Monday, December 31

Welcome: A Blog Overview for 2008

Treasure MapHi. Since I've been blogging for quite a while now I thought I'd create a resource page for new visitors...

First, I'm not even going to try to define frugality. It seems to mean different things to different people. Perhaps this is based on whether they are being frugal by necessity or frugal by choice. I'm betting that there are many shades of gray between the two though.

Fun Posts
Perhaps the best place to point you, the new visitor, is to some fun blog posts so that you'll get a good impression and come back for more:

It appears that I've been too busy to have fun recently, so I endeavor to have more fun in 2008!

Serious Posts
Frugality isn't all fun and games you know. Here are some posts that take a look at some larger issues:The perspectives category will help you identify some other thoughtful posts.

Frugal Foods
Okay, enough fooling around, for those that need to save money, this is the real deal. Here are some frugal food ideas with thoughts about how to stay healthy as well:For even more meal ideas see the cheap food and recipe categories.

2007 In Review
On a personal note, 2007 was a big year for me. I met my significant other and we've settled down and started a family! Somehow Frugal Mom was able to put up with me and my frugal ways. Now that I have a family I'm planning to get a real job and work on building my Internet empire, but only in my spare time.

It isn't really obvious, but I'm the guy behind the Grokodile blog directory. Please add your blog, in your own city, and then edit your detail page. You're blog will be ranked in your community and as well by whatever tags you define on your detail page. How cool is that? Unfortunately, while cool, it's not cool enough to supplant the need for a day job. Sigh.

As a bit of a pointer for other people trying to monetize their blogs here are some potentially interesting facts:
  • Frugality is not a good niche for revenue generation. My best performing post, in terms of Adsense eCPM, was titled Cheapest Personal Loan. Too bad it never got much traffic though.
  • My traffic levels have been rising during the course of the year. I seem to be one of the top NN frugality bloggers, at least according to some lists that have been compiled, though I won't make any claims myself. I do know I have over 250 readers subscribed to my feed (it varies a lot).
  • My efforts to monetize this blog have been endless. At one point I even considered using a pay per post company, but there was no way to take offers without destroying the nature of my blog. Just recently, I've put AdBrite on this site, but I don't have any results I can report on as of yet. I'm also looking into Ads-Click. I had activated their code but it didn't seem to work for MSIE.
  • As far as I can tell, the post that earned the most Adsense revenue in 2007 was about my Diet and Weight Loss Results. The CTR was not very good, but it seems a lot of people are interested in dieting.
  • The affiliate program that brought me the most revenue in 2007 was MyPoints. I simply review my own progress to date and present a link to their site. It's only a few dollars a month so I don't know if it's really worth it.
I'm not sure where the quest for monetization will take me in 2008. I do know that if traffic levels continue to rise I should eventually be able to cover my monthly food expenses.

Anyway, back to issues of a non-monetary nature. If you have any ideas, suggestions or questions, feel free to join the Frugality Steering Committee by leaving a comment. Of course, I'd be more than happy if you'd add your thoughts to any blog post -- that's the real reward for being a blogger.

Welcome to my world,
Frugal Guy

P.S. If you are curious, I've already posted my resolutions for 2008.

Saturday, December 29

Frugal Resolutions 2008

Happy New Year!It's time to look at the past year and figure out how we might be able to do better with our choices and our lives. It's not always a fun process, but then, that's probably a signal that it is something worth doing.

At the moment I have two resolutions. Well, I have at least steeled my resolve and come to accept that they are things I must do:

  • Rejoin the rat race.
  • Improve my dietary habits.
Starting with the second, my diet has been atrocious lately. From the stress of pregnancy (my partners, not mine) to the sleeplessness of having a newborn, I've been pushed out of my habits. Never mind the fact that Christmas season and visiting relatives have been added to the mix. Needless to say both how much I've eaten and what I've eaten have been somewhat out of control.

As for the first, I had been telecommuting from home part time as well as working on developing an online income. Since frugal people are so stingy, I certainly haven't been making anything from this blog! More seriously, my web efforts have slowly started to bring in more income, but they aren't enough to rely on alone. So, with historic debts still hanging around my neck, it is time to enter the rat race and throw some income at things for a good while.

On the eating habits front, I intend to start another calorie cycling diet. I've blogged about this before, it's basically alternating low calorie periods with normal calorie periods -- and I've had success with it before. For work, I'm very much trying to break out of my previous career path and slip into somewhat of a new field. Of course, that makes my job search all the more challenging. We'll quickly see how that goes once the new year starts.

Best of luck in 2008!

Saturday, December 22

Being Broke For Christmas

Christmas can be a very stressful time. It's supposed to be a time of friendship, family, goodwill and plenty of other positive things, but it isn't that way for everyone.

One category of Christmas sufferers includes those that are unemployed and broke.

When in this situation, you won't be sitting around enjoying yourself, but instead you are frustrated. It's nearly impossible to search for or get a job right around the Christmas season. It costs money to drive and visit relatives, or to buy food to host a family get together. You can't afford to buy things you need, much less Christmas ornaments, stocking stuffers and a myriad of other incidental items that have people crowding the stores in their last minute search for a special do-dad or knick-knack.

If you have a relative that isn't happy around Christmas, doesn't participate in gift exchanges, and is reluctant to go visit relatives during this season, it doesn't have to mean they are a crusty old hermit. They just might not feel they have the resources to deal with all the expenses. A tank of gas here. A bottle of windshield washer fluid there. A bag of chips or other snacks. A bottle of booze for the host, because you can't show up empty handed.

It's easy to forget, but everything costs money, and when you don't have any of it, the things that most people no longer even give a second thought, are a cause for concern.

Best wishes for the holidays everyone...

Sunday, December 16

Winter Daydreams

It's SnowingIt's cold, windy and snowing outside today. We've had perhaps six good inches of snow and large fluffy drifts are starting to accumulate here and there.

It's great!

Grandma and Grandpa have come to visit us for the holidays, so we are all sitting around talking, watching Christmas shows on television, and taking turns cooking meals. We don't have anywhere we have to be or anything we have to do.

The newspapers are being perused, books are being read, stories are being told, the baby is being pampered and the pets are being appreciated.

Winter daydreams are free.

Friday, December 14

Switching to AdBrite?

I've decided to give AdBrite a try.

Some features that I like:

- I can choose to approve every ad - though I may or may not want to.

- I am able to enter my Adsense code - so they can show it if they can't beat my Adsense revenue.

- You are allowed to have both Adsense and Abrite ads at the same time if you want.

Why not try it? Being frugal doesn't mean that I don't want to earn income!

Wednesday, December 12

Winter Chili Soup Stew

Chili RulesFirst, an apology to vegetarians. There was no shortage of meat in today's dinner. I have to say though, I do respect people who feel strongly enough to make this choice. I'll never be a vegetarian, but when they invent fake meat, perhaps cloned and grown in vats, I'll buy it.

Anyway, back to the evening meal...

I was thinking maybe some chili would be nice. Brown up some spicy beef and then fire up the old stock pot. Dig around the kitchen and find various types of beans. So, kidney beans and some mixed bean medley. Throw in some chicken vegetable soup. Cut up some turkey meatballs and throw them in. A dollop of barbecue sauce. A splash of olive oil. Leftover rice. Maybe a can of mushroom soup instead of something tomato based for a change. Various spices. Vegetables if you like them.

It was excellent!

Making chili or stew seems like a recycling project. You can toss in a bunch of leftovers, have a nice meal, and then put a whole new bunch of leftovers back in the fridge or freezer. What fun.

Tuesday, December 11

Fighting Freezer Burn

Vaccuum sealed meatsRecently, when I asked for topic ideas, Liz (who blogs about global poverty) suggested I talk about how to stop freezer burn.

C'mon, fess up.

I know you've had to throw out food because of freezer burn. It's okay, we've all done it from time to time. Obviously, throwing away food is not frugal, no matter how cheap it was when it was purchased.

So, have you ever wondered why ice cubes shrink in the freezer?

It's because water ever so slowly sublimates (goes directly from ice to vapor) and then eventually turns to frost inside your freezer. Of course, many fridges are frost-free, but the process still happens. Anyway, as water leaves the ice cubes they slowly shrink.

When water sublimates out of your food, such as frozen meat, vegetables or your favorite chocolate ice cream, the food dries out and suffers freezer burn.

