We Got Smart Phones: $269 down and $40/month (or less)

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 Got a Flat Tire, and My Life Is Awesome

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

Beans: I’ve Been Doing Them Wrong

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.)

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Pinto beans ready to cook with lots of celery and olive oil and other odds and ends.

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And this is what it looked like in the morning. Mmmmm.

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.

Separating beans from delicious broth.

Separating beans from delicious 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.

October Goals

My review posts for September and August should make it abundantly clear that I am muuuch better at making goals than meeting them. And yet, hope springs eternal and all that, so here I go again, trying to make some goals!

Income: Earn $300 more than I spend on childcare. That’s much more than I actually made less month, but less than my goal for last month.

Spending: Limit grocery spending to $500. No, really, I mean it this time. Now that I’ve gotten into such a rhythm with goal setting, I’m planning to add a weekly Mint session. Waiting until halfway through the month obviously didn’t work out. Because I often shop by bike or on foot, we make frequent small trips and it’s hard to keep mental track of how much I’ve spent. That’s why there’s Mint! Also, consider ways to reduce our electric bill.

Investment: Reallocate my Roth IRA–now that it has more money in it! That’s right, last month we were able to put $3800 in my Roth and another thousand in our Ally savings account, thanks to an unusually high paycheck for Mr. FP and the remnants of all those financial presents from family members.

Lifestyle: Sleep more by going to bed earlier. I often feel like I’m just dragging myself through the motions at my morning exercise classes and am routinely put to shame in Body Pump by women old enough to be my mother. Goal is to have my head on the pillow by 10:15 at least three nights a week.

Other: Keep working on getting life insurance. Read 4 books. Make a total of 8 blog posts, counting both yesterday’s and today’s. Learn something about bicycle maintenance. Keep habit of making weekly to-do lists.

 

September Review

Last month, I laid out some goals for September. I wish I could say that I had gotten better than mixed results… but I did not. Here’s what it looks like:

Income

Goal: $400 more than childcare ($1030)

Actual: $158 more than childcare ($788)

Analysis: My better-paying trivia job was very slow this month and I had trouble motivating myself to do Leapforce; other tasks always seem more important. And unexpected time-suckers came up, including a job interview that required extensive preparation. I really need to rethink whether paying for part-time childcare is worthwhile.

Spending

Goal: Limit groceries to $500

Actual: $577

Analysis: I’m actually not too discouraged here. Where I went wrong was in not paying closer attention earlier in the month.  By the time the month was half over, I had less than a hundred dollars left, and while I made a valiant effort (including experimenting with making my own yogurt), staying all the way under was just too difficult. I’m not very experienced in sticking to a grocery budget because for two years until this summer, we were living at a boarding school and ate most of our dinners in the dining hall for free, and at other times, Mr. FP has been our main shopper. So I won’t be too hard on myself.

Lifestyle

Goal: Reduce our consumption of disposable training pants and get Little Brother to sleep in two pairs of cloth trainers plus a plastic cover.

Actual: This went better than expected. I had actually just bought a large package (for extended trips out of the house, etc.) when Little Brother decided that they were completely unacceptable as undergarments. It is actually a frequent struggle to get him to put on that second pair and the cover, as he wants to wear “just undiepants,” but since he is waking up soaking wet 2-3 mornings a week, I’m holding firm. (Interestingly, Big Brother became reasonably reliable at night just a month or so ago, at exactly the time his larger-size plastic cover finally disintegrated.)

Other

Get life insurance: Fail. Mr. FP hasn’t gotten around to doing his exam and I never got my application.

Read three books: Pass!

Make weekly to-do lists: Marginal pass. I’ve gotten into a good rhythm for making the lists; that’s the good news. Every Monday after lunch, I review the previous week’s list and see what else needs to be done. I have been less successful at actually finishing a list, but I figure that’s good: if it were easy to finish, it would be a bad list. Probably better to have two or three things that I don’t get to than to finish my list on Saturday.

BONUS: While I haven’t been goal-setting in this area, I am seeing a slight decrease in the numbers on the scale as well as some muffin top shrinkage. Wouldn’t it be nice if I went all the way through the month of October with NO strangers asking me if I was expecting a third child? (I am not, as it happens, currently in the family way.)

Stay tuned tomorrow for some October goals. Did you make any goals for September? How did you do at meeting them?

Zero to Fixed

This post contains affiliate links.

A couple of weeks back, I arrived at Walmart with the kids in the bike trailer to find that one of the snaps holding closed the cargo compartment had broken. Fortunately, I was still able to complete my mission because the cover provided enough support that the bags didn’t fall out, but it was not a long-term solution.

I wanted to fix it, but I had no idea where to start. What were the snaps called? Did they come in different sizes or kinds? Did I need a special tool? When I’m totally at sea like that, I usually start, if possible, by posing some questions in an online forum. I am regular over at the Mr. Money Mustache forums (having worked my way up from “stubble” through “bristles,” “handlebar,” and now “magnum,” whatever that is), so I took my problem to the “Do It Yourself Discussion” section. You can read my original thread here if you’re curious.

