Saturday, February 27, 2010

We have a house to move to

This is the house we'll be renting for the next year. It's in a nice neighborhood, there's lots of {dog-free} trails in the community, and it's close to work. The HOA fees are taken out of our rent, and entitle us to use the community center, which has workout facilities and a pool- so our 'gym membership' is included in our rent. Can't wait to move in, unpack, and get settled!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Saving Money: Telephones

When we were at language school this last time, we almost didn't get a land line. The only reason we did was so we could use the fax machine. It turned out that I used it very infrequently so it was an unnecessary expense.

We've gone the last few years having just one cell phone between the two of us. Whoever needed it the most would take it with them that day, and usually it worked out pretty well. A couple months ago we finally broke down and got a cell phone for me. This was in anticipation of the day that we would have our own place: we already knew we weren't going to get a land line at our next house. You used to need a land line in order to get internet, but with all the advances in internet technology, that's no longer the case. Thank goodness! Can you imagine how long it would take to download one blog page on dial-up?

For us, cell phones make sense. I don't want to be tied to a land line at home, especially when Mr S is gone on a trip. I want to be able to receive a call from him whenever he's able to call, wherever I am. Nothing's worse than staying at home all day, every day, on the off chance that he might call that day. And if we both have cells, why should we have a land line? This doesn't work for everyone, but for our circumstances, it's what works.

While there are some who argue against the intrusion of having cell phones on your person all the time, just because you have it, doesn't mean you have to answer it. Just like at home :)

Quick ways to save on your rate plans:
  • Skip the repair/replace fee. It only works under certain conditions, and those conditions are never the ones that damaged/destroyed your phone. If you save up the money instead, you can easily replace your phone should the need arise. We save $4 per phone each month.
  • Call and see if your provider offers a corporate discount for the company you work for. We save 10% on our monthly bill doing this.
  • Watch your usage and double check which plan you need. Look for plans with free nights and weekends, free incoming calls, free calls to other cell phones (regardless of provider). Don't pay for services you don't use. If you don't text and will never text, but you still receive spam texts, ask your provider to put a text block on your line. Mr. S's plan does not include texts, so we kept having to pay for spam texts. It took a couple calls, but we got a block put on his line to prevent all texts from going through. No more charges for texts we didn't want in the first place.
  • If you're out of the country for an extended period of time, call and put a hold on your line. We did this a few years ago when Mr. S went out of the country on a training mission. Since he didn't have an internationally capable phone, there wasn't any point in him bringing it with him. At that point in time, I think I actually did have a cell, so I didn't need to use his. There was a maintenance fee of about $10 a month I think, but that's still less than the normal cost per month.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Frugal Crafting: Fused Plastic Bag Snack Bag & Envelope

Awhile ago, I found several blogs where people used fused plastic bags to create things. At the time, I didn't have any plastic bags since I take cloth bags when I shop (except for Target, because their bags are just the right size for the trash can in my craft area), so I had to make an effort to start collecting them.

Last week I decided I had enough bags, and set about making some fused plastic bag fabric. It ended up being a bit trickier than I expected- the process is a bit fiddley, and there was some trial and error involved in trying to get some satisfactory results. I have to agree with Dana, who said that Target bags work the best. They're a teensy bit thicker, and seemed to stand up to the process a bit better. I did do some with bags from wally world, but the results were not as satisfactory.

I tried adding some embellishments to a couple of the sheets:
I cut out the little starbursts from a bunch of wally world bags and put them under the top sheet of plastic- I like how this looks.
I cut out the letters for LMS's name from various bags and put them under the top layer of plastic (hard to see with the letters blurred, sorry).
I used both of these pieces to make a snack bag (original idea here) for LMS- the starbursts on the back, her name on the front.
I sewed the bottom and sides together, and then used the iron to fuse the open edges a bit. I was making it up as I went along, so if I make another one, I'll sew the top edge first, then sew the sides and bottom. I used adhesive velcro dots to close the snack bag. If I make another one, I would put the velcro dots on before sewing the seams, and sew them to make sure they stay in place.

I had planned on making cash envelopes out of folded fused plastic bags, but I think the fused plastic is a bit thick for that (and I had a hard time getting even, consistent fusing), so I changed my mind. Instead, I made a zippered envelope to hold our gas money for the month.

