Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Children

Part of being parsimonious is holding the children to the debts they owe me. I mean things like extra texts they weren't supposed to use, pay per view movies, extra lunch money here and there, easy edge uses and some bigger expenses I don't care to mention. It's hard to make them pay me back. Boy21 is earning quite a bit of money but it still feels funny to ask him for the money he has borrowed. All these things do add up and I am going to be in need of really tightening up and making them pay some of their own way this coming year. No more t-shirts for every event, professional pictures, fund raising b.s.

One way to decide how to do this is to think about where I was at 15, 16 or 21. I was earning my own money, but my parents still paid my car insurance, medical expenses, school, and helped with major car repairs. I think I paid for everything else, including rent and food from age 20 on. Is that what most people do, try to do what their parents did, only a little more? I have heard some people talk about age 18 as being when their kids are expected to be on their own and self-supporting. And some do fine with that. Then why do I feel so guilty about not giving Boy16 gas money?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gas Prices

Since I am traveling East from Illinois, I thought I would provide an update on gas prices.

When we left Macomb, IL gas was $2.36. Wow, isn't that great for summer? Makes the trip much easier on the wallet and conscience. McLean, IL it was $2.39. Indianapolis $2.38. This is riveting!! Columbus, OH, a low all trip of $2.29. Pat stopped for gas north of Columbus and managed to find gas for $2.49 sandwiched between gas in the upper $2.30's. Hamburg, NY had gas for $2.69, Lockport, NY $2.68, but we bought on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation for $2.52. I thought it used to be about 30 cents cheaper on the Rez. Apparently not anymore. Then the gas pumper is holding out his hand for a tip that destroys any savings you thought you had.

The New York Thruway it was $2.68 consistently. The Mass Turnpike was a low $2.47. Note to self: Mobil stations in the east don't necessarily have restrooms, look out for the dung filled (log size), piss floored Porta-Potties. Wish I had a picture. My mom wanted us to stop pumping gas due to this heresy. I cleaned my hands and shoes on my own wipes and got back in the car.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reader Comments/ Credit vs. Cash

So far, I know I have three readers. Here are some comments they made privately to me (thanks family).

From big brother (mine, not Big Brother): I disagree with your pay cash whenever possible theory. In fact, I say pay credit card whenever possible. Cash disappears without a trace, credit card bills provide a record of every penny you spend on them. If you want to know where your money goes or what you can cut back on, study that credit card bill. Even better import into Quicken and create reports.

Also credit cards give you interest free short term loans (I haven't carried an interest bearing balance since 1994).

From little sister: That works for very disciplined people, but unfortunately, not everyone uses credit cards that way. In fact, most people don’t. They run balances and for those people, they need to stop using credit and pay cash. If the bill is too high and you can’t pay it at once and you don’t have enough cushion in your account, you may not be able to pay it off. Then you’ve got a partial balance and the next month, it gets bigger.

I’m not saying Susan is one of those people, but I think the risk is greater for many Americans of carrying a balance. I do know that Susan is very careful with her cash and accounts for expenditures more carefully than the average person, but I do agree that having a credit card show you where you spent your money is helpful. In fact, some credit cards categorize things for you on a quarterly basis. X was spent on gas, Y was spent at grocery stores, etc. I think her blog is intended to reach people who have trouble managing their finances. If you haven’t carried a balance in 15 years, you aren’t in the same boat as most people and your finances are well-managed.

If I go to the grocery with $100 in cash and can’t spend more than that, I won’t. I’ll put things back. If I put it on a credit card, I can tell myself it’s okay to go over by $7—that’s the way Americans tend to think. We are caught in a terrible cycle of spend, spend, spend.

You are both right, though little sister is more right to my mind. Here's why. If I spend $200 at Walmart, that credit card statement doesn't tell me if it is for groceries, cleaning supplies, home repair, towels, gardening or whatever. Thus, those summary statements some companies put out are kind of useless to me as I make a lot of purchases in one stop shopping places like Walgreens where medicine, gifts, and candy bars are lumped together. I guess if I had a lot of time to kill I could break it down like big bro suggests.

Also, I agree that overspending is a real problem with cards. I've done it with cash, too, but not as badly. Now some credit cards offer cash incentives, frequent flier miles, or discounts. That sounds good if you are using the cards anyway and paying off balances each month. But, some of the rewards programs are a little too complicated for me or encourage you to spend even more (eg. Target). So, I just stick with two major cards that have treated me well (not Capital One or Discover).

Little sis brings up the point of preaching to the choir. I think I need to reach a new readership but have hesitated to invite more people to my blog. I will think about it now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I have a beef with Mary Hunt

In case you don't know who Mary Hunt is, she writes a syndicated newspaper column called "Everyday Cheapskate." She has a parallel website called "Debt Free Living."

