Thursday, February 26, 2009

Planning for my share of the economic stimulus package

The only thing that seems directly applicable to me from the economic stimulus package is the $400 tax credit that will be dispersed via my paycheck. Sure, if my state uses some of the money it receives on road work, my car's tires and suspension will be happy, but most of the plans apply to people in circumstances that do not affect my current situation. I am thankful that I can calculate how to best use the stimulus money for my own benefit.

While $400 is not a lot, it will be given to individual taxpayers over a long period of time. It is easy enough to spend an extra $35 or so a month. It is just one more night eating out that month, a few extra treats at the grocery store, a nice mix of songs, movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store, one more tank of gasoline or a nice shirt on sale.

However, my priorities this year are on saving money. Specifically, completely funding my Roth IRA for the third year in a row, saving for a newer car and putting money toward my dream of a small farm in the country. In light of my previous post, I am planning on adding the stimulus money to my Roth IRA funding.

I estimate between the extra money from my change in payroll withholding and the stimulus funding, I will fall short of funding my Roth IRA by ~$800. Assuming no other financial disruptions, this means the smallest shortfall since I have tried to fully fund a Roth IRA. If I do get a merit increase this year, I am hoping I can fully fund my Roth IRA in the span of a single calendar year rather than needing additional time as in the last two years.

While I am counting my money before it is in my hands, I found having a plan to handle windfall money allows me to deal with it more gracefully and more appropriately than being blindsided with unexpected money. Keeping my money usage in line with my goals helps me fund my future and move plans closer to fruition.

What will you be doing with your $400 or $800 economic stimulus?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Getting my 2009 tax refund now

With my 2008 Roth IRA fully funded with about 20% of the money coming from my federal and state tax refunds, I decided that I would rather have more of my money now to fund the Roth IRA than give it to the government. The tax refund I received this year was the result of three deductions for payroll tax purposes. I just submitted paperwork to increase the number of W4 withholding to four to keep more of my own money.

What are my plans for this money?
Since I used the tax refund to contribute to my Roth IRA, I will use the increase in net pay to add to my monthly contributions to my Roth IRA. I have been planning on increasing my monthly contributions each time I receive a merit increase. However, with the economy, I have decided rather than counting on a pay raise, I will just have to live with the income I have. With a change in withholding, I can give my Roth IRA a boost and if I receive a pay raise, then I can contribute even more toward my Roth IRA.

I estimate that I should add ~$700 to my Roth IRA contribution this year by changing my payroll withholding.

What are the drawbacks of doing this?
If tax laws change, I may owe more than I anticipated for 2009. My quick calculations based on my 2008 tax returns indicate that I should owe the federal government somewhere between $0-$200, depending on my itemized deductions and credits. Despite decreasing the amount of money withheld, it does not affect my state income tax much at all. Therefore, I anticipate that my state tax refund for 2009 should cover the cost of any federal taxes I owe with a small amount leftover.

If the tax brackets change or I earn more than I did in 2008 or any number of financial or life changes, I might regret changing my withholding. Frankly, I will have to see what happens when I figure my 2009 taxes next year.

My strategy is to get more money in my pocket now for a planned Roth IRA contribution rather than loaning it to the federal government interest-free. I earned it and I would like to put my money to work for me. Are you changing the amount withheld from your payroll check based on your tax refund?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My 2008 Roth IRA is fully funded!

For the second year in a row, I get to cheer "I fully funded my Roth IRA!" One of my five goals for 2008 was to fully fund my Roth IRA. As I noted earlier this year, I fell short of funding during the calendar year. I believed my tax refund would cover most of the remaining amount and I was right. When I completed my federal and state taxes, I was looking at a refund of $1,040. With a contribution of $126 in savings, I would fund the last portion of my 2008 Roth IRA.

I was thrilled to get my money so quickly. Since I filed electronically, I received my state refund six days later and my federal refund seven days later although the amount was noted as nine days after filing. Then I transferred the money from my savings account to my checking, chose to make 2008 contributions to my Roth IRA index funds and waited for the transaction to go through.

