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Archive for June, 2008

Have You Looked Yet?

June 30th, 2008 at 04:37 pm

If you're like me and check your mutual fund balances only on the last day of the month ... today is the day ... have you looked yet?

I just checked mine ... a 4.4% drop compared to end-May.

Oh well ... My grandpa told me that his father (my great-grandfather) told him that the price of a stock only matters when it is time to sell. And for those of you doing the math, yes, those words came from a man who was buying stock back in a day when very few people did, long before mutual funds. I will heed the words of my ancestor and not sweat it.

P.S. - I'll tell you what I AM sweating, tho. The 4.75% locked rate on my Wachovia MMA expires on Wednesday. I will miss it dearly. They're offering a 7-mo CD at 4.00% APY. I may go for that. They also have a 12-mo CD at 4.25% APY. (Both have a $5K min)

Book Recommendation: "Downsizing Your Home With Style" by Lauri Ward

June 26th, 2008 at 04:12 pm

For anyone who is thinking of downsizing their home, is struggling with fitting their life and stuff in to a smaller home, or (especially) is thinking they need to move to a bigger house because their current one is getting too small, I highly recommend the book "Downsizing Your Home With Style" by Lauri Ward (copyright 2007).

I found this book on my last trip to the library. I was familiar with Ms. Ward from an appearance on Oprah and her book "Use What You Have Decorating" and was already a fan. Ms. Ward explains to us every day folks how to create beautiful home interiors in an affordable way, emphasising using what we already own.

This book exceeded my expectations ... It's great! It is chock full of practical strategies and specific tips for ... as the sub-title says ... "Living Well in a Small Space."

If what you currently own won't fill all of your needs, there is a section at the back of many of the chapters called "Good Buys" that tells you specifically where you can buy certain recommended items.

I just loved the pictures. While they were all of attractive rooms, it was easy to see that a "real" person lived in each and every one. You could even see family pets in some of the pictures. There wasn't anything in any of the pictures that I couldn't imagine having in my own home. I don't know about you, but I don't care for looking at the "home" mags because the glossy fancy pics tend to be of rooms that look so overdone and expensive and not necessarily welcoming. The pics in this book, in contrast, were of attractive inviting rooms that I could imagine living in. The cover pic that you can see below is quite a bit fancier than any of the other rooms pictured. I'd love to post some, but am concerned about copyright violations.



New Challenge: Pump Gas In the AM Only

June 24th, 2008 at 04:37 pm

I find it much easier to take money-saving steps when the payoff is readily apparent:

- Clip a coupon, save a buck at the grocery store.
- Take a defensive driving course, save 10% on my car insurance.
Etc.

Where it's more challenging is when the payoff amount isn't really known, I just know that I'm saving "something." And if you throw in the fact that taking a particular step to save money is something I think of as a bit unpleasant, then it gets really hard to get and stay motivated to do what I know I should.

Those are the times when this blog really helps, because accountability comes in to play. And it seems "challenges" appeal to my competitive nature and help me stay interested.

Back in late-January when I was pondering our electric bill, I came up with a "Steam Free Mirror Challenge" for myself:
http://scfr.savingadvice.com/2008/02/11/steam-free-mirror-ch...

I am proud to say that except for one day when I was having a bit of rough morning and decided a steamy shower would be good therapy, every morning since starting the challenge my mirror has been steam free!
I know I'm saving on my electric bill, but I have no idea how much. My "payoff" is getting to brag here!

And now I have a new challenge for myself that I came up with while thinking about the rising price of gas: to only pump gas in the morning!

I know pumping gas in the morning when it is cooler (and therefore the gas is denser) can save you money (Edit note: I edited this from "quite a bit of money" to just "money" ... please see comments below). And I live in a hot place where the difference in temperature between the am and the pm can be 30 degrees. I know I should pump my gas in the morning. Problem is, I am not a morning person.
In order to pump gas in the morning on my way to work instead of on my way home from work, I am going to have to get my lazy self out of bed 15 minutes earlier.

I guess that's why it's called a challenge, eh?

EDIT - Additional comment: I'm also thinking about letting my tank get lower between fill ups, just so I'm dragging less weight (gasoline in the tank) around to improve gas mileage. After going through a 5-day widespread power outage and being unable to buy gas without driving over 30 minutes and waiting in line, I started filling up somewhere between 1/2 and 1/4 full. But I'm thinking maybe I should go back to waiting until it gets below 1/4 full to refill. Does anyone have an opinion on this?

