Archive for the ‘Frugal’ Category

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.

Frugal Ideas – Burn Paper Log Balls

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

If you have a fireplace or woodburning stove, make paper log balls: Keep the little cardboard toilet paper tubes. Save up a supply of waste paper – newspaper is best, black-and-white used printouts from an inkjet printer are OK, I have no idea of the safety of laser printer waste, and certainly avoid plastics and color inks/printouts because the ink may contain poisonous metals or chemicals! Soak the paper in a bucket of water (similar to making paper mache). Wrap the wet paper around the tube until you have a ball about the size of a medium orange, then let it dry (a drying rack on top of your clothes dryer, or rack near the fireplace/stove works). The paper log balls will burn faster than regular wood and generate more ash (good for gardening), so use them in conjunction with regular wood. WARNING: Check your local ordnances and safety precautions for your fireplace/woodburning stove first!!!

Estimated savings: Unable to determine.

Frugal Ideas – Spice Expiration Dates

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Write the expiration date on the front label of your spice bottles. Keep a set of recipes that make heavy use of your spices handy (crock pots are great for this). One month out from the expiration date, use the recipes to clean out the last of your soon-to-expire spices.

Estimated savings: $2.00 – $7.00/month. (It really depends on how fast you use your spices. Fresher spice means you need less to season the food.)

You can get information about shelf life and expiration dates from these sites:

Frugal Ideas – Grow Your Own Herbs

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

You can cut up a milk carton (cardboard or plastic), load it with cheap soil, poke holes for drainage, make a drainage tray from another container to put under it, set it on a window sill over the kitchen sink, and grow your own herbs. An added plus is that they tend to not go bad as quickly as the cut fresh herbs in the grocery store. Seeds are roughly $1.00 for a year’s worth. Watering is easy – it’s right next to the sink. If the herbs are ripening and you can’t use them, you can dry them out and preserve them yourself – with the plus that you can re-use all those empty spice bottles. If all else fails, chuck them in the crock pot with your leftovers before they go bad and make some potluck stew. You can find more ideas on inexpensive gardening at

Estimated savings: $5.00/month

“I Just Don’t Know What To Do”

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

“I just don’t know what to do.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. I did a quick situational awareness check – you never know who might be listening in at a Wendy’s, possibly marking you as a victim for pick-pocketing or following you home for house burglary. Fortunately, I had chosen our seating arrangement – up against a wall, away from the other customers – so we had a modicum of privacy. However, my friend’s purse was hanging off the back of her chair, and it was unzipped with the wallet sticking up. Definitely a tempting target for the local two-legged rats. I’d better keep an eye out.

Rats are too big for Pookahs to catch easily. Human sharing food with Pookah much easier and safe.

“We’re having a lot of trouble making ends meet,” my friend continued. “Now the bill collectors are calling.”

I chased a bite of food with some coffee. “Did you call the bill collectors back?”

You are not sharing food with Pookah.

“How can I do that?! We don’t have any money! We don’t even have enough money for stamps to send one of your favorite letters.”

I nodded in understanding, and ate some more of my food. My favorite letters are essentially “Drop Dead” letters cribbed from Clark Howard‘s website.

You are still not sharing food with Pookah.

This post is not going where you think it is. I’ve already posted about my little test for helping friends with their finances.

Wendy’s makes good burgers. They’re not the healthiest or the tastiest I’ve ever had, but they definitely do the job. They always remind me of many years ago, when I was younger and stupider. Eating at Wendy’s reminds me that foolish pride and not thinking have a high cost. Combine them, and the cost is even higher.

Pookah wonders what intelligence is required to share cheeseburger with Pookah.

“Okay,” I said after swallowing. “Have you made out a list of your monthly expenses?”

“What good will that do if we don’t have enough money?!”

I set my burger down. “Well, If you keep track of expenses, it’s a lot easier to see where the money is going.”

Pookah is waiting patiently for human to bring cheeseburger home to Pookah.

My friend rolled eyes and said, “I repeat, what good will that do us if we don’t have enough money?”

“You have a lot of little daily expenses that add up over the weeks into big expenses each month. I have them, too. They happen without me consciously noticing them.”

“You. Don’t. Notice. Them???” I had my friend’s undivided attention now. Unfortunately, I also had my friend’s undivided incredulity.