My T. Rowe Price Account has two index funds. I allocated $718 to the Extended Equity Market Index Fund (PEXMX) and $448 to the International Equity Index Fund (PIEQX). Hopefully, I will buy my shares on a day without a market rally but volatility is the nature of the stock market.

Now I can focus on my 2009 contributions and how I will achieve fully funding my Roth IRA for a third year.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The ongoing no-spending challenge update

I am heading into the home stretch of no-frivolous-spending week. What benefits have I seen?
Spending less time on craigslist looking at items for sale.
Driving less since I am not making a trip to the thrift store every Saturday.
Learning to use my brain rather than spending money to solve a problem.
Using my sewing machine to make things rather than ignoring it.

These are not new concepts and certainly are tasks I can accomplish without a self-imposed challenge. However, thinking twice about spending money really does help me consider alternatives before plunking my credit card or cash down on the counter.

This was not a spending-free week. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I went to the pet store to pick up an item for hairball treatment and prevention. It is always an issue with my cats as I do not brush them regularly enough to prevent them from swallowing fur. I did avoid spending extra money on toys but did not accomplish zero spending.

My second weakness: my local garden center. I wanted to pick up as many seeds locally without paying for shipping and handling. So I spent just over $50 on seeds, fertilizers and packets of mosquito inihibitors. This expenditure does not come out of my spending plan but from money I save for using on or around my home. This expense was planned for and will be used to supplement my food expenditures later in the year, assuming I can get my garden to grow and produce. Thus, I spent $60 this week with ~$6 spent from my spending plan cat allocation.

I have one more week left and the only obvious challenge to keeping my money to myself: one or two lunches out with friends I rarely see. I will have one final wrap up posting with the extra money I saved and where I allocated said money.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cat toy creativity

I have purchased many toys for my cats over the years: roly-poly balls with bells inside, fur-covered mice, catnip-stuffed items, faux-fur snakes, fish with ribbon tail fins and a tennis ball. However, the many years with my cats have yield some consistent favorites: a well-mangled fabric mouse stuffed with catnip, a partially mangled burlap mouse stuffed with fiber-fill and catnip, and for my older cat, her Pound Puppy. How do I know these are their favorites? I have a basket in which I place all the cat toys and the favorites are the ones consistently retrieved and used. (The Pound Puppy migrates from room-to-room in the house.)

Since I needed to pick up some Hairball Remedy for the cats at the pet store, I was exposed to all the potential cat toys an owner can purchase for her cats. I stared at the variety of items and knew my cats really liked catnip toys. I almost bought another one since that mangled mouse was several years old and looking to be perforated in the near future. Then I recalled I am trying to be more self-sufficient. I have catnip at home and lots of fabric scraps. I could sew my cats a new catnip-filled toy.

So rather than buying new, I patched the burlap mouse that had fiberfill exposed (not great for cat digestive systems) with some leftover denim. I had some worry the cats would now ignore the toy, but was happily proven wrong. Then I found a nearly full bag of catnip that had not been touched for some years, explored my stash of fabric and used my sewing machine to create a 2 inch by 2 inch square bag in which to dump the found catnip. One more row of stitching to keep the catnip from flying around and I tossed the new toy on the floor. Within seconds, my cats were licking and drooling all over the newest catnip toy. Success!

These two toys, repaired and new, cost me some time, fabric and thread. I kept what my cats had in good shape, added to their (addictive) entertainment and kept $5.59 plus tax in my pocket. With this achievement behind me, I plan on considering other ways to add to the cat's collection by using what I have on hand and some creativity rather than buying new. I could even grow my own catnip!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Teaching an old toilet new tricks

Each time I read or learn more about sustainability, I understand how everything is connected. I am conscious of my water usage--shutting off water in the shower as I soap or shampoo up, flush fewer times (if it's yellow, let it mellow) and use water caught in buckets to flush my toilet. However, I did not think about how that water go to me.

I recently attended a presentation by a local community group involved with sustainability in my county. The focus was on water conservation, specifically discussing rain barrels, but other issues dealing with water usage was introduced during the talk. One of the points the speaker made was how much energy it takes to get the water to the tap. He used the example of carrying water in a five-gallon bucket. "It's heavy and takes some effort to haul," he noted. Then he stunned the audience with this fact: the water utility consumes more electricity than any other municipal department, even more than the streets department that leaves streetlights on all night. This concept just floored me.

