August 2008 - Posts - Yankee 2.0
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Yankee 2.0

August 2008 - Posts

  • How much would you spend to save your pet?

    I read this post of a Wall Street Journal article posted on the Consumerist blog: How much would you spend to save your pet

    I don't know how much would be too much for me to save the life of my beloved cat or dog. A few years ago -- on Thanksgiving day -- my dog became unexplainedly very sick and had to go into the vet emergency room. She was in for about a week, and they finally did an operation to discover she had an old corn cob stuck in her gut. The whole thing cost around $3500, which I was very happy to spend (sad to charge onto a credit card I had JUST paid off, though) to make my dear dog well. I've also spent thousands on her for allergy treatments (although I have found a natural enzyme product now that is much less expensive and more effective), and have spent thousands on my cat over the course of her fifteen years.

    I have a care credit card for pet emergencies. It has a $5,000 credit line (at 0% interest), so that if there is an emergency with one of them, I can pay for it over time.




  • Shopping like grandma

    When I think "Yankee", I think of my grandparents. My grandfather and his brother and cousins built a house that he designed out in the country. They dug their own well, built their own electric generator, and farmed the land. When something was broke, they fixed it. When it wasn't, they left it alone.

    My grandmother had a love/hate relationship with this self-sufficient lifestyle. She was much more of a city girl, and drove her own Indian motocycle and then later her own Ford cars into the city to get out a bit and see people.

    I often went grocery shopping with my grandmother. She always had a list, a "clicker" (so she'd know exactly what she was spending), and a stack of coupons. She also always started at the dented can/old produce areas in the grocery store and always went direct to the bakery to ask for their day-old bread. 

    I'm trying my best to shop like grandma these days. I have one of those clickers (found in my family effects -- it only goes up to ten dollars, so I have to remember how many tens I have...), but sometimes I forget to use it.. I do go to the old produce and "scratch and dent" area first, but I like to go to the farmer's market for my produce, so I'm not really spending a lot of time in the grocery store right now.

    I did pick up some old green beans and an old butternut squash the last time I was at the supermarket -- 99 cents for two pounds of green beans (a couple of them were moldy, but the rest were fine) and 59 cents for the butternut squash -- it had two black spots on it that I cut off. Cooked 'em up tonight and savored the savings. 

  • Using up excess health and beauty products

    Simplify, simplify. I looked underneath my sink today and noticed that I have quite a few different half-used containers of moisturizer, body cream, facial cleansers, etc down there. How did they get to be there? Well, I like health and beauty products... I like going to the store and looking at the pretty bottles and sniffing different creams and I like buying them, and I like using them for a while, then I get bored with them and go buy more. I'm a perfect dupe for all that marketing...

    Well, no more! I'm pledging today to use up ALL the products that I have before buying any new ones. No more waste, no more excess on this front. After they're all gone, I'm going to switch to home-made body cream, and will choose one facial cleanser and facial moisturizer (maybe explore home-made for those, too) and stick with just having one of those things.

     If anybody out there has home-made recipes for beauty products, please post them here!

  • $400 sheets?? You've got to be kidding.

    I am slowly (ten year plan) renovating and redecorating my rather fabulous 1872 townhouse. One of my favorite passtimes is looking through home design books and magazines for ideas. One of my favorite magazines is Domino (subscription is only $10.00 per year) -- which is a shopping-centered magazine (like "Lucky" but for the house). I get a ton of ideas from the magazine, and they often have quite reasonable do-it-yourself craft projects (like making a bulletin board inside a kitchen cabinet, to get all the paper clutter off the kitchen counter).

    But they also feature lots of outrageously expensive items. They showcase $4,000 dressers and $2,000 chairs that are inspirations for the $5.00 chairs and $20.00 dressers I've bought at thrift stores. Somehow, the prices of their furniture items don't really phase me, because they are just so far out of the realm of reality.  The latest issue had a feature on sheets. This included a handy chart of how to fold fitted sheets so they lay flat, and some ways to organize your linens. Ok, great. Then I turn the page and see their expert user reviews of sheets. The least expensive queen sheet set cost $79.00 -- that was in the "budget" range. I'm sorry, but my budget does not extend to $400 sheets, and I can't imagine it ever will. Five years ago, I bought a very nice set of sheets at TJMaxx that cost $50.00 -- I still have them, but they're starting to wear thin and I'll need new ones soon, so I figure $10.00 per year of sheets is in my budget. At that rate, the $400 sheets would have to last for 40 years, and I don't really see that happening.

    I wonder who buys $400 sheets? And I wonder how long they last?

  • Homemade yogurt

    Made a two-quart batch of yogurt yesterday. I find my homemade yogurt deeply satisfying, and highly recommend it to frugal yogurt lovers.

