Thursday, December 31, 2009

Used Car Shopping, Day One

I went shopping for a car for the first time ever today!  (OK, the first time ever to buy a car for me, but it's still exciting).  I took my little brother along with me; he trained to be a mechanic for a while, and cars are his hobby.  I tested, in order:

An 07 Honda Element -  verdict: If I want to drive something that feels like a big, stiff, bumpy truck, I'll get a Dodge Dually and have something that can do real work.

An 08 Honda Accord - verdict: virtuous, but boring.  It had a pretty low trim level though; I might look for something higher.

An 08 Acura TSX - verdict: good.  Smooth ride, seat and steering wheel fit well, headroom felt a little cramped, but my 6'1' brother fit just fine, so it's a feeling, not a reality.

An 05 Acura RSX  - verdict: better.  The best fit I drove all say in terms of seat and steering wheel.  A bit more road noise than the TSX, but the model I was driving was kind of a junker; I'm looking forward to finding one that has been better maintained.

An 08 Honda S2000 - verdict: a poorly maintained death trap, but cute.  The one I tested was red, with some of the body panels replaced with a black racing material.  The seat belt warning dinged at me for my entire test drive, which was quite amusing.  According to my little brother, all signs pointed to the previous owner having left it out in the rain with the top down.

An 06 Infinity G35 - verdict: drove nicely, and decent comfort level.  Liked the Acuras better, but want to take a longer look at their model lines, depending on pricing.

Shopping for a new car sure is fun!  Especially since I plan to have my cousin (who used to sell cars and mobile homes) do all the negotiation. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Homemade Detergent, How Much Do You Save and is it Worth It?

In August, I made my own detergent for the first time.  After lobbing half a bucket of kitty litter's worth of detergent into my washing machine, I ran out in the middle of November.  I had every intention of making more detergent that weekend, but then I got lazy.  And then XTRA detergent was on sale for $1.99 a bottle, so I decided to try it.  If you haven't see it at the store, it looks like this:

As I still had half the box of washing soda left over from the last batch, though, I figured I had to make at least one more batch.  This time I decided to try Recipe #9, which is a dry recipe, in the hopes that it would dissolve (I have a front load washer, with a little cup for detergent, but the first recipe did not dissolve in it, I had to chunk it directly in).  I made a 1/8 sized batch where I pretty much followed her recipe (using Ivory rather than Fels-Naptha because I can buy the former locally), but didn't have any baking soda, so I omitted it, and it dissolved really well.  Then I bought some baking soda, and added it in, and there seemed to be more residue left behind.  So I only put two cups of baking soda into the 1/2 recipe batch I made to use up all the rest of the washing soda.
Cost: Washing Soda - $4.23, Borax - $3.00, Baking Soda - $0.58, Ivory Soap - $1.19   Total = $9

I'm using 1/8 cup per load, so figure about 128 loads, for a minuscule amount more than  $0.07 per load.  This is way cheaper than my last batch, where I estimated that each load cost about $0.16, mostly because Ivory is cheaper than Irish Spring, which I used last time because it was what was lying around and because I can't find washing soda locally, so it is my most expensive ingredient, and there's a smaller proportion of it in this recipe.

For comparison, the XTRA detergent claims 28 loads (although really it's probably more like 25 because it is hard to measure exactly), and cost 1.99 + tax = $2.15, so each load costs me slightly more than $0.075.  But it was on sale for 1/2 off, so each load would usually cost (3.99 + tax = $4.31 / 28 =) slightly more than $0.15 per load.  That's 2.5 times as much.  Figure I do six loads of laundry a week (I work on a farm), this homemade detergent is $21.93 annually, XTRA on sale is $23.96 annually, XTRA regular price is $48.03 annually, last time's detergent is $49.92 a year, and Arm and Hammer (what I bought at the beginning of the detergent odyssey) is $62.70 annually.  So I am saving $40.77 a year vs unthinking laundry purchases, but only $2.03 vs bargain detergent on sale.

This doesn't count the Major Frugal Fail I made with regards to the container. I wanted something smaller than the kitty litter box I used last time,so I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and bought a cute little airtight container with a pop-off top, which cost me $7.77, making the real cost of each load $0.13 each unless I can amortize the container over multiple batches of detergent.  Some times I think that Debt Ninja is right to say that men are more naturally frugal than women; I bet most men would have used whatever container was handy.
So the real question is - is it worth it?  As far as quality goes, I could not discern a difference between the last batch and a commercial detergent, and my three test loads seem to indicate that the new batch will perform equally well.  So then it's just a matter of how much time it takes, which is probably an hour or so per batch.  It takes about 5 minutes to mix up the dry batch; the rest of the time is spent tracking down and purchasing the ingredients.  I'll probably need to make about three batches a year, so that's about three hours, paying me $13.59 an hour to make my own detergent verses unthinkingly buying the brand I always use or $8.70 an hour versus buying bargain laundry detergent.  This is worth it to me.  (Remember that saving money this way is like "earning" money tax free, as goods are paid for using hard-earned after tax dollars.  So I am calculating based on what I consider my time worth after taxes are deducted).

I could also stock up on bargain laundry detergent when it goes on sale and save about the same amount every year.  I am not sure how much time this would take; it would depend on the frequency that bargain detergent goes on sale.  My impression is that it goes on sale pretty regularly (this week, for instance, Walgreens brand detergent is on sale for $0.07 per load in my area), so I'm guessing this could also be done in about three hours a year, or less if I had enough storage space to buy it just once or twice annually.

