I don't see my job situation improving anytime soon. So I don't feel in control of my income. But I can still control my expenses.
Next in my sights for cutting expenses was cutting my cable TV. All I get is basic, but it's still $25 each and every month. I knew that by cutting it, I'd end up reading more (never a bad thing) and I could still watch the occasional free movie whenever I liked by picking up a free flick at the library. I even checked out hulu.com to make sure I could watch my favorite TV shows there. (I can.) And I figured I could return to my old habit of getting my news from public radio.
So, after much back and forth and a great deal of angst (how could I not watch my beloved American Idol?), I called Charter Communications and announced I wanted to end my cable service. When he asked why, I simply told him I didn't think I was getting a lot for my money.
Without hesitating, he offered me a "promo" rate of $13 a month, a 45% decrease from what I'm currently paying. The promo rate is good for a year and at the end of that year, he advised me to call them back and see what other promo rate they might have going on at that time.
Geez. I could have done this 10 years ago and saved myself a bundle. I was elated and ticked off at the same time! Elated, because I wouldn't have to go TV Cold Turkey and I could still lower my bill by nearly half each month. Ticked off becus they don't make promo rates known to customers until they're ready to cancel.
TV service is a very competitive business, just like phone and Internet services. If you're not happy with what you're paying for cable, you have many options these days. And I guess that's working in the customer's favor. It makes you wonder just how much profit they are making on you when it still makes business sense to retain a customer at half the charge they used to collect.
So, if you think you're paying too much for cable, pick up the phone and call them. You just may be surprised at their response.
Archive for June, 2010
I don't see my job situation improving anytime soon. So I don't feel in control of my income. But I can still control my expenses.
I purchased 2 elephant ear bulbs at Wal-Mart this spring for the first time. Not sure what luck I'd have. For a very long time, only one bulb produced anything...one leaf, to be exact.
I loved the way it looked. So tropical.
More recently, the 1st elephant ear has sprouted a second leaf, even larger than the first.
That second leaf is enormous!
I can't wait to see what it looks like in August! It thrives on this summer heat.
Meanwhile, Round 2 of the basil is coming up nicely. (The first batch is already bolting.)
I finished reading How to Retire Happy, Wild & Free. I didn't think the book was written very well, or well-organized, but I still got a few things out of it.
A good investment.
1. Two loads of wash, hang dried.
2. My (hopefully) last Census meeting, to sign some paperwork.
3. A torque check after getting my tires rotated.
4. Some groceries at Shop Rite.
5. Got a pork shoulder in the slow cooker and it's been cooking all day long. Dinner tonight: Pulled pork sandwiches with barbecue sauce, my homemade potato salad and homegrown salad. Fabulous......
7 Talk with pseudo step-mom on the phone.
8. Mailed a package at UPS.
9. Homemade pizza for lunch featuring goat cheese, onions, garlic, olive oil, spinach and fresh basil.
10. I posted an ad on Craig's List looking for a male kayaking partner and I got 3 responses. One lives too far away and I responded to the other 2 as well. One may have lost interest becus i told him I wasn't interested in anything romantic. We'll see. And I'll be careful. Meet for coffee first.
It's really uncomfortably hot and humid here today. I checked my thermostat and it was 78 downstairs, 85 upstairs, but that doesn't account for the dew point.
I find that when I'm physically uncomfortable, due to either very warm conditions in summer or too chilly of a heat setting in winter, I don't do a whole heck of a lot. It's just that now, instead of huddling under a blanket to keep warm, I'm walking around the house half naked and getting nothing done.
Well, I did write the June blog for my real estate company client. And I had what could be my last Census meeting for a while, or for good. Hard to say, it could be just a brief hiatus until the 2nd week of July, or it could be finally the end of it. I'm not sure I want to do any more "cleanup" work for them anyway, it's more of a hassle than anything else. And yeah, I did some mowing and came upon a large, black dead mole, no doubt one of the clan who's been tearing up my lawn. I also saw a dead mouse in the driveway the other day, the second such mouse in the last few weeks.
