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Car stats for the March challenge

April 1st, 2010 at 03:39 am

Sunday
Saving log- $0 tip box
Spending log - $3.88 coffee, bagel + $11 conveyor belt sushi
Found money - $0.06 (road, floor)

Monday
Saving log - $0 tip box
Spending log - $1.75 coffee + $10 groceries
Found money - $0.32 (floor, road, parking meter, bus stop, Safeway change cup)

Tuesday
Saving log - $0 tip box
Spending log - $0 (free coffee)
Found money - $0.22 (road, sidewalk, bus stop)

Wednesday
Saving log - $2 tip box
Spending log - $1.75 coffee + $11 groceries
Found money - $0.01 (bus stop)

$31.47: 787 pennies, 30 nickels, 127 dimes, 29 quarters, 2 $1 bills, a 10 pence coin worth 15 cents.

Commute log
3/28 - 1 mi car, 5 mi walk (up Queen Anne Hill!), 5 mi bus
3/29 - no car, 2 mi walk, 12 mi bus
3/30 - no car, 1 mi walk, 13 mi bus
3/31 - no car, 2.5 mi walk, 16 mi bus

Normally, I use the car about 3 mi/week, entirely on the weekend. In a normal month w/4 weekends and with extra errands 2x/month, that runs to 18 mi by car. This month, my total car miles was 14.

Finally, I learned about One Bus Away. Its been a fantastic transportation month!

What a recession can teach you about money

March 16th, 2008 at 07:07 am

The last official recession was in ‘01 or so, blink and you missed it, but there have been more severe ones – ’91-’92, the ’83 one, and the ’81 one, not to mention the ’79 one and Whip Inflation Now one during the 70s. Of course when I was a teenager in the 70s, the whole decade was a recession – my parents wouldn’t buy me anything. As a public service here are a few pointers for all you recession newbies.

Cash is king. Have some saved. By cash, I mean the paper stuff or its variant, a government savings bond or t-bill. And some of your own – unemployment only goes so far. Even if you hold gold (admirable), you still need cash – at $1,000/ounce your grocer isn’t able make change. Have a HELOC or credit card, which two years ago was touted by financial writers as being your safety net? Ha ha. Not if the line or your card is being shut down because your lender is undergoing a credit crisis. Cash: accept no substitutes.

If your culture is a shopping culture, you’re going to be in a world of hurt. Especially if you’ve missed pointer one. The malls will sport plenty of sales at first as businesses try to burn off their old inventory, but everyone will be buying cautiously, including inventory buyers – they buy fewer items for the store during a recession to take a “wait and see” attitude. Advertising gets more pointed - not many commercials in the aspirational or the arty style. No “buy this and be cool”, its “buy this or we go under”. Be especially careful who you buy things from. Frauds and scams are rampant during a recession.

Don’t be afraid to be frugal – this is your moment. “Saving” is fashionable in a recession. Spending isn’t. You’re not spending money and your friends aren’t either. I put savings in quotes because “saving” is not really saving, it’s spending less. Not that spending less is bad, but it’s not saving. Saving is when you take some of the paper stuff skating out of your wallet and belting goalies, to put it in the penalty box, otherwise known as a savings account. Don’t be afraid to do that too.

Watch your bank. Bank deposits are insured by the FDIC for 100K, credit union deposits are insured by the NCUA for 100K. In any recession, the weakest businesses fail. If your financial institution fails, it usually gets bought by another or by the FDIC to prevent a “run”. In a recession, it never hurts to have your emergency cash in a couple of places, including a small amount in the Bank of Seely (money at home in the mattress), and to check bank ratings often. I bank with WaMu. Believe me, I’m watching that one.

There’s more to life than money. During boom times it seems that the only important relationships are the ones where money changes hands. During a recession people relationships become more important than money relationships. The finest qualities in people are the cheapest – friendship, generosity (when appropriate), creativity, humility, optimism. Of those, show humility the most. Not wise to let a desperate brother-in-law know about your savings; best to be sympathetic and share only your fiscal troubles.

