Friday, April 27, 2012

Adventures in Cash

Adventures in Cash, of course
I don't spend a lot of time with cash.  I have a tendency to spend cash more easily that any other payment option, and since I don't bank locally, going to the ATM is a bit of a pain (though less than it used to be), and I'm just not in the habit.

This week, however, I have had a couple fun encounters with cash that were both completely random.

Last Saturday, one of our regular library patrons came up to the reference desk and asked if we had some headphones we could lend him. I told him that we don't have headphones to lend, but we do sell them for $1.50.*  He didn't have any money with him, so he asked if he could owe me.  Obviously, this is not a precedent I want to establish, but I've let regular patrons owe me for things in the past (one guy paid me back $.25/week for a fax I sent for him), so I decided to give this guy a break and some headphones.

I had him write me a IOU with him name, the date and what he owed, and I taped it to the counter.

He came back a few days later with the money he owed, and a special thank you treat in the form of an Israeli coin.

Apparently, and this is just information from the internet so it may be total garbage, this is an Israeli Lirot, which was issued on the 15th anniversary of the Bank of Isreal.  The three pomegranates are the symbol of Isreal, and someone is selling one on eBay for $.99!

I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with this new treasure, but I do actually have a collection of international currency that I look at every now and then, so I guess this will just go in the pile.

My next adventure was not nearly as exotic, but much more practical.

At my library (and many other libraries), we have very little money and/or staff so we rely on volunteers to do most of our shelving.  One of our volunteers had noted that the shelves in one section of the library were pretty full, and she actually couldn't shelve any more books there without shifting things around.   Since I hadn't looked through that particular area in a while, I went to see if there was anything that wasn't really getting checked out that we could discard.

I found a few books that were falling apart, and in one of them I found $5!  The book hadn't been checked out in three years, so that money had been sitting there all that time just waiting for me to weed the collection (yet another reason to use your local library).  I'm going to spend it on a peanut butter and jelly cupcake from the place around the corner from my house, and then put the rest into my piggybank.
Maybe more than one....

*Other libraries I've worked at have lent headphones, which would often get stolen, break, we would have to spend time cleaning them (gross), etc.  Conclusion: not worth it and as much as I hate waste and cheap things, very few patrons can't afford $1.50 for something that they can keep.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I Don't Know How to Walk

Obviously, that's not true.  I do know how to walk, but what I don't know, is how to walk for the pure pleasure of walking.  I do not know how to walk without walking somewhere, and usually that somewhere is a place where I spend money.

Last Saturday, it was a lovely day outside.  Clear skies, 64 degrees, the perfect day to go for a walk and I tried to talk myself into doing just that.  Here's a recap of the conversation I had with myself:

It's a beautiful day!  I should go for a walk!
Maybe I should walk on the treadmill, I really want to make it count 
and I don't really like to power walk outside.
That's silly, the whole point is to get out there!
I guess I could walk to Berk's and look at those shoes....
No, I don't need more shoes, and Berk's is less than a mile away, 
that's barely a walk.
I could walk to Wildflour and get a cupcake.
You don't need a cupcake.
But Wildflour is almost three miles away, that's a good long walk. I could get a juice.
You can't go to a particular business just because it's far away, 
and I'm talking you out of paying $6 for a juice.

After that mental wrestle, I just stayed in and read a book.

The problem is, I love to go for walks, but it's not as fun alone and without a purpose, it just feels weird and uncomfortable.  Going for a run, that's a thing, but just going for a walk by yourself... I don't know.

My mother and I always went for walks when I was growing up, and it was great.  We'd walk and talk and it was really the only time we spent alone.  Since my mother and I are not close at all, it was nice to know that we could always go for a walk and catch up with each other.  BF thinks walking is boring and it's like pulling teeth to get him to go around the block with me.  Even when I bribe him with an ice cream treat, our walk is only to the store and back (four blocks).

