Thursday, April 28, 2011

Saving $$ on Groceries: Portion Control

I've been starting to analyze how I can save money in various areas of my life. I feel like I'm pretty comfortable with my budget, but if I get laid off, I'm going to need to make some changes in order to make ends meet. One area I tend to have problems with is portion control.

For example, I might buy ingredients for soup and think, "This will be dinner all week!" But then, I actually serve it up and somehow it only adds up to three servings. Or, more likely, I buy some sort of snack food. Caramel rice cakes come to mind, along with hummus and crackers. Ideally, these snacks could work for three or four days at work. But more often than not, I grab the bag and polish them off in one sitting. Maybe two for the hummus.

I'm sure you see where I'm going. If I actually worked on not overeating, I would save a significant amount of money each month. And I'd lose weight. Clearly, a win/win. Obviously, this is a willpower issue, but I am determined to work on this not only for my health, but for my wallet. Maybe remembering how much more I'll spend if I overeat will be another motivation to stick to correct portions.

So, I am back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon (I have to cancel on June 7th, so I'd like to get to my goal by then). I am counting points and portions in order to make sure I don't overeat. Hopefully, this will result in saving money on my grocery bill, since all those foods will last me longer. I really think this can make a difference if I stick with it and change some of my bad habits. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lost Rewards-Found!

I moved a few months ago, and even though I did lots of address changing, there were a few things lost in the shuffle. One of them was my Ralph's Rewards certificate, worth $12. I've been meaning to call for a while now, but finally got myself to call this week. After confirming my information the nice woman on the phone loaded the $12 onto my Ralphs card. So, next time I grocery shop there, it will automatically deduct $12 off of my bill. Score!

My goal is to use some creative couponing to parlay my $12 into as many groceries as possible. I'm not the best couponer, but I'm going to get out their sale ad and steal the BFs newspaper coupons next weekend to try to make some magic happen. Stay tuned for a post on my free haul from Ralphs.

Any more experienced couponers want to give me some tips on how to stretch my $12?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Saving Money on Insurance

My auto insurance bill arrived a few days ago. I have insurance through Mercury because they're the cheapest. My credit union offers a service to find you the cheapest insurance, and even though I feel pretty satisfied with my rates, I decided to give them a call to do a little price comparison. I also wanted to ask about renter's insurance, because I know you can get a discount for having that too.

Turns out Mercury was still the cheapest, and adding renter's insurance will save me money! I save 15% on my auto insurance if I get the renter's insurance. For me, that's $197.07 per year. The renter's insurance is only $121 per year. So, I actually save $76 a year by adding extra insurance to my account. Nice!

I'm going to pay the car insurance on the three payment plan I've been using. Even though I'd like to pay it up front, that would mean breaking into my E-fund big time, and with the layoff possibilities, I'm not willing to do that right now. But, I am going to pay my renter's insurance in one lump sum. I'm hoping to absorb that into my May budget, and if I can't I'll just take a small amount out of my E-fund to cover it. I'll be able to replace that amount in my June paycheck.

All of these costs, plus my registration that I paid this month is slowing down my car payoff plan. :/ I definitely need to have it done by July so that I can pay it off before I have to start unemployment (worst-case scenario). I am looking for ways to stretch my various budget categories, so hopefully I can make it happen! I am SO ready to have my car paid off!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Shopping for Necessities on Amazon

As the months go on, I am preparing myself for being laid off as much as I can. One of the ways I try to direct my energy is to plan for how I can survive on my Unemployment budget. Today, I did some number crunching and figured out that by the end of June I should have approximately 9,000 Swagbucks, which can translate to $100 in Amazon gift cards. This is the most bang for my buck...the other option I was pondering was getting cash via Paypal, but that would only translate to about $65.

Obviously if I'm unemployed I'll want to use my Amazon card for needs, not wants. And so, I did some research on some of the items I can buy on Amazon, along with their prices. That way, if/when the time comes I'll know how to get the most bang for my Swagbucks. The tricky factor will be shipping, as most of these do not qualify for free shipping on Amazon. Anyway, onto my list!

