Why we don’t fight about money

A few minutes ago, my husband walked into the room with an very innocent look on his face. I knew he was up to something. My husband is a very creative person. He’s a web designer, programmer, writer, actor, story teller and has even designed his own language. That creativity sometimes leads to very odd requests. Today he asked me if he could buy a piece of software that will take some maps he has created and make a globe out of them that he can import into Google Maps and does all sorts of other crazy things that only he would need a piece of software to do. The more he explained this the more worried I got. This was sounding like a very expensive request. He then mentioned that the software was on sale and it was…. $32.

Yup, $32. I started to laugh. I told him, yes he could have the software. Now I know couples that buy cars and very expensive electronics without consulting each other. Here was my husband asking if it was ok if he spent $32. At this point, we both have good jobs and have great cash flow. We are still cheap, which allows us to get $32 globe making software. It wasn’t so much that he was asking for my permission, but he wanted to let me know what he wanted to do to make sure there was money in the budget for it.

This is why we don’t fight about money. We consult each other before making purchases that aren’t routine. We value each other’s opinions and we celebrate our money wins. Even though we don’t have to consult each other because money isn’t tight anymore, we still do. I love that about us.

Jeff just came back in the room and wanted me to make very clear that he found a coupon for his purchase which saved him 20% off the cost of the software. I’ve trained him well!

Saving at the fair

It’s been really chilly around here the last few days. For me cooler weather equals state fair time! I’m a state fair junkie. I spent my teenage years living in West Springfield, Massachusetts, the home of The Big E. I’ve attended almost every year of my life, including almost everyday for the two weeks of the fair each year when I was in high school.

Over the years, the fair has gotten expensive but I’ve found some ways to save.

  • Buy advance tickets. Check your local grocery stores and the website for the fair for locations for discount tickets. AAA is also a great place to find discount tickets (they also sell discount movie tickets!). I saved $2 per ticket purchasing the tickets online. All I had to do was print them and present them at the door.
  • Look for food coupons and discounts. This year, The Big E offered discount food coupons on their website. I could get coupons for $10 worth of food for $8. There was no limit to the number of coupon books you could purchase and the coupons are in $1 increments. That’s a 20% savings.
  • Look for the refillable cup deal. Last year, my husband and I purchased a refillable cup for $8 and shared it. The cup was really big, like a giant water bottle. Each refill was just a few dollars ($3, I think). Small sodas at the fair were $4 and each refill was the size of three small sodas. Splitting one drink saved us a ton of money.
  • Eat before you go. Everything at the fair smells awesome. If you really want to save some money, have a small meal before you go.
  • Look for community organization “meals”. The Lion’s Club and a number of other service clubs have booths at The Big E. Some of them serve full meals for a great price. It’s a good way for you and your family to eat a meal at the fair for a reasonable price.
  • Don’t drink alcohol at the fair. Beer and wine are crazy expensive. Pick up a six pack on the way home and enjoy a drink when resting your feet on the couch.
  • Set a budget. Since we’ve already purchased our tickets and our food coupons, we don’t need much money for the fair. Set a budget for ride tickets, spending money and food. Only bring that much cash with you and leave your credit cards at home or in the trunk of your car.
  • Look for coupons in the program. If the program is inexpensive, ask if you can see a copy and look at the coupons inside. If you think they will save you more that you would save on the program, it’s a good deal. Just make sure the coupons are for things you were going to purchase anyways.
I’m always looking for new tips on saving at the fair. I’m hoping we will go tomorrow. Meal plan will be up late tomorrow!

A lifesaver: Slime-Smart Tire Repair Kit

I woke up Saturday morning to a flat tire. It was really, really flat. I went to Target to get a can of Fix-A-Flat, because that’s what I’ve always used for flat tires. After walking the auto aisle three times, I was about to give up and go to another store. Then I saw Slime Smart Spare. The kit comes with a bottle of green tire sealant and a portable inflater which uses your car’s cigarette lighter for power. I got home and read the directions. The kit was easy to use and my tire is as good as new. The tire sealant is good for one tire, but you can buy additional bottles of sealant anywhere the product is sold. The kit was about $20 at my local Target.

As a woman, I always worry about getting stuck if my car breaks down. You either have to wait for a tow truck or try to put on your spare yourself. This product was quick and easy to use. I didn’t have to put on my spare or go to the gas station to fill my tire after using a can of the other product. You can also use the pump to regularly fill tires. It even comes with a tool to fill bike tires. The best part? The pump has a tire gauge built into it so you know exactly how much pressure is in your tire!

I’m so impressed with this product. Everyone should have this kit in their trunk. Faster and less expensive than calling for help and it’s got multiple uses! That’s my kind of product.

