Monday, August 31, 2009

Earn More Challenge, September 2009

OK, Tomorrow I (and all the lovely ladies and gentlemen listed on Money Funk's Blog) officially kick off the Earn More Challenge.

I am setting myself a goal, straight off, so that I know what I am aiming for:
$555.56 in extra earnings this month. That will be exactly $500 after tithe.

I was going to be sensible and aim for $200, but I am pretty sure that I can make that. So I decided that I would aim for $500, and I plan much prayer, because this will only be accomplished with divine aid.

I owe a family member $30,000 that I borrowed five years ago to pay for my education. It was borrowed to be paid back "in full, when I could afford it," but, unfortunately, I made the decision to get into even more debt, and I have only saved about $2000 toward this debt in the intervening years. I plan to add the $500 to this account, currently in various securities, and hope that the market will do better for me than a savings account (even Smarty Pig is down to 2% APR QQ). For various reasons, I have never achieved the gazelle-like intensity that Dave Ramsey talks about on my debt, but this month, I am planning to go all out.

I plan to accomplish this by:
(1) prayer. Since I have made almost no extra income since I quit my last job, $500 is a quantum leap for me.
(2) Selling clothing on ebay and through consignment stores. My test run on ebay leads me to believe that I will do better at local consignment stores. I plan to take clothing there tomorrow, and ebay anything that they won't take.
(3) Selling books on Basically, I will list my entire bookshelf, and see what sells. With a Kindle full of free books and a library, I don't really need most of them anyway.
(4) Plasma donation. This is a big stretch for me; I have never donated before. However, I called my local center, and I estimate that I could make $350 this month donating plasma alone (including the new donor bonus on the first week). Of course, I have to qualify and I have to be able to make it all 10 possible times for that to work out. I plan to make my first visit tomorrow, and see how possible further visits look afterward.
(5) Picking up cans. This is actually a big maybe, as I have not been able to find anyone in my area that buys them. More on this as I learn whether it is viable or not.
(6) ??? I don't think that I have quite enough yet, even if plasma donation yields $350. This is where prayer comes in. I will also be checking the other bloggers for inspiration, so get cracking guys!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Own Detergent and Re-Ordering Aion

Frugal Dreamer's last post about making your own laundry detergent finally convinced me to try it for myself. I would rate the project as a moderate success.

I used the recipe she gave here. For my soap, I used Irish Spring , Reviving with Mint, because I failed to look at the website from which Frugal Dreamer took her recipe, which recommends that you not use heavily perfumed soap, lest it stain your clothing.

I think I ended up spending about as much as Frugal Dreamer did, but differently. I couldn't find any place in my area that sold washing soda, so I ordered some from ebay from this person (she was the cheapest at the time, and she delivered within 5 days, so I'd recommend her). The Borax was lying around the house from a failed project by Mr. Goat, but would have cost about $3 at Wal-Mart. I didn't have to buy a bucket, though, because I had a kitty litter bucket lying around. I save them because they are so so useful around the house, and they proved so this time as well. The soap came as part of a package; it's what we use here at Chez Goat normally.

The actual detergent-making process was quite simple, and it looked like it came out really well. The next morning, it had hardened to a scary jello-like consistency. A vigorous stir yielded a light green sludgy mess.

I have a high energy front loader washing machine, and the detergent did not dissolve in the little tray. However, when I put it directly into the drum, it dissolved fine and cleaned clothing fairly well. After two loads, I have not noticed any staining. The only thing that did not come clean was one pair of muddy white socks, but I washed them on normal with no bleach, so I don't think commercial detergent would have done any better.

I am using about half a cup of detergent per load, so figure 40 loads per batch. It looks like the borax will make 3 batches, so ~ $1 a batch; the washing soda will make 2 batches, so ~ $4.23 a batch, and the soap was ~ $1 bar. So $6.23 per batch, or almost 16 cents a load. Arm & Hammer Detergent, my usual brand, costs about the same amount, tax included, for 31 loads, or a little more that 20 cents a load. The detergent website has a recipe (#8) that uses baking soda instead of washing soda, which I might try next time, as that would bring the cost down for me significantly.

