Garden Variety

There’s no easier way to save on fresh produce than to invest in growing your own. A raised garden bed can last years and save a family hundreds of dollars each year in a yielded harvest. Obviously the ideal time to create a raised garden bed is the moment after the last freeze of the season.

However, The Beard and I were a bit late in creating this structure.

We finally got the lumber this week and managed to squeeze it all into our little car. We were literally up to our neck in landscape timber.

IMG_1167 Lumber: $44.52

 

But finally the structure was built.

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And then filled.

IMG_1168  Soil: $53.84

And finally…….seeds were sowed!

IMG_1165Seeds: $23.10

Total cost: $121.46

Not exactly cheap, but it’s a great investment if it will actually yield all of the cucumbers, peas, spinach, chard, radishes, lettuce, jalapenos, and bell peppers that were planted into it today.

Bon appetit!

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My First Brew – an $8 gallon jug of fermented fruit juice aka wine

About 10 days ago, I learned about Mr. Money Mustache and my life has been forever changed. It’s a great blog that perfectly articulates a wondrously frugal philosophy about money, happiness, and life in general.  After binge reading the entire blog, dozens of frugal ideas and inspirations surfaced from those articles. Ecstatic to try them all, The Beard and I jumped all over the Frugal yet Fancy Homebrewing article which details how to make an easy fruity alcoholic beverage.

The premise is simple:

1. Buy a gallon jug of preservative free juice and an envelope of champagne yeast.

2. Pour the champagne yeast into the juice jug.

3. Fit with an airlock stopper that has sterilized liquid in it.

4. Set aside for two weeks in an area of minimal temperature fluctuation.

5. ??? SCIENCE ???

6. Two weeks later……amazing fruit juice with an alcohol kick.

We gathered the necessary supplies. Luckily, because The Beard is a skilled home beer brewer, we already had a gallon jug with a cap, cleaning/sterilizing supplies, and an airlock stopper.

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The juice combo is from Trader Joe’s: Blackberry juice cocktail and apple juice.

It’s important to sterilize all the equipment, which takes longer to do than anything else.

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Using either a kitchen funnel or a very confident hand, pour the juices into the jug.

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Next comes the packet of champagne yeast. Then put that stopper on! We used white rum as the sterile liquid in the airlock. No need to stir the yeast in, science will pull it down into the brew over time.

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See those little granules sitting at the top – that’s the yeast.

And now, an hour later:

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Frothy goodness! Now we’ll just set it in the cool basement for 2 weeks. Since we used a bit more yeast than perhaps necessary (ahem, in our overzealousness we dumped the whole packet rather than measuring out 1/2 teaspoon) we’ll probably have to transfer the mixture into another container once it’s ready to drink. Don’t want a big yeast cake at the bottom of our beverage jug now do we?

I’m hoping we didn’t add too much yeast….we’ll see in two weeks. Or sooner if the jug froths up too much over the next few days.

Our total cost was only $7 for the juices and $1 for the yeast. I’ll post an update as to how it turns out.

 

It Pays to be Peeved….Sometimes: Part 2

In my increasingly hypervigilant effort to decrease our household expenses, I’ve reached the point in which my attitude is “decrease this expense or I walk.” And I’m not bluffing either. I’m fully prepared to hit Cancel on current services if they don’t go down in price.

What makes my approach different than Larry’s approach is that mine actually seems to work for me. This is because I don’t necessarily complain so much as I just speak up about what I’m dissatisfied with. If the price isn’t lowered as a result of my dissatisfaction, then I have to determine whether I want to cancel the service altogether or not. And I can’t stress enough that I don’t COMPLAIN or threaten to speak to the manager or scoff or act annoyed or anything else to make the service rep uncomfortable.

Speaking up isn’t always as easy, but it’s empowering. I’ve been speaking up lately and its saving me money. Here’s how:

1. Hair cuts. Until I find that cosmetically skilled friend of a friend who will cut my hair in exchange for a homemade quiche, I go to a salon. Unfortunately, they charge $42 for women’s haircuts. It doesn’t matter that I have a super short mens-like cut, it’s $42 for my men’s haircut but it’s only $24 for the guy sitting next to me to get his hair cut….even if his hair is longer.  All I did was ask my stylist why the women are charged more even if they’re getting a men’s cut. I didn’t ask it in a bitchy way. I was, honestly, a bit intrigued as to whether it took different tools or longer amounts of time to cut women’s hair. “Honestly, I don’t agree with it, either,” She said. And before I could say anything she whispered, “Next time just schedule a trim and I’ll do kind of a heavy handed trim. That only costs $10.” Perfect!                                                                                              Money saved: $32/cut

