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Container Gardening Successes and Failures

August 25th, 2016 at 08:02 pm

It's no secret that I am NOT a gardening whiz.
It's also no secret that I believe in focusing on both the big AND small things when it comes to my personal finances. Here's an update on a small thing - my attempts at container gardening.

The soil in my yard will NOT grow veggies. To amend the soil or build raised garden beds is, for me with my brown thumb and gardening laziness, an absurd thought.

In the spring I planted 4 items in containers. 2 were dismal failures. The containers were not nearly big enough to grow daikon (what was I thinking?) and the cherry tomato plants yielded only a handful of fruit.
But, the sweet basil starter plants have been a success (still yielding). My biggest success by far was green onions grown from seed. DH & I have been enjoying piles of fresh green onions, and I only planted half of the packet. Since we live in a hot climate (Texas), I will plant the second half of the packet in a week or two for fall / early winter harvesting.

Next spring I'll plant green onions again (they are so expensive at the grocery store and have proven so easy to grow - definitely worth it), and will try basil from seed instead of from starter plants so that I can (hopefully) get a lot more. I'll probably experiment and try one other item as well.I'm going to look through my "Healthy Mind Cookbook" to come up with some ideas. I want it to be something easy to grow in containers, expensive to buy in stores, and beneficial. Something that I can get 2 plantings out of would be nice too. Hey! Maybe I'll even try something new this fall. Why not?

I'm open to suggestions if anyone reading this has any.

45-cent-plus Breakfast of Champions

January 3rd, 2016 at 04:19 pm

This morning I made myself an open face sandwich: 1 slice of whole wheat bread + organic cheddar cheese + 1 sliced small avocado. 12-cents for the bread (regular price, store brand) + 0-cents for the cheese (had a cash register coupon for free cheese) + 33-cents for the avocado (they were on ad at 3/$1).

I had coffee with milk as well but am not able to calculate the cost of that very easily. I'm definitely under $1 even with the electricity & water costs for prep and cleanup.

Now that I am fueled up, I am going to start on my year-end and year-to-year review. I'm just getting around to it today because on the 1st we hit the Dillard's New Year's Day sale followed by 2 parties (with potluck prep for 1 of those parties), and yesterday I was job hunting and emotionally needed to just chill in the evening.

I'll check in later when the numbers have all been checked and run.

Gourmet Dinner Today

August 18th, 2015 at 10:44 pm

I splurged at the grocery store yesterday and purchased 2 prepared hatch chile salmon patties from the seafood case ($5 for 2). We will have those for dinner tonight with homemade cream of vegetable soup which contains five different vegetables including leeks, also a splurge at $2.97 a bunch!

The soup will last for several days, and is supposed to be good cold.

DIY Landscaping

March 14th, 2015 at 09:43 pm

Instead of hiring someone to re-landscape our yard, we are taking the DIY approach. This weekend we are cleaning out the backyard bed, pushing it out a bit (to reduce the amount of grass, something I really want to do to reduce our water consumption), and creating a border using free bricks left over from our home's construction. Next we'll put in a few low plants (or annuals or perennials, we haven't decided yet but there will definitely be some milkweed for the monarch butterflies) in the pushed out area and spread mulch.

Grapefruit Season

March 3rd, 2015 at 01:44 am

DH bought a 15-lb bag of Texas red grapefruit for $3.98 today. I love grapefruit season in Texas!

What are the current seasonal deals in your neck of the woods?

Happy Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2014 at 02:21 am

Garlic bulbs have been roasted.
Cornbread has been baked.
Rice is cooking.

Tomorrow I'll prepare quick buttermilk whole wheat bread, Low Country Stuffing, and succotash and then we'll head over to the neighbors for dinner. I'm going to teach their son how to make homemade butter (shake whipping cream in a jar), and will take their sweet dog for a walk after dinner.

I have a big service project I'm working on that I hope to wrap up by the end of the day on Saturday. (I'll spend most of the day Friday & Saturday working on that, in addition to a couple hours tonight and tomorrow.)

