Archive for February, 2009

Frugal Ideas – Food Preparation

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Food Preparation. Nothing sucks out your enthusiasm like getting up at 5:30am, going to work at a job all day (even a good job), and then coming home to “When is dinner?” Defuse this with a little planning: On the weekend, get enough stew materials for 3 meals, and enough pot roast/chicken/pork chops for 3 meals. Clean out your refrigerator – trash the stuff that isn’t safe to eat, add the stuff that can be eaten to your crock pot and/or soup pot. Fill up your soup pot AND your crock pot. Cook them both at the same time. Freeze the results in serving-size containers. By planning ahead, and cooking large amounts at once, you’ll actually save yourself time, aggravation, and make better use of your food.

Estimated Savings: About $4.00 per meal prepared this way.

Toxic People

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

If you don’t have any Toxic People in your life, you are very, very, very lucky.

Toxic people are people who are bad for you to be around. I don’t mean dangerous. I mean bad. They make you ill. They waste your time, energy and resources.

1. During or after a conversation with this person, do you feel insulted, depressed, worn-out, drained?
2. When you are about to meet this person, do you feel tense? Does your heart rate increase? Do you have an immediate, internal, silent groan of, “Oh, no, not him/her!”?
3. After one brief meeting with this person, do you feel tired for the rest of the day?
4. Do you complain about having to deal with this person to other people in your life?

If the answer to ANY of the above is “Yes”, then you may be dealing with a Toxic Person. If the answer is “Yes” to two or more, then you are probably dealing with a Toxic Person.

I don’t pretend to understand Toxic People. It doesn’t make sense to me why someone insists on insulting me or belittling me in casual conversation. I don’t know why it ends up that I’m the one doing all the work of keeping the relationship alive (planning the movie trips, the lunch/dinners, the games, all the social interactions). What I do know is that I’ve spent countless hours ranting to my S.O. about certain people. Then finally, one day, I picked one of these people, and started applying the Rule of Three. The Rule of Three basically states, if I have to ask someone to stop doing something a third time, I will operate under the assumption that they will not stop doing it. Applying the Rule of Three is pretty straight-forward:

One. “You know, Bob, that embarrassing situation that you keep bringing up? The way you tell it isn’t the way I remember it. It happened a long time ago. I’m really tired of being reminded of it. So let’s drop it, OK?”

Two. “Bob, I asked you last week to stop bringing that up. I’d rather spend my fun time with friends talking about something else. Like politics. What do you think of McCain’s tax plans versus Obama’s?”

Three. “Bob, when we meet, all you want to talk about is that embarrassing situation from five years ago. I’m tired of it. Goodbye.”

I stopped calling Bob (see, it was always me calling Bob to set up a meet). I stopped meeting Bob socially. If Bob and I met by chance, I politely said, “I’m very sorry, but I’m on a schedule and I don’t have time to chat. If you like, you can call me tonight at eight.” Bob didn’t call.

After about two weeks of this, Bob asked, “What? Don’t you want to be friends anymore?”

To which I responded, “Bob, we haven’t been friends for five years. Friends support each other instead of one of them constantly cutting the other one do-“

Bob interrupted, “You’re not still upset about me joking about that thing from college?”

“If you can’t show me the basic courtesy to let me finish talking, then go away.”

Bob didn’t get it. I don’t think Bob ever will get it. I finally realized that Bob and I hadn’t been friends for years. Bob had attached himself to me like a leech, constantly sucking on my emotional resources and putting me down to make himself feel better. I was the sack that he poured the poison of his own life into. I had just cut that sack of poison away.

I felt great. I had removed the leech!! I felt scared. I’d just cut off part of my social network. I felt great! I didn’t waste my time with my beloved S.O. ranting about Bob anymore!! I felt scared. What were my other friends going to think about this – especially because I’d have to start avoiding get-togethers that included Bob. I felt GREAT!!! I wouldn’t be going to those get-togethers and have to deal with the leech!!!!