2. AT&T cell phone service. The Beard and I recently combined mobile plans. He changed over from Sprint to the AT&T service I was on. All in all it was going to save us around $13/month at the time so it seemed like a great deal (he had been paying $96/mo for his plan and I had been paying $86/mo and the new plan would be $169/mo for both of us). It wasn’t until the second month into the new plan that the outrage set in. Why the fuck are paying AT&T almost $200/month?! So we marched to the AT&T store and asked how we could lower our monthly bill. The rep explained that if we decreased our data usage, we could save a whopping $10/month. So we did that…..but I was still peeved. I asked around to friends and co-workers and the overwhelming response I got was a shrugged “Ya, cell phones are expensive. Whaddya gonna do?” and the occasional “Verizon is cheaper. You should switch. But then you’d have to pay hundreds of dollars in Early Termination Fees.”  I finally wised up and decided that it was worth it pay the ETF and switch to something cheaper rather than wait out my contract and then The Beard’s contract. So I called them to cancel my plan.

When the AT&T rep asked me why I wanted to cancel service, I explained that it was beyond our budget and we’re going to look for something that will be generally the same service for less than $100/mo. And wouldn’t you know it…..the clouds opened up and the angels in heaven sang and the rep said she had just the plan – a brand new but very similar plan, $92/mo, that only just came out four months ago and she could switch us right to it. I was pleased to hear that but I was also a bit peeved to hear that I’d been overpaying for a similar plan for the last FOUR months. Those were the exact words I said to her: “That sounds great but I’m just a bit peeved to learn that I’ve been overpaying for the last four months.” So she credited our account by $25. Not exactly jaw dropping savings. But that’s okay. I’m only hanging onto AT&T until my contract runs up and I can make the seamless transition to Ting. I only have 3 more months to hold out.

Money saved: $67/month + $25 credit

3. Since The Beard and I crossed state lines from Kansas to Missouri last year, it’s time for me to register my car in Missouri. Funny thing about Missouri is that they required an annual inspection of your car done at a qualifying inspector’s garage usually costing about $12 – $15. I took my little Volvo into what seemed like a more lenient establishment (read: ghetto garage) in hopes that any minor issues they may find would be overlooked. Boy was I called out in that assumption when they flunked my adorable little car. They were nice about it but she took it pretty hard. They gave me a quote to fix the issues and off I went to the very affordable Volvo specialist mechanic that I use who guarantees a 2 year warranty on all his jobs. Because if I’m going to drop money to pay for something, I want the peace of mind that it’s covered for at least the next 2 years.  To my surprise, my mechanic’s quote was $40 more than the other guys. Now this didn’t bother me much because I trust my mechanic but I did mention it to him. “Ya that sounds fine, Tyler,” I said, “I’m just kind of surprised to hear that your quote is $40 more than the inspector’s place.” Tyler was surprised by it too, but he knows great customer service and offered to drop off $24 from his quote. So now I have the best mechanic in town working on my car and the repair is covered under warranty and it only cost me $16 more. Now that’s a great deal. All because I spoke up. I still had to empty my entire Car Maintenance envelope.

Don’t think that didn’t sting a little.

In any case, what’s so crazy is that I didn’t even ASK for discounts in any of these scenarios. I just spoke up. Haggling is uncomfortable for me unless I’m in a thrift store, garage sale, or farmer’s market, but I know there are people who do it all the time. Anyone remember the This American Life segment about the “nice guy discount”? It’s worth a listen. A nice lesson in how not to be.

The Dog Days of a Fiscal Fast

A few days ago I declared a Fiscal Fast for 7 days.

I pretty much said it just like this:

 

It’s not much of a money challenge so I decided not to post it as such. It’s just that every once in a while – not often – a perfect storm  between automatic withdrawal for bills and some kind of unexpected expense (or a series of!) arise to totally wipe out our checking account a week before payday.

It’s not that big a deal. All it means is that there is absolutely nothing allowed to come out of checking. Envelope monies are okay to use, when appropriate. But that’s it.

When people who don’t realize they’re poor find themselves in our temporary situation, they may transfer money from savings or whip out the credit card. But not us, not anymore. We fiscally fast our way through the rough patch.

Unfortunately I realized yesterday that Zelda the dog is almost out of dog food…..like almost completely out.

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Now, we love our crazy pup. Although I’ll buy the off brand hot pockets for me and The Beard, Zelda gets only the best. She eats the gourmet, grain free, sensitive stomach, organic Blue Buffalo dog food. It’s only fair, really, since that’s all she gets to eat.

So tonight…this poor misunderstood girl…..had to eat some of the cat food.  Luckily, she was thrilled at the change. And although I know cat food is not good for dogs, I think she’ll live for a few days on the stuff.

