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My Local Bike Shop is a delightful place and conveniently located right by the YMCA, my most frequent biking destination. Every time I’ve tried to come through the doors with my trailer, someone has rushed to assist me. The salespeople are pleasant and not too pushy and the mechanics, though terse, are not unfriendly.
Still, I would rather not give the LBS any more of my money than absolutely necessary, so I am trying to learn something about bicycle repair and maintenance, one modest step at a time. So far I have learned to remove my front wheel and replace an inner tube (or install my new Innova studded tire, which scoffs at slush), but hey, it’s a start.
Last week’s goal was to clean my chain. I had some rattley sort of noises coming from my chain and was not particularly optimistic that cleaning it would help much–it didn’t look all that dirty–but it seemed like an obvious first step. My bike is about four a half years old (though I was pregnant or caring for an infant much of that time), so it was definitely time.
The best method is to actually remove the chain, but that was a bridge too far for me this time. Another method is to scrub the chain with a toothbrush. We already had this White Lightning chain cleaning kit*, though, that Mr. FP had bought, so I used that. The design of the thing was cumbersome and the little bottles of cleaner it came with were hard to use, but even allowing for all the time I spent spilling the cleaning fluid (both from the bottle and from the cartridge) and then cleaning it up, I probably saved time and got it cleaner over using a toothbrush.
The results were surprisingly impressive. Giant chunks of black crud fell off. The chain suddenly looked… smaller. Most importantly, the rattling noise disappeared. So if you’ve been putting on new layer after new layer of grease to your chain and putting off degreasing it, procrastinate no more. It won’t take long and you’ll be glad you did.
What are you learning to do this week? Have you ever degreased your bike chain?
*Our kit came with four bottles of cleaner, actually–I think we bought it at Walmart. I would not count on the two-bottle kit actually cleaning two chains, because we managed to use up and/or spill all four bottles just on two cleanings.
It’s official: I’m an employee again! Having finished my master’s of library science back in December, I started sending out applications as soon as we knew where we were moving to. And I sent out a whoooole lot of applications, most of which were ignored completely. Finally, a chance playground encounter led me to a valuable contact who really stuck her neck out for me (meanwhile, I volunteered at her library) and got me a couple of interviews, and I finally landed a part-time entry-level professional librarian job.
I really think that for me, personally, right now, having a part-time job is the best thing for both me (I count, too!) and my family. It will bring in some welcome extra money, even when the not-insubstantial child care bill is paid (partly because my new employer has such generous part-time benefits, we’ll be saving close to $300 a month on benefits and actually getting more coverage). By an even wider margin, it will increase our income, which we’ll need if we do look at buying a house in the next year or two. And it will get me started on a career that I can continue to develop as the boys get older.
Full-time would, I think, have been a little uncomfortable for all of us right now. Too many long days for the boys, no time for laundry and meal planning and all those thousands of little tasks.
The catch is that the money will only work out if I continue to be a Frugal Paragon when I’m at home. If I slack off on the grocery budgeting, yogurt-making, laundry detergent-making, home mending, etc., then my job won’t pay off. If we can’t make one car work and we buy a second one, then I’ll be working just to pay for the car.
So either I’ve found a brilliant way to have just enough career while still being a part-time homemaker, or I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew! Stay tuned to find out which one or make your predictions in the comments below. Or tell how YOU are balancing your career with your other interests and your domestic responsibilities.
Getting along with one car was easy for the first few months. The weather was lovely all fall; even into November, there were almost no days requiring more than a heavy sweater or light windbreaker. Saturday, for instance, I biked to the gym in shorts and a sweatshirt.
Then… winter came, and it came hard and fast. Can we still make it work with one car? Our financial position improved markedly when we sold our CRV, and I hate the idea of giving up our gains. We don’t have enough cash to buy something we would really want to drive, meaning we might have a car payment. Then there’s the insurance, the taxes, the gas (having a second car would make it too temping to drive in marginally bikeable weather), and the maintenance–according to Edmunds.com, for instance, a 2009 Honda Fit (the kind of thing we might buy) would cost us close to $30K over five years.* It would certainly delay our short-term goal of owning a home in a year or two.
