Sunday, December 18, 2011

State of the debt

How I'm doing as of December 18th:

Total debt: $37,938
Bank of America $7,507
Amex Blue $1,028
Amex Gold $0
CareCredit $0
Chase PerfectCard $6,376
Chase Universal $5,334
Discover $4,196
Student loan debt $13,497

Total assets: $34,378
Savings (in various accounts) $1,281
Traditional IRA $23,089
Roth IRA $1,478
401k $4,304
SEP-IRA $4,226

Well, I'm pleased with how the debt has come down (it was $44,591 July 1st) so that's down more than a thousand a month. I repeatedly have this realization about how much freaking money I will actually have once I pay off my debt - so, so much of my paycheck goes to debt that it's going to be shocking to have actual money when I am finished paying it off. However, all my assets went down a lot, so that's not good. Not much you can do about that though!

I paid off the CareCredit card and the Amex Gold card, and also paid off the car repairs I put on Boyfriend's card. I also got some extra money and paid down the Amex some. I was hoping to get the Amex paid off entirely by the end of this year, but it doesn't look like that's likely to happen at this point.

I'm also pleased that I paid off the CareCredit card because I took a new job! It's great and I'm very happy that I did it, but it did mean taking a small pay cut of about $100 a paycheck. So it's nice to not have that extra payment to be made.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I am a business MACHINE

So a few months ago, after I had sold CashDuck and gotten that all squared away, I began to feel.. bored. Restless. I'm not used to not having a business to take care of! I'm still writing for MoneyCrashers, but that doesn't occupy my brain in the same way. I started browsing around looking at businesses for sale. And then, because I don't always think things through, I spent the last $1000 I had in cash on a new business. Hooray!

After a few months of running the business, I had had some fun, learned some things, and spent some unnecessary money, but didn't think that this was the business for me. So I thought I'd put it up for sale. And I did, and I got emails from several interested parties, and now I am about to sell it for, all told, a profit of $1200.

That is what we in the biz call Not Freaking Shabby.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who had been watching the goings-on of my business acquisition with interested, and he said, "If you're going to flip another business, I would be up for investing in it."

I hadn't actually thought of what I was doing as "flipping" - more like repositioning. The website where I bought the business specializes in selling websites, but doesn't generally deal in honest-to-Pete businesses that have been well established and have cash flow. (More like sites cluttered with AdSense ads and affiliate programs.) So a lot of the increase in price on the site was related to the fact that I put it up for sale on a site that sells real businesses - restaurants, dry cleaners, etc - for which people are willing to pay real money. It's a matter of selling to people who are prepared to pay what a real business that earns real money is worth.

But I said I'd keep an eye out, and a couple weeks later found a nice website with solid revenue and tons of traffic, which was being sold at a really low price - both because it was on the cheaper website, but also because the owner needed the money immediately. It was pretty obvious that no one else was willing to pay even close to what the owner would have wanted for it, because the next lowest bid to mine was more than a thousand less. (The cheaper site uses an auction system, but not an eBay style of auction where your bid only goes up as much as it needs to in order to stay winning.) So I bid a price that was a little below the reserve but would still be attractive to the owner, and went to bed. No one else bid, and in the morning we worked out a compromise with the owner and started the process of transferring the site.

So I have now been in control of the site for about two weeks, and things have been going well. I'm back in that feverish business-mind mode where I'm constantly thinking about stuff I want to add, programs I could start, what's going to be in the newsletter, etc etc. It's frustrating sometimes (like when AdSense put the account on review and then took it off review three times in one day) but I realize how much I really enjoy this kind of work.

The end game for this site is to sell it probably in January or February (hopefully, once we've captured both Christmas and Valentine's Day sales!) and make some money, both from the profit it's making as it goes along and on the higher price we'll sell it for. I am a really enthusiastic seller, because with both this site and the previous site, I think it's a great investment for somebody who wants to have a good solid moneymaker. So it'll be interesting.

I've checked off most of the things on the starting-up to-do list, like getting a bank account and a PO box, so now I'm turning my attention to the products on the site. The previous owner didn't seem to have paid much attention to which products were selling and which weren't, and since it's drop-ship I can see why, but people like to see a carefully curated collection of items and don't want to wade through a list of everything you think they could possibly ever want. So I'm deleting stuff that no one has ever bought or even looked at, and adding new products that are similar to the top movers. The previous owner had also never sent out any newsletters, so I'm hoping a few carefully timed Christmas newsletters and promotions are going to bring people back who haven't been there in a while.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

State of the debt November 1st

How I'm doing as of November 1st:

Total debt: $40,585

Bank of America $7,916
Amex Blue $2,103
Amex Gold $0
CareCredit $417
Chase PerfectCard $6,779
Chase Universal $5,545
Discover $4,205
Student loan debt $13,620

Total assets: $33,455

Savings (in various accounts) Basically nil
Traditional IRA $23,257
Roth IRA $1,387
401k $4,484
SEP-IRA $4,327

Net worth: -$7,130

In July my net worth was almost $2k higher, but I'm actually pretty pleased about this month's number anyway. Because:
1 - I sold my previous car and bought a new one worth about $1k more. I used savings to fix some things in the old car so I could get the best price for it, and to pay for the "upgrade" and fixing the new car's condenser.
2 - I also used savings to buy a business. Yes, I know I just sold the last one, but it looked like a good opportunity and the price was good. I will probably sell this business fairly soon, as I put a lot of time and money into upgrading it (new shopping cart system, affiliate program, etc) and will hopefully make about a thousand bucks on the deal. Not bad for a few months' work.
3 - I didn't know it at the time, but July was the high point for my investments' worth. The markets have been pretty bad and overall my investments went down about $2500. However, since I am aggressively paying down my debts (at the rate of about $1,000 a month) my debts going down outpaced my investments going down somewhat. So most of the loss of net worth is due to me spending my cash. I guess technically my car and the business are assets, but I don't like including them here since they are not particularly liquid. But, I will use some of the proceeds from selling the business to pay down debts, so it'll eventually show up on the balance sheet.

