Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Saving money on a cat expense

While there are many things about cat ownership that I am less-than-pleased with, my cats do use the sisal scratching boards I provide them. I try to have at least two on the living room floor to minimize any territorial issues between my two cats. Since declawing means essentially removing the equivalent of the first knuckle on human hands, I refuse to subject my cats to such mutilation. In my experience, any damage to furniture is minimized with access to acceptable outlets (e.g., Sisal Scratcher) and by covering vulnerable furniture.

However, even cat scratchers, sisal or otherwise, become worn out. Since the scratching posts I use are sisal rope wrapped around a wooden board, I figured out a way to reuse them. I removed the frayed sisal rope and added it to my composter (sisal is a grass and therefore, biodegradeable). After studying the construction of the sisal scratching board, I purchased sisal rope from the hardware store and borrowed my mother's staple gun. I secured the ends of the rope with three staples and then tightly wound the sisal rope around the board. Reaching the end of the board, I secured the end with staples and cut off the excess rope. Although it took me some time and I ended up with lots of twisted rope (and tired hands), I managed to reuse the scratcher boards to create a new scratching surface for my cats.

Reluctant kitties can be lured with catnip, but my geriatric cats (nearly 13 and 15) recognize that the sisal rope boards on the floor are theirs to use as needed. My older cat has used the revived scratcher without any issues and I am proud of my handiwork. Again, I minimized my garbage footprint by keeping the boards out of a landfill. With a small outlay of cash ($5 for rope) and about 30 minutes of my time, I generated two scratching boards for my cats to use that should last another few years before making them again. Since each new sisal scratching board costs $12 a piece, I saved nearly $20 with this project. I wish I had figured this reuse project sooner!

Monday, December 29, 2008

DIY savings!

In the midst of the paper waste and multiple gifts of the Christmas celebration, my sister revived her iPod mini. Like me, the younger of my two sisters listens to her MP3s old style. Instead of the flash drives present in the cute little iPod nano or iPod shuffle, the iPod mini, the nano's precursor, used a hard drive. Unfortunately, my sister noticed she would get about 15 minutes of battery life before the iPod shut down stating it was out of juice. Knowing about her predicament (an older PowerBook G4 that did not work with the newer generation iPods), I found replacement batteries on eBay for her iPod model, so she asked me to buy it for her as she did not want to sign up for an eBay account.

A few days later, I received the battery I purchased and drove it to our parent's house over the Christmas holiday. With some instructions on the web and the provided screwdrivers and battery, my sister proceeded to swap out the old battery for the new one in less than 15 minutes. By paying $6.50 for a new battery and a small time investment, my sister was able to revive her iPod mini. This meant she did not have to buy a replacement iPod (equivalent model is $150) nor did she trash an item that just needed one component replaced. While I may envy those beautiful iPod Touches, I will follow my sister's path and replace the battery before I trash my cute pink iPod mini.

I am proud of my sister for being frugal and keeping e-waste out of the garbage stream. Spending under 5% of the cost of new to get her well-loved iPod mini into working condition was a great investment of her time. Have you kept an electronic item out of the landfill?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Managing finances in difficult times

My net worth analysis for November was down by 2.11% compared to the month before. In fact, this was the third month of negative numbers. Not surprising when the stock market is going down and staying there. The shares of mutual funds I bought when the market was high have lost a lot of value and the shares I am buying now when the market is low are not enough to counteract the losses.

I am happy I have a job, am saving money and have no debt aside from my mortgage, which is still a comfortable payment. I wanted a fixed rate, 30-year mortgage and in these turbulent times, I am glad I was firm in my resolve. While I cannot control much in the face of the US economy, there are a few strategies I employ that do affect my bottom line.

Keep adding to my savings account.
Extra money in the bank or credit union means when something breaks, my cat is sick or my job is cut back or lost, there is a financial cushion to keep me from sinking immediately. Currently, I have enough liquid assets for at least six months of expenses. That is enough to take care of most issues without resorting to credit cards.

While I have money set aside each paycheck, I also use leftover money from my spending plan to add to the savings balance. As a single woman, a large financial cushion makes me feel less stressed and more able to weather blows that may come my way.

Stay within the spending plan.
This strategy can be difficult sometimes, but if I keep within my plan, I know I will not overspend and may even save a bit extra money with the leftover amounts in various categories. By keeping to my spending plan, I cover the basics with room for small indulgences and know my savings goals are funded. The money in my spending plan is total after taxes, 401(k) and Roth IRA contributions as well as saving for charity, emergencies, car and other goals. By allocating my money into categories, I keep my spending at appropriate levels and know when I only have $2.10 left in my grocery allocation.

Shop for great deals.
Hand-in-hand with the saving money and keeping to a spending plan, I keep an eye out for items to buy at great prices. Because I have no consumer debt and a good savings cushion, I can take advantage of great prices. Knowing how much I normally pay for items in the grocery store lets me know when loss leaders at my local grocery are worth making a trip. This month, I had $21 left in my grocery category and took advantage of some loss leader sales on eggs, sugar and flour. By keeping an eye on my local charity thrift shop and craigslist, I can get items I have wanted (e.g., wool blankets) and pay less than new. There are many people that are trying to get rid of items in his or her home to raise extra cash. I have money I can spend so this is a win-win situation.

However, spending comes with a caveat: spend for only what you will use. There are many things I want that I do not need. Sometimes I push my spending plan or savings harder than I should because I could not walk away from the "deal" I saw. It is not deal if you do not need it and will not use it. Instead, it becomes clutter that takes up precious space in your home.

Keep it simple.
Keeping expenses low involves many strategies including cooking meals from scratch, bringing lunch to work, combining errands into a single car trip and staying home to enjoy time with family and friends. Purchasing lower cost, unprocessed ingredients to cook meals saves a lot of money. Bringing leftovers or making a sandwich saves money spent on lunch. Instead of going to the grocery store to pick up a snacky I desperately crave, I keep a list by the refrigerator and visit the grocery store when there is a deal running. Instead of just visiting the grocery store, I also visit the hardware store for the nuts, bolts and washers I need, the drugstore to buy candy for Christmas presents, the library to return my books and the thrift shop to check out the deals. This means several errands are accomplished in a single trip as these places are close together so I waste less time, gas and money.

Instead of dinner out, movie and some drinks at a bar after, try inviting people over for a potluck, rent a movie or play some board games and enjoy beverages. Meeting at one location, staying there for the entire engagement and then leaving once is simpler and less stressful. Try carpooling to the hostess's house. Less gas is used and fewer cars are strewn along the side of the road or in the driveway. Rotate socializing at various homes.

Setting aside time to spend with family is valuable as well. Friday night games and Saturday night movies marathon at home mean a lot to kids. I have fond memories of playing card games and consuming vast quantities of taco dip with my family on special weekends. Allow the kids to choose the movie, snuggle up on the sofa and eat some freshly popped corn.

By saving money, sticking to a spending plan, watching for good deals on items I will use and keeping to simplicity strategy, I am keeping my head above the swirling financial waters. Controlling expenses and saving money will put anyone in a better situation and reduce the stress engendered by our global economic situation.