The first big test came Tuesday, when it was fourteen degrees outside. Mr. FP had to work, I was home with the kids. There were basically three options:
- Badger Mr. FP into taking the bus to work so I could have the car.
- Stay at home all day with the kids.
- Bundle up, get on my damn bike, and take us all to the YMCA for pilates and a change of scenery.
Option #1 might not have been effective and would certainly have bred resentment. Option #2 might have resulted in damage to the furniture and/or my sanity. So I chose option #3.
You will probably not be surprised to hear that my bike was the only one on the rack at the Y! The ride was actually
not as bad as I expected, but I do want to get some better gear. Some parts of me were overheated, some were too cold, and my gloves were too stiff. The kids, fortunately, looked comfy as could be in the trailer, which has a windscreen, except that their puffy coats made it hard to fit them in.
Wednesday and Thursday, I needed the car because there was snow on the ground (Big Brother’s preschool was closed Tuesday, but he has to be dropped off normally, making staying home not an option). Cold is one thing; snow is quite another. I bundled the kids into the car and drove Mr. FP to work, once by design and once because he missed the bus. (He took the bus home.)
So far, so good. Now, let’s be honest: I am not our primary breadwinner, and I do not have full say whether or not we get another car. But I can control my own attitude and use it to further our goal of staying a one-car family. So here are my mini-goals:
- Do not ask for the car on any day when I could safely bike.
- Do not complain about winter biking.
- Do not complain about driving Mr. FP to work in a pinch, and don’t make him late getting the kids ready.
I’ve already invested a little money in good multi-purpose gear, most notably some really nice Merrell boots on which I dropped $90. But as Grandma FP remarked, I can buy a lot of boots for the price of a car payment.
Who else is biking this winter?
*Realistically, we would pay less than this, because we don’t drive as much as the average person, but the number is still instructive.
My kids eat a lot of yogurt. I mean, a lot. My mother used to buy them YoBaby when we would visit, for a treat, but she had to give that up when they wanted two and three cartons—each. They easily go through an entire quart-size carton of plain in one long weekend visits.*
As you can imagine, even plain yogurt by the quart adds up when you are buying up to two quarts a week. As I struggle to get my grocery bill down, it seemed like a good time to reconsider my position that homemade yogurt was not worthwhile. After all, all the other bloggers were doing it. Not just the Prudent Homemaker, with her nine mouths to feed on a shoestring budget, but even Mrs. PoP at Planting Our Pennies, who works full time and could clearly afford to buy yogurt. Maybe they’re onto something.
The potential savings were significant, if not huge. I usually buy yogurt for $2.78 per quart, although I sometimes find it on sale for $2.50 or even, once, $2.25 (I had to buy five quarts for that price). The milk we buy, on the other hand, is anywhere from $2.08 to $2.49 per half gallon, depending on where we happen to be shopping. That would make my per-quart cost more like $1.04 to $1.25, plus a spoonful of old yogurt (about nine cents).
My first few efforts were, as I suspected, a tremendous pain in the ass. I heated the milk in a pot on the stove up to 180 degrees, which was time-consuming, then had to wait for it to cool down to exactly 110 degrees, which takes a surprisingly long time and requires constant monitoring. Then I kept obsessively checking it during the day to make sure I was keeping it warm but not too warm.
Something had to change. Two key realizations pulled it together for me:
- Ultra-pasteurized milk does not have to be heated to 180. You can heat to just 110 and go straight to the next step.
- You can heat the milk in a glass jar in the microwave. Fewer dishes to clean (no pot) and much easier. Plus, it won’t burn the hell out of your pan if you forget about it.
So here’s my method so far:
- Fill a glass jar nearly full of milk. I’ve been using an old forty-ounce jar that used to contain Costco strawberry spread.**
- Heat the jar in the microwave until the milk is 110 degrees, if it’s ultra-pasteurized. If I happen to have milk that is just regularly pasteurized, then I do 180. I do longer increments at first, say a minute, and then shorten the intervals as it gets warmer. Each time the microwave bings, I stir the milk (to prevent hot spots as well as skin formation) and check the temperature. A candy thermometer would be good, and maybe I’ll get one, but I’ve been using an instant-read analog meat thermometer.