The one thing I'm not too pleased about is the fact that I have practically zero cash on hand. This makes me very nervous. I've started my Christmas shopping, and after spending $300 have presents for most of the people on my list. (I like to get started early, and make sure I have something at least halfway good for everybody, and then if I find something better later, either they get multiple presents or I put the less-good one in the present pile for anyone I forgot to buy something for.) I have a good chunk of change coming in this month from various projects, but none of it's here yet, and then I'll need to spend it on getting the car's heater fixed (go me, buying a car that neither heats nor cools!) and taking the dog to the vet. So here's hoping that nothing goes too wrong between now and whenever I manage to save up some money. I had set a goal of paying off my Amex cards by the end of the year, and I did pay off the Gold card, but have not made as much headway on the Blue card. Hopefully if I sell the business by the end of the year, and get cracking on other projects to make money, I'll still be able to meet that goal.

The other day I opined to Boyfriend about how much f&$!@# money I will have once I pay off my debt, given that I turn over essentially half of each paycheck to debt. I make a decent salary, so if I'm not paying $1k a month to someone else, we could go to Italy twice a year without any trouble. He regarded me balefully and said, "Yeah, but by then we'll have kids, so we still won't really have any money." Voice of optimism.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Five Financial Lessons Learned from Star Wars

I am a big nerd so I thought this was funny. Today's entertainment is provided by the freelance writer Nicolas Gallego!

Once a year, I force my family to sit down with me and watching the original three Star Wars films back-to-back (the other three are banned from the household). This year was special because the series was finally released on Blu-ray so for once we could play it on our huge living room screen and actually watch it like we were in the theater. Seeing the intergalactic action unfold more vividly than I ever had before, I got to thinking about how much these movies had made me the person I had become.

For the sake of this blog, I've isolated five lessons learned from Star Wars that relate to personal finance and money in general:

1. Sell your landspeeder to follow your dreams.

In the original film, hero Luke Skywalker must say goodbye to his landspeeder in order to afford the journey across the galaxy to enroll in spaceflight school. You have to be willing to give up that sports car or other precious personal possession if it allows you to pursue your dreams. Otherwise, you'll continue to stay stuck on the same rock that you've been living on for years.

2. Rewards work.

In order to talk swashbuckling gun-for-hire Han Solo into helping him save Princess Leia, Luke reminds the cynical hotshot that if she were to be saved, her rescuers would surely be handsomely rewarded. Most people in life - even the noble ones - respond best to rewards. Incentives are what get people off the couch, and the earlier you learn this, the better. It's a priceless part of getting goals accomplished.

3. If they are stronger, then you are faster.

The Galactic Empire never thought that the Rebel Alliance was a real threat because they had 1,000 times the firepower and resources. Whether it's a small business or a bake sale, those who are financially better equipped than you are always going to create an unfortunate disadvantage on your part. But success can still be found by converting these apparent disadvantages into actual advantages; the Rebels always stayed one step ahead of the Empire because their small size enabled them to.

4. Material does not matter.

Who can forget the stunning revelation that the great Jedi master Yoda was not some decorated beast of a man residing in a fortified palace but rather a munchkin hermit hacking it out in a mud hut? What you are made of - “this crude matter” - and everything else physical in this world doesn't amount to squat compared to who you are. Keep this in mind when making judgments about others you don't know.

5. All the wealth in the galaxy can't break certain bonds.

Darth Vader returned himself to the side of good by saving his son Luke from the clutches of the evil Emperor, something the latter never expected to have happen. At the end of the day, wealth withers in the shadow of family and friendship. All the number crunching and data mining in the world can't predict the power of love in determining how people conduct their lives.

Money and finances are strong forces, and have their place in the functioning of society, but they are by no means the only force at work or the only influence that are important in life. Putting money into perspective is key to bettering your life, no matter how much richer or poorer you expect to become in the near future.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ack ack ack

That's one ack for each thing that's gone wrong this month. It's been a ride, let me tell ya.

First - Our kitchen ceiling started leaking, and after sawing a hole in it, the plumber determined there was nothing wrong with the pipes (phew) but that the walls around our tub were leaking (shit!) and so we have decided to replace the tub walls. The owners before the last owners of this house redid the bathroom, and while they generally did an OK job, they put this PVC sheeting stuff up on the walls around the tub, and didn't quite get it to actually meet at the bottom. This means that there is a lovely gap wherein water can shoot through and come out the kitchen ceiling. We had been meaning to redo the bathroom and put in tile, which would look nicer and also raise the value of the house somewhat, but it was rather low on our priority list. So we have to bite the bullet and get that done, and hopefully it will be all up tonight so maybe we can take a shower sometime soon! I'm actually kind of glad that we are getting this done, because when we took off the PVC sheet, we discovered that the drywall and part of the window box were wet and gross, so now we are preventing the gross from migrating further. It seemed pretty contained so the damage should be all gone now. I think this is going to cost us about $900 and a year off my life - our contractor is very nice and very good, but not very punctual, and I went to four different stores yesterday trying to find special tiles for our weird little foot-of-the-tub wall and the window surround.

