Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ask & You Shall Recieve! My Top 3 Ways to Save on Fixed Expenses

You can easily pinch your pennies on some expenses, like groceries for example, by using coupons, sales, scratch & dent and CVS/Walgreens/Rite Aid deals. Then there are some expenses, like phone, cable and so on that are fixed expenses, right? Wrong!

You can save on these expenses by knowing what to ask for and being bold enough to ask. I used to be too embarrassed to ask for a price break until I finally realized the person on the other end of the phone really didn't care. They are people like us and I've never had anyone get mad at me for just asking. What's the worse they can say, "sorry, but no"? And that happens to be #1 on my list of ways to save on bills;

  1. JUST ASK! Make sure you ask politely and smile as you talk. Believe it or not, people can hear your smile in your voice. A little flattery always helps ("You all just have the best customer service!") but don't lie or lay it on too thick. People can smell insincerity and become uncooperative within minutes. I always give a genuine compliment, a smile, a 'Thank you so much' and a 'I know you're busy, but..." and I have gotten a discount almost every time.
  2. COMPARE DEALS! Let your credit card know that Discover just sent you a 0% until 2030 AD and you might switch. Read the advertisment to your cable company that their competition sent you. One quick call to our cable company knocked our bill in half for the next three months to match their competition, and I was told to call back in three months and renew that savings. I saved over $150 in 10 minutes. Not too shabby!
  3. CHECK OUT YOUR VACATION OPTIONS! When my husband had to take a three month deployment I asked our cell phone company to put his phone on hold until he came back. I didn't pay fees for his phone unitil his return. Some other companies like phone or cable will put your account on 'vacation hold' if you leave for awhile. You will pay either a drastically reduced rate or nothing until you come back.

These are my top three ways to create my own 'coupon' for couponless expenses. What are ways that you reduce your supposedly fixed expenses? What's been your best savings? Leave a comment and let me know! I'll make a post with all the best ideas consolidated into one.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

First Giveaway - Chocolates for your Valentine

It's celebration time!

Penny Pinscher is already starting to gather a larger subscriber base! To say thanks to all of you for visiting, we are joining up with Shannon's huge Bloggy Giveaways Carnival and running our first giveaway. The prize? Since Valentine's is coming up, I thought you all might enjoy a large box of Cello's Chocolate Cherries to give to your sweetheart. If you've never had these, they are the very best chocolate cherries, in my opinion. I usually won't touch a chocolate covered cherry normally, but I'll eat a box of these by myself. They are awesome!

So save me from myself and win these chocolates! All you have to do is leave a comment below telling me what your favorite Penny Pinscher post is, what you'd like to see more of, or just say "Hi!" Link to us from your blog, if you like, and then come back here and share your link below.

I'm thinking of a unique way to pick the winner, which I will be posting here as a movie clip. The winner will be picked on my favorite day of the year - Groundhog Day! (You understand if you've ever seen the movie;)

So, let the commenting begin!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Carnival of Personal Finance #137 is Live & Penny Pinscher Has Been Included!

Thanks to The Dividend Guy for including my post on Redneck Economics in his latest Carnival, under the "Passion for Frugality" section.

To those unfamiliar with what an online Carnival is (which was me up until last week) it's basically a collection of someone's favorite recent blog posts put together, usually with a theme and comments - sort of like an ezine. Please click over to read all the great posts The Dividend Guy found this week, and be sure to leave a comment here! Thanks Jeremy (a.k.a. The Dividend Guy) for a fantastic carnival experience!

Freecycle Furniture Fills the Bill Without the Bills

There's a song that claims; "You can't always get what you want, but you'll get what you need!"

That can be true, but in some cases you can get what you want and what you need. This happened for me yesterday.

After a year's worth of remodeling we are fat on debt and low on cash. What began as a simple household cosmetic update turned into a surgical nightmare that would have made Michael Jackson cringe. We learned that only two things are certain with remodeling. The first is that it will cost WAY more then you originally thought, and the second I that it will take WAY longer then you originally thought.

Consequently we found ourselves in the position of having a finally finished room but no money to furnish it (unless we chose to add more debt onto the pile). This room was designed to be a reading room. We already had shelves and tons of books, but we didn't have anyplace to sit. We were in the market for a couch and love seat for next to nothing. Good luck, we thought.

Enter Freecycle. If you are not familiar with Freecycle, it's time to meet your new best online friend. According to their website, the Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,233 groups with 4,415,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns, keeping good stuff out of landfills and fostering a spirit of cooperation. Membership is free.

Where I live, we are blessed to have two separate freecycle lists. I've seen everything from TVs, cars and computers pass to new owners across these boards. Sports equipment, pets, dishes, craft materials... all these and more have found new homes due to this thrifty asset. I have given and gotten for almost two years and recieved almost as many friends as I have items. Yesterday, though, freecycle came through for us in a major way.

