We all know smoking is bad, but...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bad for your health, and bad for the wallet. But if you choose to smoke, there are ways to cut the impact on your finances. You can roll your own smokes.

When someone first suggested this to me, I pictured John Wayne licking some paper, sitting at a bar and sipping some whiskey. Well, welcome to the 1900's and the age of simple machines.

I live in an expensive state to smoke where packs can cost upwards of $6 a pack, and cartons are almost at $50. I smoke a little bit more than a pack a day and spent $200 a month on my smokig a month. There was a time when we lived in a very smoker friendly state cost wise, and I could get quality smokes for $12 a carton less than 5 years ago.

At one point since we moved here, I either needed to quit smoking or find a way to smoke more cheaply. Then a rash of people at work started rolling their own smokes. I was able to cut my smoking cost by over 75% by rolling my own smokes.

They sell pre-filtered tubes for $2 for a carton, and you slide these into the rolling machines. You buy a pack of loose tobacco for less the $10. This is almost enough for a carton, and the tobacco actually tastes better too. You stuff the loose tobacco into the slot, and pull the lever. Voila! A cigarette! They key is that the states usually don't sin tax the loose tobacco, just the normal packs.

You can buy hard case smoke packs. I recomment one that has a divider in the middle since there is a risk of tobacco falling out when the cigs are jostled in your pocket. The divider keps smaller amount of cigs together and keeps tobacco from falling out.

Yes, I know I can save even more money by not smoking, including on health related items. But, if your going to smoke, there are ways to cut costs.

More than words

Is there one piece of advice that would have changed how you handle your money?  For me, there wasn't.  For me, actions speak much louder than any sage piece of advice, and I think that this is true for most people.

Now don't misunderstand me, there is a lot of good advice about personal finance out there.  But if you are not open to it, I don't thinkany advice will change how you deal with money.  As I've posted before, my parents were not open about the household finances, which has led to a lot of self education.  But I had to be open to it.

I'd heard about paying yourself first, my grandfather told me that a long time ago. I'm sure he told my dad that, too. But he wasn't open to it. He filed for bankruptcy when I was a teenager. And this did not even affect me, because I lived with my mom and she was very frugal. The only problem there was that she did not yell it from the rooftops that she was frugal, I think because she had to be to survive and make ends meet, instead of to accelerate savings and retirement funds. In fact, she was gaurded when I would ask specific questions, and only wanted to speak in general terms, and even then, not very often.

But the gaurded way that my parents dealt and still deal with money very much shaped how I dealt with money. I use this website to get over that, and to hold myself more accountable for my spending habits, so that I don't also have to file for bankruptcy.

But I don't think any advice I ever heard ever really sunk in until I was open to it.

What I learned from a power outage

Thursday, June 19, 2008

We recently had  sever power outage in our area.  In trying to turn a negative into a positive, I have tried to figure out what good came out of it.

We were out of power for 4 days.  The first evening was not that bad as the outside temperature was in the 70's.  I went out to Target and bought a battery operated fan to match our battery operated camping lantern.  We read books and hung out in the backyard.  It was rather nice.  The second day was much different.  The temperature rose into the high 80's and low 90's.  The battery operated fan was not cutting it.  Also, by this time we had lost all the food in our fridge.  Luckily this amounted to half a bag of chicken, and a bag of fish in the freezer since it was time to go grocery shopping anyway.

We still did not have an estimated time for power, so I headed back out to Target to get a cooler, and some new food.  While I was at Target, I saw a 400W power inverter for $40.  This wonderful device would allow us to use our car as a small generator, so I bought a cheap $15 electric fan, and 2 extension cords since the power inverter needed to be used in the car, and we were in the house.

