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Friday, November 30, 2012

Active or Passive

I was reading an article in my ever present Tightwad Gazette last night about active and passive tightwaddery, and I realized I had never really thought about frugality from this perspective.

What is boils down to is this: the things we actually do to save money, conserve resources and frugally increase quality of life for our families are active tightwaddery. The things we don't do that save money, preserve resources or protect the quality of life for our families are passive tightwaddery.

Let me give you a couple of examples. My son loves those frozen bean and cheese burritos. I don't get it but they are one of his favorite go to foods when he gets hungry and needs something now. But the cheapest I have ever been able to find them are $.89 ea for the small ones or $1.00 for the larger ones. He will eat two at a time, sometimes several times a day! So I have developed a homemade substitute (I have included the recipe below) that he swears are waaayyyy better then the frozen kind and alot less expensive. I can buy burritos for $.89 ea or make them for $.49 ea. I make them. This is ACTIVE tightwaddery, something I am actually doing.

Other times when he gets out of classes and we are heading home he is also starving and will say something like "there is Carl's Jr, lets grab a burger, I'll buy". I will look at him and say "By the time you add fries and a drink, for the two of us it's $15.00. I can get you a lift ticket to Hoodoo for $15.00, is it worth it?". My son is an avid snowboarder and his favorite place to ride is Hoodoo resort. I have found a place online where I can get lift tickets on certain days for $15.99, instead of the normal $44.99.  My son will think about it for maybe 1/2 of a second, shake his head and we whiz by the Carl's Jr to home. I probably have something ready to make quickly for dinner already waiting. This is PASSIVE tightwaddery, something we are not doing (not stopping to eat out).

There are probably a lot more passive things we do that save a small amount on any given day then active things that save a large amount. But it's really more about the attitude and mindset for me. Each little thing I do, each decision I make is bringing me closer, or further away to the goals I have set. I am training myself to make the right choices, both active and passive automatically. The bonus in the last scenario is my son is also learning about choices and how they will effect his own quality of life.

One Frugal Thing: I made homemade burritos of course!

                Homemade Frozen Bean/Cheese Burrito Recipe (quick food for teenagers)

I take a can of refried beans (bought on sale for $.89, the cost of one small burrito), put it in a pan with a splash of salsa, a couple of drips of hot sauce and some garlic/onion seasoning powder, stir and heat. Then I take a package of tortillas (package of 8 cost $1.00 at the Dollar Tree) and put them on a plate with a damp paper towel or napkin over them and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. I take out my block of cheese (I have recently been able to find it regularly on special for $5.99 for 2lb) and use the fine shredder side of my grater to grate some up. I place an oblong shape blob of beans in the center of a tortilla, then place some shredded cheese along the top of the blob of beans (I make sure it is evenly distributed so there is cheese in every bite). Fold both of the sides of the tortilla in (this will be the sides (left and right) of the ends of the bean/cheese blob), fold the bottom edge of the tortilla up over the blob and folded-in tortilla sides and tuck down around top edge of beans. What you have now have should look like a fat tortilla envelope. I take the spoon I am using for beans and swipe a smear on the top of the burrito where I am going to fold the "flap" over the top to use as "glue". Fold the top flap of the tortilla over the bean smear and press closed. I can just fit 2 burritos in a regular sized zipper baggie (a box of 30 at Dollar Tree for (you guessed it!) a $1.00, and I wash these and reuse if they are not yucky and I haven't used them for meat). This recipe will make 7 burritos. I usually put one package of 2 in the fridge and 2 packages in the freezer. The last one he always eats as soon as I am done making them.

Here is the dollar breakdown:               
$0.89 (beans)
  1.00 (tortillas)                                Store bought 7 small burritos @ $.89 ea $  6.23
  1.50 (cheese, approx)                     Minus amount to home make                      3.39
--------                                                                                                               --------
$3.39                                                                                            Savings           $2.84  

This is alot of savings as far as I am concerned, plus I know there is no "junk" in these burritos. He just throws them on a plate and heats in micro.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gobble Gobble Redux

My household is small, by family standards. It is just my 18 yr old son, a menagerie of animals and myself. But at Thanksgiving I chose to cook a 13.5 lb turkey. I thought the process of selecting a turkey would be as simple as it has been in years past.

