I love coffee a lot, as perhaps I have mentioned. Never drank it at all until I was over 30. When Big Brother was a baby, I was doing an online graduate degree and the only time I had to do my homework was when he was napping–so right after lunch. Ever tried to concentrate on homework right after lunch? Enter the most wonderful bean.
Despite my affection for the stuff, I don’t grind my own coffee beans. I buy ground coffee (Seattle’s Best, #4) at the grocery store. I was joking about the “horror” of this with the awesome Mrs. Frugalwoods, who is in the midst of an experiment to determine whether Costco beans, at five-something a pound, are a sufficient replacement for their fancypants ten-something a pound beans, which I can only assume are roasted by unicorns. She joked back, “I’ll buy you a coffee grinder.”
The exchange got me thinking about why I don’t grind my own beans, and it’s only partly about buying a grinder. It’s more about taking on another chore. See, on one recent morning, I was straining cold-brew coffee a little at a time, boiling water to make pasta for pasta salad, heating milk in the microwave to make yogurt, pre-rinsing the bodily-fluids laundry, and feeding the children breakfast, all simultaneously. And I had to be at work by 11. Do I really want to add “grind beans” to my to-do list?
“Lifestyle inflation” is a term usually used for things that cost money, like buying a nicer car when you get a raise or moving to a bigger house when your second child is born. But I find I also need to be conscious of revenue-neutral or even money-saving kinds of “lifestyle inflation”–chores that benefit the environment or have taste, health, or other intangible benefits but take up my finite time.
I want to do, well, everything. But every new chore I take on means just a smidge less time for everything else.
Freshly ground coffee beans probably are better, and after the initial cost of the grinder, I would not be spending more money on an ongoing basis. But I would be committing to a new chore, when my life is already pretty full. A person can do anything, but not everything. There are plenty of things, besides bean grinding, that I think would be good to do that I just don’t:
- Using cloth trainers at night for Little Brother. I got tired of the smell and the laundry and the rinsing-in-the-toilet (PLEASE let this be over soon) and now he sleeps in (gasp!) disposable pull-on training pants
- Making bread. I can buy it for $1 a loaf at the bakery outlet
- Line-drying the family clothes
- Taking the bus to work instead of owning a car
- Shopping for local produce/meat/dairy instead of just buying what’s on sale at Sprouts
- Changing our oil/doing basic car maintenance
- Making chocolate syrup for Mr. FP
- Making more snacks from scratch instead of serving Goldfish crackers from Costco
- Making seltzer
What tasks I take on is based on a constantly shifting assessment of my time, our family’s needs, and my personal priorities and preferences. (I don’t particularly like trying to grow plants, but I do like sewing, for instance.) Over the next few list, things from the top list might get dropped and things from the bottom will probably be added. But the coffee tastes good to me, so for now, I’m filing it under “Ain’t broke. Don’t fix.”
Do you hold the line on chore inflation? How do you decide where to focus your energies? Do you have a list like mine of things you kind of wish you did, but don’t have the time and energy for?
So… I am two months plus behind on this. Haven’t done it since January. Oops!
Obviously our situation has changed since we bought a house–not so much as far as our actual net worth, as where it is distributed. In other news, we have switched from Mint to Personal Capital. I just found Mint very clunky and awkward to use, and kept hearing good things about PC… we’ll see.
Cash: $3840.75 (includes our emergency reserve of about $2K)
Investments: $53,389.03 (This used to be more, but we spent my Roth IRA on a giant pile of bricks). New in this category: Mr. FP’s traditional IRA. We will owe taxes on the capital gains that were part of my IRA balance when we cashed it out, so decided to do a traditional IRA to help offset that.
- My rollover IRA: $18,222.11
- Mr. FP’s traditional IRA: $2,944.28 (He is rather depressed that this has already gone down–he just opened it with $3K a couple of weeks ago!)
- Mr. FP’s old 403(b): $32,221.88
Property: $308,000 (assuming that the value of our house is exactly what we paid for it). We do not count our cars in this category.
Total assets: $365,229.78
Credit Cards: $2873.70
Total liabilities: $296,152.13
TOTAL NET WORTH: $69077.65
Since January, that’s a change of $883. Hard to believe it has stayed so steady! On the other hand, at least it hasn’t gone down. The market has not been great and we have been seriously hemorrhaging money on things for the house. Normally we don’t run around buying used pianos and photo prints and whatnot.
