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Archive for July, 2006

Looking at Spending Compared with US Averages

July 31st, 2006 at 10:13 am

Compared to US Averages (info from BLS, based on CPI)

US averages: 40% on housing & utilities, 18% on transportation, 16% on food & drink, 6% each on medical care, recretion, education & communication, & other, 4% on clothing.

Mine: 30% on housing & utilities, 13% on transportation, 18% on food & drink, 5% on medical, 3% on recreation, 6% on education & communication, 1% on clothing, and 24% on other (my biggest "other" categories are pet expenses and unreimbursed business expenses, which are books and films I use in teaching).

Barely present in mine in the current year (but to change with the resumption of paychecks in September) and absent in the US averages are SAVINGS (where the U.S. average is now in negative territory...can you believe that on average, people now spend more than they earn? Not just the occasional spendthrift, but on average!!!!

Phone Scam Followup

July 31st, 2006 at 07:13 am

I think (hope) I have this mostly resolved. So far it's taken an hour and 4 phone calls, with one more phone call I'd like to complete but I'm getting a busy signal at the moment.

I finally traced the charge to Agora Solutions, a (purported) voicemail service, which claims I signed up for their service via an internet click on an ad for coupons. Now first of all, how dishonest is THAT?! Second of all, I'm not much of a couponer because I limit the amount of prepared products I buy and get more coupons than I need from the Sunday paper, so it's pretty unlikely I clicked on that coupon site anyway. But even if I did, it was with no intention of signing up for internet voicemail!!!

If you google Agora Solutions, you find that they pull this scam all the time. (There is also a UK company by the same name which appears legitimate, but the US company shows up mostly under "Rip-Offs."

When I was on the phone with Agora, they "cancelled" the service and said they would credit my account and that it would show up on my phone bill. They did send me a confirmation email, which says that the charge may not be removed for *2 to 3 billing cycles*. Hah. So I'm going to call Verizon and ask them to remove it immediately. The Verizon employee whom I spoke to earlier was helpful and told me that I should ask for the Toll Billing Department and have them do a "recourse adjustment." So I'll be doing that once I stop getting the busy signal from Verizon!

Followup Followup Got in contact with Verizon, got their assurance they're taking the charge off my bill so I won't be charged finance charges. Good! But they did try to sell me (a) wireless phone service; (b) DSL; and (c) DirectTV while I was online with them!
****************

Check your phone bill for charges from "The Billing Resource," "Integretel," and "Agora Solutions." These are the names that are associated with this scam.

Phone bill--concerned about scam!

July 30th, 2006 at 08:00 am

My monthly phone bill for August arrived and it was bigger than expected. I see a new unknown $9.19 charge from "The Billing Resource" and a notation that "new services were added this month." I didn't authorize any new services!! Looking around on the web, I find both indications that this "Billing Resource" is a legitimate company, part of whose function is--get this--fraud prevention, but is also listed as involved in a scam.

Of course since it's the weekend, no one answers the phone numbers when I call to inquire. I don't see much hope/information about how to get out of this in my web browsing, either. Lots of the people say that the phone company representatives tell them that they can't help them.

What are my legal rights? If I don't pay that part of my bill but pay the rest, do I get hit with late fees? Any one have any ideas about where to start looking to resolve this?

I'll be on the phone to this purported "Billing Resource" 8 am tomorrow!!!

Pantry Challenge Week 2 Summary & Week 3 Plans

July 29th, 2006 at 06:27 am

First there's my list of what's gone/what I added, then some comments if you scroll to the bottom of this entry.

