Stories That Rocked My Week #6

2 May

Happy Friday! After five straight days of relentless wind, it’s finally calm here. The weekend forecast is warm and sunny, and my BFF is flying in from Vegas and together we’re going to enjoy a not-so-frugal fine dining experience in the big city. As my friend of mine likes to say, life is grand!

The picture of calm. Photo by me.

The picture of calm. Photo by me.

I read a lot of amazing posts this week and it’s always a struggle to pick out my faves! Before I get to the stories that rocked my week, here are a couple shameless plugs for you to skip over:

5 Ways to Save Money Using Pinterest on HuffPost Financial Education — Karen Cordaway of MoneySavingEnthusiast fame helps me justify the hundreds of hours I’ve spent saving and organizing images by quoting me in this article. Pinterest shouldn’t be so entertaining, but it’s highly addictive and can also be a method for money savings.

10 Reasons Why You’re Still Living Paycheck to Paycheck on GO Banking Rates — Not only includes quotes from yours truly, but also from personal finance bloggers Stefanie at The Broke and Beautiful Life and Matt over at Mom and Dad Money.

Onto the good stuff…

Tackling Our Debt‘s travel tips are just in time for summer planning and helped inspire me to consider a separate savings account just for vacations.

Savvy with Saving explores why it’s so hard to split the bill at a restaurant and how to avoid paying for someone else’s dinner and drinks.

Color Me Frugal offers practical tips to prevent lifestyle inflation, an affliction I seem to have every pay day.

Clever Dude‘s wife gets a gold star for her persistence, and for inspiring Brock’s post about getting a discount just by asking.

Cash Cow Couple‘s frugal ways continue to amaze as they outline expenses from their first year of marriage.

L Bee and the Money Tree‘s Lauren celebrates her second blog birthday and deserves a shout-out: congrats chica!

Have a great weekend!

My Budding Obsession with 5Ks

28 Apr

Me and my 5K Running Budy, post-race.

Me and my 5K Running Buddy, post-race.

Stefanie at The Broke and Beautiful Life wrote a post earlier this year on how races are better investments than a gym membership. I couldn’t agree more, which is why I’m excited to find that I’m becoming slightly obsessed with 5Ks. Some races are cheaper than others, to be sure, but I don’t like running enough to throw down several hundred dollars for the big marathons. Community and cause-oriented 5Ks are just fine for me, with a few trendy runs sprinkled in for flavor.

On Saturday, I ran my second 5k of the year with my sister-in-law. Running a 5k is on my “30 before 30″ list and so far I’ve completed three, including the obstacle-laden Mud Run I blogged about last summer. Saturday’s run was the first time I jogged the entire route and I’m pretty pumped about it. I’m in better cardiovascular shape than I realize since I did zero formal training leading up to the run. (Disclaimer: This is not advised. My knees were tender during the last half mile and to avoid injury, I really should train for these events!)

So far, I’ve spent $115 on three events. The Survivor Mud Run was purchased at a daily deal rate of $35; the Sharin’ O’ the Green 5K cost $30 plus $15 for a long-sleeved race shirt (which I wear all the time so it’s totally worth it); and this last one was just $25. The last two events benefited important causes and has helped me become more active in my community.

I’ve also learned something about myself during these 5K events: I thrive in group settings. As an introvert, this is a pretty astounding realization, but when it comes to being active, I feed off of the group energy and tend to push myself harder and enjoy myself more. This is true not only for running but also for yoga, my go-to fitness activity. I’ve done at-home practices here and there, but nothing beats an instructor-led group setting.

My next 5K is at the end of May and I’ll likely do one or two more before the year is over. There are a ton of opportunities in my community to participate in these events, which is great because I can be choosey and opt for cheaper runs without feeling like I’m missing out. However, I tend to overbook myself in these situations and I need to make clear-headed decisions before throwing down the plastic for a 5K every weekend. My challenge will be restraining myself so my budding obsession doesn’t become an un-frugal addiction.

Spill: What’s your latest obsession?

