Friday, May 30, 2008

Guilt Free Shopping

During my attempt to go 100 consecutive days of buying nothing new, I discovered this store called Savers. It's a thrift department store, kind of like the Goodwill, but better. The Goodwill always seemed to be overpriced to me - I know this sounds ridiculous - but I remember the days when clothes cost $1-$5 and books were $.25 each! Now, when you go to the Goodwill you are hard-pressed to find any clothes under $8.99 and books are $3! At that price I might as well go to Target and the library.

Well, Savers is like the good ol' days of thrift shopping. Everything is super cheap (it is used donated goods after all!) and to make it even better, if you bring a bag of donations, they give you a 20% off coupon for your entire purchase. It works out perfectly with the whole "one in, one out" philosophy.

So the other day I took my bag 'o' donations, got my coupon, and went buck wild. Mind you, I haven't bought new clothes in months, so I was itching for it. I stacked my arms with cute things and then panicked thinking I was spending hundreds. I whipped out my calculator and guess what? I didn't have more than $30 in my hands. Amazing! I decided to "splurge" and bought it all, along with a few pots for the garden and a jam jar (they only had one) for my cherry jam making adventures.

The whole thing wasn't more than $35 and I won't need to go shopping for a while. To make it even better, I don't have to worry about the environmental impact because everything was used and would've otherwise gone to the dump. All in all, it was guilt free shopping!

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Update: Prosper Loans

About a month ago I decided to dabble with Prosper as a way to increase return on my savings. I was a little skeptical but I thought I would try it out with $300. I chose 5 different loans and divided my money between them (4 loans at $50 and 1 loan at $100). I decided to stay fairly conservative to reduce the chance that any of them would default - 3 of the loans had a "B" grade, 1 had an "A" grade, and another was "AA."

I'm happy to report that all of my loans made their first payment. I don't know why this shocks me, but I was pretty impressed. That doesn't mean I'm out of the woods yet. There are still 35 more payments to go! Currently, I'm earning an average of 11.25% so over the 3 years I should earn about $90 in interest (if they don't default). That's much better than the $30 I would earn if it was in a regular savings account.

The one thing that is annoying about Prosper is that once the money is paid back (you get a payment every month), it's nearly impossible to get back out until you have a balance of $25. You can't make a bid to reinvest the money unless you have $25 and you can't withdraw the money unless you have $25. Right now, I only have $11 so it's pretty much stuck in there not earning interest. I thought about transferring money into the account just so I could then withdraw the full amount, but even that takes time and while the money is in transit you are not earning any interest on it. I suppose the trick would be to have enough invested so that each month your payments total more than $25.

I also started my first investing adventures with my Sharebuilder account. I'm happy to report that the stock I chose, rose about 10% in the first month. Granted, this could change at any time but I think it was a pretty wise investment. I'm starting to think that investing is super fun, but then again I haven't suffered any losses yet. Let's hope this beginner's luck continues!

If you're interested in trying your luck, you can use the following promotions to jump start your investments!

$25 bonus for signing up with Sharebuilder

Earn $25-50 for signing up with Prosper

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

0% Interest Cards vs. Cash Back Cards

Choosing the best credit card is a tricky business. There are a myriad of different credit cards out there with different benefits - cash back, points, miles, 0% interest. The card that's best for you will depend on your lifestyle and current monetary situation. For me, because I have no credit card debt and because I am mainly interested in growing my savings, I am torn between two different types of cards - cash back and 0% interest. At first, I thought for sure that the cash back card was the best bet, but then I started considering a few cards that offer 0% interest for up to 15 months. So which is best? I haven't figured it out yet so I'm going to lay out what I feel are the pros and cons of the two cards that I have chosen - the Chase Freedom card and Blue from American Express. Here we go.

Chase Freedom Card - Advantages

  • Offers 3% cash back on your top 3 spending categories (recalculated monthly) and 1% on all other purchases
  • $100 sign-up bonus
  • Cash back rewards are available to withdraw after you earn $50, however, if you leave it until you reach $200, they will give you an additional $50
  • No annual fee

Chase Freedom Card - Disadvantages

  • If a merchant has not specified their spending category, it will be lumped under "other." My dentist did not categorize himself as "Medical services" so even though it was clearly one of my top spending categories, they claim there is no way to change it in the system so I only received 1% for a cool $1,000.
Blue from American Express - Advantages

  • 0% interest for 15 months - If you carry the balance (and why not, you're not paying any interest), you could put that money in a high yield savings account and earn 3% on all of your purchases.
  • Earn 1 point for each $1 spent and redeem for various rewards. 1 point = approximately $0.01.
  • No annual fee

Blue from American Express - Disadvantages

  • Carrying a balance could lower your credit score

So, let's calculate the benefits based on spending $6,000 annually on a credit card.

