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Frugal Advice - Networking

August 5th, 2011 at 09:01 pm

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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Okay, so we all know that networking is essential in the workforce. Right?

But, jobs and careers are just a piece of our existence. The same holds true for every aspect of our lives. Networking = opportunities.

I wouldn't even know where to begin, in sharing in the many different forms that social interaction has saved us money over the years.

I was thinking about it because I was just talking with my son's friend's mother for a little bit yesterday. I have met her in passing, but never had the opportunity to sit and talk with her. Just happened to run into them at the park by our house (they don't live in the same neighborhood, but were there for soccer practice). In talking to her, she told me her older son was taking piano lessons for $10/hour. Holy cow - $10 an hour! Apparently, a local charter school has public music lessons. Something I had NO CLUE about.

I couldn't tell you how many frugal tips like this, that I have heard through the grapevine.

OF course, online forums and blogs are also a HUGE resource. Just by simply following one of my favorite financial blogs: www.mymoneyblog.com - I have gotten some amazing credit card bonuses this year (almost $2000!). & heck, I don't buy anything without googling coupon codes (which someone out there is gathering and sharing).

That said, I also think regional and local networking is also very valuable.

Our choice to do public school was largely influenced by a financially struggling friend (who is absolute financial genius, by the way). She was a teen mom - neither of them have degrees - they have 3 kids - and they do amazingly well considering how little they have to work with. She opened my eyes to the multitude of public school options in our city. This is probably just one thing I learned from her - but one thing that will probably have the hugest financial impact on our lives.

In addition, the parents in our neighborhood started a public charter school a few years back, which is now just top notch. We heard about it on the ground level and were able to volunteer to help set up the school and secure our children spots in the school. At the time, we didn't know how it would pan out, but what did we have to lose? We got into this network just by talking to other parents at the park. (I now talk to people all the time who were simply out of the loop and out of luck. They're stuck going through the lottery process - with horrible odds of getting in).

Other ways that networking helps? I have friends all over the world - always good for free room and board. I've had absolutely amazing travel opportunities.

I've commented how when we lived in the Bay Area that we always had friends at many major companies and so were able to get deeply discounted gadgets and software. An old classmate/co-worker of mine ended up working at Adobe, and so we were able to buy professional video software worth thousands. The cost? $20. Somwthing like that.

The irony is that I am not a very social person, and neither is my spouse. But we are friendly, and we do have a lot of very social friends. (& we have several extremely social extroverts in the family). We also do get out and walk a lot, so do randomly run into people and talk to people we probably NEVER would otherwise.

It's really something so simple as going outside your front door once in a while, that can bring you so much opportunity!

Frugal Advice - Gourmet Meals

March 28th, 2011 at 02:43 am

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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Today my theme is dining out.

Um, I just got a tip that there is a SECOND culinary institute just down the street from our home. Just down the street from the other one who put on an awesome fundraiser for the kids' school.

Though Culinary Institute #1 did an awesome fundraiser for our school, and didn't charge us a dime - the whole night was about $80 for us. $50 dinner (100% to school) and babysitting. Ouch.

That said, look forward to more. We can do better with the babysitting, and a nice exchange for a 100% donation.

That said, second culinary institute apparently serves lunch to the public, a couple of days a week for $7.

$7 for gourmet dining.

I think I know where my new favorite lunch spot will be.

Frugal Advice - Arts and Culture

March 21st, 2011 at 01:10 am

**I suppose I didn't literally do nothing today. I actually helped BM make breakfast (though he did most of it), went to Kohls, and hit the gym. Washed some bed sheets.

Vegged out, read, and watched TV for HOURS. I needed a nothing day to just recharge. Today did the job.

My score at Kohls was 3 sweaters for $10. I "saved $125" in the process. I probably wouldn't have hit the sweaters so hard, but they had a lot of turtlenecks and my neck scar will be pretty ugly for a long while. So, I got 2 turtle necks and another sweater that was like one I have (& really like) but in another color and design.

The weather wasn't horrid when I went out, though it was most of the last couple of days, and for most the 10-day forecast. I have never seen the place so empty. I think the clearance rack had more good pickings than usual, likewise. Woohoo! I was limited by the number of arms I have since I didn't want to do the dressing room more than once.

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The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

Today my theme is art and culture.

