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Archive for January, 2007

How to save money nearly every time

January 30th, 2007 at 08:53 pm

I have a new system. Actually I started it a few years ago when I received sticker shock after being told the cost of repairs on my car. I immediately told the mechanic that I was going to shop around as I couldn't bear the thought of parting with that much money. Anyway, I started to call around, but 5 minutes later the mechanic called me back to say that he had "found" the parts for cheaper elsewhere and would take $50 off the price. (cue the light bulb that went off over my head)
Now I never, ever pay the first price I get without researching the topic first.
Today's example: I am overdue for my eye exam and on my last pair of contacts. I can go to my regular ophthalmologist, who I have gone to since 6th grade, even though he is an out-of-network provider. I will be reimbursed $20 for the exam and $40 for the contacts, which cost $280 at his office for a year's supply. With that year's supply, I will get a $40 rebate. My total cost would be $330 - $40 rebate - $60 reimbursement = $230. Ouch.
I really don't want to change providers. The only network providers I have available to me are all chains (Sears, Penneys, etc). Nothing against chains, but when it comes to doctors, I want one that knows me. However, if I went to a network provider, my cost would be $0 for the exam and $200 for the contacts, or a $30 savings.
Can I do better while still keeping my doctor? I decided to find out.
Aimed with my trusty Internet connection, I did a search for Night and Day contacts (the only brand I will use anymore). I found prices from $42.99-59.99/box (my doctor charges $70), with rebates of $40-50 on orders of 4. Combining the best of these deals would bring my contact cost to $123 with free shipping for a year's supply. Combined with the $50 exam fee from my doctor, I would spend $173, or $27 less than if I stayed in network, plus I would still be eligible for partial reimbursement from my insurance. YIPPEE!!!!!!!!!!!!

It ALWAYS pays to check. I just saved over $100 with less than a half hour's work.

Catching up now that we have a little extra $

January 30th, 2007 at 07:15 pm

I just paid off the Discover bill (real estate annual dues paid in December - UGH!). I have been putting all the money we had toward that in order to pay it off before any interest kicked in, and we managed to do it. That was our holiday spending too. In two days, we will be getting two paychecks, totalling about $1200. It will be the biggest payday we have had since DH stopped working a year and a half ago. I figured now was a good time to get caught up on a few things, so I've been on the phone scheduling appts.
1. My eye exam and new contacts, estimated to spend $50 for the exam and $240 for the contacts, with $100 reimbursement from insurance and $40 rebate from the contact company. Out of pocket: $150
2. Cat's checkup and distemper shot - can't remember just how much this cost, but I think it was around $30. Our vet is pretty reasonable.
3. Scheduled DH's physical and bloodwork. I want him to get back on track with his health. He is NOT consistent with taking his medication (Lipitor) and he has a horrendous family history of early heart attacks. Out of pocket: $17 copay, probably about $30 for a three month supply of meds. I am going to try the mail order service we have through our insurance, which saves us $10 for a 3-month supply.
4. Get the brake pads and rotors done on DH's car, as recommended during the inspection last week. Should cost around $300, but I did find an online coupon for $30 off $300 or $20 off $200. It almost always pays to look!

We are still trying to get a grip on the food in the freezer. We have been doing this for over two months now, and either we are still buying more than we realize, or there was just THAT MUCH food in the freezer. It's still three quarters full, and we take 1-2 items out every day for dinner (meats, veggies, even fruits and desserts). To make matters worse, my mom just purchased a meat package from a local store, so we had to shuffle things around again to make more room. We are never going to get to the bottom of this! Anyway, I'm off to grab some old shredded zucchini from the freezer (froze from the garden in 2005) to see what culinary delight I can make with it for dinner tonight.