Here I thought my efforts at conserving water only did that: conserve water. Turns out like the rest of our society, water is dependent on energy, which means oil, coal and natural gas. By reducing my demand on the water utility, I was reducing my use of energy as well.

Furthermore, I learned about other programs this community group was involved with aside from rain barrels. I was familiar with their water conservation kit (e.g., low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators), but they have a new program where a person can retrofit his or her toilet to be a dual-flush: less water used for liquid waste versus solid waste (see example here). While I practice my own flush conservation, this would be another step to take to keep water usage low. For a modest investment (~$60), I can have my toilet operating more efficiently--assuming the do-it-yourself method really is as easy as the presenter claimed. If DIY is not an option, I can request someone install the retrofit for an additional $70. Either option is cheaper and less wasteful than purchasing a new dual-flush toilet (~$300-$600).

I am seriously considering this dual-flush retrofit of my toilet. Compared to other users, I doubt that I will conserve as much water. However, if I acquire a roommate, a dual-flush toilet is likely to get him or her to comply with using less water than my current method of flushing only for solid waste. And family dinners may not require as much water to flush toilets as well--if the kids decide to only flush one time. Since February is my no-spending month, I have some time to think if I want to retrofit my toilet or not.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Second update on the no-spending challenge

Another week, another update on my no-spending challenge. One observation: it is so much easier not to spend when I avoid places at which I spend! For example, I am only looking at the free section on craigslist, avoiding the temptation to spend on an item that will likely prove useful but take up space in the meantime. By not going to the charity thrift shop, I will not buy another sweater that I like, do not need and may not get a chance to wear much before the seasons change again.

That is not to say I am perfect. I did have a standing appointment with my wonderful hair stylist for a hair cut. I have been going to him for nearly ten years, he always makes me look good and I enjoy chatting with him. I go every two months for a cut and once every 9-10 months for a permanent. This may change in the future, but this is one item I have not eliminated from my spending plan. I suspect the only way I will give up my stylist is if I move more than 20 miles away from his shop.

Otherwise, my only other spending was on gasoline (creeping up a few more pennies per gallon) and groceries. I keep several denominations of bills in my wallet and the money has barely been used since the beginning of the month. While I am not a spendthrift, I am surprised how being strict about my spending keeps cash in my wallet. Those lunches and trips to the thrift store, my main cash-based transactions, really do add up.

This exercise just goes to show me that staying home and out of stores that can part me from my money will save some cash. I thought I did a good job on spending and saving, but there is another way to keep just a bit more in the pocket. And I missed the thrift store and visiting craigslist less than I thought I would.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Taxes done!

I just finished filing my 2008 taxes. As I did in the last year, I took advantage of free electronic filing of my 1040 form via TaxAct. My state has its own electronic filing site. My federal form took one hour to fill out and my state about 45 minutes. Total time invested: 2.5 hours. Much of that extra time was due to the changes in my state's electronic filing method, which included downloading third-party software and getting it to play nice on my iBook. All tax-relevant paperwork was filed in one location throughout 2008 and 2009 so it took me a few minutes to pull out the various envelopes and sheets to confirm I had all the papers I needed for filing.

I am my mother's daughter because I save all my tax paperwork in a single slot in my multicompartment file folder. Since I needed to refer to my 2007 tax forms to deal with my 2007 state tax refund, this file folder kept my earlier tax forms handy. Even with electronic filing of my taxes, I print out a paper copy of my forms and place the sheets in my file folder for easy reference and a backup to the electronic forms.

While tax refund was not as large as last year, my combined state and federal refund will be over $1,000. All of this money will go to fund my Roth IRA as a 2008 contribution. However, I am still over $100 short of the $5,000 maximum contribution limit so I will pull some money from my savings account fully fund my Roth IRA for 2008.

