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Archive for June, 2006

I saved 640.98 today!

June 30th, 2006 at 12:22 pm

If only I had that available to put in my special $20 challenge account, but since I'm living off savings this summer, it has to go in the mental tally for now at least (if I can swing it, I'll transfer that amount to the savings account once paychecks start coming in again come September). I wouldn't have spent $547.50 of that if I'd had to pay cash, however.

The savings came from two sources:

1. $547.50: I signed up to audit a course. Because I teach at the school, I can take the course for free. (Because I'm a temporary teacher and was part-time here last fall, I had to fight for this, but got my department chair, the provost, and the HR director to agree that I qualify after all the time I've taught here, even if I don't technically meet the "two full years" qualification because there was that "disruption" in service. [They're making the exception here, but I'm still peeved that they wouldn't for the retirement contribution...that's much bigger bucks, however.] I *could* have saved $1095 here if I'd signed up to take the course for credit--but I'm taking two other credit courses at the community college, and this particular course doesn't directly satisfy a program requirement, so I decided to audit it instead. Anyways, that's $547.50 saved...and because I fought the battle and won for this course, I'll be able to take classes here through next August for free. Not sure how many I'll manage given the other workload, but I'm sure I'll be saving another coupla thousand over the next year in tuition bills.

2. $93.48. Back in April when I got the new dog, I ordered a collapsible "soft" crate for the car. I couldn't assemble it properly--there was a plastic sleeve that one needed to push a button on and slide over other moving parts to secure the crate, and this required more hand strength than I had. I'd lost the receipt, which according to the web site meant I'd qualify for store credit only rather than a refund, and I'd gotten busy enough that I'd put off doing the return, but I finally made it today. I didn't have the receipt but I did have an email confirmation with my order number, and they were able to pull the original and gave me full refund even though it's been over 2 months since purchase. I'd really thought that they'd deny the return after that long and I'd have to donate the crate to charity, but I'm pleased to have my money back--and PetSmart gets more of my business for their great customer service.

Amount to transfer to my special $20 Challenge savings account this week: $108.98 ($6.74 bookstore discount, $3 for three no-spend days, $5.43 and $.33 for members discounts while shopping, and the $98.43 return. Can't afford to transfer the tuition remition to savings, and have had no word on the subscription cancellation attempt, so am not transfering either of those.

Three No-Spend Days This Week

June 28th, 2006 at 10:21 pm

Don't know how much has been the almost-incessant rain of the past week (finally letting up today), how much has been keeping the blog, and how much has been anxiety over making my existing savings last 3 more months, but I managed 3 no-spend days this week.

I suppose I should find a way to account for/reward myself for the no-spend days. Things are tight right now, so I'll throw $1 in the savings kitty for every no-spend day now (and move it up to $5 once the income starts flowing again regularly in September). So that's 15, plus the 6 and change from last week (no response on the magazine cancellation request...try direct customer service next time).

On the other hand, $74.20 went out the door to get my A/C installed. Ouch! That was about twice what I thought it'd cost. But I needed to have it done as I do very poorly in the heat. It's too heavy to do it myself, and I'm imposing enough on the boyfriend who spent two hours installing a pet gate last week and promised me another stint helping me put together my full-wall bookcase next week.

Today's $20 Challenge contribution

June 23rd, 2006 at 01:43 pm

About a month ago, Dial America called me up and I (re-)subscribed to Prevention Magazine through them...I had let the subscription expire because I can read the magazine at my library (and all the issues are minor variations on a theme...after subscribing for a decade, I'm not seeing anything really new...and besides, if you sign up for Prevention's email newsletter, they email you links to a lot of their articles, so I can read them even WITHOUT going to the library). But DialAmerica caught me at a weak or busy moment, and I resubscribed. The first two issues (May and June...guess they had leftovers since the July issue should now be on the stands!) arrived this week. Today I emailed DialAmerica's Customer Service and asked them what I had to do to cancel my subscription and get my money back. We'll see what happens and when they respond (and if I need to contact Prevention directly), but that's potentially over $40 back in my pocket! I won't officialy add it to my challenge amount until I've received a response, so my challenge total stands at 26.74.

First Contribution to $20 challenge

June 22nd, 2006 at 05:42 pm

I remembered to use my faculty discount card when buying a textbook at the bookstore today. That's $6.74 in the challenge pot!

[I'll keep a running record here and transfer amounts to the designated ING account weekly or monthly.]

Groceries

June 22nd, 2006 at 07:17 am

I'm going to be focusing a lot on reducing my food expenses the next couple of months, as this is one expense I have where the expense is not fixed and I know there is room to cut.

Ironically, I started this attempt to reduce food expenses over the next couple of months by increasing the expense. Last week I spent $200 on groceries (gulp!) Much of this was that I took a field trip to the nearest Trader Joe's (over an hour away) and stockpiled "goodies" for the rest of the summer. I'm trying not to eat out this summer since I'm not working, but I do yearn for variety and the occasional prepared meal, so I went and loaded up on prepared burritos and frozen Asian dinners etc. One find was a hearts of palm/artichoke Bruschetta spread, a tablespoon of which turns my ordinary lunchtime turkey sandwich into a delicacy.