The best way to prevent this is to prevent the food from coming into contact with air while it is in the freezer. Some things to consider include:

  • Squeeze the air out of any packaging before sealing it.
  • Use thick enough plastic, some seem to "breathe" while in the freezer.
  • Freeze long term items, such as a summer fishing catch, in a bag of water.
  • Eat the ice cream faster - or buy smaller containers.
Official government sites say that food that has suffered freezer burn is still safe, but as you probably know, it won't taste that good.

Funny thought. How does the government know that the food you put in the freezer was safe to eat in the first place? ;)

Saturday, December 8

The Frozen Food Store

Mmmm, Frozen FoodsYesterday night we went for another visit to the frozen food store. It's an awesome little place.

We now have various meats, fish, soup, frozen fruits and other goodies piled high in the freezer. This will last well into January.

While the price is great, it feels even better to have a fully stocked freezer than it does to save a few dollars.

Is there a low priced frozen goods store in your town?

Friday, December 7

New Feature On Grokodile

The Grokodile blog directory has an interesting new feature.

It ranks blogs based on custom defined category tags!

Here is how you can participate:

  1. Add your blog to the appropriate location.
  2. When viewing your listing click the detail link.
  3. Define some appropriate tags.
It's that easy.

How does it work? Grokodile uses Quantcast traffic statistics to provide automated blog rankings. This is cool. Once more people are participating it will be easy to see how we are doing with respect to our category peers.

Where does your blog rank?

Currently, I rank #1 (perhaps since I am the only one) for personal finance.

Thursday, December 6

The Grinch Saved Christmas

Oh Christmas TreeOh oh, looks like Frugal Guy is on another societal issues bent...

The other day, while watching Kramer on Mad Money, he made a comment about one of his children needing an iPod. He was surprised because she already owned one. Nevertheless, she felt it was necessary to get another one, because she really needed a blue one!

I guess that is on the Christmas list!

While this is important from an investment perspective, as it identifies how consumers relate to Apple's products, it also offers an insight into current day society and the rampant infiltration of consumerism.

Do you ever stop to think about how much time, money and effort is invested in advertising cool things to children and teens? Heck, matters are made worse by the fact that most children are raised using the television as a babysitter. Corporations are pushing our want buttons even before we are able to speak.

I distinctly remember, as a young child, wanting a brand of cereal because the commercial made it look so fun. Of course, fun and breakfast have nothing to do with the brand of cereal you buy, but it worked. Hey, when we are young we aren't really able to deal with subtle deception in this way. However, as I was saying, when I was eating breakfast I thought of the commercial and experienced a letdown.

This was the very beginning of my ability to decipher consumerism. I've been peeved at business practices ever since. I'm kind of joking, don't worry. How about using cartoon characters in order to entice children into smoking? Is anybody happy about that practice? There is an entire litany of misdeeds done in the name of shareholder profits -- and it really stinks.

Anyway, it struck me this morning that while the Grinch is certainly a dastardly fellow, sneaking around and stealing children's toys, he helps reinforce an important message. The Christmas season is about friends and family, taking time to let people around you know you care, and getting together for plenty of fattening celebratory meals.

My point?

It's the corporations that are stealing Christmas! Spending money on people doesn't prove that you care for them. Giving children whatever they want, whether or not you can afford it, does not help them develop an appropriate sense of self worth. It also doesn't impart an appropriate sense of money management.

It's up to us, as parents, to make sure we help our children learn to deal with all aspects of their lives. Consumerism, and the corporations pushing it, do not have our best interests at heart -- never forget that.

Note: Part of this week's Festival of Frugality over at Plonkee Money.

Tuesday, December 4

Cheap and Lazy Snack

Bowl of rice...Based on my previous post, about being a new father, I'm sure it is no surprise that I find myself with less time and energy than I am used to.

Anyway, here's the scoop.

Grab a bowl of left over rice. Hopefully, if you cook up lots of rice at a time like a good frugal person would, you'll have one sitting in the fridge much of the time.

Jazz it up a small amount with some BBQ sauce. It's good cold too... so don't waste any time heating it up!

If you find something faster and cheaper that requires less work, please let me know! :)

Sunday, December 2

Hello World

Ready To TravelHello everyone. I'm keeping the Frugal Guy a little busy these days.

Here I am in a hand made outfit, thanks to my great grandma, ready to come home from the hospital.

Mom, Dad and I are all healthy and happy, though a little busy and tired.

Sunday, November 25

Nov 2007 MyPoints Update

Big Bucks, No Whammies!Well, as you can see, I haven't been applying myself very dilligently. It's a busy time right now and, frankly, I don't have the time to view and respond to all of the incoming email messages. So, slow progress on the points. Oh well.

For the rare person that hasn't heard of mypoints...

MyPoints is a rewards program (sign up) that lets you earn points in various ways. Earned points can be redeemed for gift cards from many brand name retailers. It is quite easy to earn points, even without spending any money, but of course it certainly helps if you do already buy things online.

Most people, unlike a Frugal Grinch like me, are probably buying lots of items online during the holiday season, and could be getting points for nearly everything they buy!

For the Grinchly, MyPoints will send you email messages outlining various offers and opportunities. For viewing the email and clicking through to the offer you will receive points -- no spending required. I've been doing this half-heartedly for approximately three months and you can see my "bankroll" pictured above...

EDIT: I should note that if you do already make purchases online then you'll want to consider MyPoints. You can earn points by finding your products via their affiliated retailers while earning any points that your credit card may already be providing. It's a way to double dip, assuming you find the right products at competitive prices.

Saturday, November 10

The Price of Oil

What's the price?If you have been watching spot market prices you might say the price of oil is approaching $100 per barrel. However, as someone interested in economics I can assure you that the price of oil is far lower than it's cost.

Wait, how can the price of something be lower than it's cost?

Simple, there are often hidden costs attached to products, or the use or manufacture of those products, that are not reflected in the purchase price. For example, consider a can of Raid. It's price might only be several dollars, but there is an environmental cost which is hard to measure. If someone in your family eventually gets sick because of the chemicals, the hidden costs are astronomical.

Unfortunately, we all play this game of russian roulette every day. We burn gasoline every day, spewing exhaust, while we drive to and from work. We send people underground to dig for coal so that we can light our homes and watch television all day long. We generally buy agricultural products that have been grown with pesticides, chemical fertilizers and so forth.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against technology and I don't regret advancements brought by science. That isn't where I'm going with this at all.

So, let me ask you again, what is the price of oil?

As well as the $100 per barrel, maybe less and maybe more, there are other costs we will be paying. Can you name one? Although it has become quite political in some areas, there is the potential cost of global warming to heap on top of this. To many people this cost is simply astronomical. You don't have to be an environut or even a tree hugger to understand that prices and costs are not equal.

Oil, especially cheap oil, with most of it's costs hidden from our view, is really the fuel that has allowed the world to flourish. Cheap and convenient, this portable energy has given us all a lot of freedom. We've become addicted to it, to the point that we can't even imagine a lifestyle that doesn't revolve around it. Until very recently, at least.

Finally, with oil becoming relatively expensive, we are beginning to seriously consider alternatives. It's about time!

It is getting harder and harder for large corporations, earning billions of dollars every year, to convince us that there are no cost effective alternatives. Wind power, solar power, bio-fuels, hybrid cars, LED light bulbs and other technologies are all starting to get serious attention. I'll say it again, it's about time!

Even if you are someone that has been swayed by the corporate sponsored messages that suggest global warming is a myth, surely you have to realize that clean alternatives to oil are a good thing? Surely the production of less chemical byproducts and the production of less gaseous waste is a good thing? You don't have to be a tree hugger to see this, do you?

If you aren't convinced by issues such as global warming, as many right wing people aren't, let me put the price of oil into terms that might reach you. What do you think is the source of funding for regimes in the Middle East? Nice going Einstein, depend on people that hate you and give them the money they need to wage war with you. No offence, but that is stupid. For you right wing folks who need a reason other than the environment, you can get to work calculating the costs of oil based on military costs, loss of life and strife in the world.

Anyway, with what might be good reasons to convince both left and right, let me get back on topic.

The price of oil, without even considering it's true total cost, is high enough to start changing the world for the better. There are hybrid cars appearing on the market. There are flexible solar panels being created by something similar to a giant inkjet printer. There are sources of ethanol other than corn. Not too long ago a white light LED was finally invented.

