Friday, November 14, 2008

A Rare Visit to My Blog

I haven't been blogging much since the summer. I've been very focused on my business and my two boys. But, in light of the collapse of the economy as we know it since September, I feel that I was WAAAYYY ahead of the curve in practicing frugal ways. I'll be interested to see how Americans respond to this crisis. Granted, according to news reports, October saw an almost 3% decline in consumer spending. Considering that 2/3 of our economy depends on consumer spending, that is significant. But, will Americans change their ways? There are so many blogs to help with frugal living, least of all mine.

Have I changed my habits? Well, not too much although tomorrow I will go to the local kids' toy swap to see what I can find for holiday gifts for my boys. I don't plan on many new toys or clothes, in fact, for them. Thank goodness they're not yet old enough to realize tags would indicate that they are new, not used!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Deceptively Delicious Works!

I just picked up the Deceptively Delicious cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld at the library. The idea behind this cookbook is that you puree fruits and vegetables and then include them in the recipe so that the kids won't even notice. I've tried quite a few of the recipes so far including the French toast, PB&J muffins, frozen smoothie popsicles, brownies, scrambled eggs, and chicken rice balls. The French toast and scrambled eggs have worked out the best so far. I have similar cookbooks like Moms' Mealtime Makeovers, Healthy Kids Cookbook and Super Baby Food but I've found these recipes to be the most "user-friendly". I've been pureeing my own fruits and vegetables but I'm wondering if some people use baby food?

In any event, I like knowing that my children are getting more fruits and vegetables than they otherwise would have if I used a standard recipe.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Who's Your City?

I picked up Who's Your City at the library today after hearing the author, Richard Florida, interviewed on NPR. He rates cities according to your stage in life, budgetary constraints, and lifestyle, i.e. straight or gay. The chapter on Superstar Cities which are cities that attract major talent but tend to be expensive because of huge price run-ups such as San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, Portland, etc. has an interesting argument at the end. I will quote part of it.

"I can't help but wonder whether this dream [home ownership] doesn't belong to a bygone industrial era.... Strangely, our system of home ownership dramatically limits mobility, and, in a country where nearly two-thirds of residents are tied to their houses, this means that the economy will suffer.

The creative age may well require alternative forms of housing-something between ownership and renting. In many markets today, it makes more financial sense to rent rather than own."

So, for those who feel excluded because they rent rather than own, take heart. Renting allows for more mobility. And, for those who own homes but feel that they are forsaking the American Dream if they want to rent, here's an argument that basically says mobility could allow for creativity.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Check out the Festival of Frugality--My post was included!

My post on Is Being Frugal Patriotic was posted at this week's Festival of Frugality #132! Thanks, Budgets Are Sexy!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Suburban Garden Update

I'm pleased to report that my vegetables are growing pretty well. I have four corn stalks, three bean stalks, three tomato bushes and two basil plants. Most are doing well although a few are looking a bit yellow in terms of leaves. Perhaps poor drainage or not enough water? Granted, a week ago, we had a huge hot spell three days in a row with over 100 degrees.

And, I'm waaaayyy behind on the Millionaire Mommy Next Door Abundant Life Challenge. She's on Day 11 with $102,000 so I'll just jump to Day 11.

How I'd Spend It:
10% to Church
10% to Charity of Choice
50% to College Funds
30% to Invest

How I'd Earn It:
Implement the new marketing system for our business. If I can get that going, I believe our revenue will increase by at least that much.

What I'm Grateful For:
My parents whom I miss since they're on vacation right now! I appreciate my parents, and have much more so since I turned 30 (which was a while ago). Parents have wisdom and patience and now that I have children, it's all the more I appreciate what they endured. Sometimes children can try the patience of a saint! And, they're wonderful grandparents, too!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Is being frugal patriotic?

I'm working on creating a Statue of Liberty costume for the 4th of July festivities. I had been looking at costumes online which range in cost from $16.99 to $99.99 and so I figured I could probably make one myself for less. I found an easy online "how to make a Lady Liberty costume" which includes buying material for the draped dress and making all the accessories--the crown, torch and book. I found the perfect green material on sale (!) which cost $3 in total for a yard and 1/2. I'll use foam sheets for the rest of the accessories and find a book to hold.

But, in preparing for the 4th of July, I found myself thinking about our current economy and whether it's been part of America's history to be frugal. And, for the most part, I'd say, it's been a resounding yes. (In my former life, I taught US History to high school students which is why my mind wandered to our country's past.) I can think of so many times and eras where Americans had to tighten their proverbial belts to make it through. In the pre-Revolutionary era, colonial Americans made their own herbal teas and spun their own yarn to make their own cloth when they faced taxes on products and decided to boycott English goods. In the early part of the 1800s prior to the Industrial Revolution, most Americans were farmers so they were used to growing their own fruits and vegetables and then canning and storing. Just think of the life as described in Little House on the Prairie! Even with the Industrial Revolution in full swing by the late 1800s after the Civil War (another period of deprivation), the majority of Americans were frugal--only the middle-class and the wealthy began to have leisure time. And then, let's not forget the first half of the 1900s included World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. Both World Wars featured meatless days, Victory Gardens, etc. but the World War II saw the imposition of rationing and serious lack of consumer goods and durables. The Great Depression was America's greatest moment in Frugal History where people had to live with less. So, really, the excess consumerism of the Baby Boomer generation from the 1950s on through today accounts for just about 30% of our history, and it's our recent history to boot. So, I'd have to say that there's a long tradition of being frugal and if we were to look back at some of our books on homemaking (Catherine Beecher comes to mind), I imagine we'd find a wealth of great frugal ideas. We should be proud of our frugal heritage and call on it now in these challenging economic times.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Abundant Life Challenge

I forgot to include the other part of how to bring the money into my life! How to make that much money and show gratitude!

Day 1: $100 - Send out a postcard for $99 PC tune-ups to customers and prospects.
Gratitude: I'm grateful that we've been in business for 12 years.
Day 2: $200 - Sell our blue couch/chair that's in our garage.
Gratitude: I'm grateful that we live in a beautiful neighborhood with a community pool where the kids can swim and a lake where my husband and I can go out on the boat.


Now onto Day 3: $400

Spend: Have a birthday party bash for my youngest son at an indoor party place.
Earn: Send out letters to clients explaining our newest 24x7 Automated Remote Management service.

Gratitutde: I'm grateful for a wonderful husband who's a great dad to our two boys. He took them to the local Touch-A-Truck event yesterday and went swimming with them. He said he had a great time and that interaction with them was the greatest Father's Day gift he could have.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Millionaire Mommy Next Door: Abundant Life Challenge

Millionaire Mommy Next Door has decided to stretch her mind and work on the laws of attraction by listing what she'd spend starting with $100 on the first day and then doubling it for 30 days (ultimately reaching close to $53 billion on Day 30). I'm going to join the challenge! What a great idea!

Day 1: $100 to Spend
Sushi dinner with husband ($65)
Bouncy house rental for the boys ($35)

Day 2: $200
Spa treatments (Facial, reflexology, manicure)

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Opportunity Cost of Rising Gasoline Prices

Let's say that now you're paying almost $30 more per gallon than you used to (based on filling up 15 gallons at $4.50/gallon whereas you used to fill it up for $2.50/gallon). Here are some items and services that you could have bought, used or otherwise engaged those $30:

Saving
Investing
Buying dinner for four at an inexpensive/fast food restaurant or dinner for two at a moderately priced restaurant
A haircut
7-8 coffee drinks at Starbucks or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (although I hesitate to even list this since frugalistas like ourselves probably wouldn't be buying expensive coffee drinks, would we?)
Two CDs or DVDs
1.5 months of a Netflix subscription
Clothes--at a garage sale about 10-20 items; at Old Navy, maybe 4-5

The list could be endless. The point of this is that there is an opportunity cost to rising prices and I'm sure we'll be changing our behavior if we haven't already. Does it seem to you like there are fewer cars on the freeway?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Frugal Transgression

So, we had our family portrait done a week ago and we went back yesterday to choose the portraits and, in the end, spent three times as much as I budgeted for. That means we won't go on vacation for a long weekend like we'd planned this summer but I think the portraits will be worth it. The family portrait will be on canvas and looks so professional. I really didn't want to spend that kind of money but our kids are young (and I know that they grow up fast--at least that's what everyone says!) and the photos are, oh, about 100 times better than what we've gotten from Sears and J.C. Penney. So, I pride myself on being frugal but there are times where I think the value of what we're buying is worth the price. I guess this is my frugal transgression for the time being. What have your frugal transgressions been?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Suburban Gardening


My oldest son decided he wanted a garden this year and honestly, I probably wouldn't have done anything had he not insisted despite the fact that I designed our backyard to have a very small plot for the express purpose of a garden. When you have two young children and work almost full-time, planting a garden is lower on the list than say, getting some rest. But, I want my boys to appreciate Mother Earth and I also want some fresh produce and who knows, maybe I'll save some money but already my watering bill has gone up so I doubt it. I'm rambling. I've included a photo of said garden and you might be wondering where the vegetables are. If you can't see them, then that's perfect! I'm trying to keep it hidden from the rabbits who are proliferating like, yes, rabbits. The weeds currently perfectly obscure the vegetables. We're growing corn, beans, tomatoes, and, if I remember to get some, basil. It would perfect if I could grow a mozzarella bush! I can just taste the promise of Caprese salad this summer. Yum!