Adventures in Foreclosure House Shopping (Long)

June 22nd, 2008 at 06:58 am

First some background info ... 8-1/2 months ago we relocated from Seattle to Austin. We're in an apartment and are house hunting. We want to buy a house, but we are in no hurry. We are waiting until we find a super deal: house we really like, in a location we really like, at what we feel is a great price.

We are extremely flexible as far as location; DH works from home, and I am just doing temp work until we know where we will be settling. Our requirements have to do with proximity to things like golf courses and grocery stores, not places of employment.

We are also 100% flexible about closing date. While we do have a lease, we are completely prepared financially to break the lease and pay the required penalties (as spelled out in the lease), or to just keep paying the rent on an empty apartment, whichever winds up making the most sense financially. Having said that, since we renewed our lease, we have scaled back on the house hunting. As we get start to get closer to the end of the lease, we will intensify our efforts.

We are also fairly flexible about size and features of the home. We have preferences (some strong, some weak), but we are not allowing ourselves to get limited by certain requirements.

We are cash buyers. That matters to some sellers, and to some it does not. (Some will give you a better deal if you pay cash, some will not.) We expect to get a better deal; if we can't, we will move on to the next house.

If any realtors are reading this, they are probably rolling their eyes. When we talk to one at a house we look at, we can just tell that either they think we are full of BS, or we drive them crazy.

Q: Which area are you looking at?
A: We're flexible.

Q: When do you want to move?
A: We're flexible.

Q: What is your price point?
A: We're flexible.

Q: What are you looking for in a house? Certain number of bedrooms? Granite countertops?
A: We are looking for a great deal. As far as the features of the house, we are flexible.

That is all the honest-to-God truth ... Not one bit of BS involved, but somehow I don't think many of them believe us! And if they do believe us, it drives them nuts because they cannot mentally put us in to a box.

We have looked at hundreds of homes, including some foreclosures. We are neither specifically looking for a foreclosure, nor are we ruling them out. As always, "we are flexible."

Last weekend we went to look at 2 foreclosure houses. They were right next to each other. DH had heard about one of them (house A) from a guy he golfed with who lived in the area ... The guy said we should check it out, because the price had recently dropped and it was currently the best deal in the neighborhood (in his opinion).

We had tried to reach the agent for house A, but she never returned our repeated calls. We did reach the agent for house B (the house next door) and set up an appointment, and when we mentioned that we were trying to coordinate visits to both houses at the same time, she told us not to worry, that she would let us in to house A.

We showed up at house B at the set time, and no one was there. After several calls we finally reached the agent. She said she had the wrong time on her calendar, that she would be there soon, and she gave us the access code to house B. BTW ... She never did show up; she had no intention of coming out. We asked her "what about house A" and she said she was sorry but it was already under contract. We went in to house B and looked around. It was nice house in good shape, but we thought it was over-priced.

We then walked over to house A and found a 2nd number for the agent's company posted on the door. We called and finally reached someone (not the original agent but another one), and found out that the house was NOT under contract. The house B agent had flat out lied to us ... She just did not want us to go see house A. (We had googled her company name before we went out and found nothing. We suspect that all she does is buy up foreclosures and re-sale them.)

The agent for house A asked us to wait, and she popped in her car and was there in less than 30 minutes. Long story short, the guy DH got the tip from was right. It really is the best deal in the neighborhood. It was a former model home that had just about every upgrade you could imagine, but we decided it was just too big for us and the upkeep would be too much. (We had seen the square footage in the listing but thought it had to be a mistake ... It wasn't.)

But this is where it gets interesting ... When we walked in to the house, in the family room huge chunks of paint were hanging down and there was obviously water damage on the ceiling. And then I noticed that the air vents throught the entire house were full of bits of insulation. The agent was very surprised and went upstairs and in to the attic (positioned right above the family room). Someone had done something so that the water heater had drained out, and they had slashed open air ducts so that they filled with insulation. The house had been on the market for 3 months, and the agent had been out at the house 2 weeks before and everything had been fine. Coincidentally, that was the time the price on the house had dropped.

Hmmm ... Let's see...

Two foreclosure homes side by side ... Price on the clearly better and larger house drops to BELOW the price on the smaller and less desirable house ... Agents have access to all homes for sale at all times of the day and night, including the agent who clearly was not above pulling off a sneaky trick (telling us the house was already under contract when it wasn't) ... The house that is now clearly a much better deal is suddenly vandalised ... Hmmm ...