Oh, and I am crazy upset...the carpenter ants are back. SIGH. There's always a population explosion of ants after a lot of rain, and we did have a fair amount last night. It filled the bird bath, anyway. If I stand in my kitchen with its white cabinets, white counter tops and white back splash, I can spot 3 or 4 at a time, in different locations, but all mostly on the back wall. They must be coming in somewhere else other than behind the upper cabinets becus I still have Arm & Hammer toxic dryer sheets stuffed up there. (As you may know, I lauded the effectiveness of these dryer sheets as a chemical-laden ant deterrent in a recent post.)
Every time I go into the kitchen I look for ants, and try to see the entry spot(s). It occurred to me earlier today that one possibility is the recessed light fixture above the kitchen sink. Sure enough, I spotted an ant crawling around the CFL bulb. After killing it and feeling desperate, I took yet another A&H dryer sheet and crammed it into the spiral CFL bulb. Have to remember not to use that light fixture as I can imagine how much more awful the smell will be when heated even slightly. I will have to see if that helps.
I was so absolutely thrilled for the past few months because those dryer sheets seemed really effective, eliminating all but maybe 5% of my problem. I sprinkled more ant bait around the exterior house foundation. That works, more or less, though there's a delayed reaction of a few days. Though I've noticed when sprinkling inside the house, which I am very cautious about doing due to the cats, that ants have walked right by the bait with a complete lack of interest (or hunger).
Sadly, I let 4 or 5 small lettuce heads go to waste in the garden. I planned to give it to Frank, who chain sawed a fallen tree for me, but he's not a salad guy. I had mentioned that to my mother, so she didn't put i dibs for it. And I forgot to pick it, so now it's done gone bolted. I think I've counted 15 large salads I've consumed, so I did pretty well. The basil is also going to flower, but this year I was smart and planted some from seed, so they are just now looking promising while the old plants I'll let go to seed and maybe try saving the seeds for next year if they dry well.
Today's the last day of my week long frugal fast.
OK, I spent some money:
1. Filled up the gas tank, a necessity for my census work.
2. Yesterday, I got some cat food at Wal-Mart. I was near by after finishing up Census work so it wouldn't have made sense to make a separate trip next week. Wal-Mart has the cheapest Fancy Feast even at its regular price of .48 a can; they've had a "rollback" for a while now and it's just .30 a can.
The frugal fast still served a purpose in making me more conscious of my spending. I feel good that during a week's time I only spent on cat food and gas.
Today, my new friend Frank is stopping by with his chain saw to cut up a fallen crabapple tree. I'll stack the wood with the other wood already collected from the tree in my driveway and try to trade it as firewood on Craig's List for something else (plants?) Too bad I didn't have a fireplace. Otherwise, I can give it to my dad next time I see him.
After Frank finishes up here this a.m., I'll head out to do more Census work today. It will probably take less than an hour to go through my assigned addresses. After that, I think I'll pick up a few groceries, mainly fruit, at Xpect Discounts. And if I can find my other Fancy Feast coupons, I'll go back to Wal-Mart for more cat food.
That's the dangerous thing about me and coupons. I always collect them, but seem to lose them easily so I can't find them when I want to use them. I often keep them in my glove compartment box in the car, or on the dining room table, but sometimes they end up in stray places.
While out, I"ll also return a book I finished reading (Eckhart Tolle) which I really didn't get a lot out of. Way over my head. I ordered 3 books at the library through their statewide loan system; i would have thought I'd have gotten one of them by now. I really want to read The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and also, How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free. Sounds like my kind of book!
Forgot to tell you about the investment seminar I attended this past week with my friend. Mainly for the free dinner. (smile) I won't be investing with David Lerner. They engaged us in small talk and once I told them I was out of work, they pretty much left us alone for the rest of the night. (smile) They were pushing two types of investments: tax-free muni bonds and their own REIT. The dinner was ok, but not as good as the Teva Neuroscience dinners I've attended.
Unemployed:9 months and counting.
Income sources during that time:Unemployment benefits, Census work, freelance writing, market research studies, medical research studies, online surveys.
Personal savings spent: $0
Not bad, all things considered, but I'm also looking ahead and wondering what the heck's gonna happen if I'm still out of work by year's end. I'm deferring a variety of expenditures (some routine healthcare and doc visits, plus home maintenance) and I can't do that forever.
