Wide Open Wallet

An honest look at family finances

Archive for November, 2008

Roundup

So did everyone have a great Thanksgiving?  How ’bout those Black Friday deals?  I got a good one, but I can’t say what it was because the recipient reads this blog.  (Hi, honey!)  But please, make me jealous leave a comment to tell me all about your great deals. or any elbow to the throat stories you have.  I hate how after it’s all over they still run the ads and you think… oh man, if only I had known about that!

I didn’t get online much so this round up is fairly short… but I’m sure you’re busy too.  So it’s just less reading for you.  :)


Master Your Card gave us 6 ways to get cheap or free gift cards.  Gotta love free money!

Pecuniarities told us two natural and economic ways to end dry winter skin.  I think I’m gonna try these.

Frugal Dad gave us 6 ways to reduce your technology costs and a lesson in what the pilgrims taught us about capitalism.

Remodeling This Life has a recipe for Apple Pie Cake.  Need I say more?

Single Guy and Money explains that credit card mail isn’t always junk.  So true!!  It only takes a moment to open your mail.  So just do it and make sure it’s actually junk mail before you throw it away.  While I was working in credit card customer service my bank had merged with another bank. Like a year later this old lady calls complaining that no one told her her old bank no longer existed.  NO ONE TOLD HER!?!  Jeeze louise lady.  If letters, news reports, tv commericals, emails, sign changes, website popups, sky writing, smoke signals, or gossip doesn’t clue you in then what the heck do you want?  I guess she needed a live person to go door to door and personally explain it to her.

Ok, now back to your leftovers!

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  • Happy Thanksgiving!

    Well, I finished my grocery shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. Which happens to be my absolute favorite dinner of the whole entire year.   Yay for Thanksgiving!  I mean, its a holiday based on food for cryin’ out loud.  No gifts, fancy decorations, or themed music.  Just food, family, and friends.  All my favorite things.  I spent about $40.  Which isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible.  I shopped the sales, used coupons, and didn’t buy premade stuff.  But I also didn’t cut back on guests or food.  We will have leftovers that legends are made of.

    When I was a kid I would spend Thanksgiving with my dad. And since I only saw him two or three times a year, it was pretty exciting. We rarely even stayed in the country. Which is strange when you think about. It is Thanksgiving after all. Why are we going to Mexico, exactly? But we did. We traveled. Always someplace luxurious and fancy. Which was fun. We would have Thanksgiving dinner prepared by French chefs. Which is odd. I remember one year we were served “vegetable pie” for dessert. It was their take on pumpkin pie. I can just picture them in the kitchen trying to figure out this strange American dessert.

    “I remember something about a pie made from some kind of vegetable.”
    “Well, which vegetable?”
    “I don’t know… just use them all.”

    Around the time that tradition ended my dad started hosting Thanksgiving at a bed and breakfast up in the mountains. So quaint and beautiful. He would host huge Thanksgivings. I would go spend the weekend up there and people would come from all over. The place would be filled with folks. The views were amazing, the air crisp and clean. It was sweaters, turkey, family and friends. It was hot chocolate and porch swings with mountain views. Pictures and smiles and squabbles over whose recipe to use. Kids running around and a dog that could play a killer game of fetch. A thanksgiving straight out of the movies.

    Then, after my daughter was born, my roommate invited me over to her parents house for Thanksgiving. For what turned out to be my most memorable Thanksgiving.  Because while I was there I met her brother,my future husband. The love of my life. The man who makes it all possible.  Not to many people can say they met their spouse on Thanksgiving day. We ate, played board games, hung out on the porch and laughed. Then we all went to his house and watched movies until it was much to late for me. We had fun. And I had no idea that we would spend the rest of our Thanksgivings together.

    What are your favorite Thanksgiving memories?  What are you thankful for this year?

    pic by: scubadive67

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  • Filed under: life
  • Several times over the last few days I’ve heard on the news how the city is getting ready to lay people off.  The reporter always notes lower sales tax revenues and property taxes are the reasons for the city wide layoffs.  On the surface that seems reasonable.

    But the whole thing rubs me the wrong way.  My first thought is “If the city can run on less, then why weren’t they doing this the whole time?“  I mean, you’ve all seen the scene on the side of the road.  Three guys standing around while one guy is working.  It shows me the government is no different than my neighbor.  Spending just because they can, no plan, no restraint, money burning a hole in their municipal pockets.  Except I get no secret pleasure when the city has to cut back, like I did when my neighbor put a for sale sign on his Hummer.