New Year's...suggestions

January 26th, 2007 at 03:47 pm

Been meaning to write this entry for a while now (uhhh...for 26 days?). Resolution is such a STRONG word for me that I instantly feel like a failure when I can't live up to it. So here are my New Year's suggestions for myself!
1. Less soda. I have gotten my consumption down to maybe 1-2 times per week. However, even on those occasions, I will drink the soda, then realize after that I didn't even enjoy it, nor did it quench my thirst. But then a few days later, I remember how much I used to love soda and have some more...I need to remember that water is better!
2. Track mileage. I need to get a mileage sheet made up to keep in my car at all times for when I am traveling for real estate (I get mileage reimbursed through my other job, so my records there are kept up to date). I made the mileage sheet in Word last night and just have to print a copy for each car.
3. Exercise more. No minimums here, as I can never keep up with a 3x week schedule, but just a general reminder for me to seek out activity on a more frequent basis. I am in good shape weight wise, but get tired so easily. This will be my motivation to get to the roller skating rink every week with the kids!
4. Follow up with every real estate lead. So far this one has burned me, as I put my heart and soul into a deal that was never going to happen, meaning I wasted a ton of time and energy, not to mention gas! But last year I lost a deal or two by not following up soon enough. No more!

And for the suggestions that continue to be ongoing: follow a low-sugar diet, have more patience with the kids, and watch my speed while driving. These three I have been doing quite well on Smile

The tale of Buzz Lightyear

January 26th, 2007 at 03:37 pm

It all started about 6 months ago. Ds1 had seen the movie Toy Story and enjoyed it, but that could have been the end of the story there. But no, we received a pair of hand-me-down Buzz Lightyear pajamas that instantly transformed ds1 into the "real" Buzz Lightyear when he put them on. All of a sudden, Buzz Ligtyear became the center of his universe. We wore Buzz Lightyear shirts (thankfully, all handed down). He played Buzz Lightyear pretending games with his cousin. And then, for Halloween, another hand-me-down - the Buzz costume. Vinyl, Disney-produced, 100% authentic. Now we were in over our heads, but luckily, with no money invested in this little adventure.
So how did that all change? Somewhere along the line we started to pick up little things - a talking Buzz from a garage sale, tiny Toy Story cars, Buzz walkie talkies, a Woody costume, Toy Story books...how did this happen? I was always somewhat anti-gettingyourkidseverythingtheywant. I always thought that kidshavetoomanytoys. And now I have fallen into the same trap.
I have been thinking this over and wanted to share it. I now know how it happens. That look of delight on your child's face. Those laughs and giggles as they play. Every parent's wish is for their children to be happy, and well, let's face it - toys make kids happy. But eventually, you notice that the Buzz hasn't been moved in three days, then two weeks, then you find him under the bed. Was it worth it? I guess we all answer that for ourselves.

Toy Story is so last week in this house. It's all about Cars now. Luckily, we have a ton of Matchbox cars leftover from when my brothers were young, and there are a few that look just like Lightning McQueen. The kids are having a ball, and I am in no hurry to rush out and buy anything new. I think I will have to steer clear of this parent trap for a while.

need help with a printer problem

January 26th, 2007 at 03:41 am

Not sure where to go with this, so I thought I would pick the minds of anyone who might read this.

It's not really a money question, unless you consider that if I do not get it resolved, there is a high probability of me throwing an expensive printer/scanner/fax/copier machine through one of many six foot tall windows in this room. Not to mention that if I did this, my parents would probably kick me out and I would need to start paying rent somewhere. And if I had to move out, I would have to buy a new computer with a...printer/scanner/fax/copier machine to go with it. Please, someone help me and save me from myself.
For some reason, our printer got stuck on a document several days ago. We tried to delete the stuck document from the printer queue, but no luck. It says it is deleting, but it never deletes, meaning we can no longer print anything as any document gets stuck in the queue behind the one that won't delete. We have tried plugging and unplugging the machine, turning the computer on and off, uninstalling and reinstalling the printer (it won't uninstall due to the stuck document). I am about to tear my hair out in frustration. Any help?

granola recipe

January 26th, 2007 at 02:47 am

Ok, I've tinkered a bit more and here is the granola recipe I like. I was pretty unhappy with all the recipes that called for corn syrup, so I hit my favorite site (recipezaar.com) again to find a new one. This one looked pretty promising, so I tried it:

Very yummy! Check out the review I wrote on the page to see what I changed. I will definitely be making this again, once I figure out how to keep the darn things from sticking.

