Sunday, April 29

Squeezing the Budget

I recently blogged about a financial goal of mine. I guess you can say that, for me, this is the goal. So, in response to a reader comment I thought I'd provide some details on how I plan to achieve this goal.

Quite frankly, I'm going to squeeze the budget very tight!

Luckily, eating frugally does not have to mean neglecting your health. For example, eating oatmeal for breakfast on a regular basis is actually good for you. If you have cholesterol problems, for example, your doctor might recommend that you do something like this.

Similarly, brown rice, as opposed to polished white rice, contains rice bran and rice bran oils that research has shown to be very beneficial to cardiovascular health. As well, whole grains in general are a good source of fiber and can help prevent various types of cancer.

My diet is already similar to this as you can see by posts such as "Healthy and Cheap" and "Rice Cooker Bliss. So, perhaps a day of meals would be something like this:

  • Oatmeal, frozen blueberries, milk
  • Fried onions, rice, eggs
  • Roasted green peas snack
  • Fried ground beef, spices, rice
  • Cottage cheese snack
This doesn't mean that I won't mix things up here and there, or treat myself from time to time, but it does mean that I can stay fed and eat healthy on an incredibly tight budget. You can read through my blog to find some other cheap meals ideas that I've written posts about.

I'd say that $6 of oatmeal and $6 of rice will allow me to eat as much of both as I might want for an entire month. Milk, butter, onions, spices, ground beef and other meats, cottage cheese, fruits, vegetables and other additional ingredients can be used in fairly small quantities to round out meals and make sure my diet is nutritionally complete.

I'd say, based on experience, than I can shave $200 a month out of what would be a common food budget for a non-extravagant lifestyle. I'm very lucky that I honestly like these foods and don't mind eating them very frequently.

Note: Part of the recent Festival of Frugality at Money $mart Life.

Thursday, April 26

One Significant Goal

It has taken a bit of soul searching, but I'm going to set one financial goal. It's going to be a long term goal and progress is going to be slow. However, it is the thing that weighs on my mind There's never enough of this... when I consider financial issues.

My goal is to pay down approximately 20K in loans. These are loans that aren't backed by a corresponding asset. They are pure debt. Several other classes of debt have already been wrapped up and taken care of, but not this one.

While telling the world my financial details is somewhat difficult to do, I think slapping this goal front and center will be liberating. I had thought to make some less revealing goals, such as perhaps goals related to compliance, where it would be easy to maintain a high percentage.

Oh well, no use fooling myself, here's a real goal...

10% of $20,000 repayed
Pay back $20,000

Shoot, the gradations on my meter aren't even going to allow movement on a monthly basis! Ah well.

P.S. I don't mind help. If you have an established blog, please add it to my blog directory (it's free)... that's not much to ask is it?

Identity Theft

No, I haven't suffered from identity theft, but this issue caught my eye and it seems prudent for frugal minded people to give it some consideration. Also, since I'm plugging an affiliate link to the Lifelock identity theft prevention service I thought I'd provide some background detials.

Here are some facts from the 2003 Survey Report prepared for the FTC by Synovate:

  • 1.5 percent of survey participants reported that in the last year they had discovered that their personal information had been misused to open new credit accounts, take out new loans, or engage in other types of fraud, such as misuse of the victim’s name and identifying information when someone is charged with a crime, when renting an apartment, or when obtaining medical care ("'New Accounts & Other Frauds' ID Theft"). This result suggests that almost 3.25 million Americans discovered that their personal information had been misused in this kind of fraud in the past year.

  • Including all types of ID Theft, a total of 4.6 percent of survey participants indicated that they had discovered they were victims of ID Theft in the past year. This result suggests that almost 10 million Americans have discovered that they were the victim of some form of ID Theft within the last year.

  • 4.7 percent of survey participants reported that they had discovered that they were victims of "New Accounts & Other Frauds" ID Theft during the previous 5 years. 6.0 percent said that they had discovered that they were victims of the "Misuse of Existing Credit Cards or Card Numbers," while 2.0 percent indicated that they were victims of the "Misuse of Existing Non-Credit Card Accounts or Account Numbers." In total, 12.7 percent of survey participants reported that they had discovered the misuse of their personal information within the last 5 years.

  • On average, victims of "New Accounts & Other Frauds" ID Theft indicated that the person or persons who misused the victim’s personal information had obtained money or goods and services valued at $10,200 using the victim’s information. This result suggests that the total loss to businesses, including financial institutions, from this type of ID Theft was $33 billion in the last year.

  • Victims of ID Theft also spend a considerable amount of their own time resolving the various problems that occurred because of the misuse of their personal information. On average, victims reported that they spent 30 hours resolving their problems. On average, victims of the "New Accounts and Other Frauds" form of ID Theft spent 60 hours resolving their problems. This suggests that Americans spent almost 300 million hours resolving problems related to ID Theft in the past year, with almost two-thirds of this time – 194 million hours – spent by victims of "New Accounts and Other Frauds" ID Theft.

