Sunday, November 30, 2008

Celebrating one year blogging

As I get ready to look at November's finances with some trepidation, I realized I have been blogging for a year now. Prior to starting my own account, I had been reading various personal finance blogs and believed there was room to share my perspective on frugal living as well. I enjoy writing and my NaNoWriMo challenge was not exciting me. The blog however, has been going for just over a year and I still have more left to explore.

When I first started, I wanted to talk money, budgeting and native plant gardening. Now I have shifted more strongly into green living, edible gardening, and my dream of owning my own farm. Regardless of the shifting of focus, my goals to live frugally (if not uncluttered) have been keys to reducing my resource usage (e.g., buying secondhand and throwing away less garbage) and saving for the future.

One of my earliest posts was about once monthly shopping. I have been practicing this for the last four years so I was surprised when other more popular bloggers were writing about it just recently. My once monthly trips were born out of fewer trips are better for my sanity (I hate grocery shopping), but ended up being a frugal practice as well. This and several follow-up posts have proven to be quite popular.

True to my original ideas, managing income and rolling over an IRA have been frequented by visitors as well. My postings on saving some money in the garden as well as examining the cost of replacement windows garnered positive results as well.

I hope you have enjoyed your time spent here and welcome you back every time you stop by! If there is anything you would like to read or would like a followup on a previous posting, please let me know.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

So much for buy-nothing day

Despite the fact that I have either already purchased gifts for people on my list or plan on making them, I did shop on Black Friday. However, instead of rushing out of the house at ungodly hours of the morning, I had time for breakfast, conversation with family and setting up my dad's Mail account before riding in the minivan with my mother and sister. Then our only shopping consisted of three charity thrift stores within a 30-minute driving radius. Furthermore, if I spent at least $10 at the previous store, I received an extra 10% discount at the next for up to 30% off the price (i.e., 20% discount at the second store and 30% discount at the third store). Plus, many items were 50% off as a store special. I did not intend on going shopping so I walked away with more stuff than I should have purchased. However, I did get items that encourage my air drying habits (a sweater dryer), encourage cooking and gardening (six books), fill in little holes in my life (a wind-up glow-in-the-dark travel clock and a spray bottle) and keep me warm (a fleece sweatshirt).

One item that I walked away with at 50% off was a chair. The issue is I could not get it home. It did not fit in my car no matter how I tried to maneuver it. So, I paid $28 for a Queen Anne-style chair that is residing in my parent's basement until some future trip my parents make to my house. However, this incident reinforces my thoughts on buying a newer vehicle that can haul things much easer than my four-door sedan. I like my car, but it does not lend itself to hauling much wood or furniture larger than a table chair or small bookshelf. This gets in the way of plans for gardening, building and buying new-to-me furniture.

Even though I spent just over $51 for the day, according to Riot4Austerity, none of this spending counts because I purchased it all at charity thrift shops. However, I do find that by the time I reach November, my spending plan is pretty far gone even at the beginning of the month. Aligning purchases with the spending plan took some justification, but all is rectified and I can enjoy my new purchases.

Did your shopping break the bank or did you throw yourself wholeheartedly into buy-nothing day?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What are you grateful for?

As I live in the U.S.A., I am part of the millions that celebrate Thanksgiving today. Truly, the holiday is about more than turkey, Pilgrims and family. It is one day out of the year to reflect on what one is thankful for in life. We should take more time than that, but it is a start. So what I am grateful for?

Health It is difficult to enjoy life without good health. Aside from my surgery earlier this year, I have had decent health. There are additional steps I need to take to improve my health, but I am generally healthy and have few worries about medical expenses overtaking me.

Wealth Despite the bite the downward stock market has taken out of my retirement portfolio, I am still wealthier than the majority of the people on this planet. I can not only pay the expenses of my American lifestyle, but save some money as well. There is even room for spending on unnecessary items.

Freedom I am grateful for having the ability to walk out of my house, drive to the polls and vote all without dodging bullets, bombs or other threats to my democratic duty and right. I am grateful there are people willing to give their lives so I can live my comfortable existence in the U.S.A. with all my personal freedoms intact.

Home I am thankful I have a comfortable place to call home where I am sheltered from the weather and can grow my own food.