I must say that the world of foreclosures is definitely different than the much more genteel world of standard real estate transactions. Anyone who is thinking of trying to buy a foreclosure, be prepared to deal with anything and everything. We have looked at 4 foreclosures so far, and all have had issues:

- A pre-foreclosure where the owner had re-financed several times at higher loan amounts each time, apparently using the money to buy fancy toys, and then was unable to sell at the current market price because he owed more than the home was worth due to his own stupidity.

- A bank owned property where clearly the owner had stopped being able or willing to maintain the house, resulting in serious damage (holes in roof and siding)

- The 2 houses mentioned above: 1 over-priced, 1 sabotaged

We are not going to stop looking at foreclosures, but we now know not to be surprised by anything we may find.

Plastic Bags: What Am I Missing?

June 19th, 2008 at 05:22 pm

Can anyone point out a flaw in my logic? I keep thinking I must be missing something.

I know buying & using reusable bags instead of getting plastic bags from the grocery store is all the rage right now, and I completely understand why. I totally get the whole "reduce, reuse, recycle" philosophy. I've been washing out and reusing my plastic baggies all of my life. I use the plastic bags the newspaper comes in as doggie pooper scooper bags. When I go to the farmer's market (where I'm just getting one or two items per stall) I bring a tote and put my produce in there directly. On the rare occasions I hit the outlet stores, I'll get a bag from the first store and tell other stores to skip the bag and just put my purchases directly in the first bag.

But for my household, I just haven't been able to figure out how giving up plastic grocery bags makes sense. We are a 2-person (and 1-dog) household, and the trash gets emptied every day. The trash has to be placed in tied-off plastic bags. So I use the bags from the grocery store, and I double bag because there are often little holes in them. On most days, we don't even fill up a grocery store sized bag of trash. I need all of my grocery bags for my household trash! The only way I could give up plastic grocery bags would be if I went out and bought replacement plastic bags, and I can't see the logic in buying something to replace the exact same thing that I get for free. And given that most store bought trash bags are for large size trash cans, they might end up using even more plastic and that would be most environmentally unfriendly.

If we were a big family and needed big trash bags and had to buy them, it would be an entirely different story. But we're a small family with small daily trash accumulation.

I think my logic is correct, and I think in our case in makes sense to keep getting plastic grocery bags, but I do feel a tad sheepish when I see all of these wonderful people walking out of the store with their "green" bags while I tote my old-fashioned plastic.

Am I missing something?

And may I just say a big thank you in advance to anyone who answers ... not only for your insights, but for understanding why stuff like this matters to someone like me (or should I say people like us).

65 Cents

June 12th, 2008 at 08:41 pm

Before I leave for work in the morning, I make my lunch and fill up a travel mug full of coffee.

I had a couple days off and I guess that threw off my routine. This morning I forgot my coffee! So, I decided to use the vending machine at work for the first time ever, and shelled out 65 cents for a cup of java. Necessary expense? Certainly not. But I decided it would be better than going through the entire day without coffee.

I remember back in my early 20's I would have spent the money without even thinking about it ... I probably would have been buying a cup every day, in fact. Now it's a conscious decision, every time I choose to spend money.

Oh, and speaking of spending money (a bit more than 65 cents this time) ... DH has found what he thinks is a fantastic deal on a foreclosed house, and on paper it looks good. We are going to take a look at it this weekend. We'll see what it looks like "in person" ... it's in a neighborhood we like very much, and it just might be a real bargain, but it's a bigger house than I was hoping for.

Random Thoughts

June 10th, 2008 at 09:02 am

Ordered Master Card Reward Check: On my last statement, my reward balance had exceeded $50 so I ordered my reward check. (I have to wait until the balance reaches $50 to order a check.) DH commented that the reward system probably works out well for the credit card companies because it's likely lots of folks forget to order their rewards. Not me ... As soon as I see that sucker has hit $50, I start dialing!

Skype: We signed up for Skype worldwide service and love it. For $10 a month, we can make unlimited calls anywhere in the world from our computer. Very handy with us living away from all of our family (cross country for me, round the world for DH)

Clothes Shopping: I boldly stated my intentions to tackle my clothes shopping demons in one marathon day of shopping, in order to update my skimpy wardrobe. That didn't happen, but I am happy to report that between Goodwill, Costco, and the Outlet Stores, I did manage to buy:
1 pair of shoes (Timberland)
1 pair of capri jeans (GV)
2 tanks (1 LLBean, 1 Liz Claiborne)
1 linen shirt (Jones NY)
I spent $75 total. Only the LLBean tank was slightly used; the rest were new.
I want to buy one pair of shorts (I only have one, and I have realized shorts are a staple here in hot Texas) and one pair of sneaker type shoes (currently have none), and that will get me through the summer. Once the after-summer sales start, I will try to get a couple more tanks and shorts ... I have learned that those are the real essential items during a Texas summer.
Have I ever mentioned how much I hate that show where people spend $5K on clothes in one shopping spree? I would love to watch a show where they taught you how to update your wardrobe for $2-300, which is my annual clothing budget.

