• Posts Tagged ‘stuff’

    What You Save in a Hurry

    by  • October 15, 2012 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Pearl river fire

    Thankfully, the Situation Wasn't This Dire

    There are many benefits to our current situation, beyond the obvious points of no-rent and free food. The students here are genuinely interesting, intellectually engaged kids who are, by and large, well-behaved and very nice. There are times when I feel like a den-mother, asking nineteen-year-olds what kind of cookies they’d like at a study break, or how their roommate situation is going (My husband, Brad, try as he might, is not exceptional at navigating female housing conflicts).

    And then there are moments when I remember that we do live with college students, smart and lovely though they may be. One of those moments was a few nights ago. After a totally normal evening, we had just gone to sleep when I heard shrieking in the hallway. Whatever, it’s college, it happens, I thought. And then there was the banging. The very insistent banging on our door. I turned to Brad, who falls asleep ten times faster than I do.

    “Someone’s knocking on the door.”

    “Huhwhat?”

    “Get up, someone’s knocking on the door.”

    “[inarticulate mumbling]”

    And then I heard the fire alarm. While Brad stumbled around in the dark, looking for his glasses, I headed to our front door and poked my head out, to see what was going on. That’s when the very dense, acrid smoke hit, and I realized it might not be the usual shenanigans.

    “THE HALLWAY IS FILLED WITH SMOKE, GET YOUR SHOES ON.”

    While Brad glacially moved towards his sneakers (one thing I learned from this experience is that he is apparently not the crisis management in this relationship), I grabbed my phone and my purse, and we headed out the door and into the street. There, the girls who live on our floor explained that they had put a plastic tea kettle on the electric coil stove (WHAT? WHY?) and it had melted (WELL YES OBVIOUSLY IT MELTED). While Brad told them it was fine, and made sure they had turned off the stove before leaving (they had), I called the authorities, who sent over two trucks full of thoroughly annoyed looking firemen. They aired out the hallway, made sure the stove was safe, and after we gave all of the university authorities our information, they headed off into the night.

    Despite the obvious questions this situation raised, like why these students thought it was a good idea to put plastic on a hot burner (for privacy purposes I won’t say which university we’re associated with, but I will say that if you’re smart enough to get into this school, you should be smart enough not to put a PLASTIC TEA KETTLE ON A BURNER), another was what we’d save, and what we’d lose, in a real emergency. The first item on my list is Brad – while watching him come out of his slumber more slowly than I’ve seen babies crawl across a football field, I realized that my hyper-anxiety at least enables me to be immediately on the alert in a situation like this, and to get him out the door and to safety as soon as possible. But after that? Well, I grabbed my phone because I figured we’d need it, and my bag because it was by the door. But that was it. (You might notice our cat is missing – he has the miserable habit of running very far under a variety of furniture when something scares him, and we’re trying to figure out how we could get him out of the building, if it came to that, without killing ourselves in the process.) But everything else is (maybe literally) toast. And in that moment, when I realized that our building might actually be on fire, that wasn’t even a concern. It’s a relief to know that my miserly ways don’t extend to those terrible moments of decision, when saving your money might mean losing what actually matters.

    image: Steve Wilson

    In Which I Renege

    by  • October 8, 2012 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    iphone 5 black bezel

    Ugh Fine

    Readers of this blog will recall the vehemence with which I railed against smart phones. Not for me! I cried. You’re all wasting your money! Plan ahead, and stop texting during our coffee dates! From my high horse, I came up with dozens of reasons why my plain old little non-data phone was, and is, good enough for me.

    And then my husband went away for the summer, and there were a dozen or so moments when I realized how handy a little smart-phone might be. Notice that someone’s pretty late, and that you haven’t heard from them? There’s a good chance they emailed you, and you have no way of knowing, because you’re smugly on time at the bar, waiting for them to show up, with nothing but your half-decade old Samsung in your pocket. Realize it would be really convenient if you knew where the closest [insert store name here] is? A smart phone would come in handy. Indeed, while I still found myself functioning just fine without one, more and more frequently I realized that it might, in fact, be useful to be in possession of that which I’d rallied against for so long.

    But the turning point didn’t come until more recently. I asked a friend of mine – one far more versed in technology and investments related to them than I – “Why should I get an iPhone?” (He uses one, you see).

    “So you’ll have something else to complain about,” he replied.

    Well har har.

    But after discussing the various merits of each smartphone, it became clear that I might benefit from investing in one. And while I’d had a terrible experience with Apple once before (it involved my husband buying me a new iPod Nano, which was promptly incompatible with my very old Mac, and ended with me giving a stern lecture to the Apple technician the next day), my well-versed friend informed me that he thinks the iPhone is the best smartphone for the money.

