Monday, March 31, 2008

Energy Saving Dishwasher

This was too funny not to post. I know we have two dogs at home who would love to have this position.

Source: Green Upgrader

add to saved by 0 users

Spreading the Frugaliness

N. Fru-ga-li-ness. The condition of being frugal.

Frugaliness is contagious and I'm spreading the word.

I started off with my niece. I planned a frugalicious day with my niece making recycled paper with my new/old free blender. My niece loved it because she could put her hands in ooky gooky paper goop and I loved it because it didn't cost any money! Here is the list of materials that we needed and how we acquired them:

- blender (Freecycle)
- paper (credit card offers from the mail)
- old window screen (neighbor had some that they didn't need)
- frame (used some old picture frames I had lying around)
- blotting cloth (opted to use newspaper instead)
- glue (had some lying around)
- bucket or tub (used the one that we use for mopping)
- flowers (picked from the backyard)

A little resourcefulness and creativity and we had a free Saturday afternoon activity. Unfortunately, the paper didn't turn out like we'd hoped, but I think with a little practice we can get better and it was a good lesson that you don't have to spend money to have fun.

When my niece came over, we gave her the check that she received in the mail from a class action settlement with Merrill Lynch. When she was a baby, my grandma had opened an investment account for her so she was eligible to receive a portion of the settlement. Since then the account has been closed, but man, was she ever excited about receiving her VERY FIRST check. She started brainstorming all the ways she could spend her $18.33. Then she asked, "Does this mean I can get a credit card now?"

I thought it was a good time to bring up the concept of saving and the importance of having a savings account. She is 8 after all and you can never get started too early. I told her she should open a bank account and start saving her money so that she'd have money for college. I told her that they would actually pay her to keep her money in the bank and that she could make her money grow even bigger if she kept it in long enough. She didn't seem too impressed by this but she did seem excited to have an account in her name.

It got me thinking though that we really should be talking more about money with her and that we need to get our act together and start saving for her college. If I was a good Auntie, I would've been doing this a long time ago! So I figured I better set up an account for her graduation gift and start depositing money every month so that she'll be better set for college.

She must really think I'm crazy. Driving around finding free blenders. Making her SAVE her money for college. Then when we were grocery shopping (at Fresh and Easy), I wouldn't let her buy any mangoes because they weren't on sale. I told her I only bought fruits and vegetables on sale! Haha. Why buy 2 mangoes for $4 when you can get 8 plums for only $1.50? I just hope that some of my frugaliness with rub off on her.

I also had the opportunity to pass on some frugaliness to my grandma. I got a $25 check for my student loans in the mail from my rewards card. I showed it to my grandma and she asked me how I got it. I told her that I earn points or cash back from my credit cards and she was a little perturbed because she didn't earn anything on her card. So we called her credit card company and got her set up with a card that'll earn her 1-3% cash back on her purchases. I wish I'd known sooner so she could've been earning money all along!

It just goes to show that talking about money could save you or your loved ones money and spread the frugaliness all around!

add to saved by 0 users

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Freebie: Emergen-C

Sniff sniff. Cough cough. It's official. I have a cold. Bummer.

But I found a link to some free Emergen-C. Just click on the "Share the Good" link and you can send it to yourself or anyone else you'd like. Too bad I didn't have this a couple days ago!

add to saved by 0 users

Tonight's Jackpot: Health Insurance

Oregon's Healthcare Lottery

Oregon has come up with a new way to handle the health care problem in their state. They're giving away 10,000 spaces in the state's health care plan. The catch? You only have a 1 in 9 chance of being chosen in the lottery - only 10,000 of the 90,000 who applied are going to be randomly chosen.

I must say I really feel for those without health insurance - mainly because only a month ago I was one of them. In Thailand I didn't need health insurance because they had such a great health care system. They had state of the art facilities and Western-educated doctors, all at an affordable price. Medicine was cheap too. When I needed antibiotics, they were less than $1 without health insurance. I must admit that part of me was scared to come back to the States because I knew I didn't have health care.

I went for months without health care because I was only working part-time. I always felt like I was gambling by not having health insurance because if anything happened to me, I could end up in just as much debt as I started with, if not more.

I shopped around for health insurance but man, was it expensive! The best I could find was something like $70 a month, but that only bought me a $5,000 deductible with 60-70% coverage after the deductible was met. And that didn't even include prescription drugs!

Luckily, I was able to be added on to my boyfriend's plan as a domestic partner. I finally got around to going to the dentist and found out that I had to have a root canal done. If they had been able to catch it a few months earlier, it would've only been a cavity, but a few months earlier I didn't have health insurance. A lesson to myself that maybe it doesn't always pay to try to save a few bucks.