- If necessary, wait till it cools down to 110. Then I pour a little milk into the old yogurt carton (if I am starting from commercial yogurt) and mix it with the last dregs of the old yogurt, generally a couple of tablespoons’ worth. Pour the milk/yogurt mixture back into the jar (don’t stir!) and cap it.
- Put the jar someplace warm. I sometimes put my oven on “warm” for a few minutes, then turn it off and put the jar in. Or I often put the jar in a sunbeam, since I tend to mix this up in the morning.
- Wait a long time, at least eight hours. Last time I forgot about it and it went more like fourteen with no ill effects.
- Pour off any visible whey and put in the fridge.
Now, here’s something you need to know about homemade yogurt: It is very thin. I have just been using it that way. The kids don’t mind, and anyway I usually use it for making their overnight oatmeal. I just omit the milk and use extra yogurt. I tried straining it once, but I (a) made a giant mess and (b) let it sit too long, winding up with a teeny tiny portion of extremely sticky yogurt and a whole lot of whey for which I had no use. I’ll probably try straining again in the future. I like Greek yogurt for myself. Since I buy this for either three-fifty or four dollars a quart, I can lose some volume and still save money.
Do you make your own yogurt? What’s your favorite method?
*They are happy to eat plain yogurt with Cheerios or fruit in it, and I have found, too, that plain yogurt is much less sticky in the clean-up phase than commercial sweetened yogurt.
**Coincidentally, this is an excellent thing to spoon into your yogurt. Like fruit on the bottom yogurt, but much cheaper!
In 2006, Mr. FP and I were, for the first time ever, both fully employed. We were 25/26 and had been married for five years. We were tired of living in apartments, so we decided to buy a house. And we wanted to have a family in a few years, so we bought a four-bedroom house.
Three years later, we no longer wanted to live in south Georgia, where both our house and our jobs were located. According to conventional wisdom, this should not have been a particular problem. We had lived in the house for over three years, and it was a nice house in a desirable school district, so we should have been able to sell it and turn a small profit. We put the house on the market, got jobs out of state, rented an apartment, and moved away, confident that the place would sell soon.
But you can add, right? 2006 + 3 = 2009 and looming housing crash. We had no idea, and our real estate agent appeared to have no idea, that the rules had changed. We were underwater on our house; we owed more than it was worth. To make a long story short, after eight or nine months we fired our old agent, stopped paying the mortgage, and pursued a short sale. We found a buyer quickly at that price, the bank approved the short sale in record time, and the whole thing was over in a few months. The bank wrote off the missing money and the federal government magnanimously agreed not to charge us taxes on this forgiven debt.All Categories
What we had done wrong: Bought a house with only 5% down, allowing the slightest market fluctuation to put us underwater. Did not pay down the balance like we were supposed to do to get rid of our PMI. Bought a house in a place before we had lived in it long enough to really commit. Made a precipitous move out of the house.
What we did right: Kept our retirement accounts. Even in the darkest moments of this whole debacle, our net worth was never negative. When we ran out of liquid money, we did not cash in our 403(b)s. And we never attempted to rent the house out as a stopgap. Had we done so, there’s a good chance that the mortgage company would have refused the short sale (seeing it as an investment property) and we would have wound up in foreclosure.
Aside from the retirement accounts, we lost every penny that we had ever possessed. We had made some bad financial decisions in the past, but none of them really mattered, because if we had had more money, we just would have lost it, too. We also, of course, lost our good credit, which we are still rebuilding. I don’t indulge in much regret, as every “error” is part of what led me to where I am now, but I do regret–and feel ashamed–that I borrowed money and didn’t pay it back.
The funny thing is, I couldn’t get pregnant in that house. Tried for a full year, charts and Robitussin and the whole nine yards, nothing. That yellow-painted bedroom just sat empty. Didn’t get pregnant until we were living in a one-bedroom apartment and going broke. We moved into a rental duplex in my hometown when I was four months along. Around the time the short sale went through and our credit was a goner, my nephew was born. My sister was on maternity leave and we spent lots of time together, having lunch with our grandma and taking the baby for walks. I remember that fall, if you will pardon the schmaltz, as one of the happiest times of my life, and I remember Mr. FP remarking that I had started laughing a lot more.
