Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Emergency Funds

You'd think when a story hits national news, it would wake people up. Awhile back, the news was that Americans' saving was the lowest since the Great Depression. Nobody seemed to pay much attention to it, but the story is back.

Now they're saying that only 40% of Americans have emergency savings.

That's sad.

When was the last time you went to a mall and just watched people? They're all over the latest fashions, the sparkliest (is that a word?)jewelry, the cutest puppy or the most popular movie.

The same people don't have enough money to put into savings.

I could quit right there and make a point, but that doesn't get us anywhere. According to an article no longer available at CNN, 19% of people under the age of 24 and 23% of those making less than $25,000 have emergency savings. You might argue that those people generally have less discretionary income and therefore less to save.

"Discretionary" is the key word, though. Savings should not be taken from discretionary funds. If you take money from what is set aside to spend on needs and wants after the bills are paid, you'll feel as if you're shorting yourself, whether you are or not.

Make putting money aside for emergencies like one of the bills. Pay it before you spend what's leftover. It isn't something you can tack on to your spending plan and hope you have enough to pay it.

These two groups are also the ones who stastically will need emergency funds the most because their homes, cars and lifestyles are susceptible to minor emergencies - which can escalate into major ones if there are no funds at all to back them. It's especially important for them to build up a fund for unexpected expenses.

But the worst part of the story? 42% of Americans who make $75,000 don't have emergency savings, either! A little less than half! Granted, if you have enough "discretionary" income so that you don't worry about a repair bill of a few hundred or even a thousand, emergency savings don't seem so necessary, but there could very well come a time when everything hits at once... and then what do you do?

Most Americans reach for their credit cards. Ouch. Instead of making money by having an emergency savings account funded, they're willing to pay money to a credit card company.

It seems that money sense doesn't necessarily increase with wages.

Let me sum it up: If you don't have an emergency fund, for heaven's sake, start one. It will make a big difference the next time you need it - and you will need it. The unexpected is a part of life. If you do have an emergency fund, good for you. Keep it going and keep adding to it. If/when you get over your goal, transfer funds into another goal specific account or retirement fund.

Don't be one of the 60% who will be caught unprepared when your car needs a new transmission or the refrigerator dies or your plumbing disintegrates. Being ready for these things is possibly the best thing you can do to your overall finances.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Gas Prices, Again... Or, Can You Really Save Money On Gas?

Well, here we go again. Gas prices have jumped up across the country like scared rabbits.

There are a lot of things you can do to save gas and it only takes a quick look around the internet to find lists and articles by the dozen that tell you to keep your car tuned up, keep the tires inflated properly, drive slower, gain speed slower, slow down slower, keep your gas tank full... the advice goes on and on, and you've probably done or are doing most of those things.

But how do you know, exactly, how much you're saving? With prices as unstable as they've been lately, how can you tell whether your tactics have saved you a few pennies or a dollar or two - or if they've saved anything at all?

That's the real bottom line, after all. Is it really saving you money, and if so, how much?

Here's how to find out:

  • Keep close track of your mileage and figure the savings potential according to the actual amount of gas burned per mile instead of dollars and cents. This will stand you in good stead over the long run.
  • You also need to track service done on the vehicle, because that can make a difference in gas mileage.
  • Then you need to remember when you bought new tires; that will make an impact, however small.
  • You'll need to buy the same brand and type of gas every time, because different fuel formulas produce different mileage potential.

I found a little program you can use to track all of this in one place and it gives you your exact gas mileage so you'll know whether the things you're doing are making a difference, and how much difference.

This nifty little program is called GasDandy and it really is a dandy. There's a free trial so you can see just how it works.

I guess we could consider these high gas prices to be a learning experience. Once you find something that saves you money when prices are high, it will still save you money when prices are low.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Homemade crackers

Crackers are kind of like mayonnaise. I know there's no secret ingredient that commericial manufacturers use, but why can't I make a cracker as thin and crisp as those saltines that come from the package?

The recipe I used goes like this:

4 cups of flour
1 cup of fat (I used half butter and half lard - mind you, this isn't healthy eating!)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 generous teaspoon of baking soda
extra salt for top

Cut the fat into the flour, then mix the vinegar, baking soda and salt into the milk and pour it over the flour, then work until it's a soft dough. Roll very thin, prick all over, lightly salt the top and bake at 375 for 10 - 15 minutes.

It's very simple, and I liked the results... but it's not the same. It tastes a little like salty pie crust.