    Secondly,  wouldn’t it be nice of while the private sector was booming the government was holding back.  If the government would lay people off while jobs were plentiful and growth was abounding it wouldn’t hurt so much.  Those people could easily find jobs.  Meanwhile the government could try to mitigate the private sector’s rapid growth.  Attempt to hold that pendulum from swinging too far. They could sit back and collect their nice big tax revenues and save (ha. ha.) for times like right now.

    Then when that pendulum comes screaming back the other way and the private sector beings to struggle, the government could then inject all their savings into the economy.  They could call it a stimulus package if they wanted! They could be hiring right now, rather then laying people off.  They could be building roads, expanding programs, spending money, and creating jobs.  The government could be helping to fix the economy in a real and local way.

    Take my neighborhood for example.  My house was built in 2004.  Literally a mile away they were also building a new freeway.  Now, it should have taken 3 months to build my house.  But it took 7 because labor and materials were so hard to come by.  We had to wait for concrete for the foundation, then we had to wait for framers to be available, and on and on.  If the government had restricted their building they wouldn’t be right in there competing for these precious resources.  They could let the private sector have the workers and materials.  Imagine if they were building that freeway right now.  Think of the jobs they could be providing, of the business they would be helping.

    But instead the government is struggling right there with the rest of us.  It’s too bad.

    pic by: Rick

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    Roundup

    Hey, I’ve been really lazy and not been doing roundups the last few weeks.  The weekends are getting busier and busier and I just haven’t had the time.  So I think I might post them on Fridays for a while and see how that goes.

    So here we go….

    Living Almost Large reviewed the book “Killing Sacred Cows”.

    Master Your Card listed 12 side hustles to stay afloat.

    Pecuniarities listed some tips on staying healthy this winter.

    My Wife Quit Her Job wrote about the dangers of taking your job for granted.  Real dangers here folks.

    Finance for a Freelance Life wrote about how you minimum payment influences your debt repayment.  Pretty interesting.  Think it doesn’t apply to you since you pay more than the minimum?  Think again.

    The Tax Guy listed your rights as a taxpayer.  You can tell an auditor “No”.  How scary!

    Blunt Money says Worry about your own darn economy!

    I hope everyone has a great weekend!  See you on Monday.

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  • Frugal Tip: Buy spices in bulk

    Did you know that spices don’t spoil… ever.  They do lose their flavor over time, but that takes a really long time.  Years.  In fact, 4 years for whole spices, 2 to 3 years for ground spices, and 1 to 3 years for leafy herbs, depending on the herb.

    So buying them in bulk is totally the way to go.  And it makes a huge difference in price.  For example, at My Spicer a 4oz container of basil is $1.35 an oz but a 32 oz container is only $.82 an oz.   Or at Spice Barn a 4 oz container of cinnamon is $1.20 an oz where an 8 oz container is only $.76 an oz.  And if it doesn’t go bad, then why not buy the cheaper version?  You can get bigger than just 8 oz.  But I was trying to be reasonable.  I don’t expect anyone to really buy a 5 pound bag of Oregano.  But hey, maybe you make a lot of spaghetti.

    I like to try new recipes and sometimes I find one that calls for a spice I’ve never heard of.  I won’t be buying those in large quantity for two reasons.  One, maybe I hate it and will never use it again. (Caraway seeds anyone?)  Two, even if I do like it I probably won’t use it much.  After all, I have gone my entire life thus far and haven’t used it.  But I do plan to buy the common spices in bulk.  Cinnamon, Onion Powder, Salt, Pepper, Basil, Oregano, Parsley, Garlic Powder… you know, the ones that always seem to make their way to the front of the cabinet.

    Here are some tips to get the most out of your spices:

    • Store them in an airtight container.
    • Store them in a cool, dry, dark place.  Like, say, the cabinet.
    • Don’t sprinkle the spice directly into a steaming pan.  The steam will get into the container and age the spices quicker.  This is a new one to me.  I do that all the time!  I should say, I used to do that.
    • If the spice has smell then it’s good to go.  If you crush it in your hand and it has no smell, then toss it.  The flavor is about as potent as the smell.

    I mentioned two spice sites, I have no idea if either of those places are good places to shop.  They just came up first in a Google search.  So if anyone knows of a good place to buy spices please let everyone in on your secret.

    pic by: Frenkieb

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    It’s that time of the month again.  Time for the PF Bloggers Group Writing Project.  This month we are writing about the poorest time in our lives.

    The poorest time in my life was when my daughter, now 7, was a baby.   I went to school and worked part time at a fast food restaurant.  Her father worked at a printing press for $9.00 an hour.  And don’t forget… we had a new baby.

