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Viewing the 'Household Expenses' Category

Small victories and big setbacks

January 20th, 2008 at 04:02 pm

We avoided ordering out two nights this weekend, probably saving about $30 - not too bad, definitely a much-needed step in the right direction. Annualized, that comes out to $1560 after tax dollars!! And speaking of tax, it's good to keep in mind that ordering out is penalized by the government with the 7% sales tax.

So the major setback was that onto the CC went college books and a few hundred of travel expenses for taking my daughter back to college and stocking her up, totalling darn near $1000. Oh my, college is going to be a miserable financial experience!

Convenience stores, daily bread, and profit margins

January 19th, 2008 at 10:27 am

Does the price of bread irk anyone else? And if so, what have you done about it? I always try to buy it in the grocery store for around $2 (store brand or sale), but since I seldom do grocery shopping, too often I have to buy it at the convenience store for $3+. We have a bread machine that has never been opened since it was new about 20 years ago (yes, I know, stupid), that I really should at least try, that is if I can find it!

So on the way out with my $3.19 bread, I noticed the blue water (windshield washer fluid) was $3.79!!!! And I felt bad for buying it for $.88 a while ago since it can easily be made with probably about $.20 worth of alcohol in water.

Frugal motoring

January 16th, 2008 at 05:10 pm

About the only thing we can do about high gas prices is to combine trips out the wazoo. I did that tonight - dropped my daughter off at swim practice, bought dog food, got gassed, went to get my hair cut but it closed early tonight, had a $1.27 (with tax) salad at Wendy's, got the car inspected, bought some motor oil and windshield fluid cheap at the grand opening of a new conveniently located auto parts store, then went back to swimming and walked until my daughter was done. The only downside is I bought a new brand of dog food that was cheaper and highly recommended by the store, but the dog won't eat it! And of course it's a 40 pound bag. I've been putting treats in it, but so far she has been eating around the food!

Back to topic, I have also been driving like an old man. I call it the "poor man's hybrid". The key is to use the brakes as little as possible and to plan ahead as far as possible. For instance, as soon as I see a light turn red, I lift off the gas and coast up to the light, unless there is someone right behind me. It is actually sort of a fun game, seeing just how much I can optimize. And as a benefit, I give myself plenty of room in front to avoid hard braking at all costs. Of course this style of driving is much easier and more effective with a manual transmission car where you get engine braking. When I drive an automatic transmission car, I can just feel the gas and brake pads being wasted.

Moneydance or Yodlee? (financial software revisited)

January 14th, 2008 at 03:06 am

I want to get back to logging expenses with software. I am intrigued by the online one provided by Yodlee.com and mint.com, but for some reason it scares me to have to provide bank account login info. But I guess you have to do that to connect with any software, so maybe it comes down to company trust? For better or worse you sort of have to trust Microsoft and Intuit, but Yodlee is pretty unknown, to me anyway. Any experience out there?

If I don't go the web based route, I like Moneydance since I have both a Windows and Linux PC, plus I can download the trial version first to give it a try before buying.

Oops, I see I should have searched the forums first, Yodlee turns up quite a few hits. So you can assume I will read them all in any answer. Smile But at first blush it looks ok since many major banks use their service.

OK, my initial experience with Moneydance is not too good. I have multiple accounts with the Credit Union and it is only seeing the one account, even when I never typed its number in, only the number of the other account.

And the Yodlee/Mint preview demos look very good, but I'm still nervous about putting all my info on one web site. Maybe I will just look for a good sale on Quicken after all.

Our automotive black cloud (hit and runs)

January 10th, 2008 at 04:01 pm

My wife is dealing with a hit and run in a parking lot now, making a police report, I think. So I wonder if my insurance company will jack up our rates again, even if we don't make a claim??! (See earlier similar rant). It feels like I am in the Twilight Zone since we keep getting hit and our rates keep going up at the same time our cars get more dented. The high school parking lot took a HUGE toll on the car my daughter drives - dings all over the doors.

