Friday, May 30, 2008

Miscellaneous Goals for June

It's almost June, so it's time to set goals in a few categories.

1. Limit eating out and junk food to $120 for the month.
This is the June challenge from krystalatwork and I think it's going to be hard for us. We hardly ever eat out as a family, but I tend to eat at work, my hubby buys candy regularly and we buy junk food on the way to and from our other house.

2. Lose 3 pounds.
This is part of my larger goal to lose nine pounds over the next 3 months, so I'm back to 120 pounds by my birthday. Since I'm 5'4" and have very small bones, this is a reasonable weight, particularly if I also spend some time at the gym trying to firm up those abs!

3. Post at least 23 times in June.
That's one post per day excluding Shabbos and the 2 days of Shavuot. I strongly believe that having a routine of posting daily will make it more likely that I will follow through with this blog in the long term.

4. Write at least one book review in June.
I enjoy reading book reviews by other PF bloggers. Seeing what they read and what they thought of the books gives me valuable insight into what they think is important in the realm of personal finance. Sometimes I get good ideas from them about books to read. For example, I really must read Getting Things Done.

I think in the future I will have 6 or 7 goals per month, but I want to ease into this. I still have a lot to learn about writing a blog (and getting others to read it) as well as a lot of technical issues (like getting my page layout just the way I want it, adding other elements, etc.). That will take some of my time this month.

This is also a short post today because it's Friday and I have a few things left to do here at home before Shabbos comes in at 8:50 pm. Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Miscellaneous Stockpiling

Do you stock up on items you use on a regular basis? Trent at The Simple Dollar does. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't.

For much of the past decade I've lived in small spaces with inadequate storage. As a result, I haven't always stockpiled items. And, sometimes when I've done so, I've regretted it. I don't need 10 bottles each of shampoo and conditioner (especially when you consider that only my hubby uses conditioner and he has short hair). I didn't realize conditioner could go bad until it did!

Then there were the times when I wasn't buying extra of anything (like when we staged our condo for sale). It sold the first day but until the subjects came off I was running out of toilet paper and having to dash to the store to buy yet another small package.

Perhaps the most memorable stockpiling I did was prior to Y2K. My best friend's hubby's job was to fix code in advance of Y2K and he was convinced things were going to turn out badly. So I stocked up and I'm actually glad I did.

No, the world as we know it didn't crash and burn when we left the 1900's behind but I had some personal circumstances that left me pretty tight for money relatively soon thereafter and I ate my way through my stored food for months. Doing that really enabled me to reduce my expenses.

I'm thinking of doing some stockpiling again over the next several months, buying multiples of items we use when they're on sale. What sorts of things will I stock up on?

Food Products
Tea (I drink decaf English Breakfast and Earl Grey teas)
Tuna (we go through a tin per week on average)
Spaghetti (whole grain pastas)
Single serving noodle soups (ramen type and, yes, I know they aren't the best thing from a health viewpoint)
Tomato sauce
Tetra paks of a couple of soups we like
Tetra paks of Almond Breeze (non-dairy almond milk)
Bottled water

Non-Food Products
Shabbos candles (for Friday nights)
Yahrzeit candles (burn 24 hours plus)
Tea lights (100/pkg from IKEA)
Toilet paper
Stir sticks
Dental floss
Shower gel

Why? I have a variety of reasons. Let's look at them.

Short term emergency. Government agencies (at all levels) regularly recommend that every household keep food, water, medications, first aid kit and other essentials sufficient for at least 72 hours in case of an emergency such as flooding, earthquake, etc.

Economic downturn. Whether the downturn is societal or only at your own house (i.e. serious illness, job loss, maternity leave, etc.) a stocked pantry and household essentials cupboard will help see you through lean times.

Keep basics on hand. It's easy to throw together a quick meal when we have a busy day or week or when somebody gets the flu if there are the basics for a few favourites always on hand.

Save money. Who doesn't like to save money? If these items are only purchased on sale then it protects you in two ways. First, it means fewer last minute drives to the store to pick up a forgotten item at full price. Second, when the price goes up (which it will, sooner or later) a household with a 3 month supply will be affected that much later.