When I was in grad school, I used to go to Old Navy every day to walk around mainly because it's a huge store and I didn't want to appear to be one of those 'mall walkers.' Those people are the worst.  This walking habit costs me hundreds in Old Navy clothes (at least they're cheap).  After I got tired of going to Old Navy every day, I started going to Target and Bed Bath and Beyond.
If I lived closer to the beach I could walk by myself--people do that.
But I don't want to live by the beach, and I live right by a park where people also walk
Here's a line from a blog post I wrote in 2008: "I went to the mall on Saturday. I had to go pick up a pair of shelves (at some chick’s house) that I found on craigslist at 11am, and while I was carrying them to my car, I realized that it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining brightly for the first time in quite a while, yet it was crisp and refreshing—the kind of weather where you want to get shit done. So I went to one of the places I hate most in the world, (also indoors because regardless of how lovely the day is, I’m just not an outside girl. I don’t have an outside agenda, and as much as I do sometimes long to walk for pleasure, I prefer to walk somewhere so I know when I’m done)."

So this problem is on-going, and honestly, one of the main reasons I picked Providence as a place to move is because it's so walkable--but I still need an agenda.

Part of this problem is solved by the fact that I can walk to work--so that's good.  I can get the walking out of my system and get paid when I arrive at my destination, but what about days off?  How can I get my walking fix without going broke?  Perhaps this is something I just need to get over, or perhaps I need to lie to myself about where I'm walking, perhaps there's another solution I haven't considered.

Anyone else have this problem?  Any suggestions?

Monday, April 23, 2012

How Frugal is a Farm Share?

I've been making an effort, now that I'm not commuting all the time, to shop more locally.  I've been going to the independently-owned market more often instead of going to Stop & Shop; I've been patronizing local shops that sell goods made by local artists; and now I'm taking the final plunge: I'm getting a farm share.

For anyone who might be unfamiliar with that term, a farm share or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) means that for a pre-determined amount of time (like the summer growing season) you pay up front for a share of vegetables from a local farm.  After paying, you go to the farm weekly and pick up a mess of vegetables that were just plucked from the earth, and then you go home and panic because you have no idea what to do with them--at least that's what I'm predicting will happen for me.

The farm I chose to do a share with, is in Rehoboth, MA, which is about 15 miles from my house.  Once a week, they'll make delivery to Providence and I'll go pick up my stuff.  According to their website, one share will feed "2 avid vegetable lovers, or 4 moderate vegetable lovers with produce for the week."  Since BF is not an avid vegetable lover, and because of my 15+ years as a vegetarian who is mildly afraid if vegetables, I decided to share my share with a friend.  If I still wind up with way too much produce, I'll find people to take it off my hands, or I'll experiment with new methods of food preservation--or I'll just host a lot of potlucks.

The way this particular farm share works, my friend and I pay $400 ($200 each) for vegetables from June-August (13 weeks).  Some other farm shares that I looked into also had an egg or flower component, which sounds awesome.  This one had the flowers, but no eggs, which is what I really wanted (Wee Watson will just eat any flowers that come into the house).  I haven't really been keeping track of what I spend on just produce (I just spent $8 on brussels sprouts, to give you an idea), but it will be interesting to try this for at least a season and see how much food I get, whether it feels like it's worth it and figure out a way to use and enjoy strange new vegetables that I never would have been brave enough to buy on my own. Bok choy, anyone?
Seriously--this frightens me

Each week that I'm doing the farm share, I'll document what  I get, and share any recipes that I come up with.  Here's to a new, vegetable adventure!  Of course, it doesn't start until June, so I'm a bit ahead of myself, but I'm so excited!

Has anyone else ever done a farm share?  What did you think of it?  Admittedly, I picked this place because I liked their name and they deliver to Providence--perhaps I should have done more research?  Any tips are appreciated!

Monday, April 16, 2012

How Frugal is a Springtime Cold?

I know I'm not the only one out there who has been felled by what seems to be an interminable spring cold.  It seems like the entire state of Rhode Island is down for the count, and as this sickness drags on and on, I'm forced to examine to positives and negatives as they relate to personal finance.