You’ll find out what your friends are made of. Normally hang out with Joneses’ and the shopping culture and run into tough times? Good luck with them during a recession. It’s a rare spendthrift who can be generous – if he is just keeping up appearances during the boom, how will he do during the bust?

You’ll find out what your friends think of you. A business has one asset that it will hold onto upon the pain of bankruptcy – its good name. Its ability to borrow is directly dependent on its fiscal reputation. So it is with people. In a recession, the reaction frugal friends will give you should you ask for a loan will tell you what they think of your fiscal skills. Would they think: an opportunity to help, or money down a rathole?

Recessions create frugal people. Recessions – the proverbial “rainy day” – are a wake up call. They remind us that the economy runs in cycles, sometimes up, sometimes down. Not everyone takes the wake up call to heart during a recession, but the sharper ones do to be better prepared for the next one. Take the history of a frugal person and you will find many learned their fiscal ways because they or a close relative experienced that rainy day firsthand.

Recessions are nothing to be afraid of for the prepared. Are you prepared?

10 things I learned from probate

February 17th, 2008 at 04:27 am

I first started my blog to journal my experiences with inheritance and probate (defined here as the process by which the will is discharged) after my dad’s death in July 2005. It seems as good a time as any to use this as a nice little summary of the whole shebang and of my blog in general, especially in 2005 and 2006. Enjoy the walk down memory lane!

1. Someone died because of it. Sounds like a smart-ass thing to say, but it’s true. Someone who you’d much prefer to be alive has died, you’re grieving, and now you have to make decisions and sort out many relationships that now will never change. Yeah, like that will be easy! Be thankful for thing 3.

2. Have an updated will. Sister found the will in a file cabinet in the attic after a few hours of searching. We were grateful that dad had one. However, it was 40 years old! Sister and I were mentioned at the end, basically saying at the end of a long list: if everyone else dies, they get it. Well everybody else did die because a lot happens in 40 years. We also knew that we didn’t do always what dad would have wanted, but for that we needed an updated will. The Ouija board just didn’t cut it.

Oh yes, keep the will and other paper assets organized, together, and in a safe place. Sister and I sorted important papers from dreck for a week, sister even longer, and we moved them from a one padlock- secured farmhouse to sister’s house. The lawyer winced a bit when he heard that because you aren’t supposed to move anything, but let’s face it, all it would have taken is a meth addict with a match so we did what we had to do.

3. It takes a long time. Sister and I finally got through it in June 2007, after one extension, for a total of 23 months or nearly two years. In a sense, we were grateful, both because of thing 1, thing 7, thing 9 and because we had plenty of complicated decisions to make. If you spent your inheritance ahead of time through your credit card, beware.

4. You will say to yourself: WTF? Often. Toothless old guys telling us that dad was sitting on fabulous riches – “that land is zoned commercial”, supposed adults driving farm equipment away for “safekeeping”, property lines 10 feet from where they were supposed to be, finding grandpa’s tax returns from 1970 to his death in 1999, sister having a completely different childhood in the same house than I did, finding out that the estate had insurance for vandalism.

5. The executor’s job is that of a switchboard - to collect assets, taxes and debts, then to discharge all in the most efficient way possible. Really don’t have any good story about this point. Just that if the executor is a family member and is part of the emotional mix that no good can come of it. It was the one advantage of the 40 year old will – all of the family members picked to be executors were unable to do it.

6. Debts first, then assets. One of the first things that the executor did was put in a call for creditors on the estate in the local newspaper. The deadline depends on the state; in ours (Wisconsin) the deceased’s creditors have 90 days to come out of the woodwork. 91 days, tough. Creditors are paid from the estate’s assets, what’s left is what you inherit. Your children or your inheritors don’t inherit debt, with one exception: co-signers. If you need another reason why co-signing a loan is awful, here it is.

7. Probate might be resolving more than one estate or relationship. We also resolved mom’s insurance assets, gave items to dad’s sisters, found residual savings bonds that grandpa gave to us, paid off Nut (a hired hand of dad’s from the 1980s) some back wages that he claimed he had, and I got closer to my sister. Frankly, I’m glad there was only the two of us.