4 4 oz frozen salmon patties-NOW 2
5 frozen chicken breasts--3 left cooking them today
2 boxes of veggie burgers (4/box)-NOW 1.5
5 various bags of frozen veggies-NOW 3
6 frozen burritos-NOW 2
1 frozen pad thai entree from Trader Joe's
1 chinese citrus ch*icken entree from TJ's
3 ready-made Indian meals from TJ's
one jar of hot & sour soup from TJs-GONE
one can ready-made Campbell's tomato soup
1 can Campbell's cream of celery soup
two small boxes butternut squash soup from TJ's
one can of chili w/meat & beans
6 oz canned crab meat
3 6 oz cans tuna-NOW 2
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 can mandarin oranges
1 can pineapple
half a box of dried felafel mix
4 #s pound of pasta (2 spaghetti, 1 macaroni, 1 # egg noodles)
two pounds of brown rice-USED .5 #
a pound of red lentils-USED .5 #
a pound of brown lentils
a pound of split peas
3 boxes of cereal-NOW 1.5
1.5 packages whole wheat pitas-NOW 1
1/2 jar pizza sauce
13 oz mozzerella-NOW ~8 oz
2 #s sliced deli turkey-gone, bought another #
1 cup frozen strawberries--3 left for the next smoothie
1 cup frozen peaches--half gone
1 pint lime sherbet-GONE
2 popsicles-GONE
4 apples
1 plum-GONE
3 small heads romaine lettuce-NOW 1
3 tomatoes-NOW 1
2 #s carrots-NOW 1.5
1 bunch celery -NOW ~.5
2 cucumbers
1 quart soymilk-GONE
2 quarts kefir-NOW 1
tomato juice (2 big cans V8)-NOW 1 CAN
orange juice (1/2 gallon)
1 cup plain yogurt-GONE
5 4-oz cups fruit flavored yogurt (Initial ones gone, as are the 8 I bought week 1; bought more week 2)
2/3 loaf of 12-grain bread-ALMOST GONE
4 slices rye bread-GONE
5 hamburger buns-NOW 4

WEEK 1 ADDITIONS
another half gallon of soy milk (GONE)
yogurt (mentioned above)
carton of eggs (8 left)
bananas (2 left, frozen for smoothies)
bought nectarines (GONE ALREADY)
can of turnip greens (GONE)
sweet potato fries (GONE)
half gallon sherbet (GONE)

WEEK 2 ADDITIONS
2 half gallons soy milk
20 yogurt cups (16 left)
2 pkgs Laughing Cow cheese
2 more packages of sliced turkey breast
popsicles (2/3s GONE)
4 plums (3 GONE)
4 red potatoes to cook with chicken & onion today
16 nectarines (bought in sets of 8, 8 left)
bag of carrots (GONE)
1 vidalia onion
2 cans black beans (GONE)
2 cans mushrooms
loaf of rye bread (2/3 GONE)
loaf of French bread (GONE)
12 each: club soda, diet peach soda, diet coke (store brand) (2/3 GONE)
pkg of pretzels (1/3 GONE)
Stockpile at the Entemann's outlet: 2 packages Thomas's English muffins; bag of hamburger buns; bag of Thomas's mini-bagels; loaf of rye bread; 6 bags of low-fat New York Bagel party-mix; 2 packages Pizzelle wafers.

EATING OUT DURING WEEK: 5 meals. Saturday breakfast at new diner (10% off grand opening special); two mornings where I grabbed an egg & cheese on an English muffin sandwich on my way to class; early bird special at Chinese restaurantWed after taking two exams; lunch Thurs (retirement party for co-worker; so didn't cost me except the gift contribution). Stopped at Rita's Italian Ices and treated myself to one on Friday. Total Dining Out Cost: 22.41 (would have been about $38 if the department hadn't picked up the retirement party tab).

NO SPENDING WEEK THIS COMING WEEK PLANS. See if I can get past the dining out scourge. One weakness is grabbing breakfast out on my way to my 3 hour morning class. Make the time to make eggs those mornings and bring a snack. I'll be making a crockpot chicken meal today which will last 3 meals (2 if my boyfriend dines with me tonight), and I also need to make tuna noodle casserole probably tomorrow since I bought the ingredients and haven't used them yet. Also I should make felafels one day to add variety since I have the mix just sitting there--the new toaster oven will be good for that. Also on the menu for today: gazpacho to use up the summer veggies. Fortunately the cherry tomatoes I planted have started ripening so I have lots of those coming in!

My first paid survey check arrived

July 28th, 2006 at 01:27 pm

I can not recall on whose blog I read the reference, but I signed up for Pinecone Research, apparently met their criterion, completed my first survey for them last week, and received a $5 check in the mail today!