We have the technologies. People are starting to produce them in quantity. We are finally going to be able to buy them because they are priced competitively. This is what is known as a tipping point. Once we really start buying these products, so that economies of scale can be achieved, the prices will start dropping. Incredible amounts of money will be spent researching newer and better products as well as newer and better ways to manufacture them.

This new wave of green technologies will suddenly develop enough inertia to drive out the oil based technologies of today. Will it happen in five years, a decade, or a generation? I don't know the answer to that, but I will say it again, it's about time!

Friday, November 9

Frugal Home Winterization Tip

Knock KnockHere's a quick experiment for you to try. On a cold day move your hand around the edges of your door. I'll wait while you go and do this...

So, did you find a soft cold wind around any edges or corners? If you live in an older home, or perhaps a neglected rental, then the odds are good that you will.

Guess what, that cold wind may be invisible, but it's money! It might not feel like much, but with cold air flowing into your home 24x7, you are wasting a lot of heat energy. Maybe you haven't noticed but the cost of heating oil, or other alternatives, has not been getting any cheaper lately.

Anyway, the attached picture is an example of a recent home project of my own. You might not be able to tell but I'm using a thin plastic foam instead of a clear plastic film. If you look closely you'll see (yeah, sure you will) that I've cut small slices in the foam and used painters tape to hold it in place. This is surprisingly useful.

Tip: Cut a slice in the foam then sneak half a strip of tape through. Half the tape will stick to the object behind the foam while the other half will hold the foam. Be careful not to damage the material under the foam when you cut the slices into it.

Again, looking at the picture, you'll see that the foam covers the entire width of the door which allows it to block air flow around the door. Yes, the door does still open - the foam is flexible! Can you guess what I used?

Nope, it's not that.

It's hardwood floor underlay. You can buy rolls of it at your hardware store at a reasonable price since it isn't sold as a seasonal winterization kit. The painters tape will obviously be there too.

This door was the first project and I've since covered a couple of windows as well. Obviously, the plastic foam is translucent instead of transparent, so don't use it anywhere you'll want to look out of.

Finally, I'd give you another experiment, but you probably don't have any thin foam lying around the house. If you do, put your hand on a cold window and see how much heat it absorbs from your hand. Then, put a thin layer of foam over the window and do it again.


Want to see my other winterization tips?

Monday, November 5

Infused Oils

Confused oil? What?

While it might sound a bit fancy, infused oils have other flavorful ingredients mixed into them. Commonly, you will find olive oil infused with various herbs or spices. If you grow your own herbs or spices you can certainly infuse at home, but since you don't need to use much at once it isn't very expensive to purchase either.

Make your own instructions...

The flavor I'm most familar with is extra virgin olive oil infused with rosemary. While it's great for use when roasting sliced potatoes, perhaps with salt and pepper, you can also use it anywhere the flavor won't be completely overpowered.

For example, the other day while using up some leftover rice, I used a spoonful of rosemary olive oil while frying it. It added a nice delicate flavor to the rice. Another alternative would be to go for some type of hot pepper infused oil, which would go with just about anything... though I have fried chicken on my mind at the moment.

Saturday, October 20

Saving With Vegetables

Carrots!  Munch, Munch.I've explored the idea of saving money by cutting food costs more than a few times.

For example, I've talked about cheap staple foods such as rice or beans, low priced meats such as ground beef, eating less overall via calorie cycling, and I've posted lots of example recipes.

Today I'm going to give another perspective on improving health while saving money. As we all know, many people, whether living frugally or not, could use a bit of help managing their health. Perhaps they could stand to eat more vegetables, improving their nutritional status, while losing a little bit of weight. Well, guess what, that's today's topic.

When you have a casual meal what are the most expensive parts? Usually it will be the chicken, fish, meat or whatever your main source of protein is. Other dishes, containing vegetables, rice, potatoes or beans can be a lot cheaper. However, the food you don't need to cook and that you don't eat is the cheapest of all.

What? Have I gone crazy again?

No, no, bear with me. Remember growing up and having a salad before dinner? There are a lot of good reasons for doing that. Perhaps many of you still do. I can pretty much guarantee that tons of people living alone, or that tons of people that don't like vegetables, or that tons of people who don't have a lot of patience with cooking no longer do that.

Perhaps this is a result of our time constrained convenience driven lifestyle.

In cany case, when we start a meal with foods that are not calorie dense, such as vegetables, we not only get some good nutrition at a low price, but we start the process of filling up before we start scarfing down all the high calorie and high price items. If we do things right there is a good chance we will start to feel full soon enough to end up eating less altogether. If you are one of the masses with pants that are a bit too tight -- this is a great strategy.

It's a way to feel full, to enjoy your meal, while not spending as much on food, while cutting a few calories, and improving your nutritional profile. Of course, you do have to make sure you don't slather on too much oily dressing, cheese, or other high calorie or high expense add-ons.

Now, if you are like me, a complete salad is sometimes too much time and effort. You have to buy all the ingredients, keep them in the fridge, chop them up, and so forth. Sometimes that just isn't going to be convenient. I'll give you two options to help you get around this problem:

1) Make a huge portion of salad and keep it in the fridge for several days. For example, shred some lettuce, slice some green peppers, onions, radishes, carrots, celery, mushrooms, or whatever you have and throw them in a container you can seal. Pour on some ranch dressing mix, dry, from the package, and maybe some apple cider vinegar. This tastes great, the vinegar keeps it fresh, and you have it available for snacking any time.

2) Buy some carrots, or some other vegetables that are nearly ready to eat, and keep them on hand. Simply snack on a few carrots before your meal, perhaps while cooking it, to help you fill up a bit faster. You may want to switch around which vegetables you are filling up on, but you won't be able to use time and convenience as an excuse with this option ready and waiting.

There you go! Save money, lose weight, and improve your nutritional status. Don't say I've never done you any favors...

Oct 2007 MyPoints Update

Try MyPointsIt's time to blog about my progress with MyPoints again.

Woohoo, I'm up over 800 points now!

I'd have to look to be sure, but I think at 2000 points I'll qualify for a small denomination gift card...

Monday, October 15

Baby Aspirin and Fish Oil?

Fish OilToday's post is a bit of a health tip. I guess it's somewhat of a mind meld between the fitness site I'm working on and thoughts of frugality. How many of you have joint discomfort? I don't mean outright pain, but occasional discomfort presumably caused by inflammatory conditions.

Sometimes my knees bug me. I've been taking concentrated fish oil, which everyone knows is very good for you for many reasons, as it helps deal with issues of inflammation. This has been working well for me. However, one of the people on my new fitness site pointed out some studies concerning aspirin and fish oil.

To make a long story short, high quality fish oil can be expensive. Especially if you are taking a reasonable dosage for specific benefits. It might, and I have to stress that it is too early to make conclusions, just be able to reduce the amount of fish oil you need to take and save you some money while providing increased health benefits.

When it comes to health issues, as I have no credentials, I enjoy speculating. In this case, I can't help but wonder if the synergistic effect between aspirin and Omega-3's begins to explain some of the cardio-protective health benefits often associated with low dose aspirin?

UPDATE: The fitness site idea has long since vanished. Sorry for the broken link that was up for a while.

Saturday, October 6

How To Stretch Ground Beef

Mmmm. Ground Beef!I was looking through my log files a moment ago and found that a visitor had arrived using this search term. Being a ground beef afficionado, and knowing it might represent someone who is facing a lean stretch, I thought I'd try to address this question. As always, any comments or suggestions are very welcome.

Anyhow, a simple suggestion if you only need to make some ground beef go further due to an unexpected guest, is to add beans. Kidney beans, romano beans, mixed beans, it really doesn't matter. A little bit of garlic, cayenne pepper, hot sauce or whatever and you are good to go. Mushrooms also go well with beef if you happen to have some around. I don't cook it often but a meatloaf would be another way to get a bit of extra mileage also.

If you are trying to stretch ground beef as far as possible due to a lean period, then I'd opt for something like chili. Ground beef, lots of beans, spices and the big stretcher, scads of rice. Cook the beef and then just dump everything into a large pot and simmer it all as long as needed. I've made various posts about how cheap rice is and how convenient a rice cooker is - so check out the post categories and I'm sure you can't miss that. You could also add a bit of ketchup, BBQ sauce, onions, peppers, leftovers, soup, or whatever else is handy and available.