Second - So my car developed an expensive and irritating condition - the speedometer needle started jumping a little bit. I didn't think much of it, and when the car went in to have its shocks replaced, I asked the guys to take a look at it and replace the sensor or whatever was not working properly. I figured $100 max. Turns out that there is something wrong with the wiring to the instrumentation panel, which is a single unit, and costs $600 just for the part, plus another $500 for the labor, which includes taking it to the dealership and having the car's computer reprogrammed. Fun! Other than being annoying, this caused the car's cruise control to no longer work properly, as it's an aftermarket addition and depends on the speedometer needle to maintain speed, instead of being routed through the car computer as is typical in other cars where it's installed at the factory. I decided that one way or another the car's value would go down by at least $1,000 - either I would put $1,000 into it to fix this, or the speedometer might eventually break altogether and then I would have to fix it then, or attach a gizmo to the car computer slot that would tell the speed, which would probably look really stupid and further make it difficult to sell the car in the future. In the end I decided I'd rather not deal with it at all, and should sell it before it gets more noticeable. I ended up selling it for only $200 less than I bought it for a year ago, and I probably could have gotten the same price if I'd been more savvy about my advertising. Then I went out and bought a nicer car, for about $1,000 more than I sold the old one for, which needed $500 in repairs (the condenser was cracked so it had no A/C.) Altogether after all is said and done I am pretty much out of cash, but I own a more valuable car that works much better. Hooray!

Third - American Express cancelled my cards. I had kind of seen this coming, because I am no longer exactly the prime grade A beef customer I was when I got my cards several years ago. I put several large purchases on the gold card which I immediately paid off, but they saw this as suspicious activity, and asked me to have my bank verify how much money I'd had each of the last six months. The not very nice lady on the phone told me that this was to help out their customers who were having some financial straits. Lady, if I was not having financial straits, don't you think I would have just paid for those in cash to begin with?? Sheesh. So basically they cancelled the cards because I don't have a lot of money and didn't use them much. I still have a balance on the cards and have to pay that off, but now the only older credit card that is still actually open is the Discover, which only has $400 in open credit line on it, since all of my cards keep cutting my line every few months to be pretty close to my balance. I realize that they don't want me to charge any more, but if they haven't noticed, I've only been putting charges on the Amex gold card, which I always pay off quickly, and I've been paying everything else down as much as possible.

Because I now have so little actual available credit anymore, Boyfriend went ahead and put me as an authorized user on one of his credit cards - obviously without asking me, because I would have told him not to, but he does have a point, that I might have an emergency and need to borrow money, and he knows I'm good for it. And I have a tiny bit of hope that perhaps his stellar credit will lift my credit score a little, since it's likely to have taken a nasty hit after my Amex cards were cancelled - one was at least eight years old, and one was five years old, and given that I've only been able to have credit for nine years, that's kind of important.

And a little bit of funny news - I did apply for a credit card and got approved. However it has a $250 limit and comes from Virgin Airlines. I guess it's better than nothing, since I'm trying to raise my credit score. I'm pretty sure that nothing short of paying off all of my credit cards is going to raise my score at this point though. I'm looking forward to that day (according to Mint, in approximately March 2014) when I have no credit card debt, and I start getting fawning credit card offers in the mail for all of those lovely 0% balance transfers that I could REALLY USE NOW. Grumble.

If you're ever in a serious financial situation and decide to take out a cash advance, check out

Thursday, August 04, 2011

All about the H&R Block tax class

I took the H&R Block basic income tax class a few years ago, and since I know a lot of people come to this blog looking for info on it, I also wrote up an article for MoneyCrashers to spread the knowledge. If you're interested in taking the class (you only have about two weeks to register in most places, for the standard twice a week class) you should definitely check out the article here and then go sign up! Financial knowledge gained is money saved, and taxes are one place a lot of people throw away money because they don't know what they're doing, either by paying someone else hundreds of dollars, or by missing crucial items.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

State of the Debt

How I'm doing as of July 1st:

Total debt: $44,591
  • Bank of America $8,482
  • Amex Blue $2,586
  • Amex Gold $521
  • CareCredit $577
  • Chase PerfectCard $7,574
  • Chase Universal $6,365
  • Discover $4,387
  • Student loan debt $14,096
Total assets: $39,235
  • Savings (in various accounts) $3,177
  • Traditional IRA $25,502
  • Roth IRA $1,085
  • 401k $4,655
  • SEP-IRA $4,815
Net worth: -$5356

I never thought I'd be so happy about a negative number!

For comparison, here is what my debts looked like last July, according to Mint (which currently isn't doing so hot of a job at basic math, but it seems OK on regular data)

Total as of July 2010: $53,215
  • Student loans: $15,393
  • Bank of America: $10,627
  • Chase PerfectCard: $9,659
  • Universal $8,631
  • Discover $4,653
  • Amex Blue $3,361
  • CareCredit $683
  • Amex Gold $207
So in one year I have paid down about $9,000 worth of debt. It doesn't feel like a lot on a month to month basis but it looks great over time!

My goal for the year is to get the Amex Blue card paid off. That feels like a little bit of a daunting goal right now, partly because I am first trying to pay off the Amex Gold card since it has a higher interest rate, and I'm also paying down the CareCredit card faster than strictly necessary because it is 0% but only for a certain period of time, and I don't want to get hit with the penalty interest. So to accomplish this I have been stepping up my extracurricular activities. I picked up a couple of assignments I might not otherwise have looked at (like doing price audits at a furniture store - lots of running around the store!) and trying to do more mystery shopping that helps us save money (like getting a pizza pickup shop so we don't have to spend money on dinner.)

Hopefully this will get it moving in the right direction so even if I don't get it completely paid off by the end of the year, I will have made a serious dent in its balance. I'm really hoping that that will help improve my credit profile enough that I can qualify for low-rate balance transfers, which would REALLY help pay down the cards that aren't at a fixed rate. Luckily those are the low balance ones but it would still be really nice.