So I just have to decide if I'd rather spend my time shopping for deals on detergent or making it myself.  The one thing I am sure of is that I'm not going to pick up premium detergent unthinkingly again.  Which would you prefer?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Welcome Life as a Purse

Thanks to SS4BC for pointing me to Life as a Purse, a great new addition to the PF blogger community. Her goal is to pay for all her CC debt before going to grad school next fall; I'm betting for her.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Update on the Car Problem

My parents, with no prompting whatsoever, gave a me cheque today and told me to "buy whatever I wanted." So now all I have to do is decide what that is:) But I can definitely fully fund my Roth IRA for the year, so that makes me happy. And problem solved - it's nice to have such understanding parents. I don't know how people go thorough life without a supportive family - right now I'm so sick that it's all I can do to put one foot in front of the other, even with all the support I am given. It gives me some sense of why people want to have children, to give back some of the love and support that they have received in the only way that is possible, by passing it on to the next generation.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What if I don't want a new car?

Mr. Goat and I have been driving one car for years. It's a 2002 Honda Civic with ~107000 miles on it. It is the opposite of sexy, but it gets us where we want to go, reliably, except for the one time that the radiator busted on Christmas Day in Cut And Shoot, Texas (and that was two years ago).

Today is my birthday, and my parents excitedly announced that they were going to buy me a new car. I don't want another car, and I certainly don't want a new car. Just thinking about the depreciation entailed practically brings me to tears. Not to mention the anticipatory pain of the first ding, scratch, or Coke spill. And I don't need the extra expense of a second car either.

I tried to act happy about it, but I didn't do a very good job. They just wanted to do something nice for me and I was not a gracious recipient. So now I feel guilty too, which is silly, I know, but I hate the idea that they've been thinking about how happy I would be, and now they are disappointed.

I know that I'm not going to get any sympathy, but I was hoping for some advice. Should I try to turn down the car gracefully? Buy one and try to enjoy that my parents want me to be happy? Insist on the five year used Acura that I always thought I'd get when the Honda died rather than a new one? What would you do?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Last Minute Shopping - My Favorite Books of 2009

I thought I'd  do a list of some of my favorite books in 2009 as a suggestion to anyone looking for Christmas presents or a New Years resolution to read more.  
2009 is the year I discovered the author or series in question, so just because it is on this list does not mean that it is a recent publication .
Genre One: Fantasy
Book One of a series which imagines the Napoleonic Wars with dragons.  Told from the perspectives of a former Naval Captain and the dragon that fate thrusts into his lap, the author creates likeable, believable characters, even her background characters who show up for less than a chapter per book.   There are enough plot twists in the five published novels that they don’t get predictable – the author is good a creating problems that as a reader I didn’t see coming and then don’t immediately see an obvious solution to. 
Genre Two: Chick Paranormal.  Chick Paranormal is distinguished by the use of a strong female protagonist with paranormal powers (whether in a fantasy or reality setting) and some degree of romantic subplot.

Cry Wolf is a spin-off series from Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson series, which begins with Moon Called .  Charles, an ancient and powerful werewolf and the enforcer across all of America and Anna, a woman made werewolf against her will, have their wolf-selves declare themselves mated before they've known each other 24 hours.  Their human sides must deal with the emotional confusion this creastes, while thwarting enimies willing to exploit any weaknesses in their union between themselves or with their pack.  The loveable charecters that Briggs brings to life at your fingertips more than compensates for a slightly prosaic plot line (see also her Dragon Bones / Dragon Blood Hurog Duology for this kind of literary magic)
  In a world where magic and science move across reality in waves, Kate Daniels works as a mercenary in the remains of Atlanta, keeping to herself lest she endanger anyone else for she has taken an impossible mission upon herself, which is sure to end in pain and death for those and all she holds dear.  Unfortunately, she finds herself tangled up with the local were pack, where uneasy alliance soon turn to friendships and even possibly more.   Not perhaps a ground-breaking series, but a well written one; you might even read it again if you run out of unread books on a lazy weekend afternoon.

Another Spin-off series, this time from the Cassandra Palmer Series that begins with Touch the Dark    Dorina is dhampir, and her father is Dracula's brother.  Dracula, long since insane, but still very powerful, has broken out of his prison and needs to be stopped.  Dorina is talked into it by her father who leads her to believe that Dracula has a friend of hers.  Dorina is the straight man for a whole slew of fantastic characters who lead her around in circles while she tries to kick their asses until they give up useful information and several try to get into her pants.

Genre Three: Chick Paranormal Pornographic.  This subgenre of the chick paranormal genre maintains the tradition of the ass-kicking heroine with paranormal abilities, but brings a ton of X-rated sex scenes to the table (figure 15-25% of copy will be kinky sex scenes).

Riley Jenson is a werewolf who works in a government organization that protects people from those with supernatural powers.   Werewolves are oversexed paranormal creatures; during the full moon, a werewolf denied all other company will breed even with her worst enemy, or risk going mad.  This series allows you to enjoy the author's complete and graphic sexual imagination, a slight amount of emotional angst by the protagonist at her inability to find her true mate, and a great many bloody ass kickings handed out indiscriminately.   There's also a reasonable plot to give you a bit of a breather between all the sex.
Genre Four: Chick Mystery.  Also sometimes referred to as cozies, especially if the protagonist is into knitting, baking, or other womanly things.  The most cozy will feature recipes or craft designs mentioned in the book at the backof the book.

The least "cozy" of these mysteries, this book revolves around Izzy Duncan, who grew up in a family of private investigators and is pathologically unable to leave any mystery unturned.  Hilarious hijinks ensue as she attempts to follow her "suspects" around and figure out what is going on.  The first person narrative style is a nice change from the third person limited that mysteries usually foist on us.

