Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Nineteenth Festival of Frugality

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

Good morning, Earth! Is everyone having a lovely week so far? I know I am! I bet you would be too if you were hosting the magnificent travelling internet spectacle known as the Festival of Frugality. If you’re a regular reader, then you know that I promised one heck of a show once a carnival rolled into Punny Country. So get on your feet and prepare… for the ultimate… carnival… experience…

Oh, right. Carnival! Sorry, I got a little distracted by those adorable little ellipses.

1. Paying Myself to Eat Less

burger City Girl starts us off with an interesting game that anyone who buys lunch at work every day should give a try. She’s started bagging her lunch at work and is stashing away the savings over buying lunch into a variety of exciting investments.

Since I averaged about $6 per lunch, I will give myself a daily lunch budget of $6. If I do not use the money, say by bringing lunch and eating it, then I have “earned” it.

Nick says…
Sigh. Another fun frugality game I can’t take part in because I’ve been bringing my lunch to work all along. I’m absolutely amazed by people who regularly spend seven or eight bucks a day buying lunch where I work. While I understand that the senior engineers making $300k a year can easily afford it, there are new college graduates making under $50k who spend close to $2,000 a year on buying lunch at work. (In case you’re wondering, my usual lunch consists of a home-made sandwich, some fruit, and a cookie.)

2. Frugal Extremes

orange juice DeputyHeadmistress of The Common Room shares a trio of hilarious tales detailing her family’s frugal feats. These people get hardcore on their recycling efforts–toilet paper, diapers, and… orange juice?

When I was a youngish teen, some kids toilet papered our house. We lived in a very dry dessert climate. In the morning my mother went outside, took it all down and put it in the bathroom where she used it for its intended purpose.

Nick says…
Talk about a family that can turn lemons into lemonade! I guess all those years we’ve avoided toilet papering by living in an apartment have been for naught. Still, you’ve just gotta wonder if it’s worth the effort to transform dirty diapers into clean ones even if they are ultra-high quality.

3. Money Habits…and Promises

acorn Mama Squirrel gives us all some acorns of wisdom plucked from Dewey’s Treehouse. She talks about the financial promises that a family must make and keep and how those promises have proven to be more important than all the frugal tricks in the world.

But somehow, along with the promises we made to be faithful to each other in other ways, we both came into marriage with a feeling of “this money we have now takes care of both of us–so we have to be responsible to each other with it.”

Gold Editor's Choice AwardNick says…
I can definitely identify with this. My wife didn’t know a whole lot about money when we first met, so she largely entrusted me with our finances. But she did immediately understand our need for being cautious with our money and that today’s frugality will mean that our family will be better off in the future.

4. Young and Not-So-Broke

pennies Amanda, the lovely hostess of Young and Broke, recounts the story of 23-year-old Matt Koop–a young man who is well on his way to being a multi-millionaire. Matt already has an IRA valued at over $20,000, and he has his and his wife’s frugal nature to thank for it.

His coworkers jeer him for brown-bagging his lunch instead of hitting up McDonalds with them, but it’s very likely that while Matt is living from “stock pick to stock pick”, his peers are on more of the “paycheck to paycheck” system.

Nick says…
Matt Koop is the same age as me, but he has a little more stashed away for retirement than I do right now. After reading Matt’s full story, I’m going to conclude that he just got lucky–he invested in stocks during a bear market but doubled his money in five years. There are plenty of other folks our age who tried the same thing with less than stellar results. Still, you’ve got to admire Matt’s financial choices–starting to save young, making relatively smart investment choices, and topping it all off with a frugal lifestyle.

5. Fat Isn’t Frugal

scale You’re gonna need a hankie for Meredith’s story posted at Like Merchant Ships. But at least she walks away from it with an important lesson: she’s going to have to down-size herself if she wants to up-size her wallet and her health.

As soon as this baby is born, I am taking whatever steps necessary to fit in a medium-sized wardrobe. I will give away my maternity clothes so their soft elastic will not fool me. If I get pregnant again, I can always buy more. I will hand my baby to the nearest adult when she hits six weeks and pull on a pair of running shoes.

Nick says…
I was living life extra-large myself up until a few years ago. It’s kind of nice now to be wearing the same size as people who are considered average weight for my height. Meredith has an added road-block on her way to being fit and frugal–a few more pounds thanks to a baby on the way. I’ll be sure to help my wife watch her own weight so she doesn’t experience the same problems as Meredith when we start having children.