Chase Freedom = $90.00 (50% at 3%) + $30.00 (50% at 1%) + $100.00 (sign-up bonus) + $50.00 (additional money for letting balance reach $200.00) = $270.00
Blue from American Express = $83.19 (savings interest) + $60 (rewards) = $143.19

Looks like the Chase Freedom card would be the best bet, just for the $100.00 sign up bonus. After the first year, it would be a pretty tough call between the two because it would take much longer to reach the $200.00. I was generous giving it 50% at 3% but this could be more or less depending on your spending habits.

After this analysis, I'm pretty satisfied with my decision, although after I reach the $250 rewards, I may consider switching to a 0% interest card. What do you think? Any cards that you are loyal to or that you think have better rewards?

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My New Obsession

As you may have noticed from some of my previous blog entries, I have become quite obsessed with my garden. The backyard has become a veritable jungle of fruits and vegetables in all stages of development. I am growing seedlings in any container I can find, buying worms to create worm poop, and contemplating collecting leaves off the side of the road to use as mulch. The zucchinis have begun to produce fruit and I've been busy cooking up fried zucchini and zucchini bread. I got some free lemons off Freecycle and made some super sour lemonade, yum! I found out the cherries ARE edible, but are better for jams than they are for plain eating, so I guess I'll have an adventure making my own jams. Oh, and even better....the avocado tree has also decided to have it's free year of producing fruit (after 15 years?!) so we'll also have a fantastic - fingers crossed - avocado harvest.

So yes, I am obsessed much, but that means my previous obsession, blogging, has kind of fallen by the wayside. Every time I sit down to write something, I think of something to do in my garden or I think of writing something about gardening. I should change the name to "The Debt Defier Does Gardening" or something to that effect. :)

But my dear readers (all two of you), do not give up on me yet. Perhaps this gardening obsession will subside and my good ol' blogging self will be back. In the meantime, I'm going to work on an article that I've been kicking around in my head, mainly because it's so cold and gloomy outside that it's no fun to be out in the garden anyways.

Hope you're all having a great long weekend!

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cherries in my backyard?

Ok, so I know this has nothing to do with "debt" per se, but I was so excited to find this today as I was churning up my compost pile:


My grandpa planted these trees YEARS ago, but I have never seen them bear fruit. He planted them way out in the back and we hardly went back there, so I was surprised when I looked up and noticed a whole tree full of fruit. From what I can remember, they were cherry trees, but I have no idea if they were edible or purely ornamental. If they are edible, we will have cherries coming out of our ears (free food!) because there are at least three trees out there that are producing. If not, they look nice and brings back nice memories of my grandpa. :) I'm going to try to take a branch to the nursery to get their expert opinion. I'm crossing my fingers that we're going to have a nice harvest of homegrown cherries in addition to the veggies from my garden.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Love Free

I would like to take a moment to bask in the bounty of my free samples.


It's so beautiful.


Everything you see here was free. That's right. FREE! The only thing I had to pay was 12 cents of sales tax for the tampons, but I still think that's a pretty good bargain.

All in all, here is what I've received so far:

1 6 oz. bag of Healthful Life Purina Cat Chow

1 Temptations cat treats
1 travel size Advance White toothpaste
1 travel size Aquafresh White & Shine toothpaste
1 travel size Aquafresh Extreme Clean toothpaste
2 boxes of o.b. ProComfort tampons (Vons store coupon)
1 compact fluorescent lightbulb (Farmer's Market courtesy of the county)
1 Dove Pro-age deodorant
1 Dove Ultimate Clear deodorant
1 Dove Advanced Color Therapy shampoo and conditioner
1 Dove Therapy Energize shampoo and conditioner
1 Feline Greenies cat treats
1 Vaseline Intensive Rescue lotion
1 bottle of Coffee Mate Vanilla creamer (up to $4.50)
1 bag of Starbucks Breakfast blend (Click on Explore Our Coffees)
1 bag of Seattle's Best Vanilla Bean roast
1 Curel Life's Stages lotion
1 mini cup of Ben & Jerry's Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream (Vons store coupon)
1 stick of Power Pixies from Airborne (not pictured)

I had to actually go to the store today to pick up the free tampons and coffee creamer. I tried to see if they would double my free coffee creamer coupon, but she said they didn't do that. Darn! But she did give me another coupon booklet that included another coupon for a box of tampons and the ice cream (the first free ice cream coupon I gave to my grandma), so I turned right back around and got more free stuff. It was awesome!

The other great thing about the free samples (aside from being FREE) is that they usually come with a generous coupon. If it's something you might use, that's a pretty nice bonus (especially if you can get the coupon doubled).

I'm sure there's more to come. Every day I get something new in the mail. It's like Christmas every day!

If you're interested, just do a google search for "free samples" and I'm sure you'll find lots of stuff too.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dumpster Diving Like a Pro

My first dumpster diving adventure was a success, but I recognize that I was merely a novice dumpster diver. We had to pass up on some good finds and experienced some unnecessary unpleasantness just because we weren't properly prepared. The next time we dive, I plan on learning from my mistakes and diving like a pro by following these 10 dumpster diving tips.