Suddenly, I have all this time and energy. I can finish a couple of projects I haven’t had the motivation to do. Or maybe I can go out and meet new people. Maybe I’ll make friends with that lady at the coffee shop…

Non-Frugal Screwups

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Here, in our part of the primordial scrub, we have a delightful fast-food chain that serves spicy fried chicken. S.O. and I have increased the grease portion of our diet significantly by addicting ourselves to this comfort food.

Unfortunately, I also picked up the habit of eating there for lunch once a week. This has the side-effect of spattering chicken grease across my work shirts (they are dress shirts due to the dress code – i.e., expensive).

Soaking them in Oxyclean (great product, highly recommend it) didn’t do the trick.

So now I have two $20 shirts that may need replacing. (Higher price because there aren’t any sales currently running.) And I’ve likely been increasing my medical expenses due to the increased fried food plus grease.

Cost to dry clean – about $1.50, for a total of $3.00. Add in another $1.00 in gas for the round trip. Plus about thirty minutes out of my life to make the trips.

Dry cleaning is less expensive than replacing them, but has negative environmental effects. The extra half hour normally wouldn’t be a problem, but it could have so easily been prevented!

Aaaargh!!!

Said fried chicken place is now stricken from the lunch roster.

Good! Human was not bringing small tasty bird pieces home for Pookah. Now human must go without, too!

Frugal Ideas – Cat Litter

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

Try the wheat chaff cat litter (we use Swheat), and sprinkle in a handful of the pine pellet cat litter. In our experience, the wheat chaff generates less dust than clay-based litter and does a better job of odor control in the short-term. It has the plus of being completely biodegradable, so the resulting waste will stay organic and rot into naturally recycled dirt without the complications of clay. (From what I’ve read, don’t use the resulting waste in your compost heap – since cat contains meat byproducts, the resulting used cat litter may attract unsavory four-legged critters or, even worse, provide an incubation site for various diseases and parasites.) The pine pellets help control the odor over the medium to long-term (in case you forget to change the litterbox, or are particularly sensitive to the pungent aroma of cat urine). This may not work for everyone, depending on your health, your odor sensitivity, and how, ah… selective your cat is. Both products mention above are priced less than the equivalent clay-based cat litters when you price it by volume. The wheat chaff/pine pellets are looser and take up more space, so the bags are larger, and the same weight of litter will actually last a LOT longer.

Ahem!
Your work shoes are here. They are clean. My litter box is not clean.

Whoops. I have to go, uh, take care of some chores.

Core Values – Respect Yourself

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

S.O. and I hold to some core values. Many of these values were taught to us by our parents. Others we learned through living. And a few we learned from the school of hard knocks. These values, and how we make choices about them, have a profound effect on our lives and the lives of those around us – like Pookah.

This month’s core value is: Respect Yourself.

If you do not believe you are worthy of success, you will fail.
If you do not believe that you deserve better, it will only get worse.
If you do not believe in putting forth honest work, the results will be shoddy.
If you do not like yourself, no one else will either.

That’s a lot of negative stuff.

The big secret is that you don’t need it.

Try these:

  • Your actions show the truth.
  • If you act to deserve success, you will succeed more.
  • If you act in a manner to deserve better, it will get better.
  • If you act like doing a good job matters, the results will be better.
  • If you act like you care about yourself, others will too.

Respect for yourself is the fundamental value of self-worth.

If you think, feel, or believe you are worthless, then you will act like it. If you act like you are worthwhile, you will begin to think, feel, and believe that you are.

If you have no respect for yourself, why try to improve your situation?
If you have no respect for yourself, why try to change your life?
If you have no respect for yourself, why should you respect anyone – or anything – else?

As a teenager, I hated myself. I made mistake after mistake after mistake. I lost friends. I alienated family. I was well on my way to becoming the antithesis of everything I now believe is right. For me, it came down to a fateful night, staring at myself in the mirror, and not really liking what I saw.

I made several realizations:

  • Life is meant to be lived, not merely survived.
  • If I can’t justify my actions to myself, then I can’t justify them to anyone or anything.
  • If I judge my actions unworthy, then they are.
  • Worthy actions are meaningful in your life.
  • Worthy actions are right.
  • Do what’s right.
  • I am worthwhile as a person if I do what’s right.
  • If I am worthwhile as a person, then I deserve respect – at least from myself.
  • If I act in a worthwhile manner, then I have done right. I have done something that I *know* is right. And no one, no one, can take that away from me.