The topic (art/music) came up because my friend called me up last night and invited me to a family concert thing that we had been to before. I declined with the weather and all, and my looking forward to doing NOTHING today.

BUT, it did remind me that we had gone to some great family concerts (FREE) the past couple of years.

There were 2 local Symphonies we had seen, and so I looked up their concert series and marked them all on our calendar. The next performances were in May and October. It's not an "often" thing, but they are free. & geared towards the kids.

Less for the kids, I remember all the performances I saw in college - put on by music students and professors. Always something interesting, unique, and low cost.

So, it seems to me there are plenty of opportunities to get out there and see some art - even if you don't have much money to spend.

Don't get me wrong - if money were no object - I would love to support the arts more, etc. I just have other priorities at the moment. I don't get the feeling my lifetime will be limited to free and low cost concerts. But while a college kid and while raising small kids, that is what I am limited to.

In addition to all that, there are always free performances in the community. A local farmers market is a pretty grand affair - and we love to go picnic there and enjoy free live music in the spring and summer. We also have weekend art walks with street performances, etc. The opportunities are endless.

On top of all this, I am strongly considering a fine art museum membership. I just wanted to go test out the parking situation on their "pay what you want" days that they have once a month. As long as I don't have to pay an arm and a leg to park, the membership is pretty lucrative. (We already have a handful of memberships. Thinking of dropping the zoo one for the museum, as the kids get older).

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Since all our family lives in the Bay Area, we have ample opportunity to explore their arts/culture too. Since I could not find more than 2 concerts per year for the local symphonies, I started expanding my dragnet. I saw the Silicon Valley symphony also has "Target family concerts," which happen to be at our alma mater in the summer. No dates announced for 2011 yet, but it looked like they had put on some GREAT concerts in past years (reading reviews and comments, etc.). So I am really excited about that. There are probably several other large cities in our immediate vicinity that I could dragnet, but I think that is enough for now. I've got 2 concerts on the calendar, and a note in summer to check out the Silicon Valley concerts.

While at it, I did my first precursory check into the local youth bands, etc. I learned to play violin in 3rd grade, and flute in 4th/5th grade in public school. Did concert band and orchestra through high school, and marching band too (high school and college). I know that the public schools are no longer supporting music like they used to. Our school has a hard enough time making ends meet without adding a music program. I just don't expect to have those same opportunities. BUT, I know there are nonprofit organizations and other avenues.

I was pleased to come across a youth band that offered beginning lessons, a beginning band experience, and had many advanced bands and a marching band. Seeing that just made my day. The cost is nothing compared to private lessons, and it is nice to know there are so many group playing opportunities. (The kids can start in 5th grade. Might consider private lessons to start learning an instrument in 4th grade - and then switch to the lower cost option. Just depends on our finances at the time. I would prefer the kids be exposed to piano, a string instrument, and a wind instrument. From there, you can do anything. But piano is a good stepping stone to everything, and where we have already started).

Even in this internet age, I am always amazed by the opportunities I become aware of just talking to neighbors, etc. I have no doubt that once we meet more people in the local music community, that we will hear about far more learning opportunities, concerts, etc.

A Frugal Tuesday

February 16th, 2011 at 06:40 pm

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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Today's topics? Haircuts and V-Day cards.

**I finally got a LONG put off haircut. I probably try to go 2-3 times per year. It has been about 8 months since my last haircut and I meant to get it cut in January.

Went to great Clips and had a coupon for $9.99. The stylist did not cut the layers as short as I asked. It had been so long, I Was just like, "eh." IT was getting late and my son was sitting and waiting for me. I Also tend to chop off my hair in May, anyway, when it warms up. I'll be back soon enough.

Anyway, the haircut looked GREAT. I usually ask for it on the short side simply because I can get by 9 months without a haircut, when I do. Big Grin I see why their natural incliniation is to always go this length. But usually they ask me a little more up front - "this long??" - and I ask them to chop off a couple of more inches.

Yes, this length is very nice, but it will get all scraggly a lot faster, too.