I also made a sheet of fused plastic bags with the top layer being a sheet of plastic from a Target bag, with the ink on the inside so it wouldn't bleed (as recommended here).
I sewed the word 'gas' on a small piece of plain fused plastic, then sewed that to the sheet I wanted to use for the envelope. I tend to be a perfectionist, and want things to be perfectly even and neat, but I tried to squash that and just let it turn out how it wanted. Not sure if I like the results, but it's a learning process.
I still have some sheets of fused plastic left, but I haven't decided what exactly I want to do with them- more snack bags, more zippered envelopes, something else entirely? I'm not completely satisfied with how the fused sheets turned out- I had a hard time getting them evenly fused, so I think I'll keep saving Target bags and do some more experimentation. I did like the shopping bags Dana made, but my fused sheets didn't look nearly as nice as her did. Maybe with some more practice...

Total cost for this project: zero.
I collected the bags as I shopped, and I had the zipper, thread, and velcro dot already.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Frugal Eating: Family Feasts for $75 a Week: Book Review

A month or so ago I requested several books regarding cooking on a budget. One which just recently became available was Family Feasts for $75 a Week, by Mary Ostyn.

Mary has 10 kids in her family, so she's experienced in cooking for a lot of people, and doing it on a budget. We only have 1 child, not 10, but we still need to cook frugally and spend as little as possible.

She has lots of good tips about ways to save money around the house, when cooking, and so on. I have 8 brothers and sisters, so growing up, we were always finding ways to save money. We did a lot of the things she mentions, so there wasn't a lot that was new, but there were some things that stood out.

One major point she makes is that planning is necessary- meal planning, grocery planning, etc. It brought to mind the adage 'Fail to plan, plan to fail'. If you don't plan out your budget, your meal plan, your shopping list, etc, you won't be able to stick to your budget- you'll end up spending way more than you intended.

I found quite a few good recipes that I need to add in to the meal plan I made awhile ago. There are several things I liked about the recipes she included: they're not centered around meat (meat is included, but it's not like eating a steak and baked potato), there is a lot of bean and lentil recipes, and they're from around the world. Two of her kids were adopted from Korea and four were adopted from Ethiopia, and she's made an effort to include meals from their native countries, as well as others.

She also uses very few canned items, no boxed  mixes, and no canned soups in her recipes. She doesn't use them because they're pricey, which is true, but most of them are also sources of gluten, so I can't use them. Her recipes aren't specifically gluten free, but enough are naturally gluten free that I was able to find a good number of recipes that I can use.

She also includes instructions on canning, which I thought was helpful- it's becoming a lost art.

I like finding new recipes that are inexpensive to prepare, yet are still nutritious and taste good. I'm looking forward to trying a lot of the recipes she included.

Another thing she talked about that I really like, and will start once we move, is a 'price book'. Basically, you keep track of the items you buy the most, and you figure out how much they cost per unit at the stores that you shop at. That way you know which store has the best price and at which stores to use coupons and sales to get the absolute best deals. In a small notebook, using one page for each item, track the prices, locations, dates, etc for that particular item. It can be a bit overwhelming, but she recommends to start with 20 items and add on from there, as you can handle it. Sounds like a great way to figure out where to buy the items on your list. (She gives good instructions and examples, starting on page 38- much better than I can summarize here.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Frugal Shopping: President's Day Sale Finds

Awhile ago I mentioned my intention to hit the President's Day sales at Harbor Freight and JoAnn Fabric. I'm pleased to be able to say that I didn't wuss out (shopping really saps my energy, so I can easily talk myself out of going), and I got some great deals!

The first stop was Harbor Freight, where I got the multifunction tool I mentioned. It came with 4 attachments, and I bought a 5th one for detail work when I refinish furniture. I also got extra sanding pads for the multitool, and a couple moving blankets. I have several moving blankets already, as well as various quilts, but I figure better too many than too few.
The multifunction tool was on sale for $39.99, plus additional $5 off coupon, for a final price of $34.99 (listed regular price: $59.99, but I don't know how often it actually sells at that price- I think $39.99-$49.99 is it's usual selling price)
closeup of the attachments included
The additional finger sanding pad was $7.99
Each of these replacement sanding paper attachments were $3.99

I'm ready to start refinishing furniture!

