Friday, March 30

A Passion For Rice?

Yes, I've developed a passion for rice. Perhaps it was because of this post, refined food mania, which steered me back towards fried rice as a meal option. I've been cooking a fairly sizeable pot of rice and then using it as part of my main dish, or as a side dish, for many of my meals.

Anyway, here are some important rice facts you might want to know. Rice can go bad after it has been cooked. Basically, if it is left at room temperature, spores that survive cooking can activate. It is recommended that unused portions be promptly refrigerated. Rice that has been tightly sealed and cooled without being left to sit out at room temperature should last for up to a week. Rice can also be frozen for longer term storage.

Now, with that out of the way, the more important detail is that I've bought a fancy rice cooker. It has a built in digital timer, settings for rice and soup, and even keeps rice warm after cooking. The best part is that it will cook up a whack of rice at a time. Yes, a whack is an official measurement in frugality circles.

I have to admit that I did not purchase a cheap model. I did not even purchase a mid-range model. I went right to the top of the line! How can that be a frugal move you may be asking. Don't worry, it will be. This model allows me to cook rice with a hands-off mindset. I dump in the ingredients and have freshly cooked rice available right up until the end of the warming cycle.

So, once a week, I'll cook up perhaps $1 worth of rice, refrigerate it all in individual meal sized portions, and then eat it with my meals for the rest of the week. Holy cheap eats batman.

Here is a recent recipe that I'll be making again soon. First, chop up some onion and fry it in a little bit of butter. While that is frying, shred a small amount of shaved or sliced ham. When the onions have fried to taste, add the shredded ham and several eggs. If you want, splash in a little milk and scramble everything together. Season to taste and when the eggs are about half cooked, then dump in a cup or two of cooked rice. Mix thoroughly until the eggs are fully cooked.

Estimated price $1. I'll be laughing all the way to the bank!

My PayPerPost Experiment

Those of you who read my blog regularly, all one or two of you, will recall that I mentioned PayPerPost (PPP) before.

So far I have only taken one opportunity. You see, unlike many of the Posties, that is what PapPerPost members who write blogs call themselves, I am only willing to blog about things that I would naturally add to my blog. I guess I am more interested in my blog integrity than pumping out posts on all kinds of different topics.

I'm not getting rich!

I've made a total of about $6 through my PPP blog writing efforts. However, writing this post, telling you about my earnings, is another opportunity. So, I'll soon have a total of approximately $16 of earnings.

Each opportunity may have a differing value based on the post requirements. Usually you need to include one or more links. Often you may be asked to include a supplied image. Sometimes you'll be asked for a positive, negative or neutral tone. There are a few other criteria, such as the quality of your blog, that might also have to be met. Like I said before, there are only certain opportunities I'm actually willing to take.

If you aren't aware, there is quit a bit of disagreement in the blogging community about whether or not paid posting is appropriate. Some people feel that it is important to know when something is a commercial message and not simply commentary. I'm not sure how I feel yet. I'm willing to try it out, but I'm not willing to take opportunities that would damage the integrity of my blog.

What do you think of this? Should I avoid it at all costs? Why not make some money with something I'm doing anyway? Please comment...

Tuesday, March 27

Tagging Frenzy

Getting OrganizedSince I've recently upgraded my blogger template to the latest version, I decided to spend some time adding tags or labels to previous posts. I'd guess I'm about half done at this point.

Anyway, I thought I'd make a short note since updating old posts seems to mess around with my feeds...

Sunday, March 25

Where The Money Goes - A Primer

Here is a very quick list of the common expenses that most of us face on a daily or monthly basis:

  • Rent or Mortgage
  • Auto Payment
  • Insurance
  • Credit Card Payment
  • Phones and Cable TV
  • Heating and Cooling
  • Power and Utilities
  • Groceries and Supplies
  • Entertainment
  • Auto Usage and Parking
  • Clothing
Now let's take a look at each of these items and see how we can work towards a more frugal lifestyle.