Every grocery store around had a special price on turkey and the prices were as low as $.39 a lb, such a deal! But in years past I had never paid attention to what I had to do to get the "special" price. You have to buy a minimum dollar amount of groceries. The more you spent the cheaper the turkey got. I have always cooked for a crowd because my house has always been where all the "orphans" came for holidays, and I love the feeling of sharing the occasion with all sorts of people. That being said, $100.00 spent on a huge feast to feed 20 people was not unusual. But this year I couldn't do it (spend $100 bucks, the invitation to orphans was still open). Not only did I not have a spare $100 dollars in the budget, I didn't need that much for the meal. Because I have been shopping carefully, stocking up on pantry items when on sale and buying less convenience foods I already had most of the basics for the meal.

I had asked my son what foods bring to mind Thanksgiving. What was important to him that be on the table for it to be a genuine holiday feast. This was what he came up with:

Green Bean Casserole
Mashed potatoes
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Cool Whip (this kills me, I am a real whipped cream person all the way)
Deviled Eggs
Olives/Pickles tray

Seems like a lot for just a couple of people, but hey, I asked. So I started doing an inventory of the cupboards and refer to determine what I already had. This is what was on hand:

Canned green beans (bought at a 2/1.00 sale a couple of weeks before)
Campbells Cream of Mushroom soup (bought that week on sale for $.89)
2 packages of french fried onions NOT French's (bought at the Dollar Tree earlier, $1 each, not quite as good as French's, but still good)
Potato's (always have these on hand)
Stuffing fixings (actual bread stuffing, chicken stock, ect)
Eggs (bought that week with a store coupon for $.99)
condiments to make deviled eggs
Olives (bought at the Dollar Tree earlier, then I saw them on sale for $.89 thanksgiving week)
Pickles (always have these in the refer)
Dark Caro Syrup (Don't know when I bought this, but there it was!)
Everything I needed to make pie crusts

I was shocked and I must admit pleasantly surprised to realize I had so much of the meal right in my cupboards.

My grocery list ended up looking like this:

Pumpkin Puree
Heavy Whipping Cream
and drinks

When I happily trotted off to the store to pick up my tiny list and my $.39 lb turkey I was shocked to find it was $1.79 a lb without the minimum purchase! Yikes! And that minimum purchase is BEFORE they ring up the turkey. Okay, I needed to regroup. I went back home, got online and did some research on all the stores it would be feasible for me to stop at in my normal travels that day. I ended up finding the turkey for $1.59 lb, and they had a $3.00 off coupon if it was over 12.5 lb and "fresh". Not exactly the deal of the century, but better than $1.79 lb. On the way there I stopped at another dollar discount store and found pumpkin puree. I ended up buying:

13.5 lb turkey for $18.47
 .5 lb pecans for $3.47
Heavy whipping cream $1.49
2 2ltr soda $1.76 ($.88 ea)
1 can pumpkin puree
total at grocery store= $25.89

Plus I figure about $10.00 for all the stuff I had already. So Thanksgiving dinner cost around $36.00. We ate leftovers for 3 days then it was time to be done with it.

We still had a lot of turkey left on the carcass so I cleaned off all the meat, and put it in a large pot to boil. When it was done I again cleaned off any extra meat while discarding the bones. I had several quarts of turkey broth and extra meat for turkey rice soup, enough meat to make turkey sandwiches for my son's lunch for several days, and made turkey noodles (with peas and corn mixed in) for lunch that day.

As much as I hated paying $1.59 lb for the turkey in the end I feel the whole process was a good investment. We had a lovely holiday and enough leftovers to feed us about a week. Not bad for $36.00 bucks, right?

One Frugal Thing I did today-

 I made my college age son lunch to take to classes instead of him buying fast food when he is STARVING after class. A turkey sandwich, homemade chocolate chip cookies, cheeto-like cheese puffs from the dollar store and a container of homemade potato salad.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

One Frugal Thing

It occurred to me that changing your lifestyle is no easy undertaking. It is hard physically, mentally and emotionally. So I wanted to do something that would give me a little boost every day.

I decided to post one frugal thing I have done each day. In that way I can visually see that I am making a real effort to change my ways for the good of my life and family. When I am really struggling I can go back and look at the cumulative effect of all of those "one things" and realize I really am making a difference in my life.

Since I write this each day in the morning the "One Thing" will be from the day before. Here is mine from yesterday.

                                         One Frugal Thing 11/27/2012

In January of this year I moved my little family (18 yr old son, dogs, cat, reptiles and myself) from Southern California, a very warm climate, to Central Oregon, a four season climate. If you have spent any time in Central Oregon you realize very quickly that at least three of those four seasons can be cold (sometimes very cold). After several years in Cali we had become accustom to being comfortably warm all the time. Though I love all four seasons it is uncomfortable to change climates rapidly.