On a different note, Amazon canceled my Aion pre-order. When I pre-ordered, it was $3 cheaper than it is now, but when I called them and complained, they gave me a $3 credit on my new pre-order. So if you had the same problem, it's worth giving them a call to get your $3 back.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

PineCone Research Cheque

Sunflowers over at The Debt Chronicles posted a referral for PineCone Research on August 12th. I signed up that day, took my first survey the next, and received my first $3 cheque today. The survey took maybe 10 minutes of my time, so they're basically paying $18/hr.

If you are interested in signing up, her referral page is here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Aion Open Beta

Aion's open beta has been officially announced for September 6-13th. If you haven't pre-ordered yet, you can get an open beta key through fileplanet.

For the last couple of months, people in my guild have been harassing me about getting a box version off Amazon, rather than just buying a key online, but I ended up having the last laugh - Only the box editions give you wings for your Guild Wars toons. I'll be able to do this in GW!

Sure, it's a bit silly, but you can't take yourself too seriously if you are still playing video games as an adult.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sold my first book at Half

Sold my first book on Half yesterday, and my second today. Both were Anita Blake novels, go figure. I find it a bit embarrassing now to admit that I ever liked the series (Q:How much multiple-partner-vampire-werewolf-other sex do you need to put in a book? A:Enough to cover the complete lack of any plot or character development) but I guess they are still popular.

So a double win for me - I get them off my bookshelf and a little cash in my pocket.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Job uncertainty means life uncertainty

Mr. Goat's CEO sent an email last week that said that they were "looking into cost cutting measures" at "all levels of the process," which he (and I) take to mean that there will be a round of layoffs at his company in the near future. So I have put all long-term plans on hold, lest we need to move again soon.

It's really a shame, because Mr. Goat loves his job (he's a computer programmer for a medium-sized California company) and we both like living where we do. Unfortunately, we live in such a rural area that there is no chance he can get a job anywhere near here (he's currently 100% telecommute).

The uncertainty has permeated the decision-making process at all levels of my life. Until we know how things are going to shake down, I'm not joining the local gym or golf course (both things I was considering doing). I'm not going to put up any more okra, since I won't be able to take it with me. I'm also locking down my spending to the bare necessities.

I estimate this will last about three more weeks. If we haven't heard anything by then, I'll re-evaluate my reaction. If we have, then I can shift into whatever gear is necessary.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ebay Ugliness - Please Help!

I've recently lost about 30 pounds, so I decided to go through my closet and clear out stuff that does not fit anymore. I'm also cleaning out my mom's closet for her. Between us, we have some pretty nice stuff. I could just take it to the consignment store, but I was hoping try my hand at ebay and see if I can get better prices.

So I put up a few test auctions, and as you can see, they are ugly. And not just a little ugly - truly ugly. I wouldn't buy these clothes; I don't expect that anyone else will either. I don't have a good camera (these pictures were taken with my phone) and I can't figure out a good place in my house for lighting.

Do any of you ebay mavens out there have any suggestions on how to make my listings more attractive, especially my pictures? As I am not the right size for the clothing, it all looks awful on me, so I tried taking the pictures flat, but that looks awful too. Should I just give up and consign it all?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Earn More Challenge - Aluminum Cans

Planning for Everything (reached via Won't Go Down Without a Fight to Money Funk) is suggesting an Earn More Challenge for September. Since there is a finite amount that I can cut spending, earning more sounds like a good idea.

I'm kind of doing a test run on this; I have listed some books on Half and a couple of video games on Amazon. (I considered listing books on Amazon, but their cut means that my books would sell at a loss after I pay shipping.) I have also cleaned out my closet and I am helping my Mom clean out hers. After we are done, I plan to go through and see what is consignment-worthy and see if I can get anything for it.

