Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tax holidays

So my state is considering a tax holiday for July 4 and Labor day this year, meaning they will possibly not levy the $0.20+/gallon of gas during the holiday weekend.  That's a great relief. consider it's is about $4/gallon right now.  Of course this isn't the first that the tax holiday is in effect.  Usually you can find it near the time for school to start again.  It usually tax free week for school related stuff like clothing and paper products. 

I usually may or may not stock up on some stuff.  This year, probably kids clothing.  But if there is a tax holiday on gas, you bet I am stocking up on gas.  We usually have a few gas tanks we keep in the garage for stocking up gas in case a)we run low and have no time to go to t he cheap gas station, b) gas is getting crazy expensive so we buy some more when it's not as expensive, and c) during winter, a snow-in.  If there is a tax holiday, we'll be filling those up.

Hopefully our neighboring state will consider that too so our stations won't have crazy lines or maybe they'll consider it in the fall.

What would you do if there's a gas tax holiday?

Friday, May 27, 2011

credit cards are my BFF

I don't know why everyone is always giving credit cards a bad rep these day.  Credit cards a great.  In fact I charge everything I can on a credit card.  I even wish I can pay my mortgage or car payment on it.  Why because I can get cash back.  In fact, I love credit cards so much, I don't even care what the rates they are charging. 

"That's INSANE!!" you say, "What about the interest?"

Well,  I don't worry about the interest.  I never even look at what they are charging for their rate.  Why?  I pay my credit card in full every month.  I never pay any interest on my CC bill.  EVER.

Credit cards did not doom America to have bad finances.  America doomed America to have bad finances.  Most people tend have the thinking of buy it now, pay for it later.  OK LATER is fine, but how much and when? The practice of not thinking about how much you can afford at-the-moment leads to thinking you can afford it in the long term.  If you can't buy it now with cash, why would you buy it at all?  Credit cards get a bad rep because most people do not consider paying for it later in installments means paying more, even if you got it on sale.

I hear people say they have high credit card debt for years.  Why years?  I understand that if you had some really bad situation and had to rack up a lot of debt.  When you can rebuild, pay that debt off should be a priority.  If you think of it as a utility bill, it works the same way.  You make sure that you don't own the utility company money because they will cut off your utilities, so you make sure they get paid.  Put the same reasoning in CC bills and you are sure to not rack up debt waist deep.

In college, I did something stupid.  No, not rack up CC debt.  In fact, it was the opposite.  I called the CC company to lower my limit to the bottom ($200) every time they raised it.  This is to ensured my spending didn't go that high, although it was probably not good for my credit score at the time.  However, over the next 2 years, I have learned to think about what I spend my money on.  Since I didn't like to pay for over charge fees, I was careful about I was buying.  If I didn't have the cash for it, I didn't buy it. 

Now it's the same.  If I can't pay for it, I don't buy it.  I don't charge it.  If I do buy, I better be damn well willing to write that check and pay for it in full when the CC bill came.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

money drains & alternatives

Recently I have considered canning my cable, but Mr. LLF wants to keep it.  Since we don't spend a whole lot on entertainment, I am keeping it, for now.  I am looking into alternatives to cable TV with netflix, hulu, and amazon prime.  Then I wanted to look into other money draining expenses and their alternatives.
  1. New kids toys - I am not saying all new toys are bad, but I have found decent and gently used kids toys at garage sales and craigslist.  The only toy I haven't found used is LEGOs.
  2. Fancy hotels - it seems that the pricier their get, the more the charge for the extras, like internet.  Plus, I am only really just sleeping and keeping my stuff there. 
    ALT: hostels and budget inns, they often have free internet and breakfast.
  3. In car DVD players/GPS - one more thing to break and cost a lot to fix.
    ALT: portable DVD players, you can take it with you anywhere other than the car
  4. Unitasker gadgets - they just take up space in your drawers, unless you use it more than once a week for that purpose or no other what of getting around it
    ALT:  multitasking gadgets
  5. Bank and credit card fees - unless they give me a reward greater than the fee, then maybe (like earn in 5% cash back on everything, and fee was $50 annually)
  6. Trash bags - do we really need to pay so much for re enforced bags, plus these are awful for the environment.
    ALT: we get more than enough bags from grocery shopping, or composting and recycling will reduce 90% of trash.
  7. wrapping paper -
    ALT - gift wrap bags
  8. Books & magazine - I am all for reading, but I don't want to keep all this stuff that I will never again
    ALT: use a book swap, the library.  If you really want to support the writers, send them a check.
  9. Big weddings - it's nice to celebrate people getting married, but there's a lot of fluff in weddings that no one but the bride cares about: flowers, brides maid dresses, the cake, fancy invitations, table dressings, favors
    ALT: a small and simple wedding and a kick ass bash afterward - that's what most guests would remember anyways: the food and drinks, the band/DJ, and the fun they had or not.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dinning out on a dime.