Thoughts on Bank Failures: My thinking has shifted from "Oh goodness! What if one of my banks fails?" to "Gee - I wonder which of my banks will fail first?" I've decided to just accept that it is probably going to happen, and I will roll with the punches the best I can. When / if it happens, I will be sure to blog about it and share the experience with you-all. I have my money spread amongst several banks, so am not concerned about not being able to access funds.

Work: I have 2 new assignments lined up, but got a few days off in-between. Made a long list of things to get done and have been tackling the list aggressively. I'm feeling a bit challenged by my upcoming assignment, so I bought a couple workbooks and am doing a cram course of study to brush off my dusty skills. This temp work has been marvelous...Even better than expected. The 2nd of the 2 assignments I have lined up will wrap up just shortly before I head off to my mom's for 2 weeks to help her out with some things.

Coupons: I read a comment somewhere that seemed a bit snide about the use of coupons being just for things like "Hamburger Helper." First of all, if that's what people choose to eat, what is wrong with that? But more importantly, that is not the only type of thing coupons can be used for. I'll be the first to admit that I am not the world's biggest (and far from the best) couponer, but I do clip them, only for products that I like (I don't buy things just because there is a coupon). I pulled out my last grocery store bill and these were the items I used a coupon for:
- Ocean Spray Grapefruit Juice (the 100% juice kind ... so HFCS)
- Baby Einstein Milk (no kids in our house, but no reason why adults can't drink it when you get it for a good price, right?)
- YO-Plus Yogurt
- Noni's Biscotti
- California Kitchen Pizza
So, I just don't understand people who dis' coupons!

Final Form 5500-EZ: Since my husband rolled his Keogh's over in to a SEP IRA, the paperwork requirements are much easier (no annual filing requirements with the IRS). Yesterday I completed his FINAL Form 5500-EZ w/ the IRS, letting them know the plan has been closed. Yea - So glad I won't have to do that anymore! And lest you think I am late, the deadline for that particular form is July 31st, so I was in plenty of time.

Frugality Means Hating Waste: Here in Texas, our governor's mansion was recently severely damaged by an arsonist. That is the sort of thing that just steams me, as does vandalism and grafitti. I am willing to bet that the regulars on this site have never commited any form of vandalism or grafitti. Why? Because we hate waste of resources! Not only will the taxpayers of the state now have to pay to have the mansion either repaired or rebuilt, a beautiful 150-plus year old building will never be the same. Building materials, fire personnel, law enforment hours, tax dollars, a piece of our history ... All wasted! What a shame! And speaking of waste, the mansion was in the process of being restored and so the governor and his wife had moved out. On the news they mentioned they were renting a house that cost $9,900 per month. I realize that as the governor of the 2nd largest state in the country he deserves a few perks, but really, I wish he would be a better steward of the taxpayers' money! For 1/2 that, he could rent a place that would be appropriately posh!

Retirement Gift for In-Laws

June 8th, 2008 at 08:46 pm

My in-laws are easing (or should I say lurching) in to retirement. FIL is 72 and MIL is 68. They both worked very hard all of their lives. FIL owned his own business (with several employees) and MIL worked with him part-time, running the office. FIL has had a series of health issues in the past few years, and after several years of talking about how he was going to retire soon, MIL decided to take charge and push him along. She talked him in to putting their house up for sale. It sold fairly quickly, and then they rented a place in a more rural area. MIL moved in to the rental in late-April, but FIL stayed behind (moving in to SIL's house) to wrap things up with the business. He goes and visits MIL on the weekends, and has promised he will have tied up all of the loose ends with the business on June 20th, when he will permanently moving to the country. The entire family is saying "we'll believe it when we see it," as he really seems to be having a hard time actually taking the final steps.

I'm so proud of my MIL. She has been really ready to retire for about 8 years now, and she has put up with many promises deferred. Because of her culture and her personality, she generally takes a fairly submissive role in the marriage, but I guess she decided she had had enough and she put her foot down! The rest of the family has really gotten a kick out of watching her put her assert herself and (hopefully) drag FIL kicking and screaming in to a well-deserved retirement.