Could you eat for $4 a day?

Our regional food bank is working to raise awareness about hunger and low-income Americans by issuing the SNAP Challenge. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the new name for the Food Stamp Program. The SNAP Challenge encourages folks to try to live on the average daily allowance provided by the program, which is $4 a day per person in the household.

Jeff and I have decided to give this a try for the month of October. Why wait? Well, there are some rules. One of those rules is that you can’t use any food you currently have in the house. Because of this, we have decided to try to eat as much of what we have over the month of September so there isn’t much in the house when we start the Challenge. This also gives us the opportunity to come up with our own house rules.

One of the things we are debating is if we should be able to use our warehouse club membership to purchase food. I see a lot of folks with EBT cards (the card use for SNAP benefits) at BJ’s and Costco so I’m leaning toward using it for some things. We’ve also decided that since SNAP benefits are loaded onto the card at the beginning of the month, we will have access to our entire food budget at the beginning of the month as well.

This should be an interesting experiment. Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate  did a similar challenge earlier in the summer. There were a few differences in the rules between her challenge and the challenge issued by Foodshare. One of the rules that I don’t get is that you can’t get food from family, friends or the workplace because “these opportunities would not be available for the general public.” I’ve worked in a lot of different places, including food service, retail and offices. There were always opportunities when food was available. I understand that if you worked for a place like Google, that provided meals to their employees everyday, that would make things a lot easier, but there are usually opportunities where food presents itself for free. I know we are going to break that rule at least twice in October because we have a wedding and a birthday party that month.

I’m eager to start planning for the month, going through recipes to see how we can do this. Even though food prices are rising, I’m fairly certain we are going to eat well on $248 for the month. Until we get there, I’m also going to have the interesting task of trying to figure out how to eat a ton of ground sausage which we have in the freezer. I’m not a huge fan of ground sausage, but Jeff is already making a list of things I have to make. Biscuits and gravy were on the top of his list. I’m fairly certain I could make that for 30 days and he would be happy as a clam.

Annual Utility Savings Hunt – Electricity

It’s that time again. Time to go hunt for utility deals. I know most people think there are no deals to be had, but a lot of your utilities can be negotiated, depending on where you live.

In Connecticut, we have the choice of electricity suppliers. That doesn’t mean that I get two bills or that I have to change electric companies. The only thing that changes on my bill is the name of my electricity supplier and the amount I pay each month.

I received a call last week from one of the electricity suppliers. Usually they go into a big sales pitch explaining what supplier choice is and how things won’t change. I, generally and as politely as possible, interrupt them and just ask for their rate. My former rate was 10.7 cents per kwh. The rate for my electric company is over 12 cents. This company offered me a rate of less than 9 cents with no contract. They also offered me $100 if I stay with them for 2 months and 5% back at the end of 12 months if I stay with them. Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner. I switched. There is no fee to switch and no fees if there is no contract.

The only thing that annoyed me about the process was having to talk to a third-party, independent verification service to make sure I understood what I was doing. I wonder how much that adds to the cost of electricity, especially with people changing suppliers every time someone calls with a better offer.

I figured out that on last month’s bill, I would have saved about $50. I wish I would have reviewed my options sooner. If you live in Connecticut, you can visit this site to see all the companies that provide electricity to Connecticut consumers. I got this link from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. If you live outside Connecticut, contact your Department of Public Utilities or your electric company to see if you can pick your supplier.

Saving on textbooks

When I was in college, I thought textbooks were insanely expensive. Most of my college textbooks were $70-90 new. But that was about ten years ago. Now that I am behind the podium, I think it was a deal back then. Many college textbooks run $150-200 a book now. When my students told me this, I couldn’t believe it. Then I started looking at the price of the textbooks that were required for my classes. I teach intro classes so I was always told which book to use. Last spring I was lucky enough to help pick the book for my course I teach. It was nice to see how cost conscious everyone in my department was. I guess when you get a bunch of accountants in a room, that’s what you get.

If you are looking for an alternative to the bookstore, here are some ideas:

1. Get all of the information you can off your college bookstore’s website. Get the ISBN, title, authors (try to get all of them since many authors write multiple books with different groups of people), the edition and a list of any items that are packaged with the book. Many colleges now create custom editions of a textbook with a custom ISBN which will be difficult to find on most websites. A custom book is generally one with a soft cover, instead of a hard cover or with chapters removed to make the book less expensive.

2. Contact your professor. Your professor can answer any questions you have regarding the book, what is required to be purchased with the book and possible other purchase options. Make sure to include your class and section number when contacting the professor as s/he maybe teaching more than one course.

