Sunday, March 30, 2008

Venturing Beyond Laundry- Follow-up

Earlier this week I posted about a clogged drain. Instead of opting for Drano I decided to give a homemade remedy a try. Here's the recipe I used followed by a more in depth review of my process.

1/4 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup vinegar, a lot of hot water, funnel

Use the funnel to pour 1/4 cup baking soda into the drain. Follow with 1/2 cup vinegar. After 20 minutes (or when all of the fizzing has stopped) flush with hot water.

My thoughts:
On Thursday I got the recipe to unclog a drain from many sources.* The general idea is baking soda, followed by vinegar, followed by hot water. The baking soda and vinegar do a fizzing thing, kinda like those volcano's from elementary school. The fizzing breaks down the gunk buildup from soaps, shampoos, ets. The hot water washes it down the drain.

Most of the recipe's called for a 1:1 ratio. On Friday night I poured in 1/2 cup of baking soda into the drain and realized an issue. The baking soda filled the drain hole completely, so the vinegar fizz action happened in the tub. While this was cool to look at it didn't seem to be doing much. I went to the gym, came home, flushed the drain and went to bed. Saturday morning Gameboy reported that the drain was better but not perfect.

I decided to try again this time using a hacked funnel** and only 1/4 cup baking soda. Before pouring the baking soda in I noticed some hair at the bottom of the drain that wasn't there before and yanked it out. This ranks as one of the top 10 grossest feelings ever. I funneled in the baking soda, followed by 1/2 cup vinegar and let it do its thing for a few minutes. I flushed the drain with hot water then jumped in the shower. Honestly, I can't remember the last time the drain worked that well.

All in all this is something I will keep using. I had to use it twice, but the first time I didn't use it in the best way for my particular drain. Also, slow drains and clogs at other apartments have sometimes used more than one bottle of Drano. This method definitely saved some money and is better for the environment too.

*I never just go with the first one I find. I like to build a bit of consensus when wandering to the beaten path.

**We don't have a funnel so I cut the top off of a water bottle in the recycle bin. It was the perfect size for this little experiment.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Summer Savings

I have a cousin that's five years younger than me. We grew up 30 minutes from each other and spent a lot of our childhood's together. For the longest time I thought of her as an irritating little sister. At varying ages she bit, repeated everything I said, and told the world's worst jokes. Eventually she grew up and in the years since we've become good friends.

As an older sibling/loved one I think that a part of my job is to tell her all of the things I wish someone had told me and how I do the things I do. Usually I forget what it is that I've told her until a year or two later she say something like I'm so glad you told me to do X.

Currently she's a junior, 1.25 years from graduating. During our last conversation I told her she should be saving at least 50% of her salary from her summer internship. She thought for a second, thought that was reasonable and agreed without much convincing. I explained that once she when she gets around to moving out there will be lots of little expenses she never thought of. That she should fund her Roth IRA each year possible. Also, that she needs to build up an emergency fund.

She got quiet then and explained her plans for summer 2009- traveling to Europe. Before she could finish her sentence I upped the number to 90%. For a moment she seemed stunned. I adjusted and said that outside of transportation to work, any household expenses she should give her mom, and 2-3 activities she should be saving everything.

Among my reasons:
-the value of the dollar vs the euro
-plane tickets are expensive
-having the financial time to choose the right job
-benefits of early retirement savings
-having to build a professional wardrobe
-the great financial position she is in (living rent and grocery bill free)
-if she wants to have a summer of fun she needs to work for it
-that she can avoid the credit card debt most of her peers are racking up

In the end she was on board.

A year from now I'm not sure what her bank account will look like. Hopefully she'll save every spare penny. Even if she doesn't save as aggressively as I suggested she'll likely save more than she would have otherwise.

wereindebt is running a group writing project about saving and encouraging saving.