Life in the Fab Lane

So I was channel surfing and chanced upon Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane, the ex-model turned high-fashion billionairess, on the Style channel. She decided to see about reducing her carbon footprint by consulting with a Green Coach. It turns out that Kimora's carbon footprint is around 27 whereas the average is 7. So her house is so large she probably gets lost and she has a fleet of cars and planes. Perhaps this is why she's above the average??? Anyway, I had to laugh. All of us trying to do the frugal thing are so outweighed by her excess. And, I've been reading the story of Stoneyfield Yogurt and how they've made it their mission to be Carbon Neutral so that their carbon footprint is at least mitigated by alternative pro-earth choices. I'm impressed that their green ways have been profitable and beneficial. It seems that going green and being frugal go hand in hand.

I've been considering how to make our business more green. We can do a lot to help people reduce their expenses and carbon footprint but giving them the tools to work remotely and go paperless.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Price of Taking Care of Our Children

So, how do you put a price on childcare? My friend (the one whom I've been trying to help) revealed that she's paying a woman who speaks barely any English and doesn't drive, $15/hr for watching her kids, cleaning the house and doing the laundry! She defended this amount by saying it's hard to find people who really care about her children and whom she trusts. I feel this is too high--hello! I'll do this for her! Anyway, she was adamant that this was standard pay for nannies/caregivers in her area. And, of course, this woman's not paying taxes on this money. She didn't buy my suggestion that she talk to her and say that because of the number of hours involved, she was going to lower her hourly rate for fear that she'd leave.

I send my 3 year old to a private daycare/pre-school and pay about $690/mo. which equates to about $4.70/hr. There are 3 teachers in his class of 20 children, and about 16-18 are there on any given day. So, this is what works for me. Thank goodness my oldest child is now in kindergarten because I was paying twice that monthly amount last year!

OK, enough of that. On to my visit to the children's consignment store which I felt was very unproductive. They didn't take many of the clothes so after waiting 3 months for my drop off appointment, I received $10 for about 6 items. Won't be doing that again!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Healing Your Financial Soul

I promised I'd be thinking of ways to help my friend who is frustrated by what she sees as an endless road of debt. And, in the past week, I've sent her an email mentioning a few blogs such as Get Rich Slowly, Finally Frugal, and Being Frugal . I also sent her the link to Twenty Ways to Spend Less and Earn More by Digerati Life. And, I also mentioned the Dave Ramsey method which The Simple Mom is reviewing in parts. I've heard nothing back from my friend as yet but she's not very good about checking email. I won't take it personally since I think she's in a place where she knows she has a problem but isn't quite sure how to proceed. And, if she acknowledges this issue, then she might also have to take some pro-active steps to change her spending behavior. (And, that's always hard!) For example, she was saying that a "dream house" that she's been eying for the past two years is in foreclosure and she'd love buy that house. But, in the next sentence she says she's thinking of downsizing. So, until she decides which path she takes, it's not going to be easy. She's read Rich Dad, Poor Dad and likes the premise but I can see her mind is not yet in tune with her actions. It's funny, too, that I think I know what she should do, that it's all so clear to me! But, in my own situations, I don't always have that clarity! Do you?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spa Confessions

For Mother's Day, two of my friends and I went to a day spa for some pampering and then had lunch at The Corner Bakery. It's always fun to get together with the girls. We all work and we each have two boys. We've known each other since high school. As usual, we ended up talking about our work, our boys, the upcoming election and personal finances. My friend who's the family physician whose husband is a teacher who definitely makes more than me seems to be facing tough financial times since they've refinanced their current home to pay off other debt so their mortgage is upside down and the other house they own is also in the same position so they feel completely tied to a difficult situation. I really sympathize with her. It's funny because I wish I had her large current home of over 2300SF and a rental property but, obviously, there are challenges. And, the cost to heat and cool such a large house! I mentioned that there are blogs aplenty about personal finance and frugal living so perhaps she'll look at some. She's a wonderful photographer, too. I imagine she'd be able to start doing small jobs and get a lot of referrals quickly. I want to help her and will continue to think of ways.

How have you helped your friends in tough financial situations?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cinco de Mayo for the Frugal-Minded

The good news for those with light wallets or the desire to keep their money in their wallets is that there's great Mexican food to be had all over LA whether from taco trucks, little stands, or restaurants. I'm going to try to impress myself by listing as many Mexican restaurants by memory as I can. Most will be from the SFV as that's my stomping ground but here goes:

El Taco Llama - multiple locations
King Taco - multiple locations; they get better the closer they are to East L.A.
Tacos Mexico - multiple locations
El Cabanita - Glendale/Montrose
La Fuentes - Reseda
Melodee's - Reseda
Mission Taco - Canoga Park
El Coyote - Hollywood/LA
Casa Vega - Sherman Oaks
Mexicali - Studio City (stick to appetizers for lower priced fare)
Los Toros - Chatsworth

So, there you have it. Some restaurants worth checking out if you're in the area!

I'd love to hear about your favorite cheap Mexican eats!

We'll be at home with the boys making our own Cinco de Mayo feast with fajita chicken tacos, guac and dip, corn, refried beans and margaritas (maybe!)

Hasta la vista!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Women's Small Business Expo - LA

Since the kids were born, I haven't had much time to go to conferences and seminars like I used to. I also haven't had as much sleep, gone on vacation, or spent time refining my gourmet culinary skills! But, I digress.

Anyway, I decided that a business expo/day-long conference might energize and revive my spirits. Indeed it did! Linda Hollander, the Wealthy Bag Lady, put on a great day-long conference on April 30 at the Ayres Hotel in Hawthorne (close by LAX). It was a super line-up of speakers including Susan Solovic, the keynote speaker and Founder of SBTV.com (Internet TV for Small Business) as well as many others. It was great! I got to spent time with fellow women business owners from NAWBO-Ventura County when we drove down and back through rush hour LA traffic. (That's a blast! Actually, it was really fun and traffic isn't a problem when you have nice companions!)

We had speakers on marketing, sales techniques, networking, making money off the Internet, and becoming a media celebrity. (The last isn't going to happen--I don't even post a picture on my blog!) But, they were all great and had wonderful information to share. There was an exhibit going on as well throughout the day.

Go to the Women's Small Business Exp to find out more. And, the date has been set for next year--April 29! Same location.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Science Center and BBQ


On Saturday, we took the kids to the Orange County Discovery Science Center to see the Clifford exhibit which, naturally, although that's what they'd requested to see, they liked the least. They enjoyed the Dino Quest area and all the other cool science experiments like the pulleys, the tornado, etc. We were able to save some money by using our AAA membership for the admission price. We've been working on their table manners/restaurant manners so we went to Denny's for breakfast to start the day and they were remarkably well-behaved. We took our lunch with us so that was a good savings since the other option was Taco Bell or Pizza Hut in the center. Afterward, we had an early dinner at Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ which was not a frugal meal by any means. Sandwiches start around $9 or $10 and most are $12. Most entrees start at $12. DH and I split the BBQ Porch Platter with 3 types of BBQ meat and two sides for $25. The boys split a kids' meal. We all had drinks and dessert and DH bought two bottles of BBQ sauce, $4 each. I should be happy it ended up just under $70. However, by this time, the kids' behavior had deteriorated to a large degree so it was not a pleasant, relaxed meal like in the morning. So, while I'd say that $20 for breakfast, $35 for admission to the Discover Center and $70 for dinner is pricey, it's still far less than a day at Disneyland or Legoland!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Are we the richest country on earth?