1. Bring sturdy, water-proof gloves and hand sanitizer.

Gloves are of the utmost importance when dumpster diving. Obviously, you'll want to protect your hands from any bacteria or sharp objects that you might encounter in the dumpster. We learned the hard way that it is essential that the gloves are water-proof so that liquids don't seep through. Make sure that you bring some hand sanitizer or baby wipes to clean up afterwards because you probably won't be able to wash your hands immediately.

2. Wear long sleeves.

Digging around deep in the dumpster, you're just as likely to get your arms dirty as your hands. Protect them by wearing long sleeves.

3. Go late at night.

Trash is at it's optimum levels immediately following business closing hours. You'll want to get there after they have taken the trash out for the day and before trash collection in the morning to find the best selection. Plus, you'll have less of an audience and avoid nasty confrontations.

4. Bring a flashlight.

If you're diving late at night, you'll need a flashlight to uncover the hidden treasures of the dumpster. A headlamp would be super handy if you have one!

5. Take a friend.

Dumpster diving is a team sport. You may need help lifting a large item, holding a flashlight, or backing you up with their super kung-fu skills if someone gets pissed that you're digging in their trash. Plus, it's just more fun to share the adventure with someone else.

6. Bring bags, boxes, and containers to store your finds.

The last thing you want is a bunch of trash free-floating around in your trunk. Bring stuff to haul and contain your finds to make for easier transport and clean-up.

7. Bring something to stand on.

For safety's sake, you probably don't want to take the term dumpster "diving" literally. Try to stay out of the dumpster to avoid encountering hazardous materials. It'll be much safer and easier to bring a milk crate or step ladder to step on and get a better look deep inside without actually having to get in.

8. Invest in a grabby thingy.

Since you're not actually getting in, you'll want to extend your reach with a grabby thingy (you know what I mean). You can buy one at Amazon for about $15.00 but if you're like me, you'll want a free alternative. Basically, anything that has a long handle and a hook on the end should work.

9. Don't dive in any locked dumpsters.

Dumpster diving laws vary from city to city but it's a pretty safe bet that if it's locked, you should keep looking for another dumpster . If they lock it, that means they don't want you there, so don't go looking for trouble.

10. Don't make a mess.

If you go in and make a mess, chances are the building/home owners are not going to be happy. They may decide to lock up their dumpsters or complain to the local authorities, making it more difficult for you and others to dive in the future. Make sure to leave the area as clean or cleaner as you found it.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Saving at a snail's pace

Earlier, I had posted an ambitious goal of saving nearly $3,000 per month for grad school. Despite 2 solid months of buying absolutely nothing new, I was barely able to save a little over $700 this month. It would've been closer to $2,000 if I didn't have to pay over $1,000 for dental work (it hurts to type that) and if they hadn't messed up on my paycheck...again. At least with the paycheck, I'll be able to put the money towards next month's savings, but the dental! Needless to say, I am brushing and flossing like a maniac to avoid having to pay any more costly dental bills in the future.

I had thought of taking on a second job to increase my income but I've had little luck finding something suitable. There was a job posted at the Fresh and Easy (my favorite store ever), but the pay was not enough to make it worth it, in my opinion. Honestly, I'm quite shocked at what's available out there. This is the first time I've seen a job market so scarce. I guess combined with companies cutting back and employees losing their jobs, the job market is pretty tight.

In happier news, my garden has become a wild little jungle and is bursting with vegetables.

Here's the garden just a couple weeks ago, if you remember:


And voila, here's the after:


My how it's grown! I wish my money would grow as fast.

Today, I got a very pleasant surprise when I went outside. We've had this cactus outside for years and I've never thought anything of it. The past couple of days, I noticed little shoots growing out of it and assumed it would be blossoming soon. I thought this was strange because I had never notice it blossom before. So today when I went outside I was amazed to find this:


Wow-wow! I'm in love with this plant! I never knew that cacti could be so beautiful.

And last but not least, take a look at my baby rosemary, basil, and mint plants. Notice that I've been using everything from yogurt cups, to plastic drinking cups, to plastic containers to plant seeds in. I'm starting to look at everything as a potential seed pot. The trick will be finding places to plant them after they get too big for their little seed starters.


I'm telling you, I think I missed my calling. I wonder if I should just become a professional farmer?

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Website publishes country's tax records

Ok, so thankfully, this story isn't from the U.S.

Italy's government had a total brain fart and decided it'd be a good idea to publish the entire country's tax info on the web. That's right. Every Leonardo, Michaelangelo, and Donatello (uhh, what's the Italian equivalent to Tom, Dick, and Harry?) had their tax info briefly published on a public website until it was crashed by thousands of visitors. Presumably, everyone was trying to catch a glimpse of their neighbors, bosses, and co-workers salaries and they clogged the site. Eventually, the government wizened up and took the site down.

Honestly, it would be kind of awesome to be able to get a sneak peek into people's finances, kind of like looking in someone's journal (not like I'd do that or anything). Then again, imagine all the problems it could create. You know a bunch of people went in and demanded raises today after seeing that their co-worker made more than them. How would you feel if all of a sudden your tax info was published on the web for the whole world to see? Would you care?

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