If you buy a reasonable amount of product to last for a specified time frame, purchased on sale when there is an adequate supply I consider that to be storing. Hoarding, on the other hand, I would define as buying as much product as possible at any price when the item is already in short supply. Additionally, the products may be obtained with the intention of reselling them at a later date for a profit. I believe that storing is prudent, ethical and frugal, while hoarding is not.

Stored goods should be used on a "first in, first out" basis and restocked regularly. If you aren't using items by their "best before" date you're buying too much!

What are your thoughts? Do you stock up and, if so, what do you buy?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

10 Miscellaneous Things I Should Do

  1. Go back to the gym.
  2. Make a deposit into my credit union account to cover my eletric bill. Done
  3. Update my passbook at my main bank. Done
  4. Enter info from my receipts etc. into my budget spreadsheet. In progress
  5. Make a payment on my cell bill. Done
  6. Return a couple of items to IKEA. Returned 1, decided to keep the other.
  7. Set up new financial files. Started, but lots more to do.
  8. Go through 2 boxes of meat dishes. Done
  9. Unpack my spices. Done
  10. Make labels for Rubbermaid storage boxes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Spending Less

Yesterday I talked about earning more money. Today I want to think about ways to spend less.

This is not easy for me. I looked at my budget recently and I was hard pressed to come up with any areas where I could reasonably expect to cut back. That's not to say that my budget is so lean and mean that I have no unnecessary expenditures. Frankly, my family is loath to give up our few creature comforts and I don't have the ability to impose a restrictive regime unilaterally.

We both have cell phones and my husband requires his for work. In fact, he receives some kind of allowance towards the cost of it. I find having a cell is important to me, especially when we go to our other house (where we have no land line). I recently made changes to my plan to try to optimize it for the types of calls I make and for the coverage I needed to improve my service (although that seems to be only marginally better).

What about giving up the land line? Well, I've read a number of posts on VoIP and I'm not convinced that this is the solution for us. The 911 issue is very troubling to me, especially when you consider that I spend about half the week alone all day with 3 active little girls. And my cell service in the house still leaves much to be desired. One second the connection is fine. The next second I have no service and I haven't moved an inch. I'd hate to be relaying important medical information and lose the connection. And this is not purely theoretical. One of the girls just got a cast off. She broke her arm mountain climbing on the couch.

Cable TV? Over my hubby's dead body! He's a huge hockey fan and watches all the games (plus football, plus...) and he wouldn't be pleased in the least if we even cut back on our service. Of course, the cable and satellite providers are very clever and put many of the most popular channels in the premium tier. Anyway, the subject is pretty well moot now that we live in the same house as my adult daughter and her family. We combined our cable when we moved in together and they'd have to agree too (the service is in their name and we just pay our share of the bill). Considering that they just bought a big screen HDTV LCD TV I'm thinking the answer is "No".

We only have one car and my husband uses it for sales calls so we can't get rid of it, although his office is in the process of moving and I think he'll ride his bike to work at least part of the time (when he doesn't plan to be out of the office during the day and when the weather co-operates). We also drive back and forth to the other house anywhere from once a week to once in 6 weeks. I spoke to my hubby about doing small things to improve gas mileage, although he seemed to feel it wasn't worth it.

We're not going to downsize our home. We've been seriously underhoused for several years and have only just moved in with my adult daughter and her family into an adequately sized area (between 800 and 900 square feet for me, hubby, DC and Dog). The good thing is that we've now eliminated the 3 storage containers we had previously. It's nice to finally have all our possessions accessible. It'll be even nicer when they're not all in boxes!

So, what can I do? Well, the one thing I've just done is to cancel my community centre membership. That's $43 and change every month we'll save. I know we need to cut down on the amount we spend on eating out (which includes eating at work and buying junk food) and so I'm going to take part in krystalatwork's June Dining Out challenge. We need to get better at paying things in a timely manner, so we're not paying late fees!