    Lest you think I’ve completely given up my frugal phone ways, let me clarify that I was not online moments after the announcement of the iPhone 5, waiting to buy one of my own. There was much more planning involved. This summer I finally replaced my incredibly outdated computer (protagonist of the aforementioned iPod failure) after literally everything on it became obsolete. Through a computer recycling program, I obtained a $100 Apple gift card. I’ve also picked up a bit more income on the side, and cut a few things from my budget. With all of these factors combined, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and purchase the new iPhone. The cost of the phone itself, given the gift card and other, unexpected income, will be negligible; with the cuts to my budget, the money is there for a slightly increased phone bill each month; and this phone appears to be the right one for my needs (it’s also no longer made of glass, which was sure to shatter within instants of my purchase) (ed. – actually, the front still is glass, so be careful!).

    Am I a hypocrite? Possibly. I could get along with my simple phone just fine, and continue to veer behind the technology curve. But this is a purchase I feel good about. And I’ll still never tolerate texting at the table.

    image: methodshop.com

    5 Things Parents Routinely Overpay For

    by  • October 5, 2012 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Elle writes over at Couple Money, helping couples to reach financial freedom by living one one income and having fun with the second.

    baby elle

    Becoming parents has changed our lives dramatically and so far it’s been a blast. One of the first things we noticed is how our finances have changed with having a little one. The common warning we heard from well meaning friends was that babies will drain your finances like nothing else.

    While certain expenses like health insurance premiums can take a big chunk out of our wallets, there are some baby expenses we as parents can reduce (and hopefully redirect towards other future goals).

    Baby Expenses That you Can Save Big Money On

    During my pregnancy I decided to track our real life baby expenses on our site as a way to give first time parents an idea of what to expect financially. Thankfully other parents have been kind to us and shared some of their tips as we asked both online and offline for their advice.

    Over the series I noticed that there a few things that parents can overpay for if they are not careful (which can be done when you’re adjusting to your little one’s sleep schedule).

    Baby Food/Formula

    Feeding your baby is essential, but costs can vary widely. If you’re formula feeding look at buying in bulk (perhaps a warehouse club) or consider a subscription service like Amazon Mom, which offers some pretty competitive discounts on foods.

    As your baby gets older and is trying out purees and solid food, you may find it more cost effective to make your own baby food. Some parents have also enjoyed having the freedom to prepare some unique dishes for their little ones to try out.

    Breast Pumps

    For us we went with breastfeeding our baby girl and even though it can save you a lot of money, buying a breast pump can be quite expensive. Before you pick up a breast pump ask yourself how you plan on using it. For those who have to go back to work full-time at an office, getting a portable unit that can automatically pump can be worth the money. You can rent a pump from your local hospital to see if you really need the top of the line model.

    Thankfully besides the deals offered online for the pumps, there is a tax break that you may want to take advantage of when you file next year.

    Diapers

    This was by far the most common expense people warned us about. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a huge money drain. Based on some friends’ recommendations we signed up for a disposable diaper subscription through Amazon, bring our diaper costs to around $20/month. What’s great about going online is that we have it delivered right to our house, which also saves us some time.

    A few months ago we also made an adjustment to a hybrid of cloth diapers/disposable diapers. The transition was a bit surprising at first, but it’s a good fit for out routine.

    For those who are interested in cloth diapering, there are several great options. For us, we’re using FuzziBunz.

    Baby Clothes

    We did not imagine how quickly our baby girl went through clothes the first year. Even with gifts from grandparents and friends, she was outgrowing clothes every week it seemed.


    Don’t underestimate the temptation to grab and buy adorable outfits in tiny sizes. It’s amazing how much is out there for baby clothes and it can be very easy to drop a lot of money for outfits that will be worn for a couple of weeks (yes we’ve even had outfits that we were once!).

    Save yourself a lot of heart ache by using a baby consignment shop if possible. We have one near our neighborhood and we’ve been able to pick out some awesome clothes there at a fraction of the price you’d see at stores. The quality is fantastic, with tags still on some of the outfits we pick up. When we’re done we can pass it down to friends or family, consign it back and get some credit for future purchases, or save it for future kids.

    Baby Toys

    My recommendation for toys is the same as clothes – look for a consignment store that specializes in baby gear. They tend to check their wares more closely and you can get some fantastic deals with them. Of course like many parents we can’[t resist grabbing some new toys time to time, but it’s great having a cost effective option nearby as well.

    Money Saved -> Baby Fund

    What’s great with saving money on baby expenses is how you can use that money for bigger financial goals that you may have for your little one. For parents looking at building a college fund, optimizing baby expenses can be a wonderful way to jump-start the fund.