I'm also really pleased that I have so much cash on hand, and I'm really loath to spend any of it now, even on paying down my debt. =) Cash on hand means security to me, because I would be OK even if there was something catastrophic. (I found out I have to replace my shocks, but that's $400, not catastrophic.) Our household had a pretty good run of no catastrophes and I was able to save the extra money I earned. Also, I just sold CashDuck to a very nice guy who I think is going to do well with it. I really wasn't putting in as much time and energy as I could and I think new blood will really help it. So that gives me more free time as well as an additional bump to my cash reserves.

Our run of no catastrophes ended about two weeks ago, however, when our big cat got a urinary tract blockage and had to spend five days in the vet hospital, to the tune of $1,000. He is doing very well now, and is super floppy and willing to be held any way you want because he is on Valium to keep his urinary muscles relaxed to avoid another blockage. He's... puddly. Boyfriend opened a CareCredit card and put the bill on that, and I'm sending him extra money with each of my paychecks to pay off my half of the bill. Hopefully we can now start on another long catastrophe-free streak!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Sane Person's Guide To Starting Couponing

"Extreme" couponing is the latest craze among the frugal, but I like to practice a more casual couponing. I'm kind of an evangelist for couponing - I get all het up when I see someone buy something that I know has a coupon, and even worse, is going on sale TOMORROW - but I also feel like people think you need to fill up your basement with mustard and spend all day alphabetizing your coupons by barcode in order to get deals. Not so! I will teach you how I coupon, which is to say, the relaxed couponing method.

1. Get 2 copies of the Sunday paper each week.

Why 2? Dunno. I suppose you could get 3. But I forbid you to get more than that because it leads down the spiral of I Could Be Getting More Stuff Free! This is the path to the mustard-filled basement. Man cannot live on what you buy with coupons alone (well, I guess you could, but you might die of scurvy.) Also, unless you are really, really good at couponing, the $2 per paper is going to set you back a lot if you buy ten a week.

The Sunday paper is where you will get most of your coupons. However, if you don't have a local paper that has coupons, you can also buy whole inserts, which is very economical compared to buying the coupons individually. I use Whole Coupons Inserts and Coupons By Dede when my paper doesn't have all the inserts for that week. You can even buy previous weeks of inserts to get you up to speed. Also, especially when you're new to couponing and don't have a ton on hand, printable grocery coupons will help fill out your binder.

2. Keep your coupons in order by date and insert.

This is how most couponing websites will refer to the location of the coupon you want to use - referring to the inserts by date and insert brand. RedPlum, SmartSource, and Procter and Gamble are the three major kinds. I'm a cutter-outer - I like to cut up my coupon inserts - so I keep them in envelopes labeled with the date and RP, SS, or P&G. Some people prefer to keep the coupon inserts intact and just cut out what you need for that week, which is also a good method. But whatever you do, don't cut them all out and then sort them by Dairy, Snacks, Canned Goods, etc like most coupon organizers are labeled. It'll make it harder to pull out what you need. If there are coupons you know you'll use RIGHT AWAY because you buy this stuff every week, buy more of that coupon from The Coupon Clippers and leave the original coupon in its envelope or insert. That way you can still find it two months later when you've forgotten all about it and now there's a big sale.

3. Get a giveaway bag ready.

Why start thinking about giving away stuff before you've bought a single thing? Well, I have a hard time admitting I'm wrong about stuff, and being wrong about whether we'll use something I paid ten cents for is the hardest thing of all. Luckily, if I determine I've gone on a couponing binge and bought something we'll never use, I repurpose that purchase charitably in my mind. "It was for the food bank!" I say. And thus my dignity is restored. If you don't have a giveaway bag, you might look at that eighth bottle of Caesar dressing and think, "Ah, we'll use it someday." The next time you see that bottle might be six years after it expires. Instead, it could've been doing somebody some good. You know somebody's going to have a food drive eventually, whether at your work, your church/synagogue/commune/whatever, or barring all else, the Post Office does it once a year in May. So make sure that your giveaway bag is always in the back of your mind - not least because you can do ten times as much good if it's 80% off. In fact right now I have an entire paper grocery bag filled with tampons, body wash, toothpaste, and other items that would keep a family clean for a year, but the whole bag cost about $20 and will make the women's shelter very happy. (The food bank bag, however, is full of mayonnaise, to keep me from hoarding it.)

4. Pick two grocery stores to target (max!)

While true extreme couponers will hit every store in the area, I think that attempting to cover all the sales will drive you batty. If you have any stores in the area that double coupons, you could pick that one, but do try to include the store you usually go to. I do most of my couponing at Giant Eagle, and go to Kroger when there's a special storewide sale on. I used to try to hit a third one too, and it became too much to keep up with. I would actually feel bad when I did not go to the third store, but who needs to go to the grocery store three times a week with only two people in the house? It was unwise. Some people prefer CVS, Walgreens, or other drugstores over grocery stores, and those have their pros and cons as well. I try to keep it simple and do most of my coupon shopping at the store I would be shopping at anyway. This is also a crazy-limiting suggestion - you can certainly go to other stores if you know there's a promotion, but trying to go to all of them every week just eats up time.

Then, once you've picked out your stores, sign up with any loyalty card programs they have. Use your real name and address (you might get coupons in the mail!) and make sure to sign up with that card on their website too. Many stores are moving towards e-coupons, so this is a potential source of free extra coupons that you can't miss.

5. Sign up with The Grocery Game or pick out coupon-matching blogs.

There are several different coupon-matching sites out there, but I think the Grocery Game is the easiest for newbies. How you use it: It just gives you a list of items that are on sale that week with their percentage-off and prices, you check off what ones you want to buy, and it generates a list of coupons you need to pull from your (dated and labeled) envelopes. Then, you can print off a shopping list and go to the store. It doesn't have a lot of printable coupons listed, nor will it always be 100% correct for your region, but it is super duper easy.