Right now, I feel I have more control over my expenses than I do income.
So what's next on the chopping block?
1.Cell phone.The savings aren't as much as you might think since this is a prepaid cell phone that costs me just $100 a year. I regret not ending this back in April before I renewed my minutes, but after having already done so, I'll just go ahead and use it and will lose the cell phone service when I don't renew next April 2011.
2.AAA membership. $90 a year. I've had this for a few years, never used it and since I'm not commuting anywhere, it seems unnecessary to maintain. I can always renew (at a slightly higher rate) when/if I get a job.
The above 2 items are no-brainers which I regret not having already eliminated, but I guess at the time I wasn't feeling a crisis was approaching.
What else can I cut from the budget? These next two would be very hard for me to do, but neither are "essential."
1.Cable TV: At $25 a month, this could save me $300 a year. This would be hard, very hard. I watch TV daily, usually during breakfast to catch the morning news and weather, and then again at night.
I considered ditching cable and getting unlimited Netflix at less than half the price ($9), but I really like my TV shows. Watching movies wouldn't really fill that void.
2. Internet:I pay $20 a month for slow-as-molasses DSL from AT&T, and so I'd save $250 a year if I dropped it and used the computer at the library instead. I doubt I'd do this since it would be hugely inconvenient to conduct a job search, check email or do my freelance work at the library.
What else is there to cut?
Not a whole lot.
Of course, I'll keep trying to be frugal with utilities like electricity, water, sewer and heating oil (there's also my dump permit at $80 and annual sewer loan assessment of $600) but those bills will always remain unless I move into a tent.
I recently looked into refinancing (again) my small mortgage, which I could actually pay off in full if I wanted, but even with ample cash reserves, the credit union I checked with said that my being unemployed could be an issue and couldn't guarantee I'd get the refinance deal, so I'm reluctant to possibly blow $300 to apply.
COBRA is still an affordable $178.50/month through year's end. Still, I've avoided having ANY doctor's visits these past 9 months and have only ordered my 2 current prescriptions. By summer's end I'll be down to just 1 prescription. (And I can't wait!!!)
Obviously things like eating out, entertainment and clothing have been off the table for a while, though I admit I'm not perfect. I'm only getting my hair cut once every 2 months ($19 with tip).
Most of my gardening/yard work expenses have been limited to my vegetable garden, which is providing me with food.
Cat food has been a huge new expense for me, partly becus I now have 2 cats, not one, and also becus I committed myself to feeding them healthier food, meaning canned food, not dry. My other cat ate dry food exclusively and I couldn't get her off it. I did the research and the consensus is clearly that dry food is crap. However, I'm spending a LOT of money on Fancy Feast, about $80 a month, and I've started letting Luther have one of his 3-4 meals daily be dry. Waldo still gets only wet food becus I'm still not sure if he has kidney disease and dry food would aggravate that condition.
I've had no work done on the car and it's due now for at least an oil change. The car's 11 years old and I want to keep it going for several more years since it only has 112,000 miles on it.
My car insurance is pretty cheap ($350/hr) but my homeowner's is not, so I'll DEFINITELY shop around when I get my next premium bill.
Any suggestions for shaving expenses still further?
Off to a running start on the 3rd day of the week-long Frugal Fast.
No undue hardships to report! I worked a good part of yesterday doing Census work, so no real opportunity (or desire) to spend money, though I could have stopped in at Wal-Mart for more cat food, since I was in the area.
I agree with Mom Cents, who was, I think, the person who said the point of the Frugal Fast is not so much for me to "save" money as to make myself more conscious of how and when I do spend money.
Honestly, sometimes I think it would be difficult to make myself any more aware of my spending habits than I am now, since being unemployed has a way of magnifying every spending decision. Still, I think the Fast is a good exercise and I would like to see this through and prove to myself that I can refrain from spending for an entire week.
These days, my routine expenditures are simply gas for the car and groceries. I am disciplined 80% of the time; during the other 20% of the time, I am tempted to buy jewelry or clothing I see on online shopping channels. At other times, I feel like eating out.
I nearly forgot. Today's the first day of the weeklong Frugal Fast. Momcents, Ima and Scottish girl, don't forget!