Trimming Housing Costs
It's not easy to manage housing costs. The bank tells you how much your payment is or your landlord tells you how much rent to pay! However, when you are looking for a new place, you can possibly take steps to ease your payments. Consider the total cost of living based on all of your expenses, commuting for example, when making a decision.

If you are one of those people that saves a little every month, and I hope you are, then consider splitting your savings between something liquid, like a savings account, and a small payment on the principle of your mortgage. Most banks will give you a line of credit at very low interest, compared to a credit card, if you absolutely did need to tap into your savings at some point. This will save you a lot of money in the long term (assuming you don't rely on the line of credit).

Here is a mortgage calculator you can use to help figure out what you can afford. Depending on where you live, it's possible your mortgage would not be much more expensive than your current rent! Be sure to scroll down past the loan quote application to get to the calculator... then squint a bit to read the dark writing on blue background, and type in your potential mortgage particulars. Apparently this company specializes in Washington mortgages and Nevada mortgages.

Trimming Insurance Costs
Insurance costs can be managed to some degree by considering the deductibles and limits that you choose. Personally, I've always been willing to accept a high deductible on damage to my vehicle because I know I'll be happy to be alive and worried about monetary issues if something serious happens. As always, be sure to shop around for the best rates, but make sure to check into customer service issues before making your decision.

Trimming Credit Card Payments
Boo! Hiss! What are you doing carrying around a credit card payment? This is one of the easiest ways to throw your money away. The best way to trim your card payments is to first and foremost learn not to buy things on credit! Of course, once you have done so, then you simply must work to pay off all of your credit cards and get your finances back under control.

Unfortunately, depending how and why you dipped into your credit, this process can take years to accomplish. For example, an extended period of unemployment can rip a very large hole in even the most well planned frugal lifestyle. If you ever become unemployed don't hesitate to start cutting back on your expenses very quickly. Wait until you do get that new job to start spending and don't just assume you will land one soon.

Trimming Communication Costs
Many people spend way too much money talking on cell phones. Of course, text messaging should also be mentioned here. All this gabbing, texting, watching television, renting movies on demand, and so on really adds up. One way to save is simply to put the phone down! Once you have Internet connectivity, at home, sending email is generally free. Slow down a bit, deconnect a little, and enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with it.

Other areas to save may include trimming down your cable package or simply not going to the theatre. If you can't find anything good on the television then find something else to do. Hello? Does anyone remember what a book looks like? Okay then, write a blog entry or listen to your iPod.

Trimming Heating and Cooling Costs
Unless this is included in your rent it will likely be a large portion of your seasonal expenses. Look into this cost before you move into a new location. Can you get access to previous billed amounts? Is the place well insulated? Do the doors and windows seal well? If you are already in a place, then do whatever fixup jobs can help you save on this expense. You can also wear seasonal clothes and raise or lower the thermostat a few extra degrees.

Triming Power and Utility Costs
Do you leave the lights on when you leave a room? Do you leave the television on when you leave the room? Does your computer run all day long? Is the seal around your fridge worn and leaky? Do your taps drip? Extra demerits if your taps drip and it's your hot water that is leaking! Do you open your windows to get fresh air and then forget to close them?

Trimming Grocery and Supply Costs
If you are running your home well, then you won't be able to save a lot of money in this area. If you aren't, then this can be a huge place to save money! Most importantly, cooking your own healthy meals instead of buying breakfast, lunch or dinner is an incredible money saver. Sure, most of us can afford to eat out a lot once we enter the work force, but don't fall into that trap. Seriously, it will just leave you fat, lazy and lighter in the wallet.

Another area to save money is to consider purchasing goods, at least ones that won't go bad, in larger quantities. This is especially true when they are on sale. Keep a closet or cupboard dedicated to supplies that were purchased in quantity. Check flyers and coupons and then load up when a good deal comes along. As long as you don't get wasteful with your goods and supplies, because they are available in quantity, then you can save a lot over time this way. The freezer is handy in this regard also.