Save Green by Going Green

22 Apr

Happy Earth Day, everybody! As a nature lover and and natural-light enthusiast, I try to be conscious about how my actions impact our environment. More often than not, the roads to going green and saving money intersect, creating a nice harmony of environmental stewardship and responsible money management. While my husband and I do more than a few things right when it comes to being ecofriendly, we can definitely do more. Here’s a summary of both!

Grand Teton National Park. Photo by me.

Grand Teton National Park. Photo by me.

 

PAPER
What We Do Right
– We avoid printing receipts, confirmations and other required documents by saving them to a PDF and storing them on flash drives and hard drives.
– We ask for paper bags at the grocery store and burn them in our energy-efficient wood-burning stove.
– I use my smartphone for tasks that used to require paper. For example, the Coupon Sherpa app helps me save while shopping without the use of paper coupons, while the navigation tool helps me get where I need to go without printed directions!
– I’ve cut down on paper towel use by switching to reusable cloths, including the ever-dynamic microfiber-water duo.

Where We Can Improve
– Recycle or burn the paper we accumulate through junk mail.
– Switch to reusable grocery bags in the warm months when we’re not using the wood stove.
– Review accounts and request paperless statements from all of them. My investment accounts kill several hundred trees just to send me updates, I swear.

ENERGY
What We Do Right
– Our wood-burning stove cut our natural gas use considerably this year. We turned it on for a total of seven days during the entire winter.
– Our whole-house fan makes it easier for us to avoid A/C use during the warm summer months.
– A programmable thermostat controls the temperature of our home and keeps our energy use top-of-mind with usage reports.
– The majority of our lightbulbs are CFLs, excluding the globe bulbs in our bathrooms.
– I launder everything in cold water, reducing the use of our water heater.

Where We Can Improve
– We have a ton of electronics and other items plugged in; we could reduce our energy use by switching off these devices when we’re not using them.

WATER
What We Do Right
– My husband is an irrigation designer by trade, so our system is highly efficient with specialized sprinkler heads and a drip irrigation system in the garden.
– We don’t brush our teeth with the faucet on. I’ve never understood why people do that!
– Water cycled through the wort chiller during homebrewing is used as irrigation for plants and trees.

Where We Can Improve
– It takes a few minutes for our shower to warm up, so a ton of water is wasted while we wait.
– I try to be mindful about water use when washing dishes, but I know I can do better here.
– I have good intentions when I pour myself a giant jar of water, but I’m forever finding half-drunk glasses around the house (Signs, anyone?). I use them to water plants and such, but still; get it together, Kendal!

WASTE
What We Do Right
– As a two-person household, we don’t accumulate much waste. Sometimes, we skip the weekly trash pickup because our bin isn’t nearly full enough.
– My husband composts spent hops and grain from homebrewing, creating rich soil for our garden. Our dogs enjoy grazing on the grain, too.
– Back when I was into juicing, we dumped the pulp from all the fruits and veggies into our garden as compost.

Where We Can Improve
– We can compost more of what we use and don’t eat. I’m eyeballing small compost pales for coffee grounds and other household scraps, while my husband is slowly creating a compost pile in our backyard.
– I’ve fished cans and bottles out of the trash can before to put into the recycle bin. I’ve also tossed a few soiled plastic containers into the trash, only to realize they’re recyclable. Tsk tsk.

FUEL
Pretty much an epic fail on this front. It’s where we struggle most because we live outside city limits and each have 15-minute commutes to work. Our vehicles aren’t the most fuel efficient, but my husband does have his eyes peeled for a diesel commuter car that gets 40+ MPGs.

Back at’cha — what are you doing right and where can you improve your green habits?

Your Money: How You’re Blowing It

16 Apr

I like to think of myself as a pretty frugal person. This hasn’t always been the case, but in recent years I’ve done a much better job of managing my spending. Yet, I know there are a few things I do that still sabotage my bank account. We’ve heard this phenomenon referred to as “the latte effect,” but it extends to bigger oversights like food and energy. I shared a few ways that most of us blow money as well as tips to fix them with Kirk Yuhnke on Good Day Colorado.

What do you blow money on? Is there something you used to spend money on that you don’t anymore?