When I started this blog in January 2015, I was surprised to find that our net worth was over $50K–it was at that time $51,681.47. That’s an increase over the last year and a half of $17, 396.18, or 33.7%.
Let’s call that “good, with room for improvement.” The next big question: When will we add that fifth zero?
How’s your net worth growing? How do you track it?
Our new house came with no flower beds or garden of any kind. We have four different surfaces:
- Questionable grass
- Rubber mulch
- More rocks
And did I mention the rocks? So many rocks.Trying to keep the rocks out the rubber mulch and the mulch out of the rocks and both of them out of the grass is my new part-time job.
An experienced gardener would probably not have been deterred by this obstacle, but I am anything but an experienced gardener. The only thing I have ever planted in the ground is knockout roses. And if you live in the Deep South, as I did, knockout roses are pretty much the easiest thing you can possibly plant. They look nice and live forever.
So, no time this spring to create a garden. The whole backyard needs some kind of master plan involving a garden, a garage and many fewer rocks.
But I still wanted to try growing something, so I took over some of the containers that were already set up by the side of our house. The swamp cooler is already set up to drain into them, so less watering!
I have a rosemary plant that I bought at Sprouts, two basil plants (same) and several green onions (also, actually, from Sprouts). I cut off the green tips for use in a recipe, replanted the white bulbs, and they really did come back up!
And for decoration, the coneflowers I received for Mother’s Day. These are not super-healthy looking, but they are technically alive, so I’m calling it a win.
Maybe it will all die off. Maybe not. I am enjoying seeing things grow, but I’m honestly not prepared to get emotionally invested right now. I’m a person who likes to operate by baby steps, so the goal for this year was really just to get my hands dirty and enjoy some summer color and flavors.
Do you garden? Did it come naturally to you? How did you get started?
As of mid-May, Big Brother (age 4) owned zero pairs of pants that were his current size and had no holes in them. That’s not even counting pants with patches–all his patched pants had new holes. Even the pants that I bought brand-new for him in January had holes. Fortunately, then the sun came out.
Now, I’m not a sewing expert, but I’m learning and willing to try new things. The stakes are a little lower with clothes for preschoolers because tots just aren’t that picky, so it’s a great place to practice! Grandpa FP always used to say, “It’s already broken,” meaning I couldn’t make things worse. So in that spirit, I get out the sewing machine and the special sharp scissors and I just Google some tutorials and go for it!
I have tried a variety of methods for dealing with holes in the knees, starting with patching. The problem here is that the pants kept springing holes AROUND the patches. My patches, accordingly, kept getting bigger and bigger as the winter went on. I have also discovered that self-adhesive patches must be sewn on as well. I could do this by hand, but no. I hate hand-sewing with a fiery and intense passion, and also I am terrible at it. So I do it on my machine, even though I often accidentally sew the front of the pants to the back of the pants and have to start over (not much room to work in a pair of jeans worn by a 42 pound preschooler).
Then there are pants not suitable for patching. First, a pair of sweatpants (not pictured)–it just seemed like a patch would look strange. But as it happens, now that the weather’s warm, Big Brother desperately needed shorts! I measured a pair of shorts that fit him to figure out a good inseam. There was plenty of length to work with here, so I just did a traditional finished hem (double fold). Because the fabric was a little stretchy, the hem came out a little wobbly, but, well, I didn’t make them to enter in a hemming contest! Big Brother was delighted to see his favorite “running pants” come back to life as “running shorts.”
Next up, black cargo pants. With these, the hole was awkwardly high, close to the pocket–not much extra length. So I tried a new trick and used hem tape. I’d never done it before, but I remember Grandma FP using it, rather indulgently, when I was a teenager and insisted that my favorite dress had grown too short and needed to be let down.
I cut off the pants right at the rip and zig-zag stitched the cut edge, then sewed the hem tape as close as possible to that edge. (Actually it was self-adhesive hem tape, so I pressed it down first). Then I just barely folded over the hem tape, and sewed it down. The idea with using hem tape this way is that it lets you fold over just a tiny bit of the fabric, instead of losing the full half-inch minimum required by a proper hem.
I was thinking that the color of the tape was not important, since it will be on the inside, but of course it is sometimes visible–these are shorts. Fortunately, the neutral beige looks fine, almost like it’s an intentional embellishment. Good thing I didn’t use pink lace or something!