Heating costs are high everywhere. Both electricity and natural gas bills can eat rapidly into an already strained budget. I decided one area I could cut down on was the heating bill. I have generally kept my home at around 70 -71 degrees never really thinking about how it could fluctuate since my digital thermostat will automatically adjust accordingly. Last night I decided to drop my temp down to 66. This may not seem like a huge drop, but I figure baby steps, right? My son's room is naturally warm as he has reptiles with heat elements in their cages. I piled 2 extra blankets on my bed (I like the weight anyway) and brought the dogs all into my room so they were either snuggled on the bed with me (natural little heat boxes), curled up on the carpet (my house has hardwood floors and can be cold for them to lay on) or toasty on their doggie beds.

I slept like a log so I consider this a successful transition and will continue to keep my thermostat at 66 at night for a week. Next week I will try dropping it to 64. During the day when we are home I usually set it at 70, but the furnace does not kick on very often since I am cooking or running the dryer and the house stays warm on it's own. I am leaving at 66 today and see how it feels.

I know this sounds like a small thing, but I figure the pyramids were built one block at a time, right? I will let you know next month how it effects my electric and gas bills.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reality Check

Every book, article or blog I have ever read about budgeting and getting control of your finances has said the same thing. The first step is to figure out what you have coming in and what you have going out. This makes perfect sense, except sometimes it is easier said then done.

The first part is easy. Most people know EXACTLY how much money they have coming IN. I know I do. Since I was laid off of my job I only have 2 regular sources of income and combined they only come to $1241.00 a month (just for the record, I am not on welfare and I do not receive any maintenance/alimony from my 19 yr marriage). I know I am blessed to have this much without a regular job and I am not complaining. Even though, I still wake up every morning in the midst of an anxiety attack, with my stomach tied into knots. I have a very large amount of debt from both my marriage and the last 3 1/2 yrs of ignorance, depression and my own poor choices. I also run my household on this amount, which consists of an 18 yr old son, 4 dogs, 3 cats, 3 reptiles and a very tiny mouse named Maryjane.

The second part is a lot tougher. If you normally pay for most everything with a debit/credit card it will be easier for you to track as you can just pull up your statements. I pay cash for almost everything, with the exception of a couple of bills I pay online with a debit Visa. This is a lot harder to keep track of, but none the less I did it. The recommended time frame is 30 days to get an accurate read on your spending habits, but if you can do it for several months (or backtrack your expenses for a couple of months) you will have an even better picture of your spending habits.

The results were a real eye opener for me and I bet yours will be for you as well. I was amazed at the things I did on a daily basis without even thinking about it that wasted small amounts of money. When I added them up it came to a large amount of money each month. Most were things I did in the name of saving time because I thought I was too busy to do the frugal alternative. A lot were food related or gas related.

Here are a few examples:

Stopping at the local Tigermart every morning for something to drink on my way out of town.($1.00 - 4.00)

Stopping at the fast food place within an hour of leaving home to get my son something to eat
because I didn't have time to cook/make something before we left. ($5.00-10.00)

Sometimes stopping at another fast food place 4/5 hours later after my son is done with classes (he goes to the local college a couple of towns away and commutes) because he is STARVING when he is done and I am tired and still have a 42 mile drive before we get home. ($5.00-10.00)

Driving either 25 or 42 miles into the larger towns on days we don't HAVE to for relatively unimportant errands or to visit friends. ($10.00 - 25.00)

Stopping at the grocery store to peruse the meat section for dinner since I have no idea what I feel like making for dinner. ($5.00 - 25.00)

Well, you get the idea. I was making terrible choices and had no clue. If you have not done the 30 day tracking of your expenses, I truly recommend sucking it up and doing it. It will give you some ammunition to use against yourself and the forces of evil (just kidding) that are driving you into financial ruin. It will also give you something factual to show your spouse and children when you start tightening your economic belt and they start to squeal. If you are out of money before the of the month, or just living paycheck to paycheck without any reserve it is time to make different choices.

I thought those choices would mean feeling deprived and living a "lesser" life but I was wrong. I am so new into this "frugal lifestyle" but I already can see that life is better, both financially and emotionally. I feel a lot more in control, my son feels better physically without all the fast food, my house is less chaotic and cleaner (that was a real surprise bonus) and for the first time in a long time I can see a little glimmer at the end of the tunnel.

I did the 30 day tracking the old fashioned way (an envelope for receipts, and a piece of paper then transferred info onto a notebook page) but here is a link to a website that has a free tool to help you track your budget.

