Educating the Wheelers


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Chronicling the Experience of Educating our Children and Managing our Family

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Why I Like Personal Finance Blogs, Reason #34

There is an almost complete lack of partisan politics in personal finance blogs, which is a welcome breath of fresh air. And sort of interesting, too, since politics and money -- even at the personal level -- tend to intertwine so much. My eyes glaze over when the "Tastes Great!/Less Filling!" bickering starts up. *Click*, move on. I am one of the apparently rare folks online who really doesn't care what someone thinks about Iraq, Bush, abortion, whatever other new hot button issues happen to be out there, unless I happened to be married to the person. And that slot is already filled.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Thinking about Changing Credit Card

Andrew and I pay off our credit card balance in full every month. We use it often just for convenience and instead of our debit card for various buyer's protections in case of fraud.

But we just have a plain old vanilla card with our bank, so we're not getting any perks off of it. And I think we're about ready to change that situation.

We've kicked around a couple of ideas -- first, staying with our bank's card, but switching to a cashback version. [It is nice to see our purchase history and statements on the same online banking page as our checking account.] Second, Citibank [I believe] has a card with "disposable" one-time numbers for online use, but I've been waiting to see if some other PF blogger would get one and report back first. Heh. And third, maybe an Amazon card because I love free stuff from Amazon. [Speaking of, in case anyone has any money burning a hole in their pocket, there's always my Amazon wish list!]

Does anyone have any experience with any of these cards? Or any other ideas?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Things That Have Slowly Changed

I haven't always been frugal. It's been percolating for awhile, but the actual implementation has been gradual. Because of the slow pace, I haven't realized really how far I'd come, and somewhat unfortunately, how that might impact some other things in my life.

Case in point, a relative of mine wants to go out to eat or go shopping with me while I'm here visiting. Multiple times a week. She has suggested a few other activities, all involving going out and spending money. Instead, I've suggested she come over here, let's make some lunch, talk, whathaveyou. She has apparently had about enough of that. Heh.

For the first year after Audrey was born, one of my pre-mother friends [ironically, a woman from my birthing class, so she had a kid that was only a month older than mine] who only wanted to get together at a restaurant for lunch, as well. No great shock, we drifted and I haven't even talked to her in almost a year. She rarely wanted to take up any of my non-restaurant suggestions.

I mean, I don't believe in having an austere life, or never having fun or never getting out. But both of these folks were as insistent about going to a restaurant as I was resistant to it.

There are three issues for me. First, I've always been somewhat of a homebody, though those feelings have intensified since I became a mother, and they've really exploded since I've been pregnant again. I am wholly uninterested in being around large groups of other people, especially folks I don't know. Second, I realize this may be a passe notion these days, but I don't like bringing babies/toddlers/etc into adult spaces. Audrey is astonishingly well-behaved for a 2 year old, but that doesn't mean she isn't unpredictable and doesn't ever fuss. Folks pay good money at most restaurants, in movie theaters and the like and I don't understand why parents -- particularly of my generation -- think it's okay to bring their kids into adult spaces where there is a reasonable expectation of not being disturbed. Finally, of course, is the cost issue. What used to seem to me a totally reasonable sum of money to spend on lunch now seems like a big waste and opportunity cost.

I've gradually shifted my social life to spend time with folks who are on the same page as me in this arena. On the upside, most stay at home moms with toddlers that I meet tend to not want to blow money, and tend to not want to deal with the "will they or won't they?" stress of bringing a toddler into a restaurant. So we'll meet at one or another's house, and if someone gets fussy or melts down ... who cares? We're all going through the same thing.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I Want a Garden

I want a garden.

Most of our grocery bill goes to produce -- fresh, frozen, or dried. Our kids will be homeschooled, so it's an obvious project for them to help with. Our backyard is about a half acre, fenced, and there's not a whole lot going on back there once you get past the decks and the playscape.

So why don't I have a garden?

Odocoileus virginianus, the dreaded white-tailed deer.

Our house is on the deer superhighway right between two wooded, wild areas. There are some mornings when I'll look out and see two dozen of them in our front or back yard. Unfortunately, our 8-10 [?] foot tall privacy fence only extends about halfway back into our backyard, it's a 3 footer for the remaining, and they jump over that with ease.

So I can't just slap together a nice little Square Foot Gardening square and call it a day with a little quickie experiment. Unless, of course, I want fatter and happier deer.

I don't relish the idea of building a tall fence to enclose a garden, like all my neighbors have had to do. And I'm not sure how big I'd want to make it -- I certainly don't want to ever have to expand it once it's up. I have too many memories of spending summers at my grandparent's house, expanding the deer fence every year. Heh.

And then there's the whole new-child-being-born-in-two-months thingy. I think I'll be waiting until next year. Heh.

Clothing

The only thing I hate more than clothes shopping is having to spend money on clothes.

These days, when I have to buy clothes -- like, say, now, when I'm third trimester superchunk pregnant and it's winter, while last time I was superchunk pregnant, it was nasty Texas summer -- I hold off until I can head up to Minnesota to visit my parents. Not too far from their house is the very best thrift store I have ever been in, bar none. I am absolutely spoiled rotten by it now. Even Walmart feels extravagant, and other thrift stores feel really ratty and dirty in comparison.

[If you happen to live around the Twin City area, I'm referring to the "Valu Thrift Store" in Sun Ray Mall. Mondays, everything is 25% off, and holidays are 50% off.]

I picked up maternity pants and 6 long sleeve maternity shirts and sweaters for about 20 bucks. And they're pretty nice looking.

