Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Blog Questions

I've been blogging since 2006, but I only recently began to think about all of the bloggy 'rules' that you're supposed to follow to keep your readers happy.  Personally, I hoped that good content would overcome little things that other bloggers insist you do, but I also realize that other people aren't exactly the same as me in what they care about.  So, readers, I'm curious what you think.

As far as blog commenting.  I appreciate every comment I get, and I wish I got more.  I don't respond to a lot of them because many are just comments that don't really need a response.  Maybe I should change that.  I recently started reading a blog that I found through the Blogher Book Club program.  I enjoy her blog, and have commented a couple times even though I'm usually more of a reader than commenter.  She never responds!

Most of the other commenters get a response from her, but I never have.  I'm surprised how much that hurts my feelings and it makes me not want to read anymore.  Hopefully I've never made anyone else feel that way, but to the people who comment on blogs frequently, I ask: do you expect a response, or is it more of a case-by-case basis?  Have I ever made you feel like a nerd by not responding to you!?!?

Likewise, the RSS feeds settings.  I read all of my blogs through my google reader, and I prefer it when bloggers fed me the first paragraph or so, and then I have to click through to read the whole blog.  I like this because I prefer to read a blog on its website--it's prettier and the images come through better.  However, I recently found out that many bloggers and blog readers HATE the abbreviated feed setting, and will stop reading a blog that feeds through that way.  I admit, I hate it when blogs feeds are just the title, but did not realize that people felt such rage at the one paragraph!

I immediately changed my settings, but I'd like a little feedback from the people who read this blog: how do you feel about the feed settings and/or comment responses?  I probably should have asked these questions long ago, but didn't, so I'm making up for lost time!  Is there anything else I do that really bugs you?  Anything you wish I'd start doing?  Let me have it!  I want your input!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wordle Day!

We are in the home stretch of the blogathon, and today is the day that we make a wordle!  Wordles are fun, so I made a couple.

This is some of my most commonly-used blog labels:

And this one is a wordle of my Blogathon Haikus:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Money Smart Week 4

Week four of May has come and gone, which means it's almost June (duh), and almost time to start my farm share!  Bring it on, bok choy--I'm not scared of you!
I really am scared, but it's a good kind of scared
Things I did the week that were Money Smart:
  • Free Mexican food.  I was invited to a yelp elite event at a place called Lola's Cantina.  This is a restaurant space that has gone through three name changes in the five years I've been in Providence, so we'll see if the Mexican theme sticks.  Either way, free food for me and my plus one!
  • Free Theatre!  Honestly, sometime I feel like a barnacle on the ass of theatre because I'm always getting free tickets.  Except then I remember that I do pay roughly half the time that I go, and then I just feel smart.  A friend of mine is in an upcoming production of A Few Good Men, and she mentioned on facebook that she had two comp tickets.  Well, I nabbed those right away, and when I asked my sassy redhead friend, Amy, to go with me, she responded in the most delightful manner:
On this invitation to the theater: 
Amy: You want answers?
Andria: I think I'm entitled to them.
Amy: You want answers?
Andria: I want the truth!
Amy: You can't handle the truth!  I have no intention of fretting about the wedding! And you're goddamn right, I ordered the code red!! 
I will attend!
Amy is much prettier than this
  • Bought more veggie burgers on sale and with a coupon.  I'm set, if not for life, for the rest of the year.
  • Bought another yoga package.  I got an email that the place where I do Bikram yoga is raising their prices (jerks).  However, you can buy a package of 20 classes at the current rate, and they never expire. I had already bought 20 classes, of which I've used about five, so I'm going to bite the bullet and buy another 20 before the price goes up.  Maybe, by the time I use those up, I'll be flush with cash (ha!).  So, I kind of saved $50--at least the future me did.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Long Weekend Link Love

Hopefully, no one out there is actually reading this.  I hope you're either at the beach, having a picnic or doing any number of other Memorial Day-type activities.  My plans?  Books, writing and spring cleaning.  I live right on the edge, people!

It's also graduation weekend here in my hood, which means that the city is full of out-of-towners who can't navigate Providence's ridiculous streets and who were apparently never told that it's impossible to find parking. I almost got squished my a minivan from Maryland when I was biking home last night!  In honor of these proud parents, here is a commencement address that Neil Gaiman made recently.  It's a bit long (of course) but well, well worth listening to--twice.

Annabelle, over at Shopping Detox, has been systematically going through her lipstick collection and wearing a difference color for each day of May.  While I think it's a bit insane that she has that much lipstick (not in a judgey way),  I think this is a really good way to do a bit of inventory and figure out what you own that you don't really need.   Now she knows what colors look good in the tube, but not on her, and now I have the idea that I should do this is my closet...
This frightens me a bit, but I only own one lipstick--from 2001

Since no one is reading this anyway, but if you are you clearly need a cocktail--here's a massive collection of drinks recipes from Food Network.
What is it about drinking out of a jar that looks so refreshing?
Happy memorial weekend!!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Does Couponing Make Me Spend More?

I had a very successful Sunday.  I worked a short shift at job #3, which gets me time-and-a-half pay; there's a Target and a Trader Joes on my way home so I can run errands without making a special trip; and I get first dibs on the Sunday coupons and circular.

I actually wasn't planning to go to Target at all this week, but I had coupons for Morningstar Farms veggie burgers, which were also on sale; and I found coupons for tampons and liners that were on special ($.50 off) and came with a $5 giftcard for buying three.

All told, I saved $13 with coupons and sales plus got that giftcard to use on my next trip, but I still left the store having spent all the money I'd earned that afternoon, and I strangely felt like a bit of a sucker.  Even the cashier was impressed by my deal-getting, she complimented my organization and significant savings, but as I tried to find a place to stash all the tampons once I got home, I couldn't help but feel downtrodden, which really has me surprised.

I can't figure out if I'm bummed because I didn't allow myself to stray from my list and get anything fun, or if I'm just sick of spending money right now, but I think it's the latter.  I mean, think about it.  Usually Morningstar Farms veggie burgers retail for about $3.50/box. I actually rarely buy them because they're more than I like to pay.  Right now, they're on sale for 2 boxes for $6 AND I had one coupon for $1 off a box and another for $.55 off a box.  Usually the only coupons you can find for Morningstar are for $1 off two boxes.  Really, I should be ecstatic.  I've already saved $2.50 and I have two more $1 off coupons, plus I really, really like veggie burgers, and I have a deep freeze to store them all in, but I just feel kind of meh about the whole thing.
These are not my groceries, and who would ever need
that many bags of marshmellows?
I'm not one of those people who goes nutso about coupons.  I rarely use coupons to try new foods, and I usually only clip the ones for things I would buy anyway, but I feel like I've slipped into a couponing vortex and I'm just spending spending spending with no end in sight--because why would there be, there are new coupons every week.