Does anyone have a good recipe for plain saltine crackers? If you don't want to post it in a comment, you can email me through my profile. I will be eternally grateful!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rambling About Food, Money and Benjamin Franklin

What would Ben Franklin think of our modern economy?


Our economy has changed drastically since Benjamin Franklin lived. He, with his frugal wisdom, would go into shock if he could see the way we spend money now. An economy built on debt?? A chicken in every pot, maybe, but paid for with dollars that are already owed to someone else.

And that "chicken in the pot" has most likely been processed into chicken "nuggets," or boneless, skinless breasts that makes nuggets (and other "waste" products) possible by leaving 2/3 of the chicken unused.

No, I don't want to make you feel guilty for eating only chicken breasts. How else would we get all those buffalo wings?

But back to Mr. Franklin. He always advocated wise use of money, and people were a lot more frugal back then than they are now. What would he think if he could see us now? The picture hurts my mind.

Our world is far different from the world Benjamin Franklin lived in, both economically and technologically, so it's kind of cool to see how things work out to help us actually do what Franklin advised.

Case in point: Two web sites, Mygrocerydeals and Dollar Stretcher, brought to you via a great network not even dreamed of when Benjamin Franklin was alive, have teamed up to give you a chance to win back the money you spend on groceries. I won't say more, just go to either site and look for the "Ben." (If you read the story linked above, it will explain it.)

It's wise, Ben Franklin style, to use applications like Mygrocerydeals to help you save money and time on grocery shopping whether you enter the contest or not. If spending a morning sorting through grocery store ads over and over and making and remaking lists doesn't sound like fun, Mygrocerydeals.com will do it for you. If you do enjoy poring over ads, this site adds new depth to the game and you'll enjoy that!

And last but not least on my mind this morning: "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." That's the way Benjamin Franklin said it. The Book of Proverbs from the Bible says it this way: "A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense. Through knowledge its rooms are filled with all sorts of precious riches and valuables." (NLT)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Is it Really Free?

The internet offers a lot of legitimate free offers. Software developers give away first and beta versions as they continue to work on applications. Consumer products are given away to entice you to buy more once you taste, feel, see or otherwise try the product. Other goods are promotions, like Tshirts with a company logo.

It's frugally smart to take advanatage of those offers that you qualify for and that will benefit you. You might even find a few products that you really like.

BUT... there are other "free" offers you shouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, as the saying goes. These offers promise you $250 gift certificates or something similar, to well known stores, both online and off. You have to jump through many hoops, sign up for newsletters or other "free" (not) services or products or give your email address in many places.

Free, they are not. Besides doing all the work and clicking, you'll find the offer is entangled with so many strings attached that confusion either makes you quit altogether, or you begin clicking wildly just to get to the end of it all. Beware most of all, anything that requires a credit card number, bank account number or any other personal numbers or information.

Remember that anything that seems to be so easy to come by, usually isn't.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Postage Rate Increases: Deal With it Frugally

They call it an "adjustment," but I call it "raising the price." The US Postal Service is the culprit this time. They're proposing a rate increase - excuse me, adjustment - of 3 cents to bring the cost of a first class letter to 42 cents.

That's 8 pennies less than a pound of hamburger when I was a young housewife. (And no, I'm not that old!)

Those 8 pennies went farther than they do now, too, but that's a different story. Today, we can often deal with things differently to save our pennies, and ultimately, our dollars and hundreds of dollars.

One way to deal a little differently with postage rate increases is to not buy as much postage. If they're going to insist on charging so much, I'll insist on not using their service. Now, that's the rebel in me, but the frugal fact is that we can do a lot of business without paying higher postage prices.

Two ways come to mind immediately. First, if you're close to a bricks and mortar office, stop by and pay the bill in person. It might take five or ten minutes, but it's for a cause! It won't make money sense to make a special trip, but if you're out shopping, or going in the general direction, why not? What's five minutes, anyway?

The second way, which appeals better to our (ok, my) lazy nature, is to pay bills online. Most, but not all, utility companies have web sites where you can pay your bill, either with credit card or a bank check. (Don't fall into temptation and pay with a credit card when you wouldn't have otherwise.)

Almost, but not all, utilities, give you the option of paying one time or setting up automatic payments. Automatic payments can be a headache, especially if your bank balance rises and falls according to pay days. One glitch, one late paycheck and you're hit with overdue charges, out of your control and often not your fault. Be that as it may, it's up to you which one you choose.

Bottom line? When the postage rate is 42 cents and you pay 10 bills online, you've saved $4.20. Do that every month and you will save $50.40 in a year.