8. Both emotion and analysis have their place. Sister was close to the action, and far more emotional. I was 3000 miles away and had to be dispassionate and analytical. Or was that really the case? When it came to all the assets, I would have sold them to the highest bidder because I attached negative emotions to them, while sister saw the usefulness in picking and choosing the buyer and keeping at least the old homestead. We could keep the homestead, pay for it, and improve it, so why not? In the end, I was glad that her analysis and emotion ruled the day.

9. Stuff is harder to deal with than money. Old farm equipment, furniture, dishes, vinyl records, books, clippings from the newspaper, farm cats, and clothing from the 60s: all went for pennies on the dollar. And while real estate is where the value of the estate was, it was the hardest of all to deal with. Are you sure that you want to collect that much stuff? Who are you storing it for? When you think about it, we are all renters, marking our place on this earth. Enjoy what is yours now and enjoy it completely: you can’t take it with you.

10. It’s now your asset. That’s what I think the whole point of probate is. Because it takes forever, it gives you time to chase away the emotion and the ghosts, and gives you the ability to get comfortable with whatever you are inheriting. At the end, you want it to end.

Best way to start the saving journey

January 21st, 2008 at 04:04 am

Ten years ago, I had about $15000 worth of credit card debt, and about $10000 worth of student loan debt. Still, while I was frugal, and I was slooowly paying off my debts, I realized that I was missing one ingredient - my routine.

Oh I had one. I'd drive to work, maybe drive to a lunch spot, visit a couple of friends, come back and work, then decompress by driving to the Barnes & Noble and read and have a decaf and a sweet. Yikes! I had a routine, but that routine involved leaking cash.

Routines are one of the most powerful tools that the saver has while non-stop novelties KILL saving. Sure, we all like: fun surprises; dinners out; new things to read, eat, think about; the chance to meet new people and have new experiences. Every once in awhile these things add spice to our lives. But those surprise vacations are often are white elephants when the plane ticket, gas, meals, incidentals are figured in; extra tasty calories allow you to gain weight and trash your credit at the same time; books and media are great to experience, but if you use them only once, well, what do you have? The memory of what your floor used to look like. Smile

A routine is a powerful tool because: (1) you hone your budget to it, (2) you pursue in your routine only the things that are meaningful to you, (3) in assessing your routine you know why those things are important to you, and (4) you've put a price on those things. When the price of some of the elements of your routine goes up, then instead of cursing it, you either find a way to cheapen that element to compensate, or you drop the element entirely.

The first step in developing a routine with an eye toward saving is to write it down. This goes in tandem with you writing down everything you spend. Well, where did you spend your $ and what were you doing? And don't forget the weekends because that's where most of your frivolous spending occurs.

Now that you have your daily and weekend routine. For each of those tasks, what makes it something that you like or you have to do? Work, of course, is a big part of your routine during the week day. You probably have to do it to earn money, so you might like your job or not, but you know why you are doing it.

Another example, a classic in the frugal literature. Maybe you like a cup of coffee on the way to work or the first thing as you get in. How do you feel about this task in your routine? Do you think its a waste? What elements do you like about it?

Now that you have your feelings about your tasks in your routine. How can I maximize a particular task's value?

Take the coffee example. It could be that you love coffee and caffeine. Buy a decent cup of coffee, the cheapest size that you can drink, or if you find that making coffee has value to you, make coffee to take in. It could be that you have coffee with the boss or coffee has value to you because its a way to socialize with spouse or co workers. Time to think about a token order of something cheap(er) so you minimize the cost, but maximize the info you get from spouse or co worker coffee time. Do you finish your coffee? If you don't - time to definitely think about getting the smaller size!

The next step. Are there tasks in your routine that no matter how much you've thought and tried to maximize their value but you find you can't? Drop those completely. Don't spend a dime on those!

The final step. Are there tasks in your routine that even maximized, you can replace with something cheaper? We'll switch examples here with cable, the other great frugal example. Why do you have cable? Like a specific show or sporting event? Afraid that network TV doesn't have enough choices? You can get TV shows from Netflix, Amazon or the public library. You can go a sports bar or a friend's house for the sporting event.