The next stop was JoAnn, where I got a cutting mat, clear cutting guide, rotary cutter, and half a yard of microsuede fabric. I got all four items for less than the cutting mat's original price!
The lighting isn't great in this photo because I had to hurry and take a pic so I could get the mat outside into storage. It was giving off some nasty chemical fumes the whole way home and I couldn't leave it in the house- that would be a massive headache waiting to happen. Hopefully the fumes will dissipate during the next month so they won't bother me when I get my craft area set up in our new house.

I misplaced the receipt, but the original price of the mat was around $44. The mat, cutting guide and cutter were on sale for 50% off, and the fabric was on sale for 70% off I think. Add a 10% off total purchase coupon, and I got the cutting supplies for 60% off, and paid less than $44 for the four items.

I'll use the fabric for an envelope wallet, for carrying cash instead of credit cards. I'll post pics of that when I get it finished.

Our next stop was at Target, where I hit the after Valentine's Day sales. I bought some silicone heart ice cube trays and a silicone heart cake pan from the dollar section- 30% off.
I also bought some silicone heart baking cups, a silicone petite heart pan, and a brownie pop pan, all for 50% off. The brownie pop pan isn't even really a valentine's item, it just happens to be red.
If I had a car, I would have waited another day or two to hit the after Valentines day sales, and I could probably have gotten an even better deal. Since I'm dependent on others' kindness regarding transportation, I can't be too picky.

I didn't do much (ok, anything) for Valentines this year, but buying after the holiday means I now have some things I can use next year, and I didn't pay full price for them. Bonus for me! I'm also excited to try the brownie pops. Bakerella is always doing fun things with them, and the pan I bought will make it quick and easy to make them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Frugal Crafting: Twine Letters

The S that is featured on this blog is a wood letter that I bought at JoAnn's and covered with twine.

I saw a similar project here, and figured it wouldn't be too difficult to replicate. In theory it wasn't, but in actuality it was. An "S" is a lot harder to wrap than a "T", let me tell you. I eventually figured out a way to do it so it still looked nice.

It wasn't till I was looking at the picture on my computer that I noticed something off. Anyone else see it? I truly didn't realize it till then, either. Not while I was working on it, not while I was taking the picture...
Anyway, the other side looks like this:
Not nearly as nice and even, and it looked a lot worse in person.

So I put it away for a week or so while I gathered up the energy to rip it apart and redo it. Then one evening I sat down, turned on a movie, pulled off the offending twine, and re-did my 'S'. And I'm glad I did. I can look at it without cringing now and my OCD feels so much better. I also really like how the pattern in the twine turned out.

The letter cost about $2 at JoAnn
The twine was another $2 or so at wally world, and there was enough on the roll for me to fix the mistakes from the first time around.
I already had the hot glue
So, about $4 all together
(This is one of the projects from my other blog)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Saving Money: Eyeglasses

About 3 years ago I bought some expensive bendy-frame glasses. I think I paid about $250 dollars, though it could have been more. They were expensive, I know that.

And the thing is, they weren't worth it: you can't actually bend them that much without the whole frame getting out of whack, there's screws that are perpetually loose, and the paint wore off the frame quicker than it should have.

They put such a dent in our budget that I haven't bought new glasses till now. Last week I ordered new glasses, and I paid a fraction of what I paid last time.

Awhile ago my sister told me that she and her husband buy their glasses at I checked it out, ran some numbers, and liked what I saw.

$39 per pair of glasses + $5 shipping= $44
If I were to buy a new pair of glasses every year for 3 years:  $44 x 3=  $132
$250 - $132 = $118 in savings, and I have 3 pairs of glasses to show for it instead of one worn out, wobbly pair with the paint worn off.

Having extra glasses sitting around is always a good thing. If they're in good condition, I can alternate which I wear, depending on my mood, or put a pair in the car or the 72 hour kit. We've done this in the past with old glasses, and it turned out to be a huge blessing- Mr. S lost his glasses at the beach when a wave got him- ripped them right off his face! Luckily we had a spare pair in the car and he was able to help with the drive home (a 20 hour drive that I would not have liked to do by myself).

