Monday, June 30, 2008
I ordered some sheets of red mulch for the tomatoes, and I'll be putting them down next weekend. I have read that tomato plants thrive with red mulch, and produce bigger and better tomatoes, so we'll be testing that out. The cost of 8 square sheets was less than $2. If it's effective, I'll get more next year. I plan to reuse the sheets year to year.
It's nice to see small tomatoes on our tomato vines, and equally small peppers on the pepper plants. Our lettuce has doubled in size, and I planted more lettuce seeds yesterday (Mignonette Bronze from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed www.rareseeds.com). We should begin eating lettuce from the garden in a week or so, and I hope to cycle through new lettuce from now through the fall.
Our fingerling potato plants have started to flower, so they will be ready pretty soon. They seem to enjoy their environment. Unlike the sweet potatoes - most of those became fodder for the chipmunks. We've had good luck with our deterrent efforts, but the adorable little pests are still frustrating us. My husband has started to look from the hose to their den holes with a gleam in his eye.
We have wild blackberries growing over into our yard, so my husband harvested a few to munch on this weekend. They were tiny, but delicious.
Since the vegetable garden is in, we've paused on building more garden beds to weed and mulch the flower beds.
In addition to everything we expect to harvest from our garden, we picked up our 2nd week of CSA, and split a subscription to an 11-week fruit share with some friends. We are inundated with veggies. This week we dropped some of our excess at my Mom's, and we're going to have to do some intensive menu planning to use all the greens, but I'm looking forward to that.
Soon we'll be eating, and preserving food from our garden. Summer is flying by, it's hard to believe tomorrow is July.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I know what you are thinking "Moneypenny, toots. Get a grip. It's June 26th. Why on earth would I be thinking about the holidays? Come over here and have a margarita. And shut up about winter."
Good point. It is June 26th. And it's the perfect time to be thinking about the holidays. Why? Because then in December when everyone is mad at the other people in the parking lot at the stores or the Fed Ex guy, or fighting a mall full of screaming kids, you get to kick back with a hot buttered rum and smile. Because those poor planners are suffering, but you've been ready for ages. No last minute dashes to the mall for you, my little early planners - the stockings have long been stuffed.
So, here's 5 tips to get you ready for the holidays, and take all the stress off shopping.
1. Casually watch what catches your give-ees eyes
This goes year round. Want gift ideas? Skip the list and just see what interests them over the year. Then shop accordingly. Someone asking your advice about gardening or stamp collecting? Use that as a basis for a great gift.
2. Summer is sale season
Summer is yard sale season. Estate sale season. And all sorts of sale season. Thinking about getting your nephew a bike for Christmas? Why not refurb a cool bike that cost $20, instead of a new one (which will soon look exactly like the used one) that costs $100.
3. Homemade gifts take time.
I have a rule. If my project gifts aren't done by October 31st, they aren't getting done for the holidays. So I start them in January. I usually complete about 1/3 of my planned gift projects, but those gifts often cannot be found in a store. And a family book of recipes or special scrapbook is a great gift.
4. End of season sales are great times to get things for next year
Got a friend that loves to throw parties? Guess what: those fish-shaped plastic ice cubes and margarita machines are all going on sale now. Stick 'em in a closet for a few months, and voila, they are prepped for next summer. All at a low, low price, of course.
5. Slow and steady wins the race
It's far easier to spend $20 here and $10 there than $1000 in a month. Spread the costs out - it just feels better.
Oh, and don't forget to check that gift stash before you run out and shop in December!
Monday, June 23, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Each Thursday, Ms. Moneypenny provides 5 money tips. Have a tip you'd like to add? Leave a comment and I'll add it to a later edition.
Last week I talked about things that were worth the money to us. Here's a few things I've spent money on that just weren't, and the lessons they have taught me.
1. Wasted food
It happens. No matter how hard I try to stay on top of things, an open jar gets forgotten at the back of the refridgerator, or something rots in the crisper. I don't have an estimate on how much food gets wasted per year in this way, and perhaps I don't want to know. Most of the time it's not much, but tossing that asparagus a couple weeks ago hurt.
Lesson learned: We need to stay on top of what's in need of eating better, and plan our menus around it.