But if I'm only buying things I would anyway, or only buying things I would only buy with a coupon, am I really spending more, or just taking advantage of the deals available to me?  Does it really matter how significant my savings are if I'm unhappy with my credit card balance?  When I was unemployed and desperately trying to be in control of something, I spent hours couponing and scouring circulars.  I went to the grocery store up to four times a week, and sure, I got some great deals, but I also spent a ton of money.

Either way, I'm glad my time as fill in librarian at the two Target-adjacent libraries is coming to a close.  Even if it's a score to save $.50 on my favorite brand of toilet paper, I think I'd rather just put off that trip and maybe pay full price.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Bit Of A Rant

Sorry to but a buzzkill, but I am thoroughly vexed, and I need to whine for a moment.

I've mentioned before that I work for a pretty broke library.  A lot of public libraries are broke these days, and, thankfully, we're not threatened with closure or anything like that, but there's not really any extra money in the budget and there is talk of rolling layoffs if the city cuts our budget.

This is why it shocks me to no end that as soon as it got warm outside, it got freezing cold inside the library.  It's not just that I sit around a lot and get a chill, it is painfully cold--meat locker-esque, and for a place where people don't really move around a lot, it just doesn't make sense.

To counter the incredible cold, and keep from getting sick, my co-worker and I have three space heaters, and I'm contemplating buying leg warmers.  The temperature at work also makes biking/walking to work difficult as I get warm when I'm out in the 80 degree weather, but then I need to bundle up as soon as I get inside.

I've talked to the guys from facilities, and they adjusted the temperature once, but it's still face-freezingly cold.  Apparently the temperature readout was a normal temperature, but my bottle of water stays deliciously cold all day, so I suspect that readout is inaccurate.  The patrons are uncomfortable, I'm uncomfortable, and it seems like an incredible waste of energy--because it is.

If this is what it's like when it's only 72 degrees out, what the hell is going to happen in July?!?!?  Will I need to bring in my puffy coat?!?!?  I know leveling out the temperature may not be a significant cost savings, but we need every penny--why spend it preserving me like a popsicle!?!?

End rant.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

If I Started Blogging Today I Would….

This is an interesting theme to reflect on.  The original prompt in the blogathon google doc says If you had it to do over again, what would you do different – use WordPress instead of Blogger.com? Pick a different topic? Share your wisdom to help other bloggers.

I don't know if I would do anything differently, honestly, not because I'm totally perfect, but because I had a very deliberate plan when I started this blog--and because I dislike regretting things, it's a waste of time.

When I had the first germ of an idea for this blog, it was because I was spending a lot of time reading other people's personal finance blogs and I had grown a bit frustrated with a few. Add to that the fact that I enjoy talking about personal finance, like giving my friends advice (solicited or not), and I like writing.  Before starting this blog, I already had three others and had been documenting the minutia of my daily life, library life and collaborating with friends so I certainly did not have the blog fear.

What worried me most, was having something to say that people would want to hear and hopefully would respond to.  I don't really know if I've been 100% successful at that, but I have people who keep coming back and commenting, so I'm doing something that some people like anyway!  What I've found, since I started detailing my financial adventures and misadventures, is that I like it a lot more than I thought I would.  I like that I'm being honest about my circumstances, and I like that I now have a community of like-minded people to bounce ideas off of.  I like that I got so much helpful advice about how the hell to get a mattress for less than $2000--you guys are the awesomest!

The main things I wanted to accomplish with this blog was to have something that is:
  1. Honest
  2. Well-written
  3. Helpful
  4. Funny (hopefully)
Whether or not I've been successful at all is up to you, gentle reader.  Once thing I do know, is that it will be time to cease and desist if I:
  1. Start taking pictures of my groceries (no offense to those who do, but that's not me, and I don't find it particularly interesting).
  2. I win the lottery and lose touch with the common man (Since I don't play the lottery, odds are good this will not happen).
  3. Run out of things to say and only post things my guest writers (that said, if friends have blogs they want to submit, I'm all for it).
Until those things happen, you're stuck with me, blogosphere!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Quest For Black Boots

To quote the inimitable Cher Horowitz from Clueless, "you've seen how picky I am about my shoes, and they only go on my feet."  I have been looking for a pair of black boots for about eight months, and I think I finally found them.

I am very particular about footwear, in particular boots, for a number of reasons that I will now list:

  • I need boots that are both comfortable AND stylish, which is pretty hard to find--what the hell, bootmakers?
  • I need boots that can be worn with skirt and jeans and look fabulous with both
  • I have huge calves because I'm a runner and because of genetics, so I have a hard time finding boots I can actually zip up--forget about wearing them over jeans, I will probably never be able to do that.
  • I hate those boots that have a weird shape and make your foot look like a duckbill
Cute boot but looks like a duckbill
To date, I have ordered and tried on nearly every pair of black boots Endless.com has to offer.  I'm half expecting them to just cut me off because I'm wasting so much of their money on shipping costs and not keeping anything.  Even last night, BF asked me, "how many pairs of boots do you actually own?"  The answer is two--one pair of brown boots, and my cowboy boots.  Even though literally 30 pairs of black boots have come into my house in the last eight months, I have not kept a single pair.

Then, I got an email from Ebates telling me that Endless.com was having a sale plus 13% Ebates cash back, and I realized that this is the perfect time of year to buy boots.
So what do you think, blogosphere?  They're dressy, but not too dressy; they have a wide shaft; there's a little heel, but I can still walk to work in them; and they're by Clarks who make decent, long-lasting shoes.  Victory is mine!!

With luck, these will be the boots I'm wearing for the next five years!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Blogathon Haiku

It's that time again!  You've been waiting all year for more personal finance haiku (I imagine).  First, a refresher on the rules of haiku--17 syllables, usually three lines of five syllables, then seven, then five.

I love to ride my bicycle
Uphill to work
Then all downhill to my home

My landlord planted grass
Now we have a small yard
I will dine al fresco

Two men play chess
On a table in front of my library
Love it

The good life is cheap
Just don't get caught up
You have everything you need

Anyone else want to make an attempt?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Money Smart Week 3

I think I'm going to make Money Smart Week a regular feature.  Naturally, I love patting myself on the back for doing well with my money, but it's also a great way to set the tone for the upcoming week.  So far, the month of May has been one of my best for savings.  Of course, a lot of that is due to the fact that I have an extra paycheck this month, but I've also been remarkably restrained with purchasing things.