And if $50 isn't worth much to you, send it to me and I'll make good use of it.
(Just kidding!)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Consumerism

CNN Money once ran a story called "6 ways to be a grown-up about debt."

They start by profiling a couple that's deeply in debt, then go on to point out why and how to start digging out.

It seems like an old story, played over and over again lately. Couple makes good money, buys a big house, a couple of vehicles, takes nice vacations... and winds up in debt over their heads.

CNN's solution? Stop spending more money than you make. Start paying more than minimum on your credit cards. Don't use a home equity loan to pay them off. Get counseling if you need it. Build an emergency fund.

Hmm... sounds like frugal living sense (formerly known as "common sense").

Consumerism is something like the kudzu vine that has taken over parts of the south... it takes over, growing into everything, over everything, until it's hard to see anything but spend, buy, spend, buy...

Consumerism is like any other addiction. Some people may be able to handle it, but it has the ability to destroy life. Beware.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I Love Clotheslines

I love to hang up clothes to dry. I get it from my mother, who did laundry for a big family long before dryers were common. You'd think that after years of it, she'd have gotten tired of it, but it was always one of her favorite things to do.

One of the nicest things my son ever did for me was put up old fashioned clotheslines in my back yard. He had someone make metal T posts, then set them in concrete and strung the lines. I love it and use it as much as I can.

I also have a yarn and string combination in my basement, which one day is going to break and take down a small load of wet clothes. Then I'll be ready for a more stable indoors "clothesline." (Diehard frugalista: I'll get the most out of that flimsy line that I can first.)

Anyway, I went browsing, planning ahead to that day. There are a lot of sites online where you can find retractable lines, wooden or metal racks or other clothes drying products, but one that caught my attention as I browsed with this in mind, is a site from Australia (Lifestyle Clotheslines) whose products almost make me wish for that tacky little line to fall down now.

I'm not kidding. I daydreamed about using some of those lines. They look so trim and fit right in... ok, I'm not paid to advertise this site! But I did enjoy my time there. I wonder what the shipping would be from Australia...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Google Found a Good One

I subscribe to a Google service called Google Alerts that sends an email each day on search terms you choose. One of the terms I put in and was contemplating removing, hit gold today, so I'll be keeping it.

The site (a blog) is called We're in Debt. My first reaction was "What a a negative name for a blog!"

Then I went and read a few posts, then I picked some random samples from the archive and I changed my mind. These people are serious about getting out of debt and their blog is a down to earth story of how to do it.

They've used many of the same tactics I've advocated, like tracking expenses, setting up an emergency fund, and keeping an eye on the details of all transactions.

Anyway, I could talk about it all day, but go see for yourself. I think you'll be as impressed as I was.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Staying Home

You want a really good frugal tip? Stay home. Don't go shopping until/unless you really need to, and continually revamp what "really need to" means. It's best to plan on one day a week, or every other week and refuse to shop before then.

When I was growing up, we lived on a ranch 20 miles from town. Mom didn't drive and Daddy worked 7 days a week. We went to town once a month, when Daddy got paid. Toward the end of the month, we ate just as well as we did at the beginning (you thought I was going to say we ran out of everything!). The exception was that when we got home from our trip to town, we had sandwiches on "boughten" bread, with lunch meat.

It's true that we sometimes ran out of things, but we made do, or did without and it didn't make that much difference in how we lived.

Did you know that it isn't critical to have cheese on hand? And that you can wash dishes with laundry detergent if you need to? And... that you can make a meal from a handful of rice, a chicken leg and a bag of wild greens? Or whatever you have on hand.

Making do is just as much a frugal and sensible pursuit now as it was back then. The truth is that we're spoiled into thinking that we have to run to the store when we're out of two or maybe three items. If we're out of more than that, it's panic time.

But if we would calm down and admit that doing without commercial bread for three days won't send us to our graves (it may help keep us out of them), we wouldn't have to run to town every other day. It's true that the more often we're inside a store, the more we spend there. Staying home makes frugal common sense.

My Frugal Fun: Free Celery


Ok, this is fun. Growing vegetables on the windowsill is fun, but it's more fun when they don't even cost you the price of a seed. (How's that for frugal?)

This celery plant is growing from the bottom I cut from a celery bunch sometime in January. You can see how happy it looks. All I've done so far is put it in water and allowed it take root. The next step is to add dirt, a little at a time until the roots take hold. Then, I'll cut the bottom out of the plastic container and set the plant in a dirt filled pot, or in the garden, if the weather is warm enough, and I'll have free celery.