Trimming Entertainment Costs
As mentioned above, simply stay home and cook your own meals. Another thing to do is make it less convenient to purchase impulse items. Perhaps withdraw your weekly entertainment budget in advance and not allow yourself to use credit or debit for unplanned expenses except in an emergency situation. However, and this is important, don't be afraid to spend your alloted entertainment budget. Having fun is a very important aspect of life. Being frugal does not mean being unhappy!

Trimming Transportation and Parking Costs
The simplest way to save money here is simply not to travel. Are you able to work productively from home one or more days a week? Do you live close enough to work that you can easily walk or take convenient public transportation? During the summer is there a safe route for biking or rollerblading to work?

Other than travel for work, you may be able to organize your personal travel a little better. Perhaps you could plan your trips to combine a visit to several close together places at once instead of randomly visiting each separately whenever you get the impulse to do so. Look for ways to minimize the distance you drive and you will save on gasoline.

Trimming Clothing Costs
There are some folks out there who simpy love to shop. All I can suggest is setting a budget and sticking to it! For the rest of us, we simply need to make the clothes we have last as long as we can. For example, washing and drying the clothes appropriately can certainly help. I'm sure everyone has ended up with a load of pink laundry or shrunken items that no longer fitted.

So, consider your laundry habits before you buy something. If you don't regularly get items dry cleaned, don't buy something that can only be dry cleaned, at least not if you plan to wear it regularly. Another important consideration is wearing the right thing at the right time. Don't bother wearing a white shirt if you are having spaghetti for dinner. Pasta sauce stains on the front of your shirt will covert a shirt into a rag pronto.

Of course, there are more formal occasions that limit your clothing options, but choose wisely and save yourself some grief. Similiar, I've blogged in the past about wearing grey socks instead of white socks, since they don't seem to discolor so easily. When it comes to clothes it seems to come down to being aware of what you plan to do and then dressing accordingly. Simply avoiding or delaying the common ways that clothes end up being destroyed is a good way to save.

Finally, though we don't all have the skill, a few quick stitches in something that is just starting to unravel will delay the inevitable. This can work well for socks, shirt underarms, sheets, blankets, mittens and so on. When it is finally time to retire something, then it should be saved for use during cleaning or manual labor tasks. For example, it doesn't matter if your shirt is ripped or torn if you are wearing it while changing the oil in your car, does it?

Putting It In Perspective
If you think about this a bit you'll notice that there are two types of tips in this post. First, there are simple tactics you can apply to day to day activities to save money. Second, there are long term strategies you can apply when you are making large changes to your life in terms of significant personal purchases and decisions. While day to day tactics are important, applying wise long term strategies is just as important but often overlooked by mainstream society.

Friday, March 23

Quick Update

Just wanted to note that I've finally taken the leap and updated my template. While it was oodles of fun fussing with things for untold hours to get Humpty Dumpty back up on the wall, I'm very glad it is over with.

On the plus side, once I get some sleep, I'll be able to assign labels to posts so that it will be much easier to browse through the archives based on categories. Woohoo!

Perhaps another plus, I've decided that I'm not going to plaster ad banner style junk inside my posts anymore. Sure, I'd like to generate some revenue off of this blog, but I'll go about it in a less visible and obnoxious way. Woohoo!

Oh, hey, check out that penny image too...

Thursday, March 15

Find A Frugal Hobby

There is no limit to the number of ways we can waste money. Everywhere we look there is an advertisement telling us how much better our lives would be if only we'd purchase the latest and greatest music, automobile, clothes, and fragrances. We be interesting if only we'd subscribe to the right newspapers and magazines. We'd enjoy ourselves so much more if we took a vacation or perhaps simply lived in fantasy for a few hours while seeing a move.

I have to ask you, are our lives really that bad?

No, of course not. But we keep hearing this claptrap so often, I can only imagine that in some way we all collectively fall for it. Consume. Purchase. Buy. Spend. Be a better you. Look better. Smell better. Feel better. If only it really were so easy. However, if I look back to my high school days, when trivial issues where important and so many things were out of reach, I can see exactly when and where this brainwashing starts to pervade.

