Friday, April 28, 2006

How saving the environment can help save you money

Nowadays, when I look at the gas prices I shiver in horror. I thought there was no way it could get any worse than $3 a gallon but now even the cheap stuff is close to $3.25 a gallon. I'm not alarmed by the gas prices because I drive a gas guzzling SUV or drive an excessive number of miles and part of me is glad that the higher gas prices are making people think about alternative forms of transportation and conservation (the operative word in that sentence being "think"). Maybe more people will go out and by hybrid cars, making the actual cost of hybrid cars go down. Maybe more people will take the bus so that they will actually start adding more buses to the route and lowering bus fare. And maybe more people will start riding their bikes and they will see the need to make more bike lanes on the street (you have to be pretty fearless to ride your bike in the street where I live). I'm not going to get into a lengthy debate about whether or not the gas prices are justified or not because, well, it just makes me angry.

But I do want to point out that it's not just the actual price we pay to fill up our tank of gas that will be going up, it will be the price of everything. Think about it. Transport costs go up. Electricity prices go up. The cost to manufacture goods goes up. As the cost to do business goes up, companies will pass this on to the consumers as higher prices. I'm no economist but I foresee inflation. Not just your regular run of the mill inflation, but big mean bad angry inflation (can you tell I am not an economist?).

They say that gas prices are the result of "supply and demand" in the market. So what can we do as consumers to decrease demand for energy therefore bringing the market cost back down and saving the environment in the process?

Well there is the obvious DRIVE LESS and buy more energy efficient vehicles but there are also a lot of other things that we can do that will save us money in the short term as well as reduce consumption. By reducing consumption we not only cut back on the amount of waste that is created when we throw the product away but also reduce the amount of energy and resources that it took to create it in the first place.

One of those things we can do is to stop buying bottled water. Bottled water is one of my biggest pet peeves. Not only are you paying a ridiculous premium for something that you can get right out of your faucet, but the waste it creates is astronomical.

PEOPLE, you have got to get over your fear of the water in the faucet and stop buying bottled water! What a waste. We don't live in Tijuana where it probably isn't safe to drink the water. Do you know anyone who has ever gotten sick from drinking the tap water? I certainly don't. Studies have shown that bottled water is the same if not worse than tap water. And if it's taste you're worried about, I have found that by purchasing a filter and keeping water in the refrigerator I end up with water that is virtually indistinguishable in flavor from any water I have had from a bottle. And if its portability you worry about, just buy a water bottle that you can wash and use over and over again.

I use the Brita Pitcher and Nalgene Water Bottle, both one time investments that have paid for themselves many times over because I don't need to constantly buy bottled water. If you consider that the price of a bottle of water is approximately $.50, the total cost of these two items is about the same as 80 bottles of water. Assuming that you drink two bottles of water per day, the cost of both of these items will be recovered in less than two months.

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Have you ever thought about how much environmental harm is caused by those little water bottles? The Container Recycling Institute estimates that 1.5 million barrels of oil are consumed every year, just to transport bottled water in the United States. That is enough oil to fuel 100,000 cars for one year! That is not including the energy cost to produce the bottles or to transport the waste that will end up in landfills for more than 1,000 years, the time it takes for a single bottle to biodegrade.

Just by making one small change, you could be saving yourself money, reducing the demand for oil and saving the environment, all at once.

Ok, I'm going to go hug a tree now.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Vacation time!

I'm officially done with my last job and don't start my new job until May 1st so that means I have about 2 weeks of much needed vacation time. I would love to pick up and go on a road trip or small vacation but I still have my accounting class that I have to go to twice a week. That's o.k. though because it will help me not spend money on hotels or gas and I live in southern California where it shouldn't be hard to find fun things to do close by.