Celery isn't the only thing that grows like this and half the fun is experimenting to see just what will grow.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Home made versus hand made

I read somewhere that when you give a home made gift, you should call it "hand made," and that makes sense to me.

It's true that "home made" sounds... well, almost tacky, while "hand made" sounds exclusive and special! We frugal folks might as well take advantage of people's perceptions.

That reminds me of how saving money can be considered tacky or special, too. We can look at it either way, and the way we present it to our families can make a difference as to how they accept our frugal ways.

Being frugal is sometimes a lonely place to be, so it makes sense to use all the tricks we can to show others that ours is a logical, legitimate and empowering lifestyle.

There's nothing tacky about that.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Frugal common sense

I read the post on Frugal Upstate blog about mending and I just have to throw in my two cents' worth. It's a shame that more people don't mend clothes and linens instead of throwing them out, but in this age of consumerism, we're expected to throw things out or give them away at the first sign of wear. If you believe the hype, you'll learn to think of wearing "old" things as beneath you. After all, don't you deserve better than that?

No. I don't care who you are, you don't "deserve" better. All money matters aside, nobody deserves to waste the resources of this planet to satisfy his/her own ego.

I'm not militant about the environment - I don't even think about it that often. You don't have to be a tree hugger to see that wastefulness is... well, it's selfish. There's no other way I can think of to say it.

Frugal living and simple living and conscious living have a lot in common. I'd like to think that the main thing they have in common is common sense. And I wonder why they still call it "common" sense, because it sure isn't very common.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Frugal Drain Plug!

It doesn't take much to make me happy.

I was putting away the dishes, getting ready to wash some more, when I dropped the lid to a small yogurt container into the sink with the garbage disposal.

Now let me say that I'm not enthralled with garbage disposals. In the bigger picture of things, they're pretty worthless. I compost everything I can and what I can't will go into the garbage if it's solid or down the sink if it's liquid.

Since I don't have a dog or cat any more, meat scraps are either frozen for later use or put in empty cans or small boxes and put into the trash. So you see, I don't use my garbage disposal often.

As a matter of fact, it's a problem for me because I have to be so careful to keep things from falling into it. I have/had a plug for it, but that kept the water from running through... so imagine my delight when that yogurt container lid slipped perfectly into the drain and sat prettily on the rim. I tried it; it works beautifully. I can fill the sink with flatware and never worry about it slipping down the drain. And the sink drains slowly so I don't have to get into the water to remove the lid.

How is this frugal, you might well ask... well, if I hadn't saved that yogurt container (my daughter's, I don't buy it, except the plain now and then), I wouldn't have had the lid. And if I wouldn't have had the lid, sooner or later, I would have wound up looking for and buying something to do the job.

I don't know how much I save by using a plastic lid instead of a drain plug, but it pleases me. :)

Friday, February 9, 2007

Real Whole Wheat Flour

Here's something I haven't done, but I would love to: Growing and Harvesting Wheat by Hand


Wouldn't it be cool to eat a slice of bread, fresh from the oven, that you'd created from start to finish? I mean, from planting it right down to harvesting, milling and baking it... that's real hands on living and something you don't find much of in today's world. It doesn't even seem realistic to do things like that, but people did it for most of human history.

It seems that we've been sold a bill of (commercialized) goods.

How did people survive before the last century or so? Too many people now don't know and if you tell them, they won't believe you. We're coddled, cocooned and protected from the real world so much that we don't even know it exists.

Anyway, back to wheat...

I've mentioned before (elsewhere) that I buy wheat at a feed store. That's not exactly true. It should read I bought wheat at a feed store. It's been... 6 or 8 years since I've done that and the reason is that I still have wheat! I don't even remember how much I bought, but it must have been a hundred pounds.

A hundred pounds of real whole wheat flour goes a long way, but probably not as long as mine has, if you use it all the time and use it exclusively. I sometimes use white flour with it to make a bread that rises better and I only bake for one person now, so it goes a long way.

Real whole wheat flour, ground at home and used immediately is better flour than any you can buy. Wheat germ, part of the wheat kernel, goes rancid pretty fast once it's broken or milled, so what you buy in the store is either inferior quality or has the kernel removed for longer shelf life - which is inferior nutrition.

That makes feed store wheat a lot more frugal in several ways.

1. It's cheaper. You can still buy wheat for a lot less than you can buy generic white, bleached flour (the cheapest of all flours).

2. It's more nutritous, having had nothing removed from it for any reason - and it hasn't set on the shelf, losing B Vitamins over time before you even see it in the store.