Here is a widget from the Grocery Game so you can see what it looks like:

View all Grocery Coupons & Grocery Deals

Alternately, you can find a coupon-matching blog. Even though I use the Grocery Game, I also check Coupon Katarina and Saving in Akron for their Kroger and Giant Eagle matchups respectively. These ladies go through the whole sale list and find all the coupons, both from the Sunday paper, coupon websites, and the manufacturer websites, that you can use that week. Usually, they also offer suggestions about how to match up the coupons to get the best deals if there's strategy involved. Make sure that the blogs you follow are using the circulars for your region - there are tons of these blogs so you shouldn't have a hard time finding one that does.

6. Think about what you are actually going to use.

This is another trap that we frugal people sometimes fall into. I'm perfectly willing to eat Fruit Roll-ups for lunch every day, but Boyfriend is not so willing. I'm probably more willing because I know how little they cost and that makes me happy when my lunch is inexpensive, but Boyfriend is only thinking about whether he likes Fruit Roll-ups or not. Your family may be happy that you are saving money, but beware of bringing home ten boxes of cereal and declaring that everyone is having cereal for dinner for the next two weeks. You may incite a revolt.

The best way to get the most out of your coupon money and time is to buy things that your family wants, ahead of when your family wants them. There is nothing to "win" here by getting your whole grocery cart for free if no one in your house wants to eat any of it, or you don't use enough of those things to get through them before they expire. So it might help to go through your list with your partner or someone else in the household and say, "Are you going to eat this if I buy it?" If they say no, and you buy it for ten cents on the dollar, that's going to be ten cents wasted, instead of ninety cents saved.

7. Start shopping!

At first, you're not going to be able to get really great deals, because it takes time to get going with couponing. A lot of sales will involve coupons from the previous week's circular, but a lot of times they will use two-month-old coupons which you won't have until you've been doing this a while. So the best deals will come over time. Keep at it! The idea is to buy things you need before you need them, so that when you want them, you can just pull them out of the cupboard. It's really hard to explain how exciting it is when I can just pull a frozen pizza we already own out of the chest freezer (another good investment, if you can get one used on Craigslist) and ta-da, we have dinner. Or if we want to have fajitas and only need to buy lettuce because I already have everything else in the house.

It is very easy to get 50% or even 75% off on many items. It is very difficult and rare to get 100% off unless you go nutty about the process. But you can really save a lot of money by getting 50% or 75% off stuff you use all the time! I haven't paid full price for paper towels, soup, cereal, dog snacks, salad dressing, or any kind of health & beauty stuff since I started couponing last year. The number of things I get for free is pretty low, though I do try to pick those things up for my giveaway bag even if we won't use it. (Brut deodorant, I'm talking to you.) But even though I'm not overly obsessive, I still have four shelves of stuff in the basement and two full bags of stuff to give away.

People of the internet, have you started doing any couponing? What do you think of my method? How do you do your coupon shopping? Any other tips for sanity-retaining couponing?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

It's quiet... TOO quiet... Plus meditations on couponing

When nothing explosively bad has happened for a while, I start getting antsy. If both my car and Boyfriend's car have had no accidents, major repairs, or green smoke in a few months, I start assuming that it's right around the corner. No pet emergencies? Somebody's gonna eat a spool of thread any day now.

So it is with trepidation that I report that all has been normal for several weeks now. As long as nothing terrible happens, we get by fine on my salary and Boyfriend's unemployment, and I'm even saving some money up from all my extracurricular activities. But I hate to plan too far ahead, or use that stockpile of cash, because I'm sure something will come along to deplete it. For now I'm just hoarding. Boyfriend has a short term contract for now, and several interviews, but I'm not counting those chickens yet.

Speaking of hoarding, I haven't seen the TLC show on extreme couponers yet, but people keep telling me I need to, and from what I've read about it, I think they think I'm going to go right past being able to be on that show and going straight to being on Hoarders. I swear, people! I know I am not NEARLY as bad as I could be. Trust me. There are some websites that I look at now and again for coupon matchups, since they'll put up printable coupons and give suggestions for how to stack your coupons to get the most out of it. (If you're interested, I use Saving in Akron for the Giant Eagle matchups, and Coupon Katarina for the Kroger matchups, since they're both near me. And sometimes they assume you have NINE of one coupon. I thought at first that that was just nutty, until I tried to buy some coupon inserts from my favorite site (unironically titled Whole Coupon Inserts) where I purchase two of whatever wasn't in the local paper that day. There was literally a run on the store - they were cleaned out of the May 22nd circulars. The next week they started a subscription service where you could get ten of each circular each week. Apparently this has been very popular. Now, I am not so obsessed that I don't realize that spending $20-40 each week just on the coupons themselves is probably not a smart move when our whole food expenditures for a week rarely go above $100. (And we buy pie regularly.) But there are definitely people who do this. Had I six children, it would probably make a lot of sense. Since I have 0 children, although the dog would dearly love eighty-three bags of Doritos, all that kind of coupon obsessiveness would do is fill up my basement. (Although I am currently trying to get some shelving units off Craigslist to hold the bounty.) I do send stuff off to the food bank, but I generally only buy food-bank stuff if it's a) cheap or b) something that the food bank really wants, like peanut butter or pasta.