Negative: So. Much. Kleenex.  BF and I were both sick last weekend, and somehow I'm the lucky one who is still sick.  We've gone through tons of kleenex and toilet paper, and my nose is completely raw.

Positive: Lack of appetite/energy.  I've been pretty un-hungry and incredibly sluggish therefore, I haven't really gone to the grocery store or eaten out.  I even had to blow off drinks with friends on Saturday because I'm a total snot factory.  Sad, but thrifty.

Positive: Free Vitamin C!  A friend of mine had bought this Emergen-C stuff because it's supposed to help with elasticity and connectivity on the muscles of people who work out a lot.  Turns out, it tastes like pure evil.  She could barely choke down a cup, and when she asked if I wanted it, I though how bad can it be?  It is awful.  Drinking it is like a punch in the mouth.  BUT, it has 1000% RDA of vitamin C, and I'm too stuffed up to taste it!  I've been guzzling this every morning, and yes, I'm still sick, but it can't really hurt anything.  I'm also making an effort to eat up the other foods around the house that I don't really like--like that low-sodium soup.
Don't buy this unless you hate yourself
Negative: Online Shopping.  I still have enough energy to shop online, and in the past week, I've purchased a pair of shoes, an anorak and compression socks--but these are all things I need!
I don't have a raincoat!  I need one!
Positive: Paid Sick Time.  If this was last year, I would not only lose money by calling out sick, but I would likely be badgered into making that time up before I was well again.  This time, I called my boss, said I'm sick, and I still get paid the same.  There are no words for how awesome that is.

All totaled, this springtime cold is actually rather frugal.  It's a shame that I have to feel so lousy to save money, but it's nice to have a positive spin to put on things.  I'll get back on track with more regular posting once my eyes/nose/ears/sinuses are back to normal.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Weekend Reading: Lost and Found

I was rather excited to be able to review this book because it seems like it actually might be a personal finance book, or, at least, a book about one woman's personal finances.  And I guess it is, but I really just don't know what to make of this one, for a few reasons.

Geneen Roth is a successful writer and leader of retreats where women go to deal with their issues about food and binge eating.  Roth is the author of a book called Women Food and God, which I remember people clamoring for at the library a few years ago, so I was mildly curious.  What I don't quite get about this book, is the way that the author keeps talking about how flawed her relationship with food and money is, but then sells herself as an expert and as someone who can help other people.  I don't believe in hiding your flaws, certainly people should learn from them, but the way she laid it all out in this book was just strange and I just kept thinking why should I listen to you? You're a total mess.

In that sense, I would say that this book falls more under the umbrella of self help than personal finance.  She's not laying out rules like Suze Orman et al., she's examining how people feel about money through the lens of her own experience.  I'd say that this could be a valuable book for some people, but I guess I'm just too cynical?  Maybe I've done all the analyzing I need to without realizing it because I didn't find a lot in this book that I really responded to.  I also never really respond well to introspection and talk of feelings, so there's that too.

Ms. Roth and her husband have made a lot of money over the years, and they invested most of it with Bernie Madoff.  We all know how that story ends, and that's where this book comes in.  The author is trying to analyze her relationship to money and figure out how to stop herself from overspending the way she stopped overeating, and she's also trying to understand why money is something you're not supposed to talk about.

That's interesting to me, and it is important to analyze your relationship with money, because it's entirely too easy to write off as being too complicated or too boring or too scary, but I feel like the way this author approaches things is just not something I respond to.  She makes a lot of good points, "Money is expensive--we pay for it with moments that will never come again and then we toss those moments away as if they have nothing to do with us." (182).

Overall, this book has value, but it's just not the book for me.  I lose a lot of patience when I feel like I'm being lectured and this book felt like there was a lot of filler in it too.  I'd say, if you're someone who is truly afraid of dealing with money (you're probably not actually reading this blog), this is a good starting out book.  It lays some good foundations and ends on a very optimistic note.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book and compensation from Blogher Book Club, but the opinions are all mine.

Monday, April 9, 2012

How Big is Your Emergency Fund?