It really irritates me that a woman who claims to be helping people save money and get out of debt, wants people to pay for things that she personally profits from. In essence, Mary Hunt is increasing the wealth of Mary Hunt. On her website she recommends you sign up for (read PAY) for subscriptions to her newsletter, a Rapid Debt Calculator you can just as well use your own calculator for, Mvelopes (a budgeting tool), and a coupon service. Who would pay to have someone send you coupons? Why not just get some envelopes and budget yourself? It just doesn't make sense. If I signed up for everything she promotes, I'd be broke! That's before I spent an arm and a leg on her books.

On the upside she does have good information I've clipped and saved on how student loans work and which bills to pay first if you don't have enough to go around. Not for me, mind you, but in my efforts to assist low income people with addressing some of their financial problems. Her newspaper column is free of course, minus the cost of the newspaper which I assume you were buying anyway.

Monday, July 20, 2009

New Blog

This is my new blog dedicated to my frugal year. I was looking for a synonym for thrifty that hadn't been used to death (cheapskate, tightwad). Anyway, I came up with parsimonious; doesn't it sound clerical, even spritual?? Soldier is a good word for someone who has to work hard for the greater good.

This economy is having a huge impact on people. I've seen nothing like it in my 46 years of living. Have you noticed an increase in second hand stores in your area? We have no less than 3 new ones open in the last six months. I guess it is a sign of the times. I love that everyone is turning on to frugality. One of my all time favorite books is "The Tightwad Gazette." I actually tried to make paper out of dryer lint once. I made picture frames out of metal juice lids, and I still re-purpose junk mail envelopes for my grocery lists and coupons. I have never been too proud to pick up good items out of other people's garbage ("shopping for skanks" as one of my favorite clients once said). I do draw the line at diving into a dumpster and making my own deodorant. I love saving money and I love talking about saving money.

Let me first say I have always been parsimonious. My parents came out of the depression with deeply ingrained frugality. My grandmother once won a rolling pin throwing contest and the prize was an egg. The poor thing broke the egg in her purse on the way home, and was quite disturbed. Despite their thrifty ways, my parents managed to accrue a nice nest egg and there were some things never scrimped on: dentistry, shoes (at least for my mom), education.

This is my frugal year because I will be completing my internship on a small stipend, which I am truly grateful for (many of my colleagues are doing unpaid internships or losing their social service jobs) but that will reduce our income by about 1/3. Thus, I am dedicating this year to slashing expenses while being as creative as possible. I am looking for new ideas that are actually useful. I can't believe people keep writing articles about how to save money by scaling back on spa visits, cutting out the daily triple frappe-latte-mochas, no more fake bakes, buying on sale, popping your own popcorn, spurning Caribbean vacations, $10 cocktails and giving up the SUV. Not the SUV!! Tell me something I don't know!

I just read a story on retirement which stated that people with incomes of 40-50K won't ever be able to retire unless they have a very modest lifestyle. Wouldn't a person in that income range have a modest lifestyle by definition?? I am blown away by this culture's addiction to living beyond one's means and accruing thousands and thousands in credit card debts to support an unnecessary and highly unsatisfying lifestyle.

Here are some steps I have already taken in preparation for this drop in income:

letting newspaper and magazine subscriptions expire (use the library or other people's cast-offs, or ask for gift subscriptions)
driving a Toyota Corolla manual transmission over a minivan
sitting on the porch, game nights and taking walks and bike rides for entertainment
riding bike and walking as transportation whenever possible
Freecycling my unwanted goods (what goes around comes around)
using leftover coffee for iced coffee with a little half and half and Splenda
taking more showers at the Y (I'm almost embarrassed to say that)

Here are some things that appear non-negotiable at this time: cable/HD package, our cell phones which are higher than the traditional land line but to which we are now committed and dependent, air conditioning (in moderation, though we could be better), and my Culligan water cooler (I swear this saves us money on soft drinks and bottled water, I know tap water is even cheaper), our beloved Ipods.

Areas to think about: Internet. I can get the WiFi signal from the YMCA but I'm not sure that is dependable enough to complete my on-line courses this fall/spring. Operating on cash as much as possible, those end of month credit card bills can kill the budget, likewise too many debits. Home haircuts are definitely in for all the boys.

Now, about the fish pictured above. I did try fishing, but I do not have the patience or the skills. It took over one hour to catch this (small)big mouth bass. The fish were biting, they were just getting away with the worms. I wasn't able to bait the hook. The worm was just too freaky and wiggling when I tried to skewer it. I couldn't set the hook, that seemed like their ticket to get away. I did reel this guy in, but when it got close and started flopping around, I couldn't touch it. When it was all cleaned and filleted, there was about 3 bites of fish. I don't see this as a practical money saving idea. But, I'm glad I went and confirmed that I am truly not a fisher-person.

Goal for today: re-work budget for the next year since I may not be fully employed until August 2010. Start checking Orbitz and Travelocity for hotels for our vacation.

I am hoping to get some meal ideas for $5 or less to feed five.