Over and above all of that, we need to just need to pay off the credit card debt so that we're not making those payments every month! It's frustrating because we've been credit card debt free at least twice in the past. I want to get back to that point and then not go back into credit card debt!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Earning More Money

I’ve been working a little less than usual recently and my cheques have been a bit smaller. This pay period I was finally closer to my average hours and I was looking forward to a few bucks more, so that I could try to catch up on a few bills.

Imagine my feelings then, when I got an email telling me that I had actually been slightly overpaid a couple of times recently and that this cheque will have 6.5 hours deducted.

Sometimes I feel like I can’t get ahead. I’m frustrated and I think I need to come up with ways to increase my income. I could increase my hours. There’s certainly enough work to do that I can justify adding hours but the only time I can really add is a few hours on the Fridays and Sundays that we don’t go to our other house and maybe an hour on Thursdays. (Of course, I can only work until 3 pm on Fridays during the summer when sundown comes later. The rest of the year 1 or 2 pm is the latest.)

But I have to admit I’m not dying to go to the office for 3 hours every other Sunday! It’s literally the only day we have to really get things done around the house and I’m not 20 years old any more. I’m tired a lot of the time. I work 20 to 25 hours per week, I look after the little girls 3 days per week, we keep Shabbos (which is technically a day of rest but involves a lot of walking), I’m doing renovation projects at both houses and most nights I’m up past midnight, writing.

But if I have to do it, I have to do it.

Then I start thinking about other ways to earn more money. Getting a raise is out. It’s basically a COLA, we get it automatically every January and that’s all there is. I’m not going to get a formal 2nd job. When would I be able to commit to working? Every other Sunday? But I was already going to work at my current job then and I’m willing to bet I make more money doing that than I’d make at a second job. I mean, really, what am I going to get? Retail at $8.50/hour is not worth it!

I have done the occasional special project in the past and gotten paid better (in the $17 to $25/hour range). These projects have been computer-based, meaning that I’m not tied to any particular location so long as I have my laptop. I can even work at the other house or late at night and it doesn’t matter. This has more potential. But I was approached to do those projects. It’s a bit of a stretch for me to go prospecting for more—a big step out of my comfort zone. It might be worth it though.

And the blog. What about the blog? Well, there are a couple of ways to make money off a blog. You can put ads on the site and you can write sponsored posts. If you use Adsense some of the ads may be inappropriate and a site cluttered up with a lot of ads is irritating to me. I’m worried that writing sponsored posts is like selling out, but I know people do it because it really does pay them to do so. Is it okay if you only write sponsored posts that don’t offend your own sensibilities? I can’t stand gushy posts about products the author doesn’t really care about. But if what you write is honest, is it okay?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Baby Steps to Miscellaneous Goals

It’s hard to achieve big goals. Listen, I find it hard to achieve little goals like unpacking a box or catching up on the laundry. So imagine how hard it is for me to get anywhere with a truly big goal.

I get trapped in the minutiae of everyday life. Walking the dog, working, taking care of my daughter and granddaughters, and mundane chores could easily take up my whole life.

So how do I keep up the momentum towards a big goal? I ask myself what’s the next step I could take towards one aspect of the goal. For instance, one of my goals is to grow organic lavender and sell the dried buds in sachets. In order to achieve that, I need an acre of land and thousands of plants. That’s not happening right now, so what have I done?

I bought and planted 3 different lavender plants, one Munstead, one Hidcote and one Provence. What will I learn from them this year?

First of all, I’ve never done much gardening. Step one is just to keep them alive, with very minimal attention.

Two, I need to see how big they’ll grow this year and next.

Three, I want to really learn the difference between the 3 types.

Four, I’m learning delayed gratification. You aren’t supposed to let them bloom the first year (although my Munstead is very determined) and only allow about ½ of the blossoms to develop the next summer. Then, the third summer you can harvest the entire crop. Doing this is supposed to encourage the plant to put all its effort into establishing its root system and greenery, so that it’s stronger.

