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2008 $20 Challenge

January 2nd, 2008 at 05:44 am

I've decided to take it a bit easy on myself for my 2008 $20 challenge. I'm going to keep track of all the times I save money or earn a bit of extra money using methods that I learn about right here on Saving Advice. I will cheat a bit by including things that I learned about from all of you in the past, such as doing Pinecone surveys. Since I learn so much everyone here, I've no doubt my numbers will be big this year! They'll certainly better than 2007. Big Grin

2007 $20 Challenge Results

December 31st, 2007 at 09:35 pm

Here's my New Year's gift to all of you $20 challengers ... My results ought to make all of you feel GREAT, because there is no way anyone did worse than I did. Big Grin

My challenge was to take my first-ever stab at gardening, limiting my start up budget to $20. I measured my results by estimating the store-bought value of what I harvested.

End result? $19.06 ... 94 cents less than what I started with! Is this perhaps the first time in the history of the $20 challenge that someone ends up with less than what they start out with?

So there, do you all feel even better about your outstanding results now? Happy New Year!!! Smile

P.S. - In case you're wondering, I am REALLY glad that I did the $20 Garden Challenge in spite of the end result, because I learned so much, mainly that even a brown thumb like me can garden. And believe it or not, I do plan on trying gardening again, after we have bought our house.

DEBT: Thinking beyond the slogans

November 8th, 2007 at 05:53 pm

Warning ... This post may be viewed by some as a rant, but I don't mean it that way. It is meant to start a dialogue about thinking beyond the catchy slogans when it comes to discussions about debt.

There was a thread over on the forums recently where someone got on their high horse preaching about being debt-free.
It is easy to say "I want to be completely debt-free" but if you stop and really think about it deeply, you will realize how totally impractical that is.

Yes, it is 100% possible to pay as you go with cash for consumer purchases and avoid debt that way. Yes, it is definitely possible to save up and pay cash for major purchases such as appliances and cars. And I suppose that, yes, you could even save long and hard and pay cash for college and for your very first home (or just not buy a house and rent forever)...But really, how practical is that?

Like many of you, I prefer not to have personal debt. I am one of those who paid off my mortgage early. I don't carry a balance on my credit cards; I have no personal loans (no student loans, no car loans, nada). But I am not going to run around spewing the anti-debt slogans that I heard on some talk radio show, because I realize that debt has a place in our society, and sometimes it is very positive.

So, this is for those of you who want to preach about being anti-debt ... here is something to think about, if you are capable of opening your ears and mind wide enough: If you are really and truly going to promote a debt-free lifestyle, then shouldn't you be voting "NO" on every school, hospital, highway, and library bond that appears on your voter's ballot? Don't you realize that when you vote to approve a bond for public works, you are voting FOR DEBT?!? Shouldn't you be going to school board meeting and insisting that the children in your district attend school in run-down and outdated buildings until the district has enough cash saved up to pay for a new one? Shouldn't you be advocating that residents be allowed to die instead of upgrading hospitals with DEBT?

Sure, it would be fantastic if our local governments had enough reserves to pay cash for everything, but that is a pie-in-the-sky dream. Are you willing to make children, the ill, and yourself suffer until that fantasy day comes?

Will I break even?

September 17th, 2007 at 05:04 am

The big question for my $20 (Garden) Challenge this year seems now to be: Will I be able to break even (recoup my original $20 investment)? My grape tomatoes are still green-green-green. It is quite cool here and I have just under 2 weeks to go before my move, so I know the odds of actually harvesting a single tomato this year are slim to none. All I am harvesting now is the microgreens ... I sure am glad I made the mid-challenge decision to plant those, otherwise I'd have ended up in the red for sure!