    I used to go through two to four quarts of store-bought yogurt each week. These cost $2.50 each for the store-brand to $4.50 for fancy Stonyfield organic. I always felt guilty about all the plastic it generated, and worried about not knowing how the cows were treated who produced the milk.

    I buy all my milk from a local dairy (Smyth's Trinity Farm in Enfield, CT -- if I can give them a plug here), where I know the cows are treated well and not given any weird growth hormones or other things. The milk is pasturized, and the grass they eat is not treated with any chemicals. It comes in glass bottles, and this milk (and butter and cream) is out of this world, it's so good. After drinking fresh milk from the dairy, the store bought kind seems like a totally different substance.

    So I finally invested in a brand-new yogurt maker, after months of looking for one on craigslist, ebay, and at tag sales and second-hand stores. I hate it when I can't find what I want used...  I bought a "Yogurmet" two-quart model on amazon. It cost $50.00 (!!!), and was supposed to come with two boxes of starter, but it didn't so I got a $11.00 refund, so it really cost $39.00 

     The cost of one half-gallon of delicious dairy-fresh milk for two quarts of delicious homemade yogurt is $3.00. Three packs of starter cost $5.50, so the cost of the raw materials for my two quarts is about $4.85. Time -- well, it takes about half an hour to heat, then cool the milk, then you just set it and don't forget it in the incubator for about 4 - 5 hours. And there's electricity for the incubator (I assume very low usage) for those 4-5 hours. Eventually, I will try to phase out the starter and use a dollop of the last batch of yogurt for the live cultures, saving the $1.85 per batch.

    All in all, there is some savings over the store-bought kind, and it's a great way to reduce plastic, support the local economy (by buying local milk), and know where your food comes from. Plus, it's delicious!

  • Lunch and the small business owner

    Networking is a big part of being business for oneself. A lot of that networking seems to be lunch-based, at least in my area. I find a lot wrong with going out to eat. For one thing, I'm a really good cook, and there is hardly anything I find in a restaurant that is better than what I can make myself (except for Indian food). For another, it's so outrageously expensive. The fifteen to twenty dollars that it costs for two people to go out to lunch would feed me three meals a day for nearly a week. Plus, I'm a vegetarian, so most of what's available to me in many restaurants is pretty blah.

    I often try to suggest an afternoon or mid-morning coffee break for networking instead (and try to get them to come to my office to have coffee from my Senseo machine that a friend gave me). I'll plead being so busy that all my lunches are booked for the forseeable future. I actually told one person (who I felt very comfortable with) that I am trying not to spend any money lunches and suggested that we each bring our lunch and meet on a park bench -- she agreed (and didn't seem offended, as we both munched on our sandwiches), so I might try that one with a few other people.

    But sometimes, I just feel pressured in to going out to lunch with potential clients or contacts, and I feel like there's no escape. If I pay, part of it is a deductible expense, and if the other person pays I get a free lunch out of it, but I feel sort of resentful about the whole thing (the mediocre food, the cost), which is no way to do business.  

    I wonder how other people deal with the whole business lunch thing? I'm a new and growing company, so I really can't afford to snub any potential business. Any thoughts on how to get around this? Should I just suck it up and budget a certain amount per month for lunching?

  • Beans, beans, they're good for your heart...

    One of my favorite food staples are (is?) beans. I buy really inexpensive bags of dried beans at the supermarket (usually under one dollar per bag), soak 'em overnight, and have delicious protein (and fiber) for a week. 

    The other day, I went through my cupboard and found three partial bags of beans -- red kidney, navy, and mystery (the label was in Spanish, don't know quite what they were). I soaked them overnight, then boiled them up, put them in the fridge, and after they cooled mixed them up with some garlic and celery (okay, it was fridge clean out day), oregano, rice vinegar and olive oil and had a lovely three bean salad. It was a really nice summer treat -- and I'll have about eight meals out of it. 

    One of my resolutions is not to throw any food away that I buy. Sometimes I find intriguing things at the market, buy them, but then don't know what to do with them, so they go bad. I hate myself when I throw food away, so i'm trying to be really good about not tossing food and about not shoppping for more than I need. My fridge is usually pretty bare, but I always have enough to eat. I'm glad I got to use the celery, because that tends to be something that I buy more of than I need, then it has the tendency to go to waste. But it was great in this chewy fiberific bean salad!  

  • Two late fees waived!

    I almost never incur late fees. However, I was on a "free" vacation last month (that cost nearly $2,000, but that's another story), and when I did my onlilne bill paying when I got home, it took longer than expected to reach the Care Credit people (this weird credit card that pays for veterinarian expenses, and that's currently at 0% interest). So I got whacked with a $39.00 late fee. I called this morning and they took it off. I was told by the customer service rep "I am able to remove one late fee every twelve months." An interesting take on things -- not sure why, but hey, I'm happy to have it removed. I hope that it is also off my credit report (although I hope never to take out credit again, so I'm not sure why I'm so concerned about having a good credit report -- must be Yankee self, always wanting to do the right thing and look good to authorities).