So all those voices in my head – mine, family members, teachers, students, strangers on the street – telling me how worthless and bad I am can just shut the &$^% up!

I also made some promises to myself.

  • I decided what kind of person I wanted to be.
  • I decided what kind of actions I would undertake to do what’s right.
  • I decided that it was OK to make mistakes – even to fail frequently – so long as I kept working to Do What Is Right.
  • I decided that beating myself up physically or emotionally when I screwed up was wrong.
  • I decided that I had to forgive myself for my failings, first. Not ignore, not gloss over, not blame my upbringing, society, fate, Creator-of-choice. I had to face my mistakes head on, acknowledge them, learn from them, and forgive myself for screwing up.

I decided to respect myself.

My whole life changed.

I suddenly discovered that, when I could give respect to myself, I could give respect to others.

When Pookah first came to live with us, she was a starving, pregnant, abused animal. She wouldn’t get up on any of the furniture because she was afraid to. A cat. Afraid to get on a couch! If we accidentally almost came close to stepping on her, she would cry in fear and pain, then run and hide for two or three days. But each time, I would follow her and apologize in a quiet, gentle voice. I would extend my hand under the bed, couch, or table she sought refuge under, and hold it near for her to sniff. I acknowledged her fear. I showed respect for this diminuitive, fey cat. Over time, and with lots of patience, she has grown to where she DEMANDS petting, scritching, or time on the couch to look out the windows. Pookah feels worthwhile and confident enough in herself and her place in the household to demand attention, affection, and acceptance. She is confident enough that she will come out to look at visitors herself, make her own judgements about how much contact she wants with them, and go from there. This is a far cry from running and hiding at the footseps on the porch!

She could never had come this far if S.O. and I didn’t start by respecting ourselves.

My father once told me that people who want to succeed are more often held back by what’s inside them than what’s ahead of them. Oh, how infuriatingly true! I still have to sometimes tell those negative, whining voices to shut up. But not nearly as often as I used to.

Setting Limits

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

What are your limits?

How far will you go to help your brother/sister?

How far will you go to help your mother/father?

How far will you go to help your grandmother/grandfather?

How far will you go to help your best friend?

How far will you go to help a regular friend?

How far will you go to help your neighbor?

How far will you go to help a complete stranger?

How much money would you give each of these people?

How much food and water?

What if your food and water were severely limited, such as in a Katrina-like disaster?

How often will you give them a ride when they ask for it?

When does generosity go from kindness to contracted duty?

When do the requests change from cooperation to parasitizing?

When do you tell other people, “No. I can’t give any more.”?

If they tell you you’re being selfish, do you give in?

If you’re the one doing the giving, why do you feel miserable?

What reason – physical or mental – prevents the person you’re helping from doing it him or herself?

Why are you the only one being asked for help?

Why are you the only one helping?

Where is the line between helping and being used?

Where do YOU draw the line?

Where do you set the limits?

When you can answer these questions, and stand by your answers, then you have set limits.

When you set limits, you can concentrate on making your life better.

The limits aren’t for you. They’re for other people. You are limiting THEIR control over your life. Setting limits immediately gives you more control over your own life. Setting limits, and enforcing those limits for yourself and others, is a key step in getting control over your finances. YOU decide how much you can give, and when, and where. Because if you give more than your budget can handle, then you put yourself in debt.

If you put yourself in debt, then you have to go find someone else who hasn’t answered all these questions — and persuade them to help you.

So, where do YOU set the limits?

Frugal Ideas – Junk Mail = Note Pads

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

All those letters and snail mail you keep getting in your mailbox? Get a letter opener (or use a standard blunt table knife for extra credit in Frugality), and open them by cutting off the entire front side of the envelope. Then use the backs as scratch paper. If you’ve got kids, make it a game. A staple gun, pot of glue, or (really Frugal) thick binder clip can turn your envelope back collection into a pad of scratch paper easily. This trick is so useful that I have purchased only 3 reams of paper in the last year.

