Archive for May, 2010

My Vacation Begins

While vacation is relaxing for most folks it can often be a chaotic time for me. My parents and in-laws don’t always see eye-to-eye and my husband and I often vacation with both families at the same time, which can make an otherwise relaxing vacation quite crazy. This week we’re on vacation and I’m hoping for a much more peaceful experience than the one we had back in September.

I spent a lot of time reading and meditating in preparation for a week at the beach. On Tuesday I experienced a breakthrough visit with my massage therapist and on Wednesday I had an enlightening hour long remote reiki session with my blogger pal Elizabeth. Both put me in the mood for a week away from the stresses of every day life.

I’m looking forward to soaking up a little extra Vitamin D while making the most of the time with my family. Wish me luck. If it doesn’t work out I might just boycott any upcoming family vacations!

May 29, 2010 at 6:00 PM 6 comments

Lured By the $1 Book Sale

Over the last few weeks I purged the house of a few shelves worth of books. I donated some, sold some, transported a couple and even traded a few. I carefully reviewed the remaining paperbacks and decided I’d get rid of a bunch more after I reread them.

While I was looking through the shelves I couldn’t help but notice that most of the books focused on personal finance, health and/or cooking. My purchases of true pleasure books, like classic novels and bestsellers has really dwindled over the years.

I’m actually pretty bummed about that fact, because I love to read for pleasure. To be perfectly honest, I got a little depressed looking over all of the pain management and healthy living books piled up before me. What happened to those days when I’d ignore the rest of the world in favor of a great novel? Oh that’s right, that all took place before I had medical issues.

I was bummed that I couldn’t find a great beach read for my trip. You know the type, a lighthearted novel that can practically be read all in one sitting. Despite all of the books on my shelf I couldn’t find one single book worth bringing on vacation.

That is until yesterday when I passed the last chance $1 bin outside of Books-A-Million. I bought a couple of books for myself and two or three I think my mom might enjoy.

Isn’t it funny how one day I’m happy with my decluttering progress and the next day I’m back filling my house with clutter? I felt so uplifted last week as I carried boxes of books to the car and here I go this week buying new ones.

The good news is that these books only cost $1, so I won’t feel guilty when I get them wet with pool water or sticky with suntan lotion. (I only take personal books to the beach, never library books, because they inevitably end up battered by the sand and wind.) And technically I’m not filling my house with more clutter, since these books will remain at the beach for my renters to enjoy this summer.

I’m actually hoping that a few good beach reads will get me back into the old swing of things. I hope that this year’s list of great reads will include less and less pain management and health books and more and more books for pure pleasure.

May 27, 2010 at 5:05 AM Leave a comment

When a $300 Purchase Turns into $3500

This weekend I searched for a new dining set for my front porch. I ran the numbers, compared prices and consulted my budgeting software. I had a specific price in mind before I reached the store and walked in confident that I wouldn’t break the bank. If I bought a table and chairs similar to the set I currently own I would’ve walked out with a $300 charge to my credit card. Of course, I didn’t want the same old dining set we’d had for years. I wanted something comfortable and different.

Before heading out to the store I compared online prices and immediately increased the budget from $300 to $1500. I wasn’t sure I’d find exactly what I was looking for, but I knew a higher price point would certainly help. With a list of prices and comparable tables in hand I drove to a store just up the street. Once inside I found a dining set that almost fit the bill. It was the right size and seated the right number, but it wasn’t particularly comfortable.

I searched the store for other options, but most of the dining sets were more than twice my budgeted amount. My husband wasn’t particularly keen on the $1200 increase so I really didn’t want to stretch the budget any farther.

In the end I picked the $1500 table, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with it. $1500 is a lot of money and I really wanted to be thrilled by my purchase. I came home and scoured the Internet for cheaper prices. Sure enough I found the same store offering a lower price online, so I went back to the shop the very next morning to ask if they’d at least match the price.