Cutting coffee corners

January 5th, 2008 at 04:44 am

Well, at work it's free, so that was easy! Smile And at home, usually I use a HUGE Walmart container of ground decaf coffee in a drip coffee maker with a gold plated filter. That permanent filter feels very good to use since I always hated throwing money away on coffee filters for the European machines. Good old Mr. Coffee filters were so cheap it was no big deal, but these Euro cone ones were always pretty expensive. At first I didn't like that the permanent filter let the very fine grounds through, but now I just think of it as extra body, like espresso. So one downside of this arrangement is that it takes me so long to go through the big can (weekends only) that it loses its punch toward the end of the can. For a special treat, I use store brand beans, I think they are relatively cheap for beans, somewhere around $2-3/lb versus the usual $5-6.

So this saving helps balance out when I lose control and have to get frappucinos at Starbucks/B&N once in a great while. Like a lot of people, I have trouble resisting those horrible-for-you but oh-so-good concoctions! But anyway, I feel pretty good about my overall success in cutting coffee corners.

Is there anything as satisfying and comfortable as a fully depreciated asset?

January 5th, 2008 at 04:33 am

You know - old shoes, old cars, old clothes. The top of the list for me is my good old car, a 1995 Honda. I'm totally comfortable and familiar with it - everything falls to hand immediately. It's familiar like an old friend. But the best part is no car payments! I just can't see tying all that money up, even though I truly love cars and would be in heaven with a nice new high tech, responsive machine. But that's just not in the cards for me right now, even though for most people my age it is. Does it bother me sometimes? YES! It sometimes seems like everyone on the road is driving a BMW except me! And I know most of them don't drive it because it's "the ultimate driving machine", they just drive it for the status (not that there's anything wrong with that, although I'm guessing there may not be THAT many of you here to offendSmile) I would appreciate the superb handling and road feel, etc., but I could not tolerate the high maintenance costs. But that jealous feeling doesn't last long. I look around on the roads and see my kindred spirits, all the people driving comfy old cars, usually young college age kids. My favorite car of the genre is the 90-93 Honda Accord - man, most of those things still look new! What an investment! They just keep on going and going, and still look pretty stylish to my eye. So, every time I drive my car I smile inside thinking of the money I am not spending on interest and depreciation.

From there the scale goes down pretty quickly. There is the Dell computer from 2000 that is still cranking away. Before that I think I had the same computer during about all of the 90s. Then there is my 1988 bicycle that has given me more pleasure per dollar than seems possible. So then we get to the poster child for this subject, the old shoe! Now perfectly molded to my feet, it just feels so good! And the same for old clothes, both much to the chagrin of my wife. I love that patina of age, I wear it like a badge of frugality, within reason of course, I don't think I look like a bum, I just look comfortable. So anyway, depreciation is the silent killer!

Energy saving lightbulbs

January 3rd, 2008 at 03:25 pm

I've only got a few in the house, definitely all the lights that are on the most often, but I haven't done the ones that are used very infrequently. I guess I should watch for good sales. I wonder what the story is on duty cycles, i.e. which can take more off-on-off transitions?

Here's a good reference on that - they don't like short cycles.

And a general reference:

Frugality in my morning routine

January 3rd, 2008 at 03:20 am

I recently started eating store brand oatmeal for breakfast instead of cereal. I had previously switched from Kellogg's, etc. on sale to Malt-O-Meal cereals that are always $2 to $2.50, but going to oatmeal is another quantum leap in cost lowering, since they sometimes go on sale pretty cheap for those HUGE containers, and even if not on sale, they are still WAY cheaper than cold cereal. And I needed to start eating oatmeal anyway for cholesterol reasons, since I refuse to take potentially liver damaging statins unless I absolutely have to.