So far, so good. One week later my plants are not only alive, they’re thriving. So, three little plants are really an effective baby step towards my goal. Two of the plants cost me $1.67 each; the third was $3.89. So for under $6 I’m learning, in miniature, all the skills I’ll need to successfully grow lavender on a larger scale. I could mope and complain about not having the land and all the plants this year but that wouldn’t get me anywhere.

And this experiment may save me from costly mistakes. What if I planted a whole acre with one type of plant and then found out its scent wasn’t quite right for my sachets? What if it didn’t grow well or needed more work than some other types? I can learn a lot of those lessons now, very inexpenively.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Miscellaneous Cost of Forgetfulness

Posted Motzai Shabbos (after Shabbat)

We go to our other house on average a couple of times per month and it seems like every time we do, something gets left behind or lost. The other week we arrived and couldn’t find our mail key (we live in a rural area and have a neighbourhood Superbox). Our next door neighbour has the 2nd key so we borrowed it back and I got another key cut at a big box hardware store in town (20 minutes drive). We returned to the big city and a day or 2 later my hubby put on a pair of jeans he hadn’t worn in a while. He put his hand in the pocket and there was the key!

This past week when we were leaving, my hubby put almost everything we were taking back in the van. I made the rounds of the house and made sure I had things like my rings (because I left them once before and didn’t have them for about 3 weeks). We got halfway home and stopped to gas up the car. It was raining and I asked Hubby where our jackets were because it was raining and I was going to take DC inside for a potty break. I got back a blank look. “Why would I know where they are?” he asked. “Because you packed the van,” I replied.

You guessed it. He had put our jackets in the spare bedroom closet and hadn’t retrieved them. Being without them would be bad enough since they’re our hooded rain jackets but the really bad thing is that I had most of my keys (except for the house keys and the car key) in my jacket pocket! That includes the key to my office, which is a giant pain because I work 3 nights a week and have to call Maintenance to open up for me when I don’t have it.

So, the other night I sat down with the calendar to figure out when we were going to be able to go back. We’d been to the house the last 2 weekends, so we weren’t really planning to go a third time in a row, especially since it would be about 9 hours of driving in total and we’d only be there for less than one day. But, when I looked at the calendar I realized the following 3 weeks don’t work at all for us. We couldn’t even go just for Sunday any of those weeks. I can’t really manage for a month without jackets and keys and we just planted our garden last week. Our neighbours will water for us once a week or so if we’re not around but I don’t expect them to do it for a solid month!

We have stuff to do here in the city too and in the end we decided I’d go by myself on the Greyhound. It only takes about an extra hour of travel time, but I don’t have to do the driving! I normally drive the whole way, so it will be much more relaxing. I might even sleep! And it costs just about exactly what we spend on gas. (So, if we all go, the car is a better bet.) If this works well, maybe I can do it again another time when it doesn’t work for us all to go.

But the cost? Well, let's just say Capital One will be happy....

Friday, May 23, 2008

Miscellaneous Distractions at Work

So, my boxes aren’t the only miscellaneous things in my life. How about at work? Today was a good example. My co-worker is away for a couple of days and I just about went insane. We’re getting close to a major event, deadlines for this and that are looming, my Executive Director wanted my help with a bunch of emails, we hosted a full dinner committee meeting in the office at lunchtime, several committee members wanted something from me (mostly information I didn’t have), the phone kept ringing, etc. etc.

It was sensory overload at its worst. I’d work a little on one thing, then my ED would ask for something, I’d switch to that, the phone would ring, I’d take someone’s payment, I’d send an email, 2 more would pop up asking me for information I didn’t have. I didn’t feel like I was finishing anything, the pieces of paper multiplied all over the desk and I was just moving them around from pile to pile.

I’m not good with lots of distractions. I started and stopped the same task several times, lost track of a few things and just generally had a really bad time. I got absolutely zero done on my own work and all the work I did on the event is disorganized. Some things need follow-up but I’ll have to look through all the pieces of paper again to find which are the ones that need work.