$500 Phone call

Earlier today I was catching up with other blogs and came across this post at Paid Twice. She's thinking about starting an automated savings account and asked readers about their experience with auto savings/debits. A commenter mentioned a rate reduction on student loans and I started thinking about my student loans. I did ask if there was any way to reduce my rate a few months ago. They said no, not even with auto debit.

Instead of thinking well that didn't work with my loan I decided to give it another try. I called my loan folks and asked if auto debiting would reduce my interest rate. She though for a moment, did some typing, and found me a great nice answer.* Auto-debiting my monthly minimums will drop my rate .25%. Now a quarter of a percent on $1000 wouldn't get me that excited. But the student loan, despite my efforts so far this year, weighs in at just over $26K. I immediately pulled up a debt calculator do see what what the difference would be.

Interest Rate Months Interest Repayment Total Repayment
Original 6.8 111 9,113.85 35,118.79

New Rate 6.55 109 8,614.19 34,619.13

The difference? $499.66, which we'll round up for the sake of a nice title.

Now the plan isn't to take that long to pay the account. This year I've paid more than $1,900 and my first due date** is a week away. I've been thinking about different ways to attack my debt but plan on this loan biting the dust in 2012.

Not bad for 5 minutes of work.

*After a little thought it would need to be at least 1% for me to give it great. 2% would be amazing and I don't even know what adjectives I'd come up with for anything more than 2%.

**Well it was. My student loans pay down the balance and forwards the due date. My next due dates are in June and September.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Venturing beyond laundry

In the shower this morning I noticed that the drain was running seriously slow. I asked Gameboy, who conferred and suggested picking up some Drano next time we do a grocery run. I made a noncommittal sound and turned to the internet.

There are a multitude of recipes, but most go back to baking soda, vinegar, and hot water. Tonight I'll give it a try and report tomorrow.

The Fast -Day 87

At the beginning of the year I put myself on a fast. Outside of food/entertainment a significant portion of my cash flow was going to yarn. I knit and crochet and built up a sizable stash.* We have an armoire with two drawers at the bottom that I claimed immediately on delivery. Within a few month the armoire and two small baskets I keep near the couch for projects in progress were both overflowing.

I chose a yarn fast (no buying yarn, period) for a few reasons. First, I was spending all this money when I have supplies at home. The yarn was also taking over and making my attempts to keep things reasonably neat hard. The problem is most of the yarn languishing in the armoire ended up there for a reason. It's a hodge podge of projects I decided against, yarn I loved in the store but that has no real purpose, and leftover for project where I bought too much.

I've had to be extra creative to make projects work, but I think that's a big part of being frugal. Applying creativity to a variety of challenges to save money and keep things simple.

*Sizable by my terms. There are stashes out there that look like they could spawn a yarn store.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Snacks on the go

I've realized that I talk about food a lot on this blog. I have a hard time parting with more than $40 at a time (an additional part of the dilemma in yesterday's post) but going out to eat and other food spending was derailing my nonbudget.* As a result I look for ways to keep myself away from restaurants and drive-thrus.

I spend a lot of time in my car. Most is work, but there’s also errand running, socializing, and the different ways I earn money on the side. Some days this means going from the office to an event without time to stop home for dinner. Other days work visits run late and by the time I get back to my car I could eat a vegetarian horse.

To help tide me over until I can get to real food I keep a bag of snacks in the car. Right now its 100 cal snack packs. Over the winter I did a research study that involved snack packs and at the end they gave me boxes and boxes to take home. When those run out I’ll probably make my own snack packs with dried fruit, trail mix, and whatever else I can think up.

To keep my car from looking like a vending machine I stash the snack packs in a tote bag on the floor of the back seat.** Any time I feel hungry or start thinking about a Starbucks run I reach into the backseat and grab a snack.

Thats what works for me!

*I didn't have an official budget until recently. My previous method was to keep a running tally of approximately how much went onto the credit card for the month, trying to stay below a preset amount.