Evidently, I wanted 5/8” heavy duty snaps, also known as canvas fasteners and readily available for boat repair. And the broken part was a “female” side. Male sides come in two sorts, a press-in type (for putting in fabric) and a screw-in type (for joining fabric to a solid surface, like the metal trailer frame).

My repair kit. The bottom middle contains the press tool and anvil.

There are two different kinds of inexpensive tools for this purpose: snap pliers and snap presses. The former work alone, while the latter require the use of a hammer. I considered these Dritz snap pliers, but they only came with press-in screws. I wasn’t sure if the new screw would be compatible with my screw-in male end, so I wanted to make sure that I had the screw-in kind as well. So I decided to get this little Seasense kit, which comes with several females, both types of males, and a press tool.

A minor setback was that it did not come with directions, but this helpful website made it quite clear. I let the kids out to play, assembled my tools, and was done about thirty seconds and three swings of the hammer later. The job was easier because the broken female end was broken in such a way that it popped out easily; otherwise, apparently I would have had to drill it (?!).

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The freshly repaired snap. The new female end is on the left; the right side is the original screw-in male end.

Since the trailer appears to date to the late 90s (Burley couldn’t give me an answer—they did not recognize the model name!), I suspect I’ll need this skill again. The total cost to me was about $12, plus perhaps an hour of research time.

What have you taught yourself to fix lately?

Goal Setting: Is It Working?

A couple of weeks, I posted about trying to use goal-setting to push myself to get more done.

As usual, I’m getting mixed results. On the one hand, making a list of weekly goals does help move tasks that have been languishing on my long to-do list. I have, for instance, mended a purse that’s been on the list for months. On the other hand, making a list of tasks does not, by itself, create more hours in the day. What it does do is help select a task to fill a certain period of time. Right now, for instance, I am on hold with my health insurance company (current length of call, 54 minutes 25 seconds) and have already crossed a few small items off the list while waiting. The pre-curated list helps me just pick something.

This is my general procedure:

  1. I have a designated time every week (Monday afternoons; I tend to think of a week being Monday-Sunday) when I make up a new list of goals.
  2. I put 10-15 items on it in a mix of difficulty levels/time taken. Some are tiny, specific items, like signing up for CreditKarma, while others are more long-term, like how much money I’d like to make.
  3. I keep a master to-do list of items that I would like to get to eventually, and I draw my 10-15 items from that list.
  4. I never add to my weekly list after I’ve made it unless there is something truly time-sensitive; this week, for instance, I landed a job interview to prepare for. If necessary, I then take something else off the weekly list. If something comes up that’s not urgent–for instance, my aunt sent me a present this week and I need to write her a thank-you note–I add it to my master list.
  5. I never look at the master list except when I am preparing my weekly list. This forces me to concentrate on the items on my weekly list.
  6. I don’t put normal chores on the list. I know I need to make a grocery list and shop, no need to write it down.
  7. When I have several hours to work, I will sometimes make a mini-list of tasks to accomplish during those hours.

As I’ve been doing this for a few weeks, I’ve made a few refinements in how I allocate tasks. I’ve been separating them more. For instance, I wrote “write two blog entries” the first week, but I wrote just one. One goal failed, zero goals met. But if I make those two separate tasks, and write just one, then I have missed a goal but also met one.

I’m also changing how I make goals for earning money. I was setting just one lofty goal, and frankly I haven’t even gotten close. From now on, I’m going to make one low goal, say to earn $200 pr $225 depending on what else is going on that week, and a second goal, say to earn $250. Then if I earn $221, I’ve met one goal and failed at another. Otherwise, no matter how little I earn, I’ve only missed one goal. That should keep me motivated even if I know I won’t make my “top” goal.

Readers, any advice-setting goals for me? How do you keep yourself motivated to get things done?

Mending Roundup

I’ve been busy with needle and thread this week and last, getting some repairs out of the way and off my desk (where I have been carelessly piling them). And I mean a literal needle. While some of this (all?) would have been easier to do with a sewing machine, I don’t find it efficient to use mine for small jobs. For one thing, I can’t use it while watching my children for fear they will interfere with it somehow and get hurt and/or break something. For another, I have no good place to keep it set up, so I store it in my closet. In its original packaging. So setting it up is a minor pain. If, on the other hand, I sew by hand, I can take my sewing to the park with me.

So here’s what I’ve been up to:

Replacing camisole strap adjusters

61gmPf71gQS._SL1500_The strap adjusters broke on one of my sundresses, but it turns out you can buy replacements at any fabric store–I got these Dritz ones. I successfully repaired it, but made a couple of rookie mistakes that I’m going to share with you in hopes of saving you from making them, too:

  1. Not realizing I need both ends of the strap free. The strap needed to be re-sewn to the front of the dress, so I cleverly did that first… then realized I would need to cut it off again to replace the strap adjuster. Oops.
  2. Not replacing the circle part at the same time. As soon as I had finished the project, I realized that the little circle on the back (joining the strap to the much shorter strap attached to the back of the dress) was broken. So now I will have to cut the strap off again and start over. I don’t think I’ll have to cut if off the front of the dress, at least.