Turns out I was just as happy to bring home my babies (after all that waiting for Big Brother, Little Brother turned up unlooked-for a mere sixteen months later) to a duplex as I would have been in that big house. We thought we needed to have everything All Set, but there’s really no such thing anyway. We do hope to buy a house again in the future, but we’ll do so much more cautiously–make sure we like the area first, put more down, and buy only as much house as we need.
What debacles did you pass through on your way to better things? Would you go back and change them if you could, or were they too important as stepping stones?
I don’t pay much attention to the stock market. I just assume it will go up over time, and if I have money to invest, I invest it. Apparently it hasn’t been a great few months, stocks-wise, but our net worth did not drop. The reason it did not is that we are not wealthy. The growth in our net worth comes entirely from our savings out of our current income. Because our net worth is still relatively low compared to our income, our savings more than offset losses from the market. Anyway, here’s where we stand:
Investments: $59,225.48 (Up 7.5%, all of it new money that I put in my Roth)
- Mr. FP’s 403(b): $30,450.13 (up by $18)
- Mrs. FP’s rollover IRA: $17,123.83 (down by $48)
- Mrs. FP’s Roth IRA: $11,680.77 (up because of new investment)
Property: $2000 (1999 Honda Accord)
Credit Cards: -$2592.02
Net Worth: $65,535.88
That’s an increase of $2310.01, or 3.7%. Frankly, I think we should have done better. We’ve been spending money hand over fist on getting settled in Colorado–pint-sized snow boots, a down jacket for Mr. FP, bike supplies, etc. Most of these are (a) one-time purchases that should last many years–the coat, for instance, replaced a Starter jacket circa 1996–and (b) carefully considered purchases meant to support a frugal, outdoorsy sort of lifestyle. Still, I’d like to see us speed up savings by cutting the grocery budget, making fewer donut runs, etc. We tend to keep the holidays pretty low-key, so I’m optimistic that we might see better gains next time.
With the year winding down, where do you stand? Did the stock market cause you sleepless nights, or did you take it in stride?
First, a confession: I have mediocre credit. I used to have actual bad credit, but it has risen to mediocre and remains there, hovering between 600 and 700.
I have been late on a bill only once in my life, but boy, it was a doozy. To make a long story short, in 2010 Mr. FP and I stopped paying the mortgage on a house we no longer lived in, and a few months later, we short-sold it, meaning that the bank agreed to settle our mortgage for less than we owe. We were underwater on the house; we owed more money on it than it was worth. (Perhaps next week I will tell you whole sordid story as a useful cautionary tale about the perils of impetuous homebuying.)
Anyway, as you can imagine, not paying your mortgage really dings the ol’ credit score, and so does settling an account (e.g., our mortgage) for less than you owe. I had a small student loan on which I kept paying, which helped me make up a little bit of ground, but the process is slow.
Despite our traumatic experience, we still want to consider owning a house someday, maybe in the next year or two if we really like Denver. To do that, I personally need to contribute two things: income from a real job (update on this front coming soon) and better credit. So I started researching ways to get my credit up. I seemed to have two main problems, aside from the house debacle: “too few accounts currently paid as agreed” and too little available credit. Any time I use my one card, I come too close to the limit, and apparently that’s bad. You should look like you are using only a tiny bit of the credit available to you–perhaps to demonstrate your restraint?
So I took two steps: I asked my credit union to raise the limit on my card, which they did, and I opened an Amazon Visa in my own name. I’m sure that will see a lot of use as we love us some Amazon, and instead of getting 1% cash back like with our trusty old Chase Freedom card, we will now get 2% back from Amazon. Plus I got a $60 gift card just for signing up, which is, as my father would say, better than a nail in the foot. I’ll be able to use my account at Credit Karma to see whether it helps it go up. (Your Credit Karmas score is not exact, but it’s the best you can get for free, and should show changes over time.)
It all seems a little skeezy. Fake-borrowing money just to prove that I can be trusted to borrow money? And here’s where it gets really unfair: Mr. FP has better credit than me. And the reason is that he took out a loan we couldn’t afford. That’s right. Right before the skipped payments started to hit the credit reports, we realized we needed a second vehicle for a variety of reasons. So while I was at work, Mr. FP went out and financed a three-year-old Honda CRV. I wasn’t on the loan because I was at work, and anyway I disapproved. I thought he should get an older, smaller car. Time proved me right and it is greatly to Mr. FP’s credit that he eventually admitted his error and sold the car. But that irresponsible decision boosted his credit to a remarkable and illogical extent. (Some of the difference in our scores is probably due to our joint credit cards being in his name, I think just because he was the one filling out the applications.)