Per capita, Americans make the most money per year than any other country in the world. But, we have a very low savings rate and we borrow money from credit card companies, mortgage companies, and banks to maintain our lifestyle. So, where does that leave us? I don't know enough to write a treatise on the subject but it seems to me that if we're constantly leveraging our assets to create a cash flow to keep up with the Joneses, that this is not a sound principle. Gone are the days when people aspired to own their own homes free and clear although there are some good arguments to be made for the advantages of using the tax-break for mortgages. Also, there are other ways to gauge wealth and riches. Are Americans healthy and happy? Do we find spiritual fulfillment? So, I don't know that we are but it seems to me that we should all take stock of where we are in all areas of our lives to find a balance. And, in the midst of personal decisions, the government is creating an inflationary situation which never helps. So, perhaps we are the richest country in the world still but I think that on a personal and institutional level this question is worth considering.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Getting on the Green Bandwagon

If you're interested in saving the environment along with your money, there are numerous websites that can help you in your goals. Try Tech Forward if you want money back for your tech purchases. Choose your product from their list, pay the fee and they'll guarantee a buy-back price for you and they'll provide packaging and then recycle or resell it. A new magazine and website, AllGreen or www.allgreen.com contains articles on living a green life in all areas. We know that green has caught on in this country when there are reality TV shows and an entire channel devoted to the topic!

If you're interested in investing in green stocks, you could consider the New Alternatives fund or the Spectra Green fund. Both had returns of over 25% in 2007. Keep your eye on them!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Get the Scoop! (The Free One that Is!)

From my SIL, a Frugal Queen...!

Free cone day is coming to Ben & Jerry’s on Tuesday, April 29th from noon – 8 p.m. Yes, it’s a free single scoop cone, any flavor! (Note on the pic below that the date is for LAST YEAR so don't go on April 17!)

And the following day:

Visit Baskin-Robbins® on Wednesday, April 30th from 5 – 10 p.m for 31 cent scoop night
and help us honor America’s firefighters. Participating stores will reduce prices of small ice
cream scoop to 31 cents. At some locations, you may also have an opportunity to make a donation
to your local fire charities.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fun Day Trip to San Pedro - Free, Almost Free, and Not Free!



A special thanks to Nicole Radoumis who wrote this post below on Peachhead:
*************************************************************

There are several places in San Pedro I used to take my kids when they were
little. Most are free or cost VERY LITTLE!!!

The Cabrillo Aquarium _www.cabrilloaq.org_ (http://www.cabrilloaq.org) is
very nice and has a wonderful touch tank. From there you can hang out on the
beach for a while and have a nice picnic.

Not too far from there is the Maritime Museum. _www.lamaritimemuseum.org_
(http://www.lamaritimemuseum.org)
It has replicas of many battleships and passenger ships throughout history.
The docks are right there and huge boats dock. The kids loved to see them
up close.

Right across the parking lot from the Maritime Museum is the San Pedro Port
of LA Red Car Line Trolly. _www.railwaypreservation.com_
(http://www.railwaypreservation.com) This is the old railway that used to connect to the
trolly/trains running from LA to the Harbor back in the 40's and 50's. It's only
$1 per person and the kids get a fun little coloring book!!! the trolly
/train only runs Fri/Sat/Sun....

From there, you can go to Ports O Call Village
_www.parkhurstartgalleries.com_ (http://www.parkhurstartgalleries.com)
and walk around the little shops. There is a little ice cream shop the kids
loved. There is also Fisherman's Wharf where you can go on Friday or
Saturday nights during the summer and get a wonderful lobster, shrimp or other fish
dinner pretty cheap. (Ok, it's not the BEST lobster in town, but it is fun)
The meal is huge so beware - one meal can feed a couple kids! You pick out
your fish item and they cook it up for you. They add some potatoes and
veggies and pour it out on a tray - fun stuff and VERY messy! My kids used to
love this place.

Another fun place in San Pedro is the Marine Mammal Rescue Center
_www.marinemammalcenter.org_ (http://www.marinemammalcenter.org) it is free to the
public and you can see the animals, take a quick tour and watch feeding times!!!

Right next to the Marine Mammal Rescue Center is Fort MacArthur museum and
Osgood Battery. (Walking distance) _http://www.ftmac.org/_
(http://www.ftmac.org/) You can walk through the old armory battery and take a tour with a
guide talking about San Pedro during WW2. Very interesting stuff. Kids have a
lot of room to run around and get to see things that might spark their
interest (Especially school age kids!)

Not too far from Fort MacArthur is Angels Gate Park with the Korean Bell of
Friendship and Pagoda. _http://www.sanpedrochamber.com/champint/korenbel.htm_
(http://www.sanpedrochamber.com/champint/korenbel.htm) This is one of the
most beautiful parks overlooking the ocean. You can even do whale watching
from this high vantage point, or just have a nice picnic and fly some kites
(or watch others fly theirs!!!)


Last but certainly not least..... Schedule in advance a reservation for
Papadakis Taverna in San Pedro _www.papadakistaverna.com_
(http://www.papadakistaverna.com) . Very Fun Greek Restaurant walking distance from the Maritime
Museum. Tell them that Nicole RADOUMIS sent you (the magic word is Radoumis...)
they know my family well and will treat you very well!!!

Have fun!!!!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Both a Borrower and a Lender Be!


More and more we're hearing about peer-to-peer lending networks. It seems to me that these networks will become increasingly more important in the days ahead.

Through various blogs and magazines, these three networks have caught my attention:

Prosper.com
Lendingclub.com
Kiva.com

I hope to become a lender and a borrower through one or more of these in the near future. I love the idea helping someone out. I like win-win situations. If I can lend money at 10-15% to someone who's paying 20% or more on credit card debt, then benefits both of us. Also, these networks allow you to lend small amounts as well as large. And, I might want to borrow in the future for a franchise idea that I'm considering. I've signed up for Prosper.com using my oldest son's savings account in the hope that I'll be able to get a better return on his money than his current <1% interest! It takes a day or two for the process to get started so I'm still waiting to officially become a member. I've enjoyed looking through the lists--the majority are for debt consolidation but there's a diversity of requests-business loans, remodeling, honeymoons, etc.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Smackdowns at Jellyfish!

I couldn't resist the heading, which I created by myself by the way. I have lifted this blog post wholesale off Erica.biz written by Erica Douglass who temporarily "retired" since she became a millionaire before age 30 but she's now out of retirement. Anyway, here it is, from November 2006:

(I have not verified accuracy or credibility of info below.)
**************************************************

Like many of you, I use Froogle to search for prices. Unfortunately, this means Google has made a ton of money from me. I knew about this, and had previously made a habit of just searching through Froogle and then going to the website I wanted directly instead of “clicking through” on Froogle. But that’s a pain in the butt, and doesn’t really help me that much.

Enter Jellyfish. Like Froogle, they take a cut every time you buy from online retailers. Unlike Froogle, instead of buying Googlers more free food, you get the cash (well, they split it with you, but it’s still better than pumping up GOOG a few more cents.) They have the same set of retailers Froogle does, including Staples.com, Buy.com, Barnes & Noble, and other places you already shop. With every purchase you make through Jellyfish, you get cash back. Combined with already-good free shipping offers through most retailers, this is an excellent way to save a lot of money this holiday season and not have to deal with ridiculous lines and lack of parking at malls and brick-and-mortar stores.

Jellyfish also has their “Smack of the Day”, which gives you the opportunity to get first-run items at discount prices. Basically, it’s a reverse auction. You agree to buy the item for the full price from one of their retailers, and the amount of cash back you get increases every minute until they sell out of items. The Smacks start at 10AM PST/1PM EST every day. Apparently this Friday they’re doing “Smack Friday” and they’ll put up a new product every two hours. That is also worth checking out. I’ve already earned $54 of cash back by using Jellyfish. Screw you, Froogle!