6. Some Off-the-Cuff Frugal Tips for Special Diets

bread It seems like food allergies are on the rise, but alternative foods are popping up left and right to fill the needs of people with special dietary needs. If you’re one of these people, you’ll want to read up on some ways to keep special diets from eating away at your budget courtesy of Frugal Wisdom From Wenchypoo’s Warehouse.

Hubby has an egg allergy, and I’ve been hunting high and low for something other than chicken eggs to try on him. Duck eggs through the internet cost $44/dozen, without shipping charges, so I never pursued it. Guess what? The Chinese market saves me once again with a local source for duck eggs, and they’re a darn sight cheaper than $44/dozen.

Bronze Editor's Choice Award Nick says…
We’re fortunate not to have any food allergies, but there are plenty of people in both of our families with some rather nasty ones. Like Wenchypoo, my sister has an intolerance to gluten, but she’s able to enjoy most of the kinds of food that we eat thanks to alternative ingredients like rice flour. There’s some good advice here that could save you or someone you know a ton on such products.

7. Frugal Stock Market Choices

nasdaq This article by Jose Anes over at Stocks For Me should be a sticky on every Investing 101 message board on the internet. If you’re just starting out with investing and you don’t have a lot of money to play with, Jose shares several frugal options to help you get started in stock and index funds.

Then you have the investment discounters like Share Builder ($4/trade), where you concentrate on consistently investing into your favorite stocks rather than on timing the purchase to a specific price at a specific time of the day: very frugal for many amounts.

Nick says…
Ah, index funds. One of the great joys of life. Where would my 401(k) be without you guys? On a side note, if you work for a big-name company that offers a retirement plan with investment options, check out FundAdvice.com to see if they have a review of your plan. They did for my workplace, and it helped me immensely in making my allocations.

8. Fearless Philosophy Flashback: We Can Make April 15th Just Another Day

sales tax Stephen Littau, the mind behind Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds, discusses FairTax, a proposed radical change to the United States tax code that would abolish the federal income tax and instead replace it with a national sales tax. Under FairTax, a person’s tax liability would be tied to his or her spending habits and not income level. In theory, FairTax is the perfect tax for us frugal folks.

According to Dr. Dale Jorgenson of Harvard University the average producer would reduce prices by 20% in the first year under the Fair Tax system and would ultimately keep prices on the end products at about the same rate as before.

Nick says…
I’m gonna hear it from you all for this one. While you would thing I’d be all for taxing spending instead of income, I’ve never been a big fan of consumption taxes. While I can see an immediate benefit to me since I’d likely pay fewer taxes, there are just too many things that could go wrong. My biggest worry would be the enormous black market that would appear across the country almost literally overnight. Still, it would be interesting to try FairTax for a trial period–say, one year. And if it turned out that such a tax is better for everyone (except for those poor out-of-work folks from the IRS), then more power to it!

9. You, Inc. And The IRS

wallet One of the best ways to save yourself some money is to be smart when it comes to paying your income taxes. Don’t pay more than you need to, and get the deductions to which you’re entitled. And if you Ask Uncle Bill, he’ll tell you that you need to stop being afraid of the IRS and do what it takes to hold on to the money that’s rightfully yours.

Somehow the IRS has gotten a reputation second only to Freddie in those slasher movies for scaring people. Sure, getting a letter from the IRS is no fun and I’ve gotten a few so I know.

Nick says…
Amen, Uncle Bill! While you should always fill out your tax returns accurately, you shouldn’t be afraid to take steps that tax law says you can take. Sure you’re more likely to be the target of an audit if you deduct your $200,000 worth of hospital bills, but if you actually have $200,000 worth of hospital bills you can legally deduct, no audit’s going to take that money away from you. So while it might be a bit late for this year’s tax season, remember Bill’s advice for next year–don’t let the IRS keep money that isn’t theirs to keep!

10. Flying vs. Driving

plane Laws Finance, who has the coolest name ever (assuming that’s his real name), had to stay behind when his family went on a vacation recently. Since they decided to make the entire 3,000-mile round trip by car, maybe it was better that he stayed behind. But the real topic presented here is whether or not driving or flying is the more frugal option for getting to a vacation destination.

