Wednesday, June 29, 2011

2011 Goals Re-Visit - Pregnancy Edition

At the beginning of the year, I set myself some pretty ambitious goals.  Since this is the year of praying to the porcelain god, I've been afraid to even look back at them.  However, Sharon's 8 month re-visit post inspired me; if she can look her goals in the face after all the Murphy that's been going on in her life, surely I can too.  So how am I doing?  Hopefully not quite as badly as this XKCD comic ...

My religious practice has not been a daily occurrence, but I've probably averaged about five days a week.  Even better, I've put a few editions of the Bible on my Kindle account (The Holy Bible English Standard Version (ESV) is free right now, I got lucky and caught The Message New Testament for free a while back) and I've started flipping through them on my phone when I'm waiting for something or just want to read a few pages right before I go to sleep.  I'm keeping my tithing going as well, so I'm tootling along here.

Weight Watchers doesn't allow you to participate in their programs while you are pregnant, so I'm off the hook for that.  There's no way I can do the kind of exercise I was participating in at the beginning of the year; I get out of breath in 10 minutes of walking.  However, I need to move from being almost entirely sedentary to some form of movement, preferably along the lines of 15 minutes twice a day. Unfortunately, heat makes me nauseous, and the weather from now until October is pretty much nothing but heat in Louisiana.  This leaves workouts at the gym, but I really have trouble making myself go.  I am super self-conscious about my body; although intellectually I know that weight gain is normal in pregnancy, just thinking about the fact that I can no longer see my feet makes me want to cry.  Hauling my ugly, fat, out-of-shape body to the gym twice a day to work out requires more motivation than I have been able to scrape up.  It's weird, because I've been overweight before (as much as 210 lbs in law school), and I wasn't body conscious then.  I mean, I wanted to drop the weight, but I figured that that's what the gym was for, and if anyone else had a problem with how I looked, it was their problem, not mine.  Maybe it's because no matter what I do, I'm just going to get bigger and less cardiovascularly able for the next 3.5 months, which is really depressing to contemplate.  I need to be doing this, because being totally sedentary will only make returning to health post-pregnancy harder, but I can't find the motivation.  How did those of you who made it through pregnancy make yourself go to the gym?

On the financial front, I haven't had the energy for any side hustles.  Thankfully, though, it looks like we're going to miss the anticipated period of unemployment this year; Mr. Goat managed to leave his sinking ship company and started a new job this week.  We're on track to fund our Roths by December, and hopefully the markets will be a bit more settled by then, or really in the toilet so that I can find good bargains.  We're adding new baby expenses, but as of today we have $2499.83 saved toward them, and I plan to keep putting $400 more aside each month until the babies come, which should leave us with $3700 in the baby fund.  Hopefully this will cover our hospital co-pays and leave a bit left for clothing, diapers, pump rentals, and other new baby requirements.

I played some piano while I was at the beach, and then promptly stopped playing again as soon as I got home.  I need to get my keyboard set up properly and get playing.  The farm is a project for next year; I just don't have the energy.  Fortunately, we hired a new farm manager that is keeping things running, although we are not going to make much progress this year, as my parents are distracted by renovating their house.  And writing this blog post inspired me to email my friend for the first time since January:)

I've not been practicing with my carry firearms; pregnancy precludes it.  My parents are building me a little berm in the backyard, though, so come October I should be good to go.  Mr. Goat is talking about getting me an Airsoft pistol to plink at some steel in the interim, just to have a bit more fun practice than dry-firing.  (A Texas Star has just moved up to the top of my "want" list for Christmas.)

My house is an absolute disaster area.  We added on a room, and the construction was just finished yesterday, so in addition to a house filled with clutter, every available surface is covered in dust.  I know that a little dirt is good for babies' immune system, but we are taking it to a whole new level at this point.  I have to get the house in decent enough shape that I can sort of manage it until after the babies get here.  Then it will depend - I may need to find the money for a housekeeper, at least occasionally, if my energy doesn't return somewhat once the babies are out.

So, my action plans are:

- Keep tithing and reading scripture

- Add some exercise to my life by going to the gym once a day and finding an at-home routine once a day

- Keep putting away money for retirement and babies

- Get my keyboard set up and start practicing on the piano

- Work 15 mins a day on organizing my house until 7/6.  Mr. Goat goes out of town for work for two weeks then, and my mother is going to come over and help me get my house ship shape in preparation for babies.  After that, spend time every day keeping the house in order until the babies arrive.