    Thoughts on Baby Expenses

    I’d love to hear from you about your take on baby expenses. How have you found ways to save on baby and kid expenses? What has been the easiest fix? What has been the hardest? What sites and stores do you use when you shop for baby gear?

    Moving, and Its Casualties

    by  • July 31, 2012 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Garbage by Editor B, on Flickr

    This is Basically What My Closet Looked Like

    You rarely realize how much crap you’ve accumulated in any period of time until you have to pack up and relocate said crap. While I pride myself on keeping an immaculate house and all of my possessions in their tidy, perfect, obsessive-compulsive places, I recently discovered that I am, in fact, a secret hoarder.

    The housing in which my husband and I currently reside (for one more day) will be undergoing renovations this coming year, and as a result, we’re being relocated to other housing. This isn’t too much of an inconvenience, and when we heard the news, I decided to view it as an opportunity to purge what “small” quantity of stuff I had held onto unnecessarily from our previous move. I’ve always thought of myself as fairly unsentimental when it comes to personal possessions – I can easily dispose of magazines once my newest issue arrives; I’m fairly good at consigning and donating clothes I haven’t worn in a year, etc. And I had, I thought, been keeping this up over the last few years.

    Until recently. While going through my clothes, I marvelled at the quantity of items I really hadn’t worn in ages. This velvet blazer, bought on sale at J.Crew that I thought I’d wear all fall and winter long? I’ve worn it maybe twice in five years. (This means it had an alarmingly high cost-per-wear, which I generally try to keep as low as possible.) These ill-fitting turtlenecks that I bought at the Gap and which ended up stretching out after one use? Off to consignment.

    On and on it went, and that was only the clothing. Last night I turned my attention to a box into which I’d been jamming anything of sentimental value. What if I wanted to hold onto it? What if in thirty years all I missed in this world was that postcard from a college friend that I threw away? This had been my justification for years of what basically amounts to organized hoarding. So last night I tackled it head on. One hour later, surrounded by a pile of things I didn’t even realize I’d kept since high school and college, and towards which I felt no emotional attachment, I got a garbage bag and asked my husband to help me load everything in.

    “So we’re basically throwing away your entire dorm room.”

    “Correct!”

    The monetary loss from these items which I no longer need to tote with me through each and every move was small – postcards I’d collected, photos of friends I have on my computer. But it made me realize just how easy it can be to purchase things I think I’ll need and use forever (blazers, sweaters, decorative items) when in fact, I’ll just be tossing them with my next move. If I’m trying to be more conscious about my spending on clothing, then I’ll be doing this doubly so with everything else in my life. We may be gaining more space in our move, but I’d like to be more careful about what I carelessly collect and keep.

    Have you ever been surprised by how much you own, and how much of it you really don’t need?

    image: Editor B

    A Tale of Two Electronics

    by  • November 10, 2011 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Gadgets

    Electronics are cool. Except when they break.

    image: aaltonen

    In the past month I’ve had bad luck with electronics. Last week Her was using her computer to look up some stuff, and then turned to me and uttered those dreaded words, “I think that the internet is down.” If you’re a home networking amateur like myself, you know that finding the problem of the internet outage is equavalent to taking the Mensa exam. Is it the router? Is it the modem? Is it the network settings? It it only the wireless connection? Is it the ISP?

    Fortunately, it didn’t take too long to find out what was wrong: the wireless bridge (Dlink DAP-1522) was not working. After whacking it a few times and plugging it into different outlets, the thing would not start up.

    Begrudgingly I bought another new one online for $70 after seeing nothing equivalent on Craigslist or eBay. While I was waiting for it to arrive I read that someone else had the same problem and that it was because of a faulty power supply. When the new wireless bridge arrived, I grabbed the power supply, plugged it into the old wireless bridge and, lo and behold, it was the power supply after all. A quick search on eBay resulted in me finding and purchasing a $7 power supply replacement; the “new” wireless bridge is now on its way back to the retailer. It’s a nice feeling to be able to salvage an old, working piece of electronics for 10% of the new purchase price.

    My second problem with electronics didn’t go so well. I’ve had a nicely specced, refurbished iMac in use for almost the past 3 years. I never powered down the machine, but it did go to sleep after a few minutes of inactivity. One day I went to wake it up from its slumber, but I got nothing. I tried holding down the power button. Nothing. I unplugged all of the peripheral devices hooked up to it and then tried the power button. Nothing. I begged it to wake up. Nothing.

    Oh no.