    So how did we survive?  First off, we lived in Section 8 housing.  For those that don’t know:  Section 8 housing is housing based on your income, and the rest of your rent is subsidized by the state.  Which is a blast, I’m tellin’ ya.  But we paid $175 a month for a two bedroom apartment, and utilities were included.  So hey, you can’t beat it.  It was worth putting up with the neighbors.  Me and my daughter both had insurance through the state, which was free.  I don’t specifically remember but I think my ex had insurance though his job.  Either that or he didn’t have insurance at all.

    Of course, we couldn’t afford daycare so we worked opposite shifts.   My ex worked 7:00 to 3:00, and I worked 6:00 to 10:00.  Which worked out nice, since we only had one car anyways. I drove him to work and picked him up.   I also took all my classes online to avoid daycare costs.  So I spent my days taking care of our daughter and doing school work.

    We didn’t have cable, or a car payment, or cell phones.  A friend of mine had a little girl about a year older than my daughter and she gave me all her outgrown clothes.  So my daughter was clothed for free until she was about 2 years old.  Which was nice.

    The key to our survival was the budget.  Knowing how much you have to spend in each category, and knowing, for fact, that if you follow the plan all your bills will be paid is a huge stress relief.  I wish I still had those budgets, I would be very interested in seeing them.  I don’t remember how much we paid for gas, car insurance, or groceries.  But I’m sure it wasn’t a lot.

    What strikes me the most when I think back on that time was that I didn’t feel poor.   I felt lucky to only work part time, and go to school.  I was so glad that my daughter didn’t have to go to daycare (not that there is anything wrong with daycare, I was just glad to be home with her).  I liked my job well enough and I knew we could pay our bills.  Sure, we didn’t have a lot extra but we had everything we needed.

    But that doesn’t mean I was happy.  I wasn’t, and it had nothing to do with money.  It had to do with love.  I was living with a man out of obligation.  Not out of love.  We fought constantly.  If I had to be poor now with my husband, a man I love immensely, I could still be happy.  Even if it meant living in the worst part of town, and driving him to and from work every day.  I could do it.  I would be happy to. (ok, maybe that last part is overstating it a bit.)

    ********************************

    About the PF Bloggers Group Writing Project

    The Personal Finance Bloggers Network currently consists of 7 active personal finance and frugal living blogs. The Group Writing Project is a monthly project wherein each blog will write a post on a pre-determined topic and publish it on the same day of each month. Be sure to visit the PF Bloggers Group Writing Project page for the others!

    Extended Group Writing Project Invitation

    If you are a blogger, we would like to invite you to write your own post on this topic and submit it for listing with our entries on our Group Writing Project pages. Please visit the following page for details on how to participate in our Extended Group Writing Project

    Pic by: dabawenya

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    I just bought some shoes

    I just bought shoes against my will.  Grrr… I knew this would happen.  This is why I don’t allow myself to shop for clothes.  Here I am giving myself permission to spend $20 a month on clothes and instead I’ve now spent $82.   It’s money I would have spent on something else, probably on the kids, so I guess it’s not a big deal, yet.  But see… this is why I stay away from clothes in the first place.  And then my wardrobe ends up looking like I shop at Goodwill, while blindfolded. (Just kidding.  It isn’t that bad.)

    It started innocently enough.  My husband was watching football and I was sitting next to him on my laptop.  I was bored and Stumbling site after site.  Then I found this site that has all the Amazon markdown stuff laid out so nicely.   Might as well see what they have for 90% off, right?  I mean, Christmas is coming.   Oddly enough I didn’t browse anything that would make good gifts.  Only stuff for myself.

    Ok, but here they are… my new shoes.  I got the “desert” colored ones.  They are half off.  In my defense they really are a good deal and I was afraid if I waited til next month my size would be sold out.  I was kinda nervous about buying shoes online.  A picture might be worth a thousand words… but it doesn’t tell you if those shoes look nice with your favorite jeans.  You know what I’m sayin’?  So I went to the store to try on similar ones, just too see if the size was right and if I really do like that style.  And guess what?  They had the exact shoe at the store.  Same color and everything.  So that was cool.  And they were $60 in person.  So I came straight home and ordered them.

    But that’s it for a while!  Nothing new until January at least.  Pinky swear.

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  • Filed under: life
  • Capitalism

    When did making money become a bad thing?  Making money is the point of business.  What’s the point of running a business if you don’t have any profits?  Sure, I see the value in non profit organizations, but that isn’t what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about the millions of businesses that provide the goods and services to us all.  We depend on these companies a great deal and we should want them to be profitable.  Being profitable means they will stick around!  We need them to stick around.  I certainly don’t want the oil companies going out of business.  Or the grocery stores, or any of the companies that make my life what it is today.