39dollarglasses is an online retailer, so you can't try them on, but trying glasses on never worked out real well anyway, since I can't see well enough to see what they actually look like on my face. They give you all the measurements of the frame, and you can even print out an image of the actual size and shape of the glasses to compare them with your current pair. They have a variety of frames for men, women, and children- metal and plastic. You can pay a bit more for different options, including tinted lenses.

I figure if I really hate them, I can buy another pair after a couple months, and still spend way less than I did on the expensive ones. With expensive glasses, it doesn't matter if I hate them- I'm stuck with them.

I picked out a pair and ordered them Friday afternoon, and they arrived in the mail on Wednesday afternoon. Not only are they inexpensive, but they're quick, too!

I picked some black plastic frames to try. I haven't had plastic frames since elementary school, and let's just say that the 80's were not a good time for kids to be wearing glasses. All my frames, metal and plastic, were huge and ugly. They have quite cute frames now, why couldn't they then?

These frames are quite a bit more dramatic than any I've ever had, but I like the change.

LMS took this photo of me- pretty good for a 3 year old!

A note about contacts: I don't wear contacts anymore. I used to, but the cleaning solutions have too many chemicals and they irritate my eyes so I had to stop wearing them. Stupid chemical sensitivities.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Frugal Shopping: Walgreens

One part of our budget that's hard to cut down on  is vitamins and supplements. A side effect of gluten intolerance is difficulty absorbing nutrients. I don't have full blown celiac, so I don't think I have quite as many problems with nutrient absorbtion as some do, but I still have problems. As a result, I take quite a few vitamins and supplements and feel better for doing so. Mr S and LMS also take vitamins, but not as many.

One of the more expensive ones I take is CoQ-10.  I started taking it about a year and a half ago on the advice of my med student sister. After taking it for a week or so, I noticed I was having dreams. This was a big deal, since I don't remember the last time I had regular dreams. Maybe once or twice a year I'd have a crazy dream, but the rest of the time, no dreams. I never felt especially rested either. Since taking the CoQ-10, I dream most nights and wake up much more rested. The interesting thing is that this appears to be genetic: my med student sister, mom, and two younger brothers have the same problem. Wonder why...

Recently my med student sister mentioned that she buys her CoQ-10 at Walgreens when they have buy one get one (BOGO) sales. For whatever reason, I've never shopped at Walgreens before, so I didn't realize that they had such deals. I went in a couple weeks ago, but the brand my sister mentioned wasn't on sale. I talked to one of the workers, and he said they usually had at least one brand of vitamins on BOGO sale per week. So I've been watching the ads (I went to the Walgreens website and signed up to have the ads emailed to me every week since we don't get the paper), and this week the brand I was looking for went on sale.
90 capsules for $50 at Walgreens (BOGO= 180 capsules for $50)
30 capsules for about $13 at wally world

$7.67 per month at Walgreens
$13 per month at wally world

$92 per year at Walgreens
$156 per year at wally world

Savings: $64 a year

While I was there, I noticed that they also had Flax Fish Borage Oil on sale (gotta get those omegas).
120 capsules for $16.50 at Walgreens (BOGO= 240 capsules for $16.50)
60 capsules for about $9 at Target

$2.06 per month at Walgreens
$4.50 per month at Target

$25 a year at Walgreens
$54 a year at Target

Savings: $29 a year

Between just the CoQ-10 and the Flax Fish Borage oil I'll save $93 in one year.

The moral? Don't just grab what you see off the shelf. Be willing to comparison shop (explore stores you don't usually go to), find out if there's sales, and figure out where you can get the best deals. Stock up when you find a great deal. These two vitamins were all our budget could handle right now, but I now have a 6 month supply of one and an 8 month supply of the other. I'll be watching the ads for the other vitamins we take so I can stock up on them using the BOGO sales at Walgreens. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Repurposing: Giving Pants a Second Life

I've been seeing more and more peple talking about repurposing clothing. When I first saw it, I thought, 'eh, I'll never do that- I don't have any extra clothes sitting around to cut up, and we're not close to any thrift stores, so I wouldn't be saving any money by buying thrift store clothes and cutting them up'.

Then I decided it was time to retire the stretched-out, shapeless yoga pants I've had for about 9 years. I realized I could make a pair of play pants for LMS out of my pants. They're not pants to wear out and about, but they're great for playing outside in the dirt.