Organix Shampoo/Conditioner: $5.99 each
54 count box of Tampax Pearl Tampons: $9.36
8 pack Venus Razor Blades: $19.55
24 Rolls of Charmin toilet paper: $11.99
Lysol Cleaning Wipes 3 pack (330 wipes): $14.69
48 Swiffer Wet Jet pads: $23.85

There are a few more items I've come up with, but that's the short list. I know I can get better prices on these items in various stores, but since this would be free money, it still seems worth it to buy them on Amazon. I shared this because I know some of you do Swagbucks and are on a budget...what items do you buy to help ease the burden on other areas of your budget? Where do you get the most bang for your buck?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Get to Giving...the Free Edition

Lately I've been wanting to focus on ways to give, thus my "Get to Giving" posts. Today, I gave in a very substantial way and it was absolutely free. In fact, it took about half an hour and I was rewarded with juice and cookies. If you haven't already guessed, I went to the Red Cross and gave blood today.

My BF is really good about donating. He gives platelets every two weeks, which takes a few hours. I am a little afraid of needles, so I'm going to have to work my way up to that. But, I finally went in and gave blood. I was told that giving once can save up to three lives, which made my slight squeamishness worth it.

I know a lot of you, dear readers, are in debt payoff mode and don't have a lot of extra funds to donate to charitable organizations. But, this is a way to give that is absolutely free! You can give every 56 days, and I encourage you to find your local Red Cross chapter and give. Click Here to find your local Red Cross Chapter.

I am also going to talk to my principal about doing a Blood Drive at my school before the year is over. Our students are too young, but we have a huge staff and I think it would be great to participate in that together. Click Here to see details about organizing a blood drive.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

Note the natural light from my windows, the not blow dried hair,
and the reusable cup. Go Green!

Today I am walking to happy hour, let my hair air dry, and bought this reusable cup and straw for my breakfast smoothies and other cold drinks. I used a reusable bag at Marshalls, where I purchased it, and I unplugged all my unused appliances before I left the house this morning. That's five easy, green things I did. What did you do to be green today?

A Case of the Judgies

Last weekend I was talking to my cousin, who is a 21 year old college student. She works almost full time and she's a full time student at Cal State Long Beach. We were talking about how she had joined a sorority to make friends, and how there were parts of sorority life she didn't like and wasn't involved in. One thing that came up was how a lot of the girls don't work and have a seemingly unlimited allowance from their parents. We were talking about how both of us have worked since high school, and from talking to her it seems that she is ahead of where I was at 21 in my financial wisdom. She saves, is careful with spending, and seems to have her act together in ways that took me years to learn.

As we were talking she said something that I've thought many times. "You know, I actually sort of look down on rich people. Like, I judge them for having more and not having to work as hard for it. Which is wrong, because I wouldn't want someone judging me for how much my family has."

She articulated exactly how I feel. I didn't grow up in abject poverty, but I certainly wasn't rich, and I wasn't spoiled in material ways. I've worked hard for what I have, and things like my car, furniture, and pretty much all my belongings are mine because I worked to buy them. And I'm glad for it. I would much rather have the pride of ownership over my car than know that someone just bought it for me. And I know that many wealthy people have worked hard and saved to be in that position. I hope to make good choices and be able to have a stable life and be there for my family. But I'll be honest, I judge people who haven't had to work for what they have. When I know people who own homes because their parents gave them the money for a down payment, part of me judges them. I call this sort of pride "the judgies." But again, my cousin spoke aloud the truth.

"Honestly though, that judgement is partly jealousy. Because if someone offered to buy me a car, I wouldn't say no."

Bingo. I judge them because I don't have that. And if I did, I would probably accept it. When my grandma calls and offers to buy me a new vacuum as a housewarming gift, I don't tell her no because I want the pride of ownership. I accept, and write her a thank you note afterward.

I know it's not right to judge other people. Their finances are not my business, and every family is different. But I think this is an unspoken issue for a lot of people. I want to be financially wise so I will have more later...but I was jealous of homeowners my whole life, so part of me doesn't want to become one. I know in the long run it's better to be responsible, so I'm doing that...but there's a self-hating part of that too.

Does anyone else have this struggle? How do you deal with the judgies?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cheap Date Night: Griffith Observatory

View...looked cooler in person.
The other night BF and I were bored with our usual hangout spots and decided to venture into LA for an event. Our initial plan didn't pan out as we had hoped, but we not only salvaged the night, we ended up with a fun and frugal date night!