I've had an emergency fund for several years now, and it has come in handy more times than I care to count.  When I first started reading personal finance books, the advice was to have an emergency fund with three month's worth of living expenses in it.  Then the economy tanked, it started taking people much longer to find work after layoffs, and the advice changed to eight months.  Because I fear instability, I've always gone with the eight months advice, but I found that when I was unemployed for three months, I spent far more money than I had expected I would.

Then that made me wonder if I was miscalculating my living expenses.  I based my savings on the major expenses--shelter, groceries, cell phone, etc. and I didn't really take into account the life expenses like going to a movie or going out for a bagel with a friend.  Certainly, I could have spent less money while I was unemployed, but I was so incredibly bored and miserable that I needed to just get out of the house, even though getting out of the house seemed to always cost something.  It seems ludicrous to imagine being unemployed for more than a few months, but these days, it's a real thing.  Also, there's the fact that even if you find work, it may be a minimum wage job that doesn't pay all the bills and the emergency fund has to supplement.

This is all very depressing, but I guess my point is that if this is a fund that is truly for an emergency, how do you know what an emergency is going to cost?  So, I'm honestly curious, how much do you put in your emergency fund?  Do you base it on a dollar amount, a number of month's living expenses or something else?  I settled on $10,000 because it's a nice round number, and should carry me through 8-10 months of life expenses, depending on how frugal I am.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

It's a Caper

It seems that what I had previously chalked up to being allergies may actually be a full-blown cold with an allergy overlay.  Seriously, I woke up yesterday morning with an upset stomach, muscle soreness, sniffles and had no idea what kind of drugs to throw at the problem. Eventually, I dealt with the problems in ascending order of what I most needed to conquer first, and over the course of two hours ended up taking pills for just about everything.

Yesterday, I woke up early because I had to run my first race of the season, which was an interesting experience considering all my current ailments.  For more on that, check out my other blog.  After the race, I came home, did some snacking and reading, and then BF and I set out to get the new item that will change my food life forever:
Our new-to-us deep freeze!
Just look at all that storage space!  It bring a tear to my eye, but that tear might also be head cold-related.

It isn't a full sized deep freeze like the one my parent's had that could hold a whole cow--in pieces, but it's still pretty substantial.  What is most interesting about this deep freeze is the steps we had to take to actually get it to the house.

I drive a Chevy Malibu, which is a car that's just large enough it's annoying to parallel park, but not large enough to really help you out when you need to haul things--like a deep freeze.  We tried to put it in the front seat, the back seat and trunk and after that, we were pretty much out of places to try to fit a deep freeze.  Thankfully, the house we were picking it up from was only a few blocks away, so we came up with a Plan B.

BF is a physicist and often physicists have hand trucks lying around to move large pieces of equipment.  He had the idea that we would go to the building where he works and 'borrow' a hand truck.  He painted a mental picture of a building full of scientists with hand trucks around every corner, but it turns out that the custodial staff don't actually leave them lying around, and my suggestion to 'borrow' a rolling desk chair instead was met with a scoff.

Eventually, after walking around and around seven floors and the basement, we found a colleague working in his office.  This awesome person, had keys to a magical room full of hand trucks, and he allowed us to take one off of the property.  We drove the hand truck to the freezer, bungee-ed the freezer to the hand truck, and then I drove home while BF walked our new gadget home.  After that, we moved the freezer into our apartment, brought back the hand truck and went and got frozen yogurt.

Needless to say, I am very excited about this new development.  Not only did we get a practically new freezer for 1/4 of the price that we would have paid for a new one, but now when there are kickass sales on the frozen foods we eat so frequently, I can really stock up.  Double bonus, our fridge-top freezer should be able to run more efficiently once it's not completely stuffed, and we'll actually be able to see the food that's in there instead of pulling everything out trying to locate some sugar snap peas.  Now I just have to muster up the energy to go to the store.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ugh, Spring

It is beautiful here.  The trees are blooming, the flowers are creeping out of the ground, and my seasonal allergies have returned.  My throat is itchy, my eyes are watering and I can barely breathe.  There is really nothing more unfair than the fact that as soon as outside becomes lovely again, I lose the ability to breathe.
Sorry for the wires, taken out of my kitchen window
For those who are in the same or similar boat, I have some strategies for how to still enjoy nature while saving money i.e. drugs.