I do feel pretty good about my recent couponing hauls for the shelter, though - I have nearly an entire paper grocery bag full of various toiletry items - toothpaste, body wash, etc - but it's mostly tampons and sanitary pads. Men will not get this on quite the same level, but I really couldn't imagine how much it must just unbridled SUCK to be too poor to afford them. (And these aren't store brands, either - it's the good stuff!) So I am pretty pleased that I was able to get so many, even if they were a little more expensive than the stuff I usually buy for charity, since I feel like they'll really come in handy for some beleaguered woman.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When it rains it pours

So if you are a regular reader you know of my penchant for picking up extra work. I am always looking for ways to save money and make money, and since Boyfriend is currently between contracts, I've been especially keeping my eyes open lately. I think I may have overdone myself, however. Currently I am:

1) still doing at least one mystery shop a week, often two to four
2) doing online test grading - I did this back when I was unemployed and now they let you do it from home so of course I am doing that in ADDITION to my actual job, and have been putting in 15 to 25 hours a week at it
3) writing tons and tons for MoneyCrashers - tax season was very exciting!
4) another small writing gig
5) spending 3-4 hours a week on couponing - granted, our pantry makes our house THE place to be during the apocalypse, whenever it comes, but it does take time

Pant pant pant.

I know this won't last forever (the test grading gig, at least, is over next week, although I might get offered another one) and I'll be glad of the extra money at the end of it, but it seems lately like there is no piece of time when I am NOT doing something extracurricularly productive in my free time.

I don't know if I mentioned this but about two years ago I bought a very nice electronic keyboard at a yard sale for $50. It sat around for a year until I bought some books since I would like to learn how to play - I can't read music at all so this is a daunting proposition. I was making decent progress (I can now play King of the Road as well as several children's songs) but haven't played in weeks.

A few weeks ago I bought some beginner piano books off Amazon, and then some more at an estate sale. I was really excited to get back to practicing since I do really enjoy learning this new skill, but I was a little sad to realize that I wouldn't actually be able to do any practicing without feeling REALLY guilty for at least several weeks. I have this complex where I feel bad if I'm not doing whatever it is that needs to be done, at times when I am instead choosing to view many pictures of lolcats. But one cannot be good all the time.

I do really enjoy being busy in the off hours though because my regular job is pretty slow paced. It's nice to run around and accomplish things quickly, but we'll see how long I can keep it up!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Professional Indemnity – It’s Not Just The Private Sector…

Say the words ‘professional indemnity insurance’ and it’s all too easy to think of a solicitor or accountant giving bad advice, or the latest ‘mis-selling scandal’ that’s hitting the headlines.

But today, the need for professional indemnity cover goes much wider than that and covers many sections of the public and not-for-profit sectors as well as the private sector. Social enterprise groups and community organisations are also affected.

With increasing sections of our society needing care and support – whether it’s the vulnerable child or the old person living alone – more and more organisations in the public and not-for-profit sectors are realising that they are going to need specialist and wide-ranging help with their professional indemnity cover.

This article was presented by Markel UK. For more information visit their website today

Whether you like it or not, we’re increasingly living in a ‘blame and claim’ culture – and that doesn’t just mean answering “yes” when the TV ads ask if you’ve fallen over on a wet floor. Today, many sections of the public and not-for-profit sectors have a duty of care to the vulnerable in society. But it’s becoming increasingly evident that even the most vulnerable members of society (or their relatives) are prepared to make a claim if they believe they have a case.

The number of groups who may be at risk from a claim is surprisingly high – it’s not just the local authority with responsibility for a care home, or the charity looking after clients with a learning disability.

Any organisation running an after school club or a nursery; charities offering help with rehabilitation, or any sort of children’s organisation – all of them will be at risk from claims and will need to seek expert help with their professional indemnity insurance. As the law becomes ever more complex, and opportunities for claims increase, even the small local charity will need to move away from the local insurance broker to companies who specialise in professional indemnity for the public and not-for-profit sectors.

Of course, for the directors and management of the organisations affected, the buck doesn’t stop with public liability insurance – they also have to worry about the vagaries of employment law, the duty of care they owe to staff… The list goes on, but the most likely source of a potentially devastating claim is their professional indemnity. Expert help from a specialist broker is an absolute essential: without it, they might not be able to carry on helping their vulnerable clients.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The benefits of using price comparison websites

The popularity of price comparison websites isn't just a trend; it's now fast becoming a way of life for people up and down the country. Ensuring that you get the best deal, online resources like Money Expert are excellent to secure you deals on a wide variety of things, from credit cards to holidays.

Naturally, the advent of the internet as an accessible resource was always going to have a major effect on the way people shop. Just as e-commerce began to boom, people soon started to get sick of visiting various websites to buy what they wanted, knowing that they could miss out on one-time offers or great deals much in the same way they would on the high street. Comparison websites emerged off the back of this. Now, these portals are cleverly changing shopping for the better, while providing a raft of benefits to anyone who uses them.

Obviously, convenience is the number one benefit. After all, time is money, so saving both minutes and hard-earned cash is twice as good. All you need to do is turn to one reliable comparison website, type in the product you want for yourself and a list of every available deal online is made readily available. While you may enjoy keeping fit by walking between stores in a town or city centre, price comparison websites are nice and easy to browse and lengthen the lifetime of your shoes.

Many of the best deals are now found online, too - you only have to look at transport services, offering as much as a third off just because you use their internet services. Other service and product providers are much the same, and price comparison websites tap into this like no other. Additionally, they can link to product reviews and feedback on the stores themselves, making sure you don't make an error of judgement regarding your investment.

On top of this, users of comparison websites often get the best deals because of the interaction between sellers as part of a wider marketing strategy. Online portals can increase traffic to a website and therefore increase sales, effectively lowering prices.

Whatever you do, don't go with the first deal. You may not even go with the second, third or fourth; with price comparison websites, you know you'll get the best deal available.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

100 Updated Things About Me

I had completely forgotten about this post from way back when until someone commented on it a few days ago - I don’t remember writing it, but it is a funny snapshot of my life five years ago. It's funny to see how much has changed and how much hasn't! Below is the original with my comments.