Oh well ... I do not regret this challenge one bit. While I have MUCH to learn yet about gardening, I have made a start. This is what I have learned:

- Yes indeed, I can plant seeds and they will actually grow (my thumbs are not quite as brown as previously thought)
- Gardening can be done frugally ... no need to get sucked in by all of the gizmos and pretty decorations
- There are lots of resources out there for learning and plenty of really nice people like contrary1 and Joan.of.the.Arch who are willing to share their expertise
- Think cheap, healthy SOIL: This is the real secret. Most of my $20 challenge money went to buying potting soil (since I was limited to container gardening). I'll wait to plant my next garden until I have a house and have a composting system going.

Yessss! I can see some tomatoes!

August 28th, 2007 at 05:21 am

Today when I was watering my tomato plants I noticed these little green bumps ... Took a closer look, and yes indeed, they are itty bitty little tomatoes.

My husband has been asking me in a teasing way whether we were ever going to see any, so I called up to him and had him come outside to take a look.

Since I am growing only the little grape tomatoes this year (since they supposedly grow well in containers), they don't have to get very big before they start ripening. I think I am going to be able to harvest some tomatoes before my move after all!

Lots of Miscellaneous Stuff (Long)

August 22nd, 2007 at 11:08 pm

Haven't done a real blog entry for awhile because so much has been going on ... I've been busy and unable to organize my thoughts well ... I decided to do just one big long entry that covers a whole lot of things ... Sorry.

1. Business Closing / Moving Countdown: One-and-a-half weeks to go until I shut down my business. I've been saying many good-byes. I am glad they are spread out and not all coming at once; it's easier to take emotionally, absorbing just one or two good-byes per day. Five-and-a-half weeks until we leave for Austin. Got a free map of the USA from AAA and plotted our route on it, then hung it on the wall above my desk. It's exciting to look at it, knowing the date our new adventure begins is getting closer and closer.

2. No, I really don't have 4 weeks to prep for the move: I'll be travelling out of town for one week (going to Austin to choose an apartment, attending my alma matter's Reunion weekend, and going to my Mom's to help out with some things). I'll also have wrap-up work on my business, and my DH needs some help with his business. Also, my family is coming up for our final weekend here which of course is wonderful but takes up time. So, I estimate that gives me 2 weeks (broken up a bit here and there) to prep for the move. Should be plenty of time as long as I draw up a good plan/calendar, stick to it, and get enough help from DH. [Thank goodness I have the book "29 Days to a Smooth Move" ... It is the best resource for moves!]

3. Farewell Party: Reservation has been made; Guest list is 28; Invitations get mailed on Monday; final budget is $500. A nice restaurant near us does a very nice and reasonably-priced buffet once a month, and I chose to do our party on that day. I will pre-order some decent but moderately-priced wines and have them out on the table. Of course, people will be free to order other drinks, but knowing the wonderful group we are inviting (not a wine snob or big spender in the bunch), they will be perfectly happy with my selections. My goal is to put on an event that is both a really enjoyable event for our beloved guests and a wonderful send off for DH and I, but that doesn't break the bank. Given the plans made so far, I think all criteria will be met.

4. Ebay Sales: Still plodding along. Some things selling for more than expected, some for less, some not at all. Will be glad when it's done.

5. $20 Garden Challenge: Still enjoying plenty of fresh herbs and microgreens. It's been quite cool here, and I'm starting to wonder whether I'll actually see a tomato before the move! There have been lots of blossoms and some have dropped, but not one piece of fruit yet.

6. DC & NYC Trip: Booked my plane ticket and accomodations! I'll be travelling a total of 9 days ~ I'm so excited!!! I decided on a budget of $2,000. Yes, it's a lot of money, and yes, it will be worth every penny. I am renting a studio condo with a kitchen in downtown DC. I'll be flying from Austin to DC, and between DC and NYC I'll take the bus. [ThreeBeanSalad kindly suggested the Chinatown Bus, but I was able to find an even cheaper fare on Greyhound thanks to a fare sale, plus the scheduling with Greyhound is much better.] My younger sister & brother will be joining me in DC. They have both always wanted to go, and decided that since I was going already they may as well tag along. I'm super happy they will be coming. I'm not going to let them pitch in on the accomodations, but told them they could stay with me (my treat) in exchange for them feeding me one meal per day each. My sister will get groceries and cook dinner for me (say ... I'll have my own personal chef for a couple days ... outstanding!) and my brother will treat me to lunch while we are out sightseeing. My older sister is not going to join us because ...