I wish credit reporting companies had a better idea of your bill-paying abilities. I pay rent, daycare, all sorts of things that don’t show up. Am I the only one who finds it a little unfair that being actually responsible with credit does not necessarily lead to a good score?
There are many great blog posts about how to save money on your smart phone bill by switching from a name-brand provider like Verizon to an upstart like Ting or Republic Wireless. One of my favorites is this excellent series from the folks at Planting Our Pennies.
But… what if you never had a smart phone to begin with? Can you still justify getting one? We decided we could. We have no more debt and money is starting to accumulate in the bank. Plus, since we cancelled our basic Verizon plans back in February and switched to Airvoice, we’ve already saved about $320 (even after paying the cancellation fee). A little research revealed that we could both have smart phones for waaaaay less than that dumb-phone Verizon plan.
We considered two main options, Republic Wireless and Ting.* We decided on Ting because, even if our current text and voice usage doubles and we add moderate data use, we will still save money over Republic (Republic offers great prices on unlimited plans, ideal for heavy users). Our Airvoice plans cost $10 each for 250 minutes, 500 texts, or some combination thereof. Mr. FP came close to his limit once or twice; I had over $40 left in my plan (it rolls over from month to month). So we are light users–and I don’t WANT to be a heavy user. If I get bored at the playground, I’d rather read a book than be tempted to update my Facebook status.
Looking for used phones was a no-brainer for us, especially since we had heard such good things about Glyde, a marketplace for buying and selling used cell phones and a particular godsend for anyone who wants to change carriers. Somewhat arbitrarily, we decided to shop for more or less mid-market options, phones that were pretty good a year or two ago, but not top of the market. We decided on Android phones as we are heavy Google users and they seemed a better deal than iPhones. (An iPhone 4 or 4s would have been in our $100-150 price range, for instance, but unlike other phones in that range, it does not have LTE coverage.) Mr. FP, our cell phone guru, chose last year’s Moto X ($157 shipped). I was going to get the same thing, but as soon as he ordered his, Glyde was sold out! Back to the drawing board. What I wound up doing was looking on Glyde for every Sprint smart phone, then ordering the cheapest available option that was in excellent condition and was LTE-capable. That turned out to be the HTC EVO LTE for $112 shipped, so I ordered it.
Our experience with Glyde was quite smooth, if not expeditious. Both our phones were in the excellent condition we ordered. There was some sort of delay with shipping mine, but I still received it in about two weeks. Porting our numbers to Ting also went smoothly, at least on Ting’s end. I had to call Airvoice to get them to release my number.
Ting charges you based on your level of consumption, and you can move freely between levels. If one month you don’t use any data, you don’t pay for data. We are estimating that we’ll wind up paying $30-$40 a month for the two of us; about twice what we’ve been paying with Airforce, but still less than half of what we were paying for basic phones with Verizon. The less we use, the less we’ll pay, and if our usage starts to creep up, we can use our Google Voice numbers over WiFi to keep it down. You can use this nifty calculator to see how much Ting can save you.
I realize that we didn’t need smart phones, but we were really starting to notice times when they would make our lives easier: Wanting to comparison shop while standing in a store, for instance, or wanting to look up a phone number while riding in the car. Now we can do those things. Frugality doesn’t have to mean denying yourself some of the fun gadgets you see other people playing with. It DOES mean not blindly shelling out for that three-figure plan and not going for the iPhone 6 or Galaxy V as soon as they come out.
Do you have a smart phone? How are you keeping the cost down?
*This is a referral link. If you use it to sign up, we get a credit to our account and you also get a $25 credit in yours! The MMM forums have a great referral thread, but if you are not a member, please considering clicking here to join Ting.
I had planned to blog about how driving my car has become kind of interesting novelty (Oooh! I have the car today!) now that I bike most places I go regularly.