**I live in a two person child free household. As a result the back seat is rarely used. Some other options at the glove compartment and the hump between the front seats.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Gift Dilema

I effectively moved out of the house when I went away to college. Since then, at any gift giving venture, my mom tends to transfer money into my bank account for presents. Usually it's accompanied with something like "I put X in your account. Use X for your birthday present and X for you to get you hair/nails done. Use the rest to take Gameboy out to dinner." She uses this method because we live across the country from each other. She'd prefer that I get money she would have used to ship things. When it comes to technical items she knows she doesn't know much and would rather I get something that meets my specifications.

Within 8 months this happened three times for graduation, Christmas, and birthday. I've used the money for my hair to get it done. The nail money goes towards debts. And some of the rest goes to lunch or dinner out. The problem is the actual present money. Before my birthday she asked what I wanted and I let her know it was a digital camera. Photography is a hobby of mine and I've been thinking about a digital camera for a while now. The amount of birthday money was appropriate for a nice mid range camera.

Here's the dilemma. While paying down debt it feels frivolous to spend a couple hundred on a camera. But it also feels wrong to use money she (or anyone for that matter) wanted me to spend on a specific item. The end result? Almost 1K sitting in a 'Sara's Funds' sub account on ING because I can't make a decision.

What do you think I should do?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A different kind of drive through

Friday morning I got up, got ready for work, and headed out the door. I had a site visit in the morning and a meeting in the office directly after. As I pulled up to the site I realized what I didn't have was my lunch.

When the visit was over I started thinking about which drive-thru to visit on my way to the office. I was too far from home to make it to my meeting on time. Somewhere along the way I realized I would pass a Target so I decided to go in and buy what I would have brought for lunch. It took me 11 minutes between pulling off and back onto the road. I picked up a yogurt, banana, and chocolate bar (don't ask) for $1.27. Even with the chocolate bar this was healthier than anything I would have gotten at a drive-thru and less expensive too.

Next time I go into the office I plan on taking in a stack of frozen meals to avoid this happening in the future. That and trying to remember my lunch.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring Cleaning

I spent much of the day getting the house in order. After two quick trips and a pile up of work things built up to a point where I couldn't take it anymore. In the process I've found a mint of change which will be snowflakes once I get them to the bank. I also found some mystery shopping receipts that I'd faxed but never went through.

One big change I'm making this year has to do with organization. When I started my takes I realized that I didn't have a few things I could have written off as buisness deductions. This year I want to keep better track of milage and receipts so next tax season will be easier and perhaps more lucrative.

Finally, I'm glad I showed some restraint the other day with the window plastic. It's 30 degrees and sleeting. Looking at our electric bills for the last few months we've used significanly less energy. The higher fuel prices equal higher bills despite the reduced usage. So every day with the plastic up helps.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Today was my version of a perfect spring day. Minus going to work that is. The temperature ranged from the high 60's to the low 70's, light breeze, and sunny.

What does this have to do with personal finance you ask? A big part of it is that I'm a warm weather person. Winter usually means trying to stay indoors as much as possible. Get togethers with friends and avoiding going stir crazy usually result in trips to places like restaurants, malls, and movie theaters. I don't think I need to expound on why those can all be negative for the finances. When the weather is nice meeting up with friends can be a picnic in a park, hiking, or some other free/low cost activity.

I'm tempted to tear the winterizing plastic off of the single paned windows and open the house up. But I'll keep in mind that March is the snowiest month in my state. And that we had a snowstorm on Monday.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Homemade Laundry Detergent- The Powdered Version

Recently I’ve seen a few posts on frugal/financial blogs about homemade laundry detergent. I think they’re great, but I run into a few problems with the liquid recipes. Most call of a 5 gallon bucket to store the detergent in. Issue is I don’t have the strength or space for something that big. Also, something about boiling the soap down on the stove and large quantities of hot water scares me. So here’s the powdered version for apartment dwellers who are short on space, anyone who uses a laundry mat, or just doesn’t want to deal with the other method.

I got my recipe from Modern Cottage early last year. So far I’ve made a single and double batch. I made the double batch in June and we’re still working on it.