One of the rooms in our house is always much cooler than the others, so we decided to move our living room setup into this room and hook up the fan so that it would blow in the air from the outside.  Even though it was hot outside, the heat building up in our house was even worse.  Way to go, bay window.  But to use this room, we decided to finally get a cheap bed in a bag so that the bed in there would be usable.  We have been living in this house for over 9 months and had yet to buy a twin bedset.  With the power inverter we were able to run the small TV (13 inch), the fan, and a lamp, without draining the car too much.  

By the third evening we finally started to get estimates for when power was going to be restored, but it was still 3 days out.  So we settled in for the long haul, and even found out we could hook the dvd player up.  I think we had a fairly good setup, but the wife was frustrated with the power company saying we would be without power for almost a week.  We were planning on taking a vacation, and if the power did not come on earlier than expected, it would take a day off of a 4 day trip.  Not good.

But, by the 4th day, the power was back on, and we were good to go, but what did we learn?

I learned we can get by on a lot less electricity then we had been.  400W is not a lot.  If I we ran the full 400W for 16 hours a day it would be 6.4kWh a day, or about a quarter of what our last electric bill said we used on average a day for the last month.

A $16 fan positioned correctly in the house to bring in cool air can really do wonders to cool our house.  We have since continued this, and I don't think our air conditioner has been been on in the last 4 days, and i haven't changed the programmable thermostat settings.  The house is jsut staying cooler.

I need to clean out the fridge more often.  Our fridge was filled with empty old leftover plates and a bunch of other crap we hadn't touched in quite some time.  Don't get me wrong, we eat leftovers, but sometimes we just don't get to them in time.  Our fridge is barely stocked and immaculate right now.

I really need to get a Kill-A-Watt to find out what the power sinks are in our house and minimize them.  Being happy by using a quarter of the power, really made me take stock.  I also need to put every major electronics station on easily accessible power strips to so that I can turn them off when not in use.

Also, while my power was out, I was mentioned on Carnival of Personal Finance. Check it out!

Monthly Money Roundup

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Since my quest to track our grocery spending and how we spend it has fallen to the wayside, I thought I would institute a monthly money roundup.  This way I don't have to breakdown receipts, although as you'll soon find out, I probably need to.

I will be breaking down the monthly budget using our Quicken categories:

     Car payments - we have 2 cars that we make payments on: A 2002 Ford Explorer Sport and a 2002 Ford Focus ZX5 hatchback ( the new car for the wife)
     Auto Gas - I drive approximately 24 miles a day when I come home for lunch and the wife drives around 50 miles a week (including our weekend jaunts)    
 Car Insurance - it just went up with the new car, but I'm bringing it back down this week.

Utilities/Monthly house bills
     Electricity - most of our house is electric with the exception of the hot water heater, which also runs our baseboard radiant heat in the winter
     House Gas - This is only for our hot water heater
     Cable/Internet/Home Phone - We have the triple play from comcast with a DVR and 2 cable boxes.  I'd like to get rid of one, but our house has an A/B cable system.  It sucks.
     Cell Phones - My wife and I have cellphones and they are currently stripped down to voice only
     Water/Trash Pickup - we have a soaking tub so sometimes this is more, sometimes it's less

     Mortgage - you can read a little about the house here.
     Student Loans - these are all mine.  Went way into debt to get schooled, but it payed off.

     Smokes - we both smoke and can save a lot of money if we didn't, but we do.  I'll post more about it later this week.
     Groceries - this won't be a breakdown, but a general what we spend

     Household expenses - This is when we nickel and dime ourselves, and is part of our entertainment also.  We like buying stuff for the house.
     Medical - everybody needs a doctor sometimes.
Eating out - This is mostly me snagging foodwhen I don't come home for lunch.

So now that you now what goes into each category, here's the breakdown for the month of May:

     Car payments - $366.63
          This is only for my car, we make the wife's car first payment in July

     Auto Gas - $240.54
          This one blew me away.  That's about 5 fillups.  That is way too much money.

Car Insurance - $203.52
          This will go up about $50 when the wife's car gets hit.  