I also use Woot.com to get good deals on discontinued or overstock items. Woot is an interesting site — they only sell one item per day, and the item goes up at 10PM PST/1AM EST and lasts until it sells out. Occasionally they will do a “Woot-Off”, where they sell 1 product continuously until it sells out, then put up another product… I got several Christmas gifts on the last (48-hour-long) Woot-Off.

Disclaimer: The Jellyfish links above put me (slashchick@gmail.com) as your referrer. I don’t put ads on this blog and have never made a dime off of it, and I think Jellyfish is neat. Woot doesn’t do referrals, but I also think it is neat, so I threw it in there as well. I ask that you keep the referral there if you enjoy reading my blog; it doesn’t change your amount of cash back, but it gives me a little something to buy Christmas gifts with. Go buy your Christmas gifts on Jellyfish too, and you can have a little something for yourself as well. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Success, frugality and other questions to ponder

I've been reading a book called Raising Lifelong Learners which basically asserts the idea that parents should encourage the magic of learning--during playtime, at school, while doing household chores, etc. It's a wonderful book brimming with super ideas. I'll post more on this later.

In the meantime, family is still in town and we're swamped at the office and I'm over-committed on all sorts of committees and groups, whether it be for business, at my son's school, at church, or something else so I'm feeling overwhelmed. I need to take some time to consider what my priorities are, including this blog. One of the issues I'm contemplating right now about my blog is its title. To some extent "frugal", to me, means a life of denial and that's not always so fun. Also, to be successful in business, one needs to think big, to imagine the possibilities, to set lofty goals, to spend money to beget money. All of this is at odds with my personal life and I want these to jive, so to speak. What alternative title can I use that will encompass all that I am--a mom, a business owner, a careful spender and investor, etc? I don't want my children to think that a life of denial is how we reach success although I do encourage moderation, respect for the environment, and avoiding excess. I've chosen a school for my son, in fact, that helps students explore their own potential and to think big. If that's what I believe, I have to live that way, too, in all areas of my life, and living frugally, in my mind, is unfortunately defined as living with a scarcity mindset although living frugally also means living wisely, consciously, and carefully while still having abundance. It's just a question of semantics and the power of words. I'd like to choose wording that reflects possibility and abundance but also moderation and sensible spending. I'm wondering what that word or phrase might be.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Family Visiting from Out of Town

Family is visiting from out of town and whenever family or friends visit or we go on vacation, it is usually not time for frugal living. In fact, it seems to be the polar opposite. We eat out or go shopping or even when entertaining, expenses increase. So, this weekend promises to be a weekend of spending. However, since our carpet is looking a little worse for wear, we're borrowing my MILs Hoover All Terrain Steam Vac rather than renting a carpet cleaning machine from the market or having it done professionally. This is the first-time using it so I'm interested to see how well it works.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring Break Update - To the Park We Go!


So, I'm spending the day with the boys today rather than going to the office and we went to a local park today. It's was an unusually warm March day ringing in around the high 70s/low80s so the boys were sweating while I searched for a shady spot whenever I could. We met another mom and son at the park. So, who what's the big news about going on a park playdate? Well, I'm just grateful that we have public parks!. It's a benefit from our tax dollars and Central Park in NYC was one of the first public parks to be built in the mid-1800s. What a blessing to have this option! I'm glad our citizenry support the idea of parks. Sadly, Will Rogers State Park is being considered for closure. It's not a play park like the local park but in light of budget issues, certain parks are slated for closure. In any event, even though I use local parks quite a bit for the kids, there are so many adults who walk their dogs or go on their daily "constitutionals" as it were at the parks. Parks can be wonderful equalizers and since there aren't the "main streets" of yesteryear, I guess a park must suffice in the meantime. After lunch and naptime/quiet time, I got the boys to help me wash my car. Granted they're only 2 1/2 and 5 1/2 but it's never too early to learn a valuable skill!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Visiting the Museum

In LA, there are a row of museums in Exposition Park right by the Coliseum and USC. We decided to go to the Natural History Museum to view the extinct animals, the dinosaur bones and the new Thomas the T-Rex Lab which allows visitors watch the paleontologists work with the dinosaur bones. My husband, who took time off from the business on Friday afternoon, came with us. This was partly due to the fact that I couldn't handle both boys on my own. I could see my 2 year old heading into the display areas while my 5 year old stood mesmerized in front of T-Rex. In any event, the normal 45 min - 1 hr drive turned into 1 and 1/2 hours of LA traffic--typical but frustrating. We finally arrived at the museum only to discover the dinosaur exhibits were closed and Thomas the T-Rex Lab wouldn't open until March 30! So, off we went to the California Science Center (which happens to be free whereas the Natural History Museum is not). Even though the boys were young, the museum was interactive and had plenty of things for them to do. They did some sound experiments, some building, and some study of light. We opted against the Earthquake Experience. There was even an indoor play area at the top floor which was a nice break. In the end, I'd recommend the museum for the 7 and older crowd.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Great Kid Websites for the Pre-K to Gr 2 Crowd

Now that Spring Break has arrived, it's time to think about what we'll be doing next week. Of course, we'll be going to the park and probably the zoo or museum and perhaps an amusement park. For the in-between times, I've found some good websites that appeal to my 5 1/2 year old and wanted to share them. I imagine some of you are familiar with them but there might be some new ones to consider.

PBS Kids - Has games and activities associated with their popular programs
Legos - Has online, interactive games associated with their products
Starfall - Has online phonics games, stories and activities

What are some other good websites for kids games and learning that you've found?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Missed Fortune or Messed Up?

I have just started reading Missed Fortune 101 by Douglas Andrew. His thesis turns everything I've learned about retirement planning on its head. He basically eschews the IRA/401(k) model of retirement because he believes that the taxation on the withdrawals puts you in a higher tax bracket and negates much of the lifetime of savings that you've assiduously put aside. Instead, he advocates that there are more attractive retirement benefits.

Andrew writes that "The reality is that other, non-qualified retirement vehicles may provide greater net spendable retirement income." He also posits that proper equity management can assist in financing these vehicles which include investment-grade whole life insurance and second homes.

I would never have actually considered any of this prior to reading the book but I recently had a very interesting conversation with my Dad who was actually complaining about the fact that he has to pay an inordinate amount of taxes on his IRA/401(K) withdrawals and he is planning on taking equity out of his house by refinancing in order to seek the tax benefits of writing of interest to balance the higher taxes. So, that being the case, I see Andrew's point. However, in my Google search, I ran across a scathing criticism of Douglas Andrew's book from Mighty Bargain Hunter. Here's a snippet of the review:

"This book has got to be about the biggest billboard advertisement for mortgage brokers and life insurance companies that I’ve ever seen. You definitely can’t judge this book by its cover — you need to read the majority of the book before you get to this!

It beats the tax savings of mortgage and home equity debt to death over the first eight chapters. It rarely, if ever, mentions that you’re paying a lot more in interest to the lender than Good Old Uncle Sam will ever give back to you in tax savings through the mortgage interest tax deduction."

So, I'm not sure what to believe but I plan to investigate further. It's an interesting premise for sure and, as I mentioned, my father, who's now unbelievably irked by the taxes he's paying on his IRA distributions, is considering all sorts of alternatives. Andrew's suggestion might not be the best solution for most people and, in light of the "credit crunch", I don't know that anyone even has access to their equity right now even if they wanted to try this approach.

In any event, Mighty Bargain Hunter's post created a firestorm of commentary. It seemed like it was 50/50 in support versus against. Here's a comment that I'm going to look into from MRL "— My financial adviser took the course with Douglas Andrews and he put me in a policy called Master Choice Group Flexible Premium Life Insurance with Equity Index option by OM Financial Life Insurance company. I think it is out of Amsterdam. It follows the Index 500 with a minimum of 1% cap and a maximum of 17% cap. It also has an annual reset period which reestablishes my initial investment yearly and never lets it go below that point. This was for the equity money that I had in my house. It has averaged 9.18% over the last 17 years. It has no lapse guarantees and decreasing insurance premium rates because the insurance premiums are high at the beginning but only 1% of the policy value. My 401K was put in a different type of insurance policy with a little more risk but is being actively managed by Foxhall Capital Management Inc. which charges approximately 1.2% but has averaged 12.5% return over the past 12 years. Hope this helps.– S"

This might be worth checking out!