Once  respectable accountant, Helen's divorce has left her on the lam in Florida, looking for places that will pay her off the books.  In her first two weeks at Juliana's, an exclusive woman's boutique, she discovers that her manager may be running drugs, hiring murders, and blackmailing most of the regular clientele.  When  her manager turns up dead, it i up to Helen to unravel the craziness that was her managers life and get to the bottom of her murder, before the local police decide that she's too intimately involved to be innocent.  A great strength of this book and the series is the way that life is breathed into even the smallest background characters, leaving you with a cast and crew of zany Floridians to enjoy again on a re-read.

Ivy Malone has noticed that women her age (she calls herself a LOL) are invisible to everyone around them.  She decides to use her new found superpower to investigate all the suspicious things that are going on in her small town.   Unfortunately for her, she stumbles on something a little bigger than vandalism, and the perpetrators are after her head.  Can she figure out what's going on in time?  Not recommended for non-Christians, as it is a bit Bible-heavy, which I enjoyed, but would not push on a friend lest she think that it was a backward attempt at conversion.

Genre Five: Christian Inspirational

I am not generally a fan of Debbie Macomber's fiction books, but I thought that she had some great perspectives here.  She offered a good mix of personal anecdotes, stories, and advice for those of us who are trying to figure out how to give back to the world the way God created us to.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by all that you would like to give, or if you are feeling that the giving well is running dry within you, I would recommend this book.

Genre Six: Cookbooks 

Intended for those of use who like to eat, rather than to cook, this book is full of inexpensive, healthier versions of your favorite take-out dishes.  It features Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Indian, and Deli foods, and several recipes have become my favorite.   I especially recommend the chili with mushrooms and the nachos made with baked tortillas.  I'm making myself hungry just thinking about this ...

The Gold Standard of basic cooking.  Your mother used Joy the way you will use this.  If don't have it, you want it.  And if you have a friend who is trying to learn how to cook, this is the perfect gift. 

 If you’re looking for that last minute present for a bookworm, I hope my list helps.  Keep in mind that Sunday  is the last day to get guaranteed Christmas delivery using Amazonstandard shipping rates, which run $3 a shipment and $0.99 a book.  Chose 4 books in the 4 for 3 paperback promotion, though and you’re still coming out on discounts and tax (or lack thereof)

For a big splurge present for yourself or anyone else, I recommend that you break down and get:

Amazon is offering it with free two day shipping, thus guaranteeing its arrival before Christmas.  I love my Kindle, and I'd have been delighted to get it as a present.  Even though I paid the old price for it, I've just about made up the cost in the lowered prices of almost all books (especially hardback bestsellers) and the free content (free e-books!) that Amazon hands out on occasion.  Plus I don't have to find storage space for the hundred book titles I have kicking around in it, which in a 900 square foot house is significant.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lending Club Offer - Get $40

Moneyfunk has signed up to get a loan from Lending Club.  This spurred me to take a look at the website again.  Last time I looked, I didn't meet the annual income/net worth requirement, so I couldn't invest.  This time, I still don't meet the requirements ($70K/$70K in most states), but I can lend up to $2500 anyway.  I decided to sign up - I figure even the reasonably low-risk loans will pay enough better than my savings account fees to be worth the risk.

Get $40 - If you too are thinking about investing at Lending Tree, post an email address in your comments and  I can "invite" you, thus giving you an extra $40 when you sign up.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

God doesn't want you to be perfect

In fact, as fallible human beings, he knows that we are incapable of perfection.  What he wants us to do, I believe, is the best that we can.  Then we we fail, we should pick ourselves up, ask forgiveness of Him and anyone else we have failed, and keep on trucking.  What he does not want us to do is think of all the ways that we are going to screw up, work ourselves into a puddle of guilt, and get nothing accomplished.  As long as we are doing our best and putting one foot in front of the other while trusting in Jesus Christ, we are doing our part, and we can trust Him to do His.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Your Children Will be Reading This Someday

The Wall Street Journal's De Gustibus column laments the rise of the wife-at-the-expense-of-the-husband tell-all memoir.  In particular, he complains about Cleaving, the new memoir out by the author of the very charming memoir Julie and Julia, Elizabeth Weil writing for the New York Times, and Tsing Loh's Mother on Fire.  I haven't read any of them, and I don't see why anyone would want to.  They appear to be the literary equivalent of reality television, which I also don't watch because it bores me to tears.

What I really don't understand, though, is why the women with children (in this case Ms. Loh and Ms. Weil) would do this to them.  The internet preserves everything for eternity, so in a few years Ms. Loh's children (and all their classmates) will be able to read that she "would not be able to replace the romantic memory of my fellow transgressor [with whom she committed adultery] with the more suitable image of my husband" because of his sub par sexual ability.  Ms. Weil's daughters can read that she "never quite shook the feeling that my role in [her husband's] life was to be the steady, vanilla lay. We never discussed this. We just had a strenuously normal sex, year after year after year."  I know that children have to accept that their parents are sexual beings nowadays, but this just seems over the top. 

I don't have any children myself - I am basing this entirely on how I would have felt had I (and my peers) read such things about my parents in my teenage years, and what it would have done to my psyche.  Am I overreacting?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It is so cold here that the cats are cuddling up with the goats for warmth!

It is nothing but cold, rainy, and nasty here.  I am taking my sweetie out for his birthday tonight anyway, though!

Friday, December 11, 2009

This may not break the law, but it breaks all of Mr. Coopers 4 rules ...

plus the common sense one about intoxication and guns.

According to my local newspaper, though, it doesn't actually violate any laws.

I'm glad that Louisiana has lenient gun laws, but I sure wish idiots like this wouldn't give us all a bad name. Even if this video is funny as all get out.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why bother to save?