This time my husband came along for the ride. When I showed him the table he sat down, wiggled around and agreed that it wasn’t particularly comfortable. A few minutes later, after looking over different table arrangements and trying a number of chairs, we agreed to purchase a larger dining set. The cost of the new set: $3500. That’s right the budget expanded from $1500 to $3500 in less than five minutes.

So why the increase? First, the new table is larger, sturdier and better constructed. Second, it’s much, much, much more comfortable. In fact, it’s so comfortable that I could barely get my husband out of one of the seats. Third, we intend to keep this table for a very long time. In fact, if we’re lucky it will last our lifetime. It’s constructed of recycled plastic and comes with long term warranties.

Lastly, I’ve been dreaming about a new dining set for years. I can only imagine all of the scrabble games, spring lunches and summer meals we’ll experience out on the porch together. I don’t spend money very often and I can’t remember the last time I spent $3500, but when I picture all of the enjoyment my family and I will get out of this new dining set I know we’ve made the right decision.

Did we have to purchase the $3500 dining set? Of course not. Did our old table and chairs provide us with many happy memories? Of course it did. But having said all of that I still think the new table is worth the price.

The truth is that it’s often hard for a frugal girl like me to spend money. I have so many goals for fixing this or improving that, but when it comes time to hand over the cash or credit card I usually find ways to delay the purchase. In this case it took my husband’s guiding hand to reassure me that we made the right decision.

He reminded me that we save to our retirement funds, set aside money in the bank and donate large sums to charity. The goal is not always just to put the money away for a rainy day, sometimes it’s meant to buy things our family will enjoy. We spend a lot of time at our vacation home and this new dining set will certainly be shared with amazing friends and family.

May 26, 2010 at 3:15 AM 6 comments

Is it Tacky to Present a Used Gift Card as a Gift?

I’ve written a number of times about gift giving etiquette and I’m always intrigued by what other people think of certain gift giving scenarios. So here’s one for you…

I recently received a used gift card. Well I can’t guarantee that it’s used, but it certainly looks like it might be. The front and back are worn and faded and the gift card numbers are barely visible, there are also quite a few minor scratches on the card. The card was presented in a new envelope addressed to me, but the condition of the card definitely indicates that it may have been re-gifted.

Who knows how this card ended up in the hands of my gift giver. Perhaps the giver purchased the card at a discount from eBay or another auction website. Maybe that person wanted to provide a $100 gift, but could only afford $75 and decided to buy the card at auction in order to get more bang for his buck.

Maybe the giver received the card, but decided he’d never shop at that store. Perhaps the store isn’t conveniently located or the products sold there simply don’t interest him. Perhaps the gift giver is low on funds and didn’t have the means to shell out cash for a gift.

At the heart of the matter I guess one should ask if the reason behind the re-gift really matters? Does the circumstance behind the gift make the act of re-gifting right or wrong? Is it in poor taste to present a used gift card no matter what the circumstance might be? Do you think the presenter should have mentioned that the gift card was purchased second hand or that he or she received it for a place they’d never shop?

Whatever the reason I must admit that I don’t care. While I know a lot of people would be offended, I’m simply happy that someone thought well enough of me to present me with a gift. In fact, I’d be thrilled to find out that the gift giver wisely purchased the gift card at a discount. In that case I’d be happier with a used gift card than a shiny new one purchased directly from the store. I love it when other people are frugal with their money and I’d love to know that a friend got the most bang for his or her buck.

So what do you think? Is it wrong to present a used gift card as a gift if you don’t let the receiver know that it’s being passed to them second hand?

May 25, 2010 at 3:55 AM 15 comments

Link Love on a Sunny Saturday Afternoon

In an effort to stay away from the brain drain of my computer I’ve been reading books and playing outside the last few weeks. In fact, I find myself deleting much of the posts in my RSS reader without even reading them.