I received less money back from the government compared to 2007 for one large reason: the energy tax credit expired. In 2007, I put in a new energy-efficient picture window in my living room for which I could take a tax credit. Since that program lapsed at the end of 2007, the new windows I installed in 2008 had no effect on my income tax bill. However, the program has been reinstalled for 2009 so I am looking forward to the credit on when I file this year's taxes since I plan on replacing the remaining four single-pane windows on my home.

Looking at my 2008 tax form compared to 2007, I had less mortgage interest to deduct (more money going toward principle!), more interest income and a higher AGI (Adjusted Gross Income). I donated more cash to charity, but had no noncash donations. This year I may not give as much cash as 2008, but I will likely have more noncash donations to add to my itemized deductions in light of my desire to declutter. Since I did get a refund from the US government, I plan on adjusting my withholding so I get more money in my pocket now rather than giving the feds a tax-free loan.

I am one of those people who enjoys filing her taxes as soon as possible. I get it done, pay what I owe or get any refunds quickly and use my money to forward my financial goals. If you are getting a tax refund, how are you using it? If you owe the government, will it be easy to pay them the money?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Strategies to prepare for a job loss

There is no guarantee of much in life except death and taxes. That means my job is not secure, I may become seriously ill or become homeless due to fire or natural disaster. I found it even difficult to type about these issues because it is not easy to contemplate. While I am confident that my company will be fine for the next two quarters, I have no predictions about six months from now. I think our position will still be more than adequate, but circumstances can change unexpectedly.

Like many of you, my friends and family are talking about contingency plans, hunkering down and cutting expenses just in case income is cut to one salary rather than two. For others, it is from one salary to none. The husband of one of my colleagues is one of 84 men left standing at his company after 16 were recently laid off. My mechanical engineer cousin works for General Motors in Flint, Michigan, and GM just announced it would lay off 10,000 of its salaried employees and cut the salaries of those that remain. His income supports his wife and six children.

Feeling scared or apathetic can paralyze you and me from taking action in the face of possible threats to our welfare. While my immediate future will be occupied with decluttering, doing my taxes and listing the items I have stockpiled, there are steps that can be taken to deal with the possibility of a layoff in the future.

Look at your spending.
What can you reduce or eliminate from your current pattern of spending? Small steps like eating out once or twice a week instead of five days a week or reducing the features on your calling plan are a good place to start reducing expenses. Eliminating entire categories (e.g., cable television or vacations) could drastically affect your bottom line. Figuring out how to spend less than you earn now means if you lose your job and your next opportunity cannot match your current wage or salary, you can live within your reduced means.

Think about other revenue sources.
Are there things that take up space or remain unused? Consider selling a motorcycle that sits in a garage eight months out of the year or renting out a room just used to hold stuff in your home to bring in more money. If you have a way with animals or children, think about offering your services to those who need to have pets looked after or need more time at work than just the hours kids are at school. With gardening season starting up with seed orders and seed starts, think about growing extra and selling them to other, more lazy gardeners (i.e., me) to earn a little cash. You might consider offering your physical labor to help get an outdoor garden or landscaping project started (and even maintain it) for neighbors and friends who have more plans than time (i.e., me).

Keep your resume up-to-date.
I am guilty of not doing this at-least annual project. This is a true investment because having a resume ready at a moment's notice means you can take advantage of an opportunity that has caught your eye even if you are not looking to leave the company you are at. A few modifications to tailor the resume to the possible job, a good cover letter, and you may have just found yourself an interview for a great new position. If the worst should happen, a prepared resume means one less task that needs to be completed under the stress of an emotionally devastating job loss.

Reflect on what you have.
For many people, his or her job is closely identified with who he or she is. Enjoy time with family and friends. Laugh at your child's antics, your father's bad puns or the crow walking across your lawn. You are more than a job. You are a human being with connections to other human beings who care for you. Indulge in a rewarding hobby like reading, biking, painting or knitting. Give and receive as many hugs as possible. Physical affection is always emotionally rewarding. Be grateful for your health, your family, your friends, your pets, the beautiful tree in your yard and the warm greetings from your neighbors across the hall or across the street. If you have the opportunity, volunteer for an organization or event. I find it rewarding to help out and feel like my time was well-spent.