Ready or not,, no-spend week, here I come

July 28th, 2006 at 01:25 pm

OK, the car is gassed up; I stopped at the grocery store for yogurt, turkey, soymilk, cheese, and fruit; I bought another big sack of dog food since I only had about two days worth left...so I am commencing with my no-spend week. Of course, I realized when I got home from the grocery that I had forgotten (a) coffee filters; (b) herbal tea; (c) a bag of ice; (d) a frozen treat, but none of those are essentials, so I am going ahead. If I had forgotten the *coffee* itself, as opposed to the filters, it would be a different story! I am addicted to my caffeine. I do have a plastic *tea* filter that fits in my teapot, so that will just have to serve for coffee for the week. I have ice cube trays somewhere (probably in the basement freezer) and can just make ice. I have some powdered ice tea that I will use for the week instead of Apple Cranberry Zinger or whatever it is I have been using for iced tea this summer. And the 5 popsicles sitting in the fridge are just going to have to last. I will stick a couple of yogurt cups in the freezer in case I get really desperate, and I can always try making my own popsicles from the orange juice I have sitting in the fridge.

An already-scheduled service repairman comes tomorrow and needs to be paid; I will not count that against the "no spend" rule.

Today's Project

July 27th, 2006 at 06:28 pm

Ever since I got the dog in March, I've worked downstairs because the dog cannot go upstairs (he gets up but cannot get down by himself, and it's quite the project to carry a squirming 70 pound Basset Hound down the stairs, so I simply gated them off). I've been sitting on either the sofa or at the dining room table, but neither option is really good for long working hours: the sofa is awkward and hot when I have the laptop actually on my lap, and the dining room chairs are fine to sit in for for a meal, but not for hours at a time. So I decided that creating a small downstairs study was an essential task before the new academic year begins. I found the desk at a thrift store for $25, brought my office chair downstairs, and the only thing I bought new was the rug ($39 at a local discount outlet). So for $59 I'm set up to work much more functionally than I have been!

Hitting the Thrift Stores & Outlets

July 26th, 2006 at 02:56 pm

I took a detour on my way home and stopped by a couple of bargain places. I've decided that I really need a small desk for my living room before the academic year begins. Since the new dog is not allowed upstairs, when I work at home, I've been sitting either on the sofa or at the dining room table and have not made any use of my more comfortable office chair since he arrived. I think I found a desk for $25--I left it there to think about overnight and so I can measure and clear out the area where I will put it. But I did walk away with two used Breuer chairs in good condition for $30 apiece. . Replacing the 4 that I once had that were destroyed by my last dog has been a long-term intention. I can't believe I threw out the frames for the old ones eight years ago since I didn't know then they can be recaned. I'll definitely recane these when worn as long as the frames are still good.

Across the street from the thrift store is an Entemann's bread outlet. I've never gone in before because I'm not a pastry eater. But it turned out that they had not only Entemann's baked goods, but also Thomas's bagels and English Muffins and Arnold's breads and lots of other familiar brands. Most but not all of the goods are near their expiration dates and sell for 50% off. Plus the store has a "freezer special" of 10% off if you purchased $20 or more worth of goods. I ended up spending $27 after the 10% reduction for eight packages of bread, buns, bagels, and English muffins (mostly near expiration date so I put them in the freezer), six packages of New York Bagels low-fat party mix (expiration date 9 months from now), two packages of Pizzelle wafers, and two packs of fruit snacks to take for lunch. *And* they threw in a free box of Entemann's donuts, which I'll take to work.

I *should* put another $27 in my $20 savings account for the savings, but I have no income this month so that will have to wait until paychecks resume.

Fourth No Spending Day this Week!

July 23rd, 2006 at 07:44 pm

Once I get to the fall and paychecks resume, I'll set an amount (5? 10?) and put it in my special $20 challenge account every time I have a no-spending day, but for now since the money is tight until the next paycheck Sept 20th (8.5 weeks away!), the money stays where it can help pay the bills.

Today was an entirely at-home day. Did some homework, did some housecleaning, cooked a meal with leftovers for later this week, unpacked some of my books now that my big bookcase has been resurrected, mowed the lawn, and spent too much time on the internet.