  • The ID Theft victim’s personal information is often misused for a substantial period of time. 13 percent of victims reported that their information was misused for 6 months or more. (For "New Accounts & Other Frauds" ID Theft, 27 percent of cases involved the misuse of the victim’s information for at least 6 months.)

  • Theft, including a lost or stolen wallet or pocket book or the theft of a victim's mail, was the most commonly mentioned way of obtaining the victim’s personal information. Approximately 25 percent of ID Theft victims reported that their information was obtained through such theft. Approximately one-half of ID Theft victims said that they did not know how the person who misused their personal information obtained it.
The good news is that it seems that consumers are not generally directly liable for losses incurred by the fraudulent actions of identity thieves. For full details, I recommend checking out the PDF file referenced above.

Tuesday, April 24

Progress Meter Progress

Be warned, yes, I am actually this silly.

In order to provide some progress meters, on what I don't yet know, I realized that I'd need some actual graphic meters. Now, I don't know about you, but I really don't want to load some image off of some other server. Also, I don't want to have to worry about copyright or other issues.

So, using the handy-dandy paint program I made my own...

100%
95%
90%
85%
80%
Would you believe I can only upload five at a time? I'm going to need a progress meter to make it through this post...

75%
70%
65%
60%
55%
Now I'm getting worried about mixing up the order so that I'll have to redo part of my uploads...

50%
45%
40%
35%
30%
Too bad I didn't think of it sooner, but if I had uploaded them in reverse order, I would have had a natural upload progress measurement...

25%
20%
15%
10%
5%
Wow. Talk about ending on a low note!

0%
Anyway, now that I'm done, I'm not sure I like the colors. Maybe I'll upload a second set of progress bars, hmm. As these were hand crafted via Paint, as PNG files, I am making them available in case anyone else wants to nab this set of wicked (sic) graphics.

I find it hard to imagine anyone else would want them, but hey, right click and hit "save image as" when prompted. Upload them as needed for your own progress report updates. You did notice that each progress tick represents 5% completion, right?

If you want to customize the colors I made it extremely easy for you. The light gray divider lines allow you to fill each individual progress tick with one click of the paint bucket tool. The dark grey lack of progress tick can be similarly changed.

Thursday, April 19

Frugal Progress Meters

One of the things that I really noticed while following along with the progression of my recent meme launch, was progress meters.

Making ProgressPeople have all kinds of goals and all kinds of meters to measure their progress towards them. Savings goals. Credit card debt reduction goals. Mortgage downpayment goals. Emergency fund goals. Net worth goals.

How cow! Look at all the terrific goals floating around out there.

I'm toying with this idea myself. I could put some goals online, make up some simple graphical progress meters to track progress, and generally give the world a lot of insight into my state of financial health, depending on what I chose to display.

However, I'm not sure. While having a visible goal might help me when making a decision that could impact it, the lack of visible and rewarding forward progress on a regular schedule would also demotivate me. The odds are good that I'll end up doing this, but only when I'm able to make serious forward progress...

P.S. It's never too late to jump aboard the meme, just make your post and follow the guidelines posted. Be sure to leave a comment so we can all follow the trail.

Friday, April 13

Roasted Green Peas Revisited

While munching away on the ever present bucket full of roasted salted green peas I thought that maybe I should check on their nutritional value. Wow, I was surprised! They are great.

Check out these green pea facts. Or, alternately, here is a numerical nutritional profile.

Green PeasMunch, munch, munch. Imagine, glomphf, I'm stuffing my face with these things and getting all kinds of folate and vitamin K, among other things. Let's see, click, sort, click, munch munch, oh yes, here is a study showing that vitamin K can play an important role in heart health. Hmm, munch, though it looks like they are talking about vitamin K1. What's up with that?

Clickety-click, click, aha. Apparently vitamin K2 is naturally made from vitamin K1. Aren't those folks over at the Linus Pauling Institue smart?

Munch, click, munch. Oh, look, the food facts page mentions that peas contain purine, which can be a problem for some people. I'd never heard of that before! Anyhow, the reason I'm blogging about this is because I buy these things very cheaply at the local bulk food store. They last for ages because they are dried and salted. And, last but not least, they are a very healthy snack food choice.

Score one for the Frugal Guy - even if I didn't connect the dots until about five minutes ago. Munch, munch, munch. Sweet...

Thursday, April 12

Broke Versus Poor

I recently joined the friendly forums over at Just Frugal (Note: link removed as the site seems to have gone away). One of the topics I found discussed this article concerning "Lessons from Living Down And Out."

HomelessI'm not sure I like the description of broke that was given. For some reason it raised my ire. Perhaps it was because it felt like someone that didn't have to deal with real issues was trying to tell me what real issues are.

Have I even gone through real issues? Where exactly is the cutoff?

Anyway, I do understand that sometimes people don't earn enough, or they don't spend wisely and run out of money early, while others simply have absolutely nothing.

However, I've never been one that likes to dismiss the trials of one person just because someone else has had it worse. The world is a huge place. There is ALWAYS someone who had it worse, but that doesn't stop everyone else from having legitimate issues.