I worked from 8:30 am to 6 pm and didn’t even stop to eat until about 2 pm. Then I grabbed half a tuna sandwich and half an egg sandwich from the leftovers from the meeting and made myself a cup of decaf, using our fancy one cup at a time machine and the milk I’d bought for the meeting. Normally I buy coffee downstairs because I like the coffee better and because I like lots of half & half. We don’t usually have milk or cream upstairs. But it was a very frugal day. I usually spend anywhere from $7 to $12 for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays. Today I spent zero. That was my one good feeling.

Friday we close at 3 pm and I have to go make a bank deposit after that, but if tomorrow is like today I won’t have time to prepare the batches. So I arranged for a volunteer to come in from 8:30 am to noon to answer the phones for me. She could have come in today too but it wouldn’t have worked as well because we had a lot of extra people bouncing around in our small space today. Tomorrow it will be just my Executive Director, the volunteer and me. That should be much more workable.

I had to go to Safeway and the deli on the way home and I had to stand partway on the bus with my bags. I was exhausted when I got home and I hadn’t been to the washroom since 7 am! My hubby wanted me to get going on dinner but I had a bit of a break first (and a couple of brownies with rainbow bits!) before I started cutting mushrooms and grating cheese.

I made pita pizzas. They’re fast and simple. Basically I put pizza sauce (from a squeeze bottle) on whole wheat pitas. I top them with mushrooms and mozzarella and they cook in 5 to 6 minutes in the toaster oven (I keep the pitas in the freezer or they might cook a little faster). A couple of pizzas and a cup of decaf with half & half and I was much happier. But I’m still tired. I fell asleep on my bed fully dressed before midnight. Hubby woke me and I forced myself to wake up enough to write this.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shevy's Miscellaneous Life

Oh look, it’s another personal finance blog. Yes, Shevy has decided to make the leap from making long comments on various PF blogs to writing her very own blog, mostly about personal finance, but also about Life.

Why, you ask? For one thing, I don’t fit very neatly into any category and I hope people will find it interesting to explore some of the same old topics from a slightly different point of view. I’m, ahem, approaching a milestone birthday later this year and have 3 grown children, 3 grandchildren, a husband (my second, in case you’re counting), and a five year old. I’m also an Orthodox Jew and a Canadian. Having spent a considerable number of years as a single parent, I’m way behind on saving for retirement. Since retirement and Dear Child’s post-secondary education will presumably coincide that’s a bit of a worry. Okay, it’s a big worry.

Did I mention that my dream is to open a small kosher winery? You’ve heard the old joke haven’t you? Somebody asked the winemaker what he should do to create a small fortune in the wine industry. The immediate response was, “Start with a large fortune.” That won’t be happening in my case, barring a lottery win. So, a big part of my planning has to do with how to finance my dream on a shoestring, while putting my child through school and putting away some money into RRSP’s.

Where did the name for the blog come from? Well, there’s the whole “not fitting neatly into any category” aspect, but I’ve also been sorting through boxes from our latest move (the end of January) along with the boxes that had been in storage, and the vast majority of them are miscellaneous. Even the ones that are purely paper have important papers, bills, kid’s artwork and old Linens ‘n Things ads all mixed together. Sigh.

What are my qualifications for talking to the world about personal finance? None, except that I spend money (sometimes more than is coming in) and I’ve had to figure out a lot of this myself over time. What? You thought I was some kind of professional financial planner and could tell you what to do with your money? No, read my disclaimer.

Why do I keep saying “I” when I’m married? Well, I’m the one who likes to write and to track our finances and who has this outrageous dream. Hubby’s outrageous dream would be to be a rock star, but he’s willing to go along with mine as long as I don’t turn him into a full-time farmer. Besides, blogging is a lot like journaling—very personal. I’m not presuming to speak for my DH most of the time, even when he would probably agree with me.

I plan to post an average of six times per week (nothing from Friday evening to Saturday evening or on religious holidays) and to review at least one book per month. I hope you’ll hang around and read a bit. If you like what you read, please consider subscribing to my RSS feed.