I'll get up early on Friday to get the Target Black Friday gift cards, but that is the only shopping I plan to do.

Life is good.
Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Millionaire Teacher by Andrew Hallam (Book Review)

August 9th, 2014 at 08:32 pm

"Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School" by Andrew Hallam (2011)

This is an EXCELLENT beginner personal finance and investing book, written by a private school teacher who built a million dollar investment portfolio on a teacher's salary. His advice is down to earth and sensible (spend less than you earn, start investing early, invest in low-fee index funds, resist the sales pitches from financial planner salespeople, etc.) What I especially liked was the way concepts were explained intelligently, clearly (in plain English), and with humor. He uses an analogy that compares the stock market to a dog on a leash that helped me understand stocks even more clearly than before. Of special note for our non-American friends is a chapter devoted to investing if you live in Canada, Singapore, or Australia. This is my new favorite basic PF book. I wish my niece were old enough to read it, but at 13 she's probably still a little young. Big Grin

To give you some idea of just how credible this book is:
- The blurbs on the book jacket recommending the book include those written by Burton Malkiel, Scott Burns, William Bernstein, etc.
- The authors he quotes in his book include Thomas Stanley, John Bogle, Larry Swedroe, Burton Malkiel, Daniel Solin, etc.
He's in pretty good company.

This book is worth a read (check your local library, which is where I got the copy I read over 2 days) and would make an excellent gift for a college student or grad.

Scheduled a Weekend "Salon" Appointment

March 22nd, 2014 at 12:35 pm

Me: "Will you trim my hair this weekend?"
DH: "Sure!"

"Salon" appointment has been scheduled!

And this morning we went to the "gym" (dropped him off at the driving range and I took a 50-min walk along along a lovely tree-lined street while he hit golf balls) and then went to a couple "entertainment megaplexes" (the public library where we read the paper and I got some DVDs, and then to a meet & greet to visit some adoptable dogs).

Such a lovely, low-key yet fun & frugal start to the weekend. Perfect after a rather hectic week at work (busy season has begun).

I have never been able to understand when people say that they want to save but not at the expense of enjoying life now. I say it's possible to do both!

27 Day Food Budget

January 19th, 2014 at 07:08 pm

DH is away on a 27 day trip. I'm budgeting $5 per day for food & beverage for those days for myself, plus an extra $40 for 4 days when my brother will be here. Total = $175. What will make this somewhat challenging is that I know there will be some eating out when my brother is here, plus I want to have $45-50 left over on the last day for a big "re-stock" shopping trip since my plan is to eat down much of the inventory in the pantry & freezer, to ensure that nothing goes to waste, and I'll want to replenish so DH doesn't come home to bare cupboards. My plan is to buy only perishables until that last day.

Today is Day 2. Yesterday I spent nothing. Today I spent $8 at the Farmer's Market (for those of you who like to know about food prices that was for a 3-1/4 lb bag of organic mixed root vegetables and a 3/4 lb bunch of rainbow chard).

Free Coloring Pages

September 5th, 2009 at 05:31 pm

For all the parents, homeschoolers, teachers, and adults who like to color, this is a pretty cool site:

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(I discovered it when putting together "informational packets" for our 7 relatives who will be visiting from overseas. I wanted simple & clear maps of the USA & Texas, so they could get a sense of where Austin is. The maps on this site fit the bill exactly.)

My Workouts are "On The House"

August 30th, 2009 at 10:19 pm

My "workouts" this weekend included...

1. Watering my little veggie garden
2. Giving my dog a bath
3. Walks with above-mentioned clean dog
4. A bit of routine housework and laundry
5. Cleaning out all the window tracks (The grimy parts that are under the bottoms of the windows ... they are partially exposed to the outside & get filthy ... you have to lift the windows to clean them. I don't know if "tracks" is the proper name or not.) Gosh - we have a LOT of windows!
6. Sanding & painting 2 old dressers (this included carrying them out to the garage, and moving a bunch of bricks around that I used to anchor the newspaper I used to protect the garage floor. That was followed by over 3 hours hours of bending & squatting & scrubbing & rollering & brushing. Carrying them back in to the house, re-stacking the bricks, and cleaning up will be my "workout" in a couple days (I will let them dry much longer than necessary before I dare to put them back on the carpet.)