Planning the Food Budget

July 23rd, 2006 at 10:41 am

Browsing around on some personal finance blogs this morning, I came across this entry http://www.mdmproofing.com/iym/weblog/2005/11/more-on-househ... , which in turn led me to this site with comparison information from the government about recommended food budgets--see http://www.usda.gov/cnpp/FoodPlans/Updates/foodoct05.pdf.

The liberal plan suggests that a "moderate" food budget for a person of my age & sex (female, 20-50) would be 46/week, and a "liberal" food budget would be 60/week, with a 20% increase for being single, bringing the total to 55 to 72 a week. Since I'm having trouble bringing the food budget down anyways, I'll use the more moderate figure as my goal. With 4.3 weeks in the month, and $72/week, that leads to a budget of $310 per month for food. I'm setting that up as a goal for August, and I've also revised my budget files to keep track separately of food and household supplies (paper goods, toiletries, etc). I also need to separate out pet food (treats for the dog and food for the cats) that I buy at the grocery. *Including* the toiletries and pet food, my monthly average grocery bill this year has been $422; assuming $8/week ($32/month) for pets and $12/week for household items ($48/month), that's a "real" grocery bill of 362. So my first challenge is to get it down to $310, and then I'll see if it's reasonable to move down to the more "moderate" budget level, which would be $237/month.

It's interesting to note the "single surcharge" of 20%; I'm actually a little surprised that the loss due to no "efficiencies of scale" is that high. I know that, as a single, one definitely ends up paying a lot more for some things--my boyfriend and I often do talk about the inefficiency of havig two houses, two sets of utility bills, etc--but I would have though the inefficiences would be a little lower in the food category, since, after all, one doesn't eat any more as a single than as a married person.

No spend day and a nifty goal-tracking tool

July 22nd, 2006 at 06:16 pm

Yesterday was another no-spend day. Iforgot to say that then. That's two in a row, and three for the week!

I found a great little tool for tracking goals: joesgoals.com. It allows you to input goals and put a little green checkmark (by positive goals, that is, things you want to do) and a red X by negative goals (things you want to avoid doing). So I've set up "no spending" as a positive goal since it's something I want to get "rewarded" for; and I've set up "eating out" as a negative goal. since it "punishes" you with the red X. I also set up goals for aerobic and strength training exercise, maintaining a calorie deficit, updating my "You Need a Budget" files and writing. The site will send you a reminder if you don't update for two days too (you choose the reminder period--I set it for two days since I want to get frequent feedback).

Is it worth it to live where you live?

July 21st, 2006 at 12:11 pm

I discovered a nifty site, BestPlaces.net, that allows you do comparisons of the cost of living in different cities and towns. They have data by zip code, and the average index value for the United States is set to 100, so that you can compare whether your locale is cheaper or more expensive. They also provide separate indices for housing, utilities, food, transportation, healthcare, and "miscellaneous."

I currently live in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. There's some variation in the cities and towns here; the index value for my town is 94.4. We're relatively low (74) in terms of housing costs (not for long...the area is being invaded by people moving in from New York and New Jersey, so we have the hottest housing market in the state, one of the hottest in the nation, and above-average inflation to boot.

However, it's still pretty good compared to where I came from: the west side of Los Angeles, with an overall index of 193.2 (339.6 for housing).

Actually, looking at all the places I've lived, I'm ending up staying in the cheapest: Ann Arbor MI comes in at 114, and even the little town, population 3000, that I lived in in Vermont for 3 years has an index of 98. But things could be even worse than L.A.: I was at Stanford for a year and lived a mile from campus. The index there is 387, with housing at 860!

You can find the comparisons for your locales by going to http://www.bestplaces.net, typing in your city or zip code, and then clicking on the tiny link in blue letters that says "Cost of Living."

To compare the cost of living in two cities, you can calculate cost in city1 x (city2 index/city1 index), which will give you the cost in city2. For example, a $50,000 salary where I currently live would need to be $50,000 x (193.2/94.4) = $102,330 in Los Angeles to buy me the same menu of goods and services. (!!!)