2. Shoes and clothes that don't get worn
I used to be something of a clotheshorse. I'd buy things because they looked good, not necessarily because it fit well. I shudder to think of all the money I wasted over the years on uncomfortable shoes and clothes that weren't practical or wearable. As part of my de-Stuffing efforts, I'm working on getting rid of some of the things that I just don't wear or use. Consignment shops and donation bins are my friend.
Lesson learned: Buy what's comfortable, usable and serves a purpose. Useful and attractive are not mutually exclusive, but buying those shoes just for looks ensures they will sit in the closet so I don't get blisters.
3. Skin care products that don't work
I have sensitive skin. Over the years I've bought about every product on the market. Most of these purchases I've regretted quite a bit, especially the super expensive cleansers and creams. Now I use just a few reasonably priced products that work great.
Lesson learned: Just because it's expensive, doesn't mean it works better. Get samples before sinking big dollars into skin care.
4. 20 yards of grey silk velvet
I bought it years ago. I won't get into why. It's still sitting in a storage bin in the attic. I'm not yet able to part with it.....although I'm getting there. I still have this idea that maybe I'll use it. For something.
Lesson learned: buy project stuff for only identified projects. Don't just buy it because of someday. It will sit in your attic. Or mine, as it were. Need some velvet?
5. A really expensive bag
A couple years ago, I bought a Coach bag. I was consulting, making good money, and I wanted to spoil myself. I bought it on sale, but still. Honestly - I love this thing. Why do I regret it? Because it's a cranberry color, and suede. Good for the fall. When the weather is perfect. A single drop of rain....well, not so much. So for about 10 months of the year, perhaps more, it sits in the closet. Sure, I use it. I love it.
Lesson learned: for 2 months a year, I could have gotten a cheaper bag.
Confession - I had a hard time getting to 5 on this list. Not because I've never bought things I've regretted, but because I had to think about how much money I've spent foolishly.
Honestly, I'd rather not. But it was good for me. Now I just have to figure out what to do with that darn velvet.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I wasn't impressed. Everything I might order was either more expensive or comparable to the prices I find at BJs for bulk foods. And most items weren't things I purchased regularly - or ever. For example, one boxed item we do keep on hand is Annie's macaroni and cheese. We both like it, and it's an easy, cheap meal.
The price at Amazon was:
Annie's Homegrown Shells & White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese, 6-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 12)List Price:$26.32Price: $18.80
You Save: $7.52 (28%)
Whereas the last time I bought it at BJs, it was $16.99 for a 12-pack. Even with the free shipping, not such a great deal.
The only feature I found fairly impressive was Subscribe & Save which allows you to receive scheduled deliveries of frequently used products at a 15% discount plus free shipping. If Amazon had items that we used regularly, I might take advantage of this. I could see where it might come in handy for new parents, as the idea of delivered groceries, plus their excellent selection of baby-care items make it a great option.
I was particularly impressed that they carried the entire line of Seventh Generation diapers, wipes, as well as adult-care items. I'm going to have to check some of the local prices for SG paper products to determine if what they offer is a good deal.
All in all, Amazon.com for groceries wasn't a good deal for us. But if you use a lot of the products they sell, and you want them delivered regularly - especially you sleep deprived new parents, Subscribe & Save could be a good deal for you.
As an aside, for parents going the disposables route, consider Seventh Generation products:
Monday, June 16, 2008
Friday, June 13, 2008
That said, I don't spend much of my income on disposable things. An exception would be wine, but I'm hoping a pregnancy and early parenthood might help with that. Or maybe it will make me want to drink more. We shall see.
I am much like MP Dunleavey. I recognize myself in her words:
I have an ambivalent relationship with frugality myself. Some days I aspire to a life of financial purity and austerity -- one in which I rise above all my earthly cravings, drive a 20-year-old Volkswagen and die with the words "secret millionaire" carved on my tombstone.
The rest of the time I fantasize about being Paris Hilton -- while forcing myself to be as financially prudent as I can be in the real world.
So what do I do when the spendy little devil on my shoulder starts influencing me?
Well, it depends. I'll be honest, sometimes spendy-the-devil wins. Yes, I'm talking to you, cute little peep-toe shoes on my feet. But for the most part, I win against the forces of shoe marketers and other purveyors of temptation.