Who needs the gym when you have a house, a yard, and a dog?

When I was in my 20's, I would have done the above and then gone out dancing! But now ... well, I'll admit I'm tired & sore (it was re-furbing the dressers that did it) and I think I'll just crash on the couch this evening with a movie (I have "Wall-E" from Netflix). Smile

All Veggies & Herbs Planted Just in Time for Stage 2 Watering Restrictions

August 23rd, 2009 at 05:32 pm

All my containers are planted.

Previously Planted:
Green Onions
Romaine Mix

Planted Today:
- Basil
- Chives
- Okra (Clemson Spineless, the type used in gumbo, not a vine ... thanks for the clarification Joan.of.the.Arch ... In my mind I was thinking "vine" because I need to figure out if they are going to need supports of some type)
- Rainbow Chard (wanted to do tomatoes but as I learned and others here pointed out they don't go in fall gardens even here in hot Texas ... Also I'm curious to see how it grows here vs in the Pacific NW, and if it's as easy to grow as it was when I was in WA I'll be guaranteed success with at least one item.)

If the okra grows well, we'll probably have way more of that than we can consume, but I know it will freeze VERY nicely. The Basil, if it's prolific, I can make pesto & freeze. The other items I limited to quantities that I think we can consume as we go.

I used only about 1/3 of each seed packet. I'm thinking I can do a 2nd planting very early spring (Feb or so), and a 3rd next fall. All packets are stamped sell by 11/10. The basil says "annual" so I'll either add another container or give the rest away ... I'll see how much my one little container produces.

We're in to Stage 2 (out of 3) watering restrictions effective tomorrow due to the drought here. We can use our sprinklers only once per week. Since our landscaping is new, we will need to hand water the bushes once a week and the trees once or twice a week so they don't die, and we'll need to make sure all the vegetation around the foundation also gets hand-watered once a week to prevent foundation cracks. That's the most important thing! We can replace a dead plant, but we can't grow a new foundation! (Hand-watering is allowed as long as it's done by 10am.) The grass? It's gonna go brown, but it should come back.

Kitchen Garden Part 2: Grounded In Reality

August 20th, 2009 at 06:31 pm

A couple weeks ago I did an entry called "Kitchen Garden Dreaming":

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Welcome to the new Kitchen Garden Part 2: Grounded In Reality.

Dreaming is great. That's the phase of any plan when you can let your imagine run wild and ... really THINK BIG. But sooner or later (hopefully) reality sinks in and you make decisions that are, tho inspired by the dream, based on what is practical. (For example, when I was furniture shopping, I did allow myself flights of fancy, looking at $4K dining room sets and ostrich leather Williams-Sonoma beds ... yes, really Smile ... It helped me crystalize in my mind what I wanted ... but eventually I came down to earth and bought pieces that would allow me to furnish an entire house attractively for less than what one of the dreamy pieces of furniture would have cost.)

So, in order to avoid having to get permission from the HOA (which would slow down the process and probably mean not being able to start a garden this fall), to GREATLY reduce startup costs, to eliminate worry about how our automatic sprinkler system would fit with a veggie garden, and to take in to account that fact that I am still a newbie gardener and don't know how successful I am going to be, I have decided to go for a modified container garden.

Yesterday I got a large & attractive container on clearance at Lowe's. This morning I planted green onions & a romaine mix in it. I also plan to repurpose 3 plastic black industrial-looking trash cans by having DH drill holes in the bottom and bury them half-way underground (camoflauged from the street by some taller bushes) and I will plant 2 tomatoe & 1 okra vine in those. In addition to keeping weeds at bay, I'm hoping the containers will be tall enough to keep the rabbits out of them and (with sufficient supervision from us) keep the dog from doing his business on the plants we plan to eat from! If for some reason the HOA objects (which I don't think they will because I am really trying to make things attractive/hidden/blended with the rest of the landscaping) I can easily move the containers. And if I fail miserably, I will not have invested a lot of money in this project. (I'll give you a total once the tomatoe & okra plants are in the ground.) Also, the "pretty" container I bought can easily be repurposed for flowers.