OK not really a dime.  But dinning out can be inexpensive if you look for happy hour specials.  Recently,  I went to dinner with a friend.  She is in the process of buying a home, and I thought maybe she'll appreciate the fact of not spending too much if we go out.

I found this site for great happy hour list near me.  So we picked a place that had $0.25 mojitos and decided to meet there.  One mojito and we can look for a different place to eat right?  No one said you had to buy more.

Unfortunately, the place was no longer there.  It was another restaurant,(I really wish people would update that site).  So we decide to try the place anyways after looking at their happy hour menu.  It turned out to be a gem.  We got plenty of really good food (sliders made from beef aged in a Himalayan salt lined cellar, mini lump crab cakes, etc)and drinks.  The bill was $26 total, without the tip.  $13/person is not bad with alcohol included.

I was so happy about happy hour that I went back to the site and added to the list.  I hope they update the thing.  If only there were other sites that lists food specials.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bigger is better?

I thought about what it really meant for people to live comfortably.  I think the American philosophy "bigger/more is better" and suburbia has really gotten us in trouble over the last few years.

Before the recession, houses were getting bigger, cars were getting bigger, waistlines, mortgages, bulk food packages,  Is bigger really better?  I think getting back to the basics will make us appreciate thing we have more. Sure I would like a nice size house with bedrooms for the kiddies, but the formal living room where no one can use, and the formal dinning room that gets used 2x a year seems kind of wasteful.  Do we really need to drive a XL SUV to get the kids and groceries?  Other than toilet paper, hulk size things like food just scares the crap out of me.  I see people at warehouse stores with cart loads of food, and I wonder how much that will actually be eaten before it goes bad?  Then I think "they must be having a party, there must a lot of parties going on because there are a lot of people with cart loads of stuff".  I find that with living in the suburbs, we tend to want to have all our creature comforts in the house, instead of just the few things we true need.  I think our mind set has "become let's get that because we can afford it",  instead of is that what I need? 

When the recession started, people started to think about what they spend their money on.  People started to want better gas mileages,  more efficient appliances, even extreme couponing to save money.  I am so happy that the government is ever more interested in green energy now (should have done that years ago).  But has the philosophy changed?  I don't think it really has.  Costco earnings were up in 2010.  I love the place for selling hulk items that are good quality, but seriously, hulk CAKE, bulk SPINACH DIP?

Now that the recession is maybe over, the "bigger is better" behaviors are slowly creeping back.  Now even lattes are getting bigger.  Are we getting back to the behavior that got us in trouble again?  have we not learned?  I think the only thing I don't have a problem with getting ever bigger is my bank account.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I heart the library

A year ago, I was very excited about the new Sookie Stackhouse novel that was release.  I put my name on the library's waiting list and when I got the email notice 4 months later, I picked up and read it in 3 days.  Since I had 3 weeks of time on the book, I lend it to a co-worker chose share the same enthusiasm for the series. After she took it home over the weekend to read it, she told me the next Monday that her friends were a bit shock that she had a library book.  "Who goes to the library anymore?" they asked her.  Well, hello!  Me, pick me!  I <3 the library!
That got me questioning "Why not the library?"  Is it a faux pas?  It's free, it's convenient, and it keeps clutter down in my house.  Have people really forgotten about the library or are the old images of  the card catalogue still stuck in there mind?  It is not fashionable to carry around a book with the little date sticker in the back with the due date stamped on it?   Most libraries have online catalogues that you can search.  Then you can place holds and tell them which branch you want to pick up at.  You get email notifications when it gets there.  There's self check out. So you are in and out of there in 5mins.  Some even have ebooks you can check out.  And if they don't have it in the system, you can request it from another system or they'll buy it.