  • I had four no-spend days this week.  I don't really get too hung up on how many no-spend days I can get in a week, because sometimes you just need to buy things.  This week, I didn't need to buy much.  We're stocked up on groceries, and the only socializing I did this week was to go to friends' house and eat their food and drink their booze, so free to me!
  • Brought in cans for redemption.  Massachusetts allows you to bring your cans back to a redemption center and get $.05 apiece.  We usually stock up cans and make trip every once in a while (not often enough).  On Friday, I filled up my car, and bought those things in, then I bought some gin and other liquor cabinet staples for a lot less.
  • I haven't bought any clothes this month.  I made a payment on my Old Navy card, so mint.com is showing that I spent $50 on clothes, but I actually have not made any clothing purchases in the month of May.  For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that this is HUGE.  I set  budget of $200 for clothes each month, and I always go over it.  I don' think I've ever not gone over it in the history of my budgeting.  Maybe it's the change of seasons and rediscovering clothes I haven't worn in a while, maybe it's creating that emergency fund that I'm not supposed to touch which forced me to realize how pathetic my savings balance is; maybe it's that saving for my upcoming vacation(s) is more fun that clothes shopping--who knows.  Either way, I'm pretty stoked.
  • Biking!  The weather has calmed back down and is perfect for biking!  Thursdays, I usually have to drive to work because I have a 20 minute commute to job #2, but this Thursday, the weather was so nice, that I just had to bike even if it made me a scootch late.  It has been 75 degrees, sunny and clear and I love it!
  • Presentation!  This really has very little to do with personal finance, but I'm presenting a poster at a conference at the end of the month.  I was putting it off and putting it off, but then I just ripped the band-aid off and got it done.  Now, I keep panicking thinking that I still need to do it, but then calm down when I remember that it's finished.  How the hell did I make it through ten years of college and grad school?!?!  I feel like a total spaz about this.
How was your week?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The More You Know Link Love

Andrea, at So Over Debt has some solid advice that I think everyone can benefit from: Don’t buy DVDs instead of letting your child have apples.
Ugh, just, ugh.

A lot of people these days are talking about the cost of higher education (myself included), and often whether or not it's worth taking on such significant debt for a four-year education.  While I honestly think Americans hype the four-year liberal arts degree too much and don't encourage enough people to explore technical and vocational education, the numbers show that according to the most recent census, people with a college degree earned an average of $19,550 more per year than someone with a high school education.  It will be interesting to see that number change by the next census.  I think this stuff is fascinating--at least in the abstract because my own loan balance makes me a bit ill, and you can read the full study from the Pew Institute here.

As someone who biked daily as a youngster and then put that habit away for 20 years (god that makes me sound old), I was fascinated by my friend Hilary's (who is super brainy and also is an actual rock star who teaches other women how to rock) article for The Women's Fund of Rhode Island: A woman needs a bike.

I did some learning the other day about Kirkbride Buildings, mostly because there's one near where I grew up that people are arguing about tearing down.  "Once state-of-the-art mental healthcare facilities, Kirkbride buildings have long been relics of an obsolete therapeutic method known as Moral Treatment. In the latter half of the 19th century, these massive structures were conceived as ideal sanctuaries for the mentally ill and as an active participent in their recovery. Careful attention was given to every detail of their design to promote a healthy environment and convey a sense of respectable decorum. Placed in secluded areas within expansive grounds, many of these insane asylums seemed almost palace-like from the outside. But growing populations and insufficient funding led to unfortunate conditions, spoiling their idealistic promise."
Danvers State Hospital, Danvers, Massachusetts
There are a few of these amazing buildings left scattered throughout the country, but many are being torn down simply because they're too large and no one know what to do with them.  I say luxury condos, but that boom has kind of passed.
Clarinda State Hospital, Clarinda, Iowa
I wish we could just have beautiful buildings for the sake of them being beautiful, but I guess that's not very practical.
This is the one they want to tear down in Fergus Falls, MN.

But, as you can see, that's a whole lot of unused structure.

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Ode To My Comb

I realized something the other day.  I was just out of the shower, reaching for my wooden comb, and I realized that I have had this one comb since I was 14 years old.

I realize that probably most people don't replace their combs that often, but I have had this one comb for 18 years.  Prior to this, I had one other comb, which was the plastic pink kind with the painted tips (think the kind that you would keep in your caboodle), and I only got rid of that because the paint was starting to chip off.

I know it's kind of lame, but I take a tremendous amount of comfort in this.  I probably paid $5 for this comb, which was most likely a significant sum for me at the time, and unless I lose it, I can probably use it for the rest of my life.  There is nothing I like more than things that last, and I guess having really fine hair pays off in the long run!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Personal Finance Hits and Misses

So far May has been a pretty successful month, personal financewise.  I mentioned before, that it's a three paycheck month (woot!), and I'm working extra hours at two other jobs, so I should be able to sock away some money this month since I've been failing to do so since starting my new (not really new anymore though) job in January.

Hits--Yesterday, I wore a dress that I've had for years, but haven't worn in a while since it was hiding at the back of my closet.  This is a dress that I wear mostly in the fall and spring, since it's knee-length, but has long sleeves, and it looks kind of weird with tights.  As soon as I showed up at work, I got a compliment; as soon as I got home from work, I got another compliment.  It was then that I realized I get compliments every single time that I wear that dress, AND the dress only cost me $3.  True story.  Magic dress.

Misses--This Bike To Work Month, I've barely biked to work.  Instead, I've been driving all the time.  In my defense, my brakes don't really work in the rain, and I could walk, but it's been that really hot, heavy rain with high winds, so I would be completely soaked by the time I arrived at work.  I'm enough of a ragamuffin already, I don't need to look like a completely disheveled ragamuffin.   Thankfully, I'm still driving on that tank of gas that I got $.30 off per gallon.  That comforts me, somehow.

Hits-- New Nuun Dispenser!  Remember when I was agonizing about what to do with all those nuun containers?

I got some good feedback, and I found out that you can recycle them at Whole Foods, but I also went to their website and discovered this:
It's a 100 count box that has a variety of flavors and no plastic!  Double bonus, my house feels a bit more like a pharmacy, and these packets are easier to tuck into my purse for those times when I need an electrolyte boost on the go (that's not really a thing, but I like the taste of this stuff--work with me).  I also discovered a 20% off coupon before I ordered this, so all you need to remember is that I'm awesome.

Hits-- Discovery!  ModCloth, which is my source for most online spending, changed their return options a while back.  Returns are always free, but where you used to be able to drop off packages at UPS, which was on my way to work (old job), they have since changed to Fedex/USPS, which is less convenient.  Thankfully, the post office is on my way to job #2, but since I only work at job #2 once a week, it's still kind of a pain and I end up doing more driving than I would like.  Today, I discovered a Fedex dropbox right down the street from me!
Pretty nice dashboard, eh?
I've walked by this dozens of times, I'm sure, but never really noticed it before.  Now I can walk down the street with my ModCloth returns whenever strikes my fancy!