I got my last check yesterday so I am filthy rich. Well, not really but I am not sure what I should do with the money. All of my bills are paid for the next month and I have about $1,000 left over. I'll need to keep some money around for food and gas as well as other random expenses. Normally I would put any excess towards my credit card but I'm not sure when the next time I will see a paycheck will be. I think for the time being I will put the majority of it in my savings account and count it towards the debt reduction total and if for some reason I need it I will be able to still have access to the money. So don't panic if you see the debt totals rise. It doesn't mean that I've gone on a wild shopping spree with my credit card; it just means that I've had to dip into savings until my next paycheck at my new job.

In other news, I've decided to revive my failed attempts at making money off of the 0% balance transfer offers I receive all of the time. When I had tried this venture before I had received an offer for 0% interest on the balance transfer until a specific date. That is why it was so frustrating when they were taking their sweet time to transfer the money to me because every week they stalled I was losing out on the time I could be accruing interest on the money. Well last week I received another one of those offers in the mail except this time the offer was for 0% interest on the balance transfer for 6 billing cycles. I thought at least this way if they tried to delay the transfer, the time when I owed the money would be pushed back as well. The offer said I could do it all online so I logged onto my account and noticed another offer:

0% interest for 6 billing cycles and NO TRANSFER FEE

Woot! I was even more excited about this because that would save me $75 and make all of the money I earned as interest truly free money because it required no initial investment from me. But when I'm filling out the transfer form it asks me for the address of the bank. I wasn't sure what to put here. Could they mean the branch office? Or the corporate office? Or some other office address? So I call them and the customer service rep quickly says she can take care of the balance transfer for me. The catch is though that she doesn't show that the 0% interest for 6 billing cycles and no transfer fee offer is available to my account. Ummm, that's weird because I was looking at it on my computer screen at that very moment. She can't offer any explanation but says that I can call back later and ask them to waive the fee. I laugh at this because we all know that once the credit card companies have their claws in you there is no way they are going to go out of their way to make your life easier. So I decline and tell her I would rather do it all online where I can avoid paying the balance transfer fee at all. She pauses a moment and asks if she can put me on hold...I got all tingly because you know whenever they put you on hold they are simply pretending like they are going to ask their supervisor if they can do something "special" for you. Just as I suspected after a minute had passed she got back on the phone and said that she could waive the fee right then and there. Yeah!

I also decided to sign up for a savings account at HSBC because their rates are way higher than ING Direct. HSBC's rates are at 4.5% while ING is stuck at only 4%. I have had no problems with ING but a half a point of interest could mean as much as $10 more per month on my balance transfer.

Overall, I think it will be a good deal. I'll get to keep the money longer, I won't have to pay a balance transfer fee and I'll be earning at a higher interest rate. Overall I hope to earn $88 per month for 5 months all for doing nothing (except for taking a hit on my credit score for having a large amount of credit).

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Book Review: Not Buying It

A while ago I was sent a reviewers copy of Not Buying It by Judith Levine. It took me forever to read, not because it was boring or tedious, but rather because the book covered so many interesting topics that I would read a page and be distracted by wanting to look up more information about that topic or look up a book that she mentioned. This book-induced ADD is a good indicator that whatever I am reading is thought provoking and inspiring.

I was almost turned off by the book because the beginning pages are filled with Bush bashing and liberal political rhetoric. While I am myself a liberal, I get turned off by overly zealous ideologues weaving in their political rhetoric at inappropriate times. I decided to keep reading (after all the book was free) and was glad that I did. The book not only chronicles her experience of a year without shopping but goes deeper into the anthropological, sociological and political forces behind shopping. "Not Buying It" explores the most banal questions, for example, "How essential are q-tips anyways?" to the more profound, "What environmental impact do my shopping habits have on the planet?"

Going a year without shopping is an interesting endeavor, however, it would have been much more interesting if she hadn't admitted to stocking up and binge shopping before January 1st and conveniently not counting the stuff that she buys for her home renovation or the generosity of her friends offering to buy her this or that or picking up the tab when they went out to dinner and the movies. At the point when my friend is paying for me whenever I go out with them, even though I have the money, I would have either stopped going out with them or chipped in my portion of the bill. I still give her kudos because she went much longer at not buying anything than I ever could.