The Wall Street Journal has an article about 2 families that have abandoned their mortgages to rent in the same community that they once owned.  They've used the increases in their incomes to "buy season tickets to Disneyland, ... take a Carnival cruise to Mexico in March, ... and [one of them takes his] girlfriend out to dinner more frequently."  He also "kept his black BMW 6 Series coupe, which has payments of about $700 a month."

My first thought is that they are living in a fantasy land, but my second thought is that maybe I am.  When we're all in retirement, these people won't have any savings.  And they have every expectation that the government will finance their lifestyle with Social Security and Medicaid.  Since their current payments are being spent today, they'll have to "tax the rich" to fiance this system.  If I spend my lifetime saving frugally, I will probably be among "the rich,"  at least before I start to draw down my retirement savings.  So these grasshoppers will be clamoring to take all the food we ants have put by.  And current events give me every indication that government departments at every level will be happy to do so, and never understand why they are destroying the economy in the process.  Remind me why I'm being frugal again?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Update from Sgt. Shaffer

Sgt. Shaffer reports that she'll be handing out clothing to ~125 Afghan children next week.  It gives me the warm fuzzies to think that I was part of the effort, even though a small part.  I'm continuing to focus on giving what I can afford, not what I'd prefer if I had the money to do it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The perils of eating out

SS4BC has declared her 2010 challenge to be 345 days without eating out. It's a fantastic goal, and I'd make it my own, except that it would be cheating - I've aready pretty much stopped eating out myself.

Weight Watchers sells a book with the point values of various foods at various restaurants, or you can get the information on the internet if you subscribe to their web services.

It blew my mind how much of the stuff I ate at restaurants was twice the points as cooking it myself, with half the taste.  I already knew that they were twice the price, but that hadn't stopped me:)

To keep myself from the restaurants, I've had to learn to make what I crave.  For instance, I adore Chinese.  So I keep a pound of frozen chicken and two pounds of broccoli in my freezer at all times.  That way I can easily satisfy my stir-fry cravings any time I want them, and I'm not desperate to buy a pile of greasy food.  If I must go to a Chinese restaurant, I fill up on hot and sour soup.  It's one of my favorite things, it's 2 points a cup, and its cheap.  Even if you order two bowls of it, you're not shelling out like you are for the all you can eat buffet (in points and dollars).

My mom loves pizza.  She makes her own whole-wheat crust pizzas with roasted red pepper, Canadian bacon, and olives four at a time, then freezes the three she doesn't eat that evening.  Once you've eaten that for a while, I assure you that you don't want what Dominoes puts out even if it's available.

My favorite book for figuring out how to cook what I used to purchase is Weight Watchers Take-Out Tonight! : 150+ Restaurant Favorites to Make at Home--All 8 POINTS or Less.   It might be a diet cookbook, but the foods don't come out tasting diet.  And this is a cookbook aimed at those who don't particularly want to cook, we just want to eat.  Even if you aren't doing Weight Watchers and could care less about the point values of food, this book is worth a read.  It covers Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Italian, Greek, Japanese and Deli foods.  I mostly make things from the Chinese and Mexican sections, because they are my favorites, and almost every recipe I have tried from the book was delicious (and even the couple of misses were still OK).

Once you get the trick of it, you won't be giving up as much time cooking as you think you might.  By the time you drive to the restaurant, order, wait for your food, eat, and pay - well, it's not quick.  Even ordering in pizza takes some time; get a pre-made crust, tomato sauce, some light cheese, and the toppings of your choice and go to town - save yourself calories and money.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Orkin and The Samuel Vimes "Boots" Theory of Socieoeconomic Unfairness

In Terry Pratchett's Men at Arms, a character, Samuel Vimes, describes how the wealthy remain wealthier than the poor because they can afford items with a larger upfront cost and greater durability.  As Mr. Vimes says "A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years time, while a poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet." (Pratchett, Terry, Men at Arms, 29, emphasis in original).  (If you've never read the series, you're missing out in a big way.  Skip the first two and start with Equal Rites, though).

I had a very similar experience with Orkin this week.  We've got termites.  And termites, of course, must be dealt with immediately; it only gets more expensive the longer you delay the problem.  The termite treatment cost us $958 paid immediately.

They also offered us three payment plans: $88.29 a month for one year, $55.85 a month for two years, or $46.12 for three years.  If we could not have paid up front, we would have paid an extra $101.48 for one year, $382.40 for two years, or $702.32 for three years.  To put those numbers in perspective, it would be better to pay the same amount monthly on a credit card with a 22% APR for the one year plan, 35% APR for the two year plan, or 42% APR for the three year plan.  I was absolutely gobsmacked when I ran those numbers.  In most states, it's not even legal for credit cards to charge that much.

Our EF is running very low, but December is a three paycheck month for us and we are going to scrape by.  For people unable to come up with that kind of money, with no credit cards or ones that are maxed out, well, Orkin is forcing them to dig themselves into an even bigger hole.  I'm glad I'm not an Orkin representative - I don't think that I could, in good conscience, offer this to people with no other options but to see their houses fall to pieces around them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Giving More of What I Have, and Less of What I Don't

I didn't end up selling enough to cover my shortfall, let alone send any more coats to Afghan children.  I've decided not to send anything else.  I read One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity from the library this week, and it really helped me to take a look at my giving patterns and realize that I don't need to spend more money than I have giving to other people - if God needs money somewhere, and chooses me to be the instrument of giving it, it will happen if I relax and let Him do it.  What I need to focus on is the non-monetary giving to the people around me that I have often let fall by the wayside - listening to, affirming, and helping the people that I see every day or every week. 
Debbie Macomber also strongly suggests a gratitude and prayer journal.  Inspired by her example, I resolved to begin one immediately!  Of course, that was last week, and I am still making excuses as to why I haven't started.  No more procrastination though - I am off to get started right now.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Am I Frugal or Just Crazy?