Food should be negligible since you would likely still be eating if you were already at your destination anyway. But there is always the cost of less time at your final destination. Less enjoyment value, if you will, counts as a cost to driving.

Nick says…
Long car trips and I just don’t mix. That said, I haven’t been on a plane since I was five years old. While I don’t really do any traveling on my own, I know plenty of people who have been faced with this fly vs. drive situation. In most cases, flying was more expensive but well worth the cost for the convenience over driving. Assuming I didn’t mind driving or flying, I’d probably stick with the car for trips under 500 miles and take to the skies for anything longer.

11. How I Pay Just $3.21 A Month For Cell Phone

cell phone It’s true, and you might not believe it for yourself until you read the story straight from My 1st million at 33. For those of you who only use a cell phone for a small number of minutes each month, you can save a bundle by following the strategy outlined in this article.

I buy those refill phone cards by AT&T at the rotary stands from the grocery store (usually at Ralph store in CA). Because these cards were issued long time ago, they still have AT&T printed on them, and still have $10 refill cards for 90 days expiration.

Nick says…
I’ve been on the fence about going with one of these pre-paid plans for a while. On the one hand, I could probably save a few bucks by making the switch from a contract to pre-paid. But in my other hand, I have a cell phone with 300 minutes for under $25 a month thanks to the discount my work provides with Cingular. For now, I’ll stick with the plan I have; it’s allowed us to ditch long-distance from our home line which is already saving us a bit of cash every month.

12. Random Frugal Tips

light bulb Single Ma and her Fabulous Financials come through again with a series of quick and cheap household tips useful in a variety of situations. Make sure you read this one before you install another light bulb, wash another window, or burn another skillet.

Storing Clothes: place fabric softener sheets in dresser drawers and your clothes will smell freshly washed for weeks to come. You can also do this with towels, linen, and out of season clothes before storing them away.

Nick says…
I’ve already put one of these tips to use with some celery we had left from dinner the other night. I’m not so sure about this light bulb air freshener idea, but maybe I’ll give it a shot the next time a light bulb burns out around here.

13. A Painful Decision

cleaner The Family CEO does a little spring cleaning–or rather, cleaner springing. After realizing just how much it cost for a bit of part-time household cleaning help, she had no choice but to part ways with them before they parted her from her pocket book.

I did it simply because we are getting aggressive about paying down debt and building wealth and I have hired myself to find savings in our budget. And at $80 every two week, that’s a big savings.

Nick says…
Since our apartment is small enough that we can clean the whole thing in about twelve minutes, I don’t think there is any hired help in our immediate future. That said, maybe a maid isn’t such a bad idea for us. And while I’m at it, I’ll be sure to pick up a butler, a chauffeur, a nanny, a chef, a gardener, and someone to go to the bathroom for me! Good call choosing to hire yourself, Family CEO.

14. Summer Energy Saving Tips

fan Thatedeguy over at A Penny Saved… has some common sense reminders for helping to keep your energy costs down this summer. His suggestions include a programmable thermostat, lots of fans, closed curtains and blinds, and even insulation to keep your home cooler when the temperature outside starts to heat up.

Maintenance: Make sure your Air Conditioner isn’t low on refrigerant. Clean out the fan unit outside your house, making sure that all leaves and debris are removed.

Nick says…
Oh how I wish we could just rip out this unprogrammable thermostat in our apartment and replace it with one that would turn off while we were away at work or school. But we do have plenty of fans and blinds, as well as some nice insulation that kept us warm all winter, and our maintenance staff is top notch. Now all I need to do is convince someone to open a snowball stand in our parking lot and we’ll be all set!

15. Random Food Revival Tips

cereal Do you ever have those sad situations where a food goes bad after a while? If you said no, then stop lying because we know it’s not true! Fortunately for you, if that food is cereal, crackers, or sugar, Inchoate Random Abstractions has a few tips to help you bring those foods back to the land of the living! (Well, not living since you don’t usually want to eat food while it’s alive. You know what I mean!)

To restore stale/soggy crackers or cereal, place them on a cookie sheet and heat them for a few minutes in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nick says…
I’ll add my own tip to help keep your table salt from clumping. Take a piece or two of dry, uncooked pasta (something small like elbow macaroni works best) and stick it in the salt shaker. I don’t know why this works; I just know that it does!