Estimated savings: $3.00/month (based off of the cost of a ream of paper on sale, at about $36.00).

Going Green

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

I’m not going to talk about whether global warming is caused by humans or not, because it doesn’t matter.

Fact: The activity of any living organism changes the environment around it.

Pookah certainly thinks this is true.

Now, unless someone can come along and conclusively prove that human activity does NOT change the environment, we have a clear-cut responsibility, as caretakers of our environment, to minimize our impact on our environment. This follows the principle of do no harm. (By the way, if someone does come along and conclusively prove that human activity does not change the environment, I will laugh at them, point them back to high school basic science principles, and cordially request that they check out the gas vent pipes on top of their rock pile. Evidence either supports a theory or doesn’t.)

Are you listening to me? I’m purring. See? You should pet me.

Ethic: As intelligent beings, we are responsible for our actions and the consequences, direct or indirect, of those actions.
Ethic: As intelligent, responsible beings, we must do no harm to our environment wherever possible.
Ethic: Where harm is unavoidable, we must do the least harm possible. When harm is done, we must bend every effort to minimize or repair the effects of that harm.

Sigh. I have lost my human’s attention in favor of philsoph… philosph… head-churn-wordy-stuff.

These ethics have a very firm background: I don’t want our descendants growing up living on mountains of toxic waste. The easiest way to avoid toxic waste is NOT cleaning it up – that’s a reaction to a problem. Preventing a problem is (usually) much less expensive in the long run.

So, in our pile of rocks, we have A Plan.

Pookah will run and hide now. Human is getting power tools out.

1. Weatherstripping.

2. Air Sealing.

3. Insulation.

4. Conservation.

Here are some things we’ve done:

Those plastic containers of Welch’s Grape Juice Concentrate? Filled them with cheap marbles from the dollar store, added water, voila! Instant water brick. Dropped it into a safe portion of our toilet’s reservoir tank, and watched our monthly water bill drop by $3-$5/month. Level of effort: Very Low. Time: about 10 minutes.

Remember those plastic containers of Welch’s Grape Juice Concentrate? They also make great pen/pencil/small paintbrush holders. I had to use a nail file to smooth out the edges.

Showers have a 10-minute limit. Level of effort: Reminding young child to finish up.

Our one working showerhead was replaced with a more water-efficient model. Estimated savings, $1-$2/month. Level of effort: Low. Time: 15 minutes.

While we’re running water, waiting for it to warm up, we capture it in a bucket. This water is then used for washing the bathroom, or dumped into the clothes washer. The gain on this one isn’t much, but it does reduce our water consumption. No estimate on savings. Level of effort: Low. Time: 30-45 minutes/week.

Very important note for other cats: It is NOT a good idea to jump up on open bucket of water to use as launching platform to a higher elevation. The results are VERY unpleasant. Humans should know better.

I’ll post more details about what we’ve done going forward.

Clothing

Monday, February 9th, 2009

I’ve noticed that a lot of financial information is long on theory and short on practicality…

Including you.

… including me. I plead the newness of my online scribbling in return for your tolerance and patience.

It is granted. Now scritch my chin.

I really don’t like the general “reduce your debts, save money” platitudes of theory and generalities. Theory and generalities are nice, but they don’t actually help you save money when you’ve got only $150 to stretch between debt payments, food, transportation, and clothing. If I’d known *how* to reduce my debts and expenses, and save money back a few decades, I’d already have achieved my early retirement now. Specifics help with your immediate situation. Once you’ve got those problems under control, then you can start looking at theories and generalities to improve your *overall* situation.

That’s one of the reasons why I like The Complete Tightwad Gazette. It offers very specific ideas to help cut costs *right now*, and free up needed money to attack those debts. Unfortunately, it is also out of print the last time I checked. if you can pick up one of the volumes in a used book store, or on Amazon, do it. The ideas in there are worth several pounds of gold at today’s prices.

I do want to add some specifics from my own background and experience.

With that in mind, let’s assume that you need some cold-weather clothes and you’re on a very tight budget. What do you do?