First, we stopped by Taco Bell, because only the most gourmet delicacies can please our palates. Then, we drove up to Griffith Observatory, which is completely free, parking included. We missed sunset, but sat on the patio and ate our food, enjoying the views of the city.

Then, we walked around looking at the exhibits in the Observatory. We saw how much we would weigh on different planets, looked at a piece of moon rock, and learned other sciencey things. Also, I posed with this statue of Einstein.

Einstein and I are both pretty gangsta'

We had a great night together, did something different, and only spent money on a fast food meal. It satisified our craving for something different, a date night, and for Taco Bell. Man, that burrito hit the spot.

Do you have any fun, cheap date ideas to share?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dealing with Soaring Gas Prices

Rather than write a post about how ridiculous gas prices are and how expensive it is to fill up and blah blah blah, I am going to be constructive and write a post on how to deal with rising gas prices. Here are some tips to save on your gas expenses:

*Drive less: I know, I'm a genius. But really, rising gas prices have made more more committed to carpooling to work, combining errands into one trip, riding my bike where I can, and taking the Metro whenever possible. BF and I have already used the Metro to go to two Dodger games. We each pay $6 for a day pass, which is cheaper than combined gas, plus we don't fight traffic or deal with parking. I've gotten down to two tanks of gas per month, which is still more than I'd like to use, but it's still an improvement.

*Find the cheapest gas: I use to search for the cheapest gas in my area. Obviously it's not worth it to drive far out of the way for a few cents, but I live in a big city where gas prices can differ greatly in just a few blocks. This site helps save money, though be aware that some of the stations charge fees to use your debit card. Which brings me to my next piece of advice...

*Avoid Fees: This is a new rule for myself, that I copied from BF. Last night he commented, "I don't pay fees for gas. I'd rather buy a soda or something to get cash back, that way I at least get something for it." I'm going to try to improve on that by remembering to get cash back when I grocery shop to use as gas money. And yes, if worse comes to worse, buying a candy bar so I can get cash back seems better than giving that 50 cents to the gas station.

*No Running on Empty: I tend to wait until my gas light comes on to get gas, and even then sometimes push the limits. The problem with that is by the time I get gas I'm desperate and can't wait to go the cheapest location. So, today I got $20 in cash at the grocery store and I'm going to put some gas into my tank, even though I've still got a quarter tank left.

*Get Better Mileage: I could be better about this one, but drive the speed limit, don't carry extra weight in your car, and limit use of the air conditioner whenever possible.

Any tips I'm missing? How are you dealing with the increase in gas prices?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Good Karma for Being Honest

Last night I went to the Cal Stat Long Beach men's volleyball game. My cousin Karen does marketing at the games, so my aunt, mom and I decided to go and watch a game and watch her to her thing. I paid $5 to park, and then walked up to the door. I asked about buying a ticket and the girl looked at me and said, "Well, are you a student?" I hesitated before saying no. Students may have been free and definitely got a discount. But, I couldn't lie about it (even if I was stoked that I can still pass for a college student!). I went to the ticket window and paid $8 for my ticket.

I went in a different door, and as I was walking in the guy stopped me and said, "Do you live in the area?" I told him yes and he handed me five coupons for free tacos at Wahoo's. YES! Then, after the game my cousin Karen told me you can take your ticket to a table where they'll give you a coupon for a free In & Out burger, so I did that too. Score!

So, even though I spent $8 for my ticket, I probably earned back more than $8 in coupons. And I was honest. And I got to enjoy a Volleyball game, where Long Beach won. And that, my friends, is Karma.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Break

Yes, indeed I did make it to Spring Break! This also means I finished and mailed National Boards. My yearbook deadline is the week I get back, so I need to do some work on that this week. Honestly, I am most looking forward to sleeping in, but I have some other fun planned as well. And some errands. And some money-making opportunities. Here's a list:

The Tasks:
-Go to DMV to pay address change ticket and inquire about registration
-Shop for BF's birthday present
-Drop off at Goodwill
-Finish organizing files (done! Did this today, finally!)
-Plan/shop for/cook Easter meal
-Go to the gym at least twice
-Work on yearbook pages
-Create resume and email to principal at new school

The Fun:
-Use stand-up paddle surfing Groupon (Free! I used a coupon to buy it, so this one really is a freebie.)
-Dodger day game on Thursday with group of friends. It's half-off food and drinks, so I might actually get a beer at the game for once.
-Lunch and beach walk with Becca
-Bike ride
-Lunch with old roomie

The Money-Makers:
-Take in recycling
-Post office to mail sold items on Ebay and Amazon

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Coasting on Swagbucks

A while back I decided to switch from getting Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks to saving for a bigger goal. The plan was to get a $50 Southwest gift card to use toward a trip at some point. That gift card costs 5,700 "bucks." Last week I made it to that goal (in about four months), and I currently have 5,818.