A big pot of chili can be split up and frozen in meal sized containers. Perhaps serve something like a good splat of chili, a side of baked potato and some vegetable greens to round out the plate. Cheap, cheap and cheap, with lots of nutritional value as well.

A different direction to go would be to make some gravy with your ground beef. You'll end up with something approaching a stroganoff, it really doesn't matter much if you are following any formal recipes, just that it tastes good and is healthy as well. Because this is very rich tasting you can dollop some on top of something that would otherwise be too plain, such as a plate of rice. Again, a little bit of fruit and/or vegetable on the side and you've got a full belly on the cheap with good nutritional value.

I hope my visitor was only looking to stretch a meal for an unexpected guest or two, but given the background of my blog I thought I'd play it safe. Good luck out there!

P.S. Once you have chili, try one of my simple favorites. Butter some toast and then slather some leftover chili on top of it. You can warm the chili up if you want, but it tastes great right out of the fridge too. How's that for convenience?

Friday, October 5

New Fitness Forum

Join Fitness-IWell, I've been a bit busy lately, so I haven't been able to put together a frugality minded post. However, let me tell you a little bit about where I've been putting much of my spare time.

This is a brand new independent fitness forum that I'm in the process of launching. If you are interested in getting in shape, perhaps losing weight, or maybe even gaining muscle, then sign up here and post your questions. We have some knowledgable people (including myself) who are sure to step in and offer some advice. These people might be a bit "dedicated" to health and fitness, but please don't be intimidated.

I promise to be nice to you!

Of course, you can also discuss sports or just about anything else, though in general, the site is for fitness minded people.

I hope to see you there!

Friday, September 28

Fast Simple Balanced Meal

Stagg 4 bean vegetable chiliToday's meal idea is brought to you by the words "tired" and "lazy". Hey, it's Friday night, I don't want to spend any significant time cooking tonight. Besides, we had a nice roast with baked potatoes just a few days ago.

As you can see, the main time saver was the 4 bean chili. Cook up some tricolor pasta, dump in the chili and toss in some shredded leftover meat. Bam, ten minutes for the pasta to cook, dump, mix, serve. Done.

There you go, a cheap and fast meal with protein, vegetables and fiber which is even low in fat. Who says frugal has to be inconvenient? Yeah, okay, I know the can of chili might have been a cheat job. I'm okay with that.

Thursday, September 27

Sep 2007 MyPoints Update

Join the 'fun' :)Not too long ago I posted about joining MyPoints. Now, dutifully, most mornings, I'll wake up and plunk myself in front of my computer to read my email.

Hey, it's not like I have much brainpower at that time! So, while I'm peeling my eyes open and revving up the hamster wheel powered cranium, I click on their messages and visit some websites that I'm almost never going to purchase anything from. While this sounds pretty hum-drum, I'm liking it.

Hmm, didn't I just write something about consumerism? Does the phrase "I'm liking it" remind you of a certain large company?

Anyway, to make a long story short, I'm sitting on over 450 points as of this morning. Woohoo! Another year of this and I'll qualify for a free toenail clipper or something...

Saturday, September 22

Musings On Consumerism

Available at AmazonSometimes I worry about the effects of consumerism on society.

In real terms, how much do we need? Civilizations were fat and happy in the past with a lot less than we have now. What force is it that drives us so hard? Is it as simple as status or greed?

Every day, people profess that the important things in life are truly simple things such as enjoying the company of family and friends. How can this be squared with the ridiculous spending behavior and subsequent need to earn vast incomes to then pay for it all?

Can this possibly tap into some age old instinct to hunt, to gather, and to provide? Or, instead, is our society simply built up on a house of mirrors created by manipulative messages which serve no purpose but to feed desires for things we don't actually need?

I certainly don't know.

However, I do have an insight or two based on experiences from my past. I know that no matter where I travel, or no matter what I purchase or own, I am basically the same person. Whether or not I am a happy person with a positive outlook on life comes from inside, not outside.

Sure, I can hear you now. You there, with a substantial inability to meet your financial obligations, I've been through your situation. I'm not talking to you as someone who's ridden a wave of good fortune all of my life. Seriously, believe me when I tell you that resources can certainly alleviate some sources of stress and remove a few things that lead to being unhappy, but the sad news is that removing sources of unhappiness, or amusing yourself with expensive toys, does not make you happy.

Such things are mere distractions.

How many of us are simply busy amusing ourselves, distracted, as life passes us by, while we strive for the next rung? How many of us get so busy reaching for the next rung that we don't see the end coming before it is too late to spend some time enjoying what we all believe is truly important?

I have one final question. Am I writing this for your benefit or mine?

Free Stats From Google Analytics

Anybody who takes blogging seriously keeps track of their statistics. While most people are aware of services like StatCounter, which offer basic statistics for free, Google also provides free stats services. The advantage of Google, as opposed to StatCounter, is that Google does not limit the number of raw visits that it will keep track of.

Here is a snapshot of interesting data regarding visitors to this blog:

Browser  % visits
Internet Explorer  74.93%
Connection Speed% visits

It was interesting to see how many people are using the Firefox browser (download and try , I like it) and how few people appear to be left on dialup.

Google Analytics is located here.

Tuesday, September 11

Sneaky Hidden Expenses

A beautiful waste of money?Beware! There are hidden expenses that might be built into your lifestyle. They are nearly invisible and can be hiding right under your frugal nose.

Do you have a leaky faucet? Is it dripping continously? If so, that is bad enough, especially if your water is metered, but it might be worse. Are you slowly dripping from the hot water tank or is it just cold water? Every drop of water entering the hot water tank starts out cold and uses a fair amount of energy to heat up.

While leaky faucets are easy to spot, a toilet that runs constantly may not be. While the wasted water won't be heated it can still run through gallons of water a day and end up affecting your utility costs.

Perhaps most insidious is the fancy combination faucet. You know, the ones that you pull up to the right or to the left depending on whether or not you want cold or hot water? Guess what, they generally are easiest to use if you simply pull up the middle. Filling a glass, flip, straight up. Yes, though you may not run it long enough to notice, you are getting half heated water and half cold water.

Sure, these faucets look nice, but they take conscious effort to use without inadvertently wasting hot water.

Check your home and see if you have faucets that are spending your money on your behalf. If so, exert the discipline to train yourself to use them more efficiently, and then if it is replacement time, find a faucet that both looks nice and isn't designed to throw your money down the drain.

Note: Part of this week's festival of frugality.

Friday, September 7

Frugality Steering Committee

Hello, how may I help you today?

No, I'm not practicing my skills for a customer service position. I'm simply wondering what you would like me to write about next.

This is your chance to be a member of the frugality steering committee. How? Simply by voicing your opinion.

What aspects of frugality most interest you?
Were you just looking for a cheap and healthy meal?
Did you hope to find a useful household tip?
How far into finance should frugality blogs go?

If you have any requests, suggestions or thoughts on the subject of frugal living, please leave a comment for me. I can't guarantee I'll write about or even know about the things you mention, but maybe I will.

Thank you. Have a nice day.

Wednesday, September 5

Exercising At Home

Staying FitOh oh. Now that I've moved further out of the city it is no longer that convenient to drive downtown to visit the gym. I'm not always willing to drive half an hour each way.

I've been fighting this conclusion, perhaps in denial, for a couple of weeks now.

However, all is not lost. It isn't that hard to find bodyweight exercises that can be done at home. Also, while overheating can be an issue - even with a fan, the cooler fall season is approaching.

Here are some ideas:

Stair Climbing
They didn't invent the stair climber machine for nothing. This is great exercise and nothing is stopping you from walking up and down your stairs, at a reasonable pace and carefully, until you get winded or tire out.

Squats or Knee Bends
You'll want to practice "good form" while doing these. This means that it would be a good idea not to round the back. Since I throw a barbell on my shoulders when I squat at the gym, it will be important for me not to adopt a sloppy movement pattern. If simple squats are too easy then progress to one legged squats, known as pistols.

Push Ups
Everybody knows what pushups are. Do them from your toes if you are able to, if not, you can do them using your knees as the pivot point.

Shoulder Raises
I'm not sure if there is an official name for this, but if you hold your arms straight out to the sides and then raise them overhead, you'll eventually notice your shoulders and/or your traps getting sore. Congratulations, that's known as exercise.