I think it's hard for FIL to deal with because at this stage in his life he really doesn't have interests outside of work (other than watching TV and reading the paper). Hopefully he won't turn in to a total couch potato. He is interested in gardening, and now that they have a place in the country hopefully he can get more involved in that. MIL on the other had is quite a social butterfly, especially with her religious group. She visits with her group members, makes friends quickly with the neighbors, keeps house, and likes to read. She will thrive in retirement, no doubt.

Anyway ... DH & I want to give them a nice retirement gift. We have come up with 2 ideas, and would love to hear any other suggestions. If we ask them what they want, they will say they don't want anything. So we have to take the approach of offering them option A, B, or C and letting them choose.

If anyone who has already retired has suggestions of what they would have liked to have received when they retired, please share. If anyone has done something like this for their parents or have thought about doing something like this for their folks, or just dreams about being able to do something like this for their parents some day, please share suggestions.

Don't be afraid to venture a bit into "just dreaming" sorts of ideas. FIL is not facing imminent death, but he is not going to be around forever, and this gift is our way of "giving him roses while he is still alive." We are able to do something nice for them, and we very much want to.

The 2 ideas we have are:

1. A 2-week cruise in their region (they live in another country) ... They have not cruised before, but they have enjoyed travelling in the past, and we thought they would feel more comfortable if they stuck close to home, especially given FIL's medical problems.

2. Business Class tickets to visit us here in the USA, plus some domestic travel with us (perhaps via Amtrak in a sleeper car) ... DH & I always fly coach, as have my in-laws in the past, but we think at their age they deserve to travel in comfort.

We thought about replacing their old car for them, but MIL does not drive and we do not know how much longer FIL will be able to drive. DH thinks it would be best if they just drive the current car for as long as it lasts, and when it dies, to encourage them to just rely on public transportation (which is excellent where they live).

I'd like to have at least another one or two options to toss out to them but am stumped, so any and all suggestions are welcome! Thank you!

Take a Defensive Driving Course for a Discount on your Car Insurance

June 6th, 2008 at 01:25 pm

(Back in December I wrote a short blog entry about how we got a 10% discount on our car insurance for taking a defensive driving course. It was a snoozer of an entry ... hastily written, and only one SA regular responded. But a funny thing happened ... It turned in to the blog entry that never dies. At least once a month, a non-SA person posts a question or comment on that entry, wanting to find out how they can take the course. Obviously, it's something people are interested in learning about and somehow it's attracting non-regulars to this site, so I thought I'd re-write what I learned, and I will try my best to be more concise, in the hopes that it will be more useful.)

First of all, I would like to state for the record that I do NOT work in the insurance field, and am in no way an expert on car insurance. I am just a consumer of car insurance who discovered a way to get a lesser-known discount on her car insurance. The following is what I believe to be true, but if any of you experts out there catch any mistakes or have anything to add, please feel free to chime in! Okay ...

Each state in the USA has different laws when it comes to car insurance. Some states require that auto insurance companies offer a discount to consumers if they complete a "defensive driving course." In some states, the discount must be offered to all drivers, in some states it is offered only to drivers over a certain age, and in some states it is not offered at all.

Taking a defensive driving course may be much easier than you think. Although how you take the course varies by state, it's very likely you can just complete the course on-line, in the comfort of your own home, in just a little bit of time.
(If memories of driver's ed class back in high school are holding you back, don't let that stop you ... It's nothing like that!)

The course need not be expensive. We paid $19.95 to take the course. You can shop around for the course. You can probably find a qualified course for around $20, so if you're finding prices much higher than that, keep looking. And if you are over a certain age (this will vary by state too), you may qualify for a discounted rate on the course.

The primary driver of the automobile must take the course. So if a husband and wife have 2 cars, they both must complete the course to get the discount on both cars.

Here is how getting the discount worked for us: My husband & I live in Texas. Our car insurance is through Geico. In TX, all residents are eligible for the defensive driver discount (there are no age restrictions). We have only 1 car and my husband is the primary driver, so he took the course. He took the course offered by Geico, on-line. We paid $19.95 for the course, and as soon as the course was completed and he had passed the on-line test, a 10% discount was applied to our car insurance policy. His course certificate is good for 3 years; after 3 years have passed, if we want to continue receiving the discount, he will have to retake the course. I should also add that my husband felt he got some very useful information from the course, so though the main goal was to save money it also hopefully helped make him a safer driver.