    Capitalism.org writes:

    Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.  Under capitalism the state is separated from economics (production and trade), just like the state is separated from  religion. Capitalism is the  system of of laissez faire. It is the system of political freedom.

    Sounds good to me.  I’m all for individual rights and private property.

    Walmart is often protrayed as evil.  Why?  I just don’t get it.  They are profitable, wildly profitable.   We should celebrate in thier ingenuity and efficiency.  Walmart goes to great lengths to keep costs down and therefore keep prices down.  They are now being rewarded with growth while poorly run companies are looking for bailouts.  Walmart should be rewarded with profits and growth.  They earned it.

    I know there are complaints against Walmart.  Dozens of complaints.  I can’t possibly be up on each and every one, but as the world’s largest empolyer it only stands to reason that they would also have the most employee complaints.

    People and companies shouldn’t be punished for their creativity and profits.  They should be rewarded!  They should get rich, very very rich.  Apparently people disagree with this idea, but I believe everyone benefits when it’s easy to make money.  Risk should equal reward.  Take big risks, get big rewards.  Take small risks, get small rewards.  When we take away the big rewards from those who take big risks we hurt everyone.  Those who take small risks should not get big rewards.

    But on the other hand, when the big risk takers fail, we should not mitigate their losses.  Their losses are theirs and theirs alone.  The people who took small risks should not be subject to the risk takers losses, just as they do not have claim to the risk takers gains.

    Pic by: dawvon

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  • Filed under: economics
  • I mentioned last Friday that I was taking mt pants in to get hemmed.  I don’t know why but I was very weirded out by the whole thing.  I have never had anything professionally altered before.  Even my wedding dress was altered by my mother in law.

    I found a place online that seemed ok, for as much as you can tell online. I walk in and there is a tiny lady hunched over a sewing machine and just buried in fabric.  The whole store is just one big pile of fabric, clothes, and string.  I walk up to her and tell her I need my pants hemmed.  She barely speaks English but I figure out she wants me to put them on so she can measure them.  When I immerge from the rickety cardboard dressing room she points to a plywood platform in front of a mirror.  I stand on it and she pins up the bottom of my pants with lighting speed.

    When I left I couldn’t help but feel incredibly wealthy.  Not only can I afford a brand new pair of pants, but I can also afford to have them customized.  Getting these pants hemmed only cost $12, but the fact that I can spend money on something like that made me feel so grateful.  I don’t know if this makes sense.  I’ve certainly spent more than $12 before.  It’s not the dollar amount, it’s the luxury, I guess.

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  • Filed under: life
  • Time to pick a health care plan

    It’s open enrollment again.   We were pretty sure we weren’t going to change our plan, but my husband brought home the explanation of benefits for me to take a look at.

    There are 4 different plans, and we have the cheapest one.  Right now we pay $62 a paycheck (biweekly), which I don’t think is bad at all.  $124 a month for health insurance for 4 people is pretty good.   Our coverage is basically a $20 copay and 100% coverage for all the basic everyday stuff.  Like check ups, immunizations, urgent care visits, office visits, ect.  Then 60% of everything else.  Two things really caught my eye here.  A trip to the ER has a $50 copay and then only 60% coverage.  And for maternity care they only pay 60% of the delivery.  Prenatal and postnatal care is 100% covered, but the actual pushing the baby out is only covered 60%.  Which I’m pretty sure both those things have changed for this year.  They certainly paid for my delivery and ER trip when I was pregnant.  Anyways, it has a 2 million lifetime maximum and $5,500 max out of pocket per person.  The deductible is $1,000 per person/ $3,000 for the family.

    There are 3 plans above this one, each one costing about $40 more a month than the previous one.  They are basically the same but the more you pay the higher percentage is covered.  We get 60% coverage, if we wanted to go up a step, we could get 70%.  Two steps up, would get us 80%.  Each step up also has a lower deductible and max out of pocket.

    The best plan that is offered would cost us $179 a paycheck.  We would have a $20 copay when we went to the dr, but everything that they cover is covered 100%, basically.  It has a 2 million lifetime maximum benefit, $1,500 max out of pocket per person, and no deductible.  Nice, I wish we could afford that.

    The only thing that would make me consider switching plans would be to get more coverage for prescriptions.  But all 4 options have the same coverage.  We pay $10 for a month’s supply of generic meds and 25% of brand name drugs.  Which for us we spend $30 a month on prescriptions.  So I would be willing to up our premium if we were going to save money at the pharmacy and get some additional coverage.  But since they don’t offer a better prescription plan, we won’t be switching.

    So everyone… keep your fingers crossed that no one ends up in the ER.

    I’m curious to know what everyone else is paying and the coverage you get.

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  • Filed under: insurance
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