Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Apartment Composter

I've long been interested in composting at home, even before I read Garbology, but the problem has always been that I live on the second floor of an apartment, don't have a lawn and therefore have no way to use any compost I might create.  I used to work with a woman who was a Master Composter, which is really a thing, she has a certificate and everything, and she always had a bucket on the counter for us to put food scraps in.  It never smelled, only got fruit flies when it had been sitting there for a very long time, and I started thinking that maybe this is something that I should try for myself.

But it always came back to: what do I do with compost?

I finally figured that out.  I had heard that sometimes Whole Foods will take compost, so I looked into that.  It seems that my local Whole Foods do not, but there is a truck that comes to the Farmer's Markets that does!  So now I just need to figure out a system to make this work in my apartment, and see how ambitious I am about actually dropping it off.

First order of business is finding a container.  These are the containers that my boss used to bring into work:
They worked well, had a charcoal filter to reduce stinkiness, but they cost $20, and since I'm in the experimental phase, I don't want to spend any money yet.

I emailed her to ask if she has a spare bucket I could borrow til I'm ready to commit.  Then I put an ad on Freecycle to see if anyone has one they can give up.  I haven't gotten any nibbles from Freecycle, but my former boss got back to me and said that you don't need a fancy bucket, any pail will do as long as it has a lid. She suggested a 32 ounce yogurt container, which I have plenty of.

Next wrinkle: Convincing BF that we should do this.

We have had many issues with household pests in the past.  We lost an entire cupboard's worth of food to pantry moths last summer, so naturally, he's a bit skeptical about keeping food waste on hand for two weeks or more.  I decided the best route to go would be to start with coffee grounds and eggshells.  Both are very compostable, both are things we use a lot, but neither should get stinky or attract bugs.

I've also decided to upgrade from the 32 ounce yogurt container (cause with coffee it would fill up right away) to a one gallon ice cream pail, which means that BF will have to eat one gallon of ice cream first.  That should make him more amenable.

Right now, this is very much in the experimental phase.  We'll see how it works for us, and we'll see how ambitious I am about bringing it to the farmer's market.  I'm really excited about this though--strangely excited.  This is something that I've wanted to try for so long, I'm just thrilled that I found a way to (potentially) make it work!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Self Improving Self

Andrea at So Over This posed the question a while back Is Financial Health Always Linked to Physical Health?  Even since I read this line, "I read a ton of blogs regularly, most of which are financial, and I’ve noticed a trend. When a blogger gets his/her finances under control, it seems like the blog almost always shifts toward fitness or exercise" I've been all worried that I was going to go that route too, even though she wasn't being judgey about it at all.  See, the problem with personal finance blogs, and the reason some of them are so damn boring, is after you pay off a massive debt or figure out how to better take care of yourself moneywise, there's not much else to say.

I could post every day and show you pictures of my groceries or talk about how I haven't paid full price for mayo in years (years!  I'm pretty impressed with myself), but really, who wants to hear it?  Instead, now that I have my finances (mostly) under control, I'm looking to clean up other areas in my life that will actually save me money, but might improve me overall as well.  How's that for staying on topic, eh?

1. Chew My Food More Thoroughly 
I'm a fast eater, always have been, which honestly makes no sense because I've rarely had to compete with anyone for food.  The problem, I think, is that I'm a textural eater, which means that my enjoyment of food ends very early on in the chewing process.  However, chewing my food more thoroughly will not only make me eat slower-- aiding digestion, but will ultimately make me eat less (supposedly).  That will save me money in Alka-Seltzer and foodstuffs all while making me healthier and more svelte.

2. Waste Less
This goes hand-in-hand with the not taking plastic bags things, but I'm always trying to pay more attention to what a buy, how much I buy, and how much of what I've bought I actually keep.  I honestly feel like I'm dropping off huge bag at the thrift store three times a year, which is just ridiculous.  I'm like a lot of people, I like new things, but this year I have gotten better at shopping my closet, and now that I'm not job-hopping as much, it's much easier to actually just have one wardrobe.