Here's 5 things I've done to make the urge to shop less powerful
1. I limit my exposure
I'm still working on cutting off the catalog valve, but I rarely go to the mall or stop by a store just to look. The way I see it, the fewer stores I enter, the less goods that I will desire.
I'm taking baby steps on the catalog front - I have so far called two of the twenty bazillion we receive to get removed from the mailing list. Not only do they tempt me, it's really environmentally wasteful for all that junk mail to be sent to me.
2. I make my savings automatic
Retirement savings gets pulled out of my check before I see it. A set amount each week gets put into savings automatically. I do have to manually transfer other money to savings, but the more automatic it is, the less likely I am to spend it.
3. I limit eating out
Eating out is a great way to waste money, and wow, does it taste good. But I can make something just as good at home, and for far less money. Having a meal plan is key here. Try the menu planner at http://www.cindysporch.com/.
4. I go shopping in my closet
So admittedly, this only works when I want to go shoe or clothes shopping. It doesn't help when I'm salivating over teak outdoor furniture. But still, it's a great option. I up the ante by packing away my off-season clothes, so everything is new to me when I unpack it. But I'm constantly amazed by what I find in there. I'm trying to declutter my closet, but that's another post.
5. I go to yard sales
I love yard sales. It's a great way to shop without the guilt of the environmental production costs of a new item, and typically prices are about 10% of the cost of new as well. Sure, there's lots of junk. Really, you can't expect there not to be. But I've gotten some great stuff at yard sales, including furniture. Check your local paper for all the yard sales some weekend, pick a few to check out, and go. Even if you have no luck the first day, keep trying. I once bought a $250 handmade wooden ride-on airplane (the kind with wheels that allows kids to scoot along the floor pretending to be Charles Lindbergh) for my nephew for $3.00. Yes, $3.
The urges to spend are hard to overcome, and there's a vast modern marketing machine out there to make us think we'll be smarter, better, sexier, or more competent and valued by buying stuff. But that's marketing, not reality. You can turn off the marketing machine, but it will take concerted effort to do so.
It's worth it though. Your wallet will thank you.
If you have been reading for a while, you've probably noticed by now I'm a big fan of MP Dunleavey over at MSN Money. You can check out MP's article on this topic here:http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBudget/6SavingSecretsFromFrugalFanny.aspx
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I talk a lot about how not to spend, or how to save. That's one of the major goals of a personal finance blog, after all. But sometimes the money we spend is really worth it, so this week I thought I'd focus on 5 things that were worth the money to us - because some purchases are worth every penny.
1. A long weekend away
I have blogged a fair amount about being a little (or a lot) burned out and out of balance. We booked a long weekend away this month, even though it wasn't in the budget, and it will be worth every penny. I think 'time off' is a worthy expenditure.
2. Fertility Treatments
So we're lucky - the bulk of the costs are covered by insurance. But it's still pretty pricey to spend a few hundred dollars on prescriptions each month. Is it worth it (along with all the inconvenience, medication, future college bills, etc)? You had better believe it.
3. Stone for the border of our garden beds
Sure, we tried to glean stone from our property. But there wasn't enough, it was all either too big or too small, not with in the just right category. So we bought some. Unlike wooden beds, it will never have to be replaced, never rot, and can be configured however we want.
4. New Oil Tanks
This fell into the category of something I really didn't want to spend $2k on. I mean, oil tanks? Joy. But such is the price tag of homeownership, and it was far better than spending $50,000.00 on cleaning up a spill from a leaking tank, and having the EPA fine us. But then again, most things are better than that.
5. A CSA farm share
In addition to our garden this year, we invested in a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share. For $525.00, from June 22nd through the end of October, we receive whatever produce is in season, a week's supply, plus unlimited pick-your-own herbs and flowers. That works out to $29.16 a week for 18 weeks. The farm share, in addition to our garden, and a few days of labor in the kitchen, will hopefully provide us enough pasta sauce, pesto (okay, we're not growing the parmesan cheese), pickles, and canned and frozen veggies to last us well into the winter. If we're lucky, maybe some homemade salsa as well.
We're thinking of adding a fruit share when they become available, and my sister the farmer is raising us 10 chickens, plus the 3 chickens and a turkey we'll receive from our CSA. Not only have we invested in our local economy, we've done it pretty cheaply.