7. Older Sister is Taking Baby Steps Towards Financial Security: Awhile back I wrote on the forums about how my sister's financial life was a wreck. She had to have her cat euthanized and did not have the money to pay for it. Frown
Well, since then she has made some progress but it has definitely been a "2 steps forward and 1 step back kind of thing." A big breakthrough was when she thought about joining us in DC but decided that she really should not because her priority is building up her EF. Oh yea! While it would have been great to have her with us, I really respect that she seems to be getting her priorities straight.

8. Caught Another Checkout Pricing Mistake: I know this entry so far has had a lot to do with big spending, but as I have said before I believe in focusing on the big AND small things. The other day at Office Depot when I was buying envelopes to mail the party invitations, the price rang up at $7.29 even tho' the posted price was $5.99. I had them cancel the sale and went over to customer service. They were very nice, walked over to the posted sign with me, admitted that the sign was wrong (apparently the price had increased but they hadn't changed the sign), and honored the posted sign. They also took the sign down and changed it, so I was the last person to get the envelopes at that price. [Yikes - I thought $5.99 for 50 envelopes was a huge amount of money. But I decided not to waste time & money driving to another store.] I couldn't begin to count how many times I have caught mistakes like that; I am always courteous, but never shy about letting the cashier know about the error, and I have never had a store fail to honor the posted price. Always check the prices!

9. "Subprime Mortgage Meltdown in the News": I agree with those who say, come on, what is the news?!? A few years ago when DH & I started reading about the types of mortgages people were taking out we couldn't get over how insane it was. That was years ago. Frankly, we were surprised it all didn't happen sooner; we were expecting it about a year earlier. I'm glad we sold our house when we did, and I know that this will not make me popular with people who are facing difficulties with their ARMs, but we may end up in a pretty good bargaining position when we buy our next house because we will be paying cash while other potential buyers will be facing the credit crunch. We'll either be able to get a deep discount from someone who needs to sell fast and has a shortage of potential buyers, or we may end up buying a foreclosure.
BTW, when we bought our last house we made sure that we could not only easily handle the mortgage payments, but that I could easily handle them on my own if (God forbid) something happened to my DH. My income is less than my husband's, and we thought it prudent to make sure the lesser income alone (mine) could easily support the house payments, so that I would never be in a position where I felt pressured to sell the house in a hurry. And we did refinance our mortgage once, but we refinanced for a LESSER amount and we went from a 30-yr fixed to a 15-yr fixed at a much lower rate. Never had a HELOC or a 2nd mortgage or a piggyback loan. Eventually, we paid off our mortgage early. Goodness, no one could imagine why we were being so conservative. They thought we were being downright silly. But I am here to tell you that you should never be afraid to go against the crowd, swim upstream, dance to a different drummer, etc, etc... Conventional wisdom isn't always so wise.

10. "The Jonses" Foreclosure House: I sent an Email to the bank that now owns the foreclosed house in our neighborhood letting them know we might be interested in buying it, but a real estate agent friend told me not to expect to be able to get a great deal on it, so I'm not holding my breath.

11. Feels Like Fall: I've covered a lot of ground in this post, some of it a bit heavy and/or preachy. I'll end on something light. It's been cool here, really starting to feel like fall. I have been thinking about changing my blog's color scheme to more fallish (instead of springish) colors ... But that may have to wait a bit, as I have bigger projects to tackle ...

If you actually read all of this long and rambling post, bless you!

Gardening DRIPS

July 12th, 2007 at 04:50 pm

Since my $20 garden challenge finally got back in the black, I went out and bought one final packet of seeds with my positive balance. I hope that will help boost my total for the year by a bit in addition to giving us some more yummy homegrown produce (and some sorely needed variety). It is a Salad Greens micro greens mix that is supposed to take only 2-3 weeks to harvest. I planted about 1/3 of the packet, and will do a couple more plantings over the next few weeks to space things out; I'm aiming for a final harvest approximately 1-2 weeks before my September 30th move.