Of course, wasting less also goes for food.  I feel ill thinking of all the food I wasted during the summer of the farm share, so I am going to be very good from now on.  Pinky swear.

3. Drive Less
This one has been on the docket for a while, but now that it's not 90 DEGREES AND 100% HUMIDITY, I can actually pedal the two miles to work and not die.  Plus, now that I have the Big Brother device riding shotgun, I have even more incentive to bike/walk as much as possible.  Man, I hope this saves me some money.

4. Spend Less
All of the above should help me spend less both on food and clothes--hopefully on gas and car insurance too.  Also, thanks to President Obama's Affordable Health Care Act, I now get free birth control!  That saves me $360/year that I can instead give back to the government in the form of student loan repayment.

5. Save More
With all of those savings, I should be able to actually save more in my savings/ retirement accounts!  My savings has been pretty stagnant since starting the new job, and I really want to turn that around.  Especially since this year the library had a significant budget cut, which means that I get no 401k matching for the whole year.  Not to rant (too much), but as I've mentioned before, my library is a brand-new system that has a shoestring budget.  The $200,000 budget cut would have meant that all nine libraries have to close a total of three weeks over the course of the fiscal year, with employees losing three week's pay.  Instead of doing that, the union agreed that employees would give up their 401k matching for the year and the library will only close one week.  As much as I don't love the idea of losing three week's pay, I really dislike the idea of not having a retirement account.  I mean, I love my job, but I'd like to be able to leave some day instead of dropping dead at the reference desk.

So yeah, I need to step it up this year.

6. Declutter
Naturally, I'm still in the process of decluttering, which  will likely last the rest of my life, but hopefully if I'm not bringing in as much stuff, there will be less clutter overall!  Logic!  This is another part of the reason I love, love, love Freecycle.  It actually helps me declutter without having to think about it.  For instance, I'm really bad about getting rid of boxes and other packing materials.  I've moved enough that I know I will need that stuff again some day, and I will not go to the UPS store to buy boxes, not when they've been entering my house for years for free.  So, yeah, our basement storage space is full of boxes.  But the other day on Freecycle, someone said that they needed shoe boxes, which I also have many of. I got to get rid of shoe boxes, know that the boxes are needed by someone, and help a stranger!  So many warm fuzzies!  I also gave away an older laptop that I didn't need anymore, but that worked ok.  Now I imagine the young man who took it will become a Rhodes Scholar, and I helped him get there.

By the end of this year, I will perfect!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Plastic Bag

Not the most beautiful thing I've ever seen
I've had a lot of thoughts about plastic bags lately.  This is kind of strange, because I really don't use plastic bags anymore--or I try not to.  Lately, it seems, the forces of the universe have aligned to make me wake up in the morning thinking BAG!  And just like when you first become aware of something, you see it everywhere.  So here's how I got here.

I just got back from a Scandinavian vacation, as I've mentioned before.  As I always do, I brought my reuseable bag that I got from Target that scrunches up small to fit in my purse.  This came in handy more times than I can count, particularly when we were staying at the hostel in Denmark and I would have had to lay my clean clothes on the wet shower tile, or try to hang them on tiny hooks had I not had this lovely bag. Ah, the joys of shared showers.
Not the one from Target, but it scrunches
up into a strawberry!  How cute!
When BF and I were in New Brunswick last year, we may have unwittingly stolen a plastic bag from a grocery store.  The cashier didn't bag any of our stuff, so we did it ourselves, and then once we were outside the building we agonized as to whether or not they charge for bags (it was a nice bag) and maybe we had committed theft in another country.  Naturally, we knew that Sweden and Denmark are some of the most environmentally committed countries, and since we didn't speak their language at all, we wanted to avoid potential bag thievery altogether.