I could buy a Southwest gift card now and keep it in my account until I want to use it...maybe when I've saved enough to get another one, or just to get a discount on a flight. But, I can also think of some other options. For example, if worst-case scenario happens and I get laid off, I might want to use it for Amazon or Target, where I can buy some necessities. Or, I think about really committing to saving them up and going for the $300 Apple gift card (which costs 37,000) so that I can get a sweet discount when I buy my next laptop. I estimate that one would take about three years of saving Swagbucks...don't know if I'm that patient.

I'm leaning toward holding onto them and seeing what happens. If I need to use it for necessities I can, or I can buy a few Southwest gift cards at once, and hopefully get a whole flight paid for. I do think that not having a short-term goal (like I did with Amazon gift cards) has made me a little more relaxed about earning Swagbucks. I still do my searches and remember to do the daily polls and other freebies most days, but I'm not a code-hunter like I used to be.

Do you do Swagbucks? What are you saving for?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Get to Giving-April, Part 1

This month I allocated my $100 of charitable giving to kids at the school where I teach. I had two opportunities to give at my school and I'm quite happy with both of my choices.

First, our AVID program went on a trip to UC Berkeley. AVID stands for Advancement via Individual Determination. It's a program to help kids who might not otherwise go to college get prepared for that goal. These aren't the honors students or the kids at the bottom; they are the kids in the middle who often get overlooked. Most of them would be the first person in their family to go to college. This is a great program, that teaches kids how to work hard and smart so they can have a better future. They go on lots of trips to local colleges, but this year the 8th grade teacher organized a trip to UC Berkeley for the kids. They went overnight, got to tour the school, go to a museum and stay in a hotel overnight. The kids did a lot of fundraising, but they were still short funds. The teacher sent out an email, saying that they still needed more donations; $82 would cover the cost to send one kid on the trip. I picked a kid that had been in my class a few years ago and sent a check down on her behalf.

The next day she ran into my room at nutrition with a huge smile on her face. She thanked me profusely and talked about how excited she was for the trip. It felt good to actually help someone I know with my money. I think this trip was a great opportunity for the kids, and hopefully it was another step in their college dreams!

I'll do a separate post on what I did with the other $20 of my giving money for April. It was for another kid I know, which made it even more meaningful!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hunting for Bargains at the Swap Meet

This weekend my friend and I went to the Swap Meet together. She goes pretty often with her mom, and I've been wanting to check it out. We paid our admission of 75 cents and then perused the aisles of...mostly junk. Well, actually there was a lot of good stuff, I just wasn't in the market for housewares or clothes. But, I did spend $6 on the following grocery items. I got toothpaste, Propel lemonade packets, an eyeliner, and a sulfate-free conditioner. I calculate that these items would have cost about $13 at the regular store, so I definitely got a good deal.

I think the Swap Meet could be a good way to get some deals, though I definitely did pass up some more impulsive buys there. Anyone else been to the Swap Meet? Was it worth your time?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Free Trip to the Mall

On Thursday I had the best kind of mall day-I didn't spend any money and I left with some goods!

First, I went to pick up my Clinique gift with purchase. I did actually pay for this, but it was done ahead of time so it was part of last month's budget. Which made it feel free. :)
I love free makup!
Next, I went to Victoria's Secret and used my coupon for a free pair of lacy hipster underwear. (Does anyone else despise the word panties?). I chose solid purple.

Then, I went to Bath & Body Works for their freebie for April. This month I got a free foot lotion. The promotion card I have ends in May, but it's been awesome to get stuff every month! I put this in my stocking stuffer collection. I'm also thinking about grouping all of my Bath & Body Works freebies into a lot and sell them on Ebay after I get next months freebie.
Last, I went to Sephora inside JC Penney and used my coupon to get a free sample of bare minerals. I put this in my stocking stuffer stash, since I don't use this brand anymore.