If I like an article I usually open it in a different tab and breeze through it when time allows. Lately I find it harder and harder to find the time to go back to the list of open tabs, but this afternoon I took a few minutes and found a couple of posts I really enjoyed.

May 22, 2010 at 11:00 PM 2 comments

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Ready to be Rich posted a fascinating video today from YouTube called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. If you strive to be a high achiever in your working world you’ll definitely find yourself nodding to it’s sentiments.

The video points out that money is not the biggest factor in motivating individuals to work harder and references a number of studies that have proven that fact.

Instead it suggests that productivity can be raised by paying people just enough that they stop focusing on money and begin focusing on their actual work. Once money is out of employees’ minds companies should focus on the real factors of motivation, including autonomy (the desire to be self-directed), mastery (the desire to get better at something) and purpose (the transcendent purpose to do something greater).

I would love to forward this on to the management at my corporation. I particularly liked the part about providing employees with a 24 hour period of time each quarter to work on projects of their own choosing. That one day can result in software fixes and a whole array of new ideas for a company that would otherwise never emerge. I suggested that years ago, but of course it was never implemented.

May 21, 2010 at 4:25 PM 2 comments

You Can’t Have It If It’s Not On Sale

I love grocery shopping with my husband. It’s nice to have someone to walk through the isles with and he’s great at holding onto the coupons and remembering to pick up items I forgot to put on the list. Of course, he can get a little ticked if I take too long leafing through my coupon binder or standing around trying to compare unit prices, but overall he’s gotten much better at waiting patiently for me to pick the best priced item.

When I shop alone I typically carry a list and presort all of my coupons before I head to the store, but when he comes along I just never know what he will place in the shopping cart. He always manages to find something in the store I never would’ve purchased if I were alone. As soon as I see him wander over to a certain shelf I start leafing through my coupons.

Tonight we took a quick trip to Giant because every recipe I wanted to make called for sour cream and I didn’t have a single container of it on hand. We sliced up all of our ingredients, sauteed the chicken, put the pot on low and headed out to the store in search of it and a few other staples.

I tend to stockpile ingredients when they’re on sale, but we’ve been driving back and forth a lot between our homes lately and I stopped keeping track of the pantry inventory. This has really thrown my grocery budget for a loop and I find myself driving out in search of forgotten ingredients quite a bit these days. Tonight just happened to be one of those nights so we ran out in the rain in search of sour cream.

I bet my husband and I are quite the sight as we shop for groceries. He says, “we need tortillas” and I say, “wait, which ones on sale” and immediately begin leafing through my coupons. This same series of short phrases go back and forth as we walk through the isles and fill our cart.

I stock up on ingredients when they go on sale, so the register tape usually shows discounts for every item with the exception of milk, fruits and vegetables. In fact, I tend to gauge my progress in the grocery store by the amount of money we save on the receipt. My husband knows my frugal ways, and as we walked through the store he would say, “this one’s on sale” or ask, “do you have a coupon?”

When he walked over to pick up orange juice I asked if he wanted to try the one that was on sale, because I also had a coupon. He tends to be pretty brand loyal, but he agreed to give it a try.

But when we reached the bakery isle, he picked up a full priced item and held it above the cart. I said, “you’re cheating. You can’t have that if it’s not on sale.” He laughed and placed it into the cart anyway. I found myself saying, “you can have it this time, but next time you’re going to wait until it’s on sale.” He laughed and nodded. I told him it tastes better when you pay less money for it.

May 18, 2010 at 2:10 AM 5 comments

The Purge Continues…

In my quest to get rid of 50 things I forced myself to take a hard look at my bookshelves. I found a bunch of books I bought but never read and a couple that I haven’t read in ages.

I used to have a real obsession with books. I think it’s a hang over from my year’s as an English major. My shelves were packed to the brim with books, including novels I first read in middle and high school. Every time I moved from one place to another I boxed up all of those novels and textbooks and carried them along to the next destination.

