back on track.  What's a girl to do?  Paying interest on a credit card is not my scene, but not adding regularly to savings is just not me either--I love saving, though not as much as I loved buying this necklace.

So, in defiance of Robert Kiyosaki's rule, I will be paying my Visa bill first and myself second.  Honestly, I kind of already paid myself in goods and self-congratulatory 'yay for new job' treats, so now it's time to settle up.

How about you?  Do you follow the pay yourself first rule, or are you more flexible?  Has anyone really found a way to make that work all the time, or is it more of a guideline?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

12 (Free) Things

I did an image search for facebook scrabble and this came up
let's go with it--makes things more intense
Last time I tried to make a list of the 12 things I'm loving right now, I only managed to come up with 10, and listed my bicycle twice (I really like my bike!).  This time, the challenge is to list 12 things that are not only awesome, but are also free.

1. Facebook Scrabble!  Apologies to my scrabble partners, I've been a bit slow lately, but that doesn't mean I don't love you!  What I love about facebook scrabble is that it's fun, interactive (you can catch up with friends while playing), and it's not a total time suck.  If I was into castle quest or one of those other games, I would never stop playing.  With scrabble, you have to stop, because it stops being your turn.  I've got a good collection of facebook friends that I play scrabble with, some of whom I haven't actually seen or talked to in years!

2. Pizza!  I realize that usually pizza is something you have to pay for, so let me explain.  There is a local pizza place around the corner from my house that BF and I order from pretty frequently.  I recently got on their email list, and it turns out that they love to give away free pizza all the time!  This fall, every time Brown University beat whoever they were playing in football, this place gave away a free pizza.  Apparently Brown is good at football, cause I got a free pizza every Sunday for six weeks.  Yesterday, they sent out an email saying free medium pizza!  So I got one, and will each it for lunch, possibly dinner.  Someone else gave me the tip that if you 'like' Dominos on facebook, you can get free pizza that way, but so far, it hasn't panned out.

3. Decluttering.  I just dropped off three pairs of boots at the thrift store.  I hadn't worn any of them in at least two years, and one pair I only wore once because they're actually too small (did I think my feet would shrink?  Why did I buy them?). Since getting rid of those albatrosses, my shoe rack has enough room for all of my shoes!  Also, at work, the ladies who were there before me had legitimate hoarding tendencies.  In the past week, I've cleaned out the hanging files (printouts from 2002! Why!?!?), organized the bulletin board and started a massive weeding project (getting rid of old books).  It's starting to look a lot better in my beautiful library, and now we can find the things we actually need.

4. The clothes I already own.  Yes, there was an initial cost to these, but once I own them, they're free.  I'm still really trying to push myself in terms of trying new things with my old clothes (with the help of fashion blogs like What I Wore and Thankfifi)

5. My Kitty.  Wee Watson and I have been together for nine years, and I'm fairly convinced that I love him more than I could ever love a human child.  He was completely free (born in a barn), and as far as pets go, is quite inexpensive.  He doesn't like treats or fancy toys, just dry kibble (the cheapest brand) , boxes to sit in occasionally, and a good wrestling match/chase fight every once in a while.  He also keeps my feet warm.
Watson as toe-warmer
6. Sparkpeople.  Sparkpeople is a free (ad-supported) nutrition tracker that I've been using for about a year.  At first I was annoyed with having to log in everything I ate/drank, but now I love it!  I signed up initially to track calories consumed versus calories expended, but now I just kind of love keeping track of my nutrition and trying to have as balanced a diet as I can.  Plus, it gives me points and virtual trophies, which is lame, but makes me strangely happy.

7. My profession.  Despite my occasional annoyances with weirdo librarians, bureaucracy and the American Library Association, I really do love my profession.  I get to spend my day helping people, and that's it.  I don't have to sell anyone anything, I'm not under pressure to raise sales or meet arbitrary goals.  If you come into my library, you can stay there all day and not spend a dime (except for printing costs and late fees), and you can learn about practically anything you want.  I get to go home at the end of the day and feel good about what I've done, and that's pretty awesome.  Plus, they pay me!

8. My Couch.  When I moved to Providence, I only took what fit in my car, so I needed to get some cheap furniture right away.  Thankfully, my landlady at the time had a boyfriend with a house full of furniture (long story).  He gave me this awesome seafoam green sectional couch circa 1975, and I have loved it ever since.
Watson likes it too.  He also loves music.
It's getting a little beat up, but should last until I can afford a real grown-up couch, or I move again and leave everything behind (no idea if that will ever happen, but I am always up for an adventure).

9. Mild winter.  It was 51 degrees yesterday, people.  That is unreal.  I went for a long run in the morning (and injured myself), and it was the perfect temperature.  We're saved countless dollars on the cost of heating oil, and I love it!

10. Awesome friends.  I really have some awesome friends--that's awesome.

11. Not being in grad school anymore.  At first, when graduation was looming, I was terrified of being out in the real world--paying taxes, navigating all sorts of paperwork, being responsible...  Now I love it!  It's not scary at all, and I'm allowed to do extravagant things like have hobbies and go out for lunch!  It's amazing, and much, much cheaper!