OK, the back story on this is that I volunteered to sing Christmas carols at the Christmas Luncheon for my Woman's Club and at my church.  I didn't really have anything nice to wear for the luncheon (since I've lost 20 pounds since last Christmas), so my mom bought me a nice green dress as a present.

I wasn't going to do any Black Friday shopping, but then my parents asked me to go by T.J. Maxx, and there's a Shoe Carnival Right Next Door.  I wandered in and saw these:

As I have said before, I'm down ~$60 on my toy budget, so I shouldn't buy them.  But they will be perfect with my dress, especially since I am planning to wear holly in my hair, so I do.  They are on sale for $21.99 + tax, and there's a buy one get one 1/2 off sale going on.  I wander desultorily through the store, but there's nothing else I fancy that isn't more expensive then these shoes, so I decide not to spend extra money that I don't have on stuff that I don't desperately want the way I want these shoes.

I notice that the guy in the checkout line behind me also has only one box.  So I offer to split the difference on my shoes if he'll buy them (thus having them ring up for 50% off).  So I end up paying $18 for them, even though my receipt says $10.99 + tax.  A savings of $5.86 for me, but no returning them.  And everyone in line looks at me like I'm crazy.

I think $5.86 when you don't have any money it is worth acting a bit weird; do you think I am frugal or crazy?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

$10 extra for using Coinstar

Coinstar charges you an 8.9% fee to change your coins into cash - bad.

Coinstar charges you nothing to change your coins into e-certificates for places like Amazon, iTunes, Old Navy, and CVS - OK.

Coinstar will give you a $10 gift certificate with $40 in change turned into an e-certificate between now and 12/6/9 - SIGN ME UP!

Thanks Frugal Dad.

Do Employees Deserve Raises Commiserate with Inflation?

 Musing of an Abstract Auclander had a post up in which she argued that "everyone is entitled to at least a raise to keep up with inflation."  I am not sure whether she is making a moral argument or agitating for a legal change, but disagree with both positions.

Morally, nobody "deserves" a raise.  The reason people are employed is that their employer expects to make more money than they would without the person.  Thus the employer's  profits have to be higher than the costs of salary, medical benefits, the state and local government's take (both what comes out of the gross salary and the "employers share" that workers never see), and the administration costs required to keep up with all this.

Smart employers gives raises and cost of living increases to the employees they want to keep.  Smart employees look around at the market and request raises when they feel they are being paid below market and/or find themselves a new job that pays what they consider fair for their work.

In my limited experience as an employer, it is always the people who are slacking off behind your back and then making mistakes through sloppiness (everybody makes mistakes, but after the first month or so, they shouldn't all be of the bonehead variety) that think they deserve a raise and want to gripe about it.  Your real go-getters will demand a raise, get rejected, ask what is needed to get one, and work their buns off to get it.

Raises on demand are for (1) people you have to keep for one reason or another because they are on a critical project (and you may have to fire after they project is over, if they are taking out more value than they are bringing in) or (2) People who have and continue to add such value to the company that it is worth it to give them more money to keep them.

Scheduled raises should ideally be a time when employers look around at who makes the company valuable in ways that should translate into more money for them.  Cost of living increases are a lazy way to give everyone in the company incentive to stay.

In this market, plenty of industries are not making any money at all - they are hanging on to their employees in the hopes of better things ahead, but nobody is making up the cost of their hiring.  In that situation, raises just increase the margin of loss the company takes on an employee, and they rationally aren't going to do it, not because they are bad people and greedy, but because it is management's job to keep the company out of bankruptcy.

This is why I am so worried about the direction that the American administration is going.  With one fell swoop, they are going to mandate that employers get heath care for their employees or pay fines.  Perhaps in better times, companies could absorb the costs (although it would create a slowdown in hiring and increase in job loss by making workers that much more expensive), but right now, when virtually no one here is getting raises, in large part because most sections of the economy are losing money, adding extra costs to be an employer is a good way to get people fired (either as a cost-cutting measure or because the new expense is not sustainable for the company and it folds).  Here in the United States, it is not surprising to me that people aren't getting raises - or getting hired  - employers are waiting with baited breath to see what the government is going to mandate that an employee should cost.

A legal "raise entitlement" would create the same problem.  It would add one more government-imposed cost to being an employer.  It would create an artificial incentive to fire marginal workers, as employers would be required to give them pay raises that moved them from marginal to money sink. It would add one more government roadblock business creation and expansion, as employers looked down the road to the cost increases entailed and decided that the business idea they were contemplating could not sustain it, thus causing the hiring of fewer workers to being with.

In short, nobody is entitled to get raises just because they are working, and a cost of living increase is just another kind of raise.  If an employee adds tremendous value to their employer, and the employer doesn't appreciate it financially, the employee always has the option to find a place where they are appreciated in appropriate financial ways.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Option 4

As I said yesterday, I'm really debating whether to send a few more coats to children in Afghanistan

I considered 3 options yesterday, but I didn't like any of them. So today I have decided to go with option 4 - sell some stuff on ebay

Today only, they are offering 50% off listing fees, and I had minor surgery this morning, so I couldn't go to work, so I got motivated to list 31 items for sale today.  29 of them start at 99 cents, but if I manage to sell enough between now and the end of the month to cover my overdrawn toy budget, I've promised myself that any extra can be spent on coats for Afghan children (after tithe, of course).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another Thank You Letter!