Stories That Rocked My Week #5

11 Apr

Be jealous. I was a here a couple weeks ago (Peju Winery, Napa Valley, Calif.).

Be jealous. I was a here a couple weeks ago (Peju Winery, Napa Valley, CA).

I haven’t done one of these in a few weeks because I’ve been busy with travel, work and home improvement to catch up with my fave bloggers. Luckily, I found some time this week to get back in the groove and I’m pleased to share the following posts! But first, some shameless plugging:

Over at Modest Money, I offered the parameters I use when considering buying a daily deal. I think they can be big money savers when purchased wisely!

At GoGirlFinance, I list out unnecessary wedding expenses that when skipped can save couples over $1,000. #CrazyFact — the average 2013 wedding cost nearly $30K!

Onto what you’re really here for, the stories that ROCKED my week!

I love, love LOVED this post by Stefani from The Broke and Beautiful Life over at See Debt Run. She eloquently conveys how spending money on otherwise mundane expenses can be pleasurable. I feel gratitude when I pay bills at the beginning of the month because I CAN pay them. There’s no stress or fear about not being able to afford my bills, and that’s huge.

I’ve only recently discovered Kristin Wong and I’m ever-so-glad I did — she’s a gem. Her post about ways to save at the airport on Brokepedia was timely since I just committed a frugal fail at the San Fran airport. I bought a second bottle of water for my plane ride (after slamming the first one during lunch), only to find a water fill-up station IN MY GATE. Kristin would never do such a thing.

Props to John over at Frugal Rules for his first post on Daily Finance! I love me some “Game of Thrones,” so I was pretty pumped to read his post about money lessons from the epic series. John surprised me with some of the parallels he found (which were spot-on). Who knew the detestable Theon Greyjoy was actually good for something?

I enjoyed Dear Debt‘s unconventional money tips over at VOSA, especially the one about making more money instead of slashing spending. While cutting back on spending is always good money advice, focusing on it exclusively can make for a miserable lifestyle, especially when side hustles can help balance things out.

Since I would never have the stones to ask for a “good guy discount,” (or a “cool girl” discount, for that matter) I enjoyed the brazenness of The Billfold‘s article “The Art of Asking for a Discount.” My husband is pretty good at this strategy, having recently knocked down the price of a costly gadget by $25 just for asking.

Michelle of Making Sense of Cents is just plain amazing for so many reasons. Her story about saving money on wedding expenses through bartering is GENIUS. I never would have thought to trade my expertise for free or reduced-price services at my wedding. Consider my mind blown, Michelle.

You guys. It’s Friday!! #TGIF 

Frugal Win: Coffee Edition

7 Apr

Coffee at a B&B in Charles City, IA. Photo by me.

Coffee at a B&B in Charles City, IA. Photo by me.

 

Happy Monday, blogger friends! I hope everyone had a good weekend. My husband and I were busy with birthdays and home-improvement projects, but I had an opportunity to save MEGA BUCKS on gourmet coffee, the details of which I just have to share with you.

Last year, I wrote a guest post for John over at Frugal Rules about saving on java because good, strong coffee is a staple in our household. My husband and I especially like Starbucks’ bold blends like Sumatra and Espresso Roast. I stocked up on whole beans during Cyber Monday when they offered free shipping and additional discounts, paying around $7 or $8 a bag (compared to $14 per bag). That shipment experienced a delay in getting to me, so Starbucks sent me an apology email with a coupon code for 20% off my future order. Gotta love good customer service, right?

This weekend, I finally had the opportunity to use that code. Through today, Starbucks is offering 25% off most its coffees, teas and accessories, so I ordered 10 bags of coffee and used my coupon code for extra savings. I paid $78 for all this AND used a gift card I purchased at a 20-percent discount from GiftCardGranny.com to pay for it. In total, I scored nearly 50-percent off Starbucks coffee and have enough stock to sustain us for a year or so. We’re blessed to work at offices that value good coffee, so we only brew at home on the weekends.

I’m so pumped up about this frugal win that I really don’t need caffeine for energy this morning. Ha! Who am I kidding? I’m sipping on a hot cup of Sumatra as I type this.

What’s your frugal win for the weekend?