I'm curious to see how the recent unemployment rates are going to affect people's health coverage. The way that health insurance is linked to employment seems to put those people who are unemployed, self-employed, or only working part-time at a much higher risk.

add to saved by 0 users

Saturday, March 29, 2008

This and That...Some Random Findings from the Net

Good news in the 100 Day Buy Nothing (New) Challenge. My search for a blender has almost ended. I posted a wanted ad on Freecycle for a blender on Wednesday and someone replied. I'm going to go pick it up today, so my recycled paper adventures can begin!

Here's a sampling of my random favorites from the Net this week:

Asset Gatherer talks about their experience with Prosper. I was thinking of funding a few loans, but after reading this post, I think I may reconsider.

Free chocolate fondue at the Melting Pot. Mmmmm. Nom nom nom.

Tricia over at Blogging Away Debt has reached another milestone. She's under $13,000 of debt! Congrats!

Some interesting tips from the Nursing Online Database on health habits that can save you money.

Don't forget to turn off your lights at 8 p.m. (your local time) tonight to support Earth Hour US.

U.S. Oil consumption in January was at it's lowest point in 3 years. High gas prices are finally pushing us towards conservation.

I love free audio content and Frugal for Life posts a great list of audio resources.

Free 2 Be Frugal posts an offer for 20 free prints from Target. Too bad I already have an account.

Mapgirl struggles with eating single. Ok, so she doesn't put it that way, but I totally sympathize with not being able to finish all the food you buy if you are just one person. So what does she do? She gets creative and makes soup!

How much do I love these re-purposing ideas for CD cases over at Green Upgrader? I especially love the bagel sandwich holder. Hahaha.

I love surfing blogs again! I hope everyone has a super great weekend. I'm off to pick up my blender!

add to saved by 0 users

Friday, March 28, 2008

Our Tax Dollars (Inefficiently) at Work

It's Friday, and I should be relieved that it's the weekend after 3 days of substituting for crayon-eating kindergarteners. Bless their little hearts; they are cute but they have way too much energy for me.

Instead of being excited about the weekend, I am perturbed about the gross inefficiencies of the Los Angeles Unified School District. These people just can't seem to do anything right.

As I'm leaving for the weekend, the school office casually mentions, "Oh, you may not get paid this month for your time because we're not sure what fund we should take it out of."

I was a little shocked that they were just getting around to putting in our hours because they had known for weeks that we were coming AND we had been working there for the past three days. How is it that they only realize that they don't know how to bill us an hour before the cut-off time? I tried to explain to the lady that it is highly unprofessional to have three days pay held back and her response was, "Well, you shouldn't be cutting yourself so close."

That was just the icing on the cake for me. Somehow, it ends up being MY fault for wanting to receive MY money in the pay period that I earned it. WTF?

It's not that I need the money. It's just that I am routinely receiving portions of my paycheck late because people are not doing their jobs right. Last month, I had to wait an extra 2 weeks to receive 2 days of pay because someone "forgot" to enter in my days. Right now, I just looked at which schools have put in my time for this month and I am missing 5 days (3 from the school I just mentioned)! That is a full week of pay that I'll have to wait to get paid for.

The funny thing about it is that this happens so often that they have to have a whole different pay cycle called the "off-cycle" pay. The "off-cycle" pay is an entire pay cycle devoted to paying the days that were not entered in correctly the first time. That means that they have to waste time and tax-payer money just to go back and fix what they couldn't get right the first time. How inefficient is that?

This is just one of many examples of how our tax dollars are being wasted at a time when they are threatening to lay-off teachers and cut back government services. Why is it that the first thing they look to cut is teacher's jobs? Why can't they re-evaluate the complicated bureaucratic system that eats up a good portion of the budget? What about the $35 million they had to spend to repair the payroll system that ended up causing more problems than it solved? What about that lady that is always looking at cute kitty pictures and shopping online when I'm trying to get some paperwork processed? Surely they can find a better way to solve the budget crisis than by laying off teachers.

Now that there is talk of recession and the economy is suffering, shouldn't we be pushing our government to tighten the belt and start making wise decisions about our money. What we need are a few good frugal men and women in politics. I'd like to see them get in there and apply those penny-pinching efficiency strategies in some of those government offices. It'd be awesome to have a coupon-clipping president! Any bloggers interested in running for office? I'll totally vote for you! :)

add to saved by 0 users

Thursday, March 27, 2008

An Ode to a Grocery Store

Fresh and Easy, you are no average grocery store. You stole my heart from the first time I walked through your doors. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1. You generously bestow me with $5 off coupons. It started off with one lonely $5 off coupon, but you would not leave me wanting for more. No. Instead, once I used my first coupon you gave me a whole booklet full of them - one for each week for the next four weeks. Not content to give me just one set of coupons, the next time I came, you gave me another one! Your love just kept giving and giving. Alas, our four week fling was soon coming to a close. I mourned the loss of the coupons that was a symbol of our love. But just as before, you renewed your vows and gave me a whole new set of coupons for another 4 weeks! Now that is true love!