Pull Ups
If you are fairly good shape you may be able to do pullups. There are devices that can be attached in door frames that will let you pull yourself up. However, if you are too tall it might be difficult to get a good range of motion with this exercise. Be aware, it can be very difficult for a sendentary person to achieve even one pullup, so make sure you can do one before you purchase anything.

Sit Ups
Situps, or perhaps crunches, are a well know way to work on your ab muscles. Don't even imagine that you can spot reduce by doing ab work as you can't. However, this doesn't mean you should neglect this muscle group.

Bodyweight Rows
Again, I'm not certain what to call this, but if you lie on your back you can reach up and grab your pullup bar. In reality, you'll want the bar a couple inches out of reach if you are lying down. Anyway, this move is the opposite of a pushup and will help work your back.

A bridge is when you brace your core and lift your stomach or back off the floor using your head and feet. Here is a definition on Wikipedia. This is less familiar to most people so I'll just suggest you go look it up and view online examples before trying to do them.

Running, Walking, Hiking
Depending on where you live, and your fitness level, it might be appropriate to get outdoors and move around. Heck, in the winter you can add ice scraping and shoveling to your exercise routine.

Anyway, I think you get the idea. These exercises are available to everyone at very low cost. Don't let lack of a gym membership, or the convenience of a gym, get between you and an appropriate level of fitness. Remember, health is job one, don't neglect it.

Tuesday, September 4

Top Personal Finance Blogs

Though not on this recently compiled list of the top 100 PF bloggers, maybe I could beg for inclusion?

According to this blog has a healthy 4886 visitors per month. That puts me right in the 25th slot. Woohoo!

However, I do have to admit that it's very possible that "frugality" is an entirely different blogging category. Regardless, this type of ranking provides useful feedback concerning audience size and so on.

Check out Fire Finance's list. Presumably you'll recognize same of the names, but a few sites in there might be hidden finds! At the very least, I'm sure there will be plenty of good ideas that you can put to use.

Monday, September 3

Wasting Time With Forex

Blogging about the ForexOkay, I suppose that isn't a very charitable statement, but I've been putting some of my spare time into a new hobby.

I'm the newest rookie trading on the Forex market!

It's actually kind of funny, but I can only say that in terms of entertainment value per dollar, it's actually a good deal. What do I mean by this? As a day trader I can experience the thrills and stresses of immediate gains and losses whenever I want to. It's as exciting as a good movie and as a bonus you can never tell what the ending is going to be.

Anyway, while this isn't really a frugal issue, if you are interested, I have started another blog on my efforts to learn about Forex trading.

On another note, my girlfriend and I put some small furniture pieces together this weekend. Actually, she was happy to do much of the assembly and I added a bit of muscle for the bits that weren't cooperative. She did a great job. Hmm, maybe there is a blog post in this somewhere?

Thursday, August 30

Forces Of Nature

KABOOMWow, what a thunderstorm. You can tell it was close because it woke me up. That doesn't happen very often. Anyway, I got up in the middle of the night thinking someone was knocking on the door - and I was going to go give them a piece of my mind too.

After waking up there was a very close strike. The noise was pretty much simultaneous with the flash and it shook the house. One of the computers went into emergency shutdown mode, beeping out it's shock on the way. We didn't know what had happened at the time and thought the fire alarm had started beeping. It was crazy.

This morning, after life had returned to normal, I discovered that the wireless router, which of course also sports wired connections, had bitten the dust. Apparently it had been fried. Both wired computers connected to it seem to have fried their network cards, but luckily the laptop is a free spirited wireless animal, and so, lacking a tether it survived intact.

For a while I was cursing all the commotion, the inconvenience, and the damned expense, but with a bit of time to relax I realize I'm happy that the computers didn't physically explode, nothing burned down, no people and no pets are any worse for wear. I can deal with that. Let's just hope it doesn't happen very often...

Monday, August 27

Peanut Butter Tubs

Tub O Peanut ButterI'm sure it isn't a new idea, but today, while meandering around the kitchen trying to figure out what to snack on, I realized that our tub of peanut butter was just about done. Time to open up the new one.

Ding. Ding. Ding. Frugality alert!

These things are huge, tightly sealed, and have a large enough opening to reach your hand into.

Obviously, instead of recycling them, I need to use them as stackable dry goods storage containers. Alternately, if my girlfriend won't let me use them in the kitchen, they are great for organizing miscellaneous items on the workbench. All I'll need to do is wash them well, peel the label, and I'm set.

I know they won't last forever, but I can always recycle an old one when a replacement is available.

Thursday, August 23

Extreme Frugality Meal Plan

The food pyramidThough I've posted an individual meal idea here and there I thought I'd try to organize various money saving meal ideas into a meal plan guide. These meals are for a single individual so adjust as needed. However, before providing the meal guide, I wanted to point out that when following an extremely frugal diet you must be aware of and manage various health issues. Due to their importance I am listing health issues first but you can always scroll down for the general meal guide.

Rice Issues
If you are going to get a large portion of your calories from rice, because it is so absolutely cheap, then it is imperative that you use long grain brown rice. Polished white rice has the external bran portion removed and thus it does not contain several vital nutrients. If you are simply adding rice to your diet several times a week, then it shouldn't be an issue of concern.

Also, if you do cook large batches of rice, then you must store it properly. After cooking, the unused portion should promptly be refrigerated in a sealed container. If it, the rest of the batch, is left to sit around while you prepare or eat dinner you greatly increase the risk of mold growth. Handled and stored properly your rice can last in the fridge for up to a week.

I've developed a passion for rice. Read more details about keeping rice from going bad and how I selected a rice cooker.

Oatmeal Issues
Oatmeal is generally pretty simple to deal with. You buy it, put it in a sealed container, and use it when you want it. However, the common oatmeal that is sold in many supermarkets is instant or quick cooking oatmeal. This is not the oatmeal you want. Your oatmeal should be as unprocessed as possible. You want the large flaked slow cooking variety. This gives you more nutrient value and a slower release of carbohydrates during digestion.

Protein Issues
Protein can be expensive. This is especially true if you are buying meat, cheese and milk to supply proteins. While I am not an advocate of vegetarian diets you can take steps to get complete proteins from most of your meals. For example, simply add some beans to your rice dishes. A good source of cheap beans might be a sack of dried kidney beans. However, there are many tasty bean varieties available.

Fruits and Vegetables
You simply must include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet in order to be healthy. Luckily, we don't need all that many, and they are conveniently available in mixed varieties from the frozen foods section. Use a little bit with most of your meals and try to buy different variations if possible.

Basic Supplements
This may be a bit more controversial, but I'd recommend taking two supplements when you are following a strict and possibly not varied enough meal plan. First, a general once a day multi supplement with vitamins and minerals. Second, a basic fish oil capsule so that you get your omega-3 oils. Now, if you are following the ideas above and taking these supplements you could very well be eating healthier on a frugal diet than some who frequently eat fast food.

Basic Frugal Meal Plan
You may as well start your day off with your supplements. Then, for breakfast, put a spoonful or two of frozen fruit into a bowl of oatmeal. Add milk and let sit. The oatmeal will soak up the milk and soften up. If you prefer, you could prepare this dish before going to sleep, so that you don't have to wait for the frozen fruit to thaw. Perhaps add a sprinkle of cinnamon if you like the effect. Pumpkin pie spice has also been suggested for oatmeal.

Here is a post about oatmeal being healthy and cheap.

If you need a snack before lunch, perhaps a piece of fruit or some peanuts. As long as you eat them sparingly a bag of apples or a jar of peanuts will last quite a few days.

For lunch it will be a plate of rice and beans with mixed vegetables. Obviously, if you are buying dried beans they will have to be soaked and cooked before you can use them for lunch. Generally, the weekend is a good time to prepare foods for use during the rest of the week. This is incredibly cheap and healthy, but admittedly boring. Look to spices, a slice of cheese, an egg, or perhaps some kind of soup or sauce to add flavor and variety.

If you need a snack before dinner, then again some fruit, nuts or a salad should suffice. It's also okay to have some leftovers from a previous meal if appropriate. The idea is to avoid buying expensive junk food or convenience snacks.

An example frugal snack food is roasted green peas.