So many of my posts revolve around food. I guess I can think of two reasons for this. One, I like to make people happy, and one way to do this without fail is to cook for them! I love trying new recipes and hitting upon an awesome one. What can I say, I soak up praise. Not to mention, I also love to eat Smile It helps that in making my own food, I am in control of what goes into it, which makes me feel better about feeding my kids.
Two, food is an area that I do have control over. I don't have control over many of our expenses (i.e. healthcare, student loans, gas, etc.), but I have total control over the grocery budget, leftover management, and gardening. I guess it makes me feel like I am doing what I can to make the money go further. And I like that Smile

fun on wheels

January 24th, 2007 at 07:10 pm

Just had to post about the fun morning I had. I found out a few weeks ago that a local roller skating rink has a "toddler" morning on Wednesdays. From 9-11, for $2 (includes skate rentals), you can take your kids there, with or without a stroller, to have fun. I LOVE it. A few weeks ago, I took my niece (4) and ds1 (3) to teach them how to skate. There was only 2 other people there, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. When the kids got tired of skating, I took their skates off and they RAN RAN RAN. Meanwhile, I got to skate, which turns out to be incredibly good exercise (especially when you are out of shape). Today I went back with the kids, including my youngest (age 2), who we pushed in stroller around the rink. My mom went too and got some exercise in. Much more fun and cheaper than a gym.
I am so glad to have found this and encourage everyone else to look around for the great deals to enjoy. If I can find one in this small town, you might have your own gem hiding near you Smile

Gardeners, get thee to Walgreens!

January 23rd, 2007 at 07:27 pm

I had a good time at Walgreens today. I was lured there by the 10/$1 seed packets. I picked up enough to get a good start on the garden this year. Among my finds: cukes, beets, spinach, basil, dill, squash, and zucchini. I usually buy my squash and zucchini at a greenhouse, but I only want 1-2 of each plant. This will give me a little more flexibility. I still plan to get my peppers and tomatoes from the greenhouse - I have done these from seed, but they weren't as good.
Anyhoo...in addition to the great seed finds, I also got the following:
-2 packs of Puffs, $.79 each
-1 Finesse conditioner, $3.99 with a $3.99 rebate AND $1 coupon
-1 pack of rewetting eyedrops, discounted from $6.99 to $4.19 due to a packaging change (necessity for me due to my overnight wear contacts).

Combined with my $3 rebate from last month, I spent $6.99. I'll be getting $3.99 back on that as well. I love trips like this!
Just a side note: Something I noticed about myself today. I saw the orange "Last chance" sticker on the rewetting drops. I picked up the first one I saw, also $4.19, and thought it was a great buy. I just happened to glance the Walgreens version and noticed that it was a better buy per ounce, despite not being on sale. One more lucky glance and I found an item exactly the same as the first one I had picked up, but in a larger size box. While I was content to buy .5 oz. for $4.19, I was estatic to buy 1 oz. for $4.19! It pays to look around. Many times I get so excited over a "good" price that I forget to check out the generics and other sales that might be even better.

Pleasant surprise at the mechanics...