I shouldn't have any trouble complying today. My gas tank is less than half full, but today will be fine.
I put in about 5 hours of work for the Census yesterday, at a higher end apartment complex in small nearby city. for the week, I eeked out 15 hours of work, plus I'll make money from the gas mileage reimbursement. It's better than nothing, for sure.
I'll put in a few hours of Census work today and tomorrow, but not sure how productive I'll be. These apartments, seven separate buildings, all have a locked main door and buzzers for each apartment. If no one happens to be leaving and lets you in, there's no way you can even leave a notice of your visit with your contact info, and I've found people find it easier to blow off the census survey when you're at the other end of the intercom, not face to face.
I canvassed probably 30 or so residences yesterday and was able to complete just 7 surveys. Back again to try today. The census work is getting old (rejection wears thin after a while), but it's money, and shouldn't last much longer anyway. At least I'm in a safe neighborhood.
Yesterday I fell asleep after getting home from census work but woke up and was able to squeeze in some stuff I wanted to do: make more homemade iced tea (I drink it by the gallon and it's a combo of black, green and white tea), change the hummingbird water, trim the 3 shrubs on the back patio and sweep the back patio. I love the look of bricks but I get a lot of weeds between them so it's quite high maintenance, and once the weeds take hold, sweeping is harder. I have lots of poison ivy sprouting up in one area but no sense spraying til Tuesday with all the rain that's forecast.
My mom was all excited after attending an annual big fundraiser for Hospice. As an artist who donated some work for the auction, she got in free; normally tickets are $150 each. She's gone every year for the past 13 years. She was happy because she sold 3 or 4 big pieces, grossing $1,400, but after Hospice gets its cut, she nets about $800. Still great for my mom on a fixed income. Plus the food is always to die for; it's quite the gala event and all her friends go there.
I did some grocery shopping yesterday with next week's Frugal Fast in mind. (No spending of any kind all week long, and then I'll blog about it.)
Not that I spent any more, or bought any more, than I usually would have. After all, going overboard on the groceries would sort of defeat the purpose. It's like someone declaring a No Spend Day after going on a spending spree the day before.
However, I did snag some good deals at my favorite grocery store, Shop Rite. Ronzoni pasta was on sale at .69 a pound, so I think I bought about 10 pounds worth!. I also bought 2 pints of blueberries at $1.50 each. (They should come down in price even more as we reach prime blueberry season, but it is a short season and I love my blueberries, so didn't wait.)
I also bought some Edy's frozen coconut fruit bars (oh so good) and my favorite junk food dessert, those frozen ice cream cones. I got rice pudding, 2 mangoes at .99 a piece and some fresh tomatoes for my salad until my own garden starts producing. At Costco, I got 2 gallons of milk and a frozen bag of Tyson teriyaki chicken cutlets, which are great. Not that I'm expecting anyone to want to read through my shopping list, but oh well.
I"m still waiting for a callback from my presumed new crew leader in the town that's nicer than the city I worked in for one day, though not as nice as my hometown. I've been waiting since Tuesday and called another person who had spoken to him. I haven't been as aggressive about staying on top of this as I should have been, but you'd think the guy would have already called me if he needed help in his region.
I was at the library the other day and ordered some books I'm interested in reading, one of them being The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road May to True Riches by Jeff Yeager, and the other, How to Retire Happy, Wild & Free. And the other being Diet, Life Expectancy and Chronic Disease: Seventh Day Adventists and Other Vegetarians.
Ahh, carpenter ants.
Those large, black and ugly ants have been the bane of my existence in the 15 years I've lived here. I live in a very woodsy suburb and my own property is certainly heavily wooded as well. Carpenter ants just seem to go with the territory.
Each summer, they find their way into my home. I've found them in just about every room of the house, but they are most often in the kitchen. Of course, this requires the kitchen to be kept meticulously clean. Dirty dishes can't pile up or it's just inviting trouble.
I've known for a while of at least one point of entry: a small crevice behind a hanging kitchen cabinet to the right of the sink.
