Monday, February 28, 2011

Clean Your Car, Improve Your Life

This weekend I took about fifteen minutes and improved my quality of life. 

First, I grabbed my Armor All wipes out of my cupboard (don't store them in your car or they dry out) and wiped down the dashboard, side panels, and middle console of my car. Then, stopped by the gas station and threw away any trash I could find. While I was there, I paid $1.25 and vacuumed the inside (which REALLY needed to be done). Last, I put anything that belongs in my house in a reusable grocery bag and brought it inside when I came home.

Yes, this is a small thing, but I notice that when my car is clean (inside and out) I feel better getting in and out of it. I enjoy my commute and running errands more. And I take more pride in my car, which is important, since I plan on keeping it for at least five to ten more years.

Even if you have an older car, doing a few little things can make you feel better about it and bring a smile to your face. At least, I think so.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Get to Giving-Coinstar Edition

For a blog about money, I don't talk about giving enough. Actually, I don't do enough giving, so that's probably why I don't talk about it much. I think there is a tendency among the frugal world to focus on ways to scrimp and save in order to pay down debt or save for retirement, sometimes at the expense of helping others.

I know I can get caught up in thinking, "I'll give after I'm out of debt." And I certainly hope to give more, but generosity is a habit, and I think it's important to give something, even when you don't have a lot. Building the habit matters, and even a very small amount can make a difference.

So, this is my first in a series of posts called Get to Giving. I am going to start giving $100 per month starting with my March paycheck. I'll post where I gave and give information about how you too can give, in case any of you are looking for ideas.

Today's idea falls into the relatively painless category. I am partly in charge of Pennies for Patients at my school, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Our school collects tons of change, and one of the options is to take it to a Coinstar machine (located in most grocery stores) and donate it directly to LLS.

I didn't know about this option, but there are many charities you can give to. It's really easy, they take out no fees, and you get a tax deductible receipt right there. I didn't budget for giving in February, so I took my spare change jar and added it to the kids amount for the week. I didn't have any plans for this money anyway, and it was a really simple way to donate.

I think a lot of us keep our spare change around the house, and cash it in eventually. I'd challenge you to take yours to Coinstar and see which charity you'd like to support. I'd recommend The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, but there are quite a few to choose from. For more information, click here!

If any of you decide to go the Coinstar route, please comment and let me know! Also, I'd love to hear about any other giving ideas you have!

Friday, February 25, 2011

I heart tax returns

This morning my Federal Tax return was direct deposited into my account. Hallelujah! I've moved the money around already and updated my sidebars accordingly. I was able to get my E-fund back to the Dave Ramsey approved $1,000, and make a decent payment on my car. I also have my old apartment deposit, but the check has been a headache. The roommate and I are depositing the funds tomorrow, so that will be another decent chunk to put toward my car payment. Yes!

I also found out that my March paycheck won't have any furlough days taken out (that's the first time in months my check won't be short!) and I've covered other classes five times this month, so that will be a noticeable amount on my March paycheck next Friday.

Last night I started doing some thinking about my plan when my car is paid off. I know according to the debt snowball plan, I should put all the money that was going toward my car toward my student loans. I was doing some number crunching, and it I continue to be just as aggressive, I can get my student loan paid off in a year (I think). My other idea is to split up the car loan amount into different categories-maybe another $200 to my loan, $200 to my 403(b) and the last $100 to a travel fund. I can't decide what I want to do. If I go that route, and still funnel extra money (taxes, extra in my budget, etc.) toward my loan I could probably have it paid off in four years. It's very low-interest and generally my student loan payment hasn't bothered me...but lately when I think about the prospect of being 100% debt free by 30...that sounds pretty appealing.

I have some time to think about this, since my car won't be paid off until the end of June (at the earliest), but I also want to make a plan for what I will do with that extra money so it doesn't just run through my fingers once the car debt is gone. Any thoughts, oh wise readers?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Saving Money on an Amusement Park

Monday the boyfriend and I both had the day off, so we decided to do something fun together. I had gotten a coupon for teachers and up to three friends that offered 50% off admission to Universal Studios. He lovs amusement parks and I hadn't been to Universal in years, so we decided to go for it.

Obviously, this was a choice to spend money, but we did find ways to make it cheaper...