It doesn't look like much, but my energy levels are pretty low right now; this will require just about all I have, I think.  I'm making a note on my calendar right now to blog about this on July 31st, and how much of it has been accomplished.  Wish me luck and energy!

Monday, June 27, 2011

I still don't get it ...

The Bloggess' $100 revenge chicken-
Why exactly is this funny?
This story on the Bloggess has been making the rounds of my Facebook friends for the last few days.  Most of the comments were something along the line of "hysterically funny" or "this reminds me of something my husband did last week."  When a friend summed the story up as "I failed to communicate with my husband, and so I decided to plot revenge," one of his friends responded

First of all, they did communicate. She said, "We need new towels," and he said, "No, we don't." What's the solution there? If you've got one, please share, because I don't know a married couple who's found it. Do they need new towels, or not? Who decides? Is there a tie breaker vote someplace? Should we have the vice president or the lieutenant governor come down to provide it? Or maybe you think the "new towels" controversy serious enough for her to spend an hour explaining to him why he can't continue to dry his ass on the giant rag with holes in it the size of his ass that he's been using for that purpose for the last seven years, but trust me, if he don't already get that, an hour ain't gonna change it. Perhaps they should get a divorce, since clearly they have a fractured marriage fraught with dispute. (*tongue clearly in cheek, because look, anyone who HASN'T had an argument over buying new towels or something similar ain't really married, they're probably just living together in the same house and keeping separate checking accounts or something*) Here's the answer -- are you sitting comfortably? -- THERE ISN'T A SOLUTION. Like the other three hundred things most commonly fought about in marriage, there's no tie breaker vote, there's no "logical" answer (because, btw, there's no universal standard that determines the timeline for towel replacement), and both sides are probably pretty convinced of the rightness of their argument. At some time or another, just to break the tension, most couples resort to a giant metal chicken, metaphorically speaking. If you don't move that revenge vibe right to the surface, and quickly, it lies underneath, festers, and eventually throws your husband and his ratty towels (or your wife and her extravagant spending) right out of the house. Here endeth my rant on marital events.  

I agree with the friend who called revenge; I've never had this experience.  My husband and I have, over time, divided our life based on areas of core competency, and we trust each other to be adults and good stewards in those areas.  Towels are firmly in my area of competency, and if I say we need new ones, he agrees.  Likewise, if he says we need new fixtures for the bathroom, I agree.  Depending on the budget, we might not race out and get them this evening, but I would never dream of telling my husband that we don't need a new shower because the slight water leakage doesn't bother me and it works fine besides that.  I trust him to know what we need in that department.  If a new area comes up (and there will be many once the babies come), we discuss it together until it becomes apparent whose area of core competency it fits in to.  And no, they're not all as gender stereotypical as my example above - I do all the retirement savings and investing, for instance, and he does the pet care.

I certainly don't understand why spending $100 on a chicken shows her husband why she's competent to determine other maters of household expenditure.  Sounds to me like she just shot herself in the foot for $100.  Let's be honest - we all enjoy getting even, but it only works if the other person can't retaliate.  In marriage, you've got a lifetime of opportunities for retaliation, so getting even is pretty silly.  But maybe I just don't have a sense of humor - what do you think?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

5 Ways to Save Money on Fast Food

I don't eat fast food all that often, so the last time I went into Popeye's I was amazed and how much prices have gone up.  It seems that fast food eating isn't as cheap as it used to be.  We're all going to indulge once in a while - who can resist all that tasty grease all the time?  Still, there's no reason to have it hit your pocketbook any harder than necessary, so here are some things you can do to knock a bit off the price.

1) Walk Inside to Get Your Food
Two minutes of idling your car burns as much gas as driving for a mile.  While you're waiting in your car for your food to be assembled, you are literally burning money.  Also, at peak times, the line is generally much longer in the drive-through than in the interior, so you might even save yourself a little time.  Remember that they're just as happy to serve it to you "to go" on the inside.

2)Buy Your Food Family Style
Most fast food restaurants are set up to give you exponentially more food at a marginal price.  If more than one person is eating, there are ways to leverage it to your advantage.  Does everyone at the table really need their own fries, or can you get a super-jumbo-extra-large and feed the table?  Can you split a double hamburger instead of getting two singles?  A couple of minutes of thought can save you money here.