Hits--Free U2!  I've mentioned before that the librarians who used to have my position were serious hoarders.  To that end, I've been getting rid of all the extra CDs that they've acquired over the years (four copies of REM's Monster, really?), and we're going to have a big CD sale at the library.  I also, took a few bits and bobs for myself since I still listen to CDs in the car.  I've been rocking out to The Joshua Tree for the past couple days, and I feel pretty smart about it.

Misses--Credit Card Balances.  I just got paid today, and it seems like my dream of saving a lot will not come to pass as much as I hoped.  I don't know how it keeps happening, but I just always seem to owe $250 on my Amex, and paying that every time I get paid, means not saving $250, which irks me to no end.  Yes, I just bought two plane tickets, so that's why it's up there this time, but hopefully my May of limited spending will keep it much, much lower and let me save more and more.

How about you?  Any big hits or misses?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

That's Why I'm So Broke?

Put those packages back!
You can't afford them!
I've noticed since the "War on Women" started (by started, I mean became something we talk about all the time), that I've been reading more and more articles about how expensive it is to be a woman.  Jezebel had the article This is How Much it Costs to Own a Vagina, an Itemized List.  Then yesterday, LearnVest had a whole list of gendered pricing, which kind of blew my mind.

I admit, I've thought about this before.  Since I'm a girl who does not spend a lot of money grooming myself, I've often wondered how women who do can actually afford it.  I've had one manicure/pedicure in my life and it was done at a beauty school where it was significantly cheaper than if I had gone to a real salon. Sure it was a fun afternoon, but it cost $15!  That was twice my hourly wage at the time.

Add to that the cost of make-up, clothes, shoes, hair (on your head and everywhere else) and I honestly do not understand how some women pay for it all.  Perhaps they're in debt, maybe that's what I'm not seeing.

Looking at BF and I, he has pointed out numerous times that he has fewer expenses than I do.

  • He doesn't own a car so does not have to pay for gas, upkeep or insurance.  He does give me a bit of money for use of my car, but I pay the bulk of it.  
  • He can wear whatever he wants to work and only owns about four pairs of pants.  Yes, I like to dress well, that's a choice, but I also need to have a lot of clothes for a lot of different situations--work wear, casual wear, fancy dress etc.  He wears the same thing all the time.
  • I pay $50 for my haircuts, he pays $12.
  • I have to buy tampons, he doesn't
  • I have more than one pair of shoes, he doesn't.  Granted, this is a choice, but I can't wear a single pair of sneakers to work every day like he can.
  • I buy moisturizer, lotions, body wash, face wash, hair potions, razors etc., he uses bar soap and has a beard that only needs occasional trim with his electric razor.
That's just a short list based on our personal experiences, but I've thought about this in other situations too.  Take the suit thing.  Yes, a good suit is expensive, but it lasts forever.  If a guy wears a suit every day, he only has to buy four and then just rotate them.  If I only had four outfits, people would certainly start to notice.  Likewise fancy occasions, guys can wear the same suit to weddings all season long, but a girl needs a new dress for each one.

One thing that really surprised me about the LearnVest article was the notion of gendered pricing.  I've thought about things like the suit example before, but I did not realize that women pay more for dry cleaning the same type of shirt or more for deodorant that's essentially the same as a man's except for the smell.
"After reading in Marie Claire that dry cleaners charge more to clean a woman’s button-down shirt than a man’s, one of our editors tested it out herself by visiting her local dry cleaner in New York City. Lo and behold, her plain shirt cost $4 more than a man’s would have, because “the machine couldn’t fit shirts from a smaller person.”

I actually noticed the deodorant thing back in college and went through a phase where I wore men's deodorant.  You know what, it worked the same, but I couldn't stand the aggressive smell.  It was so strong that it gave me a headache, and I had to discontinue use.  So men pay less for a wider stick of deodorant with more scent--that's just not right.

Women's imported goods are also frequently taxed at a higher rate: "men’s sneakers were taxed at 8.5%, while women’s were taxed at 10%. Not every garment tariff he discovered was in favor of men, but he did find that women were susceptible to higher taxes on those goods imported to the U.S. at the highest volume. " 

So that's your daily dose of news from the depressing zone.  Has anyone else noticed this firsthand or thought about it before?  I certainly didn't know about the dry cleaning thing, because I don't get things dry cleaned, but all the other incidentals that come with being a woman can certainly add up.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Boutique vs. Mall

I'm having a little bit of buyer's remorse about my gym membership.  The problem is that it's just too far away.  Before I joined, I google mapped it, and found out that it's only 5.2 miles away.  That seemed a reasonable, quick distance to me.  Just hop in the car and you're there in maybe seven minutes, depending on traffic.

In reality, the bridge that I need to cross has been under construction since I signed up, it takes me 20 minutes at least to get there and I keep getting lost both getting there and coming home, which adds on extra time.  This is a first world problems situation, to be sure, but it's certainly stopping me from going to the gym more than twice a month.

Instead of going to the gym, I've been going to my yoga place going running contemplating a groupon for the fancy gym near my house that I can bike to and looking forward to zumba classes that my local running store is going to start.  It's like I'm intimidated by the one-stop-shopping aspect of my giant gym, and gravitate toward smaller, more boutique fitness experiences.

Apparently, I'm not alone in this.  According to an article in the New York Times that I read last week, there is a phenomenon there of women who work out at up to three different places sometimes three times a day. "Most are professionals with full-time jobs, yet they manage to spend some two hours a day — and upward of $500 a month — exercising. (By comparison, a membership at the upscale Equinox gym chain ranges from $149 to $183 a month.)"  Yeah, I'm spending ~$8 a month for my gym membership, but am more than willing to shell out $200 for yoga classes and $5 a pop for zumba.

The problem, for me, is twofold:

  1. It takes so damn long to get to my gym, that it takes twice the effort to convince myself to go
  2. I'd like to go to zumba class at my gym, but it starts at 6:30, I work til 6, see above.
I have gone to the occasional spin class at my gym, and I do intend to start using the pool, but perhaps the time has come to admit my mistake.  Since I actually do love working out, I didn't think a slightly longer drive would be such an issue, but I guess I was wrong about that.

Has anyone else ever encountered this issue?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Brokedown Palace

When I was in college, I went to a Wide Mouth Mason concert at the West End Cultural Center in Winnipeg Manitoba.  It was a crisp winter day, I was with my bestie, we had a lovely dinner before the show and the band was outstanding.

While we were inside rocking out, someone broke into my car and stole my stereo, purse, coat, and bestie's coat.  Thankfully, we were still in the era where you could cross the Canadian border with your driver's license and didn't need a passport, because my passport and all my credit cards were stolen along with my purse.

