Saturday, May 31, 2008

Super Saving Saturday!

It's been awhile since I did my SSS update. The truth is, I've been working like crazy and have been too busy to CVS. *GASP!* I know, that's hard to believe...

The one trip I've made recently was to get three Colgate toothbrushes, two bars of Johnson's Buddies soap and six Cadbury chocolate bars for 13 cents OOP plus $12 ECBs back. Not too impressive, but I'm still happy with it.

Now that summer is four days away, I'll be down to two jobs and have TONS more time to spend at CVS and at Penny Pinscher. Four days to freedom! Wahoo!

Note from Penny Pinscher: New to CVSing? Crystal over at Money Saving Moms has an excellent CVS primer you can read here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Flashback Time: Remembering 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.'

Note from Penny Pinscher: Originally posted on January 23rd, Redneck Economics has been one of the most popular posts ever to appear on this blog. Besides making numerous networld appearances and being forwarded into inboxes everywhere, the opening lines of Redneck Economics were selected as Wisebread's Quote of the Week. We hope you enjoy this flashback!

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Cost of Clutter

Many times I have read self help information aimed at getting me to cut my clutter. Oftentimes they claim that de-cluttering will save time and money. Saving time I can sure understand. But money? I never have made the connection as to how my clutter, innocently piled up at the bottom of my closet, is costing me anything...that is, until today.

Recently I found that I could no longer close my closet door due to the large pile of miscellaneous stuff that has been growing there. With an extra day off to kill and no gas money to go anywhere I decided to attack the pile. Armed with garbage bags and a gritty determination to NOT save anything for a garage sale, I began my quest.

Pulling out piles of clothes and sorting through them I began to see a few things about myself. One thing I realized is I see value in everything. That's a good quality for a tightwad, but it can be over done.

The poorest person in America can have a wealth of free clothing just for asking - do I really need to save my super worn out, holey and stained T-shirt for charity? And yes, I already have enough cleaning rags. I tossed the T-shirt.

I also realized that because I see value in everything, I am reluctant to let anything go without getting some compensation. That dooms me to piles of clothes in my closet that will someday go to my big garage sale where I will make a million dollars from selling my valuable, super worn out, holey and stained T-shirts. It made sense until I thought about it.

The final thing I realized is that I am so busy seeing the value in holey T-shirts that I miss real money issues. For example, I just went out this week and spent $10 on a pair of denim shorts because it has been very hot and I wanted them that afternoon.

This afternoon I uncovered a stack of at least 10 pairs of nice denim shorts in my closet. Suddenly I remembered someone giving them to me last Fall. They have spent the winter languishing under piles of clutter until I forgot they existed. I had just spent $10 for nothing. My firsthand lesson in how clutter costs.

I also recently bought a pair of sport shorts so that I could ride my bicycle more. There in my closet was the exact same pair of shorts purchased last year. I wanted to scream with frustration; not only did I waste more money due to a cluttered closet but I realized I must be pretty boring to buy the exact same pair of shorts a year later.

Losing money always wakes me up, and I took the lessons to heart. I pulled seven bags out of two closets to give away, with even more going straight to the garbage. I quit on the mythical garage sale and the thought that someday we might need half a dozen T-shirt rags.

As a reward I now have a nice clean closet with everything in clear view. Shorts, capris and shirts are stacked in efficient rows. Gift bags (free from CVS, of course;), my emergency present box and my change pot are all within reach. Tomorrow I will shave 20 minutes off my getting ready time because I won't have to look for socks.

Organization feels good, looks good and is good for my wallet. Now if only I can keep it that way! How do you handle clutter? Leave a comment!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Stamp Out Future Postage Hikes With Junk Mail

As of last Monday we are all now paying more to mail the same things.

Like everyone else, the United States Post Office is feeling the finacial pinch and looking for ways to bring in a little more moula. There are only two ways for anyone, inclusing USPS, to get more cash; bring in more and keep more. I don't know what the Post Office is doing to reduce their expenses, but I'm not happy with being part of their "bring in more" equation.

What most of us don't realize is that we all have some 'friends' (their self appointed title) that are willing to pay USPS for us. They send scores of letters everday - literally tons of mail nationwide. Why not send them mail back? They are so desperate to hear back from us they even pay for the postage!

Of course I'm talking about junk mail. Everyday I get 3-7 letters of solicitation in my mail. They want me to buy into their magazines, credit cards, polyesther pants and book club plans. I stacked up all the junk mail I recieved at Christmas one year for a week and the pile weighed more then 5 pounds!