Which makes me wonder, how long could I go without buying anything? I've contemplated doing my own experiment to see what it would be like to not buy anything and see how long I could last and how much money I could save. Then I realize that in essence, this is what I have been doing for the past two years while getting out of debt. I don't need any more severe deprivation to know what it will feel like, especially when I am so close to being out of debt now.

Do you think you could do it? How long do you think you could last?

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

I got a new job!

What a relief! It's only been a week and already I've had two good job offers. It was not easy quitting my job without having another job lined up but I am glad I took the risk. I had known for a while that my job was not right for me but I just wasn't in the financial position to do anything about it. So finally, all the months of saving and paying off my credit card and transferring the remaining balance to a 0% card finally paid off! I had the freedom to quit when I knew it was time to move on and now I have a new job that I think will make me much happier and ultimately much wealthier.

The job that I am accepting was the result of a referral from a friend. The day that I quit she told me about the opportunity. It was great timing. I interviewed with two of the people from the office and got really excited about the job. It is in an awesome location a block away from the beach, a casual environment (the guy was wearing flip flops and jeans when I went to go see him), the people seem really nice and free of office politics and there will be lots of room to grow and learn and make lots of money.

The only problem is that I would be hired as an independent contractor without any benefits like health insurance. Initially I will be paid on salary and then slowly that would be phased out to a commission only basis. I know that this is risky but I feel that the time to take risks is now when I don't have any dependents or a mortgage or massive bills to worry about. I do have my credit card debt but I am confident that I will be able to pay it off before I have to start paying any interest on it.

I was offered another position that would be a more stable and secure corporate job. I weighed the benefits between the two jobs and came to the conclusion that I just wasn't made for working in a corporate office environment. The thought of working in an office environment makes me cringe while the thought of working a block from the beach makes me very happy.

If it doesn't work out at least I tried and I can start over again looking for a new job. I'm still young so there is not much to lose and if it works out then the credit card debt will be gone in no time.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

All I have time to say is...

looking for a job is exhausting! I really feel like I need to be 2 people right now. I hope to have lots to blog about soon... and have the time to do it!

Thanks for all the good wishes. I was so worried I would have an angry mob of blogsters mad at me because I quit my job and the debt repayment would have to be on hold for a while. =)

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bump in the road

I quit my job! It feels liberating and terrifying at the same time. I tried to look for a replacement job while I was still working at my current job but it was just too difficult. I don't know how people do it, trying to sneak phone calls in during business hours and making excuses to go on interviews. Regardless, I gave my two weeks notice and will soon be joining the ranks of the unemployed.

I kind of viewed my job as an abusive relationship. I knew it was bad for me but I depended on it to give me security and even though most days I was so stressed out that I could vomit (sorry for that mental picture), I was comfortable there. I tried to stick it out until I was debt free but 4 months seemed so far away. Before you get all up in arms let me make a few points:

1) What is more important? Being happy or being debt free? Being debt free will come in time but living your life in misery will have long term consequences. Think about how stress can take years off of your life and cause all kinds of diseases like heart attacks and stroke. I had to make the choice to take back my sanity and slow down the debt reduction for just a little while.

2) When I transferred my credit card balance to a card with a 0% interest I stopped making payments directly to my credit card (except for the minimum payment) and started socking the additional money into a high yield savings account. As a result, I have a 3-4 month reserve of cash that will tide me over until I find another job.

3) I am not paying any interest on my debt. I have until January of next year to pay it back without paying any interest on it. Even if I can't pay it back by next January I can always find another 0% interest offer to take advantage of. I'm not saying that is what I am planning on doing or that I would like to do it but if worse comes to worst it is a possibility.

4) There is a good job prospect that kind of fell into my lap the day that I gave my notice. If it works out, I could be working again right away and it won't affect the debt repayment at all.

5) Heaven forbid if I don't find another job in 3-4 months I can always go back to school full time.

I vow not to increase my credit card debt while I am looking for another job and still feel that I can reach my original goal of being debt free in 2 years. This will just make the journey that much more interesting!

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