Dinner will involve cooking up some meat such as chicken, beef, ground turkey or sausages. Basically, whatever was on sale for the cheapest price or left over from a recent meal. Because we are making sure to eat complete proteins by adding beans to our rice meals we can use very small portions of meat and save a lot of expense. Fry or otherwise heat up some rice, serve with beans, meat and a small portion of mixed vegetables. Spices and sauces are vital for keeping dinner interesting if you are using the same basic ingredients repeatedly.

Here are some previous meal ideas and recipes: rice recipe variations, frugal meal ideas, making chili in a 12 quart stock pot, a date worthy budget meal and making three meals for five dollars.

At first glance these ideas may seem a bit plain. However, honestly, with a bit of inspiration you can mix and match ideas to come up with a large variety of healthy and cheap meals. For example, I love leftover chili piled up on top of a piece of buttered whole grain toast! It's great for a snack or a meal.

Wednesday, August 22

Two Worlds of Frugality

Why are you frugal?I am convinced that there are two worlds of frugality. Quite simply, some people are frugal by necessity while others are frugal by choice. Sure, there may be a sliding continuum involved, but at some level you can either afford to meet your financial obligations or you can't.

Frugality by Necessity
This is the type of frugality that is imposed on an individual or a family when they clearly do not have enough money. It is possible to stave off disaster for a while with savings or perhaps even previously acquired credit. In fact, if one is lucky their financial situation may change before they even feel the pinch. However, some are not so lucky.

Whether characterized by unemployment, underemployment, low wages, some degree of illness or perhaps some other cause, frugality by necessity is tough. If someone arrives at this state from a period of better times there will be a drastic and disheartening change of lifestyle. The pressure, stress, lack of options and lack of control may lead to depression.

Frugality by Choice
On the other hand, when an individual or a family is fully employed they may still find it very hard to make ends meet. Often, in this situation, it is poor choices and wasteful habits that are the culprit when it comes to financial woes. Of course, it is certainly also possible to be frugal without having experienced any financial issues at all.

Practicing frugality when times are good will let you pursue financial goals more aggressively. Perhaps you want to purchase a home or pay down a mortgage. Maybe additional budgetary control will allow travel to exotic destinations more often. Alternately, maybe the end goal has become early retirement and a path to stepping off the hamster wheel once and for all.

Why Does it Matter?
I'm not sure it really does matter, but I suspect that we have two distinct frugal audiences. From my own period of forced frugality I know that frugality information aimed at the wrong recipient can be depressing. If you are broke, it's frustrating to hear people making wise choices in situations that are currently well beyond your reach. Of course, those that are relatively well off, even if they don't realize it themselves, probably won't be interested in more extreme cost saving measures.

Monday, August 20

Frugality: Choices and Control

Weighing choices!Life is about choices.

All day, every day, we make choices. We hear the alarm and decide to get up right away or to hit the snooze button and steal a few minutes from our day. We decide whether to have a quick shower or a long shower. We decide whether or not we need a coffee, a donut, or perhaps something healthier.

You may not realize that everything you do is a choice, but it is. Now, to be fair, you may have ceeded your choices over to habits like the rest of the population. Everyone knows we are creatures of habit. While that's true, never forget that you are still in control, that you choose whether or not to let your habits take over, each and every day. At any moment of any day you can suddenly exert yourself and change the script.

Why am I talking about habits?

If you want to become more frugal you are going to have to change some of your habits. Instead of vegetating in front of the television until it is time to go to sleep you may have to allocate a bit of time and effort getting lunch and snacks ready for the next day. That way you, and your family, can eat healthy food and save money at the same time.

With this in mind my girlfriend and I sketched out a weekly meal plan. Actually, I let her decide on what we'd have every day, while I'll look after most of the grocery shopping and cooking. So, complete with breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, we now know what's on the (planned) menu for each day. With this in hand we did a trip around the supermarket that same evening and picked up everything else we would need.

We took control.

However, as a lot of people have the wrong impression of frugality, it is important to keep in mind that this isn't deprivation. Eating well, eating healthy and saving money at the same time is an all around win. Frugality isn't just skimping and scrounging, it can also be about minimizing wasteful habits so that you have more resources available for other more important things.

What choices are you making?

Thursday, August 16

The First Job

Creditors Plans for YouThinking back, I remember the rash of financially unwise decisions I made when I got my first career job.

I had been working midnights trying to pay my way through College, but I found it impossible to maintain. So, I dropped out and finished my degree by correspondence. Anyway, at least I had applied for and gotten this job before I formally left classes.

So, I immediately became possessed by the anti-frugal. I was virtually frothing at the mouth in my rush to spend money. I needed new clothes for work. I needed a better place to live. I needed everything I'd had to deny myself since high school. It was time for a walkman. It was time to buy a nice TV. It was time to buy a nice stereo and lot's of CD's.

Of course, when I had joined the student world, the credit companies were more than happy to give me a card knowing that I'd soon be working. Once I was working and paying off my limit, they were more than happy to raise it for me. Yessir, I was exactly what the credit card companies had hoped for, and more.

I was a poor young lad who'd never had much money that had fallen into a well paying professional career. After a life of denial it was so easy to spend, spend and spend. Earning good money, it wasn't really a problem, as I could certainly make payments, but it gave me nothing for the future.

In fact, as the future turned into the present, I started to notice that I was paying for things like a vehicle, home furniture, and a virtual plethora a small purchases that quickly added up. The payments stick around for years while the items you have purchased are often used up or no longer as valuable as they had once seemed.

I should have been doing many things differently. I wish I had done things different as it would greatly improve my situation now. For one, I should have saved my money to make purchases. With a brand new job and no debts it wouldn't have taken much time at all to save up for most purchases. A little bit of financial discipline would have gone a long way. Also, I should have been investing small amounts of money every time I was paid. It really wouldn't have mattered what I had invested in, really, as whatever I had socked away would be in my pocket today.

My advice, for those that are starting or are about to start a new career, is to take control of your finances immediately. If you already have a credit card, do not run up a balance. Pay it off, if you use it at all, every month. There will be a million things you'll decide you must have, but try to delay getting them and save up one or two months of income before you start buying anything.

Make sure you start saving, both for yourself, and for your retirement, right away. When you are forced to use credit, make sure it is for things that have permanent value. It is no fun paying for something that has already been used up. Appropriate uses might be to purchase your first vehicle so you can drive to work or perhaps an inexpensive home within your price range. It might also make sense for tax reasons to consider using credit to top up a retirement savings plan. On the other hand, using credit for any type of entertainment is a big no-no.

Another no-no is to develop a feeling of invulnerability. Perhaps your skill set is in high demand and you expect to make good wages forever. Good for you. However, you can't count on it. Market forces turn. Perhaps your company and another large company full of people in your field will go belly up at the same time. Good luck finding a job in your career path if and when that happens. The lesson here is that you can't simply assume that the future will be as good as or better than the present, though of course we all hope it will be.

Also, be aware, while you are young and single, it is easy to move to another city to chase that high paying job opportunity. When you have settled down, bought a home and have gotten married or had children, it will be much more difficult to pick up and move whenever you feel like it. Things change. Be prepared for common changes and the unexpected emergencies so that their impact can be reduced.

As a parent, if you haven't, make sure you teach your children how to save up for a purchase. Make sure they have figured out how to develop some discipline with respect to spending their money. If they are fairly young, perhaps you can open up a savings account with them and then help them slowly save up enough money for something they really want.

Whatever you do, when they get old enough, have a talk with them about what they can expect to be hit with when they enter the work world. They will have a new found income giving them a lot of purchasing power and a desire to fulfill the perceived needs that they've had to deny themselves up until that point. Consider this "the other talk" and make sure it happens.

Saturday, August 11

MyPoints Trial - I'm Skeptical

I just signed up for MyPoints. Well, actually, since this is a bit of a review, I spent a week trying to sign up for MyPoints! Their silly web site kept generating an error when I filled out and submitted their registration form. I complained to their customer service email and got anything but customer service. Basically, they sent back a canned response suggesting I fill out the form and sign up.


Anyhow, after what I consider great patience on my part, which is actually quite rare, I finally signed up for MyPoints about five minutes ago. So, I can't guarantee your experience, but apparently it does work sometimes. Right now, in another browser window, I'm busy filling in my profile details for a meagre amount of additional points.