I also finally plugged in the downstairs freezer. I was lucky enough to "inherit" an upright freezer in the basement when I bought the house last fall. It's remained empty so far, but after my TJ's run, I plugged it in and started filling it up.

I also spent money to buy a bunch boneless/skinless chicken breasts on sale. I baked them in a soy-ginger marinade, and then sealed them in FoodSaver bags and tossed those in the freezer as well. Between that and the frozen salmon fillets and turkey burgers that are already in there, I won't have to buy much meat at least through July.

$20 Challenge Beginning

June 22nd, 2006 at 06:49 am

OK, now that I have some idea of what the $20 challenge is, I am going to start participating. I have to think about what I will do to put money towards this, but my first step was to go to INGdirect.com and fund a special account for the purpose from my checking account. When I generate any money towards the challenge, I will put it in there so that the money will get saved rather than spent. A virtual money jar!

My Biggest Struggles

June 22nd, 2006 at 06:36 am

On a daily basis, my biggest struggle is keeping my food expenses down. I'd like to think that as a single person, I could spend $50/week on groceries, but I routinely spend twice that, and my eating out expenses sometimes spike up to $150 in a month. Usually this is when I'm busiest, so instead of the dining out money going to nice restaurants I enjoy, it's going to sub shops and fast food joints where I can have someone else cook for me when I'm too tired to do it for myself.

On the more global level, there are two challenges I struggle with. The first is to develop a more steady income stream for myself. Things have been going well the past few years, but a year from now, a long-term contract I've had will expire, and I'll be struggling with income again.

The second challenge is to learn to do more things myself rather than to throw money at the problem. This is particularly true when it comes to any type of physical or mechanical work. Not only do I find this type of work distasteful, but I have no confidence in myself and my abilities. Case in point: yesterday, I "accidentally" turned my thermostat higher when I meant to turn it lower (left-right dyslexia kicking in?). A couple of hours later I feel the radiators blasting heat and go down to the basement to find the furnace chugging away. Instant panic attack!!! I had no inkling that this was connected to the thermostat turn I'd made earlier, but thank heavens my boyfriend was at home and he suggested checking the thermostat first thing. If he hadn't been there to suggest it, I would have called a repair person and had a major expense because I was terrified that the furnace was about to explode and I have no idea how to turn the thing off by myself. As it was, I ended up calling the gas company and spending $99 for an annual service contract so that any future "emergencies" will be covered.

Is that stupid or what? I know it is, but when I get panicky, all concern about money goes out the window and getting the problem solved becomes first priority.

Changes I've Made So Far

June 22nd, 2006 at 06:17 am

I didn't have too many struggles with money until I finished graduate school and entered the working world. My first year out, I had a postdoctoral fellowship, and I managed to spend almost twice what I earned and when I got a "real job" the next year, I started my career over $13,000 in debt. For the first 3 or 4 years, I just paid the minimum balance due, and then it hit me that my debt wasn't going down. I started reading about personal finance, including Your Money or Your Life, got a consolidation loan and started paying my debt down. It took a couple of years, but by the time I'd left my first job, I'd not only gotten rid of the debt but started saving 10% of my salary in a retirement fund.

At my next job, I also managed to save up a significant amount towards a downpayment for a house. However, I had a bout with an illness that landed me in the hospital for two months, cost me two surgeries and six months of unemployment, and led me to make the decision to get off the "fast track" towards my career and worry more about my life as a whole. The experience also ended up eating up the downpayment fund.

Successes I've had so far in changing habits:
--I spend much less on books than I used to and frequent the library much more often
--I eat out less than I used to, but I still could make a lot more progress
--I pretty regularly save 10% or more of my salary (which varies tremendously year to year depending on my job situation...I've saved up to 27% of my salary in flush years but have had a couple of years where I've lived close to the bone and eaten into the emergency fund instead of adding to it).
--I've put most of my bill-paying on auto-pilot, so I don't get hit with the late fees I used to incur about once a year in the past.
--I finally was able to buy a house this past year, due to the generosity of my mother, who gifted me the downpayment money. This brings the total housing expenses up a bit from what they were, but now I have equity, plus the rents in this area are rising rapidly and it won't be long before my expenses as a homeowner will be less than what they were as a renter.

My Goal this Summer

June 22nd, 2006 at 05:54 am

I have a major challenge this summer: I have to live off of my savings from May 20 to September 20. I'm a teacher and I'm usually paid over 12 months even though I work 9, but I had a job-change this year and unexpectedly learned in January that I'd be paid my spring semester salary in 4 checks, one each in Feb. through May. I managed to save about $5500 for the summer, but I've had a lot of expenses this year as a new homeowner. So far, I'm on track to make it through the summer, but things are going to be very, very tight. I'm taking classes myself this summer and just got a new dog, so I'm reluctant to expand my budget by finding some additional income.

Yesterday, I had a major blow to budget plans: I had a nearly $500 car repair (exhaust system) to have made when I brought my car in for its annual inspection.

P.S. Can someone explain the $20 Challenge to me? Every time I click on a link to it, I get taken to an individual's blog entry related to this, and not to an explanation of what it is. I get the general idea but I'd like clarification.