What I didn't realize though, was that when I'm on vacation, I count on encountering plastic bags at some point--usually in a hotel room or store, and then re-pack my dirty clothes in them.  Since we didn't stay in hotels, and I had only had the foresight to bring one bag for my shoes, I just wound up putting my dirty clothes in with my clean ones.  I may have also accidentally worn the same shirt twice, but since I brought seven v-neck t-shirts, that's just my fault for being unimaginative.

The point is, two days away from the end of the trip, both bf and I had the revelation that we had not encountered a single plastic bag.  We admitted that we found it strange and mildly inconvenient, but really not a big deal at all.

So I then found it quite annoying when I came back to the states, went to the grocery store with my reuseable bags, and found myself walking out with some plastic anyway.  Last time (and I realize that this has happened before) the bagger only filled my bags half-full, and then proceeded to put the rest in plastic.  The bags were not full of cans or heavy items and certainly could have held more, plus I had my back-up bag in my purse.  Had he or she asked, I would have said fill the bags all the way or use this instead, but they didn't ask.  I hate to seem rude by screeching no plastic at someone just trying to do their job.

But seriously, how else do you stop this?  I emailed the grocery store, but I fear I will sound like a crazy person and be dismissed.

Even though I try to never come home with plastic bags, I still come home with many, many plastic bags.  I always forget to bring bags to Target, and even though I have my backup bag, who the hell has ever gone to Target and only bought one bag's worth of stuff, amirite?  I went to Old Navy the other day, and it barely registered that the girl was giving me a plastic bag, but bringing your own bag to a clothing store seems weird.

I've also realized lately that there are a lot of situations where plastic bags seem almost necessary.  For instance, I'm obsessed with The Biggest Loser, which is streaming on Netflix and completely taking over my life.  They frequently have contestants volunteer at the Los Angeles Food Bank, which is awesome, but I noticed something recently that made my toes curl.  They were handing out pre-packed bags to a long line of people, and all the bags were plastic.  The contestants gleefully announced that they'd given out 500 bags of food, and all I could think was '500 bags.'

In this case, I don't know what a better solution is.  If people are required to bring their own bags, then the food bank can't pre-pack everything and it takes way more time.  What if people forget their bags, or don't have any?  Do you give out reuseable bags every time?  Is that any kind of a solution?

Part of the reason I'm so strident about this lately is because I've been reading this book:
Which is fascinating and horrifying (I mean seriously, a book about garbage is fascinating--I'm not kidding!), and is really making me think a lot about just how much I, even as a person who tries to avoid waste, throw away in a day--and where it goes.

Unfortunately, many of the plastic bags wind up here:

That's the ocean and what is affectionately called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  This is scary stuff not just because of the fact that our ocean is full of trash that sea creatures choke on, but also because some sea creatures eat this stuff, it doesn't kill them, and then they become human food.  We're basically eating our own garbage, and plastic is not good eats.

So what to do?  In various cities around the US, people have tried to enact laws either taxing or banning plastic bags, but the plastic lobby frequently sued and got those laws overturned or made ineffective.  In Ireland, when people noticed that their beautiful green hillsides were taking on too much trash, they enacted a  22 euro cents fee for each single-use bag, which all but stopped people from using them.  People are happy because there's less trash floating around and stores are happy because they're saving tons of money by not having to buy the bags in the first place. One of Ireland's largest grocery chains even pointed out that there are consumer savings to be had, "Now we're saving the environment, we're reducing litter and since we're not paying for bags it ultimately save money for us and that reduces the price of food for our customers."  Considering the way food prices are climbing everywhere, this would be an easy way to reduce them.

My store offers an incentive to bring a reuseable bag, but there's no disincentive to take a single-use plastic one, and, as I pointed out, they just love to give them to you.  Honestly, before I read this book and really thought about the larger implications, I had started using reuseable bags just because the plastic ones are so shitty.  I've had so many bags break on me that they're just not worth it--even for free. Plus, reuseable bags have longer straps, which makes them much easier to carry.