3)Nix the Beverages
Even a solo eater can save by declining to pay extra for colored, carbonated water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.  The healthiest option, of course, is to bring your own filtered water.  You can also bring your meal home and drink it with whatever is in your fridge, at a fraction of the cost.

4)Avoid the Salads
Salads spoil easily and require more delicate handling, so they cost more.  Normally, I would be willing to pay extra for the healthier option, but most fast food salads are strange creations.  Ingredients are chosen for their shelf life, not their nutrition, and then they are heaped with fatty extras and dressings to cover the mediocre taste of the ingredients, so their caloric contents are not generally very low.  Check the nutrition information - the salad is often more calories than a regular burger.  And the salads are not generally tasty, either, so you end up feeling unsatisfied.  In short, salads are generally the least frugal item on a fast food menu, and are by no means the healthiest.  Get your salad fix elsewhere.

5)Remember that Fast Food is a Treat
The biggest threat fast food poses to your pocketbook is the threat to your health.  Even if you have the willpower to refrain from loading up on calories, the food offered is not nutritionally adequate to your long term needs.  So enjoy fast food occasionally, but don't let eating it interfere with a healthy eating lifestyle.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Best Presents are the Ones You would Never Buy for Yourself

I got the last installment of my Christmas present from my little brother (yes, he's now over 30, but he'll always be my little brother).  He got me six months of fruit from Harry and David.  Every month was good or at least interesting (I now know that I dislike papaya), and this month was peaches and pears - two of my favorite fruits.

I know lots of people give and claim to prefer cash or gift cards, but I just don't think that's really true.  I know I prefer cash to a stock present (who really needs another picture frame?), but the real gift of a present is the time the giver spent thinking of the recipient.

It's a bit different for those in financially strapped situations, of course.  If cash or a gift card would change the recipient's lifestyle, even for the day, then the gift is in the thoughtfulness of the change.  For instance, I always give college students cash or gift cards.

I'm very lucky; if I need something, I own it.  If I really want something, I probably already have it.  But it adds immeasurably to my happiness wen someone cares enough about me to find something that I would never buy for myself, but nonetheless enjoy.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nothing About Pregnancy is Frugal

Spent $175 today at Target on maternity clothing, including $60 for two pairs of jeans. I don't think I've spent $30 on jeans since I was in school. There's not a lot of options in maternity wear, though. My body is changing so fast that I have to try everything on, which makes mail-order impractical, and the only second-hand store with maternity clothing barely ever has any jeans, and none of those have fit. Also, the store is a thirty minute drive from my house, which really isn't that far, but currently feels like about forever. So I spent basically a fortune on clothing that I can reasonably expect to wear for the next five months, counting one month of post-pregnancy wear due to a combination of scarcity and laziness. Not my usual modus operandi.

Also, in the non-frugal category, my morning pre-natal vitamins are $40/month. I have insurance; when they accidentally ran them without insurance the first time I got them, they were over $100. My evening pre-natal vitamins are a more reasonable $10/month copay. I know this is a total rip-off, but I have trouble spending any of my precious energy researching other options, especially since I'll only be purchasing them three more times.

Finally, as a third non-frugal expense, my car is getting absolutely filthy. I usually try to do my car once a week, alternating between the interior and the exterior. However, I can no longer bend at the waist, and being out in the heat makes me sick (it's ~95 degrees Fairenheit during the day down here right now). So I'm going to have to pay someone to do it for me, or do it in 10 minute increments. Detailing a car costs somewhere around $100 down here, so I've got a lot of incentive to either figure out how to keep my car clean or live with it filthy.

What it boils down to is that I've got all the time in the world (I'm pretty much on leave from the farm until next year), but I don't have the energy that frugility requires. I think this is a good lesson when looking ahead to retirement - I've always thought I would live cheaper, because I would have time to shop for bargains. I need to give consideration to the years when my health won't allow for much bargineering.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Laundry Detergent - Final Recipe

I just made another batch of Laundry detergent, and I think I've finalized the recipe that works for me.  I use a dry detergent because it dissolves in the detergent slot in my front loader, unlike the liquid(ish) detergent that I made on my first try.  I've been using variants of this dry recipe for the last 18 months exclusively, and I have yet to have any difficulty with my HE LG front-loading washer.  This recipe is not scented, and I prefer it that way; now that I have used it for a while, Tide and Cheer (my old preferred brands) smell overwhelming to me.