100 things about me
1. I was born on December 8th. - Still true.
2. I am a brunette.- Still true.
3. I am short. - I am actually somehow half an inch shorter now. I don’t approve.
4. I wear a digital watch all the time. - I stopped about two years ago and now this watch is out of batteries. I just check my phone if I want to know what time it is.
5. I have two guinea pigs. - The guinea pigs passed away within a few months of each other about two years ago.
6. My guinea pigs are named Adrian and Wedge Antilles.
7. Both of my guinea pigs are named after movie characters. - The first was named after Rocky’s girlfriend (my previous guinea pig was Rocky) and the second is a character from Star Wars.
8. I hate grapefruit juice. - Yup, still disgusting.
9. I like ranch dressing on my French fries. - It’s good, you should try it.
10. I went to college in Cleveland, Ohio.
11. I am a science dork.
12. Specifically, I am a biology dork.
13. I own at least 30 books about genetics. - Still true although I don’t buy so many anymore. I do like nonfiction books and like to learn about new things.
14. I hate shopping for clothes. - Actually now I like shopping for clothes, but I do it all online. I have a lot more clothes than I used to!
15. I love shopping for food. - Still true. Now I have gotten into couponing and go at least once a week.
16. My favorite color is red. - Still true.
17. My favorite stores are IKEA and the grocery store. - I would say now it’s Target, The Container Store, and a local Giant Eagle Market District where they make crepes.
18. I love fruit. - I still eat a ton of clementines in season. I don't really like bananas anymore though for some reason.
19. I have bought only 1 music CD in the last five years. - I have been given physical CDs as gifts several times in the past few years, and have bought several albums on iTunes.
20. I have more than 11 gigabytes of music. - Probably still true, I haven’t counted.
21. I use Excel to organize just about everything. - Still true. I really, really enjoy making lists.
22. My cat is named after an ancestor of Aragorn. - Still have this cat. (The name is Fingolfin, if you were curious.) We also have acquired a second cat, named Zoe (after the character from Firefly, since she is a feisty woman.)
23. I have a bamboo plant in my office. - I still have this bamboo plant. It’s much bigger now and needs to be re-potted for the fourth time.
24. There are earthworms living in my bamboo plant's pot.
25. Both of these earthworms are named Rupert. - I’m pretty sure these earthworms are now part of the bamboo plant. I haven’t exactly checked, though.
26. I enjoy high-quality scissors. - I do love scissors. I used to buy them wherever I saw a sale because I’d lose them, but I’ve been better about keeping them where I can find them these days.
27. I am trying to grow out my hair - below the shoulders is short. - It’s almost down to my bum now. I do need a trim.
28. I wear glasses. - Still true.
29. I got glasses in tenth grade, but am only on my second pair. - I’m still wearing these frames, though I have had the lenses changed.
30. I used to collect cut gemstones. - The collection is in the glasses case from my first pair of glasses.
31. I also used to collect blue glass bottles. - I’m pretty sure my parents threw them in the recycling when they moved house.
32. Now I collect Shaun the Sheep items. - I have a few, but now the only thing I would say I collect are “maneki neko” or “lucky cat” figurines.
33. I have art posters all over my office to cover the damage from the previous occupant. - I didn’t realize how lucky I was at that job to have my own office - now I have a cubicle! I have art up here, mostly drawings sent to me by one of my patients.
34. I am extremely organized. - The older I get, the more anal I get about some things.
35. But, I am very messy at the same time. - My tolerance for messiness is going down, but I can still whip up a righteous mess!
36. I have been using computers since I had sufficient manual dexterity. - My parents have a picture of me using one of our first computers while sitting on phone books. I was probably about four.
37. My home computer is blue with a light inside. - I actually have an entirely new computer but it is still blue with a light inside.
38. My previous computer case had a hole cut out of the top with tin snips. - The things one does for ventilation.
39. I eat dry Mini Wheats and Cup A Soup as snacks at work. - These days I bring cheese slices, peanut butter crackers, sliced cucumber with hummus, Fruit Rollups, or Cheezits. I do have some Cup A Soup in my desk.
40. I can't cook independently, but I can follow a recipe. - Boyfriend does most of our cooking. I do all the baking.
41. My favorite ice cream is mint chocolate chip. - Still true.
42. I hate mint in all other forms, including gum and toothpaste. - Unless it involves chocolate, as in York peppermint patties, which I do like a lot.
43. I hardly ever write checks or use cash. - I use checks now for buying things at estate sales, or paying for the dog’s daycare.
44. I have never actually used up a book of checks before I switched banks. - I did actually have to order checks about two months ago. But we haven't moved in almost three years.
45. I was an early adopter of Paypal in about 1998 - they gave me $20 to sign up. - I have three PayPal accounts now.
46. I was also an early adopter of eBay. - I still use it all the time!
47. In high school, I used to buy what can nicely be described as drag queen shoes on eBay to wear to school. - I wrote one of my college application essays about the economics of drag queen shoe sizes on eBay (i.e. they were not listed for men, but those items that were large enough for men to wear were much more expensive.)
48. These were the "scare the freshmen" shoes. - I hope I made an impression.
49. I want a dog. - I got a dog a little over three years ago. I got her two weeks before getting canned from a job, so it was very good timing because I wouldn’t have gotten a dog when I didn’t have a job, but having the dog for company made unemployment a lot more bearable.
50. I didn't get a cell phone until junior year of college. - I have had one continuously since, and don’t have a home phone line.
51. I really get a kick out of getting those $10 checks from the credit card company to sign up for crap I don't need. - Sadly you don’t get those anymore.
52. I love editorial cartoons. - Eh. I like them but I read more articles now.
53. My favorite TV show is Animal Patrol on Animal Planet. - I still like this but I’d say I like It’s Me Or the Dog, The Soup, Glee, or Community better. I watch more TV because I go to the gym and they have it on.