Least Expensive Options:
Get needle, thread (preferrably heavy-duty denim thread), and some old clothes that you haven’t donated. Pick a set of “yard work” clothes. Take apart the old cast-offs, and sew them onto the yard work clothes as layers. Chances are you’ll only be able to add 1-2 layers of cloth. But it will help keep you warm.

Desperate tactics: Trash bags + duct tape. Wrap your arms and legs, then use the duct tape to keep it on – make sure you leave enough slack for joints to move. Beware!! Sweating in cold weather can kill you. If you are sweating under all your clothes, you need to take a few layers off or slow down your physical activity level.

Go to your local shelter/support center. Pick up a coat and/or pants that are one or two sizes too big for you. Wear layers under them to help keep you warm.

Borrow from family or friends, using the same principle as above – get clothes that are a size or two too large.

Beware of damp clothing – from sweating, rain, or melted snow. There are some types of clothing that will still keep you warm when wet, but they are also harder to get and more expensive. Cotton clothes in environments that are cold and damp are known as “death cloth”, because their insulation value goes negative when they are wet – it will actually cause you to lose more body heat and result in potentially lethal hypothermia. I’d go into more detail, but this post is about finances, not camping.

Low Expense Options:
Charitable Organization Shopping.
Thrift Store Shopping.
Make It Yourself.
There is an initial cost in certain tools, ranging from negligible (needles, pins, scissors) to a significant ouch (sewing machine). There is also an additional cost in time. But, if you cancel your cable T.V., you can save the money and pay for a low-end sewing machine within 7-9 months. After some practice, you’ll be able to preserve and repair your existing clothes for little to no cost, you can make new clothes for yourself at greatly reduced cost, and you will be developing a marketable skill.

Military Surplus Store Shopping.
Okay, some information about military surplus stores. I have a heavy-weather coat, an Air Force Arctic Jacket, that has been my main thermal comfort provider in icy weather for over twenty years. I paid $30 for it. It’s ugly (what do you expect from olive drab green?), people stare at me when I wear it, and people hate me when unzip it half-way and laugh at the wind-driven sleet making everyone else shiver.

Pookah likes her new comfy-nest-coat.

I also purchased a set of fatigues. They are incredibly durable and useful for yard work. Plus, they fit over most of my other clothes.

Wool socks, glove liners (2 pairs, so one set can dry out while I’m using the other)), gloves, and steel-toed boots. I’ve probably spent close to $200 in various military surplus stores. This gear has lasted for *years*. Purchasing it all new from your local seasonal store would probably run $800-$900. Best of all, I can get dirty with it in the yard (or getting a car unstuck from mud/ice), toss it in the wash (except for the boots – those require a little extra care), and it comes back out ready to use.

If you haven’t guessed by now, you may safely assume that I love shopping at military surplus stores. I get to combine frugality with high quality goods with recycling with it’s just plain cool to actually have an honest-to-Creator-of-choice piece of good old U.S. military paraphenalia in my possession while I’m doing stuff. Makes me want to go camping out in the wild primordial scrub.

Related Sites:
(You may notice that a lot of these sites focus on wilderness survival. That’s because being able to improvise protection from the weather is a *big* help when you’re really down on your luck. Good clothing styles are meaningless if you spend every night shivering in the dark.)
Les Stroud Online
Survivorman
Wilderness Survival
Wilderness Survival Guide
Sewing.Org
Sewing at Allcrafts.Net
American Sewing Guild
Epinions.Com – Sewing Machines

Frugal Ideas – Bottle Your Own Water

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Get a few good water bottles. Fill them halfway with water. Stick them in the freezer. Now, the next morning, when you’re getting ready to leave for work, grab one, top it off with liquid water, and take it with you to work. Drink and refill as needed. Not only will this help keep you hydrated – and improve your overall health – but it will also reduce your Want for soda. Rotate them through washing, drying, refilling half way, storing in the freezer. The frozen water bottles can also be used for:

  • Ice pack for first aid.
  • Emergency extra coolant for your refrigerator when the nuclear go-juice goes out. (Chuck a couple of them in your refrigerator, on the top shelf.)
  • Emergency extra potable water during shortages or drought.

Estimated Savings (assumes you drink 1 soda from a vending machine per day, at $0.60): $12.00 – $18.00/month.