To Sell or Not to Sell

2 Apr

Photo by Diana Parkhouse via Flickr

Photo by Diana Parkhouse via Flickr

 

A few months back, my husband and I finally tackled the task of cleaning up our basement. We’ve been in our house for close to eight years and our unfinished basement has become a storage space for all the stuff we don’t want but can’t yet part with. We’ve amassed a surprisingly small amount of items but we’re both clutter-averse, so having anything down there is causing us to tick.

After throwing away empty boxes that once contained pricey purchases — HDTV, Dyson vacuum and, um, a trashcan — we were left with a few odds and ends. I’m pretty good about purging things and avoiding sentimental attachment, but even I find my heartstrings tugged by the strangest items. Case in point, the paper mâché giraffe my mom and I made for my fourth grade project. It’s about six inches shorter than me, ringing it at just under five-feet tall, and has a darling face with big brown eyes. I know I should donate him, but it’s entirely possible I’d have a breakdown at Goodwill and cause a scene, all because I can’t part with an animal composed of newspaper and chicken wire.

Next up: my wedding dress. I held onto it after the wedding because my cousin said she’d love to wear it at her wedding. She was 13 then so I knew the chances of her still wanting the dress when the time came was slim. And I was right — she’s recently engaged and looking for something tea-length. So, that leaves me with the most beautiful dress I’ve ever worn packaged professionally in a box under my stairs. There’s absolutely no reason to hold onto it, but a small part of me is afraid I’ll get pennies for it and so I haven’t made an effort to put it on the market.

That leaves a couple boxes of items my mom gave me from my childhood. They contain Disney plates collected by my grandma and porcelain carousels that I collected when I was little. I have no use for these things and yet I have a hard time parting with them, mostly because I know my grandma cherished the plates and my mom spent good money on the carousels. It almost feels selfish to just sell them.

AND YET…the alternative is to keep them boxed up and unloved. I could make a little money by selling them to someone who will hopefully love them as much as I did. Is that so wrong? It’s not, I know, and yet as I searched for the going rate of these items on eBay, I realized another problem: I’m horribly impatient. Other people around the country are selling these same items and who knows how long they’ve been posted for sale. Somehow, the prospect of making money isn’t as strong as the desire to get these items out of my house. I could easily donate the carousels to Goodwill and try to re-gift the plates to someone who’s really into Cinderella.

My recent foray into online consignment has further discouraged me from selling my stuff through the Interwebs. A few commenters have convinced me to try Facebook and I recently joined a few local community groups that buy, sell and trade with each other. I haven’t taken the leap into photographing and offering my wares for sale, but one of these days it’s going to happen.

Do you put off selling items like me, or do you enjoy the process? What’s your favorite method of exchanging stuff for cash?

Save on Spring Cleaning

19 Mar

Happy Spring! I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see leaves and green grass again. I’m not the biggest fan of winter and I pretty much count the days ’til spring starting in January. It’s been a long time coming!

With spring comes the desire to dust, disinfect and otherwise declutter our living spaces. I got a head start on this project a few weeks again when I discovered the scrubbing power of water and microfiber towels. I shared that tip and a few others on Daybreak this morning with Kim Posey.

What’s your favorite money-saving hack for spring cleaning?

Change Your Luck: 6 Spending Habits to Kick Today

17 Mar

Photo by Hillary Ryland via Flickr

Photo by Hillary Ryland via Flickr

For most of us, it takes a lot more than luck to build wealth and avoid debt. Being on a budget is easier said than done, especially when temptation lurks around every corner. Some budget busters are more or obvious than others, like grocery shopping while hungry, buying what you can get for free, or using retail as therapy for a larger issue.

But what about all those little-discussed things that continue to drain your pot of gold? In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, avoid being shamrocked by these bad habits and kick them for good!

Not Making the Call

Cable companies often set you up with their latest promotion after you call to gripe about a price hike. Comparing auto insurance policies every time you’re up for renewal is a good practice since rates can vary between providers. Despite these truths, many of us put off making the call or can’t be bothered to get a few quotes, resulting in lost money. Take a few minutes out of your day to cross these nagging tasks off your list!

