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.