2. You know what I like. Sometimes I wonder if you can read my mind. Maybe you're just paying attention. Whatever it is, you always seem to have what I want. Lots of fresh produce. Rice pudding. Whole wheat pizza dough. A nice selection of organic products. You really are a thoughtful grocery store.

3. You respect my checkbook.

As if the $5 coupons weren't enough, you also have super low prices. I especially love that I can always find a good deal on fruits and veggies because you reduce the price substantially on produce that has an upcoming expiry date. That shows that you respect my hard-earned cash, and we all know how important respect is in a relationship.

4. We share the same values.

I get the feeling that we could talk for hours and hours...if you were human. We see eye to eye on issues like the environment and labor policy. Most of your foods are only made with no artificial colors, flavors, or trans fats because we both care about health. You carry local products because we care about our economy. You encourage people to use reusable bags because we both hate plastic bags. You pay your employees a decent wage and give decent benefits because that's the right thing to do. And your stores are energy efficient because we care about the environment. It's almost like we were made for each other!

5. Our love is easy.

You make it so convenient for me to love you. Big aisles. Self-checkout. Uncomplicated product selection. Plus, you're so close I could (and have) walked to your store. It's so easy, I almost feel guilty.

This is why I must declare my love for you
from the highest mountain (or at least my blog). My love is not jealous and I hope that everyone will have a chance to share in our love affair!

*P.S. I wasn't paid anything to write this. I just have an unnatural love for grocery stores.

add to saved by 0 users

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Things I Learned About Money from the Thais

Attitudes about money in Thailand and America are not all that different. I think we'd all agree that it's good to have it and we'd like to have more of it. I must say though that living in Thailand taught me (or at least reinforced) a few lessons on money. Here are a few of my reflections on money from my experiences in Thailand.

1. It’s only worth what someone will pay for it.

Forget price tags in Thailand. Prices are “liquid,” meaning that they can change the price whenever they want. If it’s the end of a slow day, you are more likely to get a better deal. Then again, if you are a farang,” you’re more likely to get charged 5 times more than a local. You’ve got to be willing to practice the art of haggling; the buyer starts low while the seller starts high. Hopefully, you can meet somewhere in the middle. Then again, I’ve seen some tourists get totally taken by a merchant. They start at such a high price that by the time you’ve gotten them to drop their price in half, you are still paying double what a local would pay for the item. It just goes to show that prices are relative. Only pay what the item is worth to you and you’ll limit the amount of buyer’s remorse you feel.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask people how much they paid for something.

One of the most popular questions asked in Thailand is “How much did you pay for that?” Practically everything I had, they asked me how much I paid for it. “Nice bag. How much? 500 baht! Ohhh too much!” “New phone? How much? Oh really, you paid that much?” At first, I was really put off by this. I thought they were trying to size me up or something. It didn’t help that they were usually telling me I overpaid for stuff. It got me thinking though. In a market where prices are liquid, one HAS to ask how much people paid for stuff to know what a fair price is. By the end of my stay, I started asking everyone how much they paid for stuff and I became much better at negotiating prices. Now, you may not want to try to go into Target tomorrow and try to see if they’ll lower the price for you, but by asking around you can get a good idea of how much things costs and where to find the good deals.

3. Cash is king.

Thais haven’t really caught on to the whole credit card thing yet. We even got paid all in cash. Imagine getting paid 38,000 baht in 1,000 baht bills. That’s a whole wad of cash! It was funny too because they’d put your salary in an envelope, but before you left the office you had to give them the envelope back. You’d be stuck having to put the money in your pocket, leaving you with a huge, bulging mass shooting out of your hip. Hmmm, good times. :’)

In the States you can pretty much get away with not carrying any cash, but you can’t do that in Thailand. I think one day they will get there, but for now, most shopping is done in a small market setting where it wouldn’t necessarily be advantageous for merchants to accept credit cards. This has obvious advantages because the fewer credit cards you have, the less credit card debt you have! After all, you can’t spend cash that you don’t have!