I don't know how they do it, why that particular thrift store is so clean and well managed and such a screaming deal on nice stuff, but I love it, and I won't shop anywhere else.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Dog That Bit Man Actually a Wolverine, Film at 11

I'm not sure why I'm the least bit surprised anymore when I find that some statistic that gets bandied around turns out to be, at best, misleading, and at worst, total junk.

Today's example of this is the new much-fretted-about statistic that the U.S. savings rate has gone negative. And, yes, that's bad. But less widely mentioned is the caveat that this statistic includes the ever burgeoning group of retirees, who report a savings draw down of about 12-14% a year. So, for working Americans, the rate is actually more like 6%.

Six percent is no great shakes, but it's not the raining cats and dogs, fire and brimstone negative percentage that everyone is freaking out about.

I look forward to the total panic that comes when the savings rate drops even "lower" because more and more people are retiring.

On the Road Again

Audrey and I will be heading up North to my parents' house this week for three weeks of extended family fun and vacation. We do this about 3 or 4 times a year for a variety of reasons -- it's a big vacation for Andrew, who can work work uninterrupted on whatever projects he might have in the hopper; and it's a big vacation for me, because my folks are super-helpful with EVERYTHING and Audrey loves them and I get to relax. It's a win-win for everyone. And since we're gone so long, Andrew will often fly up for a weekend himself to visit us visiting. Heh.

We can usually get the flights pretty cheap, so the big frugal challenge for us is how to keep Andrew well fed without breaking the bank. [In other words, no Central Market deli 5 times a week at 15 bucks a pop for lunch or dinner, as tasty as that would be.] The food budget when Audrey and I are gone is usually much higher than when all three of us are there since I can't do the planning and cooking.

The first thing I do is start about a month beforehand scanning the circulars for loss-leader frozen pizzas and the like, and fill the freezer with tasty, easy to heat up meals for dinner. Then yesterday, I had Andrew select a handful of recipes for me to make for him that I'll individually package for him so he can grab them on the way out the door to work. But that sort of thing will only last a week.

He came grocery shopping with me yesterday, which he doesn't normally do, and we got a bunch of basics for building sandwiches and tacos and whatnot, so hopefully he'll just have to pick up mostly produce and dairy for himself while I'm gone.

So, with this preparation, he should have more breathing room for "treats" while he's on vacation without the expense of every meal being a treat, so to speak.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Today's Frugal Moves

Well, yesterday's goals ended up being totally off-base. I didn't end up making homemade ketchup because I remembered we still had a fair amount of store bought in the fridge, and I have nothing on the meal plan in the next week that calls for it. So, uh, yeah. Heh. Maybe another week.

And I didn't end up making pizza dough because I saw we only have about a cup's worth of whole wheat flour left after making the lemon thyme loaf cake thing the other night.

But I remembered that Albertson's was having an 8 hour loss-leader sale from 3-11 yesterday, so Audrey and I headed up at 2.45 to pick up flour, bananas, and everything from their sale that we thought we could use. Audrey and I are going out of town for a few weeks soon and Andrew will be left to his own devices, so I picked up some of the frozen pizzas, 3 for 5 dollars. I've been gathering these up for him everytime I see them on big sale, so he's got about 10 or 12 in the freezer now for when we're gone.

[As Andrew said the last time we came in from out of town, "Can man live on pizza alone? Apparently, he can!"]

So I did end up spending money yesterday, but it was less than 40 dollars, and it was almost all deeply discounted pantry stock up. I also made some really, really good homemade blue cheese dressing to go with the Buffalo Turkey Wraps I made out of Monday's leftover Turkey Breast. Cheaper than the "good stuff" you can get at the store, probably on par with the cheap stuff, but way, way better tasting.

Today I'll make the pizza crusts. No, really!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I love the first day of the month!

I love to log into our Emigrant Direct account and see our interest for the last month posted. This month, we scored $97.67, which means next month with the new 4.25% interest rate and a slightly higher balance on our part, we should hit over $100 dollars interest a month in that account.

I'm only putting $200 every 2 weeks into that account, so with the interest so high, it almost feels like we're getting a 25% match from Emigrant, as if it were a 401k.

Day By Day

Since we've become far more serious about cutting expenses over the last year, we've already nailed all the "low hanging fruit" in our budget. As I mentioned in a previous post, it's like we're at that stage in a diet where you've already stopped drinking soda and all the other easy changes. Now it's time to start counting calories.

So, every day, I ask myself: What am I doing today, right now, to save or just not spend money?

Some days it's easier than others. I'm making our yogurt instead of buying it. I'm putting the laundry up on the line instead of in the dryer. I'm staying home with Audrey and playing in the yard with the dogs instead of getting in the car and going, well, anywhere, really. I'm making muffins instead of buying snacks. I'm ensuring that the only lights on are the ones that are in the room we're currently in. I'm turning off the computer when not in use, and using it less overall. I'm designing our meal plans off the freezer, the pantry, the sales circulars and rejecting recipes that call for expensive ingredients that will unlikely be used up before they go bad. I'm trying to plan a vegetable garden. [That's a whole other post.] I'm shortening our showers. I'm giving Andrew extra reminders to bring his packed lunch to work. I'm using powdered milk.

I check our finances every day, as a motivator. But I still try to find something new every day, as well. Sometimes I'll grab The Complete Tightwad Gazette and open it to a random page and keep reading until I find something we could use.

Today, I think I'm going to give The Hillbilly Housewife's Excellent Homemade Ketchup a try, and probably make another batch of pizza crusts from the Sue Gregg cookbooks to put in the freezer.