While the kids played, I was browsing to see if there was anything I could use (and get rid of a good popcorn popper I was tired of storing). I saw a couch and loveseat in great condition up for grabs. These things can go fast, so I quickly emailed my interest and found out they were still up for grabs. Within an hour we were on our way to pick up our new living room furniture - gratis!

The furniture was just what we needed. It was a color and style we liked, it was in good condition and it was within our budget (nothing! ;) It was truly a win-win for everyone involved - one family got rid of something that was in their way, we now have a cozy place to sit and read and study, and the landfill has that much less to fill it up. Everyone is happy. Thank you, Freecycle, from another satisfied non-customer.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Survivor Economics

I survived Hurricane Ivan, but I didn't bother getting the t-shirt. What I did get was some good insight into what I think of as Survivor Economics.

Driving back into town I was greeted by boats on the highway and trees snapped into kindling. Power lines hung everywhere like ropey cobwebs between the buildings. Evacuees like myself rolled back into town, rubber necking and swerving around debris. Finding our house intact was cause for celebration and thankful prayers.

It wasn't before long, however, before we began wondering why we had hurried back. There was no power, no stores and no gas. Stocked cupboards look anemic when you start anticipating a month coming out of them. A full tank of gas isn't much when there's no more gas to add. Electricity is what I missed the least, except for my coffeemaker and my computer.

Some people banded together in this time of crisis - they watched each others children, shared ice and had giant cookouts with all the meat that was going to spoil otherwise. Those that had generators shared fridge space. Those with gas stoves shared cooking time. The period of difficulty turned into a time of bonding that turned some neighbors into family.

Unfortunately, crisis also brings out the worst in people. A man ran over another with his car in a gas line. Another was shot. Thieves were going into open garages in broad daylight to run off with bicycles. People were reporting that their tanks had been siphoned while they slept.

It took a week or so, but power was restored, the gas stations could accept fuel deliveries again and the grocery stores opened back up. Normal life returned, but here on the gulf coast we had had a wake up call that some took to heart while others struggled to decipher what had happened and forget. One thing we all learned: money really can't buy everything if there is nothing to buy.

A few months later I had a conversation that summed it up for me. In reminiscing about life after the hurricane a man told me how in the worst hit area there had literally been no food for a week. All the beach houses had been washed out by the storm, furnishings and edibles replaced or buried by tons of sand. He said that people wandered around with wads of money looking for food they could by. "No doubt about it," he told me. "The richest man on the island was whoever had a sandwich."

In survivor economics a dollar is just a piece of paper that doesn't even make good fire starter. Real wealth is tangible - food, shelter, water and protection. Those that could provide these things found themselves literally blown to the top of the heap by the storm until regular life as we know it returned. The rest of us soon went on with business as usual, but a little wiser and with an understanding of how little a weeks worth of food really is.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

It's a Frugalicious Friday!

A super quick frugalicious report! A trip to my bread thrift store revealed large bags of bread bundled together for $2.75. I asked the clerk what was wrong with the bread in the bags and she told me it's all the bread they didn't have room for, so they just try to sell it in bulk to get rid of it quick.

She said usually people buy it to feed birds and so on. There was no difference between it and the day old bread on the shelf. Skeptical I bought a bag and here's what it yielded!

  • 6 completely unsquashed loaves of Nature's Own loaves
  • 3 misc. loaves
  • 1 somewhat squashed loaf of Nature's Own
  • 2 bags of Cobblestone Mills Hoagie Rolls
  • 1 bag Cobblestone Mills Kaiser Rolls
  • 2 bags regular hamburger buns

That comes out to .18 a loaf!

We don't like plain white bread and hamburger buns, so I turned those into the most delicious croutons I've ever made in about 15 minutes. The squashed loaf went into bread pudding and one package of kaiser rolls was eaten with homemade chicken soup. Everything else went into the freezer. We go through about a loaf a weekday for our family of 5 voracious appetites. At $2.50 or so a loaf, we are saving about $46.40 a month on bread alone. Here's my math:

$2.50 a loaf x 20 weekdays a month = $50.00

.18 a loaf x 20 weekdays = $3.60

$46.40 savings per month!

THAT"S frugalicious!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Redneck Economics

The other day a friend of mine told me how to catch a gopher. At first I was perplexed.

"Why do you want to catch a gopher?" I asked.
"To eat him!" was the matter of fact reply with an implied "Duh!" for punctuation.
"Oh!" I answered, and a light went on in my head.

Gophers are made of meat. Gophers are made of free meat. Gophers are free range, antibiotic free and pretty much organic. They apparently taste like chicken. Did I mention that they were free? My interest was piqued.