Closing the loop. As you start streamlining your routine, honing your tasks by maximizing all their values, and eliminating spending tasks you don't like, your spending should smooth out.

Start saving!

The best way to get a free lunch

January 13th, 2008 at 07:27 am

Depend on blind loyalty to a certain football team. Big Grin

Won the sandwich bet -

http://baselle.savingadvice.com/2008/01/07/sandwich-riding-o...

6 in Italian sub on whole wheat, drag it through the garden (all the veggies on it).

Things I wished I would have been told about at 25

December 21st, 2007 at 05:02 am

Things I wished I would have been told about at 25: A One Act

(I was told to be creative, so now you pay!)

Cast of Characters

Me at 25: baselle in grad school
Me at 45: baselle now

Scene: A favorite coffeehouse near the campus of the University of Washington, a Sunday twenty years ago.

Me at 45 (pointing at an empty chair): Mind if I sit down?
Me at 25 (looking up from a newspaper): Sure.
Me at 45: New York Times, eh? What’s new?
Me at 25: Not much. I get the paper for the crossword. But I get it at the student rate subscription, so it’s cheaper than the Seattle paper.
Me at 45: That is a deal! So do you pretend that you’re buying the Seattle paper?
Me at 25: My budget only works at the student rate.
Me at 45: So save the difference and stick it in the bank.
Me at 25: Nope, besides that’s only about 35 cents per day.
Me at 45: Or about 120$ a year.
Me at 25: Which I’ll need. I need every penny. If only –
Me at 45: If only what?
Me at 25: (sigh) If only I wasn’t trying to survive on 550$/month.
Me at 45: For how long?
Me at 25: So far, about a year.
Me at 45: Atta girl. I’m impressed. Now that’s a skill - surviving on $6000 a year. It’s painful and ugly, but it gives you flexibility. Don’t lose it.
Me at 25: No fun, though. I have to ignore everything except the necessities. No TV, no nothing.
Me at 45: But no TV helps you ignore what other people do and spend. If you ignore everyone else, you can concentrate on what you do and spend. People spend with peers, but they save all by themselves. Funny that.
Me at 25: So what do you make?
Me at 45: $44,000, savings, an inheritance.
Me at 25: Inheritance? Are we related?
Me at 45: (lying) Not that I know of.
Me at 25: Still. Wow. Easy street for you.
Me at 45: (sigh) Not all it’s cracked up to be. You can always buy more. No matter how much you have, you can always buy more. The trick is not to earn more, or buy less even, but to want less. (picks up a section of the newspaper, flips through the ads) Geez, never gonna see prices like that anymore.
Me at 25: You’re making fun of me.
Me at 45: Not at all. But I do have one piece of advice for you. As soon as someone says “only” along with a dollar amount…
Me at 25: Run?
Me at 45: Think carefully. “Only” repeats monthly for many, many years. Coffee’s on me – thank you for the chat.

How I am helpful

November 7th, 2007 at 04:06 am

Saving log - $3 tip box
Spending log - $1.84 coffee, milk + $7 lunch + $7.49 groceries

Emailed the trustee administrator about the niece slip and asked whether I could edit what was written - change niece to granddaughter then initial the change. Received a reply - it would be fine if I did the edit. I did so, then signed where highlighted, and mailed the paperwork off, then emailed the trustee that I had done so. I cc:ed sister on the whole thing so she can do the same.

Lunch was exactly 7$. As I was flumbling through my ones the cashier asked, "How did you know I needed ones?"

I said, "Are you kidding? You're in the lunch rush. All it would take is five people with 20s! You'll always need ones."

DJ friend has been battling with the IRS over Microsoft software given out after useability studies. Are they gratuities, or are they income? And how much would they really be worth - what Mr. Softy says they are worth retail, or what successful resellers are getting on craigslist or ebay? Helped him a bit by making a table of his data and helped with some of the letter. Hope my luck with arguing with the IRS rubs off on him.