Sometimes it's good to save. But spending on the things that provide you the most value is the essence of frugality. It's good to occasional sit down and figure out what was a 'good spend'.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
This topic came to mind again as I was reading a recent article on CNN Money called What's In Your Spouse's Wallet? http://money.cnn.com/2008/06/02/pf/spouse_money.moneymag/index.htm
The article talks about the relative ignorance of many couples on what their overall financial situation is (and used poor Silda Spitzer as an example of what financial obliviousness can get you).
Even if your spouse isn't hiring $5000-a-night hookers, and I truly hope he or she is not, blindness to your overall financial situation, and lack of familiarity with your spouse's financial picture will only bring you heartache. And probably a wallet-ache as well.
The article, and many like it talk about what you need to know: assets, debt, income, all that. But how do you go from separate and oblivious to together and on the same team?
The first is to find a reason to be. In a time of 2-wage earner families and more independence, sometimes getting both sides of a couple to agree is the hardest part. So what do you do? Do what the business world does when trying to sell a concept - WIIFM. WIIFM, short for What's In It For Me, means you find the thing that is going to make the idea appealing. Does your spouse want to retire early? Buy a home? Have a big family?
So start talking dreams and goals, not dollars. Find out how your spouse sees the future. What they want. And then share your wants and goals. Then, and only then, will you know where you want to go, and you can start figuring out a road map to get there.
Start with small suggestions. "If we did this, we could....". You catch more flies with honey than with a verbal barrage of "We need to cut out all our spending because you are going to send us to the poorhouse with your constant gadget purchases!!"
Trust me, this is not the way to influence your spouse.
Make a list of pros and cons of the options for combining (or not) your finances. Present the lists you have made to one another. Then come up with an approach you both can live with. A great way to start these discussions is to read Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach together.
For combining accounts, the way I see it, there are three options.
- Pool it all
- Have yours, mine and ours accounts
- Pool nothing
I'll confess, we went for option 1. Why? First, it's the least complicated. I don't have to track or transfer to multiple accounts. Everything goes into, and out of basically a single point. We do have some ancillary accounts earmarked for certain things, and retirement accounts, but for our day-to-day finance, it's a single checking and savings account combination.
One question that seems to come up about this sort of arrangement is a lack of financial privacy. I haven't found that to be true. When one of us wants to buy something for the other, we typically use a credit card (paid in full each month) and tell the other not to check the statement. We also have individual 'fun money' that we can use for anything from coffee runs at work to dinner out with a friend, to new shoes. That money doesn't get questioned - it's ours to use as we will.
But none of it is secret. If I buy something, I tell my husband, fun money or no. In my opinion, the well-being of the couple outweighs the right to 'privacy' in key areas, finance being one of them.
What we do have is the right to make decisions with our fun money, and up to certain amounts for other purchases, without discussion. Once we cross that threshhold, the purchase gets discussed.
The other two approaches can work as well, as long as a few things are clear to both of you: what you share and what you don't, the schedules and responsibilities for bill-paying, and where you stand financially.
That last point is the most critical. You must have access to one another's accounts. No, not to 'check up on one another' although that may, at certain points, for certain relationships, be necessary. It's far more basic than that. You need to be able to pay bills and track funds in the event something happens to your spouse. Remember - you aren't roommates, or 'friends with a kick' - your financial situation directly affects your spouse, and theirs yours.
Once you have a plan, and some goals you can share, you can get focused on the nitty gritty, which is combining, or adding each other to accounts. For this, I recommend setting some time goals, otherwise it may end up on the to-do list in perpetuity.
It doesn't hurt to revisit roles and responsibilities periodically after you have worked out your sharing system and put it in place. And I strongly recommend periodic money meetings in order to keep the team part in place. Look at it this way: The Red Sox probably wouldn't have won the World Series twice in the last few years if they didn't occasionally get together to practice. The same goes for the two of you - few teams remain effective if they don't practice and work together.
Sharing finances doesn't have to be a scary process. And you can be a team without fighting each other for control.
If you have a plan.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Thursday, June 5, 2008
So I'm married to a gadget-head. My husband loves gadgets, the more cutting edge, the better. While I'm not a luddite, I don't like the new new thing. It's expensive, it's often buggy, and, well....let's just say I still use a paper day book to record my appointments.