Somewhere on-line I read about an article in a Japanese magazine that taught how to start growing Daikon in bags, and I've asked DH to ask one of his friends in Japan who is an avid gardener if he can tell us how to do that.

I'll probably add a couple little containers of fresh herbs on the front steps ... not only consumable, but will provide a nice fragrance when people come to the door.

If I succeed with my modified and greatly scaled-back plan, I'll probably add a few more containers and scatter them in with the rest of the landscaping. And if I prove to have a green thumb and decide it's worth the cost and effort ... who knows ... the full-blown kitchen garden dream may still some day become reality.

Kitchen Garden Dreaming

August 3rd, 2009 at 03:39 am

In 2007 I tried my hand at a bit of vegetable gardening for the first time for the SA $20 Challenge. I was in a rental house, so I could only do "container" gardening (the containers were anything free I could scrounge up like plastic buckets from Freecycle and no-longer-in-use recycling bins).

Now that I'm in a house I own, I think I may plant an honest-to-goodness kitchen garden. I knew that here in Texas you can plant both fall gardens and spring gardens. The idea of a fall garden is more appealing than a spring garden, both because of the temperature in the fall and because my work schedule is lighter. I thought I had plenty of time still to plan a "fall garden" but today when I was researching on the net (Texas A&M web site has a wealth of info and Gardener's Supply has some pretty nifty stuff too including an interactive plan-your-own garden tool) I learned that fall garden veggies are planted as early as 16 weeks before the first expected frost which is Dec. 1. That means if I'm going to plant a fall garden I need to get cracking!

Here's my to-do list:
- Check HOA rules. See if I have to submit a plan for approval, and if so does that mean I won't be in time to plant a fall garden?
- Figure out where to put the garden.
- Figure out if we'll need to do anything special with the sprinkler system, such as shutting off one or more of the sprinkler heads? (A sprinkler system was not something I had to deal with in 2007.)
- Decide what to plant (I know I want to plant green onions, daikon, okra, tomatoes, and lettuce. Beyond that I have lots of ideas but am not sure.
- Plan the garden, and make a list of necessary supplies.
- Get supplies.
- Get starter plants and/or seeds. I think I'll use starter plants this time as much as I can, since I'd like to have more variety and less of each item than I had in 2007 when everything was started from seed.
- Plant the garden, tend it, and hopefully harvest the fruits of my labor.

For anyone interested, here's a link to the Gardener's Supply site:

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fern (Wild Blue Yonder) - Broccoli Sprouts?

December 28th, 2008 at 03:20 pm

I saw on baselle's blog that you grow your own Broccoli Sprouts. Any chance you'd be willing to share how you do that? My husband LOVES them, but they are far too expensive to buy at the store, and when I have researched how to grow them on-line, I've gotten scared off because of safety concerns.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 28th, 2008 at 03:52 am

DH asked if I would cook our turkey yesterday (Wed), and at first I resisted because it would go against tradition, but DH reminded me that we were not having company over, that it is just the 2 of us, and we can do as we please, so I decided "why not?" I also went ahead and made instant pumpkin pudding ... slaved for a whole 3 minutes making that! I'm glad I went ahead and cooked yesterday, because it freed up my time today.

We had turkey yesterday, leftovers today, and will have more leftovers tomorrow. Then, I will pick the bones and freeze the remaining meat for sandwiches and soup.

We had talked about going to a movie today, and I was interested in "Australia," but when the reviews came out they were pretty tepid and I did not want to spend $14 for 2 matinee tickets to a movie that is only so-so, so we decided to skip the movie.