The chiropractor is moving his office downtown. "Need boxes?" I asked. His eyes lit up. We'll see him tomorrow at our office. This time of year we have an empty box pile 15 ft high with hundreds of different box types. We'll see if we can get a free adjustment to the supply guy, who would need it about this time.

So being helpful is not a direct way to save money, but being helpful often means you have a larger social network with something to share, which means you have favors to barter and the network of folks to barter with.

How to ... store grocery produce

April 25th, 2007 at 03:12 am

As threatened...

Well, now that you bought good produce, you’ll probably want to keep it for at least a few days. I like to grocery shop, but I don’t buy every day, and I can’t eat 5 of anything in 2 days. Storage has to buy time.

If you bought items that were heavier than you expected and smelled good, you also bought a little bit more time. Again, remember that a piece of produce is a piece of plant, and that piece of plant behaves like a water pipe with one end open. The two things you must know to store produce properly are:

1.) Produce – if it’s not cooked – is metabolically active. It is a live plant, it respires (breathes oxygen), it photosynthesizes if it’s green, the enzymes in it are active, and it transpires (sucks up water and releases it).
2.) Plants are all plumbing. If water escapes (transpires) and plant wilts, it’s generally all over. Your job is to keep the water in the plant.

Know what should go in the refrigerator and what shouldn’t.

Whole fruit, whole tomatoes, potatoes, onions generally stay out of the refrigerator. All of these guys convert sugars to starch and tend to turn mealy if they’re in the reefer. I like the deep fruit bowl with a layer of cheesecloth on the top to repel fruit flies. Once the fruit is cut, it probably should go in the refrigerator with the knowledge that it better get eaten or tossed within a couple of days. Leaves like lettuce, stems like celery, crucifers (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc), roots (carrots) can go in the refrigerator. Corn and berries are problematic – if they go in the refeer, they get starchy, if they stay out they get moldy. I buy them fresh and don’t bother with long term storage.

Here's an easy rule of thumb if you are trying to figure out whether it goes in the refrigerator or not. How did you buy it? Did you buy it in a bin in the middle of the produce department at coolish room temperature (should probably stay out of the refeer), or did you pull it from the cooler (goes in the reefer)?

YMMV – I live in Seattle, where it doesn’t get that hot. I used to live in Arizona, which was a nightmare for storing produce. Unless you ate it within 12 hrs, it went in the reefer.

With bagged produce, get rid of as much air and keep as much water in as possible, seal or knot the bag tightly. Keep it dark.

Get rid of as much air from around the plant as you possibly can – when exposed to light, the plant photosynthesizes enough to make its own oxygen. To store produce you have to keep it from transpiring – what makes that fog inside the bag – and to do that you have to keep the produce cool (not frosty), dark, and contained. Sometimes adding a teaspoon of clean tepid water to the bag helps.

Refrigerated produce should be bagged. In addition, those little drawers on the bottom of your refrigerator – the vegetable crispers – are your best friend. Use ‘em. Honest. My DH loves the vegetable crispers enough to call them the beer drawers. Big Grin. The problem with putting produce in the crispers is that its out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

Sterile technique begins at home

Cut your produce with a clean knife. Icky things that eat your produce – bacteria, mold, critters - have to work their way into a plant. Cutting with a dirty knife gives all of them a free pass and a free first lunch. If you buy bagged salad (hey, I do!), shake out the leaves from the bag, don’t put your hand in. Then remove as much air from the bag as convenient and seal.

Pace their ripening

Again with the gas. Ethylene gas, that is. If your fruit or produce is ripening too fast, spread out the fruit a bit, along with eating, cooking, or if necessary tossing the over-ripe offender. If a soft something like a peach is growing fuzz, admit defeat and toss. A hard something like a cabbage you can trim the outer leaves and rescue.

Exit strategies

Vegetable stew, sauces that you can hide chopped vegetables in, roasted vegetables with olive oil, tahini sauce or béchamel sauce, soup, fruit sauces, crumbles, clafoutis, and cobblers. All good exit strategies for slightly over the hill produce. And remember, sometimes you do have to toss. You want dishes, not compost in a pot.

Storage buys time, generally 4 days to several weeks. Happy storage!