What was really neat about choosing the seeds was how my attitude has changed since I started this challenge. In the past I would gaze longingly at seeds and think: "I could never grow that." When I was starting the challenge I thought: "Okay - These look pretty dummy-proof. I'll give them a try." This time around I found myself thinking: "Oooh ... That looks interesting ... I could try this ... and this ... and this ... If only I had the time and land. Maybe after I get my house in Texas ..." I feel much bolder about trying different things, because I know that even if not everything I try is a success, at least enough of the things I plant will grow to make the overall effort worthwhile (just like investing, eh?)

Back in (the) Black!

July 5th, 2007 at 04:02 pm

Thanks to a big harvesting of chard this morning, my $20 Garden Challenge is once again back in the black. I'm no longer "charging" myself interest and can start "earning" interest again.I still have to recoup my initial $20 investment, but (knock on wood) I'm quite confident I'll be able to do that.

The chard is growning like gangbusters, as are the herbs. We're eating up the chard as it matures, and we aren't sick of it yet. [I've discovered that eating the same things frequently is easier when they are better-tasting because they are freshly-picked.]

I wasn't sure if my little tomato plants were going to make it, and 2 of 10 did die, but the other 8 are now really starting to grow, probably thanks to the warm weather we've been having. They're still pretty small tho' and I've no idea how much longer until they bear fruit, so it will be interesting to see how much we can actually get harvested before we move.

My husband has started talking about wanting a BIG garden after we move to Texas, so I guess he's been enjoying the results of my little gardening effort.


June 24th, 2007 at 12:03 am

Crime: Herbicide
When: Sometime during the night
Prime Suspect: Bambi and his cohorts

Looks like the deer discovered one of my patches of Rainbow Chard. [Not hard to figure out which side of the patch they munched on, is it?] I'm glad I had gone through and harvested a bunch of it just 3 days ago.

Now that they have discovered it, no doubt they'll be back. Bon appetit, Bambi and friends!

Loving Fresh Herbs!

June 10th, 2007 at 06:00 pm

We are loving having pots of fresh herbs right outside our door. I've done 2 harvests so far. Last weekend I thinned the herbs and chopped up what I yanked out and mixed them in with scrambled Egg Beaters & goat cheese ... really delicious! Last night I snipped a big bunch that I chopped up and put on top of scalloped potatoes. Not only did it add a bit of color & flavor & nutrition, a big bonus was the wonderful aroma coming from the oven as the dish was baking.

Both times I used mixed herbs, just grabbing any old variety that looked like it was ready.

I am a newbie gardener, and I highly recommend fresh herbs to anyone who doesn't have experience gardening but is interested in trying. They are really easy to grow, grow so well in containers, and fresh herbs are SOOO expensive from the store.

I bought just one seed packet which was a mix of herbs, started them inside in egg cartons, and then transplanted them outside in larger containers when they got big enough and the weather had warmed up. I didn't buy any containers, just used what I had on hand. I even scrubbed out a no-longer-in-use trash can, had DH drill holes in the bottom, and ... voila! ... instant garden container.

If I can do it, anyone can!

$20 Garden Challenge - First Harvest

May 31st, 2007 at 04:31 pm

This morning I thinned my rainbow chard plants. These are the baby plants I uprooted so that the remaining plants have room to grow:

They represent my first-ever vegetable garden "harvest," so I am very excited! I walked back in to the house clutching these fresh, lovely, tender greens with a big smile on my face. I am beginning to understand why people get so enthusiastic about gardening.

Not sure how to assign a monetary value to these since you don't see "baby chardlings" at the supermarket. I decided on $1.50 after asking myself how much I would pay for them: Are they worth more than a buck? Yes, definitely! Would I pay $2 for them? Naw, probably not. So, $1.50 it is.