-1 bar of soap: Fels Naptha is laundry soap that worked well for me. Other use Ivory^* or other bath soaps. The soap should come to about 2 cups.

-1 c Borax: I found it in my grocery store. You can also use 20 Mule Team Borax's** store locator.

-1 c Washing Soda. I also found this at the grocery store.

1. Grate the soap on a cheese grater. This isn’t fun but you’ll get through it. Some have recommended using a food processor but I broke the shredder attachment on mine when I tried this.

2. Mix the soap, washing soda, and borax together and you’re done.

Use 1T for small loads (or washers like mine) and 2T for regular loads. I store this in some extra Gladware and have a measuring spoon dedicated to laundry.

^Ivory tip- Grate it and let it sit for a few days to dry out the soap. Use your fingers to crush the soap to a finer consistency. This will help it dissolve better. Thanks Heather! Putting the soap in before the clothes also helps.

*I'll be using the Ivory that got me the $4 register reward I mentioned in the last post when I get around to making more in the next week or two.

**I’m not endorsing any particular brand. These are the ones I found when shopping. I’m a visual person so knowing what a box might look like helps.


That was how much I spent at Walgreens tonight. I walked out with 2 boxes of Kleenex, 4 rolls of Scotch tape, and some dishwashing liquid. How you ask?

  • I had a $4 register reward from a soap purchase a few weeks ago

  • I scanned their circular for the week when I walked in

  • I tore out 3 coupons for the above items.

The clerk rang me up and also seemed amazed that my total was 5 cents. Then came the slighly embarasing knock yourself upside the head moment. I joked about having 5 cents, because even I, the queen of the swipe, realized that was too little to swipe. I put my hands in my pockets and realized a) my wallet wasn't with me and b) all I had on me was a penny. The clerk was cool about it but I ran out to my car, pulled a nickel from the change tray, and ran back in.

I couldn't have done this without some help from Money Saving Mom. She blogs about all sorts of deals, including the items that get you register rewards at Walgreens. I've been shopping at this particular Walgreens of and on for over a year and had no idea that register rewards existed. My only note of caution is to only get things that you actually need/use. On a few occasions I've thought "wow that's a great deal" but when I think about it I'd never use the product.

Happy saving.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Green-eyed Wanderlust

So, I love to travel. Some of it must be in my blood. My parents met 1,600 and 6,500 miles from their respective homes. One was on a new continent, the other in a new country. My first international trip happened before I was 12 months old. A large part of why I chose my school for undergrad was the ease of study abroad, something I did 4 times in 4 years.

Ok, so we've established that I like to travel. My girls from undergrad feel the same way. One is in grad school and just got accepted to a 3 week program in a country on my short list.* I was thrilled for her and just a teensy bit jealous. Then she let me know our other girl would be joining her for a week of traveling. My first questions were when and how much. When works with my work schedule. But the how much stopped me in my tracks. The plane ticket price, while well priced for the area, has 4 figures. That's before food, accommodation's, and travel, none of which have been figured out.

I am well versed on how to travel on a budget but for many reason I know I can't work my magic to make this trip compatible with the budget and debt repayment. I could put away enough between now and the time of the trip. Though the doors to the Bank of Mom are generally closed these days I'm sure she'd loan me the money for the plane ticket between now and when I can pay for it. The problem is that every snowflake and other monies budgeted for debt reduction would have to go to the trip. This doesn't fit with any of my/our goals in the short or medium term.

So I'll tell myself Gameboy and I will make it there one day and wish them well. A few months later we'll all get together and share stories and pictures about life, their trip, my last big trip, and anything else that strikes our fancy. but I may be just a little bit jealous until then.

*I have a list of places I'd like to travel broken into short, medium, and long term goals, much like investing.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Thanks Mom

When I was about 16 I got my first credit card. I still remember the moment, standing in our kitchen, when my mom handed me the little rectangle of plastic. I had recently started my first job and would soon be driving on my own. My mom took this as an opportunity to teacher me one of many financial lessons.