Besides cluttering up my mail box I have to pay to throw it all away. It chokes our landfills, costing the environment. All the bleach and dyes used to print the junk goes out as poison waste into our streams. I'm not even going to get into all the trees that are cut down to make the paper that is destined for garbage from the start...

Why not send these 'friends' of ours a message back and help the USPS keep rates low at the same time? All it takes is a few minutes a day to send back the pre-addressed, pre-paid envelopes that come with all the offers.

We look forward to junk mail around here. The kids snicker mischievously as they look for interesting mail to send back in the free envelopes. After I remove anything that has our information on it (I shred personal info to be used as chick and ferret litter) the rest gets mixed up and stuffed back in. Citibank may get pizza coupons. Discover may be invited to join a book club. American Express gets an amazing offer to purchase credit card insurance.

Sometimes the kids add our own papers from school. Who wouldn't want to receive a star math paper back in the mail? Or a solicitation to buy cookie dough? Or old field trip information fliers?

The results are less junk for me to haul to the curb, a satisfying way to tell solicitors what I think of them, financial support for the post office and I always know when my new mail has arrived because the flag will be down again. If everyone in America sent those envelopes back to the companies the USPS probably wouldn't have to raise rates again for years!

And for anyone who's embarrassed at what their postman (or postwoman) would think of seeing fat envelopes waiting to be picked up on a daily basis? For the three workers I've personally asked, they love it. "It's job security!" was the general opinion.

I was also told that this is not a revolutionary new idea - folks have been sending back junk mail for years. A common trick was to tape the postage paid envelope to a brick and mail it back. The post office does discourage mailing bricks, but nice fat envelopes of your child's latest crayon masterpieces are welcome.

Some tips to remember when return junk mailing:
  1. As a rule, I never send anything with personal info on it. Kid's first names are okay to me, but no last names, school names or addresses. I also watch out for envelopes that have "offer id codes" on them.

  2. Shred all personal info to keep it out of the hands of identity thieves.

  3. Process mail on a daily basis to avoid having heaps of clutter piled on your microwave waiting to be stuffed.

  4. Pass this info on to everyone you know that is tired of junk mail and rising postal rates... I think that would be about everyone!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Our April Financial Check Up

April was a great month for our finances. Basically this last month I had three goals.

Pay off as much credit card debt as possible. We only have one credit card left, and the balance was $10,000 at the beginning of the month.

Double our Emergency Fund to $2,000. Since everything is becoming so much more expensive, I reason that emergencies might also go up in price. Best to have a little more fat in lean times.

Reduce our expenses as much as possible. This included walking instead of driving, diligently turning off lights when not in use, and conserving water.

Goal number one was accomplished in a big way thanks to 'pinsching' our pennies and using our tax return. Our credit card debt now stands at $5,000. I was also able to accomplish goal number two and goal number three.

Reducing our expenses (gas, electric, water...) was the only way we were able to meet #1 and #2, though that tax return was a big help. I also took all the extra work I could find (without neglecting my kids;) to make extra money.

May's goal? Finish paying off that credit card debt. Can you guess where our economic stimulus check is going?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Houston, We Have A Problem...

Fact: The economy is tight, and only getting tighter.

Fact: Waste costs money going in and going out.

Fact: Few entities can afford unnecessary waste in today's economic climate.

Take a look at the picture I took today of typical lunchroom garbage. On any given day about 24 bulging bags go out to fill the big green dumpster outside. But what can we do about it? The kids have to throw away their trash, don't they? I think not.

When I look inside the great plastic cans I see more than waste. Pounds of food go in there to petrify in our landfills, food that my chickens would be glad to devour every day. Feeding the scraps to farm animals would probably reduce our garbage usage by at least half, and the remaining bags would weigh almost nothing.

One strategic change and suddenly the school saves money on waste disposal, gets good public relations when the media finds out what they are doing to make a difference for the environment and makes a whole lotta chickens happy. All it takes is a can dedicated to scraps and an open mind.

Another issue I see are all the Styrofoam dishes we have to use. While they don't weigh much, making them cheaper and easier to dispose of, they cost money whose ultimate resting place is the garbage. Whatever happened to the old plastic and metal trays I used growing up? Use 'em, wash 'em and reduce garbage to the almost gone stage. Buy it once and they last forever.

Of course, I'm just dreaming. I'm not factoring in water costs to wash all those reusable trays, nor the extra labor that would have to be added to wash those trays. But without dreams where would we be? Stuck in the stone age with Fred Flintstone as a neighbor.

It's something to think about.