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pricing the Pump: Gasoline, Sugar Cane, and Corn



Gas prices are inching toward $4 in my LA suburb and in parts of the city, it's actually at $4/gallon as a friend reported to me when she went into Santa Monica to visit her CPA. If you want to track the best gas prices, there are many sites that can provide that information. Eco Trekker recently featured a list of 33 tracking sites to use.

With prices this high and the cost of filling a tank ranging between $40 and $70 per visit, it's worth considering our alternatives, something forward thinkers have been doing for years whether here in the United States or elsewhere around the world. Brazil is often held up as an example of creative thinking to lessen their dependence on oil by cultivating large amounts of sugar cane to turn into fuel. The New York Times wrote an article about deriving ethanol from sugar cane two years ago that outlines their investment in the future and the expected payoff. One of the most interesting comments is as follows: "Brazilian officials and scientists say that, in their country at least, the main barriers to the broader use of ethanol today come from outside. Brazil's ethanol yields nearly eight times as much energy as corn-based options, according to scientific data. Yet heavy import duties on the Brazilian product have limited its entry into the United States and Europe." Brazil started looking into alternative in the mid 70s and started small-scale implementation in the mid-80s. Now, 30 years after their initiative began, they are self-sufficient. If the United States could have shown such prescience, we would not be in the dependent state we're in today.

In the United States, one of the best known fuel alternatives is ethanol derived from corn. However, University of Minnesota researchers claim that soybeans as well as prairie-grass (phot above is of Texas prarie-grass) would also meet meet energy needs and perhaps provide even more energy output. Debates are currently raging about the efficacy of corn production, whether corn ethanol is more expensive and less efficient than gasoline and what might happen if corn production was inconsistent.

No matter your political position, I think we can all agree that our pockets would prefer and more affordable solution.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Not Buying It! Review (Part II)

I'm going to continue with my review of the book, Not Buying It!, with the next three chapters covering March, April, and May and as with my first review, will just choose to focus on a few of the topics that caught my interest.

In March, one of the topics that Levine delved into was the nature of ethnic neighborhoods and the shopping advantages therein. She and Paul had returned from their rustic country cabin to their NYC apartment and went to Chinatown to avail themselves of their favorite things. It reminded me of my trips to the Valley, and in particular Reseda, to do the same because of the variety and the low prices. In Reseda, I can find Korean markets, Latino markets, Vietnamese markets, Arab markets and more! And there are the small restaurants and take-away places. Of course, other parts of LA have their ethnic neighborhoods--the San Gabriel Valley is the jewel of Asian markets, shopping and businesses. There are Armenian neighborhoods in Glendale, Indian in Artesia, Vietnamese in Westminster, Cuban in Burbank, Ethiopian in mid-Wilshire to just name a few. That's one of the great things about LA--all the diversity!

In April Levine joined a group called Voluntary Simplicity. She and a few others had signed up for a course on following "frugal consumption, ecological awareness and personal growth." She wrote about their discussions and individual members and their challenges. I was inspired to think that there are enough people who care enough to live simple lives to take group action. I'm sure there are many out there--it's just that they're not too apparent in my neighborhood!

In May, the main theme was scarcity but the part that grabbed me was her critique of government support of public art and museums. It's true that our country does not support the arts to the extent that European countries do. And, libraries are an integral part of supporting the arts. It's also a standard in frugal living to go to libraries to borrow books or to visit museums on the free days. So, it becomes an interesting question--how can we and how much should we direct our tax dollars toward art and literary efforts. Those of us who are frugalistas certainly love to use these kinds of cultural amenities!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Setting Priorities

I met with our financial advisor today and although I wasn't thrilled that in September she recommended that I buy a lot of funds that have currently tanked and now wants me to buy different, more recession-proof funds, she did bring up an interesting point about priorities where we were discussing big-picture issues. I want a bigger house or at least a house with a layout that is more family-friendly with a yard that is a good size for kids but my husband wants to buy an office condo. So, these goals are conflicting with each other and we need to prioritize which ones we value the most. I guess if I had to list them right now they'd be this way:

Bigger and/or different house
Put more money aside for retirement/college
Office condo

We own our business which is why we want to buy the office condo. We're in an industry where it's hard to attract good talent without paying dearly for it and even then, it's an industry where the anti-social personality is quite common. We're talking IT here! So, my point is it's hard to grow if it's hard to find good people and they're expensive. Although, if the recession occurs, some people might be losing their jobs although right now I don't see the effects in a personal level. But, our local newspaper has two full pages of home defaults listed whereas a year ago there were none or maybe just a few.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Beauty of Spring


Sometimes, it's enough to enjoy the beauty around us without having to spend money shopping, eating out, or traveling to far away places. This year, the plum trees that are in bloom are magnificent. I awake each morning and from almost every window of the house, I see the pink lace that decorates each tree. They will soon disappear to be replaced by deep purple leaves that provide a beautiful accent throughout the late spring and summer. But, for now, I'm enjoying the feast for my eyes.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Frugal Friday Round-Up - Clean House, Clean Mind

My topic du jour for today is Spring Cleaning! I know when I clean and organize my house I always feel that I have more "room" to focus and to live. Clearing and cleaning my house clears and cleans my mind. So, to prepare myself, I've scoured (hah!) other blogs for the best on cleaning advice, planning, execution, strategies, materials and more for my assault on my house next weekend.

Fly Lady has some good strategies for some small steps I can take before this next weekend. I can do the 27 Fling Boogie and the Hot Spot Fire Drill for some quick forays into the battlefield without a full engagement.

This is a post that I've lifted wholesale right off of MomAdvice called Organizing for Spring Cleaning which I found on the Frugal Hacker blog about cleaning supplies and materials. What I like about it is that most of them are natural cleansers. Normally, I wouldn't include the entire post, but, for my own benefit, I want to have this list of cleansers available for reference at my convenience!

Last week we discussed some of our organizational hurdles and the challenges with getting our home into gear for company. I really understood and felt the same way when many of you shared that your real challenge was getting over your own perfectionism and feeling like your home is not as worthy as other people’s homes for doing any entertaining. I have often felt this way myself so I can completely relate and I am trying to challenge myself to stop doing this so that I can enjoy more time with loved ones, instead of using my home as an excuse to not entertain. My homeowner projects and perfectionisms need to stop holding me back from opening my door to others.

We will kick off this series by gathering up and getting our cleaning supplies ready for the cleaning challenges ahead! I thought we could start by peeking into my caddy of tools that I use for cleaning:

All-Purpose Cleaner- Mix together two tablespoons of mild dishwashing soap and two cups of water in a spray bottle and give it a shake. Use these anywhere that you would use a commercial all-purpose spray. This cleaner is particularly great for countertops, bathroom surfaces, and high chairs. This cleaner is also great for wiping down your plastic outdoor furniture and getting it ready for the spring season.

Glass Cleaner- Mix together one part white vinegar to one part water in a spray bottle. Spray this solution on your mirrors and windows. Just swipe until you have a nice streak-free finish.

Scouring Scrub- Mix one cup Borax, one cup baking soda (or you can use washing soda), and ¼ cup salt. This can be used in your dishwasher to clean your dishes (only one tablespoon is needed) or this can be a great scrubbing agent to add to your toilets, tub, and sinks to make them gleaming white again.

WD-40- Sounds strange, but this is always never far from me. WD-40 helps remove any sticky residue lurking in my home and I use it constantly to remove crayon marks in our house (two year old + crayons= buying WD-40 in bulk!)

Microfiber Cloths- Available at discount retailers, dollar stores, and in the auto section of your local wholesale club. These are great with or without cleaners on them. Wet, they are great for cleaning the bathroom sink, fixtures, and to help get that nasty soap scum off of tubs. Dry, they work wonderfully to dust surfaces. Place one of these on the bottom of a Swiffer mop and use the handle as an extension to get up in the corners to release cobwebs and dust from the corners of your ceilings.

Newspaper- Recycle your papers by using these to dry your mirrors and windows. They offer a lint-free solution and are a great alternative to other cloths, which can leave a dusty finish.

Old Toothbrush- These are great to get in the crevices of sinks and to do detail work around tight areas. Keep one of these in your bag of tricks to make that tedious work a little less tedious.