With the card came rules:
  • If you don't have the money in the bank don't buy it.
  • Don't count on expected paychecks or other income.
  • Pay balance in full EVERY month.

In addition to the rules came two warnings. First, my mom would spot check my statements at her discretion to make sure I was playing off my balance. Failure to do so would result in loss of credit card and other privileges.* The next warning was that the card was attached to my social security number and my credit score. At the time I didn't know a ton about credit, but from overhearing conversations and watching commercials that this was something I didn't want to mess with.

A final precaution that my mom took was setting an appropriate limit on the card. I want to say it was $500. It was enough so she could see if I was going crazy with it, but not cause any serious damage. She also knew I had more than $500 in my savings account in the event that I did get crazy.

Though I know many would disagree with giving a teen a credit card I think its one of the greatest things my mom did for my credit score. Two years later when I was a college freshman the people standing on campus with clipboards and free towels weren't as appealing to me as they were to most of my peers. Over my four years a few of those cards sucked me in but I avoided the 15 cards that some of my friends ended up with. More importantly, I knew how to use a credit card. I understood responsible spending, making regular payments, and how to keep things on track. I didn't hit the GAP and go on a spending binge or charge some crazy spring break trip.

The words (and threat) from my mom have stuck with me for all of these years. Throughout college I managed to spend within my means. Four years out of undergrad I'm not still paying for a sweater I couldn't live without. Three of my four close friends from undergrad are still working to repay mindless credit card debt.** Whenever I even consider charging something I don't have the cash to cover my mom's voice fills my head.

So thanks mom, for getting me off to a good start.

*I'm pretty sure the main threat was the phone. Like many teen girls I lived and died by my opportunity to talk with my friends each night and on the weekend.

**This is clothing, travel, and dining related debt. None of them have faced any significant hardships (thankfully) that necessitated using a credit card to bail out.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Off the Wagon

In the past few days I've fallen off of the wagon. My particular issue has been fast/convenience food. In the past two month's I've done a great job of eating in 95% of the time. The other 5% has been planned meals out for date nights or work functions.

Since Thursday I have hit 4 drive-thrus and gotten takeout. I also bought stuff I shouldn't have bought at Target the other night. Mainly dessert fixings that won't really contribute healthy or hearty meals. It's frustrating because I know I can do better, but stress and sleeplessness have a way of pulling me off course.

The only good news is that it isn't having an adverse affect on the budget. The drive-thru's will come out of discretionary spending and we're still on track with the groceries for the month.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Snowflakes and other Progress

I've decided to add a list of snowflakes to the sidebar. This will help keep track of all of the snowflakes that come in throughout the month. So far, considering that I haven't had much free time the snowflakes are going well this month.

For the most part the snowflakes will go to the loan I'm focusing on repaying. Earlier this month I decided to use a big snowflake from my contract work and fully fund the emergency fund. I prefer thinking about as few things as possible at once. I combined the rest of the snowflakes and sent in a student loan payment. Both are highlighted on the progress bars I was finally able to figure out, also on the sidebar.

I would love to keep writing but I need to get some work done to keep the snowflakes falling.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Frustrations in my inbox

I was ready to blog a bit about my trip until I opened an email. When I'm on vacation I skim for the important emails and save everything else for when I get home. As I was going through one of my accounts I accidentally opened some spam. It's an add for an ebook on "Transforming Debt into Wealth." The program costs $40 and from what I can surmise is a combination of budgeting, avoiding credit, and snowballing debt payoff. In some ways I guess it's no different than an book you could buy at B&N, but it really frustrates me. So many of those resources are available for free via blogs and many nonprofits. Also, what the great success stories fail to mention is that hard work will be needed along the way.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Quick Break

I'm on a work trip and Gameboy tagged along. I'll be back Thursday.