For my part, I'm just not taking plastic anymore, even if that makes my interaction with a salesperson weird and slightly awkward, and even if it means un-bagging something that a grocery store bagger did.  I'm going to take the plastic bags that I currently have at my house to the plastic bag recycling at the grocery store, and then I'm just not going to bring any more into my house.  I'm also going to talk about this more--not to the point of being a zealot or annoying people, but just mentioning that maybe you don't need to put a single object in a bag. If we get out of the habit, we won't even see it as an inconvenience.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Farm Share: Final Verdict

It occurs to me that my weekly postings describing my Farm Share bounty have completely fallen off.  Sorry about that, but since we've reached almost the end of the summer growing season, I'm going to look back on this whole experience and try to figure out whether or not it was worth it and how I feel about it.

-1 for extra food waste.  Despite sharing my share with another person, I really did end up with extra food waste over the course of the summer.  I'm the type of person who eats the same thing every day, and making several meals a week is just not how I operate.  Because of that, I would often use up one of the strange new ingredients I'd get, and let the other one rot.  I feel terrible about this, but really don't know what's to be done about it.

+1 for learning how to cook new things.  Yes, having a farm share did force me to expand my repertoire, and I'm really happy about that.  Admittedly, I did not end up eating that kohlrabi, I just stared at it until it rotted, but I feel less intimidated by kohlrabi now and regard it as a friend (that I would like to eat).

+1 for eating local.  All the food from my farm share came from Rehoboth, MA, which is 13 miles from my house.  That's pretty awesome.

-1 for sharing drawbacks.  I'm very very glad that I shared my share with another person because it would have been waaaaaaaaay too much for just me.  However, because I shared, it meant that I would frequently wind up with very little of something, and it would almost seem too much work to prepare it.  I mean, who wants to turn on the oven to roast just half a bunch of turnips.  So, I should have been more creative, but trying more than one new recipe a week is just too much for me.  I'm fragile, people.

-/+1 for value overall.  I cannot really decide if doing this farm share was actually a good value.  I missed two week's worth of deliveries while I was on vacation, and while I was away, there was a freak hailstorm that damaged many of the crops and structures on the farm.  Because of that, shares have been significantly lighter, which is obviously not the farmer's fault.
The hail that hit the farm--from their facebook page
So I go back and forth.  Yes, it was rather expensive, but I learned a lot and tried many new things.  But if I hadn't done this, I would have saved money and wasted less food, but then I would still be scared of bok choy.  Actually, now that the vegetables are shifting to the fall variety--i.e. tomatoes, squash, zucchini, I'm starting to think I should keep it up.  I love root vegetables, people.  But if I did that, it would be another $200.  Would I spend that much if I actually went to the store and bought my veg there? Or is it less about the money and more about supporting a local farm?  Gah!  It's too hard!  Just tell me what to do, internet!

-/+1 For realizing how superficial I am when it comes to vegetables.  I read a book a while back about food waste, and the author talked about how people are really concerned with how their produce looks and stuff that looks slightly weird often gets thrown away.  I read this and though, what's wrong people, didn't you read that Berenstein Bears book where they show that the weird-looking apple is better on the inside?  Except I am the same way, apparently.  The broccoli I got from the farm looked different than the broccoli I get in stores, and that scared me, even though broccoli is one of my favorite foods!  Vegetables straight from the farm can look kind of strange, y'all, and apparently I am a bit shallow.
This is one of the results when you google image search
"strange vegetable"
-1 for lack of eggs.  One of the things I was most excited about, was eating farm-fresh eggs all summer, but they were only available for purchase one time when I went to my pickup place.  A friend who has a co-worker with chickens said that his chickens haven't been laying much this summer, so maybe that's it, but I have a hunch that since the food gets dropped off at 3pm, and I can't make it until after 6pm, someone is buying up all the eggs.  Harrumph.

