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.