Archive for the ‘Money and Frugality’ Category

Driving my Porsche to Happiness

What makes you happy?  I mean, truly, honest-to-goodness, head-over-heels happy?

Is it your house?  How about your iPad or your new Mac notebook?  Your smartphone?  What about your car?  Does your fashionable clothing make you that happy?

What about that new cereal?  The one with the ad on tv showing children in a bright kitchen and big smiles on their faces?  Do you find this happiness in buying the right antacid?

Am I getting silly?  But really, how often do we fall for advertising’s goal – that to be truly happy, we only have to have their product?  And yes, even antacids are included in that group of ads.

I read a quote in a back issue of Mother Earth News today – I don’t remember the exact quote now, but it basically said – “Does anyone’s luxury car ever create true happiness?”

Hmm.  We’ve been inundated with commercials that try to persuade us to believe that if we can just live up to the standards of the rich, we will be truly happy.  But those commercials end up making us profoundly unhappy – because we can’t live up to those standards and we think happiness is lost.  And – please speak up if I’m wrong -but  I don’t think there are very many people who found true happiness and contentment once they got that car – or house, or iPad.

Don’t get me wrong; those things are fun and great if you can afford them without debt (making yourself even more stressed and unhappy.)  They do bring on some happiness and joy, especially when you first get them.

But true happiness is found in the things you can’t buy.  Oh, that’s so cliche, but true.  I find great happiness in my children and the little things they do – things that are gone in a moment.  I think I find more happiness in a good meal or a nice bar of chocolate than my 2009 Chevy we bought new.  I find more joy in knitting a beautiful sweater than buying the newest haute couture  style off the rack.  I’m sure you all know what I am talking about!

After my last post, I’ve continued to declutter my house.  There is something so liberating about getting rid of the stuff  and finding the things I really enjoy – they don’t bring me that true happiness, but having a house full of only things I love will, I think, because I can spend my time enjoying the things I have rather than trying to find them!

Do we really need all the stuff?  Will we really find the El Dorado we are looking for in the newest gadget? Tell me here what brings you the most happiness!

Can consuming make you healthy and wealthy?

Our culture of consumerism is damaging to both our earth and our wallets.  One of my goals with this blog has been to document our steps away from the greed and gluttony of first world society and toward a more sustainable life – both monetarily and ecologically.  Fortunately they go hand-in-hand.

I haven’t approached this before on this blog, but between student loans and credit card debt from a previous failed business as well as our own poor financial planning, my husband and I have found ourselves deeply in debt – and almost dangerously so.  We have been working the past few years to erase that debt – although in the past few months we have finally become truly serious about it.  We’ve started using Dave Ramsey’s plan, which in theory is brilliant.  With the right attitude, I am confident it will work – because it’s about changing our mindsets about consuming, not just about getting out of debt.

I think that’s the key to changing our ecological habits, too.

If we can overcome the mentality that our self-worth is in what we own, instead of who we are, we can overcome the consumerist mentality.  We can overcome the burdens we’ve put upon ourselves in our search for satisfaction and adoration.

The problem with “going green” in the US is that it’s marketed as a salable lifestyle. Shop at whole foods, buy the right (and expensive) cleaning supplies, cash in your clunker, and install solar panels.  If you buy the right things, you will be so ecologically friendly.

These companies see green alright – in the form of cash.  But do their products really make the world cleaner?  Sure, that organic cotton t-shirt has fewer chemicals in it, but how much water did it take to grow the cotton so you could buy another t-shirt to add to your overflowing closet?  How much gas did it take to transport the cotton to the processing plant, the fiber to the spinners, the spun thread to the weaver, the fabric to the factory, and the finished product to the warehouse, where it sat until the store called for it?  We don’t see anything but the end product, so we don’t think about all of the resources it took just to make those items.  In the end, the fact that the cotton is organic is only an insignificant change in a long series of events that are no better than they ever were.

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But it’s reached a new low. Yesterday a new commercial came on as I was watching a cartoon with the kids, and every time I saw it, I grew more disgusted.  The commercial advertised a book called “The Green Millionaire” by Nigel J. Williams  (Free with a trial membership to their emagazine, which is expensive  and probably impossible to cancel.)

The premise of this book is that there are ways to be green that will make you rich.  Most of the ideas appear to be fairly obvious and require purchases.  Some of the claims from the website:

Would you buy a used car from this guy?


“Get your share of the billions that will go unclaimed in Government “green” money.”