We made it back home in the wee hours of the morning, and at a more civilized hour of the day, I called my mother and reported what had happened to me.  Instead of feeling sorry for me, as one should do with a person who has been the victim of a crime, she yelled at me about being irresponsible, chastised me for crossing the border into sinister Canada and failed to understand why I was even there in the first place, "You live in a big city, go to concerts there!"

Then, after that verbal drubbing, she called me back to tell me that I needed to change my locks.  In her mind, she had decided that these car stereo thieves would most likely look at the address on my checkbook that they had stolen, assume I had property worth stealing, and rob me in the night.  Nevermind the fact that Winnipeg was a four hour drive, transporting stolen goods across borders is always a bigger risk than ripping off a car stereo (I assume that thieves are practical people) and my car was worth approximately $2000--not exactly indicative of deep pockets on the homestead.

But I did what she said, went to Home Depot and bought a new deadbolt, then I settled in for a long night of tv watching and feeling sorry for myself.  When I had moved into this particular apartment, I got a cable deal where I would get free installation if I subscribed to Showtime for three months.  I quickly discovered that because I had Showtime, I could also see one channel in the HBO package--in black and white and without sound.  I took to watching Sex and the City in black and white with closed captioning, and on this sad wallow-y day, the movie Brokedown Palace was on.

For anyone not familiar, the plot, in a nutshell: Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale are pals.  They go on vacation to Thailand, meet some boys, get arrested at the airport for smuggling drugs (unknowingly) and are eventually sentenced to 33 years in a very grim Thai prison.
No luxury in a Thai prison
 You might think that watching this movie in my fragile state would have left me weeping even more, but on the contrary, it gave me the perspective to muddle through my mess.  Yes, I had been robbed; yes, my mother yelled at me in an unjust way; yes, I was out $15 for a stupid, unnecessary new deadbolt but at least I wasn't in a Thai prison.

My biggest concern was canceling my credit cards, which I could do from the comfort of my own home, and getting my car repaired, which was a minor inconvenience compared to what poor Claire Danes went through.

It was on that grim day that I really learned that there's always someone sadder than you.  You may have it rough, but if you've got a roof over your head and access to food, you're still doing better than many.

For those that don't want to gain perspective with Claire Danes, I highly recommend the interactive game Spent.  Frugal living and reducing debt is just as much of a mental game as running a marathon, and you need to remember everything you do have, rather than focus on what you don't.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Money Smart Week 2

LOL cats, they make the awesome, awesomer
This week, I was pretty smart with my money, and I discovered a piece of good news that thrills me to no end.  Let's begin the back patting:
  • The piece of good news that thrills me to no end (you didn't think I was going to make you wait, did you?) It's a three paycheck month!  I'm still slowly adjusting to only getting paid every other week instead of weekly, but this month I got paid the 4th and will get paid the 17th and 31st as well!  Usually that second paycheck is reserved for paying rent, but this time I can save almost all of it!  What a tremendous feeling that is.
  • Time and a half!  I'm filling in a couple times at job #3 this month and two of the three shifts are Sunday shifts, which means time and half pay!  Plus, I have a poster presentation that I need to work on for the end of the month, and Sundays at this library are usually pretty low-key.  Ggetting extracurricular work done while getting paid--yes, please.
  • So much free food.  Yes, free food and I have a rocky past, but I'm still pretty pumped at how I cashed in this week.  Thursday is my 12-hour work day between the two jobs, but this week  it was a great day because there was a box of pizza up for grabs at morning job (aka breakfast), then at afternoon job, my co-workers had a potluck which resulted in tons of leftovers, which they insisted I share (aka lunch and dinner).
  • Cheap gas.  I knew that I would need to buy gas this week, so I purposely planned a big grocery shopping trip right beforehand so I could take advantage of the Stop and Shop gas points.  I went to the gas station Thursday, and got $.30 off per gallon!  Gas prices in my area have also dropped about $.05 in the last week or so, and I'm going to make this tank last as long as I can.
  • Car Insurance Refund.  Since I reduced my car insurance coverage before my policy was due to be renewed, I got back $38 that I had paid six months ago.
  • Big Fat Check. I got my big fat check from Ebates totaling a cool $22.42--that money went into the travel fund, as do all my Ebates checks and online survey monies.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Gut Check Link Love

My dream is that I'll be digging in the ground someday,
and find a box or pile of money.
It can happen, right?
My pal Fargo Jones has finally gotten a full time job AND unloaded his albatross of a house.  Things are definitely looking up, but it's funny that once you get the thing you want most, it seems to bring with it a new batch of problems and concerns.  Digging your way out of debt is an arduous, lengthy and kind of scary process, but I have nothing but respect for those who are doing it.  You can do it, Fargo!!

And Then She Saved has a tutorial on how to use scarves to pump up your style on the cheap--including an embed of a kick-ass video.  I've always been really bad at accessorizing, but then I realized that my wardrobe of 'classics' was becoming a bit dull to look at.  Now, I'm all about belts, scarves and the occasional necklace, and I love it when someone gives me new ideas.
More inspiration!

I haven't made this Teriyaki Chickpea Stirfry from Peas and Thank You yet, but I've certainly been thinking about it every day since it was posted.  I'm drooling a bit right now, I won't lie.

One of my favorite personal finance gurus--The Money Girl list out the reasons why being fit will help you earn more money and save more in the long run.  Yup, I totally agree, and I'm not just saying that because I had that AWESOME doctor visit a couple weeks ago.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Danger of Free Food

As someone who loves saving money, I've always been very interested in finding free food whenever I can.  Usually when I encounter a free spread, I eat until I feel slightly sick, and I try to take home leftovers.  Unfortunately, overeating in these situations rarely results in me eating less or not eating later on, and I'm forced to realized that my love of free food may be just making me fat, rather than saving me the money I thought it would.

For instance, I used to work at a fancy membership library--those are the kind where people pay an annual fee to be a member, basically the country clubs of libraryland.  People belong to these kinds of libraries (I currently belong to one even though I work in a public library) because they often have historic buildings, unique collections and kick ass events.  The one I belong to was recently featured on NPR for being so awesome.  Anyway, working at a membership library equals tons of access to free food since the library would always buy more than it needed for a particular event.  I'd often take home bags of free cheese and crackers, and there was a time that my lunch at work consisted of only ice cream sandwiches and leftover chips from the children's picnic.

That last sentence probably tipped you off to what I'm going to say next--this free food, and my love (insatiable love!) is starting to make me fat, and probably makes me look very tacky.
Who can resist a cheese tray!  
But what to do?  Odds are good that I'm never going to stop loving a free lunch--who does, afterall?  And when I was in college and my parents were taking me out to dinner, I would often starve myself for 18 hours and then over order (and try to get them to take me to a place with a salad bar) so I'd have leftovers for at least two days, but perhaps I'm too grown up for that kind of behavior?