--We took the metro there and back. We can actually walk to the metro station from my place, so neither of us drove our cars at all. We paid $6 each round trip. Gas would have been more than that, plus we avoided the $15 parking fee.

--We stopped at the grocery store and bought some snacks and lunch. We spent a total of $16 at the store, because we both wanted some Odwalla juice, which is never cheap. We could have done this even better if we'd shopped ahead of time and then made food and snacks at home, but this is still better than Amusement Park prices.

--I used the coupon, so we got in for a total of $74 instead of $74 each. Still pricey, but definitely a savings.

--For dinner, we left the park and hit up a happy hour instead. I don't know how much we spent, but we got food discounts and each had a beer. This probably isn't much more cost efficient than eating at the park, but it was easier to find something vegan and much more delicious than what we could have gotten inside.

--No souvenirs or any other crap like that. Obviously.

I know there are ways we could have made it even cheaper, but I am happy with how much we saved. We had a lot of fun together and enjoyed our President's Day off at a theme park. Just like George Washington would have wanted it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Amazon Update

A while back I picked up a TON of books from a listing on Freecycle. The post said it was at least 100, but when I got them home it turned out to be more like 300 books.

Just this week I finished sorting through them and listing all the ones worth selling on Amazon. Here are the stats:
 Number of open listings currently: 43
Number of books sold so far: 42
Profit on the 36 books I've already shipped: $98.55
Books sold that I need to ship tomorrow: 6
Trips to Goodwill: 3

It's been quite the undertaking to go through all the books, look them up on Amazon, and then get rid of the ones that won't sell. I probably kept about ten of the books for myself, some of which I'll probably donate after I read. Two that I'm excited about are, "Getting A Life" by the authors of "Your Money or Your Life" and "The Circle of Simplicity" by Cecile Andrews. I also found a vegan cookbook and a few other novels/memoirs that I want to read.

I've definitely spent some time on this project, but I've also been able to put down $98.55 extra on my car this month, which is great! I also should sell at least a few more this week, so I'm hoping to get to $125 from this project. Like I've said before, there's going to have to be some hustle if I want to get my car paid off by the end of June, but I feel optimistic that I can do it!

Friday, February 18, 2011

My New pieces

I am going to post pictures of my new place in phases, as each area is completed. First, the dining room!
The flowers are from the BF. :)

I built the design around the two pictures on the wall. I got them while I lived in my old place from Ikea. I love them and the bright colors.

The curtains and place mats are also from my old place, and they fit in my new place perfectly! I got my table from Ikea for $199 and went for the chairs that were $19.99 each. The other option was $59.99 each, but I went for the cheap ones and bought blue covers for $3.99 each. The blue is actually my favorite part, so it was not only a frugal choice, but a style choice.

The table is bigger than our old one and comes with two leaves that are stored inside the table. I put it together by myself in a few hours. Even though the Ikea directions are maddening and wordless.

This is the other nook of my dining room, right in between my kitchen and bedroom. The dresser stores extra dish towels, serving plates, and other kitchen-ey stuff. The yellow lamp shade matches the pictures on the wall, and the bulletin board will slowly accumulate more pictures as time goes by.

That's it for now! Next week...the living room!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Valentine's Gifts...

My boyfriend is a great gift giver. He knows me well and is good about getting me things I wouldn't buy for myself but that I want. Which is a lot of things, because I'm cheap frugal.

One such item is a satellite radio. It's not something I had on my to buy list, but I do love that the bf has one in his car. He got me a simple one to use in my car and borrowed my spare key the night  before V-Day to set it up as a surprise for when I got in to drive to work. He also left me some potted tulips, which are on my dining room table. He's paying for the first five months of service for me and then I'll decide if I'm going to continue. He said you can get really good deals, so while it's not something I would have sought out, I'll probably keep it up. It was a fun Valentine's surprise in the morning.

That night, I made dinner and gave him his gifts (an Arrested Development t-shirt, a photo book I made him on Snapfish, and a package of undershirts) and he gave me my other gift.  A watch from Citizen! Here are the things I love about it: the pink face; the fact that it runs on light and doesn't require a battery; it's stainless steel, a little heavy, but still feminine.

He was about as excited about his undershirts as I was about the watch...guys are so easy.