One thing I haven't seen other bloggers suggest much is aluminum can collection. I haven't done it in years, but in my youth, I picked up cans for spending money, and my Girl Scout troop always had at least one annual aluminum pick-up fundraiser. I realize that the price of aluminum is not what it was, but I am curious to see if it is a viable option at all now. I already take walks, but I usually drive into town and walk in a more pedestrian area; this morning I took my walk down the highway in front of my house. After about 40 minutes of can collection, I had accumulated this bagful.

My scale says it weighs 5.2 lbs, but some of that is dirt, I am sure.

This was "white shoe" can collection. It is very muddy over here, and I was wearing my new shoes (bought at the Reebok Outlet with a 40% off coupon), which I did not want to get dirty. Had I been willing to go down into muddy ditches and pull out wet cans, I could probably have collected twice as much in only a few minutes more time. As you can see, though, my shoes (and I) stayed mud-free.

The web seems to suggest that the price of scrap aluminum is ~85 cents /lb, which would mean that I would net ~$4 for my little haul. Sure, $4 is not a lot of money. But $4 x 30 days in September = $120. I live in a rural area with enough roads around that I think I could do 30 different areas without too much driving. And I try to walk every day anyway, so I am just looking at changing my routine a little.

I am planning to check pricing tomorrow by selling this bag at the local scrap metal place. I'll let you know whether this is a viable option for earning a bit of cash or not.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Guild, Season 3

The Guild announced their new season with this hilarious video. OK, maybe it's only funny if you play too many MMOs. But I have do something while I wait for Aion to go live. (Less than a month now, but who's counting?)

Thursday, August 20, 2009


It's well into okra season here. I tried to grow my own, but I think I put them in too late; I have zero okra from my garden so far. (I do have one flower, though, so I may get something by the end of the season.) Around here, though, there is generally someone selling it by the pound at this time of year.

Last year, I planned to put some up, but never got around to it. This year, I wasn't certain how much I needed, so I ordered 20 pounds from a guy a couple of miles down the road, at 85 cents a pound. It turns out that 20 pounds makes only about 8 quarts of stewed okra (I use onions, but not tomatoes). Unfortunately, when I went to pick up my okra, the guy said that he was not selling any more, as he had so many orders he was not sure there would be enough okra left for himself. So I may be sol for getting more; I'll have to call around and see if anyone else with a sign out has some left.

Here is my last pot of okra, just starting to be stewed. It's a bit lighter than I am used to; the guy I bought it from claims that his grandmother brought it to this area from Milton, and his family has been planting it for 80 years.

(I'd like to pretend that the okra is what made my stove so messy, but it always looks like that)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

August Any Soldier

Since I need to save big money for kitty vet expenses, I gave myself a budget of $15 (including shipping) for Any Soldier this month, with a goal of finding as much free stuff to send as possible. Here is the result:

Total Spent: $17.09 ($2.09 over)

Stuff From July:
As I said previously about July, I purchased multiples of things that were a good deal (or I thought so at the time). So I had no outlay this month for:
(1) Shampoo and Conditioner
(2) 2-pack of toothbrushes
(3) Blank cards

Free Stuff:
(1) Books: Playing with Fire was lying around, presumably from an airport bookstore before I had my Kindle. I can't remember if I bought The Message Promise Book with The Message or if it came free, but since I have the entire Bible, I never use it. Hopefully someone out there will be able to. I also found a second copy of A Game of Thrones, the first book in A Song of Fire and Ice, but I actually ran out of space in the box; I'll send it next month.
(2) Hand Lotion: Given to me for Christmas and never used.
(3) Toothpaste and Dental Floss: Gifts from my dentist. I have a terrible habit of misplacing my dental floss and then buying more; I think I have about 5 open packages right now. And I don't use Crest toothpaste.
(4) Instant Coffee: Taster's Choice sent me a sample pack of their new line of instant coffees in individual-sized packages. I don't drink coffee, and Mr. Goat won't touch instant with a ten foot pole. They didn't waste their money, though, as I think it's such a good idea that I'm planning to use the $1 coupon they sent me to buy more next month.
(5) Ibuprofen. CVS was giving away a free bottle of ibuprofen with any purchase this month. I'm not sure if soldiers have access to things like ibuprofen for cramps or not, but I've seen it requested before, so into the box it goes.