There are only a few problems I could see.

  1. I've never caught a gopher.

  2. I don't know where any gopher holes are.

  3. I'm not sure I really know what a gopher looks like.

  4. I'm not sure I could really drag a fuzzy little creature out of a hole with a broom handle, nails and can contraption, look in his soft little eyes and then bean him (even if he is made of free meat).

Suddenly I realized my limitations as a child of the suburban middle class. While I was wasting my teen years gawking at A Clockwork Orange and David Bowie, my redneck counterparts were learning useful skills like automotive repair and gopher catching.

When the economy starts sliding and push comes to shove, what skill have I got? I know how to apply eye liner like Robert Smith. What about my redneck brethren? He's smacking down gopher soup that he caught last night with a Busch Lite can.

The heat is on in our country and suddenly The Great Depression doesn't look so much like ancient history. The rich are insulated with a fat pad of wealth and the brains to keep it. The poor were already in the middle of a fight to survive. It's the middle class that gets the brunt of the shock wave.

In my two car, two and a half bath world it's a nasty surprise to look around and think "What do you mean, I can't afford milk?" It doesn't compute to the Liz Claiborne and Areopostale set. It's taking some of us a moment to let the new reality sink in. Driving and food are expensive. Computers and cars don't really need to be upgraded every year. No, we can't move up into a better neighborhood in the next six months.

My gophers-as-food conversation brought to my attention, however, that there is a valuable subculture among us that can help us all, if we can keep from turning our noses up. Like the Indians showed the early pilgrims how to hunt and grow corn, our twangy accented neighbors suddenly seem invaluable for their do-it-yourselfer ways.

A few days later I had another short conversation that made me re-evaluate our nations middle class values.

At the school where I work I was urging children to look through the heaps of lost & found items that had gathered on the cafeteria stage before they were donated to charity.

"Make sure you look for any lost items!" I reminded an Abercrombie & Fitch clad mini fashionista as she cruised by without a glance. She waved a rhinestone covered hand dismissively in my direction.

"My mom never wants me to bring back items if they have been in the lost & found." she declared with a sniff. "They might have cooties." Amazed, I thought "Good for her!"

One of these days her mom will look around and realize that her credit's run up and American Express is no longer her friend. In the meantime, I'll take her $75 cast off pullover home with me. I have an old fashioned machine called a 'warsher' that kills cooties, and I need something to wear while sitting around the fire pit enjoying my Fuzzy Catch of the Day Fricassee.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Good to the Last Drop

I consider myself a black belt frugal zealot. I regularly read money hacks for entertainment, get my books for nearly free from Paperback Swap and turn my heat down to 68 degrees.

My son accused me of being the "World's Biggest Cheapskate" the other day when I was trying to regift a greeting card (it was a VERY pretty card, and only had one little bit of writing... it became a "goody cone" instead;)

I know he was being sarcastic, but I was actually pleased. That's as big a complement to me as saying "Most Beautiful Mom in the World". I can't help being cheap - it's part of my Scottish blood along with blurting out inappropriate comments and being built solid and short.

So you can imagine my shame at finding out that I have been inadvertently throwing out a 1/2 cup or more of perfectly good and pricey extra virgin olive oil! Yes, I confess. Please bear with me while I tell all the sordid details of wanton waste that have been occurring in my kitchen beneath my very nose.

Like any good tightwad, when I get near the end of any bottle or can I tip it upside down to get out the last drops of paid for goodness. My olive oil cans are no exception. When the can drips no more away I would whisk it into my steel recycling and get on with my day. I always noticed, however, as I carried the large supposedly empty can away, that I could still hear a bit of liquid sloshing around inside.

"A few drops, that's all," my Inner Spendthrift would assure. "Surely not worth opening the can up for." Of course my dominant Dollar Diva would argue, but she was usually shushed by our To Do List and the fact that we probably needed to be getting somewhere in a few minutes.

One day the Diva would not be shushed, and armed with a can opener she cut into the can to reveal the treasured golden drops inside. Tipped upside down in a measuring cup, she expected to reclaim maybe a quarter cup of oil at the most.

Imagine her glee and joy to find that 1/2 cup of oil had drained from the supposedly empty can. Vindicated, she rushed around the house flaunting her saved 1/2 cup of olive oil to anyone who would listen to her tale... which pretty much was only the Dear Observant and Enlightened Husband (known hereafter as DOEH). The Dear Unobservant and Unenlightened Kids (DUUKs) seemed unimpressed.

"Wow!" said DOEH. "It sure doesn't pay to go through all that coupon clipping to throw a half cup away!" My sentiments exactly. From this day forth I vow to always cut the olive can open to get out the last half cup of oil.