Okay, okay, it's not really that bad. Maybe it's too late, but I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist. My point is that the easiest way to develop a frugal attitude and lifestyle is to reject the rampant consumerism all around ourselves. Sure, we can all resist spending money when we don't have it, but when you do have money, or worse, credit, how do you resist then? Well, look at the ever climbing consumer debt load. We don't resist very well, do we?

Again, without sounding like a conspirancy wacko, this state of affairs is no accidental mistake. It is encouraged every time we see a commercial, read a billboard, flip through a magazine, watch a movie, listen to the radio, or otherwise go about living what is now a normal life. Life really did use to be simpler, and most of us didn't realize that we werent happy as we were.

If you just can't control your money, work on developing some frugal hobbies. If you develop a passion for reading, you wont' go broke raiding the local library. If you were to take up needlepoint, you'd have a hard time buying enough materials to put you in the poor house. If you don't take it too far, yardwork and gardening can give you endless hours of pleasure without draining your bank account.

In short, and I'm sure most people who are settled down already have, find some interests that you can pursue endlessly, that you can enjoy, that are not heavily based on expensive products and services. I'm sure many of you reading this are already bloggers, like myself, who spend next to nothing doing something we enjoy. I may eventually buy a domain name and host my blog off of Blogger, but even then it's only going to cost me a few dollars a month.

Anyway, though I do blog, my hobby is actually developing Internet applications or sites. I don't know whether it qualifies as a hobby or not, because the idea is to end up with a business model and generate revenues. Well, I susppose, it stops being a hobby if I end up making a living from it... but until then, I can enjoy working on these projects and simply make a dollar or two from time to time.

Grokodile Blog DirectoryAs a blatant plug, my current project is the Grokodile blog directory. Here's your personal invitation to go and add your blog. It's fast, simple and free. The directory is designed to help people find nearby blogs as well as the usual search engine optimization and traffic benefits.

Saturday, March 10

Sharp Frugal Instincts

Hand Soap DispenserEarlier today there was an event that clued me in to how finely tuned my frugal instincts are becoming.

As I used the hand soap in the bathroom, I noticed that the soap level had dropped precipitously. Soap in one of the dispenser bottles so common these days does not simply disappear! Oh no, something more sinister must be happening. How did this happen in my own home? Inspector clean was on the case.

Well, the case was pretty easy to solve as there are only two people using my hand soap. It turns out that my girlfriend would simply depress the pump all the way when soaping up her hands. Oh my goodness. Immense wastage. Obviously, it's no big deal, but it only takes about a fifth of a pump to get enough soap to wash your hands effectively.

Don't worry, the point of my post is not about badgering my girlfriend about using a lot of soap. The point of my post is really about the design of consumer products. In particular, consumables and their containers are often designed in a way that allows or encourages a lot more consumption than would otherwise be needed.

If you want to be a card carrying member of the frugality union, use what you need, not what the container will most conveniently dispense. It's a conspiracy I tell you, a conspiracy.

Friday, March 9

Bulk Barn: Let's Get Serious

I was looking forward to another trip to the local bulk food store today. In particular, I was hoping to find a really good bargain on rice.

Maybe I should backtrack a little bit here.

Due to the fact that I've become interested in buying a home I am motivated to work a little harder at being frugal. I know that hardly sounds possible, ahem, but indeed there are still some corners that can be painlessly cut.

One of these corners is the decision to start using rice as a staple side dish in order to inexpensively increase meal size. This means that I can scale back on the size of meat, bean and vegetable portions, within reason, and stretch my food dollar even further.

Now, don't worry, I'm a healthy guy! At a fit 200lb's there is no danger of me suffering from malnutrition or any other food disorder.

Anyway, to return to my original point, I was expecting to find some extra value in the local Bulk Barn. I was very surprised to find that the self serve tubs of rice were actually more expensive than the large bags of rice stacked on the bottom shelf at the supermarket.