She’s not complaining.

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Aw, the dog days of the fiscal fast. It’s actually quite liberating to know that you can’t spend out of the checking account. In fact, earlier today one of my favorite blogs Little House in the Suburbs posted a greatly discounted knitting pattern book that is right up my alley (20s 30s knit slouchy romance styles – oh my!) and I just had to shrug and pass at the deal. It felt pretty good. Maybe I’ll start declaring fiscal fasts more often.

 

The Craigslist Curse is Upon Me

I’ve still not sold anything from my previous Craigslist listings. Nobody has even sent me an e-mail asking about the items!  This is crazy. I usually get to list things knowing that about an hour later, I’ll have at least 5 e-mails asking about the goods. So far….nothing.

So I’ve decided to list more in an effort to list my way out of this Craigslist curse. I need to sell something!

IMG_1090IMG_1088

Like this vintage Pyrex bowl in the popular folksy Friendship pattern. I think I got it at a thrift store for around $5, which is a little high for purchase with intent to resell. So I listed it on Craigslist for $15. It’s in really great condition so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

IMG_1093IMG_1094 This one’s kind of a stretch. I bought this for a couple of bucks at a thrift store, of course. I was in the early stages of planning my wedding celebration and was still at the point of thinking it may be ritzy. I got over that pretty quick. So it’s just been sitting around in the closet ever since. I’m hoping to get around $10 for it but we shall see.

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Next up is this adorable vintage 60s cannister set by WestBend. I’m asking $15 for it.

So now I have 6 listings up on CL and no one is interested! Maybe everyone is busy watching The World Cup…

 

It Pays to be Peeved…..Sometimes: Part 1

Waiting tables is an experience I believe that everyone should have. If you’ve never waited tables before, I highly recommend you apply for a part time serving gig at your local diner. You will learn more about the human experience than any Anthropology or Sociology professors. For better or for worse. Guaranteed.

I waited tables throughout college and I know within minutes of meeting someone and carrying on a conversation with them whether they’ve ever waited tables before.  At parties and get togethers, I find the former servers (it’s a sixth sense at this point) and I prefer to hang out with them. I could write a whole post on the serving experience. From the humility to the triumph; the extreme multi-tasking & quick facade problem solving; witnessing others behavior from the perspective of “the waiter”; hearing conversations so memorable and indicative of our culture all while absentmindedly topping off a glass of water.  I hated waiting tables, but I’m so glad that I did.

For more information on the humbling and crazed experience of being a server.

Anyway, onto my point. No matter which restaurant I was working in or what shift, there’s always the guy trying to get a discount. When I waited tables at a local family dinner restaurant, there was a guy named Larry who we all loathed. I don’t even know if his real name was Larry, but that’s what we called him.  If you wanted to get a rise out of your co-worker on a shift just tell them, “Larry just sat down in your section.” Nothing evoked more of an “Oh fuck” response than that.

And rightfully so!

About 3-5 times per month, Larry and his family of five would come in and order everything on the menu. The kids would have “soda drinking contests” and demand refills every few minutes. All of the sugar made them even messier eaters and there was always a heavy dusting of mac n’ cheese, cracker crumbs, and sauces on the table and floor.  While these are annoying expectations of the trade, Larry’s family would take it a step further.

You see, their table would be full of food…but nothing was fully eaten. While every plate had been picked at or half way devoured, there was always still at least half of the entree on it.  As his server, you would look at his table and ask, “How is everything?” Larry’s wife and kids would go silent and Larry would just smile. You’d offer to take plates away to help clear the table. “Are you through with this plate?” You’d ask one of his children. Larry would always answer for them. “No, leave it there.”

And you knew it was coming.

Larry would be incredibly polite to you throughout the meal. Jovial, even.  Of course, the nice guy disappeared and Jekyll came out the second you brought him his check.  Within moments of Larry opening the black vinyl check holder, he was transformed into a raging Thespian asshole.

“This is unbelievable! $3.99 for a mushy cold baked potato?! $11.89 for a steak not cooked properly?! You’ve got be kidding me! I want my bill comped!”

As he began listing off all the entrees he wanted comped from his bill, you’d try your best to sound politely shocked, “Sir, we had no idea you were unhappy with your meal since everything’s been eaten.” Larry loved when you’d say this, he’d smile and stand up and whisk his arm over the table of half eaten entrees and side dishes. “No, we did NOT eat everything! Look at how little my children ate! And they were hungry when we got here! I demand to see the manager!”