Anyway, kudos to him, especially since he thinks Valentine's Day is a Hallmark holiday. But as he put it, "Don't get me wrong, I like buying you things." <3

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I so rarely get to use the word cobbler...

A few years ago, in my more spendy days, I bought a nice pair of Naturalizer leather boots before a trip to DC. They're black and comfy and stylish. And I love them. They cost a couple hundred dollars and I wear them pretty constantly in the winter.

A few weeks ago they tore. On the spot where the leather meets the rubber sole it started to come apart. I took them in to a shoe shop near my work to get repaired, since a friend recommended the shop. The man told me he would fix them, repair the heel, and polish them for $25. Sold!

I normally buy cheap shoes, so if they break I just toss them out. But these boots were an investment, and it definitely seems worth it to get them fixed. I'm excited to get them back looking great on Friday. It makes me think about shopping more carefully...maybe buying fewer items and making them pieces that will last for years is a good idea.

How do you shop? Quality or quantity?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Weekly Money Check Up

1. The most I’ve spent this last week was on my new dining set, and curtains from Ikea. Just around $350. 
2. Today I feel great about money. I got my deposit back from my old place (most of it), federal taxes should be here next week, and my Amazon sales are going well. I am on track and in budget in all categories so far.
3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free/inexpensive thing I did last week that made me happy was go to the beach with the bf. I read and swam and dozed in the sun. It was lovely and free!
4. I will consider this week a success if I can get National Boards and online class stuff done on my day off on Monday. Blech.
5. This Valentine’s Day I am I made dinner for the bf, we exchanged gifts, and watched Arrested Development together. It was nice. He spoiled me with his gifts but still seemed to like the little things that I got him. :) Also, I've determined no more setting spending limits, because he ignores them and then it's just me announcing how much I'm spending. Not that I'm complaining!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Last night I went with my friend Jessica to the mall to do some shopping. I  haven't bought any new clothes since September, and hadn't bought anything in the year before that while I paid off my credit cards. I've been feeling really bored with my wardrobe, and since I've gotten rid of what I don't wear, I actually felt like I could justify some new things. :)

It was funny to go to the mall with the intention to really shop. I honestly haven't shopped in so long, I had to tell my friend to help me pick things out, and we joked about how I don't know what's cool anymore, since I haven't shopped in so long. We joked, but it was sort of true. I used to come home with new clothes ALL THE TIME. It was a weird feeling to come home with shopping bags. Weird, but fun.

I budgeted $100 for this month, and I still have $15 available to spend after last night's trip plus another shirt I bought at Marshall's last week. I found some great sales, so I was able to maximize my purchases. From New York & Co. I got two shirts. They were having a buy one get one 50% off sale.

To wear to work. I got this one in a blue/gray pattern.
I'm actually wear it right now. :)

I also got this plaid shirt. I've been wanting a plaid shirt for months, and I think this one is really cute.

Then I went to Express, where they were having a "take an additional 40% off clearance prices" sale. Holla! I got a pair of pin-striped work pants for $18(!) and two going out fun shirts for $5.99 each. I couldn't find a picture of the shirts online, but they're pretty and flattering. I got one in blue and one in cream.

Editor pants are the best.
 I'd still like to get a few more work type shirts and a new pair of jeans in the next few months. But for those of you on shopping bans or with credit card debt, here's some clothes porn for you to enjoy. Hopefully writing the word porn in my blog doesn't make my ads go crazy innapropriate. Over and out!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

New Goal and Sidebar...

I've decided to add another goal for 2011. I want to try to make $500 extra by selling my stuff online. I do bring in extra money by taking on extra responsibility at work, but I want to make a separate goal for selling books, CDs, DVDs, and other items online. I've already weeded out a lot, but I know I can do more, including selling some other random items on Craigslist or Ebay.

I also want to be intentional with these funds-which for now means making extra payments on my car. It's going to be an uphill battle to make my goal of paying off my car by the end of June! Also, since I picked up those free books yesterday, I have a lot listed on Amazon. Like, a ton. I'll update later in the week when I finish all the listing. So, as part of the intentionality, I added a new sidebar to track my progress on this goal. I'm excited about the possibilities...if I can make my goal, that's like a whole extra car payment!