Yes, all in all a very successful trip to the mall. It was fun to "shop" with a friend after work. I got my shopping fix without doing any actual damage to my budget. Score!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Small Sacrifices for Big Goals

I am sitting at work uploading yearbook photos, so I just have to keep an eye on their progress. So I thought I'd sneak a quick blog post in here. I noticed someone commented on my taking internet off my phone post that it was a "good start." It made me realize I do a lot of things to save money each month. Some I've just never had, so it wasn't getting rid of anything, just being frugal from the get go. Here's my list of "luxuries" I go without:

*No cable (never had it since I've been on my own)
*No internet on phone (as of a few days ago)
*No Starbucks unless I have a gift card. I used to go once a week (sometimes twice), but now a co-worker brews coffee and I have that about once a week...I bought a bag of coffee to contribute and might do that again before the year is up. A much better deal!
*I bring my lunch 99% of the time. No time to go off-campus. The exception is an occasional Subway sandwich that I buy before work, or when we have conferences/open house and go off-campus for lunch as a group.
*I have the cheapest Netflix option ($11/month with tax).
*I've stopped buying books, DVDs, and CDs. I use the library, Netflix, and coupons for free downloads of music instead.
*I stopped buying salon shampoo and conditioner (sniff, sniff) and wait until Organix goes on sale to buy it.
*My TV is super big...not the screen but it's a big old bulky one. No flat screen or blue ray or any of that nonsense. :)
*I don't get pedicures or manicures anymore, I do them myself.

Those are the ones that come to mind. I do allow myself other luxuries, like eating out, but I definitely cut corners where I can. I choose what I sacrifice so that I can have some of the other things that I want. And the longer I live this way, the less I even think about it. Starbucks doesn't seem like an option anymore, so it doesn't bother me.

What luxuries have you given up on your quest to reduce debt? Does it feel like a sacrifice?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Leaping Back into the 20th Century!

In looking for ways to save more money and bring down my bills, I made a call to T-mobile asking about taking internet off of my phone. I have it now, but I rarely use it. Most often it's when I'm bored, to check Facebook. That's certainly not a necessity and with a possible layoff and higher rent than I've had before, I'm looking at ways to cut costs wherever I can.

I save ten bucks a month by taking this option off of my phone. The catch is that if I want it back, it's now a more expensive option so I'll pay more for it if that time comes. Honestly, I don't love how it works on this phone, so if I get a new phone they would have charged more anyway.

I feel good about this little tweak to my budget. Yes, it's only ten bucks a month...but every little bit makes a difference, and I'll throw a book in my purse for those bored moments.

Have you done any "downgrades" to save money? Were they worth it?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pay Day Update

Well, today was payday, so my sidebar for my car is updated once again! I did my regular payment early and paid an extra $193.84, bringing my balance down to $1,994.17. Under two grand! I feel so close, but that's still a good chunk of change to pay off! I have an extra $100 in my E-fund right now, and as much as I'm dying to put it to my car payment, I know my car registration should be due in the next few months, so I am going to leave it there for that purpose.

I should also get a mid-month payment of about $80 for covering some classes at the end of the month, so that will go to my car as well. I'm a little behind as far as my goal of paying it off by June, but I'm going to try to be extra frugal so I'll have an extra balance in my other budget lines to put towards my car at the end of the month.

Honestly, June is's one year early, which would be nice, but going into July to pay it off isn't the end of the world either. It's just that once I set a goal I'm competitive with myself to get it done. Anyone else like that? What goal have you set for yourself that you're working on right now?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April Goals

I don't usually do monthly goals, because then I forget about them and never revisit them, but I have a few I really want to focus on this month. So let's try it for April!

1. Go to DMV and get my address changed. I also need to ask if they already sent the bill for my registration to my old address. It doesn't expire 'til August, but I don't want to have any problems there.

2. Start recycling for cash again. I stopped largely because I didn't have anywhere to store cans and bottles and it annoyed me to have them in my car. But, I want to start up again now that I have a back porch where I can put them.

3. Go through bookshelves, DVD's and CD's again to see if I have anything worth selling.

4. Finish and ship National Boards portfolio!! This is not optional, it HAS to happen!

5. Plan and start finance lessons in my yearbook class after our deadline at the end of the month.