One week on the Pantry Challenge

July 21st, 2006 at 09:04 am

4 4 oz frozen salmon patties-NOW 3
3 frozen chicken breasts
2 boxes of veggie burgers (4/box)-NOW 1.5
5 various bags of frozen veggies-NOW 3
6 frozen burritos-NOW 4
1 frozen pad thai entree from Trader Joe's
1 chinese citrus ch*icken entree from TJ's
3 ready-made Indian meals from TJ's
one jar of hot & sour soup from TJs-GONE
one can ready-made Campbell's tomato soup
1 can Campbell's cream of celery soup
two small boxes butternut squash soup from TJ's
one can of chili w/meat & beans
6 oz canned crab meat
3 6 oz cans tuna-NOW 2
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 can mandarin oranges
1 can pineapple
half a box of dried felafel mix
4 #s pound of pasta (2 spaghetti, 1 macaroni, 1 # egg noodles)
two pounds of brown rice-USED .5 #
a pound of red lentils-USED .5 #
a pound of brown lentils
a pound of split peas
3 boxes of cereal-NOW 2
1.5 packages whole wheat pitas-NOW 1
1/2 jar pizza sauce
13 oz mozzerella-NOW ~8 oz
2 #s sliced deli turkey-NOW 1.5#S

1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen peaches
1 pint lime sherbet-GONE
2 popsicles-GONE

4 apples
1 plum-GONE
3 small heads romaine lettuce-NOW 2
3 tomatoes-NOW 2
2 #s carrots-NOW 1.5
1 bunch celery -NOW ~.5
2 cucumbers
1 quart soymilk-GONE
2 quarts kefir-NOW 1.5
tomato juice (2 big cans V8)-NOW 1 CAN
orange juice (1/2 gallon)
1 cup plain yogurt-GONE
2.5 cups fruit flavored yogurt-I EAT AT LEAST A CUP A DAY SO BOUGHT 4 MORE CUPS; STILL HAVE ABOUT 2.5 LEFT)
2/3 loaf of 12-grain bread-ALMOST GONE
4 slices rye bread-GONE
5 hamburger buns-NOW 4

ADDITIONS
more yogurt (mentioned above)
carton of eggs
bananas
bought nectarines (GONE ALREADY)
can of turnip greens (HALF GONE)
sweet potato fries (GONE ALREADY--NEXT TIME I SHOULD BUY THE SWEET POTATO & MAKE THE FRIES MYSELF)

EATING "OUT" DURING WEEK: I bought one cup of coffee, two sodas, a fruit & yogurt cup, an energy bar, two italian ices, and a roast beef sandwich & baked potato from Arby's for a total of $16.48 in food bought away from home.

********************************************
TO BUY:
sodas (I've been buying one at the convenience store on the way to the 3-hour class I'm taking. It'll be cheaper to get this at the grocery).
soy milk
a pound of lean hamburger
bread
summer fruit
some sort of icy dessert (I've actually been freezing some of the yogurt and eating it like that, which tastes really good...but am I killing the live active cultures I am buying the yogurt for? I'll have to research that). I need something to replace the italian ices I'm buying out at the stand.
some pretzels or goldfish--I find I'm really jonesing for something crunchy to munch on and there's only so many carrot and celery sticks I can eat.

Yeah, I know the additions somewhat violate the idea of a pantry challenge; but the goal is not so much to adhere to an arbitrary set of rules as it is to cut my food spending, so they'll help with that.

One Week Assessment of the Toaster Oven purchase

July 21st, 2006 at 08:38 am

Maybe I'm still in the "honeymoon"/novelty period, but the toaster oven I agonized about buying last week
http://dido.savingadvice.com/2006/07/14/the-real-cost-of-thi... has been getting a lot of use. The toaster is better for toast, but I've been using the toaster oven for doing a little bit of baking (baked two 6-muffin batches) and broiling (salmon, yum) that I wouldn't normally turn the oven on for this time of year. It's also good for a quick "pita pizza" lunch. So given that I'm finding my "pantry challenge" http://dido.savingadvice.com/2006/07/14/pantry-challenge_113... an unwelcome though self-imposed restriction, it's expanding the variety of foods that I'm eating and helping me better stick to that plan.