    While I rarely get hit with late fees (in fact, I can't even remember the last time I had one before that care credit one), I do on occasion incur the odd overdraft fee on my checking account. This past February, I deposited $200 into a reserve savings account linked to my checking, so that if I neared overdraft, it would come out of this savings. I hadn't used it once, and I'm really broke this summer, so I transferred the $200 into checking last week to pay some bills. I planned to put $400 from my passbook savings (reluctantly) into checking this morning, and when I got to the bank I found my automatic $100 per month IRA payment  had been taken out and they hit me with a $25.00 overdraft fee. I explained to the teller that I knew the $100 was going to be taken out, and that's why I was there depositing money from savings. I asked if she could waive the $25.00 and she kindly did so.

    If I hadn't asked, I would have been $64.00 poorer.  

    I can't wait for the start of September and some real income coming in. I hate to be so borderline like this, and I HATE clearing out my savings... better than credit, though. 

  • Homemade liquid soap

    I made a batch of homemade soap this weekend -- one of my favorite luxurious-yet-thrifty undertakings. I found a recipe somewhere on the Internet that I can't seem to find again, but there are only two necessary ingredients.

    The basic recipe is: Put about two cups of shaved castille soap in a bowl, and pour four cups of boiling water over it (2:1 boiling water to grated castille soap is the basic ratio), then add essential oils, stir it up, let it cool, and pour it into a bottle. It takes about ten minutes to create and about 30 minutes to cool enough to pour it into a nice glass bottle.

    I get a big batch of castille soap on the  Internet - it comes in a big slab -- and use a cheese grater to shave it into the bowl. I don't know what the materials cost is per batch (each batch lasts about six weeks), but I would guess it's about a dollar. 

    I like knowing exactly what I'm putting on my skin (I use it for bathing and shampooing), knowing it didn't involve animal testing and that it's an all-vegetarian product (castille soap is just olive oil), and not creating additional plastic waste. I love the smell of the essential oils (currently using cardamom, bergamot, and rose geranium blend), and it's really really moisturizing -- water just beads up on my skin.

    It's also nice to be able to avoid the "beauty" aisle for soap and shampoo!

  • Paying down debt - choices

     I have two main sources of income -- part-time (adjunct) language teaching at my community college, and 3/4 time language training that's my own business (sole proprietor). I know how much I earn each year teaching at the college (the scandalous $13,200 for teaching three courses per semester -- showing how wrong our society's values are), but the income from my business varies a lot (my goal is to earn $60,000 from it per year, pre-expenses, but I haven't yet reached that goal). I also get odds and ends from small translation jobs or other strange part-time things I pick up (I do personal assistant/bookeeping work once a month for a musician for $100 per month) that add up to maybe $5,000 per year.

     I'm hoping that my training business will pick up this year, and I have taken on a commission-based sales person to drum up more work for me (I hate doing sales and am not good at it). 

    I have just gotten a contract for training for a company starting in September for $6,000. This will give me enough money to live frugally through the end of the year (unless home heating oil goes to $10.00 per gallon or something).

    Here's my current debt situation: I've got a mortgage ($139,000), home equity loan ($14,000), and one enormous credit card ($9,200), plus a big student loan ($70,000) that is currently in deferment. I also have two small credit cards that are both at zero percent interest. One is the Care Credit card that is for pet expenses -- I owe $325. The other is a store credit for a mattress and box spring I bought a year and a half ago (something I don't want to buy used) -- I owe $850 on that. 

    Since the two small credit cards are at 0% interest, I've just been paying the minimum on both of them and putting any snowball/rollover money into my big credit card (which is at 5.9% interest). Should I take the $1200 and pay off these two 0% interest cards, just to cross them off my list, or should I put the $1200 against the enormous credit card?

    I feel like crossing the two cards off my list would be very satisfying, but paying them down month by month is satisfying, too. However, if I paid them off, then I could roll the $186 I pay into each of them every month into my big credit card and that would mean an additional $2200 in 12 months.

    I've paid off all my credit debt in the past, then had some emergency (one was a dog operation that cost $3200 and the other was owing the IRS $5000 in taxes) that I chose to address by using the credit card I had just paid off. I want this to be the absolutely last time I ever have credit cards and I really want to be living on a cash only basis to get off the grid, economically. I'm not always rational when it comes to money, so I'm not sure if paying off the two small cards is the rational thing to do, but it's where I'm leaning. 

    Any suggestions? 

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