4. A smile can go a long way.

Thailand is not known as the “Land of Smiles” for nothing. Everybody smiles, even when they’re mad at you and especially when they’re taking you for a ride. You hardly ever see anyone yelling or getting mad in Thailand because doing so causes both parties involved to lose face. You look stupid and the other person looks stupid so they are definitely not going to help you. I learned that when I felt like I was being taken advantage of, it would be useless to demand to speak to the manager (most likely them) or complain about bad customer service. It was much smarter to fight smiles with smiles. Using a calm and pleasant demeanor is much more efficient at getting what you want than a hostile one.

5. Waste not, want not.

Frugality is a way of life in Thailand. They were hilariously frugal. Things that we take for granted are guarded very closely in Thailand. Let’s take for example, paper. At the school I was teaching at you actually had to sign out each piece of paper. They didn’t actually keep paper in the printer. If you wanted to print something from the computer, you would have to walk all the way to the library to sign out a piece of paper. If you wanted to print out a worksheet you had to make sure that you used every bit of paper, including the back. No one-sided copies! I don’t know how many times I decided to not use paper just because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of it. I compare this to the wanton paper use in American schools and I wonder how much of the budget actually goes to paper? Surely we could save a lot of tax dollars by adopting some frugal practices in government institutions. Seriously though, was it totally necessary to send a notice that I’m going to receive a tax refund? I think if the IRS had to sign out each piece of paper that they had to send in the mail, they’d think twice about it and save some tax dollars.

What about you? Have you traveled or lived in a place with much different attitudes about money? What things can we learn about money from other cultures?

add to saved by 0 users

Monday, March 24, 2008

Day 21 of the 100 Day Buy Nothing (New) Challenge

I'm more than a fifth of the way to my goal of 100 days without buying anything new. So far I haven't struggled too much aside from wanting to purchase a few items to facilitate with my little "eco-projects."

I posted before about making some recycled paper and was all set to do it until I realized that it would definitely help to have an old food processor or blender. I don't think it would be too tasty to be drinking smoothies made out of the same blender that I made paper out of!

My first thought was that I could post a wanted ad on Freecycle. I was definitely not pleased when the moderator denied my post. I didn't realize that wanted ads were only allowed on Wednesday. Oops!

Not to be put off by failure, I decided to check some second-hand stores. While we were checking out the new Fresh and Easy (which I love and will probably blog about sometime soon), I remembered that there was a Savers nearby. I have probably only been into a Savers once or twice and I guess I never realized the beauty of the store. I've made a few trips to the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores lately and I'm always put off by the high prices. I know that sounds weird to complain about high prices at second-hand shops, but I remember the good ol' days when you could buy a paperback for a quarter. Now, paperbacks sell for $2! But I digress.

The beauty of Savers is that they have retained the old school prices. They had tons of stuff for under $5 and a pretty good selection too. I started thinking that I may never need to buy anything new again! I could change it into the "1000 Day Buy Nothing (New) Challenge"....but I'm not going to! :) I was excited to see that they had two food processors both under $6. We tried the first one but alas it didn't even turn on. We had more luck with the second one; it turned on BUT the blades didn't turn. Not too helpful for making paper.

My trip to Savers was not a complete waste though. I also had a plan to make reusable shopping bags by fusing many plastic shopping bags together like I saw here. If you read some of my pre-Thailand posts you know how much I hate plastic bags! The instructions say that you can use a piece of paper in place of the parchment paper but they lied. I tried it and the heat couldn't quite make it through the paper to the bags. FAIL. I thought parchment paper might be difficult to find used so I thought I might try to find some cheesecloth like fabric. They had tons of fabric and there was one really pretty bright red fabric with a little gold embroidery that was quite thin and might work. If it didn't, well I could make a nice pillow or a curtain out of it! I decided on buying it even though it was marked as $4.99 (big spender, I know). I go to check out and when the cashier tells me my total is $2.50 I feel a little guilty because I think she made a mistake. I wonder, "should I tell her?" and I do (karma people) and she told me it's on sale. Score!

I still have no blender though. I went to the Goodwill after work today and there was not one blender or food processor in sight. There were oodles of coffee makers everywhere I went. If I could make recycled paper out of a coffee maker I would be set. Why is that? Do people endlessly replace their coffee maker in search of the perfect cup of coffee? Why aren't there an equal amount of blenders?

Anyone have any good ideas where I can find a used blender or a food processor?

add to saved by 0 users

My Life After Blogging

Boy a lot has changed since I stopped blogging! There are tons of new personal finance blogs to check out and I'm happy to see that a lot of progress has been made towards savings goals and debt repayment. I'm also pleased to see that most people have continued blogging and their blogs are thriving. Yay! It's amazing to see how much it has grown!