Your work was now done. You’d find the manager working and tell them “Larry would like a word with you” and watch them close their eyes in agony.  Because just as the manager approached Larry’s table, his theatrics went into overdrive. His antics could be heard throughout the entire dining room. Tables seated near him could no longer carry on a conversation over the boisterous bamboozling of Larry’s bravado performance. His wife would wimply tug on his arm and shush him before crossing her arms and tightening her lips – her acting skills were not quite as developed. Two of his children looked embarrassed, but the youngest one always got a kick out of dad’s behavior and would climb his chair in excitement with a missing teeth grin.

9 times out of 10, Larry’s tantrum was rewarded though never fully to Larry’s liking. He’d gruff and sit down while the manager considered discounting certain items. At some point, the manager would call out Larry’s behavior and tell him that she knew exactly what he was up to and that he’s done it before and that he’s not welcome to come back in if he continues to cause such a disturbance, etc. Larry would wave her away with his hand and grumble that they haven’t been here in ages, she must have him confused with another, etc.

He’d pay his comped bill, leave a meager tip, and his family would shuffle out leaving a mess on the table and floor.

The thing of it is: I’m not really sure why he did it. He wasn’t saving any money since he was still going out to eat frequently and the amount of main dishes and side dishes they bought was always excessive. He’d end up with an $89 bill for a meal that, had he ordered sensibly, could have only cost him $45. And then he’d embarrass himself and his family and ruin other diners’ experiences and be rude and totally out of breath just to get his ticket down to maybe $70-$75.  He still came out the loser in person and on paper.

There are a lot of Larrys in the world. I see them at garage sales, restaurants, furniture stores. The philosophy is that if I the consumer can be enough of a nuisance to another person, I can shave a few dollars off my bill. I will never understand the trade off. Being a jerk takes too much out of me for it to be worth a few dollars saved. A woman I used to work with spent 40 minutes on the phone with her cable/internet provider trying to lower her monthly bill. She was fiercely and wickedly inappropriate and rude to the provider representative, but got off the phone smiling. “They lowered my bill from $152/mo to $137/mo!”

Right, but you’re still a jerk. I don’t understand the victory. Just get rid of your cable and now you only have pay $30/mo and you’re not ruining someone’s day! That’s a victory!

Realizing the length of this post now – it’s too long. I should have known that bringing up Larry would take me on a long rant…

My point is that there is a right way to complain and a wrong way to complain and this post illustrates the wrong way. Will it get results? Yes. Will you feel good about yourself after? Only if you’re a dick anyway.

 

 

 

How to Be Poor: Game Changer #1 – Transportation to work

As someone who is always scrutinizing my household’s regular expenses, I’ve been having a hard time figuring out how to cut down on my commute to work expenses.

Let me start by saying that I HATE my commute to work. It’s about 25 minutes long and it accounts for the majority of my weekly driving. Which means it accounts for the majority of the wear and tear on my car. Obviously, I’ve been brainstorming how to cut costs for my commute to work.

But since I absolutely loathe driving with other people in the car, carpooling is out of the picture. Normally I could just make myself get over this peeve, but The Beard car pools to work and I’ve not been too impressed with his commuter savings.

I could always ride a bike, but it would extend my transportation time to over an hour and I’d arrive at work all sweaty.

Next, there’s the bus…

Kansas City is not exactly known for their public transportation system. In fact, it’s terrible for a city this size. When I worked as a Case Manager at a local women’s shelter, a top goal for most women and their families was to get off the KC public transport system and get a car of their own. Its unreliability made it a problem for job interviews and picking kids up from daycare.

But in spite of how terrible it is, it’s cheap transportation that will get you from point A to point B. So I’ve been struggling for the last 6 months or so about whether to keep paying the fuel and maintenance costs on my vehicle to get to work plus the $65 parking garage fee VS. waking up a little earlier, being a bit less comfortable and more dependent on strangers, and getting to work in 45 minutes rather than 25 minutes.

I decided in April that it was worth it to pay the parking fee and the gas money to get to work rather than be dependent on a flawed system that I’d have to pay $20 per month for anyway.

Herein lies the game changer:

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My work is now offering FREE transportation to get to work; FREE bus fare for employees. This changes the equation dramatically. Now I have to figure out if its worth it to pay $65 + gas costs/maintenance costs VS waking up slightly earlier, walking a block, and riding in a bus full of strangers for 45 minutes FOR FREE.

It’s so obvious, it’s almost difficult. Just by riding the bus, I could save at least $90/month. That’s almost $1100 per year. That’s a trip to Boston to see my sister! It’s a starter payment investment on a nice Vanguard index fund! It’s airfare to England! It’s 4 pairs of Frye boots!

I just can’t justify driving anymore. That’s right. Beginning July 1st, I begin a new challenge: Bus bound to work for 15 days. We’ll see how long I last with it.

I am “bus people” now.