“Learn how to keep your gas tank full for free.”

On the commercial, the author talks about “making your electrical meter flow backwards” and getting cash for greening up your automobile, your appliances, and your home.

First of all, many of you have probably figured out exactly what he’s talking about with a lot of this.  The electrical meter – installing solar panels or wind generators may mean you can sell energy back to the electrical company.  But installation on that scale is still expensive and requires a good investment of money.  You won’t get rich on that, though I have heard of people making a small profit.  And what about the manufacturing process for the panels?  And disposal of old electric systems?

Gas for life?  Complaint boards are full of explanations – the book tells you to buy a diesel vehicle, install a biodiesel converter (more buying), and find a source of free used vegetable oil.  Where do I start?  Raw vegetable oil is not a legal motor fuel and will cost you in expensive government fines if you got caught using it.  It has to be converted to biodiesel to be truly efficient, which for the average person, could be costly as well.

Cash from the government for your clunker?  That program is over, and even when it was running, you wouldn’t see a dime of the money in your pocket.  It was a rebate – a discount, basically – off a brand new car.  When we bought our Chevy back in August, it simply meant we got a better deal. But we still paid $18,000 out of pocket in the form of a loan.  We aren’t getting richer, my dear readers.

We won’t even head in the direction as to whether or not the program was effective – considering an estimated 25% of the lifetime emissions on a vehicle is from the manufacturing process, it probably wasn’t.

And cash for your appliances?  That’s over, too, though the story is the same.  You may save some electicity, but the manufacturing and transporting process probably required a lot more than you will ever get back in green brownie points.

The book appears to talk about government grant money for “green” improvements.  You don’t need Williams’ book to get that information – it’s right here. And it’s free.

I could go on and on, but that’s not my point.  Everything this man advertises is scammy – not only is the internet fraught with complaints from consumers about this guy and his book, but nothing he says seems to come close to actually helping the environment or his readers’ wallets.  Every suggestion from the book that has been publicized requires buying stuff! Stuff that the average person doesn’t need to buy!

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The most “green” thing a person can do is not consume unnecessarily. Buying new things when what we have is perfectly serviceable is not ecologically friendly, and it’s not frugal.  (I also don’t think it’s morally wrong, just for the record.)

Here’s my plan to help the earth and grow my wealth:

1. I’m going to remove my financial obligations to others by paying what I owe so I can put future money in the bank.

2.  I’m going to buy what I need, and only a little of what I want, so that I have more cash to put towards those debts/savings and so I have less that requires manufacturing and disposal.

3. When I do buy, I’m going to buy mindfully – buying used when possible and choosing products that have a minimum of packaging – particularly packaging that can’t be recycled or reused.  I’ll also try to choose products that are as whole as possible – that is, they are as close to their natural state as possible, with fewer chemicals, dyes, chemical fragrances and preservatives.

4. And I’m going to consider whether or not I really need it.  Can I do without?  Can I use something else? Instead of buying the $10 all-purpose cleaner, can I use vinegar?  Baking soda?  Can I use potent essential oils to scent my house instead of buying fake smelling air freshener?  Could I use cloth napkins instead of paper or cloth menstrual pads instead of tossing away uncomfortable paper ones every month?

Ultimately, I know there will be purchases I make that will be unnecessary.  And that’s okay with me, as long as I’ve considered the things above and made a purchase bought with thought rather than compulsion.  And we must think about these things – our society is capable of change only when we change our minds about the necessity of consumption!

Baby, it’s cold outside!

Okay, so this may be a little late in coming, because today – right now – it’s 46 degrees outside.

The last time I remember warmth of this quality was back in December, so I’m pretty excited. It’s an indication that spring is on its way – and that idea is solidified by the fact that the long-term forecast doesn’t show the highs dipping into the 30s again in the near future.

(I know all of you from up north are laughing at me, since Nashville hardly qualifies as having frigid weather.  I grew up in Minnesota and most recently lived in Northeast Ohio, so usually I’d laugh, too, at what I’m saying.  But let me tell you something – electric heat is nowhere as cozy and warm feeling as oil or natural gas!)

Anyway, one of the things I learned in Minnesota is to layer, and it’s something I’d like to remind you to do today.  If you can stay warmer by wearing the right clothing, you can turn down the heat, thus saving on electricity, as well as the resources needed to produce that electricity.  Another tip that’s good for the world and your wallet, right?