Friends and family Despite my family knowing all the buttons to push and how little I see some of my friends, I am grateful they are in my life. I know who I can turn to for support--emotional, physical and financial. I do not always appreciate what they do for me, but their presence in my life is important to me.

Blog readers I am glad there are people who stop by regularly or on occasion to read my postings. You keep me going and help inspire me. Thank you.

Take your thankfulness and pass it on!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How my savings accounts work for me

When I save money, I have manyfold goals (and expenses) in mind. Let us break down my myriad of savings accounts to see how they forward my goals for the present and future.

Standard savings account
This is my first line of defense against rainy days, car repairs, unexpected medical or veterinary bills, and even the occasional overspending. I transfer $160 per pay period with a larger amount deposited when I have my extra paycheck month. I recently tapped into this account for medical deductibles and car repairs. This money is easily transferred to my checking account at my credit union, immediately accessible if needed. Less liquid CDs also hold a share of this money that can be used for emergencies. I am working on having CDs due every month so I have a larger pool to draw from without sacrificing other savings goals.

House account
This is where most small expenses associated with the house including gardening and landscaping are drawn from. Each pay check, I transfer $75 for these expenses. Typically, I can purchase small machines like a snow thrower, pay for small electrical jobs like installing a new outlet in the basement, but the window replacement expenses usually end up drawing from my standard savings account. Most of this money is spent at hardware stores with brief stops at a garden store or the thrift store. At various times, I have nearly depleted the account, but winter is generally quiet enough, a nice balance accumulates--just in time for spring!

Car savings
I would like to buy my next vehicle with cash if circumstances allow. However, if the time frame is shorter than I would like, I can at least put a good chunk of money toward a newer vehicle. Each paycheck donates $71.50 to the fund with any bonuses, rebates or other extra money adding to the account balance. In 15 months, I have saved over $2,700. My actual savings account only has a few hundred dollars in it as $2,000 is in two separate CDs with rates of 4.00% APY. I am gambling I will not need the money for at least a year, but having a bit more interest is worth it to me. After the above two accounts, the car savings has the highest priority.

By saving each paycheck, I allow myself to pay less money than a car payment for a future car. If I am forced to buy a car sooner than I would like, I will have to sacrifice money I was saving for emergencies, the house and future goals to make a car loan payment. The faster I can accumulate money for a newer car, the less likely I have to short change other savings goals.

Charity savings
I set aside a small amount every month for this account. Using this method, I can accumulate some funds and chose to send a larger amount to my charity of choice. Since the amount is so modest, my plans are to increase the donations to this funds so I can spread it around to more than one charity in a year. I focus on local charities like the food bank and make sure that I can help others that are not as lucky in their circumstances as I am.

Found money
I started this fund to see how small amounts of money can add up. Since opening the account, I have also added money from an internet subsidy from my employer. The small amounts of money did add up quite nicely and helped fund the purchase of my chest freezer. While the current balance is $256, I am hoping to purchase a computer with the money in a year or two. This means I will need to save more money and I may be more reluctant to part with my hard-saved dollars to purchase new technology as much as I admire it.

Farm account
This is ~4 year goal and lower priority than a new driving vehicle. Right now, this account has been funded by a portion of the last extra paycheck and some stray money leftover after funding the car account. Additional funding will have to come from another source yet to be determined. There just is not enough of my paycheck after funding the other accounts to put a substantial amount here as well.

Conclusion: Each account keeps me on track so I have cash available for immediate use as well as prioritizing my savings goals.

Could you adapt this method for your goals?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Shopping the loss leaders

I am uncertain how common this is, but I have recently begun to only shop loss leaders. While I still undergo my once-monthly grocery pilgrimage to supply the bulk of my groceries, I have started looking at the flyer for the local grocery store and seeing what the deals are. I began noticing great prices like $1.50 for a pound of butter, 98 cents for 4 pounds of granulated sugar, and $1.49 for 5 pounds of flour and thought hey, I should stock up.

Then there are the unadvertised specials. Recently, I went into the store looking to purchase shampoo for 88 cents and found the same size, different brand for 59 cents. Which do you think I chose?

My grocery store is not the only location for good deals. I have been looking at the Walgreens flyer online for any deals I could use. I have not quite gotten the rhythm of what is on sale when or even if it is a good deal. However, I have noticed in the last six weeks, none of the Neutrogena products I use have gone on sale. But when they do, I am prepared to snatch them up.