These strategies may not find you a new job, but will help as you look for your next opportunity. Expanding your network and exploring your interests will benefit you both in the short-term and long-term. That event at the library may be the key to the next job or to connect with a person that becomes your next best friend and/or business partner.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Could I give up my spending plan?

My spending plan is very important to me. I have created and followed my spending plan as it currently exists for four and a half years, so at this point in my life I should be ready to let it go and be able to spend without problems. However, when I consider removing my current planning structure, I get anxious. While I do not like change, I believe my anxiety comes from not having the neat little boxes to put my money in and from which to spend.

In contrast, one of my colleagues says she does not budget. She always knows she has money and just spends what she has. In fact, she usually has enough leftover after maximizing her 401(k) and Roth IRA contributions plus her normal monthly spending (mortgage, utilities, food, etc) that she can add to her money market account or purchase more stocks. This freeform lifestyle works for her and she can obviously live below her means. However, this approach is not for me.

With my personality, having specific spending categories each with its allocated money ensures that I do not raid my savings account for incidental expenses. I am far from perfect and do use the savings account for overages, a rare occurrence that does not total more than $20 in a month. With $45 budgeted for eating out, which includes vending machine snacks, I strictly ration the money. This is a category I could easily spend more on, but my long-term plans are more important than immediate easing of hunger.

Structure works well for me. I keep money out of my hands with automatic withdrawals when I receive a paycheck, I allocate funds in various slots for needs and wants, and record each transaction in my notebook (yes, I am old school with pen and paper). I have a running total of what is in my checkbook and what remains in my spending plan. I feel good about the method I use, making me justify the expense as I place it into a category. Furthermore, I have enough flexibility to change the specific amounts allocated if my circumstances change (e.g., gas prices increase or have a few more dollars as income).

What method helps you spend less than you earn?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What do I have in the house?

Can you tell I am on an organization kick? In reading other blogs from mostly women who are homesteading in urban or rural environments, I realize I need a list of what I have in my pantry, my shelving and my chest freezer. To be honest, creating the list now with all the stuff I have will be painful. If earlier postings have not made it clear, I stockpile things. However, while I have a decent memory, I still have either bought items I already have or not purchased something I need.

An inventory would tell me how many jelly/jam jars and how many pint and quart canning jars I have. Looking at the number of boxes stacked on my storage shelving, I have enough to keep me busy. Whether the harvest will allow me to fill all those jars is another thing altogether. My chest freezer is not the most organized with nice rectangular containers like the boxes of butter with gallon containers of milk. The pantry is well-stocked, but I know I have not used some items that do have a finite shelf life. Having a list would remind me that those items I have not used in a while, or purchased with the best of intentions should be used before it goes bad.

I am not sure where I will fit all this in the midst of my decluttering efforts, but the inventory needs to be done. Adding extra items to my freezer or pantry that I already have is not the best use of my money. Therefore, an inventory, while painful to generate from scratch, would help me manage my stockpile more effectively and minimize unnecessary spending.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cleaning up my act

This weekend, I put together a four-shelf storage unit in my basement to store extra toilet paper, my canning supplies and bits of my greenhouse with room to spare. After I put all the items on their shelves and was happily grateful for more space to put my extra supplies, I started wondering about packing it all up and moving it. Then I had a different picture of all my stuff--a big chore to take care of.

I have talked about decluttering and owning fewer things. However, action on this good idea is another beast all together. I had an interesting realization at my first estate sale. To learn the layout of the city I purchased a house, I often visited garage sales that first year, and thought I would try an estate sale when I saw the ad in the newspaper. Just the sheer amount of stuff that the family was trying to sell was overwhelming. One woman told me that her mother (grandmother?) had 21 more boxes of Christmas stuff in the basement. Yes, they were having an estate sale without all the estate out--and the house had a large assortment of items. Two years later, the house is still for sale.

One thing I do not want to leave to my heirs is sorting through all my crap. Despite this desire, I still have a lot of stuff cluttering my house to sort through. If I do not do it, who will? I need to get serious about choosing what stays and what goes from my home. I have bought many things, usually with a purpose, but have not removed items from the home the new items displace or I just no longer use.