Utilities/Monthly house bills

     Electricity - $0
           Didn't pay the bill this month.  I am trying to do better, but May was a bad month.
     House Gas - $0
           Didn't technically pay in May, but paid a bunch this week.
     Cable/Internet/Home Phone - $0
           See.  Told you it was a bad month.  But same as the gas, I paid a whole bunch this week. 
     Cell Phones - $434.12
           This was 3 months worth of cell phones, with one month still including all the extras we used to have.  But the cellphone is now up to date and on the month online bill pay schedule
     Water/Trash Pickup - $0

     Mortgage - $1490.90
     Student Loans - $0
         This one is going to hurt in June.


     Smokes - $345.28
           We live in a high cost to smoke state.
     Groceries - $814.46.
           This one blew me away.  For some reason we pent $300 more on groceries than we did last month
      Eating out - $76.66
           It was a rough month at work and I couldn't come home as often as I would have liked.  This month I have been preplanning and have brought my lunch a few days.

     Household expenses - $521.92
          We finally got around to setting up the back yard.  Also some of the garden expenses are in this one.
     Medical - $268.28
We signed up another animal for banfield at petsmart.  We really needed to since he has seasonal allergies and this will save us money. He also had an ear infection that needed meds.

photo by pouwerkerk

Gardening...Meet Your New Master

Sunday, June 1, 2008

It is finally up, the basicfinancial garden along with a mostly self watering system. And it didn't cost me a dime.

Well, technically it did cost money, but something good had to come out of me turning 30 *gasp/cough/weeze*. Although I think I now have some joint pain I wouldn't have had if I had done the work last week.

As I have posted before, I have been planning on turning a dog pen with a concrete slab in our backyard into a garden area.  So with my birthday fundage, The wife and I headed out to Home Depot, and I priced most of the items, and bought the clear plastic to wrap the dog pen.  I wanted to wrap the dog pen for two reasons.  One reason was to keep the wind to a minimum inside the area, and 2 so that when it starts to get cold later this year, I will build an A frame roof to keep the heat in, allowing me to grow a little while longer.

The other big thing I wanted to do was to make it semi self watering, as long as it rained.  That is where the orange bucket, tubing and 20 oz bottles come in. The rain will fill the orange bucket, and will flow down the 1/4" tubing that I connected by drilling holes in the bucket and caulked. The tubes are then connected to rag filled 20oz bottles with 4 slits each in the sides of the bottom halves. I tested this method with the bottles outside of the soil and it does give you a very slow drip. I am banking on the dry soil to suck the water out to balance the moisture pressure. It should work. I had 4 bottles buried, but I cut the slits ine one of them too large, so I now know how to make a lot of mud.

I am practicing the Square Foot Gardening approach, with a few differences. I was not abe to find vermiculite easily, so I used Miracle grow soil, and my box is 8" deep becuase I feel more comfortable with that depth since I am not using the best soil mixture. I also did not use permanent barriers between each square foot. I just used twine. SO I guess really I am using a square foot spacing technique on a garden box that is raised, but still, close enough in my book. The dimensions of my garden ar 2'x8', which gives me 16 plots. Currently 2 are empty, but I will fill them with lettuce seeds within the week.

Here's the money breakdown:

(2) 2"x2'x8' $12  - I used these for the bottom part of my box.
(2) 2"x10"x10' $18  - I had these cut to 8' and 2' pieces for the sides