“Look, when I had bills coming out my ears, I didn’t notice those little three and five dollar dailies either. I had bigger problems occupying my attention – the bill collectors.” Another customer, young, male, dressed in casual gangsta, approached my friend from behind carrying his tray. His eyes dropped to her open purse and the fat wallet sticking out of it. I caught his eyes and gave him a polite, tight, Hi-there-I’m-aware-of-you smile. The trick is to make sure other people know you know they’re there without being confrontational or accusatory. Guy was probably minding his own business, but some two-legged rats are more subtle than others. He smiled back and sat at a table a ways off. That response meant he was probably just a regular guy. “Pull your wallet out.” She did. “Now pull out all the receipts and separate out the ones for the last two weeks.” I already knew that my friend had the habit of keeping her receipts. It was part of a never-ending first step towards budgeting. Somehow, she never got around to the budgeting part. Keeping the receipts fed the “collector” habit.

A small, tidy pile of receipts appeared on the table next to her Frosty.

“Now go through them and tell me what you bought the last two weeks.”

Here’s the list:
Eating out – fast food, 1 person: 8 days: $55
Eating out – restaurant, 2 people: 2 days: $40
Books – entertainment: $18
Books – class work: $20
Materials for hobbies: $25
Gas: $30

While she stared at the list, I said, “So, now you know where some of your money has been going. Looks like about $83 for restaurants, fun, and hobbies every two weeks. That would be about $166 a month going for conveniences and fun. How far behind are you on your phone bill?”

“$250,” she answered.

“So in two months, you could pay that off, plus the penalties.” I waited a bit for that to sink in. “You see, budgeting isn’t just about controling expenses or planning for the future, it’s also about noticing the little stuff that sneaks up and steals from your checking account.”

“But what am I supposed to do for fun?! I’d go crazy if I didn’t have something enjoyable to do!”

“Think how much less stressed you’d be if you were actually paying down these debts instead of making them worse. Buying more stuff gives you a lift for a few days, at most. Until the bill comes due. Then you’re worse off than you were before. Wouldn’t it feel better if, instead of working on your hobbies, you spent that time getting your finances in order?”

“If I do that, I’ll end up like you – with no hobbies whatsoever?!? I’d be bored stiff!”

I grinned. “I bought over $150 in books last week, got a new computer game the month before, and learned how to set up the backup features in Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2003 this month. I spent this past weekend playing a network game with some friends all day Saturday and Sunday. That doesn’t even include my gardening or other games.”

“How do you… I mean, how can you…???”

“Early on, it took me hours of study and work to get my finances in order, and start tracking what money was going where. Once I got over that startup hump, it got A LOT easier. It took less time every month that went by. Each time I paid off a debt, I had fewer worries and I could pay off the next one faster. As the debts disappeared, I had more time and money to do the things I wanted to do.” I ate some more cheeseburger.

Pookah wants cheeseburger now!

“All it took was steady effort after that initial hump. It became a habit. I liked it so much, I started training myself to other habits. Even that initial hump would’ve been easier if I hadn’t had to figure it all out by myself. Back then, I didn’t know enough about anything to know what questions to ask, much less what to do.”

“Like those ‘Drop Dead’ letters you told me about?”

“Yeah!” I grinned. “It’s kinda fun frustrating them the way they harrassed me. Balances the karmic scales of justice.” I ate some more cheeseburger. “Wouldn’t you like to give them heartburn the way they do it to you?”

“Yes. I would.”

Pookah. Wants. Cheeseburger. NOW!

“So skip a restaurant visit with your S.O., and use the money to send those letters to the biggest bill collectors. Get them off your back. Keep saving receipts like you are, and write them down in a notebook every day when you get home. Then shred the receipts. No sense in wasting time and effort keeping them clogging up your wallet. Then, on Saturday morning, get up when you usually do and go through the notebook. Start picking out ways to cut those expenses – whether it’s taking lunch to work with you once a week, carpooling with a coworker, or simply cutting back on the hobbies until you use up all the stashed supplies you currently have. Save up that money until you’ve got a few hundred dollars, and call one of the bill collectors to set up a payment schedule using that saved up money.” After that long rush of words, my friend’s eyes were glazing over. I finished off the cheeseburger, and tried again.


“Look, let me write it down for you…”

1. Keep receipts.
2. Write receipts down in notebook each day.
3. Trash receipts.
4. Saturday: Look over notebook.
5. Saturday: Use notebook to cut back on unneeded expenses.
6. Use up existing hobby stash for hobbies.
7. Saturday: Make lunches for week to take to work – save money!
8. Save up $200.
9. Send Drop Dead letters to biggest bill collectors.
10. Call smaller bill collectors, use saved money to pay off bill.