The financial times are also so very drastically different. Our credit hungry lifestyle has finally caught up with us and now we're paying the price. No more easy credit.. While it may be tough for a while, hopefully this will be a reminder to us all that a healthy economy is not one based on spending, but one based on saving.

A lot has changed in my personal life as well. Like I mentioned before, I spent a year in Thailand teaching English and traveling and it was such a wonderful experience to have right after such a stressful time in my life. It allowed me to let go and start anew with a clean slate in a new country.

I'll have to admit that the transition to living in the States was rough. Before I left for Thailand, I got rid of almost all of my possessions, except for my car (and I'm very happy I decided to keep it). I had a few thousands dollars saved up but no furniture, no appliances, no bedding, and worst of all no job. The whole "get rid of your earthly possessions and travel the globe" is all fine and good until you come home and you realize you don't have a bed to sleep on. I contemplated getting a room somewhere but I had no idea where I would end up or when I would find a job. I even thought about picking up and moving again to some other exotic land like Argentina but I soon realized that one day I would have to come back and reestablish myself and that this rough patch was going to come sooner or later. So what did I do? I ended up moving back home! Agh! I figured it would be temporary but I'm still here. Between paying for car insurance, an unexpected expensive car maintenance, graduate school admissions fees, CSET test fees, etc. I was seriously low on cash.

While I was in Thailand I realized that I really enjoy teaching. My previous job was absolutely miserable. I hated every minute of it but I endured because it was helping me pay off my debt. That made me vow to never work at a job I didn't like again. I worked part-time teaching ESL to adults while I searched for something more stable and full-time. Now I'm working as a substitute teacher in some really difficult parts of L.A. (ever heard of Watts or Compton?) and while some days I think I may lose it, it's 100 times better than working with a bunch of needy, whiny real-estate brokers.

I recently found out I got accepted into grad school, so soon I'll join the ranks of starving students everywhere. I'd really like to minimize the pain and suffering that comes along from having to pay astronomical sums of money on books and tuition while simultaneously not being able to have a job. Thankfully, I have two things in my favor. First, I will receive a $7,000 fellowship and I may be eligible for even more aid if I commit to teaching in an under served area. Second, the second year of my program I will be working full-time in my own classroom and receiving a normal salary.

That means I just have to save enough money to live on for one year. I've managed to save about $2,500 so far. I'm thinking it might be realistic to save $10,000 by August if I am super-resourceful. Let's see. That means I need to save $7,500 in 5 months. That's just about $1,500 each month. That's a little steep but hey, I was able to pay off $30,000 of debt in less than two years, right? Stay tuned to see if I can do it! :)

add to saved by 0 users

Carnival of Personal Finance #145

Head on over to Million Dollar Journey to check out the latest edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance!

add to saved by 0 users

Saturday, March 22, 2008

10 Questions to Ponder Before You Buy Something

1. Can I afford it?

First and foremost you should check with your budget. Some people (my former self included) believe that if you have the credit line for it, then you can afford it. Wrong. You cannot afford it unless the money is sitting in your bank account and your bills are already accounted for! Then again you can always e-mail Suze Orman and ask her what she thinks.

2. Do I need it?

There are some things in life that you cannot go without: food, water, shelter, clothing. Do we need to eat filet mignon and drink Starbucks coffee? No. Do we need to wear fancy designer labels? Negative. Do we need a glamorous chateau with a moat and 16 bedrooms? Yes. Ok fine, no. The point is not that we can’t indulge ourselves from time to time, but that we should be able to distinguish between needs and desires to make wise choices.

3. How often will I use it?

Sometimes breaking it down into a per use cost can give some perspective. For example, if I determine that I will wear a pair of $50 shoes 3 times a week for a year my per use cost of those shoes would be $0.32. Not a bad deal. However, if I was only going to wear those shoes once to a party, my per use cost rises dramatically to $50, and they don't seem like such a good deal anymore.

4. Can I find it cheaper?

First, you should always compare prices using one of the many price search engines on the internet.

If you're out and about shopping and don't have access to the internet you can use Frucall to check prices from your phone. This service allows you to check prices from your phone by either texting or calling them with the bar code. I haven’t tried it but it seems that it would be pretty handy!

Don’t forget to check forums like Fatwallet and Slickdeal to see if coupons are available.

5. Would it be more economical to rent or borrow it?

It just doesn’t make sense to purchase some things either because a) the per use cost doesn’t justify it or b) there is a good supply of items you can easily borrow for free or at a low cost.

Books and movies are a good example of something you should never buy. Between the library, book trading sites, and Netflix you should be able to find what you need.