We came up with a much better idea. The weather was lovely and I knew traffic to downtown would be light, so we decided to go take a long walk with our dog at the Town Lake Hike & Bike Trail in downtown Austin. It was one of the things on my "To Do Before We Leave Austin" list.

For anyone interested, here is a link to a map of the trail:

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"Town Lake" is not actually a lake but part of the Colorado River which runs through downtown Austin. Lady Bird Johnson worked to have the trail developed as part of her national beautification efforts. It winds through over 300 acres of parks that run along the river.

The trail is a bit over 10 miles, but we of course did not attempt to do the entire trail. We walked for 1-1/2 hours and probably covered over 3.5 miles. It was beautiful; it was sunny and the leaves are still on the trees, tho many fell as we walked. We all got good and tuckered out, especially our 4-legged little man. There were many other dogs for him to check out, lots of things to sniff, and squirrels to chase. He even got scared off by an irate goose when he got a bit too close!

We noticed several families BBQing and having Thanksgiving picnics in the parks. Only in Texas, eh?

Our only cost was the gas to drive us there and home again. I just love exploring places I have not been to before, especially if I can learn something new or get out and exercise in nature. It's the best of frugal fun!

After we got home and ate our turkey leftovers, DH had a bit of work to do and he recruited me to help him out a bit. The thing about being self-employed is that when there is work, you do it, no matter what day it is. It does not mean that you do not get time off ... my DH has plenty of free time to go to the driving range and hit balls, for example ... but he works at least a little bit every single day, 365 days a year. And I help him out whenever he wants my help. We are truly thankful for the work; it pays for the turkey and the gas to Town Lake and all the other necessary and good things in our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Touched The Moon

November 16th, 2008 at 04:11 pm

We went to NASA / Johnson Space Center yesterday. It was G-R-E-A-T! We went on/to:

- Tram Tour (which included stops at Mission Control, the Astronaut Training Facility, and Rocket Park)

- Blast Off (where we got a live briefing of current spaceflight activity, especially interesting since Space Shuttle Endeavour had lifted off on its way to the Space Station just one day prior --- this included an outline of NASA's future goals)

- Living In Space (where they had mock-ups of the parts of the shuttles' interiors and explained and demonstrated how astronauts carried out their daily lives in space including activities such as eating and sleeping, and the always asked question "how do they go to the bathroom?")

- Starship Gallery & Artifact Museum (where we saw a nicely done film about the history of and reasons for space travel, then went to the museum which was just amazing) --- That is where I "touched the moon." Those of you who have been there know that there is a little piece of moon rock that they let visitors touch.

DH also tried out some of the flight simulators.

We wanted to make it a day trip to avoid having to pay for a hotel, so we followed the recommended list of "Must See" Attractions" for a shorter visit. There were other things to do and see, including several opportunities to drop some extra money on amusement park type rides. But we stuck to the things that were included with our admissionn fee, were more educational in nature, and were highest up on the "must see" list. As it was, with driving back and forth from the Austin area, it was a rather long (13-plus-hour) day. While I could have gladly spent another 1-2 hours there, going to other movies & visiting other exhibits, I still felt like we got the full experience.

For anyone who has the opportunity to visit Texas (or anyone who lives here and has not yet been), it's definitely worth the trip! For you parents, they have many activities for children (many included with the admission cost), and the kids we saw all seemed to be having an absolute blast.

We spent $5 on parking, $18.90 for 2 admission tickets (I bought tickets in advance on-line when they were having a 1/2-price sale), $15 for lunch, and I spent $3.49 at the gift store (2 postcards to send to family and 2 rubber wristbands that say "Failure Is Not An Option" for DH & I). Transportation back & forth was our biggest expense, but quite a bit less now than it would have been several months ago thanks to the lower gasoline prices.

The last couple weeks have been quite busy with work, my playing social secretary some evenings to some customers of DH's who visited from overseas, and our pup having to go to the vet to get something checked out and then needing a bit of extra attention & meds (he probably has developed allergies because of our move here --- hopefully they'll go away when we move to Cali). I have a draft blog entry going on quite a few things which includes mostly a bunch of boring numbers, but I just hadn't had the time or energy to finish it up. (Blogging about touching the moon is much more interesting.) But I will get to that next week!