“That’s a lot,” she said.

I nodded. “It is at first. But so is picking up any new habit – good or bad. I think you’ll find that, after a couple of weeks, you’ll start doing a lot of this stuff automatically. It won’t be so hard once you’re started. It’s getting started that’s hard.”

“Okay,” she said uncertainly. “I guess I’ll give it a try.”

So, readers, here’s the question: Do you think she will do it or not?

Pookah has eaten lots of cheap, dry, Pookah-food. Will now gift human shoes with cheap, moist Pookah-food. Next time, bring home cheeseburger.

Really Useful Ways To Save Money

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Oh, it’s on everyone’s mind these days – how to be more frugal, how to save, ways to reduce your bills.

Fine, I’ll jump on the band-wagon. Here are the easiest ways I’ve found, with the direct dollar benefits of each. In some cases, I’m using estimates based on incomplete price tracking:

1. Cancel cable TV, sign up for Netflix. Savings: $60+/month

2. E-payment of 6 monthly bills (water, electricity, gas, trash pickup, mortgage, 1 credit card). Savings (assuming 0.03/envelope and $0.42/stamp): $2.70/month

3. Cut the thermostat back 5 degrees in winter when you go to bed (why heat the whole pile of rocks when you’re under blankets?), and forward 5 degrees in summer when you go to bed (why pay for cooling when you’re under blankets to stay warm? Use sheets or fewer blankets and a ceiling fan). Savings: $8/month averaged out over 6 months, estimated.

4. Plan your car trips to get more into one trip – fewer grocery store visits if you stop in on your way back to your pile of rocks from work. We usually do this over dinner as a family discussion so that everyone knows what’s going on the next day and rest of the week. Savings: $5/month estimated.

5. Replace soft soap in hand-washing dispensers with Dawn concentrate diluted 1 part Dawn to 10 parts water. It takes the same amount of time to mix your own as it does to fill from those economy gallon jugs, you don’t have to haul as much mass/weight around, and you don’t have to find space to store it. Savings: $2/month (direct savings – more if you use the frequest Dawn product sales and coupons that seem to happen every quarter to stock up.)

6. Weather-stripping (or replacing old, worn stripping) your windows, doors, dryer vent. This will involve an initial cost of about $20 (can of expanding foam insulation, various types of weather stripping), but it pays for itself in 4-5 months and lasts for an estimated 1-3 years. So we’ll calculate this one by averaging out the savings-per-month for the first year only, giving us a nice, conservative savings number. Savings: $3.33/month for the first year. More after that.

7. Using the crock pot to convert all our poultry carcasses and beef bones into thick soup or stew (with leftover veggies and meats from meals earlier in the week so there’s less kitchen waste) and freeze it. This nets about $5/meal eaten this way. We do this 2-3 times a month. So lets calculate conservatively 2/month (and without including the time savings and more efficient microwave use). Savings: $10/month.

8. Canceling long-distance service on our land-line, switching to calling card purchased at Sam’s Club or using cell phone plan to our advantage. If you go the calling-card route, there will be an initial cost that may lower the monthly savings. Savings: $22/month.

9. Use 1/4 cup of baking soda in place of clothes washer detergent. We get the big, economical bags from Sam’s Club. Savings: $14/month

Wow. It didn’t take long to whack $122/month from our bills. These are just the big ones I could think of off the top of my head. That’s over $1,400.00 per year we lowered our expenses – more if you put the savings in a high-interest online savings account. That’s a sizeable chunk of an IRA contribution. Or it’s a generous donation to our 6-9 months of emergency expense money. Or it’s reducing the interest on a revolving credit card debt every month (and can lead to some very interesting snowball effects on debt reduction). As a bonus, most of it also helps the environment. None of it inconvenienced us. The time freed up from cable TV addiction meant we could start a side business, take classes/certifications for job-related raises, start a garden, or fix broken stuff around the pile of rocks.

What would you do with an extra $122/month?


Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Debt is your enemy.

It shortens your life from stress, lack of good food, shelter, clothing, and medical care.
It sucks the joy out of your life. (Just check out these divorce figures.)
It removes your ability to deal with the emergencies that life throws at you.
It takes away your ability to support your family and friends.
It limits your ability to think.
It consumes your most precious resource: Time.
It takes away your most precious right: Freedom.