Between the loss leaders and my monthly grocery trip, I can add to my pantry (or freezer) and save a bit of money buying items that are cheaply priced. Do you only shop the loss leaders?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Christmas jelly jar saga

At my local thrift store, I had been looking for jelly/jam jars to make jam in for Christmas gifts. However, the usual location was not yielding any jelly jars, just a few lonely quart or pint jars. With Christmas looming closer, I broke down and bought new jelly jars wrapped in thick plastic during my big once-monthly grocery shopping trip. Not only was I buying new, but had a lot of plastic waste to deal with. Why not the good old fashioned cardboard box Kerr!

So my new jars were all nestled in their plastic-wrapped cardboard divisions in my basement waiting for me to fill them with strawberry and red raspberry jam goodness from the berries I picked and froze in my chest freezer. I was looking forward to making a batch of jam with my homegrown strawberries. Then I made a recent pilgrimage to my local charity thrift shop, the one I visit weekly and brag about all the stuff I find. Internally I was shrieking in frustration because there on the shelf was not one, not two, but four boxes of a dozen jelly jars complete with dried up spiders for me to purchase. Well, of course I bought a box because a gal can never have too many jelly jars and if I gave them away as gifts, well, less crying over jars that never return to me. I will take 25 cents a jar any day!

I visited the store two days later and there was still another box left so I bought that one too. Now I have an assortment of jelly jars in raised-relief fruit, quilted, standard smooth, and wide-mouth half pint sizes. I think I can freely give away jars with little guilt even if I thought six weeks without jars in the thrift story meant I could purchase new. And no, I am not sharing my ill-gotten gains. I may even been stingy with the two batches of strawberry freezer jam I made. I never shared my homemade jam gift plans so if the jars never leave the freezer, no one but me will know...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Planning for my long-term goals

Although I am on my way to converting the lawn on my suburban lot to growing food, my future plans include being able to keep animals, bees and vast numbers of fruit bushes and trees, something that my small lot cannot support nor is allowed by my city ordinances. As I look forward to my future farm in four years, what am I thinking about now to facilitate my plans?

Plans I had for my current home will need to be limited to keep more future capital for the farm. This means the minor bathroom remodel and potential kitchen remodel are shelved. However, I will finish the window replacement, will consider additional attic insulation and need to persuade my neighbor to paint the wood exterior next year. Keeping and enhancing the value of my home will help me get the best price I can when I sell. At least that is my hope.

I will also really need to focus on saving additional money. In looking at my numbers, the best way to reach at least 5% down payment and enough cash to purchase trees, equipment and animals is to save another $175/month. Since this money is hard to find in my current income, I will have to get a second job or determine what alternative streams of income I can set up. This will require more thinking on my part to figure out what I can do to increase my savings.

To be honest, earning more money is where I really get hung up. I have a few ideas for self-employment, but nothing that has been executed. A couple ideas would be in highly competitive venues and I do not want to fight hard to earn some money. A second job in an established business would be best, but my city has a small list of job openings with few for which I am able to qualify. In addition, the job market for retail jobs has become quite tight recently.

Deciding I will have a farm in spring 2012 and having one are two different things. Opportunity and ability to take said opportunity need to come together for me. I am certain my ideas and plans will be refined in the next 3.5 years. What is acceptable and important today will be modified by the time I truly implement my lifestyle change. I have just recently added beekeeping to my ideas for the farm and oddly enough, am debating myself about adding a dairy cow. This from a woman who made all sorts of excuses to get out of milking cows. What is the world coming to?

By the time I would like to purchase country property, the current economic issues will hopefully have eased. I do not want to find a place that will make me happy, but am unable to get a loan or cannot sell my house. I am in a better position to sell than some as housing values in my area have not declined much and my home is a starter home. However, where everything will be in four years is tough to say. I would like some equity from my home to help me in my new place.