Friday, March 7, 2008

First Friday

My favorite frugal date night is a little thing called First Friday. In my area (and the last city I lived in too) many art galleries open their doors to the public during evening hours. We get to walk around and look at a wide range or art. Another plus is exploring a part of the city that we might not otherwise get to know.

Tonight we'll head out after dinner, maybe with another couple, to get some free culture and ave a nice evening.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


On the sidebar is a list of snowflakes for March. I'm going to try posting them for a month to see how it works out. Depending on the source they go straight to ING or my local bank. As a result sometimes I can't immediately put the money where I would like it to go. This will help me keep track. I'll also use it to help me decide the best ways to focus my snowflake earning efforts.

I decided to use the large snowflake from contract work to finish off my emergency fund. I like focusing on as few things as possible at once. So now all of my focus can go to day to day things and paying down all that debt.

As I type this I'm looking at real snowflakes falling from the sky. I hope that the snowflakes (real or financial) in your world are working for you.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Planning ahead

The most important thing you can do when trying to keep your finances on track is plan ahead. Even if you have impulse spending under control a lack of planning will derail all of you efforts

Today I bough ink for my printer, so I’ll use that as an example. If I’d waited until my printer was low on ink I’d have to go to a local retailers and spend double the money. Instead I planed ahead and ordered online. Even with the price of shipping I saved half of what I’d spend at a big box store.

That’s one example but it extends to all areas of life. A big area for most folks trying to reduce spending is food. Planning ahead can ensure that you have food for the week to avoid ordering pizza or going out. Making sure you have something to make a quick breakfast on busy morning will help you avoid the drive through.

In addition to keeping you budget in check planning ahead can help you create a more accurate budget. At my last oil change they told me the tread level of my tires. Instead of saying ok and going home I asked when I'll need a new set. He let me know that by summer I should get new ones. With three to four months I can do research on the best tires for my needs and shop around for the best prices. I can also write the amount into my monthly budgets to save up.

Anything you wish you'd planned ahead for? Or an example of planning helping you?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Resturaunt food at home

If you're trying not to eat out this month (or in general) Top Secret Recipes is a fun site. You have to pay for most of the recipes but most categories have a few free ones.

Happy eating!

Sunday, March 2, 2008


So we're two days into the month and I've already spent more than I did in the first three weeks of February. The damage:

Safeway (Sat): 19.98
Albertsons: 45.32
Safeway (Sun): 18.88

Total: 88.18

Crazy as that may seem I'm pretty happy with things. Gameboy has enough cereal to last the next three months and I got two weeks worth of frozen lunches (both at Albertson's). I also got items to help with the coming weeks of crazy travel in our household.

Something else I love doing is looking at the savings at the bottom of the receipts. On Saturday I send Gameboy on a Safeway run to get things for a picnic* where he saved 7.54. On the other two trips I saved 47 and 17.16. I wouldn't pay full price for a lot of what I bought, but those numbers still excite me.

What keeps me from having a heart attack is that other than produce I probably won't go to the grocery store until the end of the month. I have just over 60 dollars left in this months grocery budget so I shouldn't run into any problems.

*Can you explain how Sat can be mid 70's followed by a snowy 32 on Sunday?

King Soopers Bag Credit

King Soopers (at least in my area) is starting to do a $0.05 bag credit for every bag that you bring in to reuse. I've been bringing in cloth bags for a while now so it will be great to get the extra reward.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


This amount of money shouldn't make me as happy as I am right now but it totally does. Why you ask? Because of all of the money I earned this is truly free money. I didn't have to work, drive, or do much more than spend some time online to earn it.

In January I joined Lending Club. I used a referal that should have given me $25 to play with. Instead I magically got $50. After a some verification (a checking account number is involved so I had to make sure things were on the up and up) I chose two individuals that I wanted to fund.

So far I've only invested funds from signing up and one referal, but I'm looking forward to a steady string of small snowflakes that required no upfront funds.

If you're interested in joining you can use this link or the one above.

Happy earning!