Overall, I'm glad I did it because I would have continued to wonder otherwise.  There is something nice about going to get groceries and not have to pay for them (because I paid upfront), but I just don't know if this system is for me.  Perhaps next year, I'll just grab something new each time I go to the farmer's market--or every other time.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shut Out At A Museum?

Who are you talking to?!?!?
I've mentioned before that I do not own a smart phone and have no plans to get one any time soon.  I certainly don't judge those who have one and like it, but I just know that having a smart phone would take over my life and I don't want that.  What I'm starting to realize in a very real way lately is the fact that the world is skewing rapidly toward one where you're not only encouraged to have a smart phone, but almost required to have one.

When I was in high school, cell phones were a total luxury item and a wildly impractical one at that.  I don't honestly understand how Zach Morris managed to make so many calls on his phone because it was nearly impossible to ever get a signal.  Of course, I did grow up in North Dakota, so take that statement with a grain of salt.  Fast forward to when I was in college, everyone had a cell phone for emergency use only, because we lived in North Dakota, and now if you don't have a cell phone and ever run out of gas, you're screwed because there are no pay phones.

I was at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, PA a few months ago, and they had limited information in front of the exhibits, but a phone number that you were supposed to call for more information. Yes, a museum was encouraging you to make phone calls.  The librarian in me finds this notion absolutely repellant, and I also don't really want to be standing there on my phone surrounded by other people on their phones.  I mean, those awful acoustiguides are bad enough, now they're taking away all the reminders that there are places where cell phone use is just not ok.  Basically, this kind of cell phone sanctioning is going to turn people into even bigger jerks, I fear.
Acoustiguides are the worst, the WORST!
Well, the Danish Rosenborg Palace has even one-upped the Mutter Museum.  In front of the collection of Danish Crown Jewels, they have no information of any kind.  They put you in a room with a bunch of pretty things, and then just give you QR codes.
This is not helpful
I realize that they're doing this as a money-saving measure, but according to the computer programmer that I spent part of this vacation with, it's prohibitively expensive for an American to upgrade to a European data plan, so even if you want to get online, you need wi-fi, which the palace did not have.  Anyone not from Northern Europe who really, really wants to know about the Danish crown jewels, would have to, I don't know, take a picture of the QR code and look at it later?

I assume these are the more 'everyday' crowns,
but I have no way to know for sure
This just galls me to no end.  Museums and libraries exist so that everyone, no matter what social status, can access information and educate themselves.  They shouldn't be only for those who can afford fancy gadgetry!
In the case of the Danish Crown Jewels, certainly there must be some Danes, who paid for those jewels, who cannot afford a smartphone.  Dismayed though I am, I'm still no closer to wanting a smartphone.  Nice try, Denmark.

Monday, August 13, 2012

New Car Insurance Scheme

The gadget!  It's pretty cute, actually.
When I got my new job that's just two miles from where I live, one of the first things I did was reduce my insurance coverage.  This saves me about $400/year, which is awesome.  When I was on the phone with Progressive, I also mentioned that I got a new job, which significantly reduced my commute length, "does that get me any other kind of discount?" I asked.

"No, we don't do that anymore." the girl I spoke to told me.

No so, Progressive lady.  Progressive recently started a new program called Snapshot, where you actually get a small device, plug it into your car, and it records how many miles you drive, how you drive, and what times of day.  You get points off for hard braking (studies show that people who frequently brake hard are more likely to have accidents), traveling between 12am and 4am (which makes sense), and they calculate a new insurance rate based on your actual driving rather than the current algorithm which (I'm guessing a bit here) is based on where you live more than how you live i.e. Rhode Island's rates are sky high because people here drive like assholes.