Full-grown chard has fairly tough stems, so normally I would chop them up and stir fry in a bit of olive oil with garlic. But, these guys are so nice and tender that I think I'll just steam them.

Gardening Question: Homemade Tomato Cages?

May 26th, 2007 at 11:08 pm

My grape tomato seedlings are about ready to transplant. I've been "hardening them off" ... a month ago I did not even know what that meant!

Because I have no more "$20 Challenge" funds left without "charging it" and because I'm moving in the fall and don't want any more STUFF, I'm looking for suggestions on how to make homemade, disposable tomato cages. Could I make them out of old wire hangers, or would those be too flimsy?

$20 Challenge Garden Update

April 22nd, 2007 at 05:02 pm

I transplanted the herb starts outside a few days ago ... They looked so healthy and vibrant when they were inside in the little egg cups .... But they look like scrawny little pathetic weeds in the great big planters! Smile

Some of the rainbow chard seeds that I sowed directly outside have sprouted! Yee haw!

I'm waiting for the grape tomato starts to get a bit bigger before transplanting ... On most of them I can see the 2nd pair of leaves peeking out.

Overall, I'm just amazed that things are actually growing and that I haven't killed everything off (yet).

$20 Challenge Balance: NEGATIVE $10.89!

April 14th, 2007 at 05:17 pm

How on earth does someone have a NEGATIVE balance on their $20 challenge? Read on to find out ...

For my 2007 $20 challenge, I have challenged myself to take $20 cash to start up my first-ever vegetable garden. Once I start harvesting, I will add the value of what I grow based on what it would cost if I bought it at the store.

I started herbs & grape tomato seeds inside, and planted rainbow chard seeds directly outside. [I may also plant some lettuce blend seeds ... still trying to make up my mind.] I scrounged up as many found containers as I could; since my last update I got six 5-gallon pails through Freecycle which I think will be good for the tomatoes.

I'm doing all container gardening because I'm a newbie and it forces me to keep this small-scale and because I'm in a rental house so that limits my options. [I don't think my friend / landlord would be thrilled if I tore up his yard!]

What I realized since my last update was that I did not have nearly enough
potting soil to plant all of my starts! I had bought a huge bag at Costco and thought it would be enough ... but I was wrong, wrong, wrong! Go ahead and laugh you experienced gardeners ... I do realize it was a total newbie mistake. Smile

So, I thought long and hard about what I would do. I came up with a couple options such as:
- Add more cash to my challenge money [For example, I am now doing Pinecone surveys and have made $15 already this year. I could have added that money to my challenge and used it to buy more soil.]
- Just plant as many starts as I could with the soil I had and consider those my "$20 Challenge Plants" --- Then buy some more soil out of my pocket, keep them separate, and consider them the "non-challenge plants."
- Give away the extra starts and just not bother with them at all.

I thought about this dilema for several days. I really wanted to make my decision in the spirit of my original challenge to myself which was: "How would a new vegetable gardening entrepreneur start up a little gardening 'business' with only $20 in cash?" So I decided to do what so many small-time entrepreneurs have done when they find themselves strapped for cash but still believing in themselves and their product: I decided to figuratively "whip out the credit card and charge it!" So, I bought a 2nd big bag of soil which put me over the $20 amount, and I am now charging myself interest at the rate of 8.66% until I have harvested enough veggies to get out of the red. Hence, the NEGATIVE $10.89 balance on my $20 challenge. That number is just going to get worse until I actually harvest something, and if my crops fail, I may bankrupt my challenge. [So, it really is like starting a little business!]

Now, if you're interested, here are a couple points for clarification:
1. The 8.66% rate is the average rate on my credit cards. I am not actually carrying a balance on my cards (I pay them off in full every month) so I am not actually paying any interest on that soil, but because I want to "keep it real," I decided to charge myself interest.