Semi-Free Stuff:
How can stuff be semi-free? If Rite Aid gives you a rebate on the purchase price, but not the sales tax. Since the sales tax out here is a lovely 9.5%, that's not a negligible expenditure. This is the first time I have ever tried to buy stuff at Rite-Aid and then claim the rebates, so I am not sure that it will work as advertised. Still, I am going to count my spending on this stuff as though I already had the rebate money in hand.
(1) Venus Spa Razor: With refill cartridges costing around $13 for five or so, the soldier who receives this will only get the two cartridges that come with the holder. Originally priced at $9.99, it was on sale for $7, I had a $2 coupon, and Rite-Aid will give me a $5 rebate. So, free except for sales tax. And it got great reviews on Amazon as a product that really does not require shaving cream. At ~ $.32 ea, I thought it was worthwhile to put in the box.
(2) Werther's Candy: Full rebate on the purchase price at Rite-Aid.

Paid Stuff (all prices include tax):
(1) Ivory Soap: On sale for $1 at CVS.
(2) Popcorn: Buy one (for $.69) get one free at Rite-Aid. With a $.75 off for 2 coupon, total cost for four packages was $.69.
(3) Pantyliners: $.99; used $.89 in extra bucks, so paid $.19.
(4) Tampons: On sale for $6.99, with a $.50 coupon and a $3 rebate from Rite-Aid, so paid $4.08, or a bit more than $.10/ea (less than what I've paid for store brand the last two months).

Shipping is $9.85, since I buy the postage online and print it out ($.50 savings).

Here is is, all ready to go:

For those of you who have posted comments about sending stuff to Any Soldier, I highly recommend sending to a female contact person (i.e., the name you send to found on the website), even if your stuff is for a male soldier, if you want a response. Although females have not given me a response 100% of the time, I have never had a response from a male soldier or a male contact, and I have been sending stuff for years. And one female contact sent a thank-you note for every package I sent, for the entire year her unit was there. I'm not sending stuff for the thank-you notes, obviously. But it is nice to get a response that lets you know that your package has arrived, and let you know what else they might want.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Kitty Vet Dilemma

This is Josephine. She was a barnyard cat before she lost her eye, and one-eyed cats don't do very well outside. Normally, the cats in our barn love the outdoors, and you can't keep them in, so we just let them go back to where they are happy, even with this sort of traumatic injury.

Josephine was different. Almost from day one, you could see her thinking "I could get to like this." By the time we were done treating the eye, she was ours. Today, if we leave the door open, she might peep outside, but she scampers back as soon as anything looks even the slightest bit dangerous.

Josephine is the perfect cat for us. Her favorite activity is sitting on a lap while people type at a computer. She hates all people food and jumping up on things. She is smart enough to know that Mr. Goat likes to play rough and tumble games, but she shouldn't bite me if she knows what is good for her.

Her favorite game, actually, is to stalk Mr. Goat until he isn't looking, jump on his leg as high as she can go (she usually gets to about the mid-thigh), bite the heck out of him, then launch herself off and run away. He thinks this is awfully cute. I think it's hilarious, but only to watch.

So, when the Vet said last month that she needed to have four teeth pulled, including the two upper canines, we didn't balk at the 1K estimated bill. For us, she is worth that and more. We scheduled the surgery for August 12th. However, in the last week, I am beginning to re-think this decision.

The Vet sold us on the idea of the surgery by stating that the teeth were actively causing her pain. I've been watching for evidence of this, but so far I don't see any. He said that she would have trouble eating and that food would fall out of her mouth when she ate. This has been a constant for the last seven years; I don't see any evidence that it has gotten any worse. Mr. Goat reports that she bites him no less viciously now than she did eighteen months ago (the date of her last dental checkup).