Being Lazy About Purchases

Most of us are pretty good about comparing prices on big purchases — cars, homes, major appliances. But what about all those little items that end up draining our bank accounts? These days, you can find an app or website to help you compare prices on just about anything. Printer ink, for example, can usually run you $20 or $30, but a website called InkjetWilly.com shows you were you can buy ink for less than $10. Similarly, Kayak.com is well-known for saving travelers time and money on airfare by comparing prices and recommending purchase times.

Giving Into Pressure

The urgency associated with marketing messages can push even the strongest among us to make an unnecessary purchase. BOGO, 50-percent off and other tempting offers seem too good to pass up, but guess what? They always come back around. Same goes for the persuasive people in our lives who declare that dress was “so made for you!” or attending the out-of-town bachelorette party is a must. If you find yourself vulnerable to temptation, unsubscribe from those retail messages and tell pushy friends and family to ease up.

Avoidance

The sooner you learn more about investing, the more quickly you can put your knowledge to practice and build wealth. Similarly, the sooner you make a decision about attending your cousin’s wedding, the sooner you can find reasonable prices on airfare and accommodations. These examples are not random — I AM GUILTY OF AVOIDANCE. It’s easy to put off decisions because we don’t want to deal with them. Doing so, however, will cost us more in the long run.

Letting Ego or Pride Decide

When you’re on a budget, paying a premium for the sake of pride is a petty move. I’ve heard people claim to be “grossed out” by thrift shops or too overwhelmed by discount retailers. Others are afraid to admit where their purchases came from (hence the popularity of rebranding Target “Tar-jey”). Using coupons doesn’t make you cheap, either; it’s called being frugal and financially responsible. In essence, get over yourself and take advantage of deals and savings when you can.

Spaving

Yes, it’s actually a term (though Webster has yet to recognize it). “Spaving” describes the practice of spending to save and is increasingly used by retailers in their advertisements. Just this week I received an email with the phrase “the more you spend, the more you save!” Um, no – the more you spend, the more you SPEND. Recognize these messages as the marketing ploys they are and don’t bite!

What spending habits do you struggle with? How do you deal?

Stories That Rocked My Week – #4

7 Mar

Happy Friday, everyone! Is anyone else pumped about Daylight Saving Time this weekend? I know it’s lame but I personally can’t wait for the longer evenings, even if that means sacrificing an hour’s worth of sleep. Who’s with me?!

Photo by Martin Pettitt via Flickr

Photo by Martin Pettitt via Flickr

 

Here are the posts that rocked my week:

Having gushed about my newfound love for water and microfiber towels as the ultimate cleaning duo, TidyMom‘s “10 Simple Tips to Be Greener At Home” represents a well-timed read. It didn’t occur to me that my new favorite cleaning method has already reduced the ridiculous amount of paper towels I typically use while cleaning. Go me. 

I’m obsessed with pruning and paring down my closet (only to build it back up again in times of weakness — FAIL), so Frugal Portland‘s “The Essential Items in a Minimalist Closet” caught my eye. A witty exchange about the merits of the Canadian tuxedo commenced after Kathleen teased me about owning too much denim.

I’m a big fan of Wendy over at GirlMeetsDebt, and her post celebrating Women’s Power Wednesday introduced me to two new bloggers (which I love!) and reinforced the awesomeness of the ones I already follow.

Continuing my minimalist wardrobe kick, I stumbled upon SaveSpendSplurge‘s “Principles of a Practical and Functional Minimalist Wardrobe” and proceeded to be utterly blown away by the amount of detail contained in the post. She seriously deserves some kind of award for this advice!  

Andrew’s post asking “Are We Overworked?” at LivingRichCheaply had me reminiscing about a time when I thought climbing the corporate ladder through long hours and mega-stress was a reasonable way to live. I’m so thankful NOT to be in that place anymore.

Paul Angone’s list of “TwentySomethingProblems” at All Groan Up is humorous, insightful and at times poignant. Though I’m on the fast-track toward my thirties (turning the big 2-9 this year), I could relate with quite a few of Paul’s gripes. 

Good weekend, everyone!