1. Don't buy cutting edge
I say this knowing what an abyss the urge for the new new thing is. After all, for his 35th birthday last year my husband got the a-ok to go stand in line for an iPhone on that first day. But for the most part, husbands with 35th birthdays not withstanding, my take is that the technology will still be there tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. And guess what? It'll get better - and cheaper. Talk to the people who spent $900 on a beta max about this.
2. Become friends with compulsive upgraders
There is always those folks - you know the ones. When MP3 players came out, they dumped their CDs. When DVDs came, they dumped their videotapes. Sure, all of us eventually experiment with the technology (iPods, are, after all, far more awesome than portable CD players, not to mention they don't skip as much) but see point #1. Stick with the cheap, proven technology, and get it for free from your gadget-head friends.
3. Look for the free deal
I love the free phones that are given away with cell phone contracts. Why pay when you can get one for free? My most recent phone cost something - $19.99, but only because I wanted a flip phone, since I was costing us minutes with 'accidental dialing' when the phone was in my purse and my wallet dialed my sister or something. Still, until that big splurge, my phones were always free. Take the free DVR instead of the expensive TiVO. And so on. No, maybe your phone won't walk the dog for you, but I bet it works great for making phone calls.
4. Don't rule out technology that can really improve your life.
For frequent travellers, I think the Kindle is fabulous - we were fortunate enough to get to play with a friend's recently. This is from someone who packs 5 or 6 books on an average trip - I read fast, and I bore easily. My back, however, kills me from the weight. Technology has made medical devices that improve and extend lives. You couldn't pay me enough to go back to the outhouse days, especially during January.
But evaluate it for it's genuine benefit to you. Ask people how they like theirs. Think about how you might use it. Then buy.
5. Evaluate the true cost.
It's a fact that modern LCD TVs draw more electricity. That iPod batteries are going to end up in a landfill somewhere. And so on. So take a look at what you are buying and the cost to the world around you. Having all the iPod models may be fun, but what does that mean to the earth from a pollution perspective? So think about it. If it's still a good spend, okay, do it. But know that our everyday actions have a price tag.
Technology has improved lives. It's also made the world more expensive, both from a wallet and an environmental perspective. So choose wisely and carefully.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Did I say a little? Wait, I meant completely. Sure, some of these articles have broad application across generations, but I'd love to see someone like Dan Kadlec focused on folks just a little younger and with a tad fewer assets. MP Dunleavy over at msn.com is the only one that truly comes close to focusing on the issues my generation faces.
The boomer-focus does make sense - they are the ones with the most assets - and the most likely demographic for perusing personal finance websites and magazines right now. But there's a whole other group, one who is just starting to see traction for 'their' news. The somewhere in-betweeners.
I'm talking about people like my husband and I - far away from just starting out, not yet parents, and a long while to go before the traditional retirement age. Or like my friend Jay, a 30-something tech writer who owns his own condo, is dedicatedly saving for retirement, doesn't really have any consumer debt, but hasn't yet found Ms. Right.
Us in-betweeners have accomplished some of our goals, but we have more, and they often feel daunting: how the heck is my generation going to successfully pay off their college debt and still save for our own kids to go to college? Save for retirement when the real value of wages is falling, and Social Security is on the rocks? Pensions have gone the way of the dinosaur for most of us, and those who have them are often afraid to count on them. Daycare costs an astounding some of money ($1300/month in my area), paid family leave is basically nonexistent, and costs of consumables are rising.
Add to that the pressures and demands of our consumer society make purchasing vs. savings decisions difficult. Ever tried to be the only one in your working group without a cell phone and broadband internet? Right.
Okay, so that's what's facing the in-betweeners. What do we need?
I think we need more information on 5 basic things:
- Guidance on setting priorities
- A clearer picture of how the rest of our generation really lives (note: it's probably not like the folks portrayed in 'The Hills')
- A lot of clear discussion around how to cope with our consumption-based society
- A realistic picture of how to reach our goals - and what the options are if we don't
- A better understanding of the implications of politicians money decisions on our future
Over the next few months, I will be posting blog articles and links to articles on GenX finance, focusing in these areas. And I'd love to hear from you - what do you think Gen X should do differently? What do you think is missing for personal finance guidance?
Gen X isn't as young as it used to be....and it's time we got serious about our money.