Sunday, April 27, 2008

Calculating Your Fuel Costs

With food prices in a wild race with gas prices, I've realized that it's time for me to take our personal frugality to new extremes. Each week I'm going to try a few new things to see if we can't cut back on utilities, food costs and fuel.

First off, I found this nifty Fuel Mileage Calculator to help me figure out how much it costs me to drive per mile. This was beneficial because I realized that my old minivan is much more efficient then I give it credit for and my per mile costs are much less than I thought. Knowledge is power, and in this case it helped me avoid a costly mistake.

I was planning on buying a bike rack for my minvan so I could cut out one school trip a day by leaving my van and riding back home on my bike. That would save me 6 miles a day. According to this calculator, it costs me about .19 a mile to drive around, so cutting 6 miles would add up to $1.14 a day. With only 30 days left in our school year that would save me $34.20.

With the cheapest bike rack I could find costing $53, I would have to use it for around 99 days to break even. If I would use the bike rack in other situations, it would be worth it. In my case, however, I will only be using the bike rack for the next 30 days. It’s cheaper for me to continue driving the extra 6 miles a day.

Over this summer I plan on using my bicycle and the bus system to save money. Right now I drive an average of 20 miles a day. That equals $3.80 a day for me to drive. That adds up to around $115 a month. That’s pretty significant over the course of the summer, not to mention the exercise I’ll be getting. I think I’ll probably shop even less then I do now since I’ll have to haul it back in my back pack or return for it with the car.

Calculate your own fuel costs so you can make informed decisions instead of knee jerk reactions like I almost did. To make it easy, simply write your odometer reading on your gas receipt every time you fill up and slip it in your wallet. Then all the info you need is right there when you need to calculate your gas costs.

The "F" In Frugality Is For "Fun"

I have a confession: I'm not overly upset over the high cost of gasoline and food.

I'll admit that I have my moments of worry. Every time gas prices go up I feel obligated to raise my eyebrows, puff out my cheeks and read the new price out loud to anyone in the car with me (usually my kids). In the grocery store I've started talking out loud to the 'luxury items', such as tea. "$1.60?!?" I exclaim to the boxes and tins. "A few months ago this peppermint tea was 99 cents!"

Secretly, though, I think I'm enjoying all the furor in much the same way a gossipy neighbor enjoys bad news. Saving money is one of my favorite subjects to ponder, but it used to be a lonely topic of conversation. Six months ago if I tried to bring up how to container garden using free 5 gallon buckets I would have gotten disinterested signals and a quick change of subject.

Now frugality is "in", and I suddenly find my pet topic awash in popularity. Everywhere I look it's all over the media - how to save cash, gas and utilities. Bikes are suddenly hot (who's got money to spend on a brand new hybrid?), reusable bags are the new tote in demand and refilling your drink bottles makes you a noble global consumer, not a tightwad.

Years of trying to come to grips with "being cheap" are finally paying off socially. No longer do I have to justify why I avoid convenience foods and hang my laundry. Ahhh, but being "in" feels good... as long as it doesn't cost anything extra.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Stop the Train! I Wanna Get Off!


Two weeks since my last post! I can't believe it... but as I mentally review recent events I'm surprised I am posting today.

The big chaos event that occurred (and really seemed to start the karmic chain of events) was that a "situation" happened with my husband who is temporarily overseas in a very sandy and not fun place. He is okay, but the ensuing stress was enough to knock me out of my "pennypinscher" groove. I fell off the bandwagon and into the waiting arms of Ronald McDonald.

Another chaotic event that was much more positive was two of my kids getting accepted into two different talents shows. I was suddenly tossed into whirlwind preparations with costumes, music CDs, rehearsals and filling out paperwork.

Besides the above happenings, we've been maintaining baseball schedules, homework, Scout-o-rama, emergency babysitting, had a prowler, daughter's iPod was stolen from our car, planted sweet potatoes, helped out at school, took on extra work, de-ratted the chicken house, watched my sis-in-law do a bellydancing show and taught a friend to CVS. Whew!

The dust is settling again, thank goodness, and I am back to posting. Thanks to our tax refund, I managed to add to our Emergency Fund and pay off half our credit card debt. Another few months and I should be able to get the rest knocked out. Then I can start on the Home Equity Loan. Here's what I'm doing to scrape up the extra money for payments:

  1. Conserving funds - hanging my laundry, turning off electricity when not in use, walking instead of driving, no eating out (except for my recent exploits), buying nothing but the bare necessities
  2. Taking on extra work - house cleaning, substituting for other positions at work, doing surveys for Pinecone in my spare time, working with Adsense and Associated Content

  3. Trying to maximize my opportunities - I signed up with Revolution Money Exchange to get my $25 and am trying to pay attention to referrals when I can.

  4. Selling off all the extras-Everything we don't need must go. In return we're getting a little cash, the space and less to keep track of.

That's my update at the moment. I've found some really good articles lately, like this one that talks about why we pay sales tax on coupons. I never thought about that.

Another one I liked was Secrets of SuperStar Grocery Shoppers. A lot of common sense info that most of us are already doing, but it never hurts to go back to the basics.