Considering I drive 1.89 miles to get to work, and often only drive my car four days out of seven, I leaped at the chance to try this out.  This is pretty much what I've been waiting for my entire driving life, and even though I just plugged it in Thursday, I already love it.

Also, I read a rather interesting article a couple days ago about how the state of Oregon is exploring the idea of eliminating the gas tax in favor of taxing people on miles driven.  This may seem unfair as some people (myself included--in the past) can't really help the number of miles they have to drive to work, or they can't really reduce those miles due to lack of public transit options, but on the other hand, this could be enough of an incentive for those who do have other options to take those options.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that if people start driving fewer miles and pay less in gas tax, the government will likely need to make up that loss in some other way, but overall, it does seem more fair, and I'm a big fan of fair.

Regardless of whether or not this is a scheme that takes off, I'm more than happy to potentially get a reduction in my astronomical car insurance rates.  I've often looked at my car sitting in the driveway as I bike off to work and wondered if since I'm paying for the insurance, I should drive it more--stupid I know, but the brain does what the brain wants.  It currently costs me ~$2.5 per day for car insurance, regardless of how much I drive.  Now, I have groovy charts like this to keep me in line:
I love charts!

Note: This is not a sponsored post, and Progressive did not ask to me write anything, I'm just really excited.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Blogiversary Winners!

It's time to give away some prizes!!  Using a random number generator, I picked a winner for each of the four prizes.  I'll list the winners below, then, if you have won, send me an email at with your name and address.  I'll send your prize right away!

This is kind of fun!

Ok, the winner of Prize #1 the Navajo-style Owl Necklace from Modcloth:

Comment #1 from Tech Librarian!

Prize #2 The Retro Rosie Earrings:

Comment #3 from Michelle!

Prize #3 Wide Brim Sun Visor

The winner is Gena!

Prize #4 Lovebirds Necklace

The winner is Comment #2 from BrandiRae!

Comments are now closed on all of the contest blog posts, and thanks to all for playing!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why I Love My Travel Fund

It's kind of a no-brainer, but after getting back from this vacation, I really appreciate my travel fund in a way that I haven't ever before. I've always saved for travel, I've always had a travel fund of some kind, but because I always worked part-time and didn't get paid time off, any travel was a huge predicament where I would not only need to save my money for the trip itself, but save up to make up for the money I wasn't earning while I was gone.

This time, I came home to a paycheck direct deposited in my bank account, and I just immediately moved money from my travel fund to the credit card I used primarily while I was on vacation.  VICTORY!

One thing that I have to share about credit cards and Europe--something that could have been a potential disaster for us is the new Chip and Pin system that most of Western Europe is moving toward.  This is not actually new, new, cause we encountered it a couple times in Ireland two years ago and once it prevented me from buying a pile of exotic candies--the horror.

What it is, is that now European credit cards are embedded with a chip, and instead of signing, you have to enter a pin number.  You insert the card into a special reader, it scans the chip, and then you enter your pin.  Two issues with this:

  1. American credit cards do not have chips
  2. Most American credit cards do not have PINs
If you're dealing with a merchant, you can still ask him or her if you can swipe and sign, and they will accommodate you.  Although, when we were trying to pay for our Danish hotel room, the desk clerk had a hell of a time trying to get the charge to go through, and I was starting to panic that we'd get charged more than once (didn't happen-whew).

The other wrinkle is that if you're not dealing with an actual merchant, if you're in a self-service situation, you have no choice but to enter a PIN.

We got into a bit of a predicament when we landed in Sweden and had to buy train tickets back into town.  We had two banks cards (debit) cards with PINS, but only one of them worked and that was my bank card.  Since I never keep money in my checking account because it doesn't earn interest, I was worried that I wouldn't actually have enough in the account to pay for the tickets and we'd be trapped at Arlanda airport waiting for money to transfer.  For some reason, bf's ING debit card would not work at all, and a friend of ours couldn't use his debit card in the Danish metro kiosks.