January 23rd, 2007 at 02:48 am

...thanks to some divine intervention, good karma, or whatever you want to attribute it to.
I NEVER have good surprises at the mechanics. I always, always have bad experiences. So when the mechanic started off the conversation by saying, "Well, there's something I want to talk with you about", I interrupted him and told him that I wanted good news. At that point he said, "Well, the car passed inspection and the oil is all changed - you're good to go" and I nearly fell over. I knew the car needed brake pads (which is what he wanted to tell me - they were not bad enough to flunk inspection, but should be done VERY soon), and I also knew that the check engine light has been on for the better part of a year. Somehow, miraculously, it went off this morning as I was driving it to the inspection. (yes, I know, not something to ignore, but it was checked out once and nothing was found). The light stayed off, the car passed inspection, and the entire deal cost me less than $40. I was anticipating closer to $300, so it was a very good day Smile


January 23rd, 2007 at 02:43 am

Hmmm...I am going to have approxinamtely $3000-3500 coming back from my tax refund (although technically it's not a refund because it's more than I paid...but I digress). I have a few options:
1. Put it directly into our Roth IRAs for 2006, since we were able to put very little in this year.
2. Put it toward our 0% cc debt ($4700). We have until August before the rate goes up on this.
3. Some combination of 2 & 3.
4. Build the EF fund back up to $10k.

I think #4 is the least popular option, since we already have $7k in there. Paying off the cc is definitely more of a priority - although my time is running out to make the IRA contributions too.

Hmmm...I'm leaning toward #1.

Another episode of makeover magic

January 22nd, 2007 at 03:33 am

Ladies and gentleman, tune in tonight as I make culinary delights from the mess in the back of the fridge.
(last night's episode)
Let's see...here's an unopened package of ricotta cheese from several months gone by, a half package of mozzarella cheese, and a half can of tomato sauce...pardon me while I rummage around in the pantry and find...a half box of shells...
TA DA! Stuffed shells!
But wait, I have too much sauce and cheese leftover - combine them with a quarter box of ziti and now we have baked ziti. Now we have enough for lunch too.
But it gets even better with today's menu:
leftover sauce from shells + leftover salsa/black bean/corn sauce from chicken dish a few nights ago + leftover salsa + one can of pureed tomatoes + one chili package (ground beef cooked with peppers, onions, and celery, frozen until ready for use) + chili powder and cumin = crockpot CHILI with less than 5 minutes of hands-on prep time. Dinner tonight, lunches already packed for tomorrow, and enough for one more meal.

I love leftover magic. The quest to clean out the fridge, freezer, and pantry continues.

Diaper windfall/college rant

January 21st, 2007 at 01:56 am

How often do you get to use those words together? I answered a post on freecycle yesterday for two mega packs of size 4 diapers. They are Wal-Mart brand (the kind I use anyway), but they couldn't be used by the poster as they gave her kid a rash. The pickup was 30 minutes away, but luckily I was running errands just a few minutes from there. Gotta love that freecycle - it's about $30 in free diapers.
I posted some old jewelry (worthless stuff) on freecycle today and already got a taker - someone who will take it apart and reuse the beads and charms.
I also have been cleaning out a bit more around here. I am constantly surprised that I can find more things everytime I clean. I have a stuffed bag to go to the Salvation Army already. I also am getting rid of about 30 pounds of paper - all notes and papers from my academic years. For some insane reason, I kept my notes, tests, and papers from middle school on, thinking that if I ever needed to know something about chemistry, trig, microeconomics, social psychology, or an assortment of other topics, I would be able to refer back to my folders. As if. Like I wouldn't just hop onto the Internet to find out what I needed to know, if I was ever in the predicament of needing to know some obscure fact from my 6th grade science class.
Which brings up another point...as I was quizzing DH from the aforementioned 6th grade science class final that I found, I realized how little of the information I retained (yes, I would have had trouble acing my 6th grade exam...what's a tracheophyte anyways?). Same thoughts when I looked over my college ecomonics and philosophy notes...my calculus handouts...my English summaries...Why spend all this money on an education when all I retained is the information that is useful to me in daily life (very little falls into this category) or that which I actually found intriguing (my evolution class comes to mind)? I know that answer is to "get a job", which I will admit my college education did do for me. But it's so pointless to learn the things I was required to "learn" (read: memorize) in high school and college when NOTHING pertains to real life or making a living. Why not teach budgeting and money management? Conflict resolution? Job skills like how to interact with other, with superiors, etc? Basic cooking? All of the skills I need to work at my job I learned at my current job or a past job, not at college. No wonder so many of the younger generation are so ill-equipped to live in the real world (not attacking anyone here, I am the younger generation but was lucky enough to have parents who taught me what I needed to know). Enough ranting.
I decided to keep most of my writing - I find it interesting to read over my past papers - and all of my major subject paperwork (sociology). Everything else is gone and now I have a half-shelf that I didn't have before. Tomorrow: attack the remainders of the shelves to see what else can go. Pack rat no more!