I don't see why people are spending a butt load on stuff they don't reread often.  Even if it's ebooks, buy books after books adds up especially if you only read them once.  I know, I know.  What about the writers/authors.  How will they make money?  I personally am all for supporting them if you love their work.  In that case, yes buy their ebooks(paper just takes too much space).  Why not just send them a check directly? 

I wonder what other "free" resources people are not using, like parks, community centers, county events.  I put free in quotes because we pay taxes for these things.  If we don't use them then we are just throwing away money.  The simple dollar has a good list of things to start with.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Small sucesses for large goals

J. Money posted about how he use one thing as a measuring unit for other things - it cost x # of cheeseburgers to buy that whatever.  I am sure a lot of us have done that one point or another.  I sure did in college.  I still use it as a joke once in a while.

Then I got to thinking, why haven't I use this as a way to get to my larger goals?  Let's say I want to go on a family vacation and it will cost $1000.  It seems like I would have to look at my whole budget to see if I can afford to go on this vacation.  So we save some money here and there, but when do we reach that $1000?  I think that the author of the book Four Hour Work Week hit it on the head when he sets a dreamline and it brakes it down to daily achievements you can count.

If the vacation is in 6 months and it's $1000, then I have to save $5.56 a day to get there (1000/180 =  5.555).  That's a venti latte a day. This seems achievable.  Putting $5 a day away doesn't seem very daunting and it makes sure that in 180 days I have a vacation fund.  Even if I have some unexpected expenses, putting $5 away doesn't seem as big a hurdle, not when you don't think of it as $167 a month.

Those infomercials that say "for $.25 a day, you could..." they are on to something.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Splitting the bill evenly with CAOs

I was reading youngandthrity's and FabulouslyBroke about being generous to friends/family while not not receiving reciprocal treatment.  It was very obvious that there are people will are always willing to be treated and never offer to treat.  What about those that are not so obvious opportunists?  Like those who like to split the bill evenly when they have clearly ordered everything on the menu, and you have ordered one thing?

Mr LLF and I have some friends what we occasionally go out to dinner with.  Some are very gracious and generous.  Some I now see as Cheap Ass Opportunists.  We all make decent money.  Some are lawyers, some doctors(medical and otherwise) and some, like Mr LLF and I, are civil servants (read: not making money hand over fist, or will ever if we continue to work for the man). 

The CAOs will order appetizers to share, a drink, dinner, coffee, and dessert.  While the rest of us order dinner and a maybe drink.  I had actually sometimes ordered an appetizer as my dinner to save a few bucks back then. At the end of the night, when the bill came the CAOs will said "let's just split the bill up evenly".  Since it's usually a large group(7-10), everyone agrees out of shear simplicity, so that we don't have to sit and figure out who got what, and the waitstaff don't have to remember what amount on what credit card.  So at times our bill comes to $40 for a $15 dinner and $7 appetizer, when it would clearly be less than $30 with 10% tax and 20% tip included (which is way higher than what it really would be). This was back when we just finished school.  Now it's progressed to having beer/cocktails and a bottle of wine or 2 as well, and the group has grown with significant others(10-14).  I have stop trying to save a few bucks and order an actual dinner when I go out with these people.  But the bill is still $65 for $30 worth of food.  Okay, I will share the cost of the appetizer because we had a bite. but 2x the cost of the stuff we ordered?

We don't usually get a lot of the extras not because we are cheap or trying to save money.  It's that we know we will be full with just the entree.  Some times we will get dessert, most of the time not.   By we, I meant the non-CAO friends, not just Mr LLF and I.  I thought maybe the CAOs just assumed we all ordered as much as they did.  However, on another occasion I truely saw what was going on. 