The Vet reports that she will be able to eat fine without teeth, but I am sure that it will be more difficult for her. Also, if we remove her upper canines, we remove her ability to defend herself or to hunt should she accidentally get outside. She'll look bizarre without them. And all surgeries carry a certain amount of risk due to anesthesia and infection. If she appeared to be in pain, there would be no decision to make. Absent evidence of pain, though, these considerations are coming into play.

My current idea is to continue to live this month extra frugally, as we had planned to do to pay for the surgery, but cancel the surgery. Then we can put the money aside for the day when she is quite evidently in pain, and we won't have to worry that we might not have the money when we need it. I haven't quite decided on that though; the surgery is not yet canceled.

Have you had any experience with cat dental health? Are there any considerations that I am missing? What would you do?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

July Any Soldier

I actually got my July Any Soldier package sent off a week ago, but haven't managed a spare minute to talk about it.

The soldier to whom I sent my June care package took his name off the list after I had already purchased most of the stuff. So I was forced to find someone who was looking for the stuff I had on the website. I decided to send the package to someone who was looking for anything. As his post said that they did not have access to a PX, I figure they can probably use personal hygiene supplies.

This is what I sent:

And what it cost:

Free Stuff:
(1) Books: While I was at the beach, I looked in our "Summer Beach Reading" box and found duplicates of these two books. My mother puts together the box, and she said I could have them.
(2) Dove Bar: Used my free chocolate coupon.
(3) Sample package of Overnight Pads: Randomly sent to me in the mail. As I have said before, I use natracare products myself, so I passed these along.

Paid Stuff (all prices include tax):
(1) Shampoo and Conditioner: Was able to get these at Rite-Aid for $1.18 each.
(2) Toothbrushes: Also on sale at Rite-Aid for $1.02.
(3) Toothpaste: $.55. I've never heard of the brand, but it's made in the US, so it should be OK.
(4) Brush: $1.00 at my local grocery store. Not on sale.
(5) Pantiliners: $1.02 at CVS. Used $1 in extrabucks and got $ .84 in extrabucks back.
(6) Tampons: $4.35. On sale at Winn-Dixie at 2 for the price of one. Works out to about $.11 per tampon, which seems to be about as cheap as you can get (in June I paid $4.36 for 40 Walgreens tampons).
(7) Cards: $1.08. Michaels in Lafayette has a ton of cute cards for very cheap.

I'd like to tell you that I only spent $10.20 this month. But what actually happened is that I got so caught up with getting a good deal that I way overspent. Instead of just getting what I needed for this month, I decided to stock up. So, additionally, I have 8 more bottles of shampoo and conditioner, four more sets of toothbrushes, and 9 more packages of cute cards.

I am particularly mad at myself about the cards. Michaels had a sign up advertising them at 10 for $10. Of course, they were really $1 each, no matter how many you buy. But their advertising got me thinking "These cards are so cute. And I never come here. So I should get all 10 so that I have plenty to send." So I ended up spending 1/4 of my budgeted money (this month it was $40, including shipping) on fripperies, and I did not have enough left over to send soap and deodorant this month. I only had enough stuff to fill a medium flat rate box, not a large. And I was happy to get the discount for shipping to the APO address and for using the USPS website; it meant that I only went over budget $2.

On the positive side, though, I have stuff to send this month. Since my cat needs dental surgery (estimate 1K !!!), I'll need to pare my budget down to practically nothing this month. I am planning to pay only for shipping; to use only what I have and what I can find for free.

One more look at July's shipment, all packaged and ready to go:

Even though I feel a bit discouraged because I did not send all that I would have liked, I hope the soldiers will enjoy it. At the end of the day, I think it's better to do the little bit I can, even if it does not seem like very much, and leave the effects in God's hands.