2. I really am a small business owner, as is my husband. I am definitely not advocating "whipping out the credit card and charging it" as a way to start up a business!!! But I do realize that is what many folks who start businesses have to do. I most strongly advise that if you really want to start up a business you do your darndest to not only come up with the start-up cash and enough to keep the business going for as long as you think it will take to see a profit, but that you also have many many months of living expenses and a generous emergency fund set aside before you actually go out on your own. [Maybe someday I'll write an entry about the years of planning, preparing, and sacrificing my husband and I did before taking the plunge and going out on our own ...]

Well ... Here's hoping for good weather until my next update!

I Can See A Sprout!!!

March 30th, 2007 at 01:34 am

For the 2007 $20 challenge, I am using $20 for my first ever attempt at vegetable gardening.

Starting in Jan, I saved egg cartons and scrounged up some containers (including a no-longer-used trash can).

I bought some seeds, seed starting mix, and potting soil.

Last weekend I started 2 types of seeds inside, planting as many as I could in the egg cartons and the rest in a container with a bit of dirt: A packet of mixed basic herbs (parsley, basil, chives, and thyme) and a packet of "jelly bean hybrid tomatoes" (the grape-size ones). This evening, I saw the first sprout poking through the dirt! I know it's a silly thing to get excited about, but it's my first sprout ever, and I'm relieved that something is actually growing!

I have some rainbow chard seeds that I will plant outside in a container this weekend. I have only $1-plus-change left and I'll either buy a plant at one of the spring plant sales, or I may buy one more packet of seeds.

I've been extremely cautious in my seed selection, only buying ones that say on the packet that they are suitable for growing in containers. I know as I get more experienced with this gardening business I'll be brave enough to experiment, but not this year ... With only $20 to get my little garden growing, I can't afford a dud!

Decision about my $20 Challenge!

January 3rd, 2007 at 12:45 am

I've decided what my $20 challenge will be. I am going grow some produce at home for the first time ever. I am ashamed to admit that I have wanted to do this and have even felt I should do this for about 17 years but just never did for a variety of reasons:
- With my former job, I was travelling for most of the growing season (this is really the only legitimate excuse and it ended with my former job 4-1/2 years ago).
- I have been just plain lazy about it, or just did not get my act together in time to get things in the ground.
- I have been scard off by stories about how people end up spending so much money on their gardens that it becomes a money pit instead of a money saver. [A neighbor of mine quipped when I commented on his wife's delicious home grown tomatoes ... They only cost $300 apiece, but for you a special deal at $250!]

This Challenge is the perfect impetus for me to not only finally do this, but to see just how cheaply it can be done by a total rookie! I won't be able to get carried away buying fancy, unnecessary things for the garden --- not if I'm going to stick to the $20 in "seed money" (pun intended).

Here is my timeline:
- Jan & Feb = Learn about container gardening, decide what I will try to grow, and start scrounging for free stuff around the house that I can use. [During this time I'll park the $20 in an MMA and let it earn a bit of interest.]
- Mar & Apr = Order seeds. Start growing seedlings inside.
- May onward = Transplant seedlings outside, tend the garden, then harvest the goodies and add up the value of what I've grown.
- October onward = We are planning to move around Oct. 1st, so hopefully everything will be harvested by then. I will probably just have to park my money in an MMA again and let it earn interest 'til the end of the year due to other priorities.

Here are my rules for myself:
- I will expense what I actually go out and buy. For example, if I have a half-used bag of soil around the house, I won't charge myself for that, but if I go out and buy a bag of soil and only use half of it I will charge myself for the entire bag.
- I will only grow things that we customarily buy now. [In other words, I won't plant things just because they are expensive at the store in order to artificially inflate my bottom line.]
- I will do my best to avoid any hidden, unknown, and unaccounted for expenses. I will do my accounting for this $20 Challenge just as strictly as I do for my business. For example, since water is probably a big cost in gardening, I will come up with a system to capture the water that comes out of my showerhead and down the drain while waiting for my shower to heat up, and use that in my garden. Or if I drive to the garden center just to buy plants, I will expense the mileage at the IRS-approved rate.

Now that I have posted this for the world to see, it means I really have to do it, doesn't it? Gulp!


January 2nd, 2007 at 12:39 am