Two no-spend days in a row

July 20th, 2006 at 06:00 pm

My accounts need that! I've gone over budget in virtually every category this month--so far I've spent $447 more than I'd budgeted for. (I don't need to spend much if anything for the rest of the month, so I should end the month about $500 over plan). That's the bad news.

The good news is that July's budget was really restrictive (since I'm living on savings at the moment), and that in fact, I'm spending less than I usually do, particularly for food. A semiannual car insurance payment, a large car repair bill, and an unexpected veterinary bill added hundreds to my expenses beyond what I'd planned to spend.

I'm putting a bit on the credit card and borrowing a bit from my mom to make it through the summer. I hate having debts but they'll be gone by year's end, and I'll be launching an aggressive savings program once the paychecks resume Sept. 20th.

No spend day yesterday

July 19th, 2006 at 12:49 pm

and Monday all I spent was 1.50 for a soda to drink during my 3-hour class.

I'm trying to limit grocery shopping for my "pantry challenge," but I am allowing myself to replenish perishables...milk, yogurt, fresh fruit & veggies. I should add a 12-pack of soda to that, since that's far cheaper than getting the soda at the vending machine or convenience store. I stopped to get yogurt today and was pleased to find a grocery store that offers my preferred yogurt (Dannon's Activia) for significantly cheaper (17%) than the store I usually buy it at (which in turn is 8% cheaper than the store at which I do the bulk of my shopping). It means adding one more store to the list of places I shop, but this store isn't too far out of the way and I'll just have to stock up when I'm there.

Busting the Budget

July 15th, 2006 at 05:26 pm

Well, it's halfway through the month, and all my bills are scheduled through automatic billpay, and my pantry is stocked, and the gas tank is full, and I should need to spend very little else this month, so I took an assessment.

On the one hand, the news is bad: It looks like I'm going about 20% over budget overall--mostly due to (a) an unexpected vet bill; (b) an unplanned household purchase (see my entry on Thursday); (c) higher electricity expenses (for running the A/C); and (d) higher than planned food expenses. There's a lot of red in the Budget vs. Actual column--that's the bad news.

The good news is that my budget for the month planned to cut expenses significantly from usual since no income is coming in at the moment, and that compared to my "normal" spending, things look good and I'm spending less than usual. It's hard to enact large cuts all at once; hopefully working even harder to be frugal now will pay off with better habits once the income stream resumes in September.

Finally, a no spend day!

July 14th, 2006 at 07:48 pm

I needed one after yesterday's excess!

Over the weekend, I'll do a small grocery shop for perishables and dog treats and fill up the tank with gas...can I make that the last spending (other than the mortgage, utility & insurance bills which all come due around the 20th and are already set up on automatic billpay) for the month? (Well, I'll probably need a second trip for perishables around the 22nd or so).

Pantry Challenge

July 14th, 2006 at 06:55 pm

Over on the Simple Living Net forums (which I also occasionally frequent, though not much of late), there's a monthly "pantry challenge" to live off what is in your pantry.

The food budget is tight for the rest of the summer, so I'm going to adhere as much as possible to that, though I'll buy weekly portions of milk, fresh fruits & veggies, & some sort of protein source.

A first step is taking an inventory of my existing refrigerator, freezer, and larder:

4 4 oz frozen salmon patties
3 frozen chicken breasts
2 boxes of veggie burgers (4/box)
5 various bags of frozen veggies
6 frozen burritos
1 frozen pad thai entree from Trader Joe's
1 chinese citrus chicken entree from TJ's
3 ready-made Indian meals from TJ's
one jar of hot & sour soup from TJs
one can ready-made Campbell's tomato soup
1 can Campbell's cream of celery soup
two small boxes butternut squash soup from TJ's
one can of chili w/meat & beans
6 oz canned crab meat
3 6 oz cans tuna
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 can mandarin oranges
1 can pineapple
half a box of dried felafel mix
4 #s pound of pasta (2 spaghetti, 1 macaroni, 1 # egg noodles)
two pounds of brown rice
a pound of red lentils
a pound of brown lentils
a pound of split peas
3 boxes of cereal
1.5 packages whole wheat pitas
1/2 jar pizza sauce
13 oz mozzerella
2 #s sliced deli turkey