I was raised on a dairy farm and am familiar with crop farming. However, my dad is a conventional family farmer while I want to have a small organic farm that will at least sustain me if not generate a small income stream. Instead of the 85 head of Holsteins my dad milked regularly until 18 years ago, I want 3-4 sheep, maybe a cow, a couple of beehives, 6-12 chickens (egg layers and meat), a couple of geese and some farm cats to keep down the rodents. Rather than farming 1,000 acres of alfalfa, wheat, soybeans and corn, I want to grow veggies and fruits on a few acres. While I might be familiar with farming, I do not have the knowledge to farm how I want to do it.

Therefore, I need to find mentors, take classes and educate myself on what I need to know to make things work. I have been reading books, but that can only take me so far. Talking with someone knowledgeable and willing to share his or her experience is important to understanding more issues involved in what I want to do. My first couple tries in this matter have given mixed results. I need to find the right people that will support me in the manner I want. That mentorship can be difficult to find and challenging to foster. Classes would be a formalized way to instill knowledge and there are programs at the local university on various farm topics including sheep. I may consider exploring that next year. If I can get the knowledge and mentorship I need, I will be better prepared for starting and running my own farm.

I desire to return to the country. This call to have my own small farm is a new twist on the idea, but one I am thoroughly embracing. While I am surprised at the intensity and interest I have in owning and running a small organic farm, I want to see this through. Yes, I worry that despite my plans, my preparation, skills and money will not be enough to get me to a break-even point, much less making money at a farming endeavor. I may even fail miserably.

However, I am taking steps to get me to a level I can tackle starting a garden bigger than 100 square feet. I am learning what I need to do to plant crops successively on depleted soil, how to amend it, how to expand a garden and how much time it takes to get started and support 210 square feet rather than 81 square feet. How much mulch, compost and other amendments do I need? How long do I have to wait until I can harvest a crop? Do I need to wait years, months or weeks? How do I deal with rodents? The experience on my small suburban lot can translate to a larger garden and converting lawn to garden space will also prove useful. Learning is not only classwork and reading, but doing. I may not be able to practice animal husbandry on my current property, but I can grow as many different fruits and vegetables as the land can support with correct sun exposure and between trees. Building knowledge and confidence is a good thing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Surprise harvest: Strawberries in November

I have written endlessly about gardening, my garden plans and my new gardening areas including my raised strawberry pyramid. Well, Sunday November 9, I was picking strawberries in freezing temperatures (30 degrees Fahrenheit) with little flecks of snow sprinkling on me and the strawberry plants. Talk about a disconcerting experience--picking strawberries in November in the upper Midwest! The snow is not enough to do anything but add flecks of white, but not how I imagined my strawberry harvest would take me this year (or any year). I guess when the Jung's catalog says Ozark Beauty is an everbearing strawberry plant, they are not kidding. With freezing temperatures, I am not sure how long I can expect any berries to ripen, but I am interested in seeing how long they can hold out. There are a few that are starting to blush red...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The end of the no-furnace challenge

Well, I made it until November 7 before I had to turn on my furnace thanks in part to a warm spell with nearly 70 degree Fahrenheit temperatures in early November. Of course, I am unlikely to see 68 degrees F in my house for a few months as I set my thermostat to 64 degrees F or lower.

However, I did decide to modify my thermostat settings. Last year, I set it at 64 degrees when I was home, 55 degrees when I was gone during the day and 56 degrees at night. Since I was able to tolerate lower temperatures during my furnace-off challenge, I decided to decrease my thermostat settings to see how I would fee. My current settings are 63 degrees when I am home, 55 degrees when I am not and when I am sleeping. I do not know how much this might affect my natural gas bill, but I will do my best to lower my usage and add on the blankies.

With lower temperatures in the house as well as outside, I finally added my down comforter to the bed, which keeps me right warm all night long. With plenty of supplies laid in for home, craft and clutter projects in my home, I am ready for colder temperatures to keep me indoors. I do plan on trying to line-dry clothing outdoors during the winter and will continue to supply my backyard composter with leftover fruit and vegetable bits. Otherwise, I plan to keep most activities indoors for the next few months.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

U.S. election day--be sure to vote!

By the times this posts on my blog, I will be working the early shift at one of four polling locations in my small city. This is just a reminder to come visit me or your local polling place and vote. It is a great responsibility and even if you cannot stomach the rhetoric after all this time, there are still local races and referendums that are important and will more directly affect you. Please be responsible and vote!