Store your tools in a caddy or in a bucket to make it easier to lug around as you accomplish your tasks. Next week we will be taking our tools into the kitchen and begin our spring cleaning there. Don’t forget to get your kids in on the action. After all, why should mom carry the burden of all the cleaning when able hands can help?

I am looking forward to the challenge and the encouragement that we can offer one another.

Sound Off: If I were to peek into your cleaning supplies, what would I find there? Do you have any great formulas for cleaners or any products you swear by?

And, to finish off, there's a blog I stumbled upon in my search called The Bumble Bee Blog which is about gardening, for the most part, so I'm not sure why she's writing about Spring Cleaning except to rant and rave about the inanity of Real Simple magazine in a very witty way and to wonder why anyone would need to spend time spring cleaning because cleaning should be an ongoing process. I agree with one of her commentators who said that by the time



Saturday, March 1, 2008

Where has the Middle Class Gone??? LA Unified Middle Class Task Force

Although this is not a post about being frugal, it is about what happens when the state short-changes its students.

I find this incredibly ironic that the LA Unified School District is having a forum entitled "How Do We Bring the Middle Class Back to LAUSD." For one thing, in my profile, I mention that the middle-class is disappearing. Also, like all other school districts in Southern California, they are facing declining enorllment

I've copied the relevant portion of their agenda although the full agenda is below. Items 4a through 4e pretty much are an indictment of
their own district. Evidently there are concerns with how money is allocated to students, whether services are up to par, whether educational
offerings are relevant, if schools are safe, and "other factors". So, basically, if this was a business, they'd probably
be out of business. In any event, one of the criticisms of LA Unified has been high administrative costs. But,
the State of California has also been negligent in supporting pupil education coming in at around $5500 per student
which means the state is ranked 47th in the nation. So, if you're a well-educated parent living in LA Unified, your
choices are to permit out, homeschool, find a charter or magnet school, or go private. Or, in more extreme cases,
move out of LA Unified.

4. How Do We Bring Middle Class Students Back to the District?

a. Equal Allocation of Resources

b. Improved Service

c. Educational Reforms

d. School Safety

e. Additional Factors

I don't live in the LAUSD so we are not facing these challenges although declining enrollment is a huge issue
because the cost of housing is so high that many families with young children can't afford to live in the
area anymore. Our district has started a new, progressive school which has attracted quite a few out-
of-district families including those from LAUSD. That's forward thinking.


MIDDLE CLASS TASK FORCE

West Valley Special Education Center

6649 Balboa Boulevard, Van Nuys, CA 91406

9 a.m., Saturday, March 1, 2008

1. Welcome and Self-Introductions

2. Remarks from Board Member Tamar Galatzan

3. Remarks from Attending Board Members

4. How Do We Bring Middle Class Students Back to the District?

a. Equal Allocation of Resources

b. Improved Service

c. Educational Reforms

d. School Safety

e. Additional Factors

5. Task Force Timeline

6. Adjournment

Not Buying It! - Review (Part1)


Judith Levine and her partner in life, Paul, decided that they weren't going to buy anything except the necessities (sustenance, health, and business expenses) for an entire year and her book, Not Buying It!, chronicles their journey. Thanks to Finally Frugal for mentioning the book in one of her posts. I've started reading it and it is compelling and well-written. As an author, she is a master in her craft. In each chapter, she details each month starting in December 2003 just prior to starting her year. I will be highlighting a few of the ideas that I found particular interesting in each chapter.

December 2003: Panic
December was a month of splurges and last-minute purchases to help them survive their upcoming year. I wasn't sure whether it was strictly "fair" to try to prepare ahead of time for a year of non-consumption. If it was a year to avoid consuming, then shouldn't you just live as you would have? Nonetheless, I'm sure I'd have done the same.

January: Surplus
January was spent trying to decide what was strictly a necessary purchase. If you were buying food to eat, could they buy fancy mixed greens or would just a plain head of lettuce suffice? I enjoyed the fact that she shared the details of the struggle to decide what was strictly a necessity. I don't think that would be easy.

February: Consumer Psychology
Levine spent quite a bit of time discussing the activity of homo economicus in this chapter. As such, homo economicus is not a specific individual per se but serves as the bellwether of so many economic actions that consumers take. She also made the point that purchasing and consuming is very much a social behavior and emulation. We want what everyone else has. If you were to live somewhere else in the country or the world than where we are now, our economic behavior would most likely mirror our neighbors.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Costs Across the Country -- well, the West Coast for now

The increase in cost of pizza dough which I mentioned in my prior post is indicative of the rising cost of grocery prices. I asked two other bloggers to send me prices on some staple items and here's what's going on in some other areas of the country. As it turns out, they both live in Oregon and I live in California so we're West Coast heavy. Anyone from the Midwest, South or Northeast who chances upon this, feel free to email me with your prices and I'll add them! Thanks, Finally Frugal, for putting a request out to your readers.

Location: Portland, OR (grocery prices from Fred Meyer)
Gallon of milk: $2.69
Loaf of sandwich bread: .89
Pound of apples: Braeburn: .98/lb, Fuji: $1.28/lb
Gallon of gas: $3.05 (Arco station)


From Being Frugal (Lynnae),
These are the prices from Winco, my bare bones, cheapo store in Medford, Oregon.
1 Gallon of Milk: $2.74
1 lb. of Apples: 68 cents to 98 cents a lb, depending on the type
Bread: 75 cents for white; $1.25 for 100% whole wheat.
1 Gallon of Gas: $3.08


From me, FrugalMomLA: http://frugalmomla.blogspot.com
Prices based on Trader's Joe's in Southern California
1 Gallon of Milk: $3.29
1 lb. of apples: 49 cents to $1.29/ lb
Bread: 99 cents
1 Gallon of Gas: $3.33

So the prices here are based on the West Coast primarily but I hope to add some from other regions as well. The next round I'll contact a few more people but this is a start. And, it's not so much where we're starting from but the actual tracking of these prices over time to see what's happening in our economy and with inflation. And, gas, of course, is a moving target so it's hard to say on any given day where we'll be with it.

I'm glad to say that since I posted the above, I received the following from a neighbor to the North. Thank you, Canadian Sadie!

Nova Scotia, Canada

Gallon of Milk (4 Litres): $6.19
Pound of apples: $1.49
Loaf of bread: $1.49
Litre of gas: $1.14 (which would be around $4.56/gallon)

http://penniesintheocean.blogspot.com

Pizza for under $3 - Homemade Hannah Here!

In following the topic of my last post in which I said I was going to take the tack of making more homemade food, last night, I made pizza for the boys with fresh pizza dough, which, incidentally, now costs $1.29 not 99 cents any longer at Trader Joe's, with a bit of pasta sauce to which I added pureed vegetables and some shredded Chedderalla cheese since I didn't have mozarella. The boys loved it and considering the cost of everything, I think it probably cost maybe $2.50 all told. I felt good that it was a healthy meal while also inexpensive. One of my next posts is going to feature a comparison of grocery costs in various parts of the country. Let's see what's really going on!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Maybe I Should Just Buy the Cow

I was at Trader Joe's last night (Friday night) stocking up once again on milk since we go through so much every week, it's crazy. I was explaining this state of affairs to the very sympathetic cashier and he said, "Maybe you should just buy the cow, instead!" Although not practical as I'm sure my HOA CC&Rs don't allow for it and my backyard is pretty much a patio, the comment really is about realizing at what point is it better to milk your own cow instead of buy the milk, or, in any of the following instances: bake your own bread, make your own clothes, repair your old [fill in the blank], plant your own garden, etc. So, that made me think, since I can't buy the cow, what can I do? Here are my ideas:

1. Prepare more meals at home. One thing I haven't done recently is prepare meals ahead of time so we haven't really had too many nutritious, well-balanced meals. I have a crock pot and a crock pot cookbook so I have the tools available.

2. Plan a garden and buy vegetable seeds next month and have the boys help me plant. Probably it would be good to draw out the garden on a piece of paper since I imagine labeled sticks will be promptly taken out of the ground by curious hands.