3. Contact the publisher. Some of the publishers are offering amazing deals to students who purchase the book directly from their website. Call the publisher to see if there is such a deal on your book.

There are lots of sites out there that sell used textbooks. Some things to consider if you are going to purchase your textbook from a source other than the college bookstore:

  • Make sure you purchase the correct edition of the book. I have had a number of students purchase earlier editions, only to learn that the material or the homework problems in that edition are different than the ones in the edition we are using. I’ve had cases where problems assigned did not exist in earlier editions.
  • Make sure that the book you purchase has all software or online licenses you need for the course. If you purchase a used book for $50 but the online piece you need for the course is $45, it would have been less expensive to purchase the book from the publisher with the online component for $80.
  • Purchase your book early. My classes start on the first day of class and I expect my students to have the book on the first day. You may be trying to save money by purchasing books online, but you may lose credit for assignments due the first week of class.
Many college bookstores will also let you rent textbooks. This option is typically about the same cost as purchasing the book less the amount you would get if you sold the book back. It’s a good idea to check the publish date of the book. Most textbooks get revised every two to three years. If the edition is older, it might be better to rent the book because it will have no resale value when you try to sell it back.

Photo in the post taken by Patrick.

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How do you spend?

I think part of the reason that I don’t spend much money is because I don’t put myself in situations where I can spend money. I only go to stores when I have something specific I need. I’m not one of those people who will just walk the mall because I know I will find something I need want. Whenever I go shopping, I make a list of the stores I’m going to go to and what I’m going to purchase there. I try to bundle a bunch of shopping needs into one trip and I try to calculate how much I think I’m going to spend. Doing this usually makes me look at my list again to make sure I really need everything I’m going to buy. When I think I’m going to spend $300 on an outing, it makes me reexamine my trip.

In order to not spend, I try not put myself in situations where I will spend. My weakness is kitchen stuff. I love to cook and I have lots of gadgets and things I would love to buy. I try to keep myself out of situations where I can buy these things. I avoid going into William Sonoma or the kitchen department at Target. If I go into a store with my list, I know exactly what departments I need to go into and only go into those departments. When I go to the grocery store, I skip isles I don’t need to go down. It saves me time and money.

Why frugal?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days updating  the layout of my blog, including adding more pictures. It was a nice reminder why we live a frugal life. I’ve been thinking about this post for a few days and then I noticed that Katy had also written a post on the topic.

People ask me all the time why we are so frugal. We don’t spend money on fancy cars or expensive clothes. We don’t have the latest and greatest new thing that comes on the market. We don’t eat expensive dinners out or go to lots of shows.  So why are we so frugal?

To have moments like this:

Pointing to Naples

This is Jeff on the balcony of our room pointing to Naples. Being frugal got us here. We saved for this trip, which is something we’ve wanted to do since we first got together twelve years ago. We decided that this year, our tenth wedding anniversary would be the perfect time to go. Was it an expensive trip? You betcha. Did we enjoy every moment we spent together in Florence, Rome and Naples? Absolutely. Jeff and I love to experience life together, whether it’s at home or in Italy. We put more value on our time than our money.

We all have different reasons for being frugal. We’ve spent the last few years paying down our debt so we’d have more money in the future. I have one year left on my contract at work, so for the next twelve months the plan is to try to live on my husband’s income and use all of mine for to pay down debt and save. When my contract is up, I won’t have to worry about finding another full-time job. I can figure out what I want to do and see where life takes me. That’s the beauty of being frugal. We don’t need two full-time incomes. Yes, we could probably do a lot more traveling or have nicer cars if I continued to work full-time, but then I wouldn’t be around to make dinner or volunteer my time. I wouldn’t be as relaxed as I am today. I like the flexibility that our lifestyle provides. Plus, if we traveled all the time, I’m not sure pictures like the one above would be as special.

Make your own marinades and spice mixes

This summer, I’ve been experimenting more with using what I have around the house instead of purchasing marinades and spice mixes. Most marinades and spice mixes have lots of sodium and cost a fortune. There has got to be a better way. There is.

I started with a recipe for fajita seasoning. There are many out there but I like the one I linked to. I had all the ingredients in my house and it also works well for tacos. Doing a Google search for fajita seasoning or taco seasoning recipes will provide you with lots to choose from. Generic fajita and taco seasoning packets in my grocery store cost at least $.99 (I’ve seen some as high as $1.79). The flavor I got from the homemade mix was so much better than the packet. I’ve even used it on grilled meat.