I didn't pick one up today, but there is a nice big ~20lb bag of long grain brown rice with my name on it. While there was a cheaper brand I do prefer the long grain brown rice. However, at about $8.00 for this sack-o-rice I figure I can add $0.10 or $0.15 of rice to my dinners. It's so darned cheap it's like filling up on air!

Also, I am happy to report that the large flake oats at the Bulk Barn are about two thirds the price of the large flake oats at the Health Food store. I'll have to see if they are somewhat more processed or not, since I like mine as unprocessed as possible.

Anyhow, I guess I'm just writing to let you know what can be done. I don't expect all that many people to be willing to eat something as simple and unassuming as oats for breakfast most days. I do add yogurt, berries or other things from time to time, so it is both cheap and healthy, but most people are too spoiled to live like that.

I also don't expect everyone to cook up a couple cups of rice on the weekend so that they have plenty of rice waiting in the fridge. I don't even expect most people to get creative enough in their cooking to add spices, sauces, soups or find other ways to keep things interesting.

However, I do know that there are at least some people out there that take the time to plan meals and to cook accordingly, that take pleasure in some of the simpler things, that either want or need to find inexpensive ways to eat healthy. If you are reading this, then I know who you are...

Thursday, March 8

Time To Buy A Home?

No, I don't plan to buy a home in the middle of winter! I'm just thinking that maybe I should lock down some goals and work towards them. One of the things that has me thinking this way is the fact that my rent has gone up each and every year.

While there is no suprise in that, I must admit it bothers me to see more and more money going out of my pocket for the same drab little place. Heck, I'm almost paying the same as I would for a mortgage right now. I'd feel a little better if I was building equity in the process.

However, like most people, even though I am frugal, I still do have some financial adjustments to make in order to do this. I do know that the more that can be saved for a downpayment, and the better the credit situation I am in when I apply, the more I'll save over the following years...

Any thoughts? Maybe I should put up a $1 down payment donation button? :)

Monday, March 5

Free Internet Dialup?

Does anybody still use dialup?

I've been using cable Internet for ages now. I don't even have a dialup modem anymore! If you are reading this, and you use dialup, please leave a comment. Perhaps explain whether or not high speed connections are available where you are and if so why you don't use them. Of course, there is no need to provide your name or exact location (don't forget to safeguard your privacy).

If you are using dialup for frugality purposes that is of course a good reason... ;)

However, considering all the power failures and other nonsense that always seems to occur at the most inconvenient time, I am starting to think that having dialup access on standby might be a good bet. A laptop or a computer with a good UPS can continue working even without power. Phone lines, whether land line or cell, can often work even when the power is out in your home.

I haven't personally used this service, but it sounds like a good emergency backup plan. NetZero has a free dialup service that gives you 10 hours per month. Sure, dialup is a real pain, but if you need to send an email, add a post to your blog, or maybe just chat with a friend or business associate, it could be a real lifesaver during certain types of connectivity failures.

Hey, it's free, and could provide a useful service! I think that qualifies as both prudent and frugal - assuming you have a modem available as a backup connectivity option.

Sunday, March 4

Saturday's Sunday Drive

My girlfriend and I spent the day in the car yesterday. Because of the distance involved the cost wasn't insignificant, but it was a really nice day. We decided to just keep going and pay a visit on a friend of mine who had just had a significant birthday.

While we did drop in unannounced we didn't stay very long so I'm sure it couldn't have been too inconvenient. Besides, it was a great way to casually introduce my girlfriend to my friend and his family.

Since the whole day was rather spontaneous we did break a few frugality rules! We didn't bring much by way of home made food or drinks for the trip. We did however stop to buy overpriced snacks including a quick pick up at McDonalds.

In all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day all around... so if you are living frugal, don't let it become such a big deal that it won't let you enjoy unplanned off the cuff moments because they aren't fiscally controlled.

NOTE: Included in this week's Festival of Frugality post.