54. I also like Project Runway on Bravo. - Haven’t watched it in years!
55. For these reasons we are not getting rid of our cable even though it is expensive. - We still have cable. It’s actually not that much since we also have cable internet.
56. I held 11 different jobs during college. - I don’t know how I crammed so much in!
57. By the time I graduated college, I was working four different jobs at the same time. - I’m kind of a workaholic.
58. I got fired from two of those jobs. - I’ve now been fired from two more jobs.
59. But I didn't like them anyway, so pooh to them. - Pooh to them.
60. My favorite candy is Zero bars. - I’d say it’s malt balls now.
61. Actually, I just love candy. - I do love candy, but I now have diabetes. Hooray pancreas!
62. Fortunately, I have had only one real cavity, and that was in a molar that fell out. - I haven’t had any since then either.
63. I had braces, but only for about a year and a half. - I still have cement on my teeth. Dental hygienists think it’s plaque and try to take it off. Eventually they will remove all of it.
64. Which was fortunate because I did so much damage to them that it probably cost twice as much as it should have.
65. I have one sister, who is older than me. - She is still older than me.
66. She had to have braces a lot longer than I did. Ha ha.
67. I have a bicycle with a detachable basket. - This was stolen. I was very sad.
68. I do not like to vacuum. - I still hate vacuuming but I do like using my Swiffer sweeper vacuum to get dog hair off the hardwood floors.
69. I do like to load and unload the dishwasher. - I am still in charge of this. I have my own methods of getting as much crap in as possible.
70. I lasted only three weeks in my new apartment before breaking down and buying the dishwasher. (I was going to wait for my second paycheck before buying it.) - We later sold this dishwasher for $100. I probably could have gotten more, it was a nice one!
71. I am not much of a doodler. - I can’t really draw. I do color in the insides of letters sometimes if I am bored in a meeting.
72. I like to have separate bank accounts for different goals, even if all but one don't have anything in them right now. - I have accounts in ING for my car insurance, synagogue fees, and home improvement - only the car insurance one has money in it.
73. I read very quickly and devour content. - Love to read - I read fast and indiscriminately.
74. I like Asian food, particularly Thai and Japanese. - Yes. Now I am hungry.
75. I will eat just about anything with Korean barbecue sauce on it. - This is very sugary so I don’t eat it much anymore. When we eat chicken wings now, I use melted butter, Red Hot, and chopped garlic as a sauce.
76. My favorite vegetable is red peppers. - I like them a lot but I eat a lot of cucumbers with hummus now.
77. I have absolutely no tolerance for spicy stuff. - Hate hate hate.
78. I almost always order eggplant parmesan at Italian restaurants. - I have branched out a lot!
79. I have an ancient laptop with stickers all over the lid (it's about seven years old now.) - I still have this laptop but never use it. I bought one new about four years ago.
80. It took me less than six weeks after graduation before I started my first job. - I was at that job for a year and a half.
81. This was the fourth job I interviewed for. - I do really well at interviews.
82. I really enjoy saving up coins. - Now I mostly use them in the snack machine at work.
83. I have two piggy banks, one for silver change and one for pennies. - One is an elephant and one is a zebra pig.
84. Unfortunately, I hardly ever get any change because cash runs through my hands like water, so I try not to carry any. - I carry an emergency $20 but otherwise don’t carry more than a few dollars.
85. I have a weird farmer's tan from going to a baseball game more than a month ago. - I got burned really badly at that game. I usually get a pretty good tan in the summer, though, from being outside gardening and mowing the lawn.
86. I like to eat frozen fruit. - Haven’t done this in years. Now it hurts my teeth.
87. In the summers, when I lived in un-air-conditioned places, I used to keep a store of blue cool-packs in the fridge to wear on my head. It really works. - It does work. You can also put them behind your knees.
88. I also had a special ice-tube-maker-tray for making tubular ice that I would put in my guinea pig's water bottle when it was really hot. - Now I put ice cubes in the dog’s bowl.
89. I really like egg salad, potato salad, macaroni salad.. all of those salads that are in fact really bad for you. - I will make macaroni salad sometimes in the summer, from a recipe from Boyfriend’s family, but otherwise I eat much healthier now!
90. I drink Crystal Light all day at work cause I am too cheap to buy more Powerade. I just reuse the bottle over and over. - I still do this. And I am so cheap I buy the Crystal Light at Big Lots.
91. I was a vegetarian from ages 12 through 21. - I was a bad vegetarian - ie I never ate vegetables!
92. I still buy most of my meat from Whole Foods. I used to buy it from a co-op. - Much of our meat still comes from Whole Foods.
93. My cell phone plays "Call Me" by Blondie when my parents call. - I have a new phone and it plays “When I’m Sixty-Four” no matter who calls.
94. It plays "So Long And Thanks For All The Fish" when my boyfriend calls. - I had forgotten about this. Maybe I can set that back up. That’s pretty funny.
95. At any given moment there are usually four pairs of shoes in my office - one pair is on my feet. - I still store shoes under my desk. Right now there are clogs, ballet flats, and probably a pair of flip flops.
96. I like the premium Kraft better than the regular old mac 'n cheese, but I don't like Velveeta. - I eat Easy Mac now and again but hardly ever eat other macaroni from a box. Sometimes we’ll get prepared mac and cheese from the deli.
97. My favorite cheese is Havarti. - I eat a lot of weird shit now.
98. As a kid, I used to eat raw hot dogs pretty much all the time. - I still do this sometimes. I will cut them up and take them to work with me.
99. At one point, I had five sets of earring holes. I let the top ones close and now I don't wear any earrings. I kept losing them. - I’m down to two sets of earring holes. I don’t wear earrings very often though.
100. I love books and have bought more than 40 in the past year. - I don’t buy as many books these days, partially because Boyfriend’s family gives me books for Christmas and partially because I am trying to get through my backlog.