12. Shirley's Lost and Found box.  Part of my regular running route is on a 1.5 mile path that runs along the edge of town. This path is frequented by runners, walkers, mommies and people just out for a leisurely stroll.  It's awesome because there are so many people, you frequently get head nods and smiles and in the fall, the foliage is really top-drawer.  Because it's so well-used, someone named Shirley mounted a Lost & Found box to one of the benches.
I opened the box one day, and it's jammed with all kinds of things, including thank you notes to people who have found lost items.  I love the spirit of camaraderie and helpfulness!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

February Cheap Week

I'm going to make this next week a cheap week, which is a term I just made up (but I still found a logo for it on the internets!), which means that I'm going to focus on spending as little as I can, but still have some frugal fun, and hopefully end the week with a feeling of accomplishment.

My week:
Saturday: Racquetball and PotLuck
Racquetball: I've never played racquetball, but my brother recently started playing with a friend of his and says it's great fun and great exercise. I've begged BF to play tennis with me, but he refuses, so racquetball is the compromise.  My new gym has a racquetball court, and I got BF a free two-week pass--Racquetball it is!*
Cost: 13 month gym membership, already paid.

Pot Luck: A friend who recently moved away will be back for a visit this weekend and we're having a low-key potluck.  I will be making this:
Tator tot Hotdish
It's going to be amazing.  Cost: probably about $6 for a whole lot of servings, and I fully plan to gorge myself on all the other offerings.

Sunday: Long run, household chores, bike basket, yoga
The weather is supposed to be 41 degrees and sunny, which means that I will be doing a long run outside.  I've had a bit of an odd injury this week, so I don't know if this will be a long, long run, but I'm hoping for minimum six miles, depending on how I feel.
Also, I still need to attach my basket to my bicycle, and I'd like to catch up on laundry and make a soup for the week.
And I have plans to do yoga with a friend.
Cost: Running-- free; bike basket--already paid; 20 Bikram yoga session fee-- already paid.

Monday: Personal Trainer
I have an appointment with a personal trainer at 7am on Monday.  I have no idea what's going to happen there (I've never had a personal training session before), but I'm expecting he's going to try to talk me into future sessions, which I will refuse.  Hopefully I'll learn some stuff, and then I can just avoid him for the next 13 months.
Cost: Included in 13 month gym membership.

Tuesday: Reading
I am going to do some reading and other leisure activities after work on Tuesday, and it's going to be delightful.
Cost: Free--library books, y'all!

Wednesday: A night at the theatre
A good friend of mine does PR for a local theatre company, which means that I will be seeing The Merchant of Venice for free, followed by free nibbles and free cocktails.  It's going to be awesome, and I'm totally looking forward to it.
Cost: Free!

Thursday: TBD
Thursdays I have the morning off and work 1-9.  I usually spend that morning going for a run and watching Tuesday's episode of The Biggest Loser (not at the same time).  That's probably what I'm going to do this Thursday, but I may change my mind.
Cost: Free!

Friday: Day off
Maybe go to the gym.  Maybe do absolutely nothing.  Maybe make a small grocery run--I just printed off a good stack of coupons, and need to grab some pantry items.  If it's nice out, I may go for a long walk and get a cupcake--that's a really awesome way to spend part of the day.
Cost: Possible $5 or so to a local business.  Possible grocery money.
Worth it!!
*UPDATE Apparently, unlike my brother's gym, my gym doesn't have rackets you can borrow.  BF and I went to the gym to play racquetball, but had to leave, which was annoying.  Now I'm on the hunt for two free/cheap rackets.

Friday, February 3, 2012

How Low Dare I Go?

I am in a coupon desert.

I used to get my coupons from the inserts that we'd pull out of the Sunday papers at work, but at new job, I don't know if someone has already called dibs, so I haven't asked yet.  What I have done, is noticed that in front of this building with a menorah on the roof that's on my walk to work (I obviously work in the Jewish part of town), there are scads of coupons scattered on the sidewalk every Monday.  Aside from being a bit dusty, these coupons are perfectly good, and I could just scoop them up and stuff them in my bag and no one would know, right?

But that's how crazy people behave.
Ummm, no.
It's weird because I don't even really use coupons that much, but having a few for the few items I use them on, is like a security blanket.  I've been not allowing myself to buy yogurt because I didn't have a coupon, but I really like yogurt! It's handy to bring to work, and good for me.  So why all the self-flagellation?

I think I'm equating my lack of coupons with our spending way too much on groceries lately, but we'd still be spending too much even if I did save us $10 per trip.  I'm blaming myself for not caring enough, when the actual circumstance may be that I just don't care that much.

I'm trying not to have the salary overconfidence that might dupe me into thinking that now that I work 'full-time' I have money enough to fritter away on lavish grocery purchases, but I just can't bring myself to get all worked up about it at this point.  Yes, January was an extravagant month, and yes, I need to get back on track for February, but hunting down sales and picking up coupons off of the sidewalk, that's stepping a toe in cheap territory--even though the sight of those unused coupons tugs at me.

To sum up:

  1. The dirty coupons are staying on the ground, even though I want them.
  2. I need to buy some lentils and dried beans because those are tastey, hearty and cheap, then I won't feel so extravagant for my yogurt purchases.
  3. I'm meant to be enjoying my wonderful new life, not berating myself for splashing out a bit!  I'm settling in, it's an adjustment period, and I'm worth it.
I got a great deal on hair dye today--2 for 1 plus reduced price.