Lastly, we have the unsalvageable. One pair of khaki cargo pants ripped right up to the pocket, leaving no room for repair. Then a pair of jeans which ripped underneath the large patches (not pictured). I was thinking of making shorts of the jeans, but Grandma FP pronounced them unworthy (too threadbare in the butt). I am saving both of these to cut up for future patches. (See my upcoming post on Adult Pants Problems for how I have already used these!)
I feel like I spent all winter trying to keep Big Brother in pants, so I am very glad that part of the year is over. No word yet on whether he will be allowed to have patches on his uniform pants at his new school next year–I hope so, or it could be an expensive winter!
How are your mending skills coming along?
It was bound to happen sooner or later. I have been doing just the minimum to get by with Leapforce at Home–frankly, mostly to try to keep getting referral bonuses–but then my smart phone died and “minimum” became “nothing all month.”
I received a notice this week that I am no longer an active agent and would need to re-take the qualification exam. (No word on whether if I did so, I would retain my preferred agent status and pay rate.)
I was actively trying to keep myself alive with Leapforce, but now that they’ve let me go, I have no plans to try to get back in. With my new job, I have barely been keeping up with my other, better side gig (fact-checking trivia questions) and don’t need the money as much.
It’s a bit of a relief, really. Besides having to steal the time from other projects, I haven’t been performing very well on the new rating tasks using one’s smart phone, so that was an added source of stress. No one likes to get unsatisfactory performance ratings from anonymous algorithms. Now, since I have already failed, I don’t have to worry about it any more! What I feared has already come to pass, so I’m free.
I was active with Leapforce at Home for over four and a half years, and I continue to recommend it for at-home parents and others who want to make a little extra money with not too much commitment.
It gave me something to do during naptime and (back when I was doing more hours and thus performing better) let me feel like I was still pretty good at something besides deodorizing cloth diapers and loading babies into back carriers without assistance. It kept my brain active and introduced me to some funny YouTube series and a few interesting factoids. (Did you know there’s a part of the human spine that looks like a Scottie dog?)
I might have more free time in the fall if we succeed in getting Little Brother into our local public preschool. But if I do, I’d like to use that time for more creative, productive endeavours, like sewing or getting back into writing fiction.
Have you ever felt immediate relief upon “failing”? What have you trimmed from your life recently?
Before we go any further, a clarification: This is not a post about HOW to replace your bike chain. I’ve only done it once and there are many sets of directions out there on the interwebs. This is a post about why I did it–even though in the short run, it was actually more expensive. It’s also meant to be encouraging, as I am inexperienced, lacking in upper body strength, notoriously uncoordinated, and responsible for supervising two preschool boys simultaneously with any repair attempts, so if I can, you can!
A few months back, I had my bike at the local bike shop for a gear problem I couldn’t resolve myself. The bike mechanic mentioned that my chain was near the end of its life. I had two options:
- Pay them to replace it. This costs $15, and they give you 15% off the chain.
- Replace it myself. This would require a $15 tool, and I would have to pay full price for the chain. The total was thus slightly higher.
Well, I bought the chain and the chain tool (the mechanic called it a “chain breaker,” which sounds awesomer, so I’m going to call it that, too). A chain breaker is a unitasker. It does only one thing–push connecting pins in and out of bike chains. But without it, you simply can’t do the job. Fortunately, it is small and not too expensive.
Obviously, I will save money next time I need a new chain, because I already have the tool. But to save $15 every year or so, was it really worth learning a new skill and, well, getting my hands filthy? Obviously, I think so. For one thing, there are four people in my family. If I replace four chains a year, that’s $60 a year, not $15. I already worked out, back when I learned to wax my own eyebrows, that saving $15 four times per year, with compound interest, works out to $904 over ten years.
Then there’s the one-more-thing factor. I’ve realized that I probably actually save more money than I thought by doing my own eyebrows because inevitably, I got my hair cut at the same time. So sometimes I was getting my hair cut because my eyebrows were a mess, and sometimes vice versa.
I imagine it would be much the same thing with a bike chain. Go in to get the chain replaced, wind up with a couple new gadgets (rear view mirror? clearance bike shorts?) and some additional services you only kind of need.