    I took the poor iMac to nearest shop and awaited their $29 diagnosis. I then received a call that no Mac owner wants to hear: the logic board is dead. The cost to replace was going to be $859, labor included. There’s no way I’m going to fix a 3 year old computer for that much money. I opted to have them salvage the hard drive for $99.

    The irony of this situation is that if I had purchased AppleCare, I would have had about a month remaining until it ran out. I bought a MacBook a few months ago, and will be purchasing AppleCare for that.

    How do you deal when your electronics break? Buy new ones? Go without? Let us know in the comments.

    How To Afford Anything – Personal Finance Lessons From Ken Rockwell

    by  • January 23, 2008 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    If you’re a camera buff, especially a Nikon camera buff, you’ve probably heard of Ken Rockwell. He provides reviews of camera stuff I want.

    His style of writing is similar to personal finance type gurus – you take it or leave it, and you either love him or hate him. He has a strong opinion of things, and while they may not make the most sense, he doesn’t give a damn about what anyone else thinks. He does tend to give the bottom line with his camera reviews, especially for those who can’t stand sharpness tests or MTF charts.

    When I was cruising his website the other day, I saw an article on how to afford anything. It reads like a years worth of personal finance blogger’s posts stuck together; it is probably just as lengthy. Personally, I love it when I find personal finance articles in places I wouldn’t expect to find them.

    Here’s the article in bullet points:

    Don’t:

    • Don’t buy a new car (he drives a used Mercedes)
    • Don’t drove to work (he only had jobs that were within walking/biking distance from his home)
    • Don’t eat out (food, you perverts)
    • Don’t buy a big house
    • Don’t buy on credit or take out loans
    • Don’t rent
    • Don’t worry about what you own (keepin’ up with the Joneses)
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for a deal
    • Don’t buy extended warranties (or any sort of insurance for any loss you could cover out-of pocket)
    • Don’t buy cheap; you’ll end up paying for it twice
    • Don’t have kids (they are the root cause of all pollution and environmental destruction)
    • Don’t become a photographer

    Do:

    • Order from the dollar menu, get water
    • Go dutch all the time (he admits not very popular with the ladies)
    • Live at home
    • Read and understand the fine print (especially with mortgages, namely ARMs)
    • Return what you don’t want or need
    • Know the difference between investments and expenditures (with a Kiyosaki-like view much like the asset vs. liabilities debate of a house)
    • Only buy from stores that give full cash refunds
    • Use coupons
    • Avoid addiction: caffeine (with the obligatory latte factor reference), nicotiene, television
    • Tip big
    • Marry smart (with some questionable misogyny peppered in there…)
    • Go to college and get a real job
    • Go to college, go yachting, and get a job as a captain

    My favorite line? “It takes the guts to be a cheapskate.” Yep, sure does.

    So what has all of this gotten him? How about every Nikon camera and lens from the last 10 or so years. Or a couple of (used) Mercedes. And a lot of smugness.

    If there’s something in his writing, it is passion. He’s willing to focus his finances to get exactly what he wants in life. There’s definitely a few lessons I can learn from him.

    Saved My Watch, Saved Some Money

    by  • October 2, 2006 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    A few years ago my parents became empty nesters – then decided to embark on a European vacation to celebrate. During their travels they stopped at the home of Swatch in Switzerland, and bought me a watch. When they gave it to me, I was excited to be the proud owner of a Swatch watch directly from Europe…except that the watch isn’t anything that you can’t get in the USA. You can even buy it from the Swatch website. Anyway, my parents haven’t been known for their gift giving so getting a nice watch from them is kind of a big deal.

    I tend to really beat up the things that I own, and the crystal (the plastic/glass that covers the face of the watch) was littered with scratches and other gouges. A few days ago the bracelet (note: if the watch band is leather, it’s a strap; if it is metal, it is a bracelet) of my watch broke, leaving the watch to fall off right into the litter box that I was cleaning at the time. Yuck. I was bummed because the watch was really nice, and I didn’t really want to spend money on a new watch.

    Fortunately for me, I happen to work with a watch connoisseur. He suggested that I check out a store which is not too far from our work.

    When I arrived at the store I showed them my watch and they knew exactly what needed to be done. They had about half a dozen replacement bracelets for my watch – which they replaced and sized for me. They told me to hold on to the extra links, because if I had the old bracelet links I could have just used one link from that – good to know. Also, since the crystal of my watch is plastic and NOT glass, they buffed out all of the scratches and gouges from the crystal – for free. The people told me that it was normal wear and tear, and that I can come in anytime to have it rebuffed. When everything was finished, my watch looked brand new and all I had to pay for was the replacement bracelet – a reasonable $20. Not bad.