I do realize I was lucky to have the ability to use credit while I was unemployed, for example. That doesn't change the fact that I had to move to a cheaper place and scrounge while I built up years of debt and simply had to let non-essential bills slide.

Lucky for me another job did eventually show up or I'd be continuing my downward slide. Anyway, this was several years back, and it was a very depressing process, but I refuse to dismiss these issues offhand due to the fact that many others have had it as bad or worse. It was perhaps the worst and most dangerous period of my life.

On the other hand, I learned a lot during those tougher times. I relearned how to appreciate a rainy day, a sunny day, the smell of leaves, a cool breeze, clouds, going for a walk, faithful pets, good friends, and many other little things in life that we get too busy to see and appreciate.

Let's not look for examples of more dire circumstances and dismiss the issues of everyone else in the process...

Note: Included in this week's Festival of Frugality.

Tuesday, April 10

Frugal Living Meme

Today's post is a short meme. It's very simple. Please write a post about one thing you do well and one thing you do poorly with respect to saving and spending money.

Personally, I do very well with my food expenses. Foods like oatmeal and rice are very cheap and I save a lot of money by including them in many meals. However, one area I handle poorly is loading up on popcorn and soda at the theatre. The cost of that would buy enough oatmeal or rice to last a month!

No, I don't lose sleep at night because of it, but I do notice it. Hmm, I also pay rent instead of a mortgage, for now, and that feels like a complete waste. I guess that is a bit more significant.

Meme Guidelines

1. Write a blog post based on this meme's theme. See above.

2. In your post please link to the Frugal Living Meme post and mention that you are participating in the meme. This will let people who are new to memes read these guidelines without cluttering up you post.

3. Feel free to add a comment to this post. I'm not sure about blogspot and trackbacks, but I have removed the "nofollow" tag from my template for the comment URL field. So, be sure to hit "other" and type in your name and URL manually when you leave a comment.

4. Also, please link back to the person that tagged you for this meme, if anyone did, in order to return the favor of their tag link to you. It's not necessary to be tagged in order to participate... meme's are just an easy way to generate ideas for a post and exchange some links.

5. If you are comfortable with doing so, tag some other bloggers to get them to write about their own spending habits. Just about everyone has good and bad monetary habits, so this meme need not be limited to only frugality bloggers.

6. Enjoy the link love that participation brings!

My Tags

I'm going to tag the frugality blogs that I have on my blogroll. They may or may not feel inclined to participate, but I hope so, if we can get a lot of people to participate, it should provide a lot of good ideas for future blog posts - for all of us.

A Grown Azzed Woman
Broke As A Spoke
Cheapskate Momma
Financial Imbalance
Frugal Upstate
Sorta Frugal

Wednesday, April 4

Alero Check-Up

I'm driving around in a 2004 Alero. It's a fairly nice car but not as sporty as my last car. It wasn't new when I purchased it and I've never actually owned a brand new car. I just have never needed the latest and greatest bad enough to pay the extra bucks.

Sample image, not my car!Anyway, I've noticed a lot of noise out of the brakes just recently. Especially after a day or two of not driving. I wouldn't usually worry, but it feels and sounds like there is some grinding going on. At the same time, I got a letter from the local garage telling me to come on in for a free brake inspection or checkup.

Free? Ok. They had done a little brake work for me not too long ago, so I guess they were proactively looking for more. Anyway, on my mind is what happens to the cost of repairs if you put them off too long. Also on my mind was the fact I didn't have a lot of discretionary money because I'm socking it away for the annual fishing trip vacation.

So, figuring that I can't let the brakes wear down to the point that the pads are gone and I'm damaging the rotors or drums, a big expense, I'll go in now. Although the grinding sound had me worried, you just never know, maybe I was already there.

Okay, okay, enough lead in, I'll tell you what happened. Nothing. Not a damned thing. The brakes are fine. So, while I am noticing the noise more than I used to, the brakes are in perfect condition. Excellent!

Anyway, while I'm thinking about my car, I should also note that one of these days I'm going to get the courage to go to one of those places for online auto insurance quotes. Honestly, the details required on the form usually scare me off. I've seen these things advertised on TV, and it makes sense that not having a local office might make them cheaper, but along with filling out an online form, I also have worries about service in the event that something happens.

Does anyone have experience with this type of service? Did you save money? Have you had a reason to make a claim after switching? How was the service during the claim event and what happened to your rates after that? Okay, so maybe I'm still too chicken to give it a try.

Sunday, April 1

Rice Cooker Bliss

I've cooked up two loads of rice in my new cooker so far. It's incredible.

The feeling I get using it is akin to the satisfaction I get when cooking with the crock pot. It's insanely productive because it doesn't take any of my own time or effort once I hit the on button. I don't even have to pay attention to the cook time, as it gives a beep when the rice is done, then flips to "stay hot" mode in case I'm not watching things too closely.

Anyway, I've got little single serving size containers of rice in the fridge and the freezer at this point. I have to buy some onions now, as I really enjoy frying some onions in butter. Green peppers, water chestnuts, chick peas and bean sprouts are some of the other vegetable choices that come to mind.

No, I didn't "forget" peas, carrots or corn!