But today I had the car for a job interview, and on the way home from it, I ran over some sort of twisted metal and got a flat tire. While this was inconvenient and I wish I still had the $165 (for tow and tire), the whole experience actually exposed a number of things about my life that are great.
- I have a car! It let me down a bit today, but 999 times out of a thousand, I get in it and it whisks me over the kinds of distances I could only dream travelling by foot or bicycle. It’s faster than horses and doesn’t poop all over the place.
- I have money. Three years ago, I ran up a nine hundred dollar emergency room bill (insurance deductible). I did not have it. The bill came in three separate parts as medical bills do, so I had to make three separate phone calls asking for payment plans, including for the smallest bill–which was $137. That was a real low point for me. Today, I could put the charges on my Visa and be confident I can pay it off at the end of the month. Even if it had been a thousand dollars, I have an emergency fund now.
- Modern technology rocks. I don’t have a smartphone yet (I actually ordered one! Stay tuned for details!) but I have a dumb phone which allows me to sit in my car and call for help. Then the power of the Internet allowed someone 1700 miles away to find me a tow company.
- People love me. Lacking a smart phone, my best option was to call people and ask them to look up the number of a tow truck company. The first four people I called weren’t available, but I hit pay dirt on the fifth call, my brother-in-law. And if he didn’t answer, I would have moved on to friends. Plenty of people willing to help me out of a jam.
- I love to read. If you love to read enough, every delay becomes a mini-vacation. Of the hour and a half the whole thing took, I got to read for probably an hour! It was great! Thank goodness I had brought my Nook.
Other things that worked in my favor: The kids were not with me and the weather was lovely. What are you grateful for this week?
This post contains affiliate links and independent opinions.
We eat a lot of beans at the FP household, partly because beans are cheap and partly because neither of us likes to shop for, handle, or cook raw meat. I like to cook a pound or two at a time in my slow cooker and store the beans in two-cup portions in a freezer bag. (A can of beans is about a cup and three quarters; most recipes measure the beans they call for in cans, and we usually like to use more than the recipe calls for.) My general practice was to rinse and soak the beans, then put them in the slow cooker, cover with cold water, add a bay leaf if I thought of it, and turn it on. (I’ve never gone wrong with 8 hours on low.)*
The results were, I thought, totally acceptable, and both slightly cheaper and slightly tastier than canned beans. Then I read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Now, I often found this book a bit much for me; her target audience seems to be people who cook way better than I do. But I thought I would try the things within my reach, starting with salting my pasta water. That resulted in tastier pasta, so next up was trying her advice on cooking beans.
She recommends putting in all sorts of odds and ends: scraps of carrot, onion, and celery, plus a garlic clove, parsley stems, thyme, and fennel. I think fennel is foul and did not have parsley stems or thyme, but I obediently put in the rest, plus, as she recommends, some kosher salt and “an immoderate, Tuscan amount of olive oil.”
I cooked overnight and noticed the difference as soon as I woke up. Instead of smelling like, well, beans, my kitchen smelled like soup. It smelled good. The cooking water—not mere bean water but broth—tasted good. I fished out the veggie bits with a slotted spoon. (I might use cheesecloth in the future, as the celery leaves broke up into a million little pieces and were hard to remove.)
For some reason, I always thought it would be too hard or too much trouble to try to save the broth from cooking beans. It really isn’t. Put the colander inside a big bowl and proceed. The beans themselves, which were plumper and tastier than any other navy beans I’ve encountered, were destined for chicken chili made with chicken broth, so I saved some of the leftover bean broth and used it to make bread soup, as Alder recommends. (Actually I didn’t follow her recipe; I just threw some stuff together and it was quite tasty.) I also tried substituting bean broth for chicken broth to save a buck, and that worked, too, at least in a highly flavored chili. That batch was made with pinto beans, and while the broth still tasted fine, I think I preferred the clearer white bean broth.
I’m so impressed that I might actually buy the book after I have to return it to the library and take my time working through the chapters. It’s not really a cookbook per se and has only a few recipes; it’s more a book about cooking happily and with confidence.
What new things are you trying in the kitchen lately? Where did you get the idea?
*Red kidney beans may possess a toxin that cannot be adequately eliminated through slow cooking. We don’t care for them, so it’s not a problem for us.