The free food thing is kind of like all of the other "adult" behaviors that I feel like I'm waiting for to kick in.  I assumed that once you reach the age of thirty, you stop being poor like a college student, and you stop exhibiting tacky behavior in public, but I just...haven't.  Now my 30+ waistline is starting to suffer, so maybe that was the linchpin all along?  Grownups acts like grownups in the presence of free food because they know all those cheese cubes will really stick to their ribs?

I'm going to try to be more mindful, but I don't think I'll be able to turn off the thrill that I get every time I see a buffet of free whatnot.

Anyone else have this problem?  I don't carry around containers to hoard the free food anymore, so that's progress, right?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Out of My Element

I'm not saying these two made our mattress
but they might have.
BF and I have been sleeping on the same mattress for three years now.  It's a mattress that he had in his old room at his parents house, and I don't even want to know how old it is.  It has reached the point where it is losing all structural integrity and sags in the middle which means that we slide together in the night and wake up all warm.  Add to that the fact that the bed frame fell apart a while ago, and now it's just mattress and box spring sitting on the floor (classy), and we're reached the conclusion that it's time for a new bed.

The problem is, I've never bought a bed before, and the sleuthing I did a few months ago left me very downtrodden.

  1. Factor one when mattress shopping--you can't really buy used.  I know, I know, buying a used mattress is kind of gross, which is why you can't do it.  It's illegal to sell a mattress on craigslist or really anywhere else, so unless you have a clean co-worker who happens to be upgrading to a new mattress and wants to unload a gently used one, it seems like you're out of luck.  Which brings me to me second point.
  2. Mattresses are expensive!  Holy crap are they ever!  I did a little bit of poking around on line to try to figure out where a person even goes to buy a mattress, and I found that a store called Sleepy's was having a Columbus Day sale (this was a while ago), it seemed reasonable, so we went.  What we found out though, is Sleepy's is crazy expensive and has a mattress showroom where you discuss your mattress needs with a sleep specialist.  Umm, no thank you.
  3. There's no happy medium.  We went from Sleepy's to a place called Building 19, which is just as sinister as it sounds.  Sure they had mattresses, but they also had a giant collection of slightly irregular crocs, dented cans, etc.  It was that kind of place, and the mattresses were covered in plastic so filthy, I didn't want to even lie down on them to test them out.  I love warehouse-type stores, but this was just too depressing.  And the mattresses there were still expensive!
So where do poor people buy beds?  Do poor people just not get to have beds/a good night's sleep?  I don't think I can buy a bed at Ikea, I know I can't buy one at Target, so I'm at a loss.

My brother, who is not poor, recently bought a new bed and he raved about the marvelous night's sleep he's been getting by using words like "I had no idea" and "new man."  He also went to some custom mattress factory where he spent hours taking actual naps on floor models until the built him a bed specific to his needs and tastes.  So he's no help.

I turn to you, blogosphere--help!  Any and all advice is appreciated, even if that advice is either that we continue to sleep poorly, or prepare to get a bank loan.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Taper Madness

There's a running term called taper madness that I realized totally applies to personal finance as well.  Let's back up.

Tapering, is when right before a big race, you take a few days off running to let your body rest and recover so you are at your best on the big day.  Tapering always comes on the heels of doing a lot of running, a lot of long runs, and a lot of thinking about running.  Therefore, tapering is the hardest thing in the world to do.  You go from running 20-40-60 miles a week to sitting on your ass feeling fat and restless.

So, it's a lot like the times when you go from spending spending spending to trying to live frugally.  You don't know what to do with yourself, all of your favorite activities are off limits and you generally hunker down at home and wallow--perhaps with chocolate or some other kind of snack.

But what to do!  Doing things costs money!  Leaving the house means subjecting yourself to temptations galore and you can't fight them off!  The problem with equating taper madness to personal finance is that taper madness lasts, at most, two weeks.  Personal finance, especially eliminating debt, that takes years.  So while the execution is completely different, the feeling is very much the same.  It hurts, and it can drive you batty.

That's why you need to sub in something else so you don't lose your mind.  You need to stock up on frugal activities the same way you would stock up on non-perishables if you knew inclement weather was coming.  Here are a few of my ideas for personal finance newbies to help them not lose their minds, and to help those of us that have been at this for a while.
  1. The Library.  Yes, I'm a librarian, but I'm also a person with a reading habit.  Reading is and has always been the biggest way I spend my downtime, and if you just borrow the books, reading is totally free!  The Library also has movies, you could learn a language, pick up a book on knitting, cooking--anything you can think of.  Basically, the library is your source for info on frugal hobbies.
  2. Hulu + or Netflix.  Both of these cost money, that's true, but you can get a two-week trial of Hulu +, which is just enough time to power through a season of your favorite tv series (just don't forget to cancel before the end of the two weeks because they will totally take your money).
  3. Free Events.  Summer is the best time to be frugal because there is always something going on, and most of it is free.  Go to the library and see if they have a bulletin board of events, or check with your chamber of commerce.  Keep an open mind, some of my favorite times have been at free events that sounded a little bit ridiculous, like Gaspee Days which is where Rhode Islanders dress like American colonists, camp in the historic Pawtuxet village for three days, and then ceremonially burn a tiny replica of the HMS Gaspee.  It was awesome.
  4. Save on utilities.  Summer is also the best time to save a bit of money on your utilities bill.  If you have a ceiling fan, use it, if you don't, get one.  Ceiling fans are amazing, economical, and much more efficient than just fans or air conditioning.  Also, summer is the perfect time to turn down the temperature on your water heater.  Who wants to take a super hot shower when it's 90 degrees out? Turning down the temp just a few degrees can save $15/month.

And for the times when you need to spend money, here are a few painless steps to take to ensure that you spend a little less.  All those tiny purchases add up, after all, might as well make them tinier.
  1. Comparison shop.  I don't advocate driving from store to store, that's a waste of time and gas, but use the internet to do a little bit of research before making major purchases, and then try to practice patience.  Also, if you have an iphone or some other kind of smart phone, there are price comparison apps that sound pretty awesome.  I don't have a smart phone, but that would be a reason for me to get one (note: not advocating buying a smart phone).
  2. Use Ebates.  If you're buying online, use Ebates.  They have tons of coupon codes and you get a percentage of cash back.  Sure, 2% may not seem like much, but it adds up.  Just don't use the cash back as an excuse to spend more.  My last awesome Ebates experience, I was buying running shoes which I buy in bulk when they're on sale.  Ebates had a coupon code for 20% off Nike.com, plus 6% cash back, plus Nike was having a huge sale.  I got four pairs of $100 shoes for $40 each.  Not too shabby.
  3. Look for coupon codes.  I just ordered some nuun online, and a quick google search of "nuun coupon" netted me 20% off.  That's nothing to sneeze at, that's $18.  I like having 18 dollars and still having my nuun.
  4. Shop local.  I'm all about saving a buck, but I also want to live in a town with local merchants and not just boarded up storefronts.  Sometimes the prices may be a bit higher when you shop local, but the customer service often more than makes up for that fact.  Plus, establishing relationships with local businesses always saves you either time or money in the end.
  5. Cluster Errands or walk/bike errands.  The cheaper grocery store is a little ways away from me, but there's a slightly more expensive market nearby.  I do a big shop at the cheap store once every six weeks or so, and then I bike to the market weekly for my fresh produce.  Biking to the market is rather awesome in that you can't overspend, because then you can't fit it all in your basket, and it makes me feel delightfully European/ like I'm in a movie to be pedaling home with a bunch of kale in my basket.  Walking or biking your errands always forces you to really think about purchases because you have to carry them home.  Cars you can just fill and forget, which is not frugal.
This has been your refresher in frugality--anyone else have any other tips?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Number Part II

This won't make much sense if you haven't already read Part I.