3. It has a much deeper and clearer flavor than premilled flour. If you've ever eaten it, you'll never be satisfied with "whole wheat" bread again.

4. It's more filling - more food than fluff. A glass of milk and a slice of real whole wheat bread will fill almost anyone up.

If you don't have a feed store in your area, maybe a day trip would put you in reach of one. As a last resort, you can buy wheat online. The shipping can be high, but if you go together with a friend, you will probably be able to buy enough to make it worthwhile. Remember to figure the cost against the cost of flour, and if you're really fair, figure it against the cost of the best whole wheat flour you can buy.

If, on the other hand, you're just frugal, figure it against the cost of the cheapest white flour you can buy. Chances are real whole wheat flour is cheaper. Then add in the rest of the benefits and it's still the most frugal flour ever!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Frugal toasty toes

I wear knitted slippers around the house a lot - at least in the winter - and with the recent cold spell we had, my feet got downright cold. I started dreaming about felted inner soles, but as a rule, I won't buy anything that takes special care so I didn't have any yarn that would felt or shrink.

Thrift store to the rescue! In one of my forays, I found a wool sweater marked "Dry clean," which means that it will shrink if I wash it in hot water, which is exactly what I was looking for.... for $2.50.

I think I'll unravel the arms and save the yarn for a future felting project, but felt the rest. There will still be enough to make felted inner soles to last through several winters' of very frugal toasty toes.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Lines in the Sand

Am I extremely frugal? Some people seem to think so.

But then, some people just don't get the whole concept of being frugal.

If those people call me (or you) extremely frugal, who is right and who is wrong? I don't think either are. By their standards, maybe we're extreme... by ours, we're not. That makes it pointless to debate.

We'd have to draw a line that said, "this side is extreme and this side is not," and everyone would want to draw a line in a different place. Asking "What is frugal"? or "What is extremely frugal?" won't get you any definitive answers. It will only get you disagreements.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Frugal Bonus to Line Drying and Ironing Clothes


After I took this picture, I was stricken by the statement it made. Something about a die-hard frugalista? :)

It's a given that we can save utility dollars by drying clothes on a clothesline, but when we line dry clothes, we're not only saving on the electricity or gas it takes to run the automatic dryer, we're saving on wear and tear of fabric.

Dryers pummel clothes - they beat them against each other and against the dryer drum under heat. Why do they turn out so soft? Ever put on a pair of worn jeans and enjoy how much softer they feel than a new pair? The dryer is wearing out the fibers of your clothes.

Drying clothes in an automatic dryer also sets stains which usually become permanent.

If you pull clothes from a washer, put them in a dryer, then on a hanger or in a drawer, the chances of seeing minor problems are small. Not until they're large problems do you notice them, and then it takes a lot more trouble to repair - and sometimes it's too late anyway.

When you iron clothing, you get a chance to notice worn areas, loose threads and stains. You can deal with these right away, saving a bigger problem in the future and often, saving the item itself.

Moral for the day: An ounce of prevention is worth more than the cure! Or... maybe it has something to do with shoveling snow from under the clothesline.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Dish Detergent and Frugal Living

I got a sample of Dawn dish detergent awhile back but I hadn't used it yet - guess I was waiting for hard times or trying a new method of being frugal. Just for fun, I tried to see how long I could make it last. Wow.

I've washed dishes three times with it now and there looks to be at least enough for twice more, maybe three times. That's from a "one use" sample. How much do they want us to waste, anyway??

I wash dishes by hand in a large stainless steel bowl that's still smaller than a standard dishpan (if there is such a thing), so it doesn't take as much dish detergent as a sink full of water would. Even with a full sink of water and detergent, it wouldn't take the whole sample's worth.

So, who's the odd one out? The frugal soul who refuses to waste even a freebie, or the generous soul who swishes it downstream without a second thought?

A Frugal Salad on the Windowsill

Well, I did it. I just couldn't quit writing about frugal living.

Since there's been a little more time, I've been able to do more living than writing about frugal. To begin, I planted some lettuce in one of those oblong Nestle's Hot Chocolate Mix containers and it's up already... so I planted a few radishes to go with it.

I also planted celery. Yep... I cut a half inch or so from the bottom of a bunch of celery I'd bought and put it in one of those little plastic-y containers they give you sauces in at the fast food place. (No, I didn't go to the fast food place - my daughter used to work at a pizza place where they used them for garlic butter.) Anyway, the celery is taking root and has a cheery splotch of bright green leaves in its center.

I'll have at least a few very frugal salads before gardening season!