The first step is make a plan of attack. Each weekend, I will sort through the stuff in or on one item in one room. For example, the papers stuffed in the drawers of the commode in my living room or the books on my homemade bookshelf. Taking on an entire room is too much and I would likely lose focus before the project is done. Since I spend much of my time in my living room, this is an ideal place to start. The less stuff in that room, the more relaxed I will feel. To keep me honest, I will report on my progress and hopefully, making real inroads into the overwhelming clutter I have.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Unsustainable vermiculture

In 2008, I waxed poetic about my experiment in vermiculture and showed off all the lovely compost I received from my worms. Ah, how the tides have turned! Now worms are difficult to find and the cat poo fed to the little buggers just sits there. I suspect the worms suffered from a lack of attention as little as they need, compaction of their bedding and too much variability in the level of moisture in their enclosure. Even at the end of summer 2008, I noticed a slowdown in the amount of poop consumption and did not harvest as much finished compost in autumn. In fact, as I sorted worm from partially digested newspaper in October, the number of casings and worm eggs were severely lacking compared to the previous session with sorting worms from their casings.

I need to do more reading on vermiculture before buying more worms. While my first venture into worm farming ended in failure, learning from my mistakes is part of the human experience. I have shown that worms can compost cat poop and give me a way to turn it into a resource I can use in my yard. I just need figure out how to maintain it for longer than a few months.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

So much for being responsible

Well, I was planning on discussing (bragging) about how well my financial life has progressed. I am saving money per my goals, contributing to my retirement funds, spending less than I earn, paying my mortgage on time and generally being a good frugal gal. And then I accidentally authorized two electronic bill pays for my mortgage. When I figured this out, I called my credit union to cancel the transaction. They took care of it, but I did not realize there was a fee involved. However, my mortgage company sent me a letter saying I owed them $20 for the canceled payment. When I called, the woman I talked to informed me that they were just passing the fee the credit union charged them to me. Well, I just decreased extra mortgage contribution by $20 the next month.

Yes, I am so organized and pay all my bills on time. In fact, I happily subtracted the amount of my car insurance from my spending plan because I had allocated the money for this semiannual bill. Turns out, I was so excited about having the money, I forgot to send the company a check. I received an overdue payment notice. Yep, when I checked my check register, no check to the auto insurance company. I immediately sat down and wrote the check, making sure the payment went out the next day. Oh, and clean up all the paperwork that keeps piling up. That certainly does not help me keep track of everything.

What is the lesson here? Even supposedly organized and financially savvy people can do stupid things like pay the mortgage twice and forget to send a check to the auto insurance company. Other than costing me some money and my dignity, I am reminded that I need to keep on top of my other-than monthly bills and double check my online bill pay transactions.

Any stumbling blocks on your way to financial freedom?

Friday, February 6, 2009

February challenge update

I am sure you are all waiting breathlessly for an update on my self-imposed spending challenge. I have to say "so far, so good"! While I have visited the gas station twice this week, hit the grocery stores twice (with a third trip planned tonight--99 cents for ice cream!) and the pharmacy once, there was little frivolous buying. I could argue that candy bars and ice cream are not necessary, but I place them in the food categories even if they are only treats rather than real food.

I have not been skimming craigslist except for the free section and have managed to stay away from the thrift store. I have enough projects at home to keep me busy and hopefully, no emergencies to cause me to spend unexpectedly.

However, I have an appointment with my hair stylist next week, certainly not a necessity, and a birthday lunch with my department the week after. I will need to keep working on my personal spending, but I will be happy with more-than-my-usual excess at the end of the month. One of my personal goals for this challenge is to have at least 50% of the money in my less-necessary categories (e.g., eating out) remaining at the end of the month. I hope I can do it!

Monday, February 2, 2009

How far have I come with living greener?

I am always looking for that next step to take toward living greener. How can I reduce my consumption of resources? I have made some strides in 2008 toward this important facet in my life. These include:

Composting everything I can including dryer lint, cotton balls and kitty poo
Turning off the shower spray as I am soaping up or adding conditioner to my hair
Using cloth wipes more often than TP
Choosing to consciously purchase used items rather than new
Gardening in a mostly organic manner
Cleaning the house with borax, vinegar and baking soda
Minimizing toilet flushes (if it's yellow, let it mellow)
Choosing to bring a reusable bag when I shop
Bringing a towel to work to dry my hands
Taking compostable waste from work and other people to add to my pile
Using handkerchiefs

All of these actions means I consume less water and create less waste, benefiting not only my bottom line but future generations as well. The less I use now, the more is available for my nieces and nephews--and I have nine of them right now! Still, there is plenty of room for me to improve. Some ideas are limited by my situation (no public transit and 14 miles to work means I drive) and my goals (my money is committed to emergency savings, a newer car and a future farm).

What are the next steps I can take for 2009?

Reducing my water usage further: I plan on adding a third rain barrel to my collection potential this spring. By expanding my garden, I increased my need for supplemental watering. I am more conscious of my water usage for dish washing and laundry, but will try to reduce consumption levels there as well.

Decreasing my use of disposables: I intend to expand my use of cloth wipes and have plans to add reusable feminine products to my bathroom. I need to be more conscious of what I buy and how it is packaged. While I love having the occasional snackie at work, I end up throwing away a lot of plastic packaging.

Reducing my use of petroleum: This is a tough one as I live in suburbia and work in another city. However, I intend on finding a regular person to carpool with during the year. My experience has been mixed, but I like having someone else driving. I already combine trips, limit my single-purpose driving and let my car sit in the garage at least once a week. I need to reduce my driving even further so I am hoping that combination birthday parties for my nieces and nephews will continue as that will reduce my longer distance driving.

Limiting my purchase of new items: I enjoy going to the thrift store and garage sales in the warmer months. Since I changed my focus to secondhand items, I am pleased at all the items I have purchased used rather than new, some that I had never considered before. I plan on actively seeking used options before new with the exception of some home improvement items. Paint for my home's exterior, for example, has to match the current shade, and I am unlikely to find exterior semi-gloss in the right color for my home other than at the hardware store.

Gardening and buying local food: I have big plans for adding to my garden and subsuming my lawn--parts at a time anyway. I like the farmer's market as a way to access fresh local food and U-pick places to get locally grown and fresh ripe fruit. I have lots of jam to make this year! Currently, I am debating about working for a CSA share to get some experience with a larger organic farm, but I still need to contact a couple of local farms to figure out if this is the right choice for me.

These ideas are a mix of concrete and theoretical, but generally can be easily implemented. All require either hard work or readjusting my thinking. Plus, I do not want to take on more than I can handle so that I am rewarded by my behavioral change rather than feeling penalized. Are there any green goals you are making for your life?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

February means No-Spending Challenge Month

Today was the first day of my No-Spending Challenge Month. Interestingly, enough, I did spend some money--to fill up my gas tank. However, the main goal is to minimize any unnecessary spending. That means I can buy gasoline and groceries, but no new clothing or furniture.

Regardless of my best intentions, there are a few spanners in the works.
1. I have my appointment with my hair stylist this month, scheduled back in November.
2. I have potential lunch plans with a friend in the next week or so.
3. My department has a birthday lunch this month which means going out to eat and splitting the bill.
4. I spent some of the money in the February spending plan while still in January.

With these factors, I cannot claim a No-Spending Month, but aiming for a Reduced-Spending Month. In January, I added about $35 to various savings accounts with unspent money in my budget. There was additional money carried over into the next month like car insurance and gift money that just add to the balance for the next use.

Looking at my various spending categories, my goal is to save an extra $100 in February to distribute to various savings accounts. My strategies for not spending include not visiting the charity thrift shop (save money, gasoline and wear-and-tear on my car), not looking at craigslist or ebay (definitely reduce my opportunities to spend), and bringing a lunch every day (always good for the bottom line). I have been getting lazy about bringing lunch and intend on buying more frozen entrees so I do not succumb to purchasing a lunch at work.

Here is hoping I can keep my money to myself!