Other less obvious things that you should think about borrowing instead of buying are sporting equipment and cooking supplies. I always have good intentions of playing tennis frequently, but the reality is that I have only played tennis a handful of times in the past year. It makes more sense for me to borrow someone else's racket instead of buying my own. Along the same line, I may think baking my own bread sounds like a fun idea, but I'll never do it enough to justify buying a bread maker. It's probably a better idea to borrow one from my Betty Crocker neighbor.

6. Can I earn points for my purchase?

Make sure to check sites like Mypoints or Ebates to see if you can earn points or cash back for your purchases.

7. Do I already have something that can do the same or similar job?

Sometimes, if we are resourceful, we can find ways to make the things lying around our house work for us.

For example, now that it's springtime I wanted to plant a garden. The only problem was that I had vowed to not buy anything new for 100 days. I needed pots because my dogs love to trample itty bitty baby plants. I was in quite a conundrum until I realized that we had some old buckets lying around that would do the job. All I had to do was poke some holes in the bottom for drainage and I had some nice planters for my vegetables.

The moral of this story is is that sometimes we already have what we need, we just need to be creative to see it.

8. Can I wait?

They say that patience is a virtue. Why? Because it can save you money! By waiting you are increasing your chances that the item you are coveting will go on sale. This is especially true with electronics. You pay a premium for being an "early adopter." Some people call this the "stupid tax." Think of all those poor people who bought the iPhone when it was first released, only to have the price drop $200 2 months after the release.

9. Have I picked the right product?

Make sure you are getting a quality product with the right features for YOU by checking customer reviews from sites like Epinions and Amazon.

10. How should I pay?

If after asking yourself questions #1-9 and you still think you need this product (really?) you should consider your payment options. Many credit card companies offer cash back or rewards for money that you spend with their card. Make sure that the rewards you are earning with your credit/debit card best matches your lifestyle and spending patterns. Most importantly, if you are already carrying a balance on your credit card, you should not be adding more no matter how good the rewards are! Consider paying cash instead.

Asking these questions has prevented me from making many purchases and probably saved me thousands of dollars. I hope you find them useful too!

add to saved by 0 users

Friday, March 21, 2008

Save a Tree...Power Down Your PC

Oh lordy, I just made a rhyme! :)

Now, are you one of those people that leave your computer on all the live long day? Tisk tisk! I know you're out there! I don't know how many times I've walked into a classroom (I'm a substitute teacher) to find that the teacher has left the computers on all weekend long. I wonder to myself, do they know how much energy and money they are wasting by letting those buggers run endlessly? The crazy lady in me wants to leave them a message kindly telling them to stop wasting tax-payer's dollars by leaving their computers on 24/7. Of course, I don't. But I think it.

I know lots of other people at home are guilty of it too. Heck, it's just convenient to have the computer handy at all times just in case you have to look up a random piece of information or check to see if someone has emailed you. I understand. I'm human too. But, have you ever wondered how much energy (and money) you could save if you optimized the power settings on your PC? Well, there is a free download that will tell you exactly that.

Local Cooling is a program that you can install on your PC that will easily allow you to change the energy settings on your computer. It allows you to change the following features:

*the sleep time of the monitor
*when the disks start stop spinning (assuming DVDs, CD-Roms, and the like spin when they don't need to?)
*shut-down and hibernate times for the computer

As the program runs, it tallies the amount of trees, water, and energy that you have saved by powering down the computer. The only thing it's missing is a feature that would allow you to calculate how much money you have saved by making this one small change, but if you were industrious enough you could figure it out by multiplying the kWh you saved by your energy rate.

Now, you don't need to download a program to optimize the power features on your computer. All you need to do is check in the Control Panel and make a few tweaks. You have to admit though, it is pretty darn nifty that you can see exactly how much you're saving and give yourself a big pat on the back for being so economical!

add to saved by 0 users

Putting Credit Card Offers to Good Use

Ever get sick of all those credit card offers you receive in the mail? They never seem to stop! Even when I was $30,000 in debt I was still receiving at least one new credit card offer a week. I couldn't imagine why they thought I needed MORE debt!

Well, today as I was throwing another offer into the recycle bin, I had an idea. Wouldn't it be funny if I collected all the credit card offers I receive and made recycled paper out of them? Wouldn't it be even funnier if I took that recycled paper, sold it, and then donated some of that money towards other people who are struggling with debt? It'd almost be like the credit card companies themselves would be paying for people to get out of debt. Ha! You wouldn't want them to be paying all that money to print and mail those offers for nothing, would you?