NASA has the goal of landing a man (or woman) on Mars right around the time DH & I hit standard retirement age. If they can achieve that goal, then surely DH & I can achieve our goal of a secure retirement, right? As they say in Mission Control: FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION!

Pet Food - $1.21 After Rebate

October 27th, 2008 at 04:33 am

Today I got a 5-lb bag of Nutro Max dog food. They were offering a rebate for the full purchase price; however, as usual with rebates, I had to pay sales tax, and I had to pay postage to mail off my rebate.

So, that bag of dog food wasn't free ... it actually cost me $1.21 (plus a couple cents for the envelope) ... no cost for gas to the store, because I walked over to PetSmart after DH & I were done looking at digital cameras at another store. Even tho' it wasn't free, for $1.23 (or so), I think it was a good deal, especially considering the look on my dog's face when I brought it home!

Frugal Weekend Plans

October 11th, 2008 at 12:56 pm

1. Doggy play date at the park (fun for the humans as well as the dogs)!

2. Free breakfast and coffee at Ikea. Available at most locations this weekend (Sat, Sun, and Mon) until 10:30am.

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While there, get some doggy clean-up bags. I reuse my newspaper bags, but it's never enough. Ikea's price is 3-cents per bag ($1.49 for a roll of 50), which is the best I've found anywhere.

3. Watch a Netflix movie on-line. That's a feature they added awhile ago, and I haven't done it yet, but should in order to take full advantage of my membership since there's no extra charge.

4. Renew my library books on-line (gotta avoid those fines). Read same books.

5. Introduce DH (who has been out of town again, coming back today) to the new chart on the refrigerator for tracking Food & Drink expenses (both consumed at home & eating out) ... I added a cute (free) clip art picture to it, hoping that would be the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.

Will he get on board with the idea of squirrelling away $25 a month for 3 months from the alloted amount so that I can fulfill my wish of having a very expensive Sunday brunch ($29.95 per person plus tax & tip) at Fonda San Miguel before we leave Austin?

6. Wash my down comforter. I love having a front-loader machine. Used to take my comforter to the cleaners, but now I can do it myself. (Note to newbies to the world of frugality: A diehard frugalite would rather wash a comforter in the tub than take it to the cleaners. I'm more a "moderate frugalite".)

7. Make Soap Balls using the little slivers I save from the ends of soap bars. (I've been doing this since I married DH. I'm the type of person who will use a bar of soap to the very end, perhaps squishing the last little bit on to the new bar. But DH doesn't like that, so I go ahead and replace a bar when it gets low, but I save the slivers and make balls.) I may not have balls when it comes to investing, but I do when it comes to keeping clean!

Hope eveyone has a great weekend.

What John Bogle Has to Say

October 8th, 2008 at 01:16 pm

John Bogle (founder and former CEO of Vanguard) appeared on CNBC's Squawk Box this morning. The moderator described him as a "patient, long-term investor" which makes him my kind of guy and I'll admit to being a bit of a "Boglehead" (fan). Based on my notes (of which I do not guarantee the accuracy), this is a summary of what he had to say.

On the Economy: He said that he really does not know what will happen with the economy in general. (He mentioned that it is crucial the "toxic" assets get written off of banks books but said something like he does not know the best way to make that happen.)

On the Stock Market: He said that this is the most speculative market in the history of finance. He said that the speculators are betting that other speculators will bet the market is going to get worse, and that is driving the market down. He said that if the speculators want out of the market: "Let 'em out." Smile He said that the fundamentals of the market, what he referred to as "boring stuff" that the speculators don't care about, dividend yields & book value, are sound, and they are what will eventually turn the market around. And when will that happen? Again, Bogle said he does not know for sure (and no one does), but that he thinks it is probable that we are about 1/2-way through the current market decline.