If you are reading this it is probably because you are in the same place as I am, and need to do SOMETHING. This is the first step to SOMETHING.

Let me know what you come up with and if it is as big of a shock to you as my was to me.

Hope to hear from you, thanks, Tina

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tightwad Gazette

Most of my life I have been a spendthrift with underlying frugal tendencies. I realize this is an oxymoron, but none the less that is how I describe myself if I am being honest. The dictionary defines these terms as:

Spendthrift - One who spends money recklessly or wastefully.

Frugal - characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources.

I firmly believe that most people are a hybrid of the two. I have never met a pure spendthrift or a purely frugal person, though I have to admit that, like Bigfoot, I believe they DO EXIST. People tend to lean one way or the other and depending on their circumstances at any given time adjust accordingly. This has always been me.

I have always reacted to whatever flaming poop ball came whizzing past my head, in a state of panic, and prayed for divine intervention. And while I have always manage to squeak through, at the end of the day I am left further behind then when I started.

But what if I could construct a lifestyle in such a way that my family's security and peace of mind were not subject to the whimsy of fate and external forces? To know we always had enough whether the state of the economy was thriving or in the toilet? I realize this is not a new idea. I have had some hazy notion of this float through my brain numerous times over the years. This time it stuck and wouldn't go away.

For anyone who has ever woken up with that sick clutching feeling in your stomach and ache of dread in your heart because you don't know how you can provide for your family through the end of the month, week or day, you have probably had this thought yourself. I decided to stop thinking and start doing.

The first thing I did was go out to the "Magic Garage" (more on this later) and dig out an old friend. It is a book called "The Complete Tightwad Gazette" by Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced Decision, go figure). I found this book many years ago at a garage sale and bought it out of curiosity. By chapter two I was hooked. The funny thing is that I found it during a period in my life of extreme prosperity and the height of my spendthriftyness. If I had put into practice a lot of the strategies and changed my mindset then, I probably would not be where I am today, or at the very least I would have been better able to cope with the GIANT flaming poop balls that came at me years later. But you know what they say about hindsight...

If you have never heard of this book I have included a link to it's web page on Amazon.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette

I encourage anyone reading this blog to check out this book. The info in it runs the gamut from extremely useful to ridiculously extreme. What makes it so valuable to me is the mindset it puts me in when I read it. I am sure I will refer to the "TG" often as so much of what I am incorporating into my new life has been sparked by what I read in this book.

So as my first frugal bit of advice I would tell you to check with your local library (most have an online catalog system) to see if this book is available. The same information was also published broken up into 3 separate volumes, "The Tightwad Gazette I, II and III", which might also be available. Once you have checked this out, buy it. It is worth every penny. I literally carry it with me when I leave the house. It sits on the seat next to me and when I reach for my purse as I get out of the car I see it and it strengthens my resolve. I am absolutely convinced this is the reason I am currently able to stay strong and not spend on unnecessary items. Sounds silly, and my son thinks I am a nutcase (he's 18, so he thinks I am crazy anyway) but desperate times call for desperate measures and  know myself well enough to admit I need all the help I get in my fight to stay on track.

I hope this post struck a cord with a few other people out there. As much as I would like to know I am not alone in this desperate time of life I hope to help others realize they are not alone either. Please feel free to comment. Has anyone else read the TG?

Hope to hear from you soon, Tina

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sweet Tea

There is an old saying "If Life gives you lemons, make lemonade". It's a great saying and the advice behind it is solid and timeless. But what do you do if you hate lemonade? Say for instance you are really a sweet tea person? This is where I am at.

For the record I would like to clarify, it is not all "Life's" fault. It is a combination of life, divorce, depression, the state of the economy and my own choices.

This blog will chronicle my journey to leading a (dare I say it?) frugal, happy, productive and meaningful life. My goal is to be as self sustaining with the resources I have available while still maintaining a comfortable life in keeping with my beliefs and respecting the enviroment we live in. Whew! That was kind of a lofty statement.

What it boils down to is this. I want to share what I am learning about saving money, making do with less, leaving a smaller footprint and creating a better quality of life for my family. I am hoping somewhere out there are other like-minded people who will stumble on this blog and share there insights. No man is an island and the prospect of doing this alone is not only daunting but lonely. If you are reading this, please leave a comment! I would be thrilled to know I am not alone out here. Knowing this in a general sense isn't as comforting as hearing from a real breathing person.

Hope to hear from you soon, Tina