And finally, I got a real kick out of reading about how a dollar saved is really $2 earned. I know I've sent this out to friends and family, but this is some good info that always makes me feel like my frugality is really making a difference.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spring Cleaning at Penny Pinscher

I love working on Penny Pinscher, but I have had some feelings lately that she is missing her mission. I first started Penny Pinscher as a means to chronicle our journey out of debt, but when the first posts went up I suddenly felt shy to reveal intimate details of our finances.

After all, I see some of the people who read Penny Pinscher on an almost daily basis. (Hi Helen, Rosie, Glory, Kris, Mom...! Did I miss anyone?;) Instead, I started writing about other, more fun things like SSS.

I don't know why I was suddenly beset by shyness, though. Anyone who personally knows me quickly realizes that I don't really have a lot of secrets. I don't exactly advertise my personal info, but ask and I'll tell you honestly.

I like who I am, so I don't see any reason to hide anything. This includes my weight (I weigh 100 pounds), my age (I'm 22), my finances (I'm richer then Paris Hilton)... oops! Sorry, I was fantasizing again;) Really I am in the middle of about everything - middle aged, middle class and not rich or poor.

More and more it has been coming to the forefront of my mind that I need to either dish the dirt or bury Penny Pinscher. Pinscher was to reveal how we were getting out of debt so that other people could read that they are not alone - there's hope for a credit free life. I also hoped that it would act like my own ongoing financial accountability sermon to keep me on the tightwad straight and narrow. So far I think Pinscher has missed the mark, and since I don't want to bury the whole thing I guess I'd better start dishing.

So, here's my confession:

Two years ago we were almost out of debt with a low mortgage, two paid for cars and and a steady paycheck. Then my husband deployed and I had the bright idea to take advantage of the situation by getting rid of our old nasty carpet and putting in tile. I had set aside $4,000 cash to this end and found a tile guy who gave me a reasonable deal. It was going to take two weeks.

Three months later, after going nearly insane and watching any nice furniture I had become damaged by grout and moving, we were almost done tiling. I was starting to see the light at the end, and then my husband came home. He liked the workman I had hired. He liked him so much that they decided to rip out the entire back of the house and 'fix it'. My neighbor across the street joined in and the demolition party was on at our house.

Unfortunately, anything that was supposed to be simple turned out to be anything but. Every job had issues and cost twice or three times as much as originally planned for (not to mention double or triple the time it was supposed to take). When everything was at its worst we ran out of money and turned to credit. And more credit... and just a little more...

Now we stand at some odd $10,000 on a credit card plus a HEL of around $75,000. Granted, not all the HEL went for the house - we paid off $25,000 in personal debt owed to family and a friend and we would do that again in a heart beat. But we are still here left holding a bag with an $85,000 dollar hole in the bottom.

Just when we were getting our debt dug in, the already emaciated economy started taking its turn for the worst. We came to the end our our debt accumulation nightmare all inspired to tighten our belts and pay it off. It didn't take us long to realize that we were tightening our belts to stay afloat and we were going to have to get corsets if we wanted to make any gains.

So here we are. Penny Pinscher was inspired by Save Leigh Ann, who paid off her credit debt in a year. I don't think we'll get it paid off that fast, but miracles do happen (You can help them happen by clicking on the little ads at the bottom of each post...hint...hint;). The important thing to me is that we learn from our remodeling mishap and go on. Abe Lincoln used to say after every failure (and he had many) "It's a slip, not a fall."

So we slipped, and are now seeking to climb back up by whatever means possible (legal, of course). The economy seems to be plunging into free fall - not a good time to be in debt. If you ask me, not that I'm any kind of $ guru, I'd say we are headed back to the Depression era. It's a good time to have your sails trimmed and ready for a squall.

From now on, Penny Pinscher will be dedicated to detailed doings of of our debt derailment. All SSS posts, fun as they are, will be posted at Dollar Diva, my site that is dedicated to good deals on the Emerald Coast. All posts about our urban farming efforts will be posted at my new site Big City Farm. That's where you can read about the chickens and other critters and how we are getting along in a neighborhood.

I hope my regular Pinscher readers will like the new directions my blogosphere is taking and stick with me. Hopefully Pinscher can inspire your own path to debt freedom, lighten your load through laughter and provide you with useful tools. And as always, thanks for reading!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Super Saving Saturday

The pickings seemed pretty slim for good deals this week, but I still did pretty good. I did two shopping trips at CVS. First, I got in on the Glucerna deal and the beauty products, spent $3.07 opp and received $9.50 in ECBs - I had $5 ECBs to start.

Later I went back for the Spa Body Wash deal and got two bottles for .50 opp and received $9.98 in ECBs. I also received a free T shirt from a music store here for walking in the door at the right time (happy surprise!) which my older son claimed.

In addition, I made a stop at Goodwill and finally found my cast iron dutch oven for $8.00! That was also all I needed to complete my blue card and be eligible for $20 free there.

On a final note, I received my $25 for signing up with Revolution Money Exchange and am debating whether to just request it in a check or keep it in there to use. I love the no fees part - much nicer then Paypal.

So all in all, it's been a pretty good week, despite starting out with such lack luster potential. I can't wait to see next week's deals!

Oh- I almost forgot! After I posted last Saturday I found this grill at a garage sale for $20! I've wanted one for a while, and this one is like new. Oh happy day! :)