On Individual Investors Who Are 5 or so Years Away From Retirement / Asset Allocation: He says that if there are individual investors who cannot afford to lose even one penny of their investments, then yes, they should get out of the market ... But he also mentioned that they never should have been in that position to begin with. He said that people should have had a percentage of their portfolio in bonds that is the rougly same as their age. (In other words, a 75-year-old would be holding about 75% of their portfolio bonds). He said that people who had set up their portfolios prior to this market downturn in a way that is consistent with what he recommends "are hardly being impacted" (they have lost a few percetage points but it is tolerable for them).

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

September 5th, 2008 at 12:08 am

As mentioned previously, one of the things I really wanted to do while I was visiting my mom was fill in her "Letter of Instructions." Mom has the "proscratination paired with perfectionism problem" that I sometimes struggle with, and had been promising for several years to fill out a "Letter of Instructions" for me but just had not "gotten around to it."

Over the course of my 15-day visit, we had several sessions where we sat down in her office and worked on the LofI in 2 or 3 hour stretches. She talked and occasionally retrieved information while I wrote.

A couple times we came to sections of the LofI where Mom would say something like "You know ... I'd really like to sit down and write you a much more detailed letter about this." I just replied "That would be great, and I would love to have it. But in the meantime, let's just fill this out, and it will do for the time being. It will be better than nothing." To tell you the truth, I doubt very much that I will ever receive those detailed letters.

One critical piece of information was missing, but I received in from her by Email this morning, so the LofI is done!

I am very relieved. I feel much, much better prepared to handle her estate effectively when that time comes.

My trip was also helpful for me in that I was able to come to peace with the fact that my Mom is not going to do anything to reduce the amount of STUFF that she has (way too much stuff by almost anyone's standards). My sisters and I have all tried to encourage her to sell, donate, or get rid of things, but it has not worked. We've also tried very hard to encourage her to stop buying so much stuff, because frankly she can't afford it as far as any of us are concerned (except for Mom herself). But it hasn't worked, and I don't think her habits are ever going to change, so no use beating our heads against a wall. At least we know we tried. Someday I am going to have to deal with the mountain that is my mother's stuff, and there is nothing I can do about it but deal with it when that time comes. C'est la vie. (Or, for the benefit of Paulette Goddard and her studies, "shoga nai" as the Japanese would say, which literally translates to "It can't be helped.")

Finally, I was able to help my brother's finances out a bit. He has been buying trail mix to snack on at work (at $2.55 per bag), and has been buying Vitamin Water to drink when he works in the yard (at $1 per bottle). I took him to Costco where he bought a 4-lb bag of trail mix for $10 that I broke down in to 20 little baggies (or 50-cents per bag), and a case of 24 bottles of Costco's Vita-Rain water for $12 (again, 50-cents per bottle). That saved him $53 bucks.

I also looked over his employer-sponsored retirement plan and made some suggestions to Mom on possible changes ... He was very aggressively invested, and Mom had no idea (never looked at the statements ... just filed them away). Mom told me she has already called and changed his investments to a more conservative mix.

Lest you think all I did was fret over financial matters, we also had lots of fun: played w/ my niece & nephew the 2 days they were there, took daily walks, went shopping at the farmer's market for great fresh produce, played board games, watched movies on TV, went out to eat a couple times (including a very nice dinner at PF Chang's which was a birthday gift to Mom from me) and visited a museum.

My Own Personal Christmas In July

July 16th, 2008 at 09:20 pm

DH has been gone on a month-long business trip. He gets back tonight! Yea! I'm so excited that I woke up this morning before the alarm went off ... Just like a little kid on Christmas morning! There are some feelings that no amount of money can buy, and this is one of them.