Looking for tips on selling stuff on Amazon? Check out this post I wrote on the topic.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Weekly Money Check Up

From MPP...

1. The most I’ve spent this last week was on my utilities. I wrote checks for my last water/gas/trash from my old place plus the $35 deposit on my new one. I also paid the electric bill with deposit. Whoo! Party!

2. Today I feel satisfied towards money. I got part of my tax return back already and I'm on track on my budget. As soon as my federal return comes back, I'll be able to make some magic happen.

3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free/inexpensive thing I did last week that made me happy was go see a co-worker's husband's band on Friday. There was no cover, and I bought bf and I each a drink, so it was a pretty cheap night.

4. I will consider this week a success if I get work stuff done (grades, district assessments, yearbook, kickoff of cancer fundraiser...) without having a total breakdown.

5. For the Super Bowl, I ran errands-grocery store, picked up free books, cleaned, worked on my online class. I usually watch with a group of people, but I used the time to catch up on some home business. And I'm fine with that. :)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Possible Profits?

After subscribing to freecycle for over a year and never picking up anything, I responded to this ad:

"I have at least 100 books to pass on. These range from sets of art books (museums of the world with slides) to past best sellers to self-help and classics. Hardback and softcover. This will give you an instant library ... or sell them ... or head to a used bookstore. Up to you.

Earlier pickup gets these. Many are already boxed, but you may need to bring some more boxes. This is a major endeavor -- there are at least 10 boxes full, so if you have a Mini Cooper, you'll need help!"

I was the first to respond, and I'm picking up the lot today. I know many of them will just end up going to Goodwill, but I am crossing my fingers for some good finds that I can sell on Amazon. It's going to be my evening project to look them up and list any worth selling. I'm pretty excited about this find, and I hoping that my first Freecycle venture will be a success!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Recap

Yesterday was payday. If I could make my blog play the Hallelujah chorus as you read that, I would. January was rough. I was counting down to payday pretty desparately. Apparently I talked about it enough that when I texted my boyfriend "Today's payday!!" he wrote back, "I know, I've been hearing about it for weeks now."

Not only was it payday, but I also got my state tax refund yesterday! YES! I planned my budget for February around getting both of my refunds, so I am waiting on some of my savings and extra car payments until I get my federal return and some extra work money they owe me on the 15th. But, the car sidebar is updated with my regular payment, and I'm hoping to get it to 90% by the end of the month!

January did have some good financial news. I made it through the month with only two tanks of gas! I usually end up doing through, and it was by the skin of my teeth, but I did make it. It was helpful that I stayed local while moving, the boyfriend moved three blocks away, and I did a lot of carpooling. This keeps me on track for my gas goal of spending no more than $1300. I hear gas is going to keep going up, so I'll have to be diligent about carpooling to work and walking in my neighborhood when I can. I filled up yesterday as well, so I'm on my third tank of gas for the year.

Am I still talking about gas? Moving on...

...since I am getting my tax refund and I haven't bought any clothes since September, I am allotting myself $100 for shopping this month. A friend and I want to walk around this cool vintage/thrift store area in Long Beach, so I may spend some of it there. I also need to go shopping for some more home necessities this weekend, so there will be some spending there. I budgeted another $500 for house stuff, which needs to include a dining room table and a vaccuum, along with some more smaller items. Once I clean this weekend and put up my curtains, I'm going to take some pictures and post them. :)

Have a good weekend, party people!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Where to Scrimp and Where to Splurge

I still need a few key items for my new place. Most significantly, I need a dining room set and a vacuum cleaner.

I've gone back and forth on the dining room set. I really like one that they have at Ikea, but upon further reflection I realized that I can get one for WAY cheaper if I go the Craigslist route. Yes, it will take more patience and more effort to get it into my apartment, but there are lots of them on there, and I think I can find one I like.

But, after using my roommate's parents vacuum to clean our old place the other day, I've realized I should maybe spend a little more to get a good vacuum. That one was AMAZING compared to the Dirt Devil my roommate and I were using. I need to do my research, but anyone have any suggestions? I would love to get a Roomba...because I'm lazy. Anyone have one of those and want to chime in on how well it works?

I know, I know. I really inspire my readers to amazing discussions about vacuum cleaners. How exciting and controversial. Please, keep your comments civil on this controversial issue.