And if you are wondering which person is me, look for the woman who looks like she could be the daughter of any of the rest of the workers. I really enjoy helping out and seeing all the people voting. The local clerk's office is always looking for more poll workers if you are curious.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Referral Love for October 2008

October was a busy month for me. Putting my garden in order, raking leaves, picking up compost and organizing my garage along with shopping the grocery store bargains kept me running around. November brings NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and one year of blogging. I plan to take the novel writing challenge so I will likely have even fewer posts. I have no particular plans to celebrate my blogoversary, but I have a few weeks to think of some possibilities. I am open to suggestions...

Festivals or Carnivals
I contributed an entry Frugal tips for the autumn garden in the the Festival of Frugality #149: Monster Mash Edition! hosted by Living Well on Less.

Top Referrals (excluding search engines)
1. Direct links--I love to see these listed. I am glad you find visiting my blog worth your while. For convenience, consider subscribing to my RSS feed.
2. Living Well on Less
3. Funny About Money Thanks for linking to my post "Frugal tips in the garden".
4. Blogger Hi fellow bloggers on!

Top Articles for October
1. Frugal tips for the autumn garden Thanks for choosing my entry Living Well on Less.
2. Analyzing my net worth for September 2008 It is a bit painful, no?
3. Crafting my way out of clutter I am likely in more company than I imagine, or you were chuckling at my foibles.
4. Referral love for September 2008 Thanks again kind visitors!

If you are curious about me or want me to explore a topic, just comment here or send an e-mail to frugal(dot)pursuit(at)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Challenge: Keep the furnace off

So how did my "Keep the furnace off until November 1" challenge go? Well, it is now November and I can turn on the furnace if I want, but with temperatures predicted in the 50s and 60s for the next five days, I am keeping it off. However, it was not easy to keep my eye on the cold challenge because there were about four days in a row where there was moderate to no sun and temperatures with highs in the 50s and lows in the upper 20s to low 30s.

While I succeeded in keeping the furnace off, I did use some supplemental heating to help me to get through the colder evenings and mornings. I turned on my oil-filled radiator three mornings in the bedroom and two evenings in the living room. I also added my electric blanket on top of my bed, turning that on before I went to bed to warm it up. I am not sure how this will be reflected in my electric bill, but it is likely a wash between the decrease in my dehumidifiers running and the draw from the electric heaters.

Regardless of this supplemental heating, the coldest morning was 53 degrees Fahrenheit. For five days, I did not get above 60 degrees. I rediscovered the joys of snuggling under my covers, wearing a bath robe and having a blanket across my lap. Sometimes regardless of measures, I was cold, but I held out for November 1 and succeeded. Since the temperature is more reasonable right now (63 degrees), I plan on holding off turning on my furnace for another five or six days. Snow is predicted for the end of the week, but none of the lows will hit freezing. I will give an update when I actually turn on my natural gas furnace.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Analyzing my net worth for October 2008

I do not mean to depress you, but I have done my financial analysis for the month of October and now have enough data to compare year to year. Since I started calculating my net worth October 22, 2007, this is the lowest my net worth has been. So much for my goal to reach a net worth of $100,000 by the end of 2008.
October 2008 net worth -9.5%
11/1/07 to 11/1/08 net worth -7%

Extreme stock market volatility
I purchased some stock in February 2008 when the Dow dipped into the 11,300 range and thought I did well for myself. Well, October saw lows in 8,000s from highs of about 10,000. While October ended with the markets up, I will not be holding my breath that my stock values will return from their nearly 40% plunge. My 401(k), rollover IRA and Roth IRA all had a nice downward trajectory that ended up pushing my net worth down 9.5%.

Savings and cash
I keep saving money, but not enough to fill the hole from the stock market. In all cash categories (except the cash kept on hand), the amount of money is up. With gas prices easing at the pump, I can put more money back in savings and build a small cushion of gas cash for extra travel or sudden price jumps before I need to change my spending plan.

I have no predictions about the end of the year and what my account will look like. While my cash position could have been even stronger, I am in stockpiling mode so I did not have the same cash cushion in my spending plan as last month. With my focus on what I need to get done around my house, I did not seek a second job and am unlikely to find one between now and the end of November. I expect a small bonus with my next check, but I also plan a shopping trip for myself this month. We will see how this affects my totals when the month ends.