3. Make my own pizza. I can buy fresh pizza dough for 99 cents at Trader Joe's and I usually have pasta sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese in the house. Total cost for a small cheese pizza would be less than a frozen one and a lot less than one from a pizza place.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jazzing Up Your PC At No Cost -- The Best of Free Web-Based and Downloadable Software

Probably you're aware of the free software or web-based programs that's now available to compete with some of the paid programs. I'll be listing those as well as a few others that might help you in your mission toward a frugal but fulfilling life. I will just mention that I've culled from "The Best of Free Software" article in PC Magazine's March 2008 issue.

For the best of the best for all around great software and applications, consider Adobe Reader for opening PDF files as well as online collaboration, Firefox for a secure web browser, Open Office or Google Docs as an alternative office suite to MS Office, Skype for calls and video conferencing, and Audacity for recording or editing. To protect your PC from viruses and malware, you have some great choices including avast!, AVG Free, Avira AntiVir Personal Edition, Hijack This, NanoScan, and Trend Micro House Call. Firewall offerings include Comodo Firewall Pro and ShieldsUp!.

In terms of household management, here are a few worth investigating: Backpack for a To-Do List, Google Calendar, Yahoo! Calendar or 30 Boxes for tracking your schedule, and Remember the Milk for creating your grocery lists.

Moms love their pics so here are some programs to review the next time you want to edit or manage your photos! Paint.NET is as close as you can get to a free Photoshop, thanks to a student project. Picasa is Google's photo manager. Picasa, Picnik and Windows Live Photo Gallery all provide editing features such as red-eye reductions, exposure adjustment, and cropping to name a few.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bag Math - The Art of Getting More Groceries for Your Money


Yesterday I went to Valley Produce, a market about 10 miles away from my house that I've been meaning to visit. They have two locations, one in Reseda and one in Simi Valley. As the name suggests, they specialize in produce so I thought I'd buy some fruits and vegetables to see about the quality and pricing. The picture on the left shows Satsuma tangerines priced at 2 lbs for $1.00. Here's my shopping list and various prices:

2 grapefruit - 59 cents ea.
2.24 lb red grapes - 59 cents/lb.
3.14 lb bulk rice - 59 cents/lb.
2.88 lb bulk pinto beans - 69 cents/lb.
1 lb peaches - 49 cents/lb
1.06 lb Gala apples - 49 cents/lb
6 pan dulce - 33 cents/ea.
.39 lb. Satsuma tangerines
1 pkg chocolate wafers (chosen by son)
1 dz. flour tortillas - $1.49
Total: $13.36

If I'd bought these items at our local, national chain grocery store, I'd have probably paid almost double for each item so the total would have been close to $25. I've noticed that when I shop at Vons, Albertson's or Ralph's, each bag averages about $8-10. I had 4 bags from my trip to Valley Produce so maybe $25 is a low estimate. Valley Produce sells more than just produce. They also sell fresh meat, fish, and poultry along with canned goods, pasta, rice, dairy products, and deli. It offered the same as national stores albeit with fewer brands and different brands. I've already eaten some of the produce and it tastes great.

There are other ethnic and local markets throughout the LA area. Korean and Asian markets are also good places to find fresh produce and low priced meats. You can see the prices for poulty in the picture to the right. Chicken breast is listed at $1.99 per lb. I was also amazed at the price of lettuce and other green, leafy vegetables. You can see in the photo below that lettuce (regular price) was 59 cents per head. Considering that it's 99 cents to $1.19 in our national chain stores, that's quite a difference. Cabbage was 33 cents a head although it's not pictured.

So, in the end, I guess it's probably worth spending $3 in gas if I save $15-$20 in groceries because the net savings would be $12-$17.

Children's Clothes - How to Keep Up with Their Growth

In a prior post, I'd mentioned that I'd do a more in-depth look at Susie's Deals, located in the same discount/dollar store mecca in Reseda that I've referenced before. Susie's Deals specializes in selling overstock or out-of-season clothing. They often carry name brands such as Hanes, Circo, Champion, Cherokee, Old Navy, and Gap along with lesser known brands. Yesterday, I bought two items for the boys, a pair of PJs with space ships on them and an olive green fleece sweat jacket. Susie's Deals is famous for their $5.99 or less guarantee. Many of the items in the store are $3.99 or less or sometimes they have 2 for $5.99 racks. This weekend is also a 10% off all purchases. So, I was happy that each item was just $5.49. According to the price tags, each would have been about $18.00 full retail. I'm sure you could find similar clothing on sale at the department stores for around $10 to $12 but I was happy with a 50% discount. Susie's Deals has childrens' and adult clothing. They have a wide selection of cotton items and on a past trip there I picked up two pairs of fleece sweatpants (2 for $5.99) that have served my older son well these past few weeks during the cold weather.

Here's are the PJs (Cherokee) and the jacket (Hanes):

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thoughts on Generosity - Paying it Forward

More from Change Your Thoughts-Change your Life by Wayne Dyer...

I've been enjoying this book by Wayne Dyer which analyzes various verses of the Tao. This passage is an excerpt from the 19th verse which Dyer defines as "Living Without Attachment."

"Let go of evaluating yourself on the basis of how much you've accumulated and what is in your financial portfolio. Stop putting a dollar value on all that you have and do. Let go of your need to get a "good deal" and choose instead to be a being of sharing. You'll be happily surprised by how nice it feels to simply change your belief that you're only successful if you're making money. The less you focus on making a profit--instead shifting your energy to living your purpose in harmony with everyone else--the more money will flow to you and the more opportunities for generosity will be available to you."

My goal for today is to live in harmony with everyone else and to practice generosity. And, how does this all fit into the frugal lifestyle? The sentence "Let go of your need to get a 'good deal' and choose instead to be a being of sharing," in fact, seems to fly against the frugal philosophy but I think they can be reconciled. I think that in this sentence Dyer is implying that in getting a good deal, one is trying to best someone else rather than share the wealth. So, he's saying be generous in a deal so that both parties benefits. Also, one of the precepts of being frugal is decluttering your life. So, if I can declutter and give stuff away to others who need it, then that is one way to meet my goals.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Frugal Food

Today I tried to be frugal about food. Since I missed breakfast yesterday on Valentine's Day with my family because I was at a business meeting, I made chocolate pancakes. The boys loved them, especially garnished with whipped cream!


Here's the recipe (Better Homes and Gardens, Jan 2007):


Chocolate Pancakes
1 2/3 C all-purpose flour
1/3 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 C buttermilk
1 egg, slightly beaten
3 T cooking oil

In a large bowl, combine flour and other dry ingredients. In second bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Stir buttermilk mixture into dry mixture and stir until slightly lumpy. Heat a lightly greased griddle over medium heat and then reduce as needed. Pour or ladle batter onto griddle. Cook until lightly browned and turn when bubbly with slightly dry edges. Makes 16 pancakes.

Note 1- I increased the sugar a little bit.
Note 2 - Can cook at lower temp b/c of chocolate although I didn't.

Since it's the season of Lent, it's also the time for Filet-o-Fish Friday's at McDonald's. We partook of this classic tonight for dinner for the 4 of us--total tab was $16.03 (That's about $4 per person and 2 of the meals were Happy Meals).

Normally, Filet-O-Fish sandwiches run around $2.69, at least in our area. If I remember correctly from a CNBC special, the Filet-O-Fish ended up on McDonald's menus because there was a challenge between Ray Krok who favored the Hula Burger (a pineapple slice with a cheese slice on top in a bun) and the Filet-O-Fish, sponsored by a franchisee, and the Filet-O-Fish won. The contest was started because in the 50s and 60s, there were still quite a few people who wouldn't eat meat on Fridays for religious reasons.

Frugal Friday Blog Wrap Up

I've been scouring other blogs and am finding so many great tips that I can't wait to put them all down.

Jenn, over at Frugal Upstate, has an entire post on laundry including a recipe for laundry detergent. I've been looking for ways to keep our house less dependent on chemicals so have been searching for healthy uses of baking soda and vinegar. She also has started a series on how to be frugal including an in-depth look at lunches. Frugal Duchess has a great article on facial and skin care using grapefruit and honey. The Thrift Goddess loves to buy vintage and used items and finds them on sites like Freecycle. And Finally Frugal has been reading I'm Not Buying It, a book on a couple who spends a year not spending anything except for essentials. (Love the play on words there!) But, more importantly, would it be possible? Read it and see!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Disneyland, Legoland, and SeaWorld - Your Tickets to Savings!