I received a card and letter yesterday from SGT Jessica Shaffer, who is collecting clothing to give to children in Afghanistan. (I was going to post them, but for some reason blogger refuses to upload my scans.  I'll put them on when/if I can get them to work.  Note 12/9: Never could get them to load, so put them on photobucket)  Apparently what they really need is coats (they have 10 of the 100 they are hoping for), and they are planning to hand them out in the first or second week of December, so they need them sent by the end of November.

I am really conflicted.  My toy budget is in the red by about $60, and next month is Christmas, so it's not like I won't miss it next month if I spend it now.  On the other hand, this is a cause that I would really like to support, and it is now or never.   The options I see are (1) go even more in the red on my toy budget for the month and plan to spend less on Christmas presents, (2) take the money for this project out of my planned tithe next month, on the theory that charitable giving is almost like a tithe, or (3) calling my earlier efforts good and not sending anything more.  What would you do?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Charmin Basic is not a good deal

 Warning: toilet paper review ahead.  But this product was so inferior that I needed to share.

Chez Goat, we have sensitive heinies.  Toilet paper is one area in which an ounce of prevention saves a pound of doctor visits, so we don't get frugal.  Mr. Goat insists on Charmin, and, a year or so after it came out, I always bought:

I found that it held together better than the regular Charmin, while maintaining the requisite softness.

I was in the grocery store the other day, and they were having a big sale on a new brand of Charmin,  Charmin Basic.

I correctly deduced that it was a cousin of Tide Basic, a slightly cheaper product designed to mimic the original somewhat and retain customers looking for a bargain.   In my case, I paid nearly $3 less than a comparably-sized 12 pack of Charmin Ultra Strong ($6 vs $9).

It sounded like a bargain, but it wasn't.  When I got home and tried it, it was still as soft as Charmin, but it was so flimsy that I had to use three times the amount that I normally do.   So I paid 1/3 less, but I am really losing money on the deal.  Next time, I'll go back to buying the regular paper.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

$25 Amazon Gift Card

if you could use an extra $25 to spend at Amazon (and who couldn't) head over to Money Funk's $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway.  Just tell her about your favorite part of the holidays and you're entered to win!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

No Excuse Not to Get Free Books

You can now Download the Kindle for your computer.  For free.

This means that, if you have a PC, you have access to all the Free Books available from Amazon to download.

Above is a link to the Kindle Bestseller list (which always has several free books on it.)  The other good way to find free books is to go to your favorite genre in the Kindle Store and look at the books from lowest price to highest (i.e. all the free books in that genre show up first).

Now you have no excuse not to read - you don't even have to drive to the library:)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thank you letter!

I actually got a thank you letter from the soldier who received my September Anysoldier package. It made my day!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Perfect Day

Frugal Dreamer suggested this thought exercise - What is your perfect day?

The idea is to close your eyes, imagine it’s a Friday morning a few years from now (2 to 5 years from now). Now think about exactly how you’d want to spend the day, keeping in mind that it is a weekday. The idea is to plan your perfect day, using the following questions…

1. What time do you wake up, and how are you feeling as you greet the day?
2. Where are you?  If you’re at home, what does it look like?
3. Who is with you?
4. What kind of work are you doing? (if you have no idea what kind of work you’ll be doing or want to be doing, list the qualities you want to find in the work you do and the kind of work environment you want.)
5. As you head out to face the day, how do you look?  What are you wearing?
6. How do you get to work?
7. When you’re done with work, how will you spend you spare time and with whom?  What activities do you enjoy?
8. When is your evening like?
9. When you go to bed that night, how are you feeling after spending the day doing exactly what you love?
10. What are you most grateful for and what are you looking forward to as you go to sleep?

Mine looks like this ... which is honestly not much like what I am doing right now.  I know I should rethink my priorities and see how to get there, but right now, I am having enough trouble just putting one foot in front of the other.  But I thought I'd put it up for myself, just as a reminder.

1.What time do you wake up, and how are you feeling as you greet the day?
Whatever time I  feel like – there is no alarm clock.  Probably somewhere between 9:30 am and 11am.  I have time to get up, do my stretches, do some aikido drills, take a shower, and eat breakfast before I have to worry about getting anything done. 

2.Where are you?  If you’re at home, what does it look like?

I’m at home – in the same house I live in now, except that I have a workroom / dojo space in a building outside that also has a bathroom and a shower.

3. Who is with you?

Mr. Goat is puttering around the house somewhere.  My parents are just down the road.  My little brother is back living in his place, hopefully with a spouse and family.

4. What kind of work are you doing? (if you have no idea what kind of work you’ll be doing or want to be doing, list the qualities you want to find in the work you do and the kind of work environment you want.)

I am a sci/fi fantasy writer.  Or possibly a short story writer.  Something between Terry Pratchett  and Robert Heinlein.

5. As you head out to face the day, how do you look?  What are you wearing?

Like I do now, but slightly more muscular.  Jeans or yoga pants, a t-shirt, and wool socks with crocs.

6. How do you get to work?

I wander from my bedroom to the computer room.

7. When you’re done with work, how will you spend you spare time and with whom?  What activities do you enjoy?

I’ll wander over to the farm and see if our farm family needs any help with anything.  Or I’ll head over to Philippe’s and get some wine and cheese and hang out.  Or I’ll do some aikido, either by myself or with friends.  Mr. Goat and I will play our favorite video game together or go out to dinner someplace fun.   I’ll go shooting or hunting, either with Mr. Goat or other friends and family.

8. When is your evening like?

I’ll have an hour run right before sunset, in between doing all the stuff I was talking about above. 

9. When you go to bed that night, how are you feeling after spending the day doing exactly what you love?

I’ve put in a good day’s work and am proud of what I have done.  I am looking forward to completing whatever writing project that I am working on, and sure that reading it will be enjoyable to someone.