I don't know how many points I need to get rewards, but I'm sure I'll find out before too long. I do know that they, MyPoints, will send out rewards cards that you can use at various retailers. A lot of companies allow people to purchase preloaded cards, so I suspect this is just a variation of that theme.

While I imagine the best way to earn points is to purchase things online, from the retailers they are associated with, I doubt I'll be doing that. For goodness sake, I write a frugality blog, I can't just go around spending money like it grows on trees y'know. Anyway, if there are any great deals that happen to coincide with something I planned to purchase, then I might be able to make use of it.

Based on the information I've seen so far I also suspect that they spam the heck out of your email address. Viewing these offers will also apparently earn you points. Now, I'm only speculating still, so perhaps the amount of mail won't be all that bad. In any case, since I use Gmail, I don't expect much trouble with respect to managing my inbox.

A bit of scouring, in that other browser window I mentioned above, shows a long list of places that you can select from when redeeming your points. It looks like you need several thousand points before you'll amass anything worthwhile, but I don't know how achievable that is or how long it might take to do. You can sign up here if you want to but don't do anything unfrugal in order to get points.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 9

Frugal Low Carb Diet?

With all the reports of an obesity epidemic I want to avoid the sedentary lifestyle and associated health risks. So, as well as being a frugal guy, I'm also active in the gym. At times, this leads to something of a challenge.

Most of the cheap foods that I can really save money on are carbohydrates. There is nothing wrong with that, per se, but I'm going to be cutting my carbs. For my current dietary experiment I'm going to have carbs at breakfast time, but then I'll stay near zero carbs the rest of the day.

The theory here is that I won't be doing an Atkins style diet, such that I won't worry about ketosis, but that I'll keep insulin levels low for most of the day. This should result in conditions that make it difficult for my body to store circulating fats.

The problem?

Protein is expensive! I'll have to eat meats, cheeses, eggs and various other low carb foods including healthy fats.

While shopping yesterday I picked up a few items that will help me stick with cheaper meats. So, as well as the spices I always keep in the kitchen, I've added various low carb salad dressings. I find these can be less expensive than similar marinades and sauces located further down the aisle. As an example, one of the dressings I picked up is bacon and roasted onion flavor. I expect that might be good with the chicken thighs that I've stocked up on.

A couple other basic ideas are pickles and mustard. Pickles are very low carb and are great to eat before your regular meal as fillers. I am finding that the garlic pickles provide a filling sensation without activating my sweet tooth. Mustard, on the other hand, is something that can last a long time as only a little bit is really needed at a time. It's great with most cuts of beef - including ground beef.

Anyhow, while this dietary experiment will end up costing me more in terms of grocery expenses, it's what I've decided to do. So, now my job is to find frugal ways to support this plan. Frugality isn't simply denying yourself things, it's also about finding inexpensive ways to support your lifestyle choices.

Any frugal low carb tips or tricks you'd like to share?

Note: Included in this week's festival of frugality.

Monday, August 6

Selected Frugal Blog Posts #1

I thought I would give a shout out to some other frugality related bloggers. Here are a few posts, in no particular order, that I've noticed recently:

I'm hoping I'll remember to do this from time to time. I get a lot of great comments from other frugal bloggers, but I'm not as good at visiting and commenting on other blogs...

Longer Distance Strategies

Now that I've moved and live in the boonies, which may be a slight exaggeration, it's time to exercise a bit more care in terms of resource planning.

I don't wan't to run out of anything and have to make an extra trip to the store. The local store is convenient, but of course it will cost a lot more. The regular store will have better prices, though it will incur approximately 40 minutes of driving, in total.

So, the plan is to stock up a little bit. Instead of having just the one box of litter on the go we'll keep one in reserve. When we open the reserve box it is time to put litter on the shopping list. This way we have plenty of opportunity to add shopping to an existing visit to town.

Hopefully the local store will have good prices on things like milk. It's not so easy to stockpile items that spoil quickly.

Of course, on the notion of stockpiling, we have a basement and a freezer. Although still a bit crowded and disorganized from the recent move there is plenty of space in the basement to store anything that goes on sale. Hopefully I'll soon be writing about our growing stockpile of sale priced consumables.

Friday, August 3

Recent Technology Upgrades

Based on the fact that I was moving I decided to finally take the leap and perform two long overdue technology upgrades.

Wireless Networking
First, in order to facilitate connectivity and make it easier for me to be productive (which might mean hiding from the world in the basement), I've upgraded from a wired home network to a wireless one. I picked up a fairly cheap Linksys 802.11 something or other. I know, I know, for techweenies the letter is important. For me, it works, I'm connected, and that's enough.

I'm wondering if any of my frugal readers have done this or are considering this. Any questions or comments to share?

Cell Phone
Second, I finally buckled and purchased a cell phone. I used to have one, a long time ago, when they were much bigger, bulkier and had less features. Now, I've got a brand spanking new Sony Ericsson Walkman model cell phone. The idea is that I can not only use it to listen to tunes, but for long drives I can get an FM transmitter and play my music on the car stereo.

Holy cow Batman, I've entered the technology era!

Anyway, the reasoning behind the purchase is that my girlfriend and I are both on the same provider and will have free calling to each other. Heh, I can also take photo's of her when she is eating dinner, sneezing or at other similarly annoying moments. Okay, okay, that wasn't a reason, it's just a bonus.

Closing Thoughts
Once again, if you aren't a frugal afficionado yet, don't mistake frugal for hopelessly out of date and inconvenient. Frugal is just figuring out where best to spend your money to maximize your utility while using less. For example, the attic in my new home seems to be under insulated. Although it is too hot to fix right away you can be sure we'll be getting this fixed once this "heatwave" passes.

Thursday, July 26

Difficult But Liberating

When I was younger I moved a lot. Basically, as a consultant, I would work in a city for a year or so before moving on to the next assignment. I was used to fitting my life into a car and relocating it from one coast to another. One of my favorite anecdotes is the fact that the cast iron frying pan my grandmother had given me fit underneath the seat and in turn could be stuffed with small keepsakes. No inch was left unused.

Now I am moving again, but it has been years since the last time I moved. In fact, the last couple of times I moved it was within the same city so I didn't even have to pick and choose what I could take with me.

So, once again, because this move involves two lives moving into one home, I am reduced to eliminating the bulk of my minor posessions. It's difficult. Here is a bauble I bought while living in California. There is a souvenir from my trip to Australia. Look, a favorite sci-fi novel that I'd love to read again if I could. Chess peices and old record albums that my grandfather used to listen to.

Of course I'll find space for the special momentos, but there are so many other little things that are part of my life that won't make it. Clothes I don't wear very often or at all. Gifts I've never used. Kitchen items that aren't needed very often. Out of date career related text books. Furniture that won't fit. Decorative items. Collected notes, papers, magazines and records that don't have to be kept. Unused sporting goods.

Luckily, I have been through this before. I can only imagine what it is like for someone who has never had to deal with this type of issue to suddenly suffer a natural disaster like a flood. At least I can safeguard photos or other momentos and make sure they remain with me. Paring off a significant portion of your belongings is loss enough, but to have the choice be arbitrary would be a disaster.

On the plus side is the fact that after doing this you are liberated. You are freed from the memories that objects invoke. There is nothing wrong with the fact that items collect meaning, but when you clean out the clutter, removing the prompts that keep you thinking the same thoughts and memories, it frees your mind. You can look at the things around you with fresh eyes and see the world for the first time.

Okay, I've spent enough time writing this, I need to get to work sifting my belongings into treasured items that I can't part with and those items that have insinuated themselves into my life but that don't deserve any emotional attachment I may have for them.

Out with the unused computer games, unused spare pillows, organizers and shelves that have collected items that don't need to be kept. Out with the dishes that languish at the bottom of the cupboard. Out with the pots and pans that haven't seen the light of day in three years. Out with the microwave that caught fire and looks like it survived a war. Out with paperbacks I've already read two or three times. Out, out, out.

It's time to begin anew!

Tuesday, July 24

Fire Sale Prices

Well, I'm moving, so I haven't had a chance to think and write about a frugality related topic.

However, I need a bit of a break, so here is a short note.

When people are moving, such as myself, there is often a desire to simply be done with the process. Perhaps many of the things you own will not fit in your new location. Perhaps you don't want to transport your larger belongings a long distance. Perhaps you haven't left enough time and need to find a way to vacate the premises in time for the next occupant.