So I was reminded to layer, which I’ve stopped doing mostly because I had separated my maternity wardrobe from my regular wardrobe in my mind.  Once I realized I do still fit into most of my regular, pre-pregnancy undershirts, I took to wearing them under whatever shirt I planned for that day, just like men commonly do (except mine are prettier.)

Since I’ve been doing this, the extra layer keeps me significantly warmer even when the house feels cool.  And it feels cool a lot – we just discovered a hole the size of a TV cable going all the way through an outside wall!  (This is not the first time we’ve discovered large holes in this house.) We plug the holes as we find them, but between electric heat and a drafty old house, it’s no wonder it’s had high electricity bills!

See that beautiful sunlight?

This one was at eye level and I only noticed it because it was sunny outside and there really shouldn’t be flashes of sunlight catching your eye through a solid wall.  And I have to laugh at it all – who puts a hole in the house to fit a TV cable at eye level in a dining room?  And then who doesn’t fill it in when they take the cable out? Until today, we thought the hole was confined to the plate, but it goes right through!

Hmm…maybe I should just give the previous owner the benefit of the doubt…after all, who doesn’t enjoy a little tv while you eat a family meal?

Anyway, back to the undershirt.  The undershirt keeps me warmer, and it also means that I often can wear my outer shirt again.  Perspiration and other body odors don’t usually soak past the inner layer, meaning that as long as you don’t spill something or get chocolate drool on your hem from the kids, you can stick it back in the closet and wear it one more day.  It’s not necessarily less laundry, but it is a lot less wear and tear on your best – and most expensive – clothing.  And since it keeps you warmer, you can turn your heat down as well.

So if it’s still cold where you live, layer up.  If it’s not cold – you lucky ducks!

Waste Not, Want Not – Phantom wastes that suck you dry…

Tuesday I received both the quarterly water bill and a shock.  For the month and a half since we turned on the water – and a month of residence – our water bill was nearly $130!  This is only for the city water that comes into the house – it’s disposed of into a septic system we own.

I immediately picked up the phone and called the Local Water Company.  The kind woman on the other end agreed – this water bill was enormous!  She sent out a water meter reader, who told us we had a leak.  A bad one.

Next up – a plumber.  He and my husband immediately found the problem – an outside spigot was cracked so badly it was basically running like a faucet.  Another $129 later, and the spigot has been capped until we make some changes to the location.  Thankfully, the current location was several feet from the house (it was put in early on in the house’s life, around 1905, and still has the original pump handle.)  So we don’t anticipate any foundational water damage.

Now, inside the house we were clueless.  The plumbing inside is working beautifully.  That water bill, though, was a wake up call.  What else are we missing?  What else is draining our financial and physical resources?

Since then, we’ve made some changes to our house to curb electricity use.  To be honest, much of this house, including the heating system, is so well ventilated that you could blow out a candle from one end to the other.  (Our bill last month for electricity, which includes all systems, was about $335.  If you remember this post about the house, you’ll understand how much work we’ve already done!)  So this weekend, my husband got under the house and taped up a lot of falling insulation and weak spots in the tubing, my father shoved insulation in the back door jamb and put a rubber threshold on the bottom where it was still drafty, and we closed a sneaky upstairs window that managed to open itself up when we weren’t looking.  We need to remember to lock those windows, especially when we have wind storms!  The guys also worked on some areas that needed to be spackled and painted where there used to be doors to the outside, which added a more effective layer of insulation against the cold.

Already that’s made a lot of difference in just the feel of the air.  Our bedroom isn’t as cold as it normally is, despite nearly record-breaking cold outside.

We’re already looking for more “phantom” wasters – those things you don’t even notice that suck energy or money from your wallet.  Other random phantom wasters?

* Paper towels (put your cloth towels in an easily accessable place with a designated bin for dirty rags)
* Uncaulked window frames  – it’s amazing how much air can come through between a frame and the wall if the window is improperly insulated or on a windy side of the house!
* Hot water heaters set too high – they should be set at 120 degrees F.  Better yet, buy a water heater timer that will turn off the heater during times you never use hot water – like while you sleep.
* Disposable diapers and menstrual pads – name brand can cost up to $0.30 a piece – and you may use several a day!
* Commercial floor cleaners – many of them, like the Swiffer Wet Jet, use a solution that never rinses completely clean.  That means that it feels sticky and collects dirt quicker.  Not to mention the disposable pads!  Instead, use a vinegar and water solution with your own homemade wet jet cleaning cloths.
* Warming up your car – unless you have a very old model, it’s not necessary to warm up your car more than a couple minutes.
Sometimes the phantoms can be hard to find because they are just that – phantoms.  If our water bill hadn’t been so shocking, I would never have questioned it, and I could have been wasting both water and my money.  Sometimes we just need to have it pointed out to us – do any of my readers have any stories to share that will help us all find those phantoms?