10. What are you most grateful for and what are you looking forward to as you go to sleep?

That I am healthy enough to run and do aikido.  That I have disciplined myself enough to write every day, so that I can become the best writer possible.  That I have Mr. Goat and my family to be a reflection of Christ’s love for me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

If I needed cash desperately (for food and gas kind of desperate)

Suze Orman had a little segment on where to get cash if you are out of money.

It's more than 6 minutes long, but her list is basically Credit Cards, Roth IRA, Regular IRA.

That's not where I'd go at all.  If I needed cash this desperately (Suze is talking food and gas money here) I'd:

(1) Sell Little Stuff.  There's an amazing amount of stuff lying around just about everyone's house that's worth a little something.  You're not going to get rich selling your old jeans at $4.99 a pop on ebay, and every ebay auction takes a ton of time to set up, but if you're this broke, you're probably not working.  Make it your job to go around the house and sell every little piece of junk you can get your hands on.  Clothing you never wear, gifts that you don't have a use for and were planning to re-gift, kitchen gadgets that you never use - it adds up.  In September, I netted $366.00 on ebay and half, and I am pretty sure that the most I grossed on any one item was $56. And don't forget plasma - my experience was that it took forever, but if what you have is time, it's a guaranteed income every week if you qualify to donate.

(2) Make Major Lifestyle Changes.  Look around at your lifestyle and cut something big.  Have two unemployed drivers?  Sell a car.  Hopefully you can at least cover the cost of the note, and then you've got one fewer payment to worry about.  Even if you still have your note, your insurance will go down.  If you have a newer, nicer (probably upside down) car, your lender is making you carry collision, so your payments should go down quite a bit.  Have a computer?  Sell it for gas money and use the library.  Once the computer is gone, you can cancel your internet subscription and cut another payment as well.  If you have an expensive collection (designer purses, stamps, guns, etc.) start selling them from least to most favorite.  My gun collection, for instance, would feed me (with cheap but nutritious foods) and pay basic bills (bye, bye internet)for four or five months before I had to sell my very favorites.  I'd be sad - I have good memories with them all, and those are not replaceable.  But I can buy new ones and make new memories when I'm back on my feet, rather than trying to dig myself out of the yawning hole of credit card debt.

(3) Hit Up Friends and Family.  That's what networks are for - to assure the survival of their members.  I'm not suggesting that you take food out of your mom's mouth, but you probably know someone you can ask for a loan, even if it will be uncomfortable.  They can get a rate way better than 2% (what SmartyPig is paying me now) and you can get one way better than 14% (or whatever your credit card loan rate is).  Let me just say that we went this route last time we were in trouble, and I am not anxious to do it ever again.  There might be a tipping point here, in fact, between credit cards and family, once you get to a couple of months worth of living expenses.  It's gonna take a while to pay that back, even at 0% interest, and I don't like owing my family at all - I feel guilty about it.  But I'd definitely borrow the first $500 from them.

Why not start with credit cards?  Because they make it too easy to pretend that you can live like you always did.  That cup of coffee at 7-11 is more than you can afford if you have no income, but it's easy to forget that if you've got 20K credit on your cards.  That roast recipe you've been meaning to try - you need to be buying beans.  It's not nice, but it's the hard truth.  The sooner you realize it and live it, the less money you pay back when you get back on your feet.  I managed to accumulate 30K worth of credit card debt before I realized that I needed to change my lifestyle in 2005, and we are still paying it off.  Don't be like me - sell it before you charge it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Too Much Web Surfing

OK, apparently one problem with having a blog is the temptation to link to / follow so many people (with so many links from their blogs) that you spend WAY too much time surfing the internet.  Lately, I've noticed that I have a tendency to go to my blog page, see a ton of updates from the blogs I've linked to, and click on every one of them.  Before I know it, I've spent an hour on the internet, getting nothing done.

So, I've decided to pare down.  I've picked my 10 favorite blogs out of the huge pile of link love that I used to have, and cut the rest.  I settled on 10 as an arbitrary, low number before I started cutting blogs.  I started with 39 links.  The first 10 were easy and the last 5 were super difficult, because I'll miss some of them a lot.

The problem with PF blogging, though, is that there appears to be a finite limit on what you can say about it.  When you have 39 links, and 30 of them are PF blogs, you tend to get the same ideas rehashed slightly, rather than new information.  It's fun reading multiple interpretations, but  I need to stop reading and start doing.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I am so sick and tired of being sick and tired!

I'm really falling down with this blog lately, but all I can say is that it's hard to think of something to say when you're sick and high.

For you PF types, I ended up over my budget by ~ 3k last month, and I'm looking to be down another K this month.  Most of last month was the bed; this month will be co-pays and things that aren't covered by my insurance.  I'm having codine injected directly into my spine this month - I shudder to see what the co-pay on that will be.  If only I thought the bill that is about to pass the House would help, but, from what I've seen, it looks like I'd pay more in premiums for less care.

Anyway, I shouldn't whine - at least I've got it.  With employment at >10% (and that's not counting people who are so discouraged that they aren't even looking any more) I am doing well and I know it.  My EF is getting very slim, and I won't be buying any new boots this month, but so far I'm still avoiding more debt.  I'm off to go read a free book on my Kindle (at this point, I've probably read almost enough stuff free to pay for the device outright).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November Anysoldier

My November Anysoldier is a bit different that usual.