Other good news:
- The post-spa-treatment breakout has cleared up ... just in time (barely)
- I went the entire month without eating takeout one time ... pat,pat,pat on the back for me
- I've selected a charitable organization in the area to volunteer with. (This is something that really helps me feel connected to a community, and I've been looking for a good one here in Austin.) I'm attending my 2nd meeting at the end of this week
- I tried Jeffrey's nifty "towel in the dryer" tip and it worked very well ... I will be doing that from now on to cut my electricity usage (thanks, baselle, for the confirmation that it worked)

Issues I'll be dealing with (together with DH) in the coming days are:
- We are going to see the pre-foreclosure house together ... I'm a tad nervous that DH is going to love it a bit too much ... I think it's probably just too much (size & cost).
- We are going to test drive a Smart Car and if we like it, will decide if we want to go on the wait list for one (we are getting by finewith one car right now, but know we will want a 2nd car eventually ... I've read about the Smart Car and think it would make a perfect 2nd car ... Since the current wait for a Smart Car is 12-15 months, that would force us to stretch the one-car-only business out a bit longer but would allow us to know that it is not a forever thing.)
- We have accounts at both Wachovia & WaMu. Both are on the short list of banks that are potentially the next to fail. We need to talk it over and decide if we are comfortable keeping those accounts or if we want to close one of them. (I don't see any need to close both.)
- Now that DH's busy season is wrapping up, it's time to decide if we want to purchase shares of Vanguard's Tax-Exempt Money Market Fund. I've been researching CD rates as well, as that is our alternative.
- DH's business account is not FDIC insured. I've been nagging him for months (maybe over a year in fact) to change it to a FDIC insured one. He didn't think it was a big deal, but the Indymac Bankclosure was the wake up call he needed to make him realize how important this is, so getting him set up with a different business account is now priority number one.

Hope all is well with all of you.

Harris Interactive Points can now be redeemed for $5 Paypal payment

July 2nd, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Harris Interactive is a research company that conducts surveys on a variety of topics, not only consumer products but also "issues" such as health care, finances, politics, etc.

I've been doing HI surveys for several years. When you do surveys, you earn "points" that can be redeemed for rewards. In the past, I redeemed my points for gift cards at Target or Olive Garden. (Cash previously was not an option, so I figured that gift cards were the next best thing.)

I just completed a survey and when I went to redeem some points, I was pleasantly surprised to see that 800 HI Points can now be redeemed for a $5 Paypal credit. This is a brand new option. As far as I'm concerned, that's as good as cash!

If you'd like to join the HI panel, here is the web address:

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Have You Looked Yet?

June 30th, 2008 at 11:37 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 11:12 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 11:37 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.

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:

Text is and Link is

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?

Plastic Bags: What Am I Missing?

June 20th, 2008 at 12:22 am

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).

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

June 6th, 2008 at 08:25 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:

Text is and Link is

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.

Free Skin Cancer Screenings

May 31st, 2008 at 02:23 am

Want to get a free skin cancer screening?

"Olay, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) and Marcia Cross have joined together to invite you and your girlfriends to get a free skin cancer screening"

Visit to see if there is a dermatologist in your area offering free screenings.

Although it says it is for "girlfriends," if you're a man who is intersted it certainly wouldn't hurt to ask if you are eligible.

Saving Advice Splitting into 2 Worlds?

May 29th, 2008 at 11:23 pm

As much as I love SA, I'm finding that I keep taking breaks from the forums more frequently and for longer periods of time.

It may just be my imagination, but the forums seem to be devolving in to a bunch of people fighting over who is right, and they are becoming downright uncivil.

Today was the last straw. I think for the sake of my stress levels, I should take a permanent break from the forums and just stick to the blogs (which of course I still LOVE).

This is what set me off. Someone wrote in a post "This board is retarded." Personally, I find that to be as offensive as any racial slur (and I live in multi-racial family so I've heard it all). Having a brother who is developmentally disabled no doubt makes me more sensitive to this than other people, and I have always been offended by that term even when it came from immature kids, but to hear it coming from an adult in what is supposed to be a civil discussion board ... Ugh!

It really seems like this site has split in to 2 worlds: The great folks who truly want to support each other and exchange ideas on the blogs, and the nasty bickering folks who are just trying to see who can scream louder than the others on the forums.

Am I the only one noticing this?

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