I like Claritan, I've found that it works well for my allergies, but I do not like how much Claritan costs. In fact, every time I see an ad on tv for Claritan, I just picture the price going up and up.  Thankfully, Claritan has been around long enough that there's a generic equivalent, but since generics don't advertise, people may not know about it.  I'm here to tell you: You don't have to go broke paying for allergy pills!

On Amazon, you can get a box of 45 Claritan for $19.99.  That's a markdown from $46.29, which is over $1 a pill!  Good God!
Compare that to my best friend: Loratadine.
It's not fancy, that's for sure, but for $18.65, you can get 400 tablets.  Yes, that's 400 with two zeroes.  Double bonus, these pills are much smaller, and work exactly the same.  Over the summer, I don't wait until I have allergy symptoms, I just take a pill daily, because I can afford to.  When I was taking Claritan, I was rationing those things like you wouldn't believe, and I was pretty miserable because of it.

But what if Claritan is not your histamine blocker of choice, you like Zyrtec instead (why do they all have such stupid names?). 

You can get 70 Zyrtec for $31.08 on Amazon, or you can get Cetrizine HCL for $16.99 for 365 tablets.  It has the same active ingredient, and when you do a search in Amazon for Zyrtec, this one pops up as well.

I'm not trying to be a shill for Amazon, but that's where I usually get drugs like this.  You can find them in stores, but not always and not all stores, so I just go straight for the online.  Thankfully, the only real allergies I have are seasonal pollen-type allergies, but if anyone else has a good generic they like, let me know in the comments.

**Disclaimer, I'm obviously not a doctor, I'm a librarian, don't do anything rash or against your doctor's wishes just because I said so.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Frugal Challenge: IRA Challenge

First, a wrap up of my last frugal challenge: The Gas Challenge.  I'm pleased to report that for the Month of March, I bought gas March 5th, and managed to stretch that tank to March 26th!  I actually bought gas again on the 22nd when I was down to 1/4 tank (I don't like running out of gas), but I didn't use up that 1/4 tank until the 26th.  Sadly, I didn't make it all the way to April 1 like I had hoped, but that was an awfully lofty goal in the first place.  I'm still pretty proud of myself.

Obviously, I'm going to continue to try to walk/bike as much as I can to avoid overspending on gas.  It's a lifestyle change!

Next up: The IRA Challenge.  I can make contributions to my 2011 Roth IRA until April 17th, which I've been doing all along.  With a Roth IRA, you can contribute up to $5000 per year, and no more.  I'd like to get to $5000, obviously, but I'm $1700 away from doing that.  I have two paychecks before that, so I can take what would have gone into regular savings and direct it to the IRA, but that's still nowhere near the $1700.

The way I see it, I have a few options:

  1. Put off paying off my credit cards and put that money into the IRA.  I only owe something like $100 on one, and I usually pay ahead of time to avoid fees, but I do like having that 0 or negative balance...
  2. Redirect all money that was going into my regular savings account into the IRA.
  3. Find some way to make extra money--I'm already working extra hours and don't know what else I could really do, but it's always an option.
  4. Move money from my existing savings accounts into the IRA.
  5. Some combination of the above.
  6. Something I' haven't thought of yet.
I have a pretty healthy balance in my regular savings account so I wouldn't be dead broke if I siphoned off a bit, but I really hate to do that and I'm still rebuilding from that stupid car repair.  Also, with making less money, I don't know how long it would take me to replenish my emergency savings.  It seems kind of stupid to have a robust retirement account that I can't touch if my emergency savings are decimated.

Any suggestions?  Anything I haven't thought of yet?  It's not the end of the world if I don't hit that $5000 mark, but it would feel pretty good too, especially since I just started this IRA and I'm about six years behind...