It’s a pretty easy job. There were a few points of challenge:
- Turning the chain breaker to push out a rivet is surprisingly difficult. Those little pins are in tight.
- Re-winding the chain was tricky. I took a photo (see above) of the chain path, but the harder part was getting the chain under the little metal guards. Then it was hard to hold the ends together and shove in the closing pin at the same time.
- The special closing pin had a guide portion that, once the chain was joined, had to be broken off with plyers. This took several tries.
- The trickiest part of all: The kids kept running away with the chain breaker.
How are your bicycle mechanic skills coming along? Am I the only one making slooooow progress?
So I mentioned a few weeks ago that one does not count lightbulbs when one is looking at houses. You know what else you don’t notice? Whether or not the mini blinds have strings in them.
Yes, all the mini blinds that came with the house are missing at least some of the strings used to open the blinds. I don’t mean that they are broken. Someone clearly took the blinds down and carefully extracted the strings. Why, you ask? Excellent question. The sellers had small children, so I suppose it’s possible they removed the strings in a burst of excessive caution. Except, then why did they leave some of the strings behind?
Regardless, the situation was this. The main living area had four sets of blinds. Only two of them went up and down. And those two had broken slats.
Now, I was seriously tempted to throw them all away and go buy real wood blinds (I have ethical and environmental concerns about vinyl). But… real wood blinds are expensive. And while I think it would be “better” to buy real wood, the best case is generally to fix what you have.
See below for details, but here’s a quick summary of tips:
- You can restring horizontal blinds. It’s easy.
- If you hang new blinds, when you shorten them, save the extra slats from the bottom to use in future repair jobs.
Step 1: Restring the dining room blinds
These weren’t too bad. This set of blinds originally had two strings, only one of which was missing. These blinds had been shortened correctly and none of the slats were broken.
So I took it down and restrung, using this excellent tutorial and some twine we had lying around. The cotton twine was not really the ideal string for the job, but it worked with a little finessing. Because it tended to separate at the ends, I used a large plastic yarn needle to help thread it through the slats.
The new string needed a tassel and a cord stop, which is a little clear plastic doodad. This doodad is EXTREMELY important (not but pictured). It prevents small children from being able to strangle themselves with the cord, which is a real thing that real children have done (not just a theoretical danger). Fortunately, I had some on hand. You can order them for free from the Window Covering Safety Council.
Tip: If you try this at home, make sure to run the new cord to the INSIDE of the ladder strings holding up the slats. It will help the slats stay in place better.
Step 2: Single living room blinds, broken slats
The set of blinds facing the street, miraculously, had both its strings intact. It was, however, missing three slats. It had also never been shortened, so when fully extended, it hung perhaps a foot below the end of the window. In a rare case when two wrongs DID make a right, I was able to take the excess slats off the bottom and use them to replace the missing ones.
This part I found easier to fix with the blinds still hanging–no need to take them down since I was not restringing. The process involved taking the little buttons off the bottom and cutting the knot off the bottom of the strings. Then, I pulled the string out above the broken slats, slid new slats in from the sides, and worked the string back down.
Step 3: Double living room blinds, broken slats and missing strings
On the side of the living room was a double set of blinds 41” wide. The ones on the left had only one string, while those on the right had two strings out of four (enough to function). Both sets had been shortened and they both had several broken slats (see picture above with Kitty Paragon). Boo.
Nothing to do here but buy new blinds, since I had no extra slats to work with. However, I had the brainstorm of buying only one set. Our 2” faux wood blinds come standard from Home Depot. We measured the space between the strings to determine that they had been cut down from a 42” set. We hung the new ones, shortened them and saved the extra slats for future repairs, and then cannibalized the now-defunct set for the spare slats we needed to fix the other old ones.
I could have run two new strings through this other old set, of course. But since two do the job, I decided to leave them alone. I’m not a fan of doing extra work just for the hell of it.
So instead of buying four new sets of blinds, I bought only one. Is it better environmentally to buy one set of vinyl blinds or four sets of wood? Well, I’m not sure, but I suspect that once you factor in all the energy and waste from the manufacturing process, plus the shipping, I did the right thing.
It was certainly the right thing for my pocketbook. The new blinds were about $40. The wood blinds would have run at least $280 for the most basic, more if I wanted upgrades like cloth tapes over the strings.
What have you saved from the trash bin or avoided buying recently?