This inspired me to get more creative in my own kitchen. When I was little, there was a local restaurant that served grilled chicken with a raspberry dipping sauce. I wanted to try to recreate something similar. I decided to create a raspberry marinade for grilled pork chops. Here’s what I used:

Seedless raspberry jam

Dijon mustard

Balsamic vinagar

Extra virgin olive oil

I used equal amounts of each item, whisking the first three items together in a bowl and then whisking in the oil. I also added a pinch of salt and pepper. At this point, you should test the marinade. If it’s too sweet, add more mustard. If it’s too tangy, add a bit more jam. You can play with this marinade until it fits your taste buds. When you are pleased with it, place your meat in the bowl and toss. Cover and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Then you can cook the meat however you prefer. I used a grill pan. If you have extra marinade and wish to use it as a sauce, you’ll have to put it in a sauce pan and simmer it for five minutes. That’ll kill off anything that might linger from the raw meat and the sauce will reduce.

I really liked the sauce and my husband did too. We will be experimenting more with stuff we have in the fridge.

Coffee!

Yesterday, on the Facebook page, I ask readers to consider how much they could save if they made coffee at home rather than buying it before work. The savings are pretty amazing really. If you spend $5 a day on coffee, you’ll save over $1,000 a year! I thought I’d talk a bit about making good coffee at home, because if you aren’t making good coffee at home, you aren’t going to drink it.

The Coffee Maker

I’ve used a lot of different coffee makers in my day. I’ve also worked for a few coffee shops, too. I don’t see a huge difference in coffee makers in the way they brew coffee. Some do a better job than others at keeping coffee hot without burning your coffee. Some have more features than others. We use the Cuisinart DCC-1200 12-Cup Brew Central Coffeemaker. We’ve had this coffee maker for about six years now. We broke the pot once and it was easy to find a replacement. It makes a large pot of coffee but also has a setting for 4 cups or less. It is programmable, too (not that we remember to program it very often. The Cuisinart also has a auto shut off. It doesn’t grind beans or anything special like that, but it does what we need it to do at a great price. We also use the coffee maker to brew tea for iced tea in the summer.

Coffee

Since you are saving so much money making your own coffee at home, don’t buy cheap beans. If you don’t like the coffee you’re making, you aren’t going to drink it. First you’ve got to figure out what kind of roast you like: mild, medium or dark. Do you like flavored coffee? If you never make coffee at home, you might want to see if you can get a sampler pack. Try a few different things, starting with mild and getting progressively stronger. Try different brands of coffee too. We purchase our coffee at BJ’s. We purchase the store brand French roast. It’s a great coffee at a really good price. The internet is also a great place to find coffee deals. Even if you purchase expensive beans, you will still save a fortune.

There are lots of people who debate freezing vs. not freezing your beans. I’ve done a bit of research on this and we don’t freeze our beans. As long as you are going to use up what you have in less than 30 days, don’t freeze them. If you purchase a large amount of coffee and won’t use it in that amount of time, you should keep some of the coffee in an airtight container out of direct sunlight and freeze the rest. Taking the coffee in and out of the freezer daily messes with the oils in the coffee and will also mess with the flavor. I’ve never tasted a huge difference between grounding coffee at the store and grinding it at home. I use the free grinder at the store. Just make sure that you choose the right grind for your coffee maker. The finer the grind, the stronger your coffee will be. We use a finer grind and use less coffee for each pot.

Odds and Ends

There are tons of different tools out there that claim to help you make better coffee. There are only a few that I have purchased:

  • Tamper/Scoop – When I worked for Starbucks in college, we used on of these for the espresso machines. I use it today for my coffee maker. We use one scoop for every two cups of coffee. Then we use the tamper end to tap down the coffee. The slower the coffee travels through the grinds, the stronger the coffee will be. You can use less grinds to get the same cup of coffee. Most brands will suggest one scoop per cup, so we’ve been able to cut our grind usage in half.
  • Unbleached filters – we’ve tried using just a gold tone filter but because of the fine grind we use, it leaves coffee dust (not the official term) in the last cup. I’m not a huge fan of coffee dust, so we use unbleached filters. Again, I buy these at BJ’s. They are really inexpensive. Make sure you purchase the right filters for your coffee maker.
  • Travel mugs – There are tons of different kinds out there, but if you don’t have one, you can’t take your coffee with you. Jeff has a large thermos and a travel mug that he takes with him everyday. He LOVES coffee.
  • Cream and sweetener – I would highly recommend that you purchase whatever your local coffee stop normally puts in your coffee. If you are used to half-n-half, purchase that. If you usually use nondairy creamer and you like it, buy it. This is another one of those places that if you skimp, you’ll regret it. I use French vanilla nondairy creamer. I like the way it makes my coffee taste.

Making coffee at home is a great way to trim your budget. Just make sure you like what you are brewing at home. If you don’t, you just wasted a bunch of money and you’ll be back to your local coffee shop on Monday.