I've tried chemical-laden Ortho sprays, but am loathe to use them due to their obvious toxicity. In recent years, I have been somewhat able to control ant infiltration by regularly sprinkling ant pellets around the foundation of my house outside. The stuff wasn't cheap. I ordered it from a website online. However, I had to time this so I was spreading the bait during a dry spell; rain will simply wash the bait away and waste my money. But, if I timed it right, I could usually count on being relatively ant-free (not 100%) inside the house for a period of a few weeks. But, once I start seeing an ant or two here or there, I must re-apply, and this is how it usually goes all summer long.
Here and there I've tried some less toxic alternatives, such as oil of peppermint right next to that kitchen cabinet, but this has not worked
Then, this spring, I completely by accident stumbled upon a 100% effective ant barrier. It's a common household product which I don't care to use for its intended use, but the item is so darn stinky that I thought I would give it a try.
You see, it's a very narrow crevice behind the kitchen cabinet where I've seen the ants coming in most often. For all I know, there's a giant hole behind the cabinet. I really don't know, but I do remember years back when I was replacing my kitchen stove that I found a large hole in the sheet rock behind the stove, about 6 inches in diameter! I didn't have time to close it up while the workman was there, and I wasn't really thinking about insect infiltration at the time, but I was thinking about cold air, so I did at last stuff a fistful of cellulose insulation in there before he positioned the new stove against the wall. So, it makes me wonder what kind of gap might exist behind the kitchen cabinet.
But back to my secret weapon against ants.
Have you guessed what it is?
It's Arm & Hammer Total 2-in-1 dryer cloths. I don't usually buy these things. They're so impregnated with chemicals that I'm reluctant to have them touch my skin, but I got a free-after-rebate offer, so I used it. When I opened up the box and sniffed them, I really couldn't bring myself to use them in the dryer. (And these days, I don't use the dryer much anyway.)
One day it hit me that I should try stuffing one of the dryer sheets in the crevice behind the cabinet. The thing just stunk like chemicals. So I took one and used a butter knife to wedge it up as far as it would go behind the cabinet. It was white, so it blended right in.
Carpenter ants, it turns out, have a strong disliking for Arm & Hammer dryer sheets, possibly more than me. Yes, the odor of the dryer sheet is apparent while I'm washing dishes at the sink, but after a week or so, the odor fades. But it still works to keep the ants away.
I have changed the sheet once every 3 or 4 weeks, just to be sure.
I have been so pleasantly surprised by these sheets. I have found very few ants anywhere in the house, and certainly not in the kitchen! I had assumed in past years that there were multiple points of entry. Now I'm thinking that it's entirely possible that ants meandered in via the highway known as Behind-the-Kitchen-Cabinet/Rt. 302 and crawled in various directions so that, when I discovered them elsewhere in the kitchen or even in another room, they fooled me into thinking they'd gained entry from some other location closer to where I found them..
Thank you, Arm & Hammer, for reducing the ant infestation inside my home by roughly 90%. No doubt it's due to the very special ingredients that make our clothes oh-so-toxic and artificial-smelling.
Have you found alternative or off-label uses for common household products?
First, a disclaimer...I didn't come up with that clever phrase, "frugal fast." It's from author Jeff Yeager in his book, The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches.
I haven't read the book yet, but I've added it to my Wish List on Amazon. But the idea of a frugal fast, for a single week out of the year, is intriguing.
The rules are simple: You buy absolutely nothing. The idea is that, at least for that one week, you will have freed yourself from having to do the "Money Step," the endless dance of having to earn more to spend more.
During this one week of no spending, I have a feeling we'd all likely rediscover the simple satisfactions of living cheaply. Meals at home. Trips to the library to rent a movie or read a book. I'm sure the list of ways to not spend money for a week will be much longer and varied.
So who's up for doing this with me starting next Sunday, June 13 through Saturday, June 19?
If you must, wrap up any absolutely needed grocery shopping or fill up your gas tank by the end of this week. Only do what's really necessary. Too much "advance spending" will defeat the purpose of the exercise.
Remember, during this week of no spending, there's no fast food, no impulse snacks on the road and no shopping of any kind. If you work, that means no buying your lunch. Built-in expenses like your mortgage/rent and utility bills are, of course, something that can't be avoided.
At the end of next week, I'd love to hear how you spent your time, if you felt "deprived" and whether you think you saved any money.