If you do one thing today…Christmas edition!

If you do one thing today…

I’d bet you’re wrapping those last minute gifts.  And if you are like me, you are running out of wrapping paper – fast!

Today, get creative with your gifts!  Wrap them in fabric, in tulle, in newspaper comics or brown paper bags.  Throw Santa’s gifts in a pillowcase, tie it with a red ribbon.  Get your kids (or some kids?) to color or paint on butcher or kraft paper.

You could even host a scavenger hunt for the best gifts, hiding them unwrapped with clues to help find them.

Forget going out on some of the busiest shopping days of the year, forget buying more paper meant to just be thrown away.  Use up what you have in the house, and best of all, use things that you can use again!

Free Online Educational Resources for Parents

My two boys are almost 4 and 15 months, and I’m always looking for opportunities to help them develop the skills they will need for school.  I really enjoyed school as a child (I was the geeky one asking for additional homework) and I want them to enjoy it too.

One thing that has really amazed me about my kids is how easily they learn and understand technology.  My son was able to play games on my laptop by himself by the time he was three, and recently he showed his grandma how to turn on her own DVD player – one that he had only seen used once before!

Now, I immediately saw this as an opportunity.  I’m also geeky enough to enjoy playing computer games, so I figured my son would enjoy games, too!  And there are so many free resources online, that I don’t have to spend a penny to give my child some fun while helping him learn letters, sorting, and sentence structure.

Some of my favorite websites include:

Starfall – geared toward early elementary age children, it’s easy enough for younger kids to navigate.  I used this a lot when I was teaching English as a Second Language in a public elementary school.  There are even printables for your kids to color!

PBS – an old favorite, my son loves to play with his favorite TV characters.  We don’t have cable, and really, PBS is preferred to any other kids’ station.  (I’m so sad they’ve cancelled “Reading Rainbow,” though!  I was really looking forward to watching it with him!)

Kaboose.com – TONS of free parenting resources, including recipes, games, crafts, printables.  Right now they have big sections focused just on the upcoming holidays.

 

More resources:

Dolly Pardon’s Imagination Library – if your area participates, every child under five in your household can sign up to receive a free book from the Imagination Library on a monthly basis.  Now that we’re moving to Nashville, we have a program in our area!  My sister-in-law receives these books for her kids and says they’re great.  If your area doesn’t participate, you can request the program.

 

 

There are so many more, and they all escape me at the moment!  Can you think of any to add?

 

Arrival in Minnesota and some tips for buying nothing while moving

Well, we’re here.  Packed up, loaded the truck, moved to my parents’ house in Minnesota, and now we…wait.

Our closing in Tennessee is supposed to be on the 28th.  As we get closer, I’m doubting it will happen on time.  The seller, US Bank, disclosed to us that there was a title issue with part of the property – a previous owner had sold a tract of land to the neighbor, who promptly built a pool on it.  The previous owner never told his mortgage company, so when he was foreclosed on, the land reverted to the bank with the rest of the property.  Obviously, we’d like to get it cleared up as much as the next person!  But now the bank is trying to tell us that they aren’t going to rectify it – basically, that they’ll sell us everything and then it’s our problem.

Now, obviously, that’s not legal, and we’ve consulted with a real estate attorney who said the same.  So we’re waiting for the bank’s response!

Anyway – the move cost us only the price of the truck and a few minor supplies like packing tape.  Here’s some of our tricks to get moving on the cheap:

1. We got newspaper to pack in from the local newspaper.  They always give out their extra back issues, so if you ever need newspapers, check your local newspaper office!

2. The first half of our moving boxes came from freecycle.org.  Then my husband went to the local hardware stores – they are one of the few (in our area, at least) that haven’t switched over to reusable boxes.  Small grocery stores, especially locally owned stores, don’t have distributors that will break up cases, so the stores have to order an entire box of any given product.  They’d be good for boxes, too.

3. The moving company wanted $8 a moving blanket!  We could keep them, but what would we do with a dozen expensive moving blankets?  Freecycle provided a garbage bag full, and church rummage sales provided the rest at about $1 each.  They’re ragged, but they will serve the purpose well, and they will also be our new curtains until we can get settled!

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