I used this tutorial to get started.

I used a pair of pink stretchy pants to make a pattern and cut out the pieces for a pair of black pants for LMS. I used the original hem for the hem of the new pants, meaning I only needed to put a waistband in after sewing the legs.

I wasn't too worried about how they turned out: the original pants are well past their expiration date in their current form, so being able to use them for something else is just a bonus.

Overall, I think they turned out well, and I feel confident in trying more projects as the materials present themselves. (this is one of the projects I posted on my other blog)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A note about the lack of projects posted so far

I'd really like to be posting a lot more projects, but with the upcoming move that's just not going to happen.

1. I'm trying really hard to spend as little money as possible. And I do mean as little as possible. It helps that I have to make arrangements with my FIL in order to run errands. I don't want to take advantage of him, so I'm only borrowing his car once a week. Limited funds also makes it easier to keep the expenditures low. So no new materials to work with.

2. I want to start getting things packed up. 96% of our stuff is in storage already, so I know I have stuff I could be using for projects, but I don't know where that stuff is. I also need to start packing the stuff that's in the house, and that includes my craft paraphenelia.

3. I'm so trunky. On my mission that term was applied to missionaries who were (hopefully, but unfortunately not always) close to the end of their time and were thinking more and more about home, school, etc. That's me. I'm thinking more and more about the house we're going to rent, the preschool I need to find, the stores I need to locate, the parks to explore, the house I get to furnish (Have I mentioned we have very little actual furniture? That'll be another post all together), the list could go on and on. It's hard to focus on the here and now when there's so many other things to think about. And there's only so much room in my brain :)

Once we move and I get everything unpacked, I'll have lots of projects and pictures to share, but in the meantime we're stuck with a couple old projects from my other blog, a couple quick projects that I have the stuff for and want to finish before the move, and me blathering on a bit. Stick with me and it'll get more exciting!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Saving Money & Budgeting: Taxes

I just finished filing our taxes. (Yay!) I've used Turbo Tax the last few years, and have paid about $40 to e-file. This year I used H&R Block Tax Cut through Military OneSource, and it didn't cost me anything. If you're military, and you do have to be military to access Military OneSource, take advantage of the opportunity to e-file for free!

That's great, but there's also the refund to consider. I know everyone says to reduce your withholdings so you aren't paying Uncle Sam to hold onto your money for you. I would like to do this, but you need a steady income for that to work out.

This year we're getting a sizeable return, but it's mostly because of EIC and such. Making very little money this year made us eligible for a lot more credits. Our goal for this coming year will be to have a much smaller refund, but we'll be in a different tax bracket, so it will probably take some trial and error to get just the right amount withheld so we get a small refund or owe just a tiny bit. Our money is better put to use paying off debt and sitting in our savings account earning interest for us.

When I filed, I requested a direct deposit that will take about 10 days (though I think it took less last year) to appear in our bank account. You could also opt to have a check sent via snail mail and that'll take 4-6 weeks, I think. Another option, one that I don't recommend, is to get a refund anticipation loan from the company that prepares your income tax return for you. Basically they give you the money that day or the next, and in return you sign paperwork that gives your refund directly to that company. It sounds like a great deal- you get your money right away- but it is a loan and the interest rates are quite high. As a result, you lose a chunk of money. These days, with e-filing and direct deposits, returns are received so quickly. Why pay someone else for the privilege of getting your money a week and a half quicker?

Our refund is already earmarked: we'll be using it to pay for the move, the deposit and first month's rent on a house, and our train trip to join Mr S.

If we didn't have all these moving-related expenses, and already had a steady income (so the money didn't need to be set aside to pay bills), we would be using our refund to fund our $1000 emergency fund (Dave Ramsey's Step 1) and to quickly get a chunk of debt payed down (Step 2).

If we had our debts completely paid off, we'd be putting the money into savings (Steps 3-7). Though I hope that by the time we have our debts paid off we'll have our withholdings figured out so we're not getting a huge refund.

Something not to do: using a loan to get your refund as quickly as possible, then using the money to buy a wii instead of setting it aside for bills because you don't have a job and a regular income. Yeah, I know some people who did that....