  • Screws and Nails Free  - I had these laying around
  • Sawhorses $20
    A-frame on left side $5 - I bought this and when I got hom I realized I had lattice from a previous job
  • Right side lattice Free
  • Orange Bucket $5 - This is to gather rain water
  • Tubing $7 - To distribute rain water
  • Plastic liner $12
  • Soil $21 - I don't know why i am using this as it still lets water through, it just makes me feel better about the setup
  • Staple gun / Staples $12  - Ours was missing a piece I couldn't find, and I used it to attach the plastic I am not sure I needed.
  • 4 mil Clear liner $40 - This is used to minimize the wind in the former dog pen, and I can use the rest ot make a roof to grow a little bit longer in the fall and a little bit earlier in the spring
  • Zip Ties $5 - To attach the clear tarp to the fencing
  • 3 Bell peppers $9
  • 2 Melons $6
  • 4 Tomatoes (differnt varieties) $12
  • 2 more tomatoes and jalepenos $4.50
All in all it ended up costing $140 and about 5 hours to get the plastic up and the garden built.  Since I got $175 in birthday money, I came out way ahead.   I feel a little guilty since I bought plants that had already started instead of seeds, but I'll still get good veggies in the end.  I was able to plant on plot with my pepper seeds I got awhle back that sprouted, although they look much more sickly than the other plants, so I don't kow if those will last.  Only time will tell.  Wish me luck!

Carnival of Credit Report Stories - May 26th Edition

Monday, May 26, 2008

Welcome all to the May 26Edition of the Carnival of credit report stories!

Editor's Pick
Debbie Dragon over at Destroy Debt talks about how to stop debt collector harassment.
This is a great list to keep in mind and to have a little victory with the debt collectors if this happens to you.

Thoughts From a Former Bill Collector gives 4 great tips when dealing with debt collectors.
The overall point is to be honest and straightforward. No one's gonna help out someone trying to make their job harder.

Until Debt Do Us Part gives us 10 pieces of advice when dealing with financial institutions. Mike also talks about working at a credit card insurance phone bank.
I did this too for about 3 weeks one summer and it was hell. I have a great radio/phone voice but I couldn't sell water to someone on fire.

Life, Money, & Development talks about his love of credit cards and how he thinks they aren't as evil as people think they are.
While I think Herrera makes the point that sensible credit card use is a good thing (especially for the credit score), he also says he uses them to amortize gadget and gift cost. This mentality is how I got into trouble with credit card debt. It is a very fine line that represents the difference between good and bad credit use.

FinancialZip talks about snowballing his snowflaking.
Sounds cold, but a good way to combine 2 heavily promoted concepts.

leaving the folks talks about how all your bills can effect your credit score.
The only advice I didn't fully agree with was cancelling credit cards you're not going to use. I say throw them out or cut them up, but don't cancel them. Unused credit limit can only help your score from what I understand.

Money Blue Book talks about how to and where to apply for instant credit credit.
Just be careful to walk that thin line from above if you get the credit.

Her Home Blog talks about 3 things that show up on your credit report, and stresses honesty.
As before, be straightforward and honest and they can't get you for anything.

No Debt Anymore.org starts off a 5 part series regarding Credit Repair and how to get your free credit report from the big 3 agencies.
Knowing is half the battle. Go Joe!

Thanks for reading, everyone.  And if you feel so inclined, head on over to How I Save Money.net to sign up to host either the Carnival of Credit Report Stories or the Carnival of Twenty Something Finances.

Frugal health?

The wife was told she had high cholesterol, and I am sure I do too, but haven't gotten a check up in awhile, so we need to go healthier. Buying more fish, veggies, and fruits. I bought a food dehydrator today to make the fruits store better for $60. But after looking at the mechanics of it, I think I can make a larger industrial sized one out in the yard on the cheap based on the solar oven. I think I am going to put it out in the greenhouse, which also got a fund boost this week.

Seeing as I will no longer be in my twenties by the end of the week, I have started getting some birthday funds.  Got $50 from the in laws, ad we are heading out to Lowe's later today to see what we can get for the price.  I am looking at getting some plastic siding and some zip ties to surround the dog pen we have.  I was also looking at 8' folding tables to place the garden boxes for square foot gardening on, and they're $40-60 a pop.  That's ridiculous, so I am looking at alternatives.

But the seeds are growing, the peppers need to be transplanted, and we finally got a sprout out of the tomatoes.  w00t!