I finished my BA in December of 2003, and since I had spent the last two to three years worrying about my debt, I still had no idea what I was going to do with my life.  My mother kept insisting that I work in a bank, because that's what she does; and my dad tried to hired me to sell life insurance with him.  I may have made many poor choices in the past, but I'm still very glad I turned down my dad's job offer--even with this debt.

When I was growing up, my mother always told me that it didn't matter what your degree was, just that you had one.  That had been true when she was in college, but I quickly found out that a BA in English is not the rare gift I wanted to believe it was.

My academic advisor suggested that I apply to the school's MFA program.  Even though my GPA was abysmal, I got in on the strength of my writing portfolio, and began my illustrious career as a grad student.  I took out student loans to cover the cost of tuition, and the amount of overage I got went toward my credit card debt.

I was still working full-time at Barnes & Noble (well, full-time, but considered part time so I got no benefits of any kind), and part-time at a local television station.  Since MFA classes only met once a week, I could still handle the work schedule and school.

I kept that up for two semesters, and then quit Barnes & Noble and picked up more hours at the tv station plus got a graduate assistantship.  I took out the maximum $10,000 in loans every semester, and put the overage toward my debt and my living expenses.  Despite the fact that I was working all the time, I earned very little money per hour and lived in a rather expensive apartment.  Actually, the apartment itself was dirt cheap, but the utilities bills were insane.  North Dakota winters--you need a lot of heat to survive those.

So five semesters of grad school equals $50,000 in student loans, and once I graduated, I still had no idea what to do with my life.  The purpose of getting an MFA was to get better as a writer and learn about the publishing industry.  What I learned about the publishing industry is that I am a terrible editor, and though I applied to jobs all over the place, I never got any nibbles, and started to realize that my heart just wasn't into it.

I got a job at the Fargo Public Library, and realized that that was what I actually wanted to do with my life.  I had loved working at Barnes & Noble, but I hated constantly up-selling people and trying to meet sales goals.  The library was a good fit.

Unfortunately, earning $7.25/hour working as a library assistant wasn't going to cut it.  So I decided to take the plunge back into grad school and get a Masters in Library and Information Sciences.  I spent a year researching programs and saving money.  I got a third job in a coffee shop, and every penny went into savings.  My student loans were in forebearance at that point, and I was trying to pay the interest on them, but was more concerned with saving.

There are only about 55 accredited MLIS programs in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico, and none of them were within a regional tuition distance for me.  This was just at the beginning of the surge in online programs, but there were too few at that point, and plus, I wanted to get out of Fargo, and even though I know how convenient online classes are, I just don't learn well that way.

So I moved to Rhode Island and paid out-of-state tuition for four semesters of grad school.  For those keeping track, that's another $40,000, and since it was out-of-state tuition, there was no lovely overage check, and I often had to make up the difference once all those fees got added in.  I worked two-to-three jobs the entire time I was in grad school, and tried not to completely drain my savings account, but between commuting, rent, wanting to make friends and socialize and buying apartment stuff (I'd left everything behind when I left Fargo), it seemed like there was just never enough extra.

After graduating, it took me a six months to find a job at all, and the one that I found was only 19 hours a week, which didn't quite cover my cost of living.  The loans sat in forebearance accruing interest until we arrive at today where they top out at $99,923 and accrue about $30 in interest every. single. day.

I'm trying to keep up with the interest, and hopefully start paying down the principal soon, but I know that I will never be able to pay back the full amount.  I could focus all my savings energies on paying back these loans, but then I wouldn't have an emergency fund, I'd have no savings of any kind and I'd really be no better off.  Right now, I'm paying what I can, saving what I can, and waiting for the loans to be forgiven in ten years.

So there it is, the bad and the ugly with a little bit of good sprinkled throughout.  If I could change things, make better choices, I would, but I can't and I'm not going to beat myself up about it.  Whether this information undermines my integrity as a personal finance blogger, that's up to you, but I feel a little bit lighter.

Come on, what's your number?

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Number Part I

Ever since Serendipity on Serendipity's Guide to Saving came clean about her student loan debt, I'm been wrestling mentally about whether or not I should do the same thing.  This blog is about financial honesty, and I'm not really embarrassed about the amount that I owe, it just seems like not knowing how people will react/potentially judge me, makes it uncomfortable.  It's my number, and I've told very few people my number--I don't even think BF knows.

But, in the interest of coming clean, financially, I'm going to share my number and the way I got to it.

Right now, my student loan debt is $100,000.  Yes, that is six zeroes.  It's enough to buy a decent house in most parts of the country, and it is more that I will ever be able to pay off.

So here's how a 30-something girl comes to owe that much money to the federal loan program.

My story is a combination of foolish mistakes, wanting to embrace life, succumbing to peer pressure and working in retail with very little willpower.

Freshman year of college was the first year since age fifteen where I didn't have a regular job.  I went to college and wanted to immerse myself in learning and having new experiences, so I didn't want to work, but I had saved about $5000 from my high school jobs.  Turns out that I'm not the kind of person who can or needs to spend hours upon hours doing homework, and I was shockingly bored.  I picked up some odd jobs around campus, and worked at my high school job over Thanksgiving and Christmas break, but by spring semester, I was looking for a regular job to stop me from bored shopping all the time.  Thankfully, this was before online shopping was much of a thing, but I did seem to invent a reason to need to go to Target almost every day.

After that, I got a job at Barnes & Noble where I basically spent every penny I made in the store.  By this point, I had started carrying a balance on my credit card every month, and had gotten two new cards just to stretch thing out a bit.  I'd moved into off-campus housing with three friends, and we wanted the house to be decorated in a nice way, which meant buying a lot of things from Target.  We also wanted to do things that are considered a college right of passage--like spring break in Mexico.