16. A Lazy Person’s Guide to Eating More Meals at Home

pot It can be hard to resist the allure of eating out. When you eat out, you don’t have to make your meal, and you don’t clean up afterwards. But even if all you know about frugality is its dictionary definition, then you know that eating out is bad for your finances. Enter Terri W. from Educating The Wheelers with a lot of useful advice for helping make dinner at home a much more pleasant prospect.

When you’re first starting out, you probably don’t want to be chopping up a raw chicken. I sure didn’t! Start with veggie meals or “easy to deal with” meats like hamburger, ground turkey, sausages and the like. You can work up from there.

Silver Editor's Choice Award Nick says…
Personally, I refuse to make any dish that requires more than one addition ingredient than I already have on hand, and very rarely will I make something with more than four ingredients total! If this sounds like you, you’ll definitely want to pick up the four-ingredient recipe book I mentioned a few months ago.

17. Gift Certificate-paresis? What’s That?

gift This happens to every frugal mind at least once in a while. You receive a gift card from someone, and when you take it to the store to use, you have absolutely no idea how to spend it. Tricia of Blogging Away Debt has studied this strange behavior in herself and provides some thought into why it can be so difficult to use free gift certificate money.

Here you have in your hand essentially free money, and you don’t know what to get. I once spent 1/2 hour in Walmart trying to find something to buy with at $10.00 gift certificate. But, if I go in there normally, I can easily spend $50.00 on essentials.

Nick says…
I still have some Target gift cards left from our wedding (six months ago!) that we haven’t yet used. Of course, let’s not forget the fact that we’ve since made many trips to Target and spent more than the value of those gift cards. For some reason, when the money is given to you, it’s so much harder to spend. Maybe if we gave all our money to our friends and asked them to convert them to gift cards for us, nobody would ever spend a dime!

18. After-Auction Deals

gavel The selling isn’t done just because the auction is over! Mighty Bargain Hunter reports in with a couple of strategies to help you get the eBay items of your dreams even after you lose an auction.

Other opportunities exist if someone bids on, and wins, a box lot that you were also bidding on. Usually there’s only one or two things in that box lot that are of interest — the rest is gravy. If you’re interested in another part of the box lot, you can ask afterwards if they’d sell you part of the lot.

Nick says…
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen something I wanted available on eBay that was part of a larger lot that I didn’t really need. It never occurred to me to try and snatch that item up from the winner of the auction. Ready or not, 3,000+ vintage videogame lots, here I come!

19. Weekend Homework: Define ‘Value’

shopping bag Todd over at Aridni tells us that having values you believe in is critical to being true to yourself. He uses one of his values, thriftiness, as an example for turning a value definition into something you can act on and achieve measurable results.

Thrifty–To me money management is important because with it you are able to accomplish dreams and work towards goals. Therefore it is important to keep it managed well.

Nick says…
Creating values we believe in and practice daily are vital to our existence. While there are plenty of other values out there you should define for yourself, thriftiness is certainly one we should all possess.

20. ReStore Home Improvement Stores

wrench How would you like to improve your home, save some money, and help out a worthy cause all in the same set of purchases? Jeffrey Strain at Personal Finance Advice explains how simple it can be to do all three by checking out Habitat for Humanity’s excess supply stores. You can pick up great deals on basic home improvement needs and make a contribution to one of the world’s best charities at the same time!

For those making home improvements, you may be able to do a more extensive improvement than you had anticipated with your current budget. Getting all the materials you need may take a number of visits, but for those who are not in a hurry they should be able to locate the items they need over time.

Nick says…
Wow, there are more of these ReStores around than I thought there would be. There are even a couple not far from us in Virginia. Now all I need to do is come up with something to improve. Oh, I know! I’ve always wanted to install human-sized plastic tubes so we can get around the apartment like little gerbils! (I’m at least half serious, folks.)

21. Investing–A Look at the Numbers

calculator JLP, the world famous writer of AllFinancialMatters, writes this week letting us know that index investing and frugality go hand-in-hand. He also talks about the The Callan Periodic Table of Investment Returns, a big and scary chart with a simple message about how easy investing really is.

So, the best thing to do is use the volatility to your advantage by investing equal amounts in each class and rebalance them annually. Rebalancing annually keeps you disciplined and makes you sell “overpriced” classes and use the proceeds to buy “underpriced” classes.