How to ... buy grocery produce

April 21st, 2007 at 04:12 am

Several people –okay, family members – have asked me, “so when do you use that botany doctorate?” Well, as a former plant physiologist, I use it every time I hit the grocery store, fruit stand, or farmer’s market. Now I share some of my tricks and techniques.

If you want to save money and eat better at the same time, you want to buy only good stuff – you’ll want to eat it all then.

A produce item is a piece of plant. Simple enough. Conceptually, it is also a pipe, full of water with one end cut. The more water your plant contains, the more likely it is crisper or juicier and the more likely it will hold up better in storage. If you pick up nothing else from this how to, pick up this tip:

Good produce weighs more than you expect.

Technique 1: take 5 of anything of the same size, preferably medium. Grab each one and gently hold it in the palm of your hand for a few seconds. Pick the heaviest feeling one. No need to squeeze, no need to dig in with your fingernails and disgust everyone. Works for citrus, works for corn, works for melons, works for tomatoes, works for celery, heck, it works for garlic bulbs…it just works for everything.

Good produce smells good.

Technique 2: sniff the stem end of a fruit. It should smell appetizing, like the fruit. If you don’t smell anything and especially if it feels light, it means it’s mealy and dry. If you smell fermentation, pass it by, and if you can’t smell it because it’s wrapped in plastic … ahem, you’re not in the spirit of this, are you? Big Grin This, along with technique 1, is an especially good tip for melons and pineapple.

Side tip for the uninhibited: A quick way to assess the whole produce bin is to move some of the top most pieces and put your nose in the bin. If you can’t smell anything if you put your nose deep in the bin, it might mean that nothing’s ripe.

Good produce has a firm cut end.

Technique 3: check the stem or the cut end. It should be firm, not soft or slimy or with weird colors. It can have a little bit of soil on it for street cred, but if it’s filthy, pass it by...if it’s a farm stand, pass the whole stand by. It probably means everything was cut with that dirty knife and the storage life of anything you buy at that stand will be short.

Side tip for corn: feel the tip through the husk. The fatter, less pointed tip is the ear you want. Very pointy tips means the ear hasn’t filled out.

Good produce is not the biggest.

Technique 4: try to pick medium, medium-small sized fruit in the bin, not the largest. All the good stuff the plant puts in the fruit – sugars, acids, fragrances, flavors, secondary plant products, water – it seems like the plant will put in a certain amount, but no more. The good stuff in the larger sized fruit is diluted, spread out, while in the medium or small sized fruit, the good stuff is concentrated. It’s no secret that the gigantic apple is going to taste like a softball, while the smaller apple will taste like an apple. Not to mention that it’s a whole lot easier to figure out if something’s heavy when you don’t get thrown off by grabbing the biggest thing.

Good produce ripens with its friends.

Technique 5: check the bottom of the basket. Okay, the joke is that the produce guy puts the rotten strawberries in the bottom of the basket, and I would believe that in some cases. The truth is that many fruits ripen in the presence of ethylene gas, and that ripe fruit produces more ethylene gas. Baskets and bins often produce an enclosed space so that the fruit at the bottom of the bin or basket gets a bigger whiff of ethylene and therefore ripens faster.

Side tip: Aim for the middle of the bin for produce that you want to eat that night. Not everything is sensitive to ethylene – middle of the bin tip seems to work best for citrus, berries, bananas, and apples, and should be applied after all the other tips.

A word or two about the classic, “buy slightly soft, when the flesh yields to gentle pressure.” Good advice for buying ripe stone fruits and tomatoes. However, there are two caveats: 1.) most shoppers know that – after the sixth person submits the fruit to “gentle pressure” I guarantee you that it will be soft, but not in a delectable way. 2) you’ve picked ripe produce. Moreover, if you buy 6-7 ripe pieces of produce, you are committed to eating them within 2-3 days, which can be a challenge.

My aim with these tips is to give you the tools to pick wonderful, ripe and slightly under-ripe produce, some which you can eat right away, the rest slightly under-ripe that you can put in a bowl so you can eat wonderful produce through the week. Lots of strategy here!

Happy produce shopping!