By the time I got to Junior year, my debt was getting very, very high, and I honestly cannot think of any one thing that I spent all the money on.  The years of just buying a lot of things and charging them all started to snowball.  Junior year was the year that I was going to do study abroad, living in England for five weeks, then touring Europe for another three.  I was working 40 hours a week trying to pay down debt but it didn't occur to me to really save money as well for the trip, since I figured I would just put all my purchases on a credit card.  Before I went to Europe, my debt was ballooning at about $8000, after I got back, it was over $10,000.

While I was in Europe, I failed to make the minimum payment on one of my credit cards, because I didn't really have any available cash, and they wouldn't let me do a balance transfer from another card.  I missed three month worth of payments, and was sent to a collection agency.  I negotiated with the collection agency and got my debt reduced, but I also had to make huge payments of $1500 at a time, which I'm still not sure how I was able to do.  Senior year, I ended up failing a few classes because I was working too much and was too distracted by everything else that was going on, so I had to do a fifth year.

By this point, I was back working at Barnes & Noble full time and I had taken a second, 20-hour-a-week job at night.  My parents quit paying for college at this point (they paid for the first four years), and I'd cut back to doing school part-time, so didn't qualify for financial aid.  I paid cash for tuition for the next year and a half until I graduated, and tried to pay down debt with every other penny that came in.

At the end of five and a half years for an undergraduate degree, I didn't have any student loan debt, but I did have a lot of credit card debt.

Stay Tuned for Part II: Grad School

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Money Smart Week

I had a pretty good week spending/savingwise despite the fact that I went out to eat four times (that's insane!  How did that happen?).  For my Money Smart Week, I'm just going to reflect on the things I did in the past week with my money that were smart.

  1. Shared an entree and appetizer at BYOB restaurant.  One of my favorite restaurants in Providence is a place that doesn't have a liquor license, so they allow you to bring in your own beer.  They also have a delicious menu full of vegetarian and vegan options, and they're right next to my house!  Whenever my friend Hailie and I go there, we always split the food and still wind up with leftovers.  Plus, buying a six pack of beer from the liquor store saves easily at least $10.
  2. Reduced car insurance.  Since my car is seven years old, and I don't drive it nearly as much as I used to, I decided to reduce my coverage from collision to just liability.  This makes me slightly nervous because Rhode Island drivers are some of the worst I've ever encountered, but since my car is only worth about $4000, it just didn't make sense to keep paying $1200/year in insurance.  Cutting down to just liability saves me a cool $400 per year.
  3. Avoided Target.  Job #2 is near a Target store that I drive past both coming and going.  I have just enough time between jobs that I can make a quick Target run for things like toilet paper and other necessities.  Somehow though, every time I step into that store, even with a list, I manage to walk away with far more than I intended.  This week, even though I had some good coupons, I just said no.
  4. Saved!  I finally managed to sock away some money in my savings account, my travel fund and my IRA.  I paid off that niggling small balance on my Amex (I wasn't not paying it off each month, but it just seemed like I always owed about $300), set aside enough for the utility bils that show up at the beginning of each month, and moved the rest into savings!
  5. Free Theatre on Friday.  One of the local theatres drops off posters of their upcoming shows for us to hang in the library.  The last two times, he's also given us a voucher for two free tickets!  On Friday, we went to see 1984, which was awesome.
  6. Free food on Sunday.  Sunday is my first half marathon of the season, and it's also a great chance to get some free food after the race.  Yes, technically, I paid for the food with my registration fees, but I still make it a point to eat as much as I can--and drink my free beer.  I'm usually not even that hungry after a race, but I shove at least four pieces of pizza down my throat and smuggle out as much other stuff as I can carry.  I earned it, damnnit!
13 miles is a long run!  I need sustenance!
So far, the month of May is totally awesome!  How did you do this week?  Any super awesome money smart moves you want to brag about?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sporty Link Love

Since racing season is just starting, and I may be running my first half marathon of the year while you're reading this, let's also take a moment to congratulate my friend from Elementary School (and facebook) who just completed her first Triathalon!  I often think that I'd like to do a triathalon, but I neither bike (2 miles to work doesn't really count) nor swim, so I'm at a bit of an impasse.  Not Erin!

Another Superwoman who consistently amazes me is SkinnyRunner, who just ran about a billion races, all over the country in a single week.  The final count was 160 miles in nine days--I barely run 160 miles in two months, and in the month of April, I ran 27.  This girl is a delightful combination of crazy, dedicated and determined and while I don't necessarily want to emulate her, I do like reading about it.

Doing anything that might be daunting in a group almost always makes it easier.  I rarely run with other people because I like to set my own pace, but the times that I have, I often find that the time flies by, and I'm more willing to push myself because I don't want to seem like a wuss.  It's similar with personal finance, you may feel like you're alone and the only person who doesn't know what you're doing, but that's never the case.  Active.com, which is one of my go-to sites for health and training info, made a nice list of 9 Reasons a Marathon Training Group is Good For You, and I think a lot of it applies to personal finance too!

One of my other favorite personal fitness blogs is Lotus and Pie (though I don't really think she eats a lot of pie...).  Not only is Jenn super ripped and awesome, but she posts tons of training videos that you can do at home. Yes, I've been too lazy to do most (any) of them, but it's nice to know where to find them and to read about her progress.

Friday, May 4, 2012

National Bike Month

Apparently, May is national bike month!  I've been aware of this in the past because there's a rather large hoopla that goes on in Providence every year on Bike to Work Day, which includes a visit with a bike mechanic, breakfast and a community fair (not really sure what that means, but I'm sure it's fun!).  I saw the notice about the Bike to Work Day party the other day on a local blog I read, and I was all excited because I finally have a bike!   I'll finally fit in with these people!  Except for one huge problem--

I don't want to bike from the party to work.

The party is being held at the World War I Memorial, which is right at the bottom of College Hill.  College Hill is the steepest hill in the whole city, and was actually the site of the Red Bull Soapbox Derby Championship the first year I lived in Providence.
Here's a video that illustrates the crazy steepness--I'll wait while you watch it.

The point is--there is no way in hell that I am riding my bike up that hill, and if I attended the festivities, I would either have to ride back up that hill to get to work, or go another mile out of my way to get to a slightly less steep hill.  I honestly don't even know if I can ride up that hill, I'd probably roll backward into traffic!  I'd happily walk to the party, but that seems not really in keeping with the spirit of the event--more just like I'm trying to scam free food.  Plus, I'm still intimidated by hard core bikers, and I can't make a speedy getaway on foot if they're mean to me.

So, conundrum.  I want to participate, but I don't want to die in the process.  I still plan to celebrate National Bike Month by biking to work as much as possible, and in the interest of being a total nerd, I started a spreadsheet keeping track of days that I bike or walk to work vs days that I drive.  Yeah, I'm the coolest.