It keeps humans from petting Pookahs.

There is no such thing as good debt.

There ARE ways to use debt to your advantage. This is called gambling. You are playing the odds. If you are clever and wise, you stack the odds in your favor. When you take out that 30 year mortgage on your house, you are betting that you will be able to keep the payments up for THIRTY YEARS. You are gambling that you will stay employed, physically healthy, and mentally healthy at approximately your current state (or greater) for the next THIRTY YEARS.

Banks, credit card companies, and other lending institutions want you to stay in debt. They will tease you, entice you, and seduce you to get into debt and stay in debt. They want you to stay in debt for as long as possible. They may even break the law to do it. They are amoral. Many are unethical. They are all greedy.

When you buy something on a credit card, you are betting that you will be able to pay that loan back within the next billing period. That’s less than 30 days. THIRTY DAYS. The credit card company has all the odds stacked in its favor. They can change the duration of the billing period, the interest rate, the minimum payment, the payment schedule, add on fees — anything at all, ANY TIME THEY WANT. It is not fair. It is not equitable. It is what you agreed to.

If you are clever and wise, you can take out a mortgage for THIRTY YEARS for a house that is well within your resources to maintain and keep up the loan payments for, negotiate a no-penalty clause for early repayment of the loan, and pay off the mortgage loan before the loan comes due… and save yourself a lot of interest fees.

If you are clever and wise, you can beat the odds. But there is risk. If the lender offers you a 0% interest deal with a small fee for a limited time, and you have the wisdom to build within yourself the discipline, you can take that loaned money, pay the fee, and put it in the safest, highest-interest financial product you can find, then take it back out to pay back the loan, and pocket the interest for yourself. If you are clever, you will make sure that the interest return to you is greater than the fee you paid to the lender.

If you are clever and wise, you can build within yourself the mental fortitude to resist the urge to satisfy your wants immediately, so that you do not impulse buy.

You can become clever and wise like Pookah.

If you are clever and wise, you can save up for emergencies.

If you are clever and wise, you will still make mistakes. That is what your emergency savings are for.

You can become clever and wise by first understanding that debt is not your friend.

You can become more clever and wise by learning how to avoid debt.

Then you can start living life like Pookah.

Clutter To Profit

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

There was a point in my life where my book collection exceeded the entire science fiction/fantasy collections of every public library in my region of the primordial scrub. It was great! I had over 4,000 books, and I’d read over 80% of them cover-to-cover. (The other +/- 20% were donations or lots picked up at sales that I hadn’t gotten to yet.)

I had a reputation for hard rental pile of rocks moves (boxes of books) with great compensation – dinner at a steak pile of rocks, order whatever you want up to $50.

After a couple of moves, some of those boxes didn’t get opened again. After my S.O. and I moved in together, I had an entire closet full of boxes that didn’t get opened. After we moved into our permanent pile of rocks, I had half a room, stacked 4-5 boxes high, that didn’t get opened.

It was my stuff. It was in our way. Some of those boxes hadn’t been opened in YEARS.

So, let’s tally up. I had, over the course of twenty years, spent around $4 per book (conservative estimate) for a total starting at $16,000 and only going up. I had gained a great deal of pleasure from having and reading those books. I had gained mental and creative stimulation from those books that has served me very well over my entire life. The value of these benefits is, to me, incalculable.

But I hadn’t put many of my treasures up on book shelves to display, loan to friends, or re-read in too many years.

They had gone from treasure to stuff. Stuff creates clutter. Clutter stops up your life, plugs up the pathways mental, physical, and emotional, that you use to LIVE life.

With my S.O.’s help, I began to declutter my books.

The hardest part was recognizing that my beloved collection, my (foolish) pride in the size of it, had to go.

Then came the added bonus: I donated the books to charity‚Ķ to the tune of several thousand dollars. Delayed gratification, yes. But gratification nonetheless. That line item in my tax write-off was NICE. It didn’t equal the cost of the books, but it did make a difference in our taxes.

Now, there is a valid (very valid) point that if I’d poured that money that I’d put into collecting into an index fund instead, that I’d have thousands more in assets than I have now. But I didn’t. I made the choice. If I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, I would still buy *some* of the books (about 50%) and invest the rest of the money.

The point?

1. I turned clutter into a financial asset.
2. I turned clutter into an entertainment benefit for others.
3. I recycled books in one of the best ways possible.

Sounds like a win-win to me.