The Woman's Literary Club to which I belong is doing a book and magazine drive in honor of Veteran's Day, and sending them as care packages via Anysoldier.  I am organizing this effort, so I was searching the posts to find requests that corresponded with the materials that I had been given.  While doing so, I found a post from a soldier in Afghanistan, asking for socks, shoes, coats, hats, and gloves for the children in the village near her base.  She requested either new or used, so I could actually afford to help.  I trucked over to the ARC (my favorite thrift store) and found eight pairs of shoes at 4 / $1 and two jackets for $5 each.  Then I went to Wal-Mart where I picked up some boys socks for $7.67 (including sales tax).

Honestly, this coat is so adorable that if I could have gotten it on my body, I'd totally have stolen it from the Afghan children;)  And it is London Fog, too, so it should last forever.

This one is from Old Navy, so it probably won't last nearly as long.  It looks nice and warm, though.

If you look very carefully under the yellow size label in the top right corner, you will see that these were made in Pakistan.  I though it quite amusing that they were sent here to small town, USA, just to be sent back to the same part of the world for use.

And, finally, the shoes I sent.  I admit that the first three pairs from the left on the back row are cleats.  They were all in pretty good condition, though, and I thought there might be a few boys who would enjoy having proper cleats to play games with.

Astute readers will have noticed that I reported purchasing 8 pair of shoes, and only 7 are pictured.  I had also purchased a pair of fake crocs because they were in like-new condition.  Then I found a different soldier who was looking particularly for child's crocs (or equivalent), SGT David M. Wright.  So he got these:

He also requested cards, so I send the last five packages of cards that I had bought in July.  They were mostly pretty girly, but he reported that he was requesting for two women as well, so hopefully they can use them.

The shoes and coats required two large boxes to mail, so all together I am out $27.95 for postage.  With the $19.67 I am out of pocket for the clothing, that comes to a total of $47.62.  Yep, it was more expensive to mail the things than to purchase them.  It's a bit more than I usually try to spend, but I won't be sending anything more until late January, as the military mail is pretty much overwhelmed during the holidays.

If you are moved to help out either of these soldiers, their addresses can be found by looking up their names on, and by searching for them by last name.

SGT Jessica L. Shaffer is looking for coats, hats, gloves, shoes, and socks, in new or used condition for Afghan children that live near her unit.  Note that anything sent should be addressed Attn: Winter Drive.

SGT David M. Wright is looking for crocs (or equivalent) sized for children, coloring books, crayons, soccer balls, and dolls for Afghan children that his unit interacts with.  His unit could also use law enforcement equipment, gun cleaning equipment, military-approved safety glasses, cards, holiday decorations, letters from supporters, and other some things that you can see on

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sometimes Extra Money is not worth Extra Effort

Today I gave away my old king sized mattress, box spring, and memory foam topper through my local freecycle.  I believe the bed had some resale value - a look over at craigslist shows new, cheap ones for sale for ~ $200, so I figure 5-20% of that.  Mr. Goat thinks that it would have been more.  I just don't see how - I should have taken a picture, but let me just say that the bed was 9 years old and had been slept on every night, not to mention moved five times across three states.  It was emphatically not in like-new condition.

Since I planned to have my mattress delivered Friday, I had arraigned for the person from Freecycle to pick it up that day.  Then the weather precluded having my mattress delivered, and so I postponed her until Monday.  That would have been a lot harder had she been paying money. 

I have a 900 square foot house - there is no way I could have waited until I had my first mattress delivered and the tried to sell the old bed.  Plus, honestly, I have never had any luck selling furniture on craigslist.  Admittedly, I've never tried in this area, but I tried to sell a weight set and a sofa in Dallas, and I ended up having to give them away.  I tried for a couple of weeks and ended up with ridiculously low prices, and no one even came out to look.

So, even though the Scottish part of me would have tried to sell the mattress, the sensible part of me overrode it.  Sometimes the trouble is just not worth the money.  

Friday, October 30, 2009

L.L. Bean Boots

 I want these boots for winter work in the Barn.  LL Bean is currently having a promotion in which a purchase of $25 or more gets you a $10 gift certificate towards your next purchase.  I've been meaning to buy some new socks for my mom, so I have two purchases to make, giving me $10 off one.  I also used Discover rewards to get a $25 L.L. Bean gift certificate for $20 in rewards.  Code 301358 has a 75% success rate for Free Shipping on Retailmenot, good until 1/1/10.  Now all I need is for them to throw in just a tiny little sale, and I'll jump.  C'mon guys, just 10% would do it... 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Something else I want: Razor Naga; Bought the Bed today

Yep, it's a mouse for people with small fingers that game too much. 

I'm doing a version of the 30 day list with this - I am putting it on my blog, and if I still want it after Christmas, I'll buy it for myself in January.

I'm very proud of myself, I've been saving for Christmas via Smarty Pig since July.  Come December, I'll have $250 for Christmas.  Now all I need is to keep from spending more than that + my toy budget on presents (always difficult for me - there's always one more thing that someone in my family would love).

In other news, I bought a bed today.  As I said earlier, my rehabilitation doctor said that my current 9-year-old Sealy Posturepdeic was not going to cut it.  I decided at the end of the day to go with the Tempur-Pedic Classic.  I did talk my local mattress store into taking the sales tax off and they gave me a free mattress pad (which I was planning to buy anyway.  Not to be gross or anything, butt there's a certain time of the the month that I tend to leak.  And I hate stains on mattresses.  They bother me even with the sheets on).

It felt great to know that I was putting it on the credit card to get cash back rewards, not because I didn't have the money for it.  Sure, it's not extra money that was just lying about - it does set my emergency fund back, and I wouldn't have chosen to buy it now.  But I don't have to go further into debt; this is my first big purchase where that has been the case.

Sorry if my posting is sporadic and disjointed; I am looking forward to not needing these drugs anymore.  I can't believe lortab has a black market value - people are actually willing to pay money to feel like this!