Nick says…
It cannot be emphasized enough! Index funds plus you equals money! (Warning, I am not a financial advisor. Do not consider this to be financial advice. If you are looking for some good financial advice, then please feel free to send me all your money and I’ll keep it nice and safe* for you.)

*Safety is not meant to imply that you’ll ever see your money again. Void where prohibited (which is probably everywhere).

22. Many Uses for Cereal Liners

recycle Those plastic liners inside boxes of cereal are made of a highly unrecyclable material called High Density Polyethylene (which I’m sure you all know already). Instead of tossing them in the trash and waiting for it to kill a seal or something, ~Dawn at Frugal For Life offers a bunch of nifty ways you can reuse those plastic cereal liners in your own home.

Cut the size of your cake and then put the frosting on the liner and freeze, then peel off the letters and place on your cake.

Nick says…
I always liked how those cereal liners felt. They’re so smooth and soft and pretty, and apparently they’re even useful once your Cap’n Crunch has sunk to the bottom of your stomach. Of course, you can avoid High Density Polyethylene bags completely by purchasing those store-brand cereals that come in a slightly more recyclable plastic bag. But if you’ve just gotta have your Corn Pops, then this advice is for you.

As an added bonus, ~Dawn points us to this inspiring article from ThrifyFun.com about a disabled 33-year-old who uses the principles of frugality to save a ton of money on food and other household items.

23. Money Saving Chronicles #6: Take Apart Your Entertainment Budget

remote control New this week from the blog of Adam Graham is some frugality advice that could help 80% of Americans save $50 or more every month: cut the cable! Adam offers a plethora of free alternatives to all that expensive programming, most of which you don’t even watch.

First, lets look at online programming. There’s an increasing amount of content that’s available online at no charge. For example, take C-Span. You can watch or listen to Live Streams of all 3 C-Spans at C-Span’s website. Now AOL has introduced an In2TV service which gives you free streaming of TV hits from yesteryear. Many Christian Television channels have gone online with full streams.

Nick says…
Even if I struck it filthy rich tomorrow, I would almost certainly never order cable. If we had cable, we would either continue our present TV habits and almost never watch it or we would become slaves to it and never get anything else done. Adam has some great suggestions for filling the void in your TV programming life should you decide to ditch your cable service. If you absolutely need a little bit of cable in your bloodstream, call up your cable provider and ask them about cheaper, unadvertised basic services that can still save you a forklift full of money.

24. Can You Be Frugal When You’re Out Drinking?

wine Phew! I thought we were gonna have an alcohol-free Festival here for a second, but here comes Penny Nickel from Money and Values to the rescue! She reminds us that, much like eating out, drinking out can be a serious financial drain. Help out this poor girl (and the rest of us!) and offer up your favorite ways of saving money while getting sloshed.

One thing that drives me nuts is that there never seem to be any prices listed for alcoholic beverages– are we supposed to just order and not care how much we’re paying? That’s something my frugal nature has a very hard time with! But I feel like a big dork asking, since no one else does. Sometimes I’ll order the drink specials even if I don’t think I’ll like them, because at least I know their price!

Nick says…
No, seriously, how the heck are frugal folks like us supposed to partake in a fine after-dinner beverage or three when they cost so much? I guess one option would be to… uh… give up alcohol? Wait, wait, wait! Come back! Please forgive me for posing such a ridiculous idea. As for saving money on drinks, my glass of ideas is totally empty. Someone fill me up, please?

And there is it! Ain’t she a beauty? If you submitted an item for the Festival but don’t see it here, I either didn’t receive it or it came in after the deadline. Try submitting it again next week!

I want to thank jim at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity for letting Punny Money host the Festival this week. A special thanks also goes to stock.xchng for all the images used in this Festival. Finally, an extra super great special thanks to my wonderful, loving, charming, and forgiving wife for lending me to the Festival for the last couple of days. Don’t worry, sweetie, I’m all yours tonight!

I hope you enjoyed Punny Money’s edition of the Festival of Frugality. You’re welcome to stick around and share in more financial fun than you’ve ever had before… unless you’re rich and have fun all day long in which case I wouldn’t mind sharing in some of your financial fun.

The Festival of Frugality turns 20 weeks old when the extraordinary talent behind the Money Blog Network takes a turn at hosting it next week. So start filling out those submission forms with lots of links to your latest lessons in low-cost living!

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