1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen peaches
1 pint lime sherbet
2 popsicles

4 apples
1 plum
3 small heads romaine lettuce
3 tomatoes
2 #s carrots
1 bunch celery
2 cucumbers
1 quart of soy milk
2 quarts kefir
tomato juice (2 big cans V8)
orange juice (1/2 gallon)
1 cup plain yogurt
2.5 cups fruit flavored yogurt
2/3 loaf of 12-grain bread
4 slices rye bread
5 hamburger buns

********************************************
To buy during rest of month:
1 carton of eggs
soy milk
bananas
summer fruit (melon, nectarine)


In August, I'll need more of those frequently-used perishables mentioned above plus more dairy and bread.

But that's really about it for the rest of the summer.



The REAL cost of things

July 14th, 2006 at 09:08 am

It's always hard to keep in mind the "real cost" of anything you purchase. By the "real cost," I don't mean the PRICE, but all the money that you need (a) to earn in order to be able to afford the purchase price, and (b) to be able to use, store, maintain, and ultimately get rid of the product.

It's often the price, however, that lures us to buy a product in the first place. For example: last Sunday's paper had an ad from Linens 'N Things advertising a sale on several Black & Decker appliances which one could get for $9.99 after rebate. One of the products listed was a toaster oven--something that has been on my "someday/maybe to buy" list for a while. Since I'm trying to cut down on my food expenses by eating out less and cooking more at home, and it's oppresive cooking in the summer heat (and I don't own an outdoor grill), I allowed myself to persuade myself to buy the grill.

Initial outlay $31.79 ($29.99 + 6% PA sales tax). However, I am in the 25% tax bracket, so in order to be able to lay out that initial expenditure of $31.79, I had to actually *earn* $42.39. I should also count the cost of getting to and from the mall--one simple way would be to estimate that the 16-mile round-trip on the highway would require half a gallon of gas, about $1.80 (or 2.40 if I again count the amount of money I had to earn in order to be able to spend $1.80). Another way would be to include not only gas but the presumed depreciation as well, and use the IRS mileage reimbursement rate, currently 44.5 cents per mile for 2006. Google maps indicates that it is 8.15 miles each way for me to drive to the mall, so by that calculation, it cost $7.25 for my trip to the mall (or $9.67 if I again apply the tax rate rule). Since this exercise is a demonstration of how much things cost beyond the price, I'll use the higher rate.

So: the amount of money that I needed to earn in order to afford my $9.99 toaster oven was actually 52.06 ($42.39 + $9.67). Presuming that I do in fact receive the rebate, the "real price" of the toaster was actually, $32.06!

This doesn't even count in the "opportunity cost" of what I could have earned if I'd been working rather than taking the afternoon off and shopping. I could technically include that in the analysis too--IF I would in fact have been working. But it's summer vacation and I wouldn't have been, so I won't extend the analysis that way.

However, I WILL extend it to look at the cost of OWNING and USING this new toaster oven. When I looked at it in the store, I realized that almost none of my existing cookware would fit inside it, other than my loaf pan. Linen's 'N Things doesn't sell special toaster oven bakeware, but Bed, Bath, & Beyond does. In order to be able to use my toaster oven, I ended up spending $17.99 at BBB for a casserole pan and a broiler pan, and another $10.59 at Michael's for a set of a dozen silicone muffin cups, since my oven is small enough that even the standard "toaster oven size" muffin tins wouldn't work. That's another $28.58 price/$38.11 after taking into account the money that I need to earn to afford the price.

Since I bought this on the same trip as the toasteroven, I won't add in any more gasoline price. Other things that I could add in but won't include the cost of having a place to have the toaster oven stand. Back when I moved, I bought a $35 (price) microwave cart at Target that fortunately has room for the toasteroven as well. Theoretically, I could add in any maintenance costs or getting rid of costs to the price as well, but I won't at this point.