Myself, I've still got an entire week before I need to be gone. Yay for me!

Anyhow, I've still unloaded some of my furniture at fire sale prices. I've had it for years. I no longer need it. I won't need to replace it in the forseeable future. I don't want to have to move it.

The moral of the story? Fire sales are happening all over the planet on a daily basis. Figure out where they are and take advantage of them! Or, on the flip side, plan things far enough ahead that you aren't forced into a fire sale mentality.

Sunday, July 15

Rocks In My Head

FlagstonesI'm about to start a backyard project.

During the next few weeks, after I move in with my girlfriend, I'm planning to make a garden in the back yard, perhaps down the length of the fence. I'll need something to edge the garden - creating a border between the garden and the grass.

I think it's going to be rocks. Flat rocks.

I live near a large lake and should be able to scare up some flagstone style rocks here and there. I'm thinking maybe I can stop at one of the many small parks, wander around and relax, think up ideas for my blog, find a rock, and nab it.

Obviously the rocks will be free.

Luckily, I'm not in a hurry and don't mind if the project takes most of the summer to complete. So, I've been thinking about free rocks for weeks now...

I can't wait to get started!

Monday, July 2

Cheapest Personal Loan

Dream On!Of course, the best personal loans are the ones that have already been paid back. However, if you have the discipline required to manage your debt appropriately and you simply must use your credit, then do it as cheaply as possible.

0) If you are willing to open Pandora's Box you may consider getting a loan from your family. For example, parents may be willing to offer you an interest free loan. This is as cheap a personal loan as you will ever find... as long as you pay it back under the terms originally agreed to.

1) It might be appropriate to get a line of credit based on your home equity. A bank line of credit is basically always available to you and usually carries a pretty low interest rate.

2) If you have a good credit rating and a steady income you may simply be able to open up an unsecured line of credit with your bank. This will also generally be available all the time and carry a very reasonable interest rate. For most people I believe this will be the cheapest personal loan available.

3) A more expensive option is generally to get credit cards issued with your bank. The cheapest credit cards, if you are forced to finance something over time, are those with low interest rates. Often these cards will have an annual fee. Normal higher interest rate cards are okay if you pay them off in time and they generally won't have a fee.

4) Perhaps the most expensive option is to get a heavily advertised card that jumps to a huge rate of interest after the promotion period has ended. Of a similar nature are most store specific credit cards. Their may be a few good ones I'm unaware of but basically they all amount to a rip off. Throw them out.

5) I have to say that I don't consider the so-called check cashing services to be akin to a personal loan. The short term nature of these services and the fees imposed make it a ridiculous way to throw away your money.

On a related note, don't be afraid to shop around a bit. You can certainly open an account at a competing bank in order to get better credit and financing terms.

Anyway, there are certainly times it is appropriate to finance something, whether personally or for business purposes, and it is not just because you really want something expensive. I know that a lot of people will already know this, but there are people out there falling for these more expensive options all the time.

I'll be happy if I can help even one person be guided towards healthier credit options... even if it is only because I am disparaging something they are currently doing.

Sunday, July 1

Buying A Home: Strategy Shift

If you have been following along you might remember that I was hoping to buy a home this fall. However, as my girlfriend and I are getting quite serious, it's time to think a little more strategically.

Family Issues
Living alone, as a guy, I could live just about anywhere and be fine. However, thinking from a family perspective, there are a lot of new issues to consider. How safe is the community? Is it well lit? Are there any bars and nightclubs close by that will release streams of drunken rowdy people each weekend? What about proximity to food, gas and entertainment? Are there good schools in the area if we plan to stay long term? How long will the daily commute to work take? Would we rather live in the city, in the suburbs or perhaps even further out?

You'll notice I'm asking a lot of questions and that I don't have much by way of answers at the moment. These are just some of the things that my girlfriend and I will be considering.

Financial Issues
Also, we've been discussing financial issues. Looking at everything involved we can both realize some significant savings if we are living together. However, buying a home causes a lot of miscellaneous expenses - some related to the sales process, some related to moving and others just because of all the unexpected issues and stresses that lie in wait.

The decision?

With all the added expenses related to both of us moving to a new home, we've decided to hold off for a while. We're going to move in together and apply our combined savings towards getting our ducks in order.

There are huge long term financial differences in total home ownership costs when you can make a larger down payment or shorten the term of the mortgage. So, while it's tough to put off buying a home this fall, we think we'll be in a position to get something that will make us happier, in the long run, perhaps by early next year.

Other Thoughts
Personally, I'd like a little bit of land. I've got a hankering to play around with various renewable energy sources, grow some vegetables, and maybe even do a little bit of simple woodworking. A bit of land would give me the option of finding all kinds of things to do outside - as opposed to sitting inside on the computer or watching television.

Thursday, June 21

Annual Fishing Trip

Well, I have been decidedly anti-frugal just lately. You see, it's time for my annual fishing trip. Several buddies and myself take off to a relatively uninhabited area, with no electricity, and do some fishing and a lot of beer drinking.

I can't say it's cheap. The snacks and junk food aren't cheap. The beer isn't cheap. The gas to get there and the rent once we do isn't cheap.

Who cares! I'm going fishing... no highways, no cell phones, no television. Just some lapping water on a couple different lakes and wind blowing through the leaves of trees. Maybe the odd loon call.


Saturday, June 16

Wanted: New Handheld Can Opener

Can Opener StyleMy old can opener is biting the dust.

Often, while opening the can, it will skip and let go of the darn thing. This means that the can drops into my sink... or at least it has since I learned I can't rely on it to not fall off and splatter me!

I'm a bit fussy about my can openers. I don't like the really cheap ones that are hard to turn and bite into your fingers. They usually don't last long either. The one I am complaining about has lasted quite a few years and has a large comfortable handle -- so it's fairly easy to use. However, it's always been a bit hesitant, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I'm really wondering if my readers can help me out here. What type of hand operated can opener do you recommend? I'm not in a big rush so if you know of a particularly sturdy and reliable brand, perhaps available online, please point me to it.


Tuesday, June 12

Strategic Introspection

It has taken me a long time to write this post. I knew I wanted to write it, but I found it really hard to get motivated and put it together. Perhaps it was because I am writing about things I wish I had done better and once again admitting my flaws? I'm not overly used to doing that.

Long Term Strategic Plan
In today's lending environment, with zero money down mortgages available, it is a shame to be paying rent instead of a mortgage. I hope to be buying a home this fall, finally, and get out of the rent trap once and for all. So, without further ado, here is the plan, written from the point of view of a parent. Of course, you can certainly take advantage of this strategy for yourself instead.

Happy Birthday
Okay, you've just had a child. Now is the time to start putting away a very small amount of money on a regular basis. This money can be used for education, marriage or other big expected events that you are likely to want to provide for. While this is of course a "no brainer" it is amazing how few people can follow through on doing something like this.

High School
When your child turns 16,17 or 18 and wants his or her first car, have them get a loan from the bank to do so. You can certainly co-sign the loan, but it is important to get a serious credit record established for upcoming financial events. In particular, you'll want to help make sure your child is able to buy a home once they have been working full time for a little while.

When your child goes to college for four years you may want to consider purchasing a house. This is especially true if you are going to be on the hook for rent payments as they might end up being half of a mortgage payment anyway. If your child does pay rent, you can look at that as a percentage mortgage payment, and then after your child finishes university you can sell the house and split any proceeds. Keep in mind that other housemates will also be paying rent and it may be possible to cover your ownership costs or turn a small profit. Just make sure you leave enough time to purchase, fix it up, find out where to advertise, and get the place occupied before the first year gets started.

The Job
Either after high school or after college, depending on your child's choices, your child will enter the work force and be fully employed. After a year at a job, so they know if they want to stay there for a while, they should buy a home. It can be something cheaper, like a semi-detached, townhouse or condo, but they should buy something within their price range. If they stay at their job for five or so years, or switch jobs in the same city, they will be accumulating equity. This will let them upgrade to a bigger and better home when they are ready to start a family.

Plan Recap
Both you and your child, with your help, should focus on having a little bit of capital available for big events, to avoid debt, while at the same time focusing on establishing an advantageous credit rating. Then, as soon as practical, your child should be encouraged or guided into accumulating equity in appropriate real estate. If you follow this strategy your child will have a very easy path to comfort as long as they eventually establish themselves in any type of reliable career path.