It was a small group of people(6), and we had dinner.  I notice there were still the extras, just not as much.  And our bill came about to be just a little more than what we expected to pay, which was the cost of 2 dinners + t&t.  I was stunt at the fact the the CAO was able to control his spending for 1 night.  Or maybe he thought that in the smaller group setting it'll be more noticeable?

Do they think we don't see what they spend when it's a larger group?  Do they think just because they get stuff to share that we should share the bill so evenly.  I don't even think that half the people in the group want or eat the things the CAOs "share".  Is that the cost of a group setting, that we paid for stuff we don't want?  Since I am buying them drinks, will they ever buy me a dinner, other than the obligatory birthday dinner IF there is one.  Is asking for a separate check tacky?  Can you ask for them to put their drinks on a separate bill?  Can you say no when they want to split the check evenly, when everyone else agrees?

I think in the end, we only go out with the CAOs like 2-3 times a year and try to go to all-you-can-eat places like Maggiano's when we go out.  Even the all-you-can-eat places are starting to get rediculous because the extras.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

10 tips on being green and saving money

It surprising how being environmentally friendly can actually save you money and have other benefits as well.  Here is a list of things, and they don't even take that much effort.
  1. save the cold water before showering - when you are running the water to get it warm, use a bucket to save that water.  Use the water for flushing the toilet or doing laundry later 
  2. use a solar charger for your small electronics - very useful especially when there is a power outage
  3. get smart surge protectors - your peripherals will turn off as well as your main item
  4. compost and recycle to keep trash minimal
  5. if there is trash, use grocery bags as trash bags - you take out trash more often, so less smelly things in the house too
  6. use vinegar or baking soda for cleaning, these 2 will clean about 90% of things in the household, cost pennies, and safe for kids and pets
  7. use the speed wash cycle and half the recommended amount of soap on most clothes - most clothes are usually not very dirty, especially for being the office
  8. leave the lawn clippings on the ground instead of bagging them, this actually helps the grass keep moisture, just mow to make sure the grass doesn't get too high so the clippings are short, and use a push mower
  9. save the AC run off and rain water in the summer for watering the lawn/garden on dry days
  10. use cloth gift bag for gifts to family member/close friends that you give to annually, you can re-use it or  for them to keep, you can put their names on it or leave it plain.  This may sound weird at first, but they don't keep the normal wrapping paper anyways.  very useful for giving gifts to kids every year.  These are also easy DIY.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Price vs. quality

When I was younger, I always thought that buying expensive things were stupid, unless there's no way around it.  I always ask my parents why would they spend so much on stuff.  However, I have learn that less expensive does not always mean you save money.  At the same time, expensive does not mean wasting money.  It all depends on quality and usability. 

Less take shoes.  I used to buy lots of shoes.  I like shoes.  I have a bunch that I thought would look nice.  They are not very expensive.  So I bought some every time I see a sale.  Are they quality?  Some.  Are they useful?  Some.  Are they both?  Only a very few pairs.  So I find myself only wearing a few pairs that are comfortable and good quality regardless of what they cost (some are $20 some are $80).  The rest, even though they are not expensive, ends up taking up space.  Same thing with clothes, electronics, and everything else.  The things I used most did not matter the cost to get them, but the usability.

In the end, I realized that my parents spend a little more on what they will use more often, which cost less per use than something that either doesn't last or doesn't get used because it was not good.  I am not advocating on buying things that are expensive because the reputed quality, nor am I recommending paying the first price you see.  But I now see that value of comfort, reliability, usefulness needs to be evaluated in addition to the cost of the goods.  All of those divided by the cost is the true value of the item.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How much is your time worth?

The other day, we were at warehouse store getting some stuff for a BBQ.  I love the fact that I can get 15+ pieces of fillet Mignon for about $65 to $75.  So a stake dinner is only about $10 at most.  That really not bad considering if we go out to eat the cheapest is $10 per person and does not include tax & tip. 