I found that I needed to look at an example to figure out how to thread it. Unfortunately, both sides had broken, so the dress itself had no working adjuster. I resorted to looking down the front of my shirt to study the adjuster on my bra. Had I worn my Genie Bra, I might have been thwarted altogether!

Sewing up a seam

Mr. FP scored a free T-shirt at a street fair, but a shoulder seam was not sewn all the way. I stitched it up for him. I have trouble working with knit fabrics on the machine anyway, so maybe it’s just as well I did this by hand.

Fixing a leather purse

Mr. FP bought me this leather purse from a street vendor in Rome, but one of the straps popped out of the little pocket holding it. The lady at

I glued this strap back into its socket. But will the glue hold? Stay tuned.

I glued this strap back into its socket. But will the glue hold? Stay tuned.

Jo- Ann recommended a glue called E6000, which seemed to do the trick.

Ironing on patches

This was not successful. I didn’t expect an iron-on patch to last forever, but… two washes? I liked the way it looked (I out a brown corduroy patch on khaki toddler pants to cover a whole in the knee), so I suppose I will just sew it on. I probably will need to get the sewing machine out for that one. Sigh.

What are you fixing this week? Or have you given up on something and thrown it out?

Lazy Mom’s Overnight Oatmeal

Perhaps you’ve wondered, “Why doesn’t the Frugal Paragon post recipes like other mommy/frugal living bloggers?” The answer is that while I have many talents, I am not a particularly good cook.

And the recipe I’m about to share with you isn’t even something I eat personally. It seems like of slimy to me. But it is super-easy and cheap and my toddlers love it.

The basic premise of overnight oatmeal is that you soak it instead of cooking it. So in the evening, I mix together a cup of yogurt, a little jam, three ounces of milk, and three-quarters cup of rolled oats. It looks like this:

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Isn’t your mouth watering already? I put it in the fridge overnight and by morning, it looks like this:

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Other recipes often call for Greek yogurt, but frankly I find that too expensive to feed the boys. They also usually call for less yogurt and less oatmeal, say a six-ounce yogurt container and half a cup of oatmeal, to make two servings. But my kids are big eaters of anything in the yogurt and oatmeal families, so I had to up the quantities. This will feed two very hungry preschoolers, or three who eat like birds. I usually serve with a banana on the side and, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, some chopped walnuts or pecans.

Frugal Paragon Overnight Oatmeal

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • spoonful of jam, honey, or other sweetener, to taste
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 3 ounces milk (1/4 cup plus two tablespoons). Double the milk if using Greek yogurt.
  • Nuts or other mix-ins (optional)

Combine the first four ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate overnight. Spoon into bowls and serve. Top with nuts, chocolate chips, etc. if desired.

September Goals

Yesterday I assessed my August goals and got mixed results. Now that the school year has started in earnest (Mr. FP is a teacher, so we still run our lives on the academic calendar), I’m going to try setting some more serious goals and see where that gets me.

Income: Earn $400 more than I spend on childcare, whatever that may be. (I am toying with the idea of pulling the boys out of their preschool as I’m not sure I’m happy with it.)

Spending: Limit grocery spending to $500. Mr. FP has been doing our shopping, but he is very busy with the school year now.

Lifestyle: Reduce Little Brother’s dependence on Pull-Ups. Use them only for trips to the Y and overnight; by the end of the month, try to have him sleeping in two pairs of training pants with plastic cover instead of Pull-Ups.

Other: Get life insurance. Read three books. Make weekly to-do lists for chores and household tasks.

I’m serious about that last one. A couple of bloggers I admire, most notably the Frugal Girl and the Prudent Homemaker, always blow me away with their to-do lists and lists of tasks accomplished. I keep a general to-do list, but have been inconsistent about assigning tasks to particular weeks or days, and things languish. The idea is that if I make a weekly list, maybe I can do a better job of enforcing myself. Here’s this week’s list:

  • Find pediatrician and make appointments for boys
  • Follow-up on speech therapy for Big Brother
  • Go to Jo-Ann’s for supplies; hem jeans. Sewing machine maintenance. Mend 2 pairs pants and 2 dresses.
  • Find a life insurance broker
  • Take old clothes/shoes to donation box
  • Get fingerprints done for job application
  • Goals blog post (done!)
  • Order bike lights (done!)
  • Earn $275
  • Look into fixing broken leather purse
  • Inventory boys’ winter clothes
  • Mop (done!)

It’s am ambitious list by my standards–if I can’t do it all, then I’ll know to put less on next week’s list. What are you up to this week?

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