nerdy financial humor

January 20th, 2007 at 04:30 pm

Ok, you have to be in a certain frame of mind to find this as funny as I did...
DH and I were trying to calculate how much interest we would pay if we didn't pay the balance of our credit card before the due date. It wouldn't be much, but still more than I want to pay to the cc company, so I said, "But it's the principle of it!" to which DH replied..."No, it's the interest!". Ha. We're so corny.
Did a estimated tax refund last night, since I don't have any solid numbers yet. It looks like about $3300 back. And don't go yelling at me now for withholding too much - I actually withheld next to nothing. We're getting so much back due to the credits we receive for our Year of Minimal Income. I can't wait to get all the info so I can file. I don't have to worry about getting the Roth IRA contribution in before filing as it doesn't make any difference (zero liability, we don't qualify for the saver's credit). Thanks to whoever clarified that for me in the forums a while back (and sorry I can't remember who). Now we have to decide whether to plop that money into our IRAs, which are terribly underfunded for 2006, or pay down our 0% cc with DH's last tuition bill on it. I really want to pay down the cc, but I think in the long run, since I am fairly confident that we will pay off the cc before the 0% is up, it would be better to invest the money. Once April is past, we'll never have to opportunity to put that money into again. Decisions, decisions.

one step beyond granola

January 19th, 2007 at 03:33 am

Some of you readers out there might remember my granola recipe that I posted a while back - I think there are even some who adopted it. Anyway, I got tired of not being able to take it with me to work (the logistics of taking milk with me for the granola were just too much of a PITA), so I decided to make my next culinary adventure...granola bars. Every bit as good and completely portable. Ta-da!
Anyway, I found 4 recipes online and finally decided to make the peanut butter-chocolate chip ones. I substituted natural peanut butter for regular and Splenda brown sugar. I am trying really hard to keep the sugar content down in our diets. I also decreased the amount of corn syrup, which may have been a bad choice as they are a bit crumbly. I'll have to rework the recipe a bit - maybe decrease the corn syrup but add a little honey. BTW, anyone know if corn syrup or honey is better for you? Instinctively, I want to say that honey must be better, but I really don't know. Is light corn syrup in the same class of evil foods as high fructose corn syrup? Another thing I need to find out...if I only knew where!
Since we have a lot of granola eaters out there, I'll try to post a recipe when I find one that it scrumptious. I think my next batch of bars will be coconut-almond-cranberry....mmmmm.
No work tomorrow - but a few errands to run. I have to go to the bank to get a cashiers check for $130 to pay DH's speeding fine. I also have to set up an eye appt. as I am on my last pair of contacts. I have been putting this off for several months now as I know it will cost me about $290 out of pocket. I splurge on the Night and Day contacts ($240 for a years supply), but I absolutely love them and will never go back. I could save money by going to a network eye doctor, but I have been going to the same place since 6th grade and don't want to change. I guess some things are worth a little more.
Took a real beating in the market today, especially with Apple dropping almost $6. Right now, we hold only stocks, no funds, a strategy that my parents swear by (although they have enough to be sufficiently diversified, whereas we do not). I told DH (the investor) that I want to start looking at mutual funds - I think when we can start putting money away again, I'll need to hit the forums for suggestions. I have a lot to learn.