I do it not just for the savings that will rack up to be a somewhat significant amount by the time I am old and grey (wait... that might be next week...). I do it for the principal of the thing, "waste not, want not", which would seem to be a fitting moral for this story.

And, incidentally, the can made a really cute window planter for my trailing thyme.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Saturday Summary

Wow! What an AWESOME week for deals! Here's my son giving me his approval for my new hobby - CVSing. This is my third deal ever, and I was able to 'purchase' these items (originally rang up at $21) for FREE, plus I get a $13 rebate and I have $12 ECBs to use on my next deal. If you don't know what CVSing is, read all about it at Crystal's Money Saving Moms blog. She's a pro, and that's where I'm learning it from.

In addition, I managed to score three bottles of Garnier Fructis shampoo for $1.61 (CVSing again!), got the free peanut butter at Walmart, and found a bale of hay on the side of the road. I needed the hay for my chicken coop.

I also managed to fufill one of my personal goals - to pay completely for my once a month chicken food run with my once a month recycling run. The cans and metal I brought in added up to $27.03! That completely paid for the chicken's food, bought my daughter a celebratory snack and paid for 5 lbs of sugar.

My final good deal of the week (and WHAT a good week it's been:) was on Christmas goodies for next year. At one store I found full size bottles of gel and body butters on clearance. The all had holiday smells, like Hot Fudge or Sugar Cookie. I got them for .25 each! There were also packages of lip glosses and soaps - all for .25 each. I came out with 4 bags of goodies and paid $5! Next year my teen girl will have really cute gifts to share with her friends and then some.

It has been a GREAT start to 2008!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Coupon Brag Book

Penny is a good dog but she's been fired as a blogger. I promised her she could log in sometimes, but she gets so much hair on the keyboard it's not worth letting her surf. As promised last post, here is a photo of the coupon brag book. As you can see, the pages are the perfect size for just about any coupon, and it's a snap to flip pages through. I bought mine at the dollar store, and they had a large selection. I carry it everywhere in my purse so I am never caught without my coupons.

Onto other subjects... I was at Albertson's yesterday and I noticed a bin selling all the New Year's goodies off at .10 each. I hit the motherlode for party supplies! Of course there the usual New Year's fare, napkins, noisemakers, etc. I bought a few of these things for next year.

The real treasures were the party horns and bags of confetti. I bought all I needed to fill out three birthday party's worth of goody bags this next year, plus enough confetti to add a little glam to special cards and gifts and spice up the pinatas. All in all, I carried out 3 stuffed bags of party supplies for less then $4. I hope the rest of 2008 turns out to be this exciting!

Speaking of 2008, I've been thinking about what my goals are. We have always been pretty frugal, but last year a simple remodeling gone wrong drug us into deep debt territory. We're talking $80,000 worth, give or take a thousand. It's hard not to feel sick about it, and yes, I have been losing sleep (see me losing sleep right now!;).

It's easy to feel hopeless. Not only is our own debt like a hobgoblin sitting on our chests at night, all his little friends flit and dance around in the shadows whispering about stagflation, rising oil and plummeting housing values. As we struggle to pay the last bit to get the house finished (which is a new front door and getting the shower fixed - the last tile job on it had to be ripped out because it leaked) I find myself getting the urge to go stark raving mad with debtophobia.

As I was brooding over all things dark and gloomy the other day, the Bible verse about God clothing the lilys in the field finer then King Solomon came to my mind. I realized that I had stopped trusting God and had started listening to the media's fearful whispers. It suddenly came to my mind that if He can feed 5,000 off a few loaves and fishes, how much can He magnify my few pennies into paying off my debt? I have faith that He can do it.

Like the Proverbs 31 Mystery Woman, I have to start watching over my household before He can bless it. He wants to see me move before He can move for me. This blog is about me seeing that "my lamp does not go out at night" (which is good since I can sleep anyway;). We have 4 years left before we retire, and though we have a little set aside we started with too little too late. My goal is to see if I can get rid of the debt from last year this year.

I've actually always wanted to do this anyway. For years I've been reading about Amy Dacyczyn (I actually got to do a phone interview on her once and she really walks the walk!) and wondering... could I do that? Could we cut our expenses low enough to empower ourselves with the finances we have already in our pockets? Could we really be free?

Freedom. We live in the land of the free and yet our lifestyles make us not free. It is such a sweet thought, though, to think of owing no one but God. That's my goal this year. I may or may not make it, but we'll definately be better off for the effort.

Well, now that I've bored you to tears with my philosophical flounderings, let me invite you to join me on this journey. Please leave a comment, give advice or share some frustrations. We've no time to lose - four days of 2008 are already gone (and I'm going to need EVERY day to finish this goal!).

Have a New Year full of abundant joy,
prosperity and love.

2008 WILL be GREAT!