Arlanda airport is very lovely, but I do not want to live there
We also got into a real bind at the train station in Malmo, Sweden when we tried to book a luggage locker through an automated system. That system would not accept our cards at all, and if it hadn't been for some nice Danish ladies who booked a locker with their card and let us give them cash, we would have been screwed.

So, what's an American or possibly Canadian to do in this situation?

  1. Talk to your credit card company.  This is obviously a huge problem, and hopefully they will rectify it--at least by issuing PINs to people who ask for them.  This may not do any good though, because a friend of ours called his Visa card and was told "we don't do PINs."  According to BF (and I don't know how he knows this) Americans can get chip and PIN cards from some banks, but the cards themselves are prohibitively expensive.  I'm going to look into this further.
  2. Have cash available in a variety of accounts.  We never had issues using ATMs, just debit for point of sale transactions.  If, for some reason, none of our debit cards had worked, we could have trekked all over the metro station to find an ATM and paid cash.  That would have been a real pain, but it could have been done.
  3. If you're super-organized (and I am not) try to get cash before you leave the US.  Usually, with enough notice, your bank can order foreign currency, but I have no idea what kind of exchange rate they would give you.
In the past, when traveling, I've relied almost exclusively on credit cards, and that would have been a real problem on this trip.  If you're planning to travel anywhere outside of your home country, make sure you have the ability to access cash and not from a credit card advance that will cost 30% interest.  Having a travel fund is the way to go. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Semi-Frugal European Jaunt

A while back, BF  and I were discussing the fact that it has been two years since our last real vacation.  Sure, I've taken a few mini-breaks since then, mostly for conferences, but a real, completely ignore work and get the hell out of town vacation hasn't happened for a while.  So, we started knocking about ideas of where we wanted to go/ where we could afford to go.

First we decided on London.  I've been before, I went to school in England for a semester, but BF had never been so we decided to go after to Olympics when the city was certain to be a mess of ticker tape and the Londoners were likely to be real sick of tourists.
I started planning for this.  I bought a raincoat: 
Then, a couple months ago, I mentioned our trip to London and BF said, "did we really decide on that? What about Scandinavia?  Your homeland?"

As much as I knew I would like to go to Norway and Sweden (where my ancestors are from--VIKINGS!!), I knew from a friend who just went to Norway how crazy expensive it is.  Sure, I've been supplementing my travel fund for two years, but I didn't want to blow it all on a single vacation.

Then, a wonderful thing happened, our landlord came downstairs and tried to install a ceiling fan.  That didn't actually work (sadness, I love ceiling fans), BUT. he informed us that his wife, who is from Sweden, still has an apartment in Stockholm that she uses when she visits.  Not only that, but we could use it for FREE!

Since Stockholm is lovely, but there's not a ton of stuff to do, we decided to divide our trip between Stockholm and Copenhagen, Denmark.  This also allowed bf to live the dream of traveling over this bridge:
That's the ├śresund Bridge, winner of the 2002 ABSE Outstanding Structure Award
For those who may like to travel to this part of the world, I have some tips as to how to do it frugally:

1.  Take out and Groceries.  Food in Scandinavian countries is ridiculously expensive, and most Swedes rarely eat in restaurants opting instead for picnics.  Consuming alcohol in public is legal, so just get some bread and cheese and camp out.  Stockholm and Copenhagen are full of beautiful parks, why not eat there instead of a stuffy restaurant that serves 12 kinds of herring.  We only ate one restaurant meal on this vacation, and I didn't feel deprived at all.