Quick update

January 19th, 2007 at 02:06 am

1. Pay off Discover $787 balance -> made a $200 payment today, so down to $587
2. Pay off American Express $4897.28, 0% interest -> down to 4767.08
3. Pay off my student loans $5887 balance (about 4.6% interest) -> down to $5808.77
4. Pay off Dh's student loans $15145 balance (in deferment) -> no change

About $400 better than my last posting...little by little, we're getting there. The best part is taking one entire item off the list (car payment!).

December wrap-up

January 17th, 2007 at 04:30 am

Ok, I bit the bullet - here goes.
December budget:
Groceries: 225 -> 193.05 Cleaning out the freezer and pantry did us some good - to be continued for January as we still have a lot to go through!
Household/Cell: 90 -> 97.88 Rates went up and I haven't gotten around to searching for a new carrier for myself yet, although I did cancel DH's service and get him a Trac Phone (not an option for me due to how much I use it and the need for a portable number)
Car: 250 -> 215.26
Medical: 0 -> 15 (one co-pay)
Clothes: 0 -> 41.56 (DH needed a new winter coat and I have to hand it to him, found a really sweet one at a good price)
Loans: 300.36 -> 100.36 (car payment did not go through until Jan)
Entertainment: 120 -> 153.19 ($88 spent on two family parties for Ds2's birthday - ordered pizza and wings for both)
Gifts: 300 -> 645.55 What on earth was I thinking when I budgeted $300 here in December???
Miscellaneous: 50 -> 182.99 A large amount of this was software for the computer, for which we'll be getting a partial rebate this month...but still...ouch.
Real estate: 0 -> 518 for 2007 dues
School/Day care: 80 -> 103
Investment: 0 -> 0
Cash withdrawals: 80 with no fees -> 220 with $2 in fees
Total income: 1300 -> 1434.94
Total expenses: 1495.36 -> 2487.84 And this would account for the $1000 cc bill we now have! I have already paid off $300 and hope to get to the rest later this month. I'm glad December is over.

The good points: efforts to reduce the grocery and gas/car bills have worked out well. I can look forward to another month of lower grocery bills as we continue to clean out around here. We've been having some great meals with the things we find in the freezer Smile Also, since DH is done with school and student teaching, his only commute will now be to the schools he substitute teaches in - the closest and most frequent being 5 minutes away.

January budget:
Groceries: 200
Household/Cell: 113 ($98 for last months service, $15 for DH's new Trac Phone)
Car: 200 for gas, 200 for inspection/repair (DH thinks he needs new brake pads, among possible other things)
Medical: 6.83 for prescription co-pay
Clothes: 0
Loans: 800 (final car payment plus student loan payment)
Entertainment: 130
Gifts: A big fat ZERO - no birthdays, no holidays, no anniversaries...aw, wait, just remembered one birthday - $15
Miscellaneous: 150 (DH's $130 speeding ticket to pay Frown)
Real estate: 0
School/Day care: 0 (day care closed down, mom agreed to watch them until DH gets a consistent schedule)
Investment: 0
Cash withdrawals: 100 with no fees
Total income: 1500
Total expenses: 1914.83 (the car payment has already been made with money from the EF, so it looks like we might have a little left over this month)


January 17th, 2007 at 03:36 am

What? It's january 16th and I haven't done my monthly summary yet for December? Eek! I know why - it's because I just don't want to face up to what we spent last month. Sigh.

Good news though - thanks to Apple stock (yeah!) our net worth is now back in the black. It took a dip down into the red after we took some money out to pay off the car loan. Now, the car is paid, and we are $350 to the good! It's a small victory, but I'll take it. It's particularly bittersweet since it was at $3k before DH's last tuition bill, and at about $7k earlier in the year (before his other tuition bill). But hey, it's an investment. DH should be getting his first subbing paycheck on Friday, I get paid on Thursday, and there is still $350 in the checking account. Life is...getting better Smile