I was thinking about ways we are frugal and I happened to remember that these cold winter months are often the perfect time to buy tickets for amusement parks at a discount.

Right now, Southern California residents get the famous "2fer1" tickets at Disneyland. You buy one ticket for at day at Disneyland and can go to California Adventure another day for free but you cannot go to both parks on the same day. Tickets are valid for Southern California residents within zip codes 90000-93599 and Northern Baja California residents within zip codes 21000-22999. Proof of residency is required. Tickets valid through 4/24/08. Tickets available at Disneyland parks, Vons markets, and elsewhere.

Special discounts for Legoland are available at Ralph's through 4/15/08 and are valid through 12/31/08. Adult tickets are at kid's price for $47 and kid's/senior tickets are $23.50.

And, at SeaWorld, you can buy a Fun Card at a regular ticket price that is valid for unlimited use through December 31, 2008. Offer valid through April 30, 2008. Available online or at the Sea World park. Tickets are $59 for adults and $49 for children between ages 3 and 9.

So, decide which one might be for you and your family and let the fun begin. Although, make sure to consider what you'll be doing for meals. Some of the greatest expenses, of course, are the dining options at all of these parks. None of them encourage bringing your own food and some try to actively discourage it but it can be done because I've done and I've seen others do it, too.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Not a Frugal Weekend, or Was It?

I'm not sure whether this weekend was frugal or not. Between yesterday and today, I made two trips to the market and my husband made one for a total of around $100 in spending. Instead of making dinner at home, I bought take-out for dinner last night at Panda Express for around $11 instead of fixing dinner but I had to work yesterday afternoon and my husband had to work the whole day so I'm giving us a break there. And, had we eaten at Panda Express for the four of us rather than doing takeout, it would have cost about $25. So, in that sense we were frugal. But, yesterday, I went to ToysRUs with my 5 year old and we spent $25 for some gifts and toys and then treated ourselves to ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery for $5 because we had a 2-for-1 coupon thus we saved about $5. Again, not too frugal since I could have bought an entire gallon of ice cream for $4 at the market! But, it's nice for my 5 year old to have an ice cream and choose what flavor he wants. We usually go to Baskin-Robbins only during free cone nights so every once in a while I think it's OK but, it's definitely not too frugal. And then today, we bought a new couch finally. We've had our current one for 13 years and it's been through our first apartment together then it moved with us to our current home and has sustained multiple assaults and injuries thanks to our two boys. So, we found a couch which cost $699 at Plummer's. (Actually, the Queen of Frugal found it and relayed the news to us. I hope to have her contribute a post or two in the future.) That's less than the other couches we saw at Living Spaces and definitely less than some that we considered at Crate and Barrel. We had already put money aside for new furniture so I feel good that didn't cost over $1000.00 which is what I'd budgeted. But, it was a weekend where I ended up spending more than I usually do so it's a bit unsettling. However, I feel good that our furniture won't be frayed like it is now and I won't be embarrassed to have people come over to visit.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Blogmania!

In my quest to become a better blogger, I started looking at other blogs about Frugal Living. Actually, I feel more like I stumbled onto other blogs and I think stumbled is definitely an appropriate verb since I barely know what I'm doing in the blogger world. But, what a world! As far as I can tell, bloggers blog about each other almost as much as about their topic. I love following the links to all the other articles but I have a tendency to get lost in the maze so I've taken to bookmarking the ones I like. Speaking of ones I like, I chanced upon the I've Paid Twice Already blog which, among other fun and interesting articles, talked about making money doing online surveys. So, I just signed up for MySurvey.com which, upon acquisition of a certain number of points, actually generates a little bit of cash! So, if you want to earn a little extra, emphasis on little, check it out. Go to the Paid Twice website and you can click on the MySurvey.com affiliate button. (Seems like most bloggers want to help each other out which is why I mention this option for signing up rather than a direct route to the My Survey website. It looks like every blogger has their list of favorite blogs so I'll be starting one, too.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's All Too Much!

My mother, the Queen of Frugal, gave me this book called It's All Too Much! It's written by Peter Walsh who has a show on TLC called Clean Sweep. I just started the book so I've only read the first two chapters or so but I have managed to glean his point--which is.... clean out your house, declutter your life, and you will have room for growth and progress. A wonderful point and so well taken as a mother of two children under age 6 whose toys multiply while we sleep. Do they procreate on their own? How is that possible? Anyway, his point is that "there is a stuff epidemic in this country." We have stuff because there's a constant barrage of advertisements, because malls and shopping are favorite leisure and recreation activities, and because having stuff is the barometer by which our success is measured. So, here's the point in relation to being frugal. We need to recognize that having all this stuff does not make us happy. So, in fact, being frugal and choosing not to buy or have can translate into more peace and harmony. Well, how's that a thought for relaxation! And, if you have too much stuff, you're not alone. Walsh writes that "America has a problem with overaccumulation." I particularly thought his point about clutter getting in the way of living our lives fully and in the now. On that note, I'm off to declutter something, somewhere in my house with a vow not to replace those items with anything else.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Furniture Shopping


I have to admit I'm no great fan of shopping for furniture but I heard about Living Spaces opening a store in the old GM plant in Panorama City on Van Nuys Blvd. So, in the hopes of finding a new couch and a chair or two for our living room, off we went. Well, the store is cavernous with an astounding number of furniture pieces. Their website is quite informative although I noticed that they have pieces in stock that are not shown on the website and, of course, you can't actually get a "feel" for the furniture unless you sit on it and touch the fabric or leather. They have a children's furniture section and the prices there were fairly reasonable. As you see in the photo, a full size canopy bed is $395.00. And, in case you're interested, even though the couch prices were great, we walked out without finding anything but the search continues. I won't fail to mention Ikea for furniture but that's definitely another post! What are your favorite stores or ways to buy furniture? One of my friends prefers buying from Craig's List or eBay. I bought my dining room table off Craig's List, in fact.

Front of Living Spaces store in Panorama City. Note that the colors are blue and yellow, just like Ikea! Hmmm....coincidence...I think not!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Santa Barbara Zoo - Beautiful and Affordable


The Santa Barbara Zoo is idyllically located just across from the beaches of Santa Barbara. Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, it's a wonderful location. The zoo is also a great size so that most families can view the majority of exhibits in 2-3 hours. Also, unlike some of the major zoos, you can park and walk in and immediately start viewing the animals. And, for the frugal-minded, there are plenty of ways to make your visit an economical yet satisfying one. For starters, if you plan to go there 2 or 3 times, consider the family membership which costs $75.00 per year. For a family to visit there and purchase entrance tickets, it would cost $11 per adult and $8 per child (between 2 and 13) so that would cost $38 for a family with two adults and two children. If you went there a second time in the year, that would be $76.00. So, already, two visits makes the annual membership worthwhile and you get some additional benefits such as discounts at the gift store, newsletters, and the like. And, as a side note, they don't actually charge for parking.

Not only is this zoo a manageable size, it's very kid-friendly! They have a train (rides $2 per adult, $1.50 per child), a playground (free), and the giraffe exhibits offer visitors the chance to feed them ($4 per person.) Additionally, if you'd prefer to bring in a picnic, there are plenty of picnic areas where you can enjoy your lunch or snack. My favorite one is right near the lions' enclosure where you can see the ocean across the way.



Here are photos of the giraffes at the feeding deck and in their enclosure.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Consignment Stores for Kids' Clothes

There are so many ways to get affordable clothing for kids--garage sales, consignment stores, sales at mall/retail stores, and deep discount stores. Once Upon a Child used to be in our area but recently closed. Not only did it have children's clothing but also furniture, baby gear, toys, and more. Recently, the Children's Orchard, another children's consignment store, opened up in our neighborhood and I happened to visit on a Saturday when they were having their "$5 a Bag" event! Wow--that was great! I picked up a whole bunch of clothing for my 2 1/2 year old who is potty training and needs three sets of clothing at his daycare for just in case moments (which happen frequently, might I add.) Three bags for $15 equaled about 12 items. A true bargain! I also found some things for my 5 1/2 year old. You can sign up to receive emails about upcoming sales. The Children's Orchard is a franchise as is Once Upon a Child.