So, in sum, my "$9.99" toaster oven REALLY requires me to earn $70.07 to pay for it.

Perhaps I wouldn't have been so quick to jump at the sale if I'd thought of that beforehand. But now I'll keep in mind that I need to save at least $70 by eating at home when I'd otherwise go out to eat in order to justify this expense!

Dial America came through

July 13th, 2006 at 05:45 am

Back on June 23, I decided to cancel a subscription that I had just signed up for during a phone solicitation (I really have to learn to JUST SAY NO to phone solicitations--normally I do, but the particular magazine was one I'd subscribed to for 10 years and finally decided to let lapse). Someone else on the blogs said they'd had trouble with Dial America, so I wasn't hopeful, and indeed, there was no email followup to the form I completed on their customer service page, but a check came in the mail ~3 weeks after the request, for the full amount of the subscription (even though I'd received 3 issues by that time).

So $42.97 goes into the challenge fund. Current total: $171.97 (and yes, it IS in a separate bank account).

Win some, Lose some

July 6th, 2006 at 05:03 pm

Today was another no-spend day--I think that's the third this week.

Tomorrow won't be. The dog's been having repeated tummy troubles so I've scheduled a vet visit for tomorrow morning. That won't come cheap. That's going to be another item added on to the VISA bill that won't get paid until paychecks resume in September. (I almost always pay my VISA off immediately, but I'm having to live off of savings/without a paycheck for 4 months, and while I have enough for the bills, this will be the second "emergency" item that goes on the VISA for a couple of months.

Hopefully they'll have an answer to my poor baby's troubles and that answer won't cost too much!

TWO no-spend days in a row

July 4th, 2006 at 05:29 pm

Spent the day at home...didn't even take the dog for a real walk since it's been so hot & muggy all day.

Puttered, worked on homework, and in the afternoon DBF came over and took apart and reassembled my big bookcase. Two friends--both retired professors in their 80s--had volunteered to help me put it together back in April, and while it was great to have the help, the whole thing was so unsteady once it was together that I never dared put the books in it. DBF took it all apart and reassembled it, so it's sturdy now the way it always was. It still needs a couple of finishing touches, including bolting it to the wall, before I can fill it--we'll get to that next weekend. Then I can unpack the 32 boxes of books that have been sitting in the middle of the floor of that room since I moved in Nov. 1 and get that room organized and usable. It's 1/4th of my living space, and I've been fine without it, but it will feel nice to feel like I'm finally finished "moving in" 7 months after the fact!

I made a homemade pizza for dinner for us. My recipe calls for beer in the crust, and all I had was dark beer that a friend had brought. That and the whole wheat flour and a bit too much cornmeal on the bottom--the crust didn't come out well and neither of us ate much of it, but the toppings were good, and I'll remember all of that for next time. With the bread machine, it's only 15 minutes of work to make the pizza (and 2 hours for the bread machine to do its job, and 15-25 minutes for the pizza to bake once it's ready for the oven), so it's a pretty easy recipe that I should use more than I do.

So between the bookcase help--which would have cost me at least $150 for a handyman to do it, and the homemade pizza (let's call that $12 for a large pizza with mushrooms, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, onions, and pepperoni), I "saved" at least $162 today that I could easily have spent.

Finally, fireworks tonight are free. I live up on a hill half a mile from the place on the river where they set them off, so I have a great view when I go out and stand in front of the neighbor's house.

A No Spend Day

July 3rd, 2006 at 03:34 pm

No $$ out. I'm taking summer school classes, so I worked on homework, mowed the lawn and did a bit of gardening, went to the gym, walked the dog. I *did* stop at the grocery store briefly but decided there's enough at home to last me a bit--probably 2-3 more days til milk runs out and then I'll go. Tonight I'll do more homework and either watch one of my NetFlix DVDs or play a computer game.

Unexpected $$

July 1st, 2006 at 07:22 pm

Today in the mail I got a check for $15.73 from my insurance agent listed as an overpayment. Not sure what I overpaid for--that wasn't indicated, and as far as I recall, I just paid the amounts listed on my bills--but I'll happily deposit the check!