If you want to find out if you are eligible to receive a discount on your car insurance for taking a defensive driving course, my recommendation is that you contact your insurance company and ask them ... Ask them if they offer the discount for folks of your age in your state, and ask them if they offer the course themselves, and if so how much they charge. When you have completed the course, follow up with your insurance company and make sure they have applied the discount. When each insurance bill comes in, check it to make sure you are getting the discount each and every time.

If you are a Geico customer, check out Geico's state-by-state information at the following web site:

https://www.geico.com/information/states/

Click on your state's name. About 2/3 way down the page, you will hopefully see something that says "Save a little green," with a link to information for "authorized defensive driver program in ---(your state)---"

Even if you are not a Geico customer, if you check this link, you may at least be able to get some information about whether the discount is offered in your state and if there are any age restrications.

If you end up saving some money as a result of this information (and I hope you do), please come back and share your story! Drive safely.






Ramblings from my Consumer Side

June 4th, 2008 at 03:57 pm

1. Fresh Produce: After cutting back some on fresh produce over the winter (and substituting with frozen stuff ... generally speaking much better nutritionally than canned), I really started missing it, and am so glad that it is now "in season" time and I can finally start finding deals on fresh again. I feel like DH & I are on a fresh fruit & veggie binge! On Saturday I went to a local farmer's market where I got a squash (a local variety whose name I forgot ... something like tatate), corn (is there anything better than fresh-picked), onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers (another local variety, name forgotten), and a huge grocery bag full of leaf lettuce. I spent $11, and felt it was worth every penny! Not only am I enjoying the flavors and nourishment, but becoming familiar with the local products is a way to learn about a place, so the farmer's market trip was part of my immersion in to life in my new state & town. (On a side note, whenever I travel I love to visit grocery stores. I always get a kick out of learning how people in different regions and countries eat at home. To me it's as fascinating as visiting a museum. And hey - it's free, so I guess that qualifies it as a frugal bit of sightseeing, doesn't it?)

I've also found moderately good deals on fresh fruits other than the old standbys of apples & bananas: $2 for a pint of blueberries, $2 for a container of raspberries (6 oz), and $1 for a whole pineapple (sale + coupon combination). I've been told I must buy Fredericksburg (TX) peaches as the season here comes early, but I've yet to do that ... I was disappointed when the farmer's market did not have any.

2. Grocery Shopping At Randall's: Here in Austin, the biggest grocery store chain is HEB. There is also Randall's, which is a bit more expensive but has very nice meats & produce and I've been told has the reputation for being a tad more "upscale." (We also have Whole Foods, which is headquartered here and is appropriately also know as Whole Paycheck ... for obviou$ reason$, I do not shop there.) I think Randall's is in some way a part of the Safeway family because they have the same private labels (such as Lucerne). Since it's a bit out of the way and more expensive, I had not shopped there. However, as new residents we received two coupons in the mail for $10 off if we spent $50 or more (pre-discount). So, off I went twice recently with my list & the store circular & coupons & a notebook where I kept a tally of all of my purchases as I shopped, because I did not want to go over $40 ($50 - $10). I succeeded; spent $41 both times. Both times, I got funny looks from the store managers, but both cashiers gave me "Atta Girl" type comments. The receipts said that I saved 51% and 53% respectively, but I thought that was a crock since the prices were a bit higher than the stores I would normally shop at (HEB, SuperTarget, and Costco), and since I always shop sales and use coupons. I felt like I truly saved 17-18% over what I would have spent elsewhere, and so it was worth the trip! Does anyone else think that some stores inflate their pricess so that they can trick consumers into thinking they are saving a ton of money when they look at a receipt that says "You saved 53%!"?

3. Bye-bye Sub-$100 Power Bills ... Hope to See You Again: Just got our power bill for May ... $98. Since we are in AC season (Texas has been in an early heat wave for the past couple weeks where every day is mid to high 90's), I know we can kiss power bills of less than $100 bye-bye until fall. We definitely used the AC during May, but will certainly be using it more in the months ahead. We really try to walk the line between comfort and frugality when it comes to the AC. We keep it at 80F during the day and move it up to 85F at night (because for some reason our bedroom stays a couple degrees cooler than the rest of the apartment). That may seem a tad warm to some of you, but we have ceiling fans that help and we're willing to live with feeling a bit warm and are just grateful to have AC at all. I am hoping to keep our power bill under $125 for June, and under $150 for July & August, but since this is our first year in Texas I really have no idea what the final numbers will be.