Anyway, I prefer shorter hair, overall, but over the years I find that it is just too much time, maintenance, etc. for shorter hair. Over the years I kind of settled on the "Jennifer." Don't remember what they call it, but the long layered hair made famous by Jennifer Aniston on Friends. I may have tried it at some point when it was in vogue, but over time I realized it was the perfect frugal cut. Very flattering for my hair/face (my stick straight hair actually has BODY!?!) and yet it is such a basic haircut I don't think it has ever been screwed up. So, it is the perfect style for the cheap haircut chains. Since adopting this hairstyle I have never had a BAD haircut.

OF course, I initially chose these hairstyles because they were flattering and 100% "wash and go." IT's only with time that I really have come to appreciate the frugal aspect of said hairstyle. Beyond the fact that the only hair product I buy is shampoo...

My last cut was:



Yesterday, more like:



Or, the second picture is more how my hair looked without cutting it for 8 months. It just grows out real nice. Yesterdsy was merely a touch up. It had been cut so short last time I didn't really want to cut too much length yesterday.

At $9.99 per haircut, that's $20-$30 per year for a "movie star hairstyle."

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In other news, I bought V-day cards for the kids' classes, yesterday. There were 50% off. I am sure we could have waited longer for deeper discounts, but last year I went too late - the cards were gone. So, yesterday I dropped by with BM and the cards were not marked down. They had some really cool 3D ones - so we grabbed 2 boxes. I had forgotten to ask at the register if they were marked down, but they rang up $1.49 (versus $2.99). We could make our own, but I am not sure we would come out ahead with the cost of ink and paper. Plus, this took about 1 minute of my time. Just popped into the store on my way home.

Since BM was with me, we had a talk about how waiting after the holidays and planning ahead for next year was an easy way to save money (so you have more left for other more important things). I told him we could even wait a few more days and pay less, but all the good stuff would be gone.

I am not big on spending any length of time to save a buck here and there, but for no effort, I will of course take 50% off!!! $3 saved - easy peasy.

Frugal Advice - Cars

February 11th, 2011 at 05:46 pm

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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The easiest and most cost effective frugal move for us, has most definitely been not spending a lot of money on cars over the years.

I am sure we could do even better not buying cars in the first place.

But, we love our cars, and there is a huge convenience factor. We just know that we don't have to spend a fortune to own cars.

Anyway, I probably have heard a million excuses over the years, why my broke friends couldn't possibly spend less than $20k - $40k on their vehicle. (Yes, some couldn't possibly spend LESS than $40k!)

This one comes up often, but I it still leaves me speechless. In a recent discussion about cars and car payments a friend stated, "Well, I will always have a car payment because I *need* a reliable car."

Yes, and there is no possible way to get a *reliable car* without a car payment? Rolleyes

Oy vey!

I've bought cars for the price tags of $800, $1500, $5k, and $8k, and $13k.

Not ONE of these cars was unreliable in the least.

The $1500 car I Drove for 7 years - it died in its 20th year of existence.

I won't bore you with the details of car #2 & #3. They were both EXCELLENT cars sold long before their time due to personal circumstances.

Both our current cars were bought 1-year-old, for $8k and $13k, respectively. One is a little compact, the other is a minivan - hence the price range. These were both bought at a dealership, so have a little extra cost in there, compared to the other cars we all bought privately.

We've never owned a car with a warranty of any kind. This substantially decreases the cost.

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Anyway, I feel blessed to have learned very early on that I Didn't need to spend a fortune on a reliable car. I learned that lesson from my parents, who sold me their 13-year-old 1981 Toyota for $1500, when I turned 16.

My parents sold me their car because I Was their 16-year-old daughter. We all agreed that reliability was the #1 thing I needed in a car, and that was what they could give me. Safety and reliability. (#2 - they didn't want me to go into debt for a vehicle).

I couldn't tell you how many times I drove that car ALONE on 500-mile round trips, to visit friends in So Cal and in Tahoe, etc. All through college I worked multiple jobs. I don't remember ever having any car issues that prevented me from getting to school, work, etc.

& so I learned very early on that I didn't need to spend a fortune for a reliable car. Probably the best financial lesson I ever learned.

Sure, I Was lucky in being able to get such a reliable car from a family member. BUT, I've had the same experience with any cars we have bought.

My second car was a "like new" convertible I bought for $5k. IT was an older model that had just basically never been driven much. When I bought that car I easily drove 40k miles per year, for my job.

People have since told me I only drive old cars because I don't need to drive a lot. I couldn't possibly understand what it's like to drive a lot for my job. Rolleyes Well, it's kind of the opposite. Why would I spend a fortune on a car I am going to drive into the ground very rapidly???

These days, our commute is small, but we spend a lot of time driving a 200-mile range to see family and friends. When we vacation we tend to drive long distances.

& so I can agree that having a reliable car is extremely important. But I suppose I just feel blessed to know that I don't have to spend a fortune to have that peace of mind.

P.S. I have found over the years we spend less to maintain our vehicles, than average. We take good care of our vehicles. Older cars also mean cheaper insurance, cheaper tags, etc. I don't believe our other car ownership costs are "more" simply because our cars are older. I have found the opposite to be true. Don't get me wrong - older cars need more maintenance. BUT, the low insurance, tags, etc., generally offset those costs. Plus, we have a trusted mechanic which saves us a fortune in auto maintenance.

Frugal Advice - Beauty

February 4th, 2011 at 09:21 pm

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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I don't know how relevant this is to everyone, but I figure I'd share and put it under this category.

Anyway, while my main concern the past few months with this whole thyroid thing has been to tackle it and move on, many people I talk to seem quite concerned about the scar my surgery may leave. Lots of tips on how to minimize scarring!

I was actually a little taken aback at first, but figured maybe I under estimated how much the scarring would bother me. Will see. (It was something I could care less about, initially).

Anyway, I am 3 weeks post-op and I find I am just relieved that I no longer look like frankenstein. Wink In certain angles, I can barely even see the incision, though it is still very loud and obvious at this point.

My doctor recommended massage and told me to avoid sunburn (for the short term). He probably had to say it, but I giggled since I have been keeping it well covered with scarves and turtle necks. Not like any sun will reach my neck!

Anyway, it has healed enough that I decided to invest in some Vitamin E or cocoa butter or whatever. I don't mind doing what I can to minimize the scarring in the long run.

That said, I started to read and research before I bought anything.

Conclusion? The best medicine is a good surgeon, massage, positive thinking, and no sun burning for ONE YEAR. In fact, some of the creams can make it worse. Not that I am *that* concerned about the creams, but why waste the money? The studies done in that area mostly concluded that vitamin e, cocoa butter, etc., merely had a placebo effect. Also, the act of massaging the cream on the incision site meant more than the cream itself. So I have been doing neck massages with soap, in the shower.

All that said, since I apparently should be really concerned about sun exposure, I will probably pick up one of the creams with SPF, for summer. It's really no more expensive than sun block, and then if there really is something to it, I can't say I didn't try. Wink

I didn't save a fortune or anything, on my approach to healing. BUT, every time someone sells me some type of beauty product or miracle cure, I usually step back and make sure if it is really worth the money. IT seems that it rarely ever is, and that constant skepticism has saved me a lot of money over the years.

ETA: Being *cheap* was good, because I have since heard that the thyroid is VERY sensitive and to never rub any chemicals in the area. A friend who is a make up artist was telling me how they do not put any creams on the neck area, etc. Interesting!!! Makes me wonder how many people use these magic healing creams just to end up with more problems in the long run...

Frugal Advice - Living Life

January 30th, 2011 at 04:54 pm

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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Having been raised by frugal parents with a good sense of balance, *living life* frugally has always come rather easy to me.

When I think back over the years, it's funny, because dh and I have always gotten criticism for our life choices. We work too hard and are such tightwads. If I had a dollar every time someone told me to *Live Life.* So what is so funny about that? We do *Live Life* plenty. I just didn't know I had to spend more money and work less, to live life.

Of course, as teenagers and in our young 20s this was something that came up far more often. We were raised to be very responsible, always worked, and were on our own very young (me - age 18). The prevailing attitude is you should do very little in your teens and 20s because you have your whole life ahead of you to work and run the rat race. But, in the end, working hard while young has afforded us so much more opportunity to slow down and relax. & I alluded to the balance. No matter how hard I have worked, I have always taken time to *live life.*

Beyond that, when we do spend money, people tell us *life is to be lived.* Yay - you lived life! This is just the culture I suppose. But it REALLY grates on me. Spending more money on something doesn't mean anything to the joy it will bring to my life. I know this, but few people seem to understand that.

Beyond all this, having dealt with very sick loved ones in recent years, I feel like I am on a different spiritual plane lately. I've come to a far deeper understanding about that which is important in life.

Anyway, one day recently, I sat down and wrote a bucket list of sorts, when I could no longer take the "You don't live life" thing. I brainstormed the many things I had done while living life. IT just so happens most of the stuff didn't cost much money.

This is my version of the bucket list. I might have had a traditional bucket list before dh was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but I now realize the list was completely ridiculous and means little. I think it means more to look back at what I have done than to think what I haven't done will bring more meaning to my life. (& if there is something really important I haven't done, then I should do it now).

I had already shared that when dh was first diagnosed with his tumor, I told him if the prognosis was bad, we could cash out some retirement money and do whatever he wanted. Thinking to the traditional bucket list, right? & then dh said to me, "I don't want to go anywhere or buy anything. I just want more time with my family." Those words just really struck a chord with me. & that is when I threw away my first bucket list, because I Realized it wouldn't mean a thing to me at the end of my life.

For my new list - I threw in a few things I had planned in my life that fell through. Some due to money and lack of time (due to work). The list is VERY short.

Why don't I start with those?

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: (Or, things I had planned that fell through)

**Study abroad in London
**Travel to India (with lifelong Indian friend)
**Travel through Europe for a month with friends

(I know there will be more opportunities to take the place of these).

Of course, the most important things I have done in my life:

DONE/FREE:

**LOVE
**LAUGHED
**LEARNED
**HELPED OTHERS

& while I have been "working far too hard and saving too much money to actually enjoy life" - this is what I have been doing:

DONE:

**Built our dream home
**Owned a convertible - many road trips
**Japan
**Europe (Spain, Italy, France, Moracco)
**Mexico (cruise)
**Hawaii (Oahu & Kauai)
**Las Vegas - many road trips
**New Orleans
**New York
**Boston
**Washington DC
**Oregon/Washington - road trip
**Florida
**Denver, CO
**Kansas
**Tennessee
**North Carolina
**Tahoe
**Yosemite
**Disney Land
**Disney World
**Many road trips
**Skinny Dipped
**Jumped in a lake
**Boated around Lake Tahoe
**Skiied in Utah; saw Olympic location
**Done some intense/long bike rides
**Camped on the Beach
**Seen many shooting stars
**Pet a wild baby panther
**Saved/rehabbed baby birds & released back into the wild
**Volunteered at the animal shelter
**Skiied in Tahoe (down hill & cross country)
**White water rafting in Sacramento
**Kayaked in the ocean (with the sea otters)
**Gone whale watching (twice)
**Swam/boogie boarded in the ocean
**Swam under a waterfall
**Ran (walked) the Bay to Breakers 10k
**Helped Habitat for Humanity
**zip lined in Hawaii
**Hiked all day
**Learned to salsa & tried to learn to Swing
**Snorkeled in the ocean
**Seen a musical (or 2 or 3)
**Seen some amazing concerts (most notably, Tori Amos more times than I can count, Zappa Jr., and Metallica playing with the SF symphony).
**Watched live taping of the Daily Show (year 2000)
**Performed for others (marching band, singing, choir, piano, orchestra, etc.)
**Twirled a flag in a college marching band
**Lived in more than one city
**Taught piano to the old and young
**Married a wonderful man (10 years +)
**Birthed 2 children
**Earned a College degree
**Earned my CPA license
**Found a career that I enjoy
**I've been VP of a Professional Association
**VP, Treasurer, etc. of College Academic Fraternity
**Studied Philosophy
**Studied Astronomy
**Learned to play piano, violin, flute, drums

(Interestingly, MANY travel opportunities have come from free or very cheaply from my involvement in bands and clubs. Most travel I listed was done very cheaply, staying with friends, etc.).

I haven't added a lot to my list lately. Nothing gives me greater joy than spending time with my kids. So, instead of using my time to volunteer and try new things, I find I spend a lot of time sharing some of the above experiences with my kids. I suppose we also find much more joy in the mundane, these days. Raising a child is a life experience in itself, for sure. IT should probably TOP my list.

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Given more time, there are certainly things I would still like to do.

TO DO:

**Grand Canyon/Bryce Canyon
**Alaskan Cruise
**Egypt
**London
**Australia
**Ride in a Hot Air Balloon
**Repay a $1500 scholarship received in college (pay it forward)
**Learn to sew
**Have Grandchildren (there's something I have no control over!)

Frugal Advice - Home Improvements

January 28th, 2011 at 02:26 am

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper. Or, the good things in life don't have to cost a lot of money.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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Today's Topic? Home Improvements...

Flooring, to be exact.

I suppose owning a small condo before we bought our first house was a good chance to *practice* home ownership.

The condo was remodeled to the hilt before we moved in, and so we didn't have any home improvement costs the two years that we owned it. Like, we didn't spend a penny on improvements.

That said, the carpet was a horrific white color. I am sure it would be pretty if there was no such thing as dirt. But, it became obvious pretty quickly that it wouldn't have been our first choice.

Funny enough, my cat puked all over the carpet over time, and left lovely pink splotches all over the carpet. (Pink from the food we feed her, I suppose).

When we bought this home we bought new construction. When we went to pick out our flooring, I remember looking at the carpet and settling on an almost mauve color. Dh and I looked at each other and said, "I think that would hide any cat puke stains." It was a very neutral/pplain color, but had a hint of that pinkish color to it.

I remember picking out this marble looking linoleum for the hard floors (kitchen/bathrooms) because it had these beautiful grey streaks through it. IT was GORGEOUS, first and foremost. But, we looked at it and said, "That will hide the dirt."

I share all this because today was the TRUE TEST for this flooring. (We've lived here 10 years, by the way). Linoleum is easy to clean, and I don't think the kids have been too harsh on it (as harsh as they have been with other parts of the house, anyway).

But, they were drawing on some white paper on the floor (my idea) with a permanent black marker. It was part of some toy and I didn't think too much about it. BUT, the ink leaked through the paper (I believe). I really don't think they were drawing on the floor, but who knows.

& suddenly my *perfect looking* floor is covered in black marks and streaks.

I tried not to cry as I got out some all purpose cleaner and let it soak for a bit. I didn't notice for about 24 hours after the mess was made! As I wiped it up, it was coming up a little bit. Not 100%, but I could breathe a little sigh of relief.

As I continued at it, some of the streaks and spots turned grey. I sat back and giggled at the genius of buying this floor in the first place. I honestly couldn't tell you what is pen marks and what is natural grey streaks, any more.

Thinking through your home improvements can really keep your costs down over the years. I'd probably rather live with black spotted linoleum than replace a perfectly good floor covering. But, thankfully I don't have to make that decision today.

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All that said, I just have to add that it is also important to consider all options, and to consider the long term costs when choosing different home improvement options.

I share because I wonder how many of you are thinking why wouldn't we buy fixxers and do DIY improvements to save money? The fact is, the fixxer/DIY ROUTE makes little financial sense in the region we live in. Certainly not for the types of housing we searched out and when we bought. Doing the math, we came out ahead going different routes.

I think it's a good example to not just blindly believe that "x" is super expensive and "y" is the only frugal way to go. Over the years, with an open mind, we have found good deals in unexpected places.

Frugal Advice - Exercise

January 25th, 2011 at 05:56 pm

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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One topic that often comes up is exercise.

Since having kids and having a desk job, I don't have the most lean and mean body that I used to in my youth (when I Was far more active and had youth on my side).

That said, I spend a lot of time and energy to keep fit. If nothing else, exercise helps me to deal with stress, and to easily maintain my weight. To stay healthy, too. I suppose those would be the three primary reasons that I exercise.

In everyday conversation it often comes up how keeping fit costs too much money.

I think back to the one and only time I lost weight. I have always been very thin and had a very fast metabolism. Having kids and aging had put on a few pounds and changed the playing field a bit, but after my second was born my hormones went whacked for a time and I gained a large amount of weight in a very short time period.

I couldn't afford to spend money to lose weight (Living in California, on maternity leave. Nothing to spare).

However, once my hormones settled down, losing the weight was a priority. I had worked hard to maintain my weight over the years. There is a lot of obesity in my family and so maintaining had been very important to me. I knew it would be easier to lose the random 10 pounds I had rapidly gained before the problem worsened.

& so I walked. I woke up early every morning and went on a brisk walk. I didn't have any exercise equipment but some weights, videos and a step I bought in college. I used those too. For the first time in my life I watched what I ate. It might have taken 6 months, but I worked off the 10 pounds I had gained in the month or so that my hormones went whacked. Walking was clearly the key though. Lots of power walking.

Thankfully I knew that it didn't cost any money to lose weight. Since I ate less, I probably saved money, honestly.

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All the above said, I have always been very active and I thrive on variety. Thus, I fare better in the long run with more exercise options. Thankfully, there are many options out there.

*Walking - I am not a fan of walking in unsafe areas alone, or in the cold. That said, during the longer summer days, the kids and I walk to the park every evening. For the dark and the cold I have the gym (treadmill). More on that later. For work (not a safe area to walk) the mall is just a five minute drive. A warm place safe to walk when needed. FREE.

I often see our neighbors driving 2-3 blocks to the pool, the baseball diamond, the school, and even to the park. How ridiculous! We rarely drive where can walk to. (There isn't much else to walk to, but where we can easily walk to, we walk).

*Exercise Videos - if you buy one new video a year (or better yet, one used video a year) you can amass a large collection over time. I have invested in a mat, a step, and small hand weights, over the decades. I suppose it helps to focus on one thing at a time. You don't need to go out and buy a full gym, to be fit. Buy used and on sale to stretch your dollar.

*Balls - balls are pretty cheap to be had. Basketball, Soccer balls, footballs. When my son signed up for soccer, we bought a soccer ball and practiced with him. (Now there is a work out!). When we got a new park we bought a basketball. For Christmas this year we asked for tennis rackets - since we have tennis courts. The walk to the tennis courts is also great exercise. These are all great exercise options that have a very small up front investment.

*Swim - in the summer I swim at our pool at least 3 times a week, if not more. Since I am with the kids (keeping an eye on them) I generally do not swim laps. But I will have the kids throw their dive toys way out and chase after them, or race them at times. Plenty of exercise to be had in a pool, if you have free or cheap access to one. Ours is "free."

*Discount Gym - Not everyone needs a gym membership - that is for sure. Personally, I do well with treadmills and ellipticals. (I don't run due to knee problems, but the treadmill - speed walk up a hill - and elliptical can be a good replacement for a nice run). I don't really want to spend the outflow or make the space for the equipment in my house - particularly not with my wild kids who will be intent on breaking it. So, joining a discount gym had been a good option for me. There is no pool, there is no sauna, and there is not even a locker room, nor showers. What there is, is good cardio equipment and childcare.

Over the years as our income increased, I dedicated $15/month to the discount gym. I can quit at any time (no contracts).

When I Was first out of college, 24 hour fitness (with all the frills and open 24 hours) only cost $20/month.

I presume there are many gym options out there.

*Invest in a piece of exercise equipment.

For the long run, when my kids are more mature and calm (maybe when they move out) I foresee buying a nice elliptical machine. Probably used, to save significantly. The thing about these kind of purchases is you can shop carefully, buy once, and it should last for a long time.

The biggest investment I have made in the last decade is $200 for a real bike. I was looking at some REALLY nice bikes in the $400 range. I decided as I jumped back in after a long hiatus that I may need a bike I could ride around the neighborhood without getting mugged. I ended up finding something comparable at Wal Mart for $200. It wasn't totally comparable, don't get me wrong. But it was a very nice bike for how little I paid. Some none-name brand bike that no one would give a second look, but was very powerful and comfortable.

I suppose I look at biking as secondary to walking. Just get up on it and go. There isn't a lot more to it.

*Discount Classes - Colleges and cities offer a myriad of exercise classes at deep discounts. In college I took advantage of the school gym and the exercise classes (Essentially free on top of my regular full-time course load).

I currently have friends who pay $10-$15 a pop for over crowded zumba classes. My secret is an aerobics/yoga/strength training course through the city. IT is only $2.50 per class, but the class is amazing. I suppose the class speaks to my very being since it is all about exercise and strength training without using any exercise equipment but our own bodies. I always leave this class VERY high on endorphins. At least once a week for my sanity.

After going to this class for years, I could probably do all the workouts in my own living room, for free. But I find I do better with the actual class. (Then I can turn off my brain since I don't have to remember all the routines).

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All told, I may spend $30/month on exercise classes and a gym membership. I might invest $25 per year in GOOD shoes (to avoid injuries). I tend to buy a $50 pair of shoes every other year. I maybe invest $30 per year, on average, on some sort of new exercise equipment.

Over the years I have built up enough exercise options. Any given day I can:

Go to the gym
Go to an exercise class
Go play tennis
Take a walk (around lake, to track, to park, at the mall, go for a hike, anywhere)
Go on a bike ride
Go for a swim (summer)
Kick around a soccer ball
Play a game of basketball
Pop in an exercise video (Step aerobics, yoga, aerobics, strength training)
Turn on the radio and just dance!

& the people around me tell me that it is far too expensive to get in shape, as they read off the cost of personal trainers, pricey exercise classes, and the more high end gyms that abound in the region.

Aw, thankfully I know better.

Frugal Advice - Taxes

January 25th, 2011 at 05:07 pm

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper. Or, the good things in life don't have to cost a lot of money.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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CreditCardFree brings today's financial wisdom:

Don't pay more to file your taxes - more than you have to.

Wise Words!

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That said, don't be penny wise and pound foolish, either.

I have to say that as a tax preparer. I honestly believe for our good clients that we save them far more than they pay us. As it should be. If not, they shouldn't hire us.

I also have the clients who pay too much but prefer us for the peace of mind. I suppose I can't blame them, though for some of them they could probably do just fine with a cheaper option.

For the most part, I'd say file your taxes in the manner that saves you the most money in the end.

For the average person, free file or do-it-yourself would be the way to go.

I also think it is good to understand about the taxes you are paying. Whether I Was an accountant or not, I could not imagine being ignorant about the taxes that I pay.

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In the old days I did my own taxes with pen and paper. These days, that would be pretty hard to do (it has gotten so complex) but low cost software could do the trick.

I use the professional software at work to do my taxes. Takes me about 10 minutes (if that), and is free to me. Obviously my tax situation is quite simple.

Best Financial Advice

January 23rd, 2011 at 11:57 pm

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper. Or, the good things in life don't have to cost a lot of money.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

& so today I feel blessed that I know I don't have to spend a lot of money for x, y and z.

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I was just reading an absurd quote about the cost of public college 20 years down the road. something like 25 times what I paid for my education, anyway. I just have to roll my eyes. If my kids have to pay 25 times as much for their education, we will sit down and ask them if it is really worth it. My feeling would be, no.

I know the experts are just trying to get parents to plan and save, but people like us just roll our eyes at the tactics.

Don't get me wrong - I am sure plenty people have and will pay that much for an education. I just don't see the point.

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I got the City Parks/Rec catalog for spring classes. Seems kind of premature, but classes start Feb. 1 I suppose.

Was flipping through. Might sign dh and BM up for a family tennis class. Might be best to wait for summer, but then again, the weather is much nicer now. He doesn't start track until March, so may give it a go for February. Maybe $50 for 4 hours of tennis classes - a steal. (Dh and BM can then fill us in). BM is such a natural, we may sign him up for more classes as well. Later on anyway - when track is over.

We did sign him up for track, too. Starts in March. He could participate for as little as $50. I find these non-profit sports things to be so inexpensive. The funny thing is a number of people have told me that "it is *so* expensive." Since we pretty much just pay per diem (uniforms, supplies) and all the coaches and everything are volunteers, I just have to roll my eyes. We paid $150 to sign him up competitively. Will see how it goes. I personally don't know of a cheaper way to get him so much instruction in sports - the coaches have always been really good. Meanwhile, I have got friends who make twice our income, complaining about the cost. I don't *get* people.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we will probably sign the kids up for private swim lessons in the spring, immediately before our pool opens. BM doesn't really need it, but could practice his form and more advanced swimming. LM could probably use a refresher. I suppose when it comes to swimming, we find private lessons more cost efficient. We were lucky to have a private teacher come to our pool, on the less expensive side, in years past. You can tell when you hang out at our pool - most of the kids in the neighborhood are phenomenal swimmers. I suppose the ones that are there all the time also get ample practice. We were discussing a less expensive route this year, since they have the basics down, mostly. I told dh, "yeah, but they will learn 10 times more in those private classes - they are so exceptional." Was very pleased with this one place. Hopefully this is the last year we feel the need to spend the money.

Of course, if we didn't have the money, something cheaper would certainly do.

I suppose we will keep very busy the next few months!