I also started cutting back my "hour in the shower" (for you people who remember that old Chicago song). Who doesn't love to linger under that nice hot water? But it's just too costly, not to mention wasteful. The shower I use the most still has the "elephant shower head" of Seinfeld fame, so I need to consciously dial it back. Smile

The last thing I'll bore you with is shaving. I used to use disposable razors, but they are just so harsh I was ALWAYS getting cuts and nicks. So I used that nice free-in-the-mail Mach III, and I love that thing! It shaves very comfortably, quickly since I don't have to worry about cuts, and a blade lasts FOREVER, at least on my wimpy whiskers. However, I am VERY ashamed to admit here that I did finally break down and buy a big pack of replacement blades, not even on sale! I'm sorry, won't happen again! But now I pretty much have a lifetime supply of them! And my can of cheap Barbasol gel actually feels better than Gillette Edge and will last MANY months.

So I think I've gotten it pretty frugal, and that feels great!

Do you know the car insurance rules?

January 1st, 2008 at 04:29 pm

I am pretty livid with my car insurance company. I now have the privilege of paying $3000 per year for 3 cars and 3 drivers.

The rates went up when my daughter had an at-fault accident. OK, can't argue that. But then she was rear-ended by some one who wound up leaving the scene. We filed a police report after the fact, and it appears that this is why our insurance got raised AGAIN, even though we made no claim since the damage to the rear bumper was cosmetic and was $500, the deductible. They say that ANY activity such as a police report of an accident counts as "activity", and they can raise our rates. So I told them that this will cause me to shop around, even though previously I had wanted to just stay with them since things had always gone well before.

Quicken, MS Money, Moneydance, other, or none?

January 1st, 2008 at 07:18 am

I always loved Quicken in Win 3.1 days, it was excellent software, then used Money 2003 which was pretty good with great online bank account connectivity, but now I'm thinking of the Open Source Moneydance. I like how you can use it on Windows and Linux. I was surprised that my very financially astute brother said he uses none.

So what say you? Thanks.

Small investments with quick paybacks - under-sink reverse osmosis water treater

December 30th, 2007 at 01:51 pm

I have been meaning to install a reverse osmosis under-sink water purifier for years now, ever since they became cheap and compact commodity items instead of the bulky expensive things that needed a plumber for installation back in 1986 when this house was built. We seem to have one of the world's worst public water systems, high in sodium and now I understand in arsenic!

I have been stalling due to not yet understanding what installation will require in the way of electrical and plumbing connections - I might still need a plumber, but at least the unit itself is small and inexpensive. Plus it is just one of those low priority niggling expenses, paying $3.69 or so every week or so for a jug of water versus laboring to install this bear and worrying about it afterwards. But now that my wife informed me that she is using bottled water for tea, coffee, and maybe even cooking since hearing about the arsenic, there is much more incentive. Sure it will have operating costs but it has to pay off pretty quickly.

So what low cost quick payback investments are on your hit list?

Refrigerator and Pantry Organization?

December 30th, 2007 at 07:25 am

A pet peeve of mine has long been having food go bad, since it seems like pure insanity to buy something, let it sit for a while, then throw it away! So in the interest of preventing that, how do you organize your refrigerator? Our problem is mainly that we have a big deep one, so things in the back can get hidden. So I definitely try to keep things that will only last a few days up front, but what can legitimately go in back? Jars, etc.? Since I'm cleaning it this morning to find a bad smell, maybe a regular cleaning once a month or so is the ticket. Actually, this reminds me, has anyone read David Allen's Getting Things Done? It's a great little book, where his main point is that you need to review things on a regular cycle once you are organized.

We also have the problem that I'm sure others may share in that when my wife stocks up on something in a sale, say for instance salad dressing that usually expires in about six months, we often can't use it all by the expiration dates. That's a whole other subject, Sell By dates. Use By is pretty clear, but even then is it "Use by xx for best quality, or to prevent a horrible death from bacteria? "There's a difference, you know!

So let me have the suggestions! Since this site seems to have more women than men, I think I'm in good hands. [Disclaimer: I am in no way implying that only women can organize a refrigerator or that women don't have many other skills or interests than domestic chores, just that I'm sure you have some good ideas. Please don't kill me!] Thanks.

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