Archive | January 2014

If I Can, You Can: Home Eyebrow Waxing!

Sometime in my early twenties, I became aware that my eyebrows do not fit societal standards for ladies’ eyebrows. It’s surprising perhaps that I had missed that fact for so long, but then I’ve never been what you would call a girly girl. I ignored that knowledge for a few more years, then, when I was 25, I started having them professionally waxed every time I got my hair cut.

I was getting my hair cut about every other month and paying $15 extra for my eyebrows. Over about seven years, assuming the usual seven percent after inflation rate of returns, that adds up to $881 that I spent… on my eyebrows.

Yet even when I started becoming Mustachian, I resisted taking over this chore myself. Wouldn’t there be a large initial investment? I would have to buy wax, waxing strips, some sort of spatula to apply the wax, and possibly special lotions as well. Maybe even a wax warmer. Instead, I reduced the frequency of my salon visits from bimonthly to quarterly.

IMG_4294But there’s a better way. I first got the idea to try the sugar method of hair removal from the book Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry. Unfortunately, while the book had some cool ideas in it, its recipe for homemade sugar wax was completely useless, so I turned to Google for help. I had good results with an About.com recipe; it takes a good half-hour to make the first time, but makes enough for many uses, and the only ingredients are plain white sugar, lemon juice, and water. I store the leftovers in a wide-mouth glass jar that used to hold natural peanut butter.

What about all the other supplies? Well, I tried just doing without most of them. I wash the area and apply a little cornstarch baby powder, and afterwards I just wash off the wax. I don’t have very sensitive skin and it turns out I don’t need special pre-wax and post-wax lotions. You might not, either.

Now, apparently with sugaring, there is a special technique where you let the stuff cool to the temperature of a paste, then sort of roll it into a ball, and yank your hair off without any strips or anