Sunday, January 31, 2010


What I've been up to in the last week or so:

(1) Had 5 goats die. Between the rain, the cold, and the parasite load from the wet, they are keeling over like ninepins. I've yet to save even one that starts looking peaky, which is one of the problems with goats. Once they look sick, it's over. I've given them two doses of Cydectin (off label used of the sheep oral drench, given to me by my Vet) so far. According to my Vet, I'll need to worm them every month forever now. If this is the case, I'll probably have to give up my goat program, as I just can't see selling a natural product that I pump full of chemicals on a regualr basis.

(2) Interviewed someone to help rub the farm. He seems knowledgeable, but I didn't like him. My parents will make the final decision, though, and they plan to offer him the job unless they really like the people that we interview next weekend, which should be our last interview.

(3) Was told that my current level of back pain is permanent and there is nothing to be done. This means that I am now firmly in the hands of quacks and new-agers. I am currently seeing this guy, who practices what he calls quantum neurology. Willing to try anything non-invasive at this point.

(4) Arraigned to buy a car. I'll do a post on it if it works out.

(5) Acted as moderator at my church while my pastor was out of town. I'm glad I don't have to do that every weekend - it's pretty stressful to stand up there in church and hope that God inspires you to say the right things.

(6) Read a ton of books. Got the new Ilona Andrews Book, On the Edge, and it was a good as her stuff usually is. Also read Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh, and found it interesting enough that I'll be requesting other books of hers from the library. The strong heroine paranormal fantasy / romance is so popular that it's been done to death at the moment, but as I've been a fan of it since I read Arrows of the Queen in my middle school library, I'm happy that so many talented authors are getting published.

(7) Played too much Aion. Also too much Guild Wars. Video games sure are fun time wasters!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Homemade Detergent, revisited

About a month ago, I calculated that homemade detergent didn't really save money versus buying value detergent on sale. However, I have had to revisit my calculations; in actuality I've been using half as much detergent for each load as I had anticipated. So each load actually costs me about $0.035 per load. I haven't tried using half as much value detergent; I don't know whether it would work as well or not. But it's the fastest way I can think of to save money on detergent - use half as much as you usually do, and see if you notice a difference.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Four Things to Assure When Donating Money

This past few days, Americans have been bombarded with images of the pain and suffering in Haiti. Our ability to transmit images to each other is now so advanced that it feels as though the suffering is occurring in our living rooms. This makes their suffering so immediate and personal that we naturally want to help. Stymied from giving directly of our time and talents by the distance and logistics involved, we have poured a stream of money into charities that purport to be able to aid the Haitian people on our behalf.

If you are planning to give to organizations in Haiti, or anywhere else, I urge you to assure that:

1) None of your donated money is being siphoned away into avoidable fees

Credit card companies, in general, take the same 1-5% off the top for credit card donations as they do for any other purchase. Some fees are being waived for Haitian donations right now, but if you're donating anywhere else using a credit card, the card companies are making money off of it. To give your intended recipient the full amount, mail them a check instead or whipping out the card.

Additionally, agencies that solicit for charities generally collect a percentage of your donation as their fee. This can be as high as 90%! If you plan to give as a result of a solicitation, find out how much money will actually end up at the charity of your choice. You can always contact the charity directly and ascertain how to send them money yourself.

2) The Organization is Legitimate

This is easier the larger the charity becomes. One of the reasons the Red Cross is such a popular recipient of donations after natural disasters is that everyone knows who they are and what they do. If you're uncertain about a charity, you can check sites like Charity Navigator and the charity section of the Better Business Bureau.

Especially in crises like Haiti, the con men (and women) come out of the woodwork. Take the time to research any charitable organization you are not already personally familiar with. The legitimate ones should be happy to send you literature, direct you to their website, and answer your questions. Don't feel pressured to send money right this minute; this is a time-honored scam technique. Real charities have on-going programs that will be able to use your donations next month as easily as this one.

3) The Organization is Efficient

People who work for non-profits need to eat too. Non-profits have to buy printer ink and toilet paper just like the rest of us. So not 100% of every dollar donated will go directly to the cause. Everyone should decide for themselves how much overhead they think is reasonable for a charity to have.

Charity Navigator and Guidestar (free registration required) can give you overhead costs for larger organizations; smaller organizations may or may not be able to provide detailed statistics, but they should be able to give you a general idea, perhaps by providing you with their latest annual report or their IRS Form 990 (for tax exempt organizations).

4) You Can Afford to Donate

This seems obvious, but especially in the heat of the moment, it is easy to rationalize giving more than is affordable. I am not immune - I often find it very difficult to keep my charitable giving within the bounds of what I have planned when confronted with the vast amount of need in the world. If you are planning to cut from one area of your budget to be able to afford a donation (for example, brown bagging your lunch instead of eating out), don't donate until after you've made the substitution and have the money in hand. Putting yourself financially underwater with charitable donations is just as painful as any other way; I promise you that your creditors won't care what you did with the money when the collection calls start.

God calls us all to be good stewards of what he gives to us, including stewardship over that category of expenses known as charitable giving. We need to have more than good intentions when we give money; we should also have reasonable assurance that the money will be used properly and efficiently. Following these steps should provide that reasonable assurance.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Used Cars Part 2 - Gas, Insurance, and Cost to Own

My other metric with which to evaluate a car is a determination of the non-purchase costs associated with it. Consumer Reports has an estimate of how many gallons of gasoline that you'll use per 12K miles, but I find their gasoline pricing system optimistic. So I'm going to use my own guesses as to fuel price, on average, for the next 10 years, in 2010 dollars. Totally unscientifically, I guess that Regular will average more like $3/gal and premium will be $3.25. I ran insurance numbers on all three cars using Progressive's Quote system, first with no collision and second with comprehensive and collision with a 1K deductible. So those numbers were:

Ford Fusion: $1065 per 12K for gas, Insurance increases $179 or $296 per 6 mos

Acura TSX: $1543.75 per 12K for gas, Insurance increases$172 or $365 per 6 mos

Infinity G35: $1770 per 12K for gas, insurance increases $206 or $422 per 6 mos

So without repair and maintenance costs, with comprehensive and collision, and assuming 12K miles per year, annual costs will be:

Ford Fusion: $1657
Acura TSX: $2273.75
Infinity G35: $2614

Thus giving me a savings of $399.38 a year for the Ford and a cost of $584.59 for the Acura versus buying the Infinity. Of course, if I could really accurately predict gas prices, I'd be a millionaire. And all these numbers are really kind of silly without repair costs to add in. Consumer Reports claims to have an "owner's cost" number that includes repairs, but their repair numbers also seem optimistically low to me.

Grrr ... I hate not being able to run real numbers on my options! I hate that cars are so idiosyncratic! I hate that I am totally mechanically fail so I am at the mercy of others for such a huge purchase! And I really hate spending all this lovely money on something that is just going to depreciate!


OK, I guess I am going to have to suck it up and do this. I promise not to post on this again until and unless I have some actual information to report.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rethinking the Conventional Wisdom on Used Cars

Just about every PF-type site out there has a post about how buying a used car will save you tons of money over new. So when my parents gave me some money for a car last month, I immediately decided to buy a used one. I've been looking for about three weeks now, and I'm really rethinking this used car idea.

First off, it's really hard to find a late-model used car that hasn't obviously been abused. I've looked at cars with water in the trunk, cars with black stuff coming out of the tailpipe, and cars with both. I've got one good prospect so far - a friend of mine's job pays to lease her a vehicle, and she'll be trading it in next month. It's a 2006 Infinity G35 with 35K miles on it. I know that she's a cautious driver, and I had my mechanic check it out, and he says it's in good shape. I can get it for $19,150 (not including taxes and fees).

I assume that I am going to drive my next car for 10 years and 150K miles. I deduct years and miles accordingly for a used car. So my friend's Infinity has about 7 2/3 years left on it. And a new car would have 10 years.

The new cars that most appeal to me are the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and the Acura TSX. According to Consumer Reports, the pricing for the Ford in the trim I want is $30,094 (without taxes) and the pricing for the Acura is $33,463. Tax is 8.5%, so I'm guessing 9% including all fees. So the total cost for the Infinity will be $20,873.50; the Ford will be $32802.46; the Acura will be $36,474.67. So the Infinity is $2722.63/yr; the Ford is $3280.25/yr; the Acura is 3647.47/yr. In other words, the difference is $557.62/yr for the Ford and $924.84/yr for the Acura.

But the price difference alone does not capture the entire story, because the maintenance in the first three years of ownership can be expected to be negligible, with costs rising as the years of ownership increase. So the gap between the ownership costs is smaller than even these numbers.

Is the increases uncertainty of buying a used car really worth $46.47 a month or even $77.07 a month in savings versus a new car?

In my specific instance, there is another factor. According to my mechanic, Infinity parts are both expensive and difficult to obtain compared to other luxury car parts. So when I have to do maintenance, it will be more costly than either the Ford or the Acura.

So it looks to me like, while I'd save money up front buying used, over the life of the car my savings would be negligible to none, depending on how much maintenance the car requires over its lifespan.

There is one way that buying used saves money - if you buy a clunker that you expect to last a year or so. Then when the car breaks, you have less invested in it, and you just trade it in on a new one. If you could pay $2K (in today's dollars) per car over 10 years, and you did no maintenance on any of them, then you could save money. However, the cars that I've seen bought in this price range tend to be not only unpleasant but also unsafe. Not only are they 8-10 years behind on safety features, they usually have structural or engine problems that make them more difficult to drive safely. Now that I don't absolutely have to, I'm not willing to drive cars which compromise my safety to save money. (I don't understand drafting behind an 18-wheeler to save money either.)

I still haven't quite decided, but I'm seriously thinking of jumping off the used car bandwagon and getting a new car in the mane of long-term economy. What would you do?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

How much would you spend on ...

J.Money over at Budgets are Sexy has an interesting thought exercise up - how much money he would spend on various items.  I decided to take the idea a step further and try to remember (1) what I spent on the last item of that sort that I purchased and (2) the most I've ever spent on a similar item.

Purse (or Wallet):
Winter jacket:
A pair of (knee-high) boots:
Formal dress (or suit):
Pants (inc. jeans):
Tennis Shoes:
J. Money
Fab. Broke

Apparently, I'm willing to pay quite a bit more for these items than J. Money and (mostly) the other PF bloggers he polled. This is because, to me, most of these items are long-term purchases. For instance, the $550 purse was bought in 2004, it's still in nice condition, and I still use it. The $150 jacket was a fox fur jacket bought on ebay in 2003 and last worn three weeks ago. The $800 suit was bought in 2001 and used for interviews until I lost 30 pounds last year and couldn't wear it anymore.

It's not a typo that I'm willing to pay less now than my previous high price on boots. It reflects my high level of disappointment with the Irish Setter Snake Boots I bought for farm work at that price and how happy I am with my MuckBoots . Often price does not indicate quality, and I'm not hot to buy stuff just because it is more expensive.

The items that I don't consider long-term are computers and tennis shoes, but as a gamer and a runner, I've bought bargain-basement stuff and lived to regret it. I bet Krystal does something that requires good shoes as well. If I wore tennis shoes for less vigorous activity, I wouldn't be willing to pay nearly as much. As for computers, my non-gaming activities could easily be accomplished on a $500 machine. And actually, the numbers there are deceptive, as a generally upgrade my rig one part at a time - the 3K computer was a Mac for Mr. Goat to use for work.

I also haven't put my money where my mouth is on several of these items - I can imagine a situation where I would pay that much, but it hasn't occurred yet. And it's not like I don't like a bargain as much as the next person (see my last winter coat and pants purchases). So maybe this exercise doesn't show anything except that I like making tables with lots of numbers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Christmas 2010 Savings Plan

This year, I've decided to start saving earlier so that I can have a bigger budget for Christmas in 2010.  In 2009, I saved $250 but ended up over budget by about $200 (fortunately, my husband agreed to use an anniversary present we received to cover the shortfall).  This year, I plan to save $500.  Since my housekeeper quit, that's a $85 savings already for next year (unless I get another one), so surely I'll be able to come in under budget.  I've already added a new savings goal at Smarty Pig and the first $46 will be coming out of my bank account tomorrow.  I can't wait to buy everyone I love fabulous presents next year!  Anyone else beginning to save now?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Saving money with a phone call

Well, I finally did a PF-like thing and saved money with a phone call.   I use Progressive Auto Insurance, and I ran a quote on my policy on their website, and came up with a number $24 / month cheaper than what I had been paying.  Made the phone call to Progressive to ask them to change it; found out I'd forgotten to include something and was only overpaying $22.50 a month.

According to the nice saleslady "We recently changed our billing rates in your state, and you would have gotten this new rate when we renewed your policy."  Since they just renewed us on 12/24/2009, I have my doubts.

Anyway, I went ahead and payed the full six months to get the slight savings and so that I could put it all on a credit card (I'll take cash back on anything they'll let me;). 

So I saved myself $150 for six months, although I imagine that I'll pay that and more when I add the second car (of course, I have to buy a second car before this becomes a problem).  But it is a nice reminder to check every once in a while whether my fixed expenses can be lowered without any diminution of service.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 Goals

What I am going to get done in 2010, by category, with all the steps I can think of to get there.

1) Religious / Spiritual:
     A)Never miss church unless sick or out of town. Can be accomplished by not partying so much on Saturday night that I oversleep the next day.
     B) Participate in a mission or outreach with my church.  We have a very tiny church, so we don't  do this right now.  However, I know I am not the only one interested.  I need to talk to the people I know are interested, find out what they would like to do, and contact organizations that do it to find out how we can help.  Then I need to arrange for a time and place.
      C) Read The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language.  At some point, I believe that I've read every word in the Bible, but never through an entire edition.  I'm not sure if this will take me a week, a month, or all year - my plan is to start from the beginning and read as I feel guided to do so.  Can be done by setting aside the time every day, and not by putting it off until I fall over dead tired without having done it.
     D)Write every day in a prayer and gratitude journal. I was very touched by Debbie Macomber's Testimony as to the effectiveness of a gratitude and prayer journal on her life..  I must set aside a time every day to read my Bible and to write in my prayer/gratitude journal.
     E) Continue to Tithe. Figure out our 2010 take home and set up an automatic debit every month.

2) Health
     A) Maintain my weight between 145 and 155 pounds.  I just lost 30 pounds last year, and I am not sure where the best  balance between maintainability and healthfulness is yet.  This can be accomplished by going back to strict Weight Watchers point counting and regular exercise (see below).
     B) Swim or do Physical Therapy 4 times a week.  I want to get back into better cardiovascular shape and work on my core strength.  I am going to sign up for a gym on Monday and set myself times when I will swim, same times every day, every week.
     C) Do Physical Therapy Exercises Every Day. Continue to work on my core strength by doing the exercises recommended by my physical therapist every day.
     D) Practice Aikido Every Day.  I have been neglecting this, because I am not healthy enough to take the falls and such that I enjoy.  This year, I will set aside time every day to do the daily solo kata 6 times and to do 1000 cuts with the Bokken, both of which my health does allow.

3) Financial
     A) Pay off loan from relatives in the amount of $1000.  I have this set up to be auto-paid; I make the last payment in February.
     B) Pay off loan from relative in the amount of $30,000  In combination with my other financial plans, this will require an additional $927 a month that I am not sure where it will come from.  The easiest thing would be not to tithe this year, and use that money, but I have rejected that option because I feel that tithing is the only way that I am consistent in expressing to God my joy and thankfulness for his eternal love.  I am contemplating several small business ventures including a) buying things at yard and thrift sales and reselling them on ebay, b) restarting my old document review business on a less than full time schedule, c) finding a part-time job (this is contingent on finding more help for the farm), or d) turning old feed bags into shopping bags and selling them on etsy or similar.  It will be hard, but if I can pull this off, the only debts I will have left are one more family debt and a school loan at 1.65% APR.
     C) Fully Fund 2009 and 2010 Roth IRAs.  I have funded Mr. Goat's 2009 Roth and I have the money for mine, but I want to make an appointment with my financial adviser to discuss mine when I deposit the money. (I have until April 15, 2010 to get this done).   The 2010 money should mostly come out of the present that my parents gave me, if I can find a nice car cheaply enough.  Since we don't get employer matches, I have limited our retirement contributions to Roths until we are debt free.

4)  Dreams
     1) Write something besides this blog.  I plan to purchase the 2010 Writer's Market and see what is out there.  I'd like to enter a couple of short story competitions this year, and maybe even try to get paid for writing, if I see something that I think I can do (and the editors will take unsolicited stuff).
     2) Learn how to Accompany on the Piano.  I'd like to be able to accompany people when they sing.  My Dad, who plays the piano, has offered to give me lessons on Monday afternoons.  I also need to set aside about 30 minutes a day to practice if I plan to make any progress.
     3) Get officially affiliated with a dojo.  Since there is no dojo for my Aikido system in my area, I've not been affiliated with any since I left Dallas.  Once I get well enough to travel, I need to figure out whether I should have the guys in Houston or Dallas be my teachers and get a regular training schedule going.
     4) Keep up with my Chinese.  I've let my Chinese lapse again.  My plan is to write characters every day, so I don't forget my vocabulary.  If I add a new character every day, then by the end of the year I'll be writing 365 characters every day, and in a few years years I'll be writing all the ones I learned, everyday.

5) Prosaic
     1) Practice with my carry firearms at least once a month.  This is the bare minimum, and I have not been making it.  Of course, I'm also so full of pain medication that I don't carry right now, but I have high hopes that I will soon be carrying again, and then I'll need to be in practice.
     2) Keep my house in a reasonable state of neatness.  My housekeeper quit yesterday and I've decided not to replace her.  I'm hoping to be able to keep my house in a reasonable enough state of neatness that I don't go crazy. This isn't a financial-based decision, it is because Mr. Goat hates having people in his house messing with his stuff.  We'll see how this goes - I may need to get some kind of monthly deep clean service to keep up with myself.  But it's not as though my late housekeeper really kept up with me - the house was never in good enough shape for me to be comfortable having company over.  So I'd just as soon live in a pile of mess for free as pay for it.

In Summation:
What my goals will require for implementation is time.  I believe that I can come up with this kind of time by cutting down on the time I waste on things which do not reflect my value system.  I am going to cancel my subscription to Aion because I spend my time playing it stressed, not relaxed.  I also need to cut back on my internet browsing; I spend way too much time reading news and blogs.  When I canceled my online WSJ subscription I thought it would help, but honestly there's not much difference between the paid and the free content on their site.

In 2010 I will spend my time with projects and people that reflect my goals and values.  I will not allow inertia to steal time, my most valuable possession, away from me.