Great deals on herring!
2.  Get your Walk/ Bike On.  Both Stockholm and Copenhagen have excellent public transport, but they're also very walkable cities, and the public transport is expensive.  Copenhagen is a bit more sprawling, but that's the perfect excuse to rent a bike!  You can rent bikes in both cities, but Stockholm is much pricier for this, and also much hillier.  Copenhagen is flat as a prairie and EVERYONE bikes.  You'll fit right in with the locals.
OMG bikes!
3. Save on Wi-Fi.  We stayed at a hostel in Copenhagen that had free wi-fi, but when we were in Stockholm, we had no internet of any kind!  The horror!  But seriously, it was actually kind of a problem because we needed to book lodging for the next part of our journey and the train to get there.  Never have I yearned so hard for a library, but we just couldn't find one.  Thankfully, we found a very nice mall with a very nice coffee shop (excellent sandwiches) and free wi-fi!  Also, every 7-11 store, of which there were dozens, had free wi-fi.  Yes, I spent a large chuck of my vacation hanging out outside 7-11, but you do what you have to do.

4. Happy Hours and Offsale.  Beer is also very expensive in Scandinavia, and very hard to find in Sweden.  In Sweden, you can only buy take-away beer at state-run liquor stores, which close very early and have no cold beer!  Fortunately, we had a fridge, and if you're a wine drinker, there were scads of boxed wines (ideal for travel!).  In Denmark, beer was much cheaper, and we actually bought most of what we drank from the 7-11 (oh thank heaven).  We found a couple happy hours at bars, but not many, sadly.  In the end, I figured we were saving enough on food to splash out a bit on booze, plus it's way more fun to drink outside than in a lame bar.

5. Free Day at the Museum.  There are a lot of free museums in both Stockholm and Copenhagen and there are museums that usually charge that have free days.  Fortunately for the frugal, each city has a guide to museums that's updated annually that lists free days and the charge for other museums.  These guides were abundant and in English.

Nobel Museum, bit of a letdown, glad it was free
6. Free City Tour.  Each city that we visited had a free city tour--Stockholm actually had two!  Each tour is 90 minutes and is completely free, you just tip if you liked your guide.  Since the guides work only for tips (this is their tagline), you get a great tour every time!  We went on the walking tour of Old Town in Stockholm, and it was excellent.  We learned a lot and even though we had already spent the day wandering around Old Town, we saw a lot of new things we hadn't noticed.  Like this Rune Stone:

7. Bring Snacks.  I've mentioned before that one of my key strategies for frugal life is to always have snacks, and international travel is no exception.  I got a kick-ass deal on Cliff Mojo bars before I left, and I had at least two in my bags at all times.  They saved me from overspending on airport snacks, overspending on afternoon snacks, and really overspending on any kind of food at all.  You know how sometimes you get so crazy hungry that you will pay any amount of money just for sustenance?  Snacks save you from that moment--and snacks are delicious.
Travel with mojo

Friday, August 3, 2012


You know how when you get back from vacation, you feel a little off and it's hard to settle back into a routine.  Well, add in a ridiculous cold that knocks you flat on your back for four days, and you have my current predicament.  Gah!

But that's ok!  I'm getting organized again!  First order of business is those Blogiversary prizes.  I will officially close comments on those entries August 10th, and then I will let the winners know that they won!  I had one more prize, but I seem to have lost it--sorry about that, potential winner.

On to the month of August.  I need to tell you all about my awesome recent vacation to Sweden:
And Denmark:
I ate dinner on this pier three of our five nights--takeout, not restaurant
Despite the fact that I was traveling in the most expensive part of Europe, I still managed to be smart with spending, which is awesome.  More on that later, along with some pictures.

For the month of August, the financial plan is more Austerity Measures.  We're had a significant budget cut at work, which means that the employees union agreed to sacrifice our 401k contributions for the year so that we don't have to close the libraries for three weeks.  Needless to say, this totally blows, so I need to step up my personal contributions to my Roth IRA.  I may have just gotten my first-ever full time job, but I still know I would also like to retire someday--hopefully in relative comfort.

This weekend is all about getting back to real life and shaking this damn cold.  I'll be back Monday with some actual content!!  And don't forget to add a comment to win a Blogiversary prize!