For my recipe I use:

1 bar Ivory Soap, grated fine*
4.5 cups Borax
3 cups Arm & Hammer washing soda
1 cup baking soda

I mix it all together, making sure to break up any major lumps in the ingredients (Borax is especially prone to this).
I use one tablespoon per load of laundry.  If the laundry is especially dirty, I will put an additional 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of detergent in the pre-wash slot of my machine.

*I use a Zyliss Hard Cheese Grater to grate the soap.  This is the best hard cheese grater ever and I've had the same one for more than 10 years.  I've had the best success grating the soap if I take it out of any plastic wrap for a couple of weeks before I use it so that it has time to dry out.

This detergent has handled everything I have thrown at it in the way of farm clothing (dust, dirt, sweat, occasional blood and/or feces - farming is hard on the clothes).  I am quite looking forward to giving it the ultimate test - diapers for two babies.

This time I had leftovers from the last time I made detergent (in December, I believe) and so it didn't cost me a penny out of pocket.  However, in my last cost analysis, I erred on cost per load because I estimated that 1/8 cup (2 tbs) would be needed per load.  Since only 1 tbs per load is needed, detergent is now running me 4 cents a load - not too bad!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

SmartyPig, the Stock Market, and Savings Options

I got back from the beach to find a notification that SmartyPig has reduced its APR to 1.10%, effective June 15th.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the un-adjusted 12 month inflation rate at 3.2%.  That means that I am losing purchasing power by keeping my money in a SmartyPig account.

Here's how it works.  If the savings and inflation rates stay constant for the next year, if I put $100 in a SmartyPig account on June 15, 2011, the account will be worth $101.10 on June 15, 2012.  However, inflation will have eroded the value of $101.10 to the equivalent of $97.97.  To add insult to injury, I will also have to pay income tax on the "gain" from the interest.  Assuming a marginal tax rate of 15%, that is $0.15 in federal income tax, yielding purchasing power in June 2012 equivalent to $97.80 in June 2011 dollars.  Unless inflation falls or SmartyPig's interest rate rises, I am guaranteed to lose purchasing power over time by saving at SmartyPig.

So what is a saver to do?  There are no safe investments paying 3.2%.  1.10% is high for a savings account (Although I do get 1.25% at Discover because I have a credit card with them as well).  BankRate's highest 1 year bank CD is 1.4%.  One year treasuries are .18 and ten year treasuries are 2.28 today, according to the Department of the Treasury.  People are piling into corporate debt, but highly-rated corporate debt is barely beating inflation; you're not going to fund your retirement on 3.734% interest rates (the yield on a 10 year Google bond issued May 16th).  For instance, I recall that the annual rate of return in the retirement calculator Dave Ramesy uses in Total Money Makeover assumes an 8% average annual rate of return.  (I read the 2003 edition, the 2009 edition may have updated this)

Enter the Stock Market.  As of yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ("DJIA") gained 21.62% over the last year, closing at 12151 (per Morningstar).   Those are some impressive gains.  Also, unlike interest, which is taxed as income, long-term capital gains rates are 0-15%.  (If your marginal tax rate is 15%, your long-term capital gains rate is 0).  Next to the anemic yields of traditional save investments, the stock market is looking good, if it can continue the historical trends of the past couple of years.

But can it?  At it's height, on October 9, 2007, the DJIA closed at 14164.  As of today we're at 85.8% of the highest market in history.  And, just in case you didn't notice, the unemployment rate edged up to 9.1%.  Half the PF blogs I read right now seem to focus on either dealing with current unemployment or planning for future unemployment.  The housing market is in the toilet and expected to stay there.  Looking around, do you feel 85.8% as prosperous as you did on 2007?  If the DJIA rises another 21.62% in the next year, it will be at 14778 next June.  Does this seem likely to you?

For those of us who want to save money, it's a real catch-22.  Thanks to the Federal Reserve's decision to keep interest rates low, there is no such thing as a safe investment for our money.  We are forced to either lose purchasing power or move into moderately risky investments like the US stock market.  I think the current rise in stock prices signals not particular strength in the market, but the lack of any place else for money to go.

So what do I do now?  I keep my funds that I expect to use within the next six months close to hand in a savings account at Discover (because money is much easier to transfer in and out, and the APR is better at 1.25%).  The rest of my money is in various foreign and domestic equities and indexes.  But I am very tempted to lock in my gains now and wait for a more appetizing place to put my money to materialize.  Is anyone else feeling this pinch?  What are you doing with your savings?