While we were there, we came across some educational workbooks for kids.  So I thought, since I am little LLF1 is going to spend the summer with the grandparents, he can do a little of practicing of ABC's and 123s everyday.  This saves big time since daycare or camp costs $2000+ over the summer.  $25 for 2 workbooks is great.  However, my mother-in-law mention that there is a store that sell these educational items and may have the same thing for less.  The key word is MAY.  This store educational specialty store is not really far away, but it not really along any route we usually take.  It is close enough that we occasionally pass by it.  When Mr. LLF hear this, he immediately said "I am not going to spend an hour just to save a dollar."  All this happened while we still were at the warehouse store, while I was looking over the difference between the few workbooks selections they have there.  So we just grab 2 we there were good and went on our way.

What Mr LLF said got me thinking: "How much is your time really worth?"  In the name of saving money, we often shop around for the best deal.  Sometimes, I find myself going to a couple of stores just to compare the prices before I buy anything.  Of course, when it comes to anything over $100, I make sure I am getting the lowest price for the best rate item(reliability, usability, etc).  I also make the point of looking at weekly sales ads to see when and where I can buy certain items(i.e. I would go to the store that has pasta sauce for $1/jar, and also stock up on other sale items there).  Sometimes, my in-laws will go to 2-3 stores, all near each other, for different items that are on sale).

Going to several stores even though it saves quite a bit of money, but it takes a lot of time(parking, browsing, waiting in line at the register).  How much am I saving in dollars and how much time is it costing me?  In the case of the workbooks, I didn't question Mr LLF when he didn't care to do any comparison shopping at all.  We know that the warehouse store price is usually not too bad.  Notice I did not say that it was less than retail stores, because sometimes it isn't.  I knew that that one purchase might have be $2 - $4 off potentially, but I do not have to go out of my way to get to the other store for something that MAY be less and spend even 15mins comparing and buying.  Personally, I see it this way:

My job pays me $35/hr, and after tax it's more like $20/hr (I like to only look at my net earnings because that's a more conservation way of counting my money).  If I have to spend 30 minutes doing some money saving, it has to be saving $10+ or more.  Usually, that not very hard to do.  If I spend 10mins looking at adds and coupons, I can usually fine $10 in savings versus regular price.

So how much is your time worth?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Goal setting

Back in 2001, I was finishing school with a BA in Art Studio(which my 'rents were livid over since the swtich from CompSci).  My uncle asked me a couple of questions: Where do you see yourself when you are 35 and what goals have you set?  So I joked, "I will have a million dollars in assests by then time I am 35, but probably will have as much in debt."  After that conversation, I had not really thought about the goal.  I figured, I'll just focus on getting a good job as a graphics designer and see where life takes me.

I wasn't very worried about my finances at the time.  I paid off my student loan within the grace period so I paid only $20 in interest total(more on that later).  I bought a car when they were offering 0% financing.  I didn't really want to travel as I needed to look for more projects to develop my portfolio. 

Fast forward to May 2011.  Not quite 35.  I have $1 million in assests, close as much in debt.  I have reached my goal, though it stressed me a quite a bit.  I was trying very hard to persue this goal.  I thought little about it, but kept it in the back of my mind.  Everytime then some opportunity came up, we always thought about how our decisions will effect us immediately and in the long term future.  Does this opportunity contribute to the wellbeing of the marriage, family life, financial happiness?  Will this opportunity give cost too much stress or time for the great paid off?  My million dollar goal was never a factor in the decisions.  I confess that I have thought about how our decision will add toward or take from that goal, but the dicisions were never base on that goal.  My focus was not on that.

Now I realized that even though what I thought once was a whimsy/joke, I really did consider it more seriously than I expected.  The power of setting a goal, no matter how big or small, long or short will have an impact. 

As for my next goal?  Simplify.  I would like to simplify my life.  Is that too vague?  I think it can apply to all areas in my life.  Hopefully, it will take less than 10 years.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hello World!

Hello all,

This is my first foray into the world of blogging.  This is main way for me to get therapy on the cheap/free.  I am a bit scatterbrain, and I tent to stress easily, especially over financial matters.  Even thought my financial state has always been safe, I am always wondering if there is looking for a way to do it better.  Better not as in making more money, which is also good, but better as in more "efficient" spending/saving.  Better as in getting the most out of the money I have and making the most of the mistakes choices I made. So world, please join me in the quest to Live Large Frugally.  Your comments and adivce are welcome (hince my free therapy)! =)

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