When I moved into a group house after college I dropped all of my favorite books at my parent’s house. I remember feeling strangely pained by the notion that I had to leave them behind, but I just didn’t have any room for them in my tiny, temporary bedroom. Of course as soon as I bought a house of my own I acquired new bookshelves, picked up the books from my parent’s house and reordered and stacked them.

Years later as I began to simplify my life I took a crack at clearing out those shelves. It was hard to part with them at first, but I started with the older reads and eventually narrowed the numbers down to a very small pile. I carried bags of those books to the library and sold a small number on cash sites like cash4books and bluerectangle. I decided I could always borrow the books back from the library or even buy another copy. Interestingly enough I’ve never done either. I guess I don’t really miss those books after I purge them.

The fact is that I acquire more books in my life than just about anything else. While I no longer buy new books I still acquire used ones from eBay, and PaperBackSwap. Tonight I found at least fifteen that can be sold and donated. I don’t really want to go through the hassle of creating eBay and listings so I think I’ll box most of them up and deliver them to the local library. Thirty-one items purged and the quest to purge fifty items continues…

May 13, 2010 at 3:30 AM 5 comments

A Whopping Credit Card Bill

Our credit card bill is higher than it’s been in ages. In fact it’s more than the previous four months combined. So where did all of the money go? Well I’m afraid to say much of it went out the window.

We spent a whopping $1,700 on food, groceries and gas. My husband and I have been driving back and forth between our primary house and our beach house quite a bit. We typically leave late at night and stop for dinner as we drive down south. On the way back home we also stop off for lunch or dinner.

Add to that the fact that my husband is now working farther from home and eating out with coworkers and you’ll find a credit card bill stacked to the brim with one restaurant’s name after another. We typically eat dinner out less than once or twice in a month, but in the past thirty days we’ve eaten out over nearly ten times more often.

Due to the back and forth traveling I’ve spent less and less time in a grocery store. I’ve tried to shop from time to time while we’re at the beach, but with so many chores to accomplish there is little time left for shopping.

Of course all of these trips have also added mileage on our cars and an enormous carbon footprint in the form of gas for our vehicles. We also spent nearly $2,000 to repair the air conditioner in our thirteen year old car.

While I’m surprised by the totals I must admit that most of the expenses have been worth it. I wouldn’t trade a penny for any of the experiences my husband and I have shared.

May 11, 2010 at 3:00 AM 2 comments

A Perfect Day to Play In the Garden

Today is an absolutely beautiful day. I live just outside the Washington, DC border and the temperature outside my house is a perfect 74 degrees. There’s even a slight breeze blowing through my windows, but to be honest it’s too nice to be cooped up indoors, so I keep finding excuses to wander outside. I took out the trash, bundled up some recyclables, planted some seeds and took photos of my box garden.

I’m super excited about the garden this year. I started a bunch of seeds inside and spaced them out nicely once they got large enough to move into the garden. Last year I planted seeds too close together, and most of the vegetables ran out of space to grow. I’ve already made a few mistakes, like planting some seedlings while it was still too cold. My poor cucumbers didn’t survive when I transported out of my very warm house. That was a real bummer.

I can’t wait for the zucchini, which just started to flower this week. I bookmarked a bunch of new recipes in anticipation of their arrival.

I’ve been growing garlic since the fall. It’s on the left in the picture below next to my zucchini. I have no idea how long it takes garlic to grow, but this stuff has been in the ground forever!

I’m also experimenting with a hodgepodge of other flowers and vegetables. Among the list are broccoli, shallots, strawberries, peas, peppers, cucumbers, forget-me-nots, zinnias and daisies. I also noticed a few flowers on the blueberry bush I bought last year and the leaves on the raspberry twig, (it’s too tiny to call a bush), grew back, so I hope it might actually bud a fruit or two next year.

May 7, 2010 at 9:00 PM 3 comments

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