I decided to look up how to make recycled paper and it didn't look too difficult. Here is a list of items needed to make paper from MakeStuff:

  • a food processor or an old blender
  • an electric iron
  • an old wire hanger
  • an old pair of panty hose
  • newspaper or other paper, torn into 2-inch squares
  • white glue
  • water
  • an insect screen or strainer (optional)
  • food coloring (optional)
  • a big sink or tub filled with 4 inches of water

The only thing I don't have is a food processor/blender and since I'm not allowed to buy anything new, I think I'll post to Freecycle to see if I have any luck with my project. If I can find it, I won't have to put out anything but my time and it should be a fun project! :)

add to saved by 0 users

Update: Living in Thailand Blog

Some of you had expressed some interest in my Living in Thailand blog and I thought you would like to know, I just posted a quick entry with some of my photos from my trip. Hope you enjoy!

add to saved by 0 users

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

100 Day Buy Nothing Challenge

Paying off my debt taught me many lessons about myself and life. It taught me that things don't bring happiness. We hear that all the time but I guess it was something I needed to experience to understand. I also learned that I could get by on a lot less than I thought. I realized that things that I thought that I "needed" were only things that I "wanted" and that has forever changed the way I spend money.

Even though I am still very cautious with the way I spend money, I thought I would give myself a challenge just for the heck of it. I have been playing a game with myself to see how long I can go without buying anything new. I did it kind of subconsciously and today I wondered, "How long could I really go without buying anything?" That's when I decided that I would set a number of days and rules for this personal challenge.

I decided I would try to go 100 days without buying anything NEW. I am not really interested in trying to not buy anything at all. Most of the reason why I started this was because I not only want save money, but I also want to reduce the amount of waste and energy that I consume. Americans tend to consume so much without wondering where the stuff comes from. We don't think about the amount of energy it takes to produce and transport all of the goods that we consume. I figure that by fixing, trading, or buying used I could significantly reduce the impact I have on the environment...and my budget!

These are my exceptions:

1. Food
2. Personal products like deodorant, toothpaste, etc. (those would be kind of gross to buy used!) I will however, try techniques to make my own homemade personal products to reduce what I have to buy.
3. Gas
4. Services

I figure it will get difficult with birthdays and holidays but I'll try to find a way to make something instead.

Like I said, I have been trying to not buy anything for a while so I looked back at my bank statements and saw that the last time I bought something was on 3/03. That means I have already made it 16 days and have 84 more days to go. I wonder if it will be difficult?

What about you? How long do you think you can go without buying anything new?

add to saved by 0 users

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Grad school and Smarty Pig

Well everyone, let me start off with some good news. Yesterday, I received my acceptance letter to graduate school. I'll be going back to receive my teaching credential and Masters degree in the fall! Not only that but I also found out that I'll be receiving a $7,000 fellowship which will cover everything but $2,000 of tuition. Score! I was seriously stressing out about how I was going to pay for school and that will help a lot. I didn't want to end up with even more school loans as I'm still paying off the ones from my undergraduate studies. Thankfully as a teacher there is lots of aid available, especially if you commit to teaching in an under-served area. Maybe I'll get out of this thing without having to take out any loans! That'd be nice!

Moving on...I wondered if anyone had heard of or tried the online savings account SmartyPig. I was checking it out because they offer a 4.30% APY which is one of the highest I've seen around. It seems to work a little differently than traditional online banks though. They call themselves SmartyPig because they imagine themselves to be like an online piggy bank. After reading their website this is how I gather it works:

1. Set a savings goal. Decide how much you want to save and a date by which you want to have it saved and SmartyPig will tell you how much to save.
2. SmartyPig will make the automatic deposits until your goal is reached. You also have the option to make your account public so that anyone can make deposits into your account. (Hello Magic Money Fairy? Would you like to make a deposit? hehe)
3. After your savings goal is reached, SmartyPig gives you two options:
a) Receive a Mastercard with your savings amount on it
b) Receive a gift card from selected retailers with an added bonus (up to 5%)

So what do you guys think? Is this a good way to save? Would you be willing to try it?

add to saved by 0 users

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Rant

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! I'm currently working as a substitute teacher and most of the schools are on spring break so I didn't get called today. Boohoo. It's nice to have the day off but it sucks because if you don't work, you don't get paid. Waaaa. Well, I figured I'd try to make it a productive day by blogging, working on my garden, and doing some research. So here it goes. :)

This post is going to be somewhat of a rant. A rant with a happy ending. I think those are the best types of rants anyways.

Well, let's just start at the beginning, shall we? As most of you know, after I paid off my debt I decided to go to Thailand to be a teacher. I opened a Citibank account because they told my friend that they had branches in Thailand and she would be able to access her U.S. account at those branches. Plus, at that time they had a great savings rate at about 5% so it didn't seem like a bad idea.

We get to Thailand to find out that yes, they have a branch in Bangkok but that's it...A branch. As in one. We supposed it was better than nothing so I called the customer service line for the Bangkok branch and asked them if we could make deposits to our U.S. accounts at their branch. She told me yes, we could, although I'm not sure if she even understood my question. So, we take a long (and expensive) taxi ride to the financial district of Bangkok only to find out that Citibank Thailand is a completely different bank from Citibank U.S. In short, we made the long voyage in vain because we couldn't make a deposit without paying all kinds of currency conversion fees and wire transfer fees.

All of that doesn't really matter now, but it did perturb me that when my friend specifically asked if we could make deposits into our account from Thailand they emphatically said "yes." Lame. Lame.

But now, I'm home in California where I don't sweat 24 hours a day and the food does not burn a hole in my stomach. Hallelujah! Alas, Citibank's previous savings rate of 5% has dwindled to a measly 3% so I started shopping around for rates. ING Direct is only at 3.10%. Emigrant Direct 3.3%. Like I said before, if inflation is at 4% you end up losing money if you save it at anything under 4%. So of course, my over-active mind starting going to work.

I thought of putting the money in a CD account and discovered that the rates on CDs are even lower than the rates on savings accounts! What? At first, this made absolutely no sense. Why would I put my money into a 12 month CD for 3% when I can get 3.1% in my regular old savings account? Then I realized that they must be planning on lowering savings rates even more and my over-active mind got even more active.

Stock market? No. Foreign currency? Nah. Gold? Uh uh. Hide it under my mattress?????

Then I thought about microlending sites and thought hmmmm, now there's an idea. I remembered hearing about Prosper and thought I'd check it out. I figured since banks are getting more and more conservative with lending and credit card rates are rising, people are going to start looking for alternatives (like Prosper). I figured I'd try it out with a small amount of money.

I was all set to fund my account when I realized that the account that I had set up years ago (but never actually funded) was using my old Wells Fargo account that I closed when I went to Thailand. I tried to update with my Citibank account but Prosper required that I send them a canceled check to prove the account was mine.

Still with me?

The problem was was that I never actually got checks for my Citibank account. I haven't written a check for years! I definitely didn't want to pay $19.95 for a box of checks just so I could open this account so I called Citibank to see if they would comp me a box of checks.

The answer? A big, fat NO! I tried to pull the "But your competitors offer free checks" card but it had no effect. So what did I do? I started looking at other banks who would give me free checks.

And I found out that Washington Mutual not only will give me free checks but also has a 4% rate on their savings account. Score!

Now, I'm just waiting to get my new account set up and receive my new checks and my Prosper adventures will begin. I'll keep you all updated!

add to saved by 0 users

Friday, March 14, 2008

I'm back!

Hi again everyone! Well, it's been almost 2 years since I defied debt and I'm happy to report that I have managed to stay debt free! I spent an amazing year in Thailand traveling around and enjoying my new-found debt freedom. I never would have been able to see and do those things with so much appreciation if I hadn't been through the experience of working hard to get myself into a sound financial position. Even after getting massages and facials every week, traveling to tropical beaches and jungles, and having tons of new experiences I was able to save a couple thousand dollars. Living there was so cheap and the demand for English tutors was so high that I was able to have a high standard of living while saving. Unfortunately, the cost of readjusting to American life virtually wiped out my savings...but at least I never had to resort to paying for my expenses with a credit card.

I've been thinking a lot about money again, not because I don't have it but because I do (well at least a little bit). One thing I'm thankful for is that I was able to get out of debt when I did. I feel bad for those people who are struggling with credit card debt now. Just a few years ago the consumer had a lot more options. It seems as if the days of low interest rates and 0% APR balance transfers are gone. Even I (with a pristine credit rating) can't get my credit card to lower my interest rate. This is inconsequential to me because I don't carry a balance but to those who are trying to pay down debt this can have major consequences.

And remember the times when you were always receiving notice that banks like ING or HSBC were raising their savings account interest rates? I hadn't checked for a while and was shocked to see that they are barely paying around 3.10% and 12 month CD's are paying even less! It looks like saving your money in a savings account or a CD is going to end up costing you with current inflation rates at about 4%.

All of this has inspired me to update this blog again. Blogging is a fun way to keep myself on track and communicate with lots of other people who are working towards similar goals. I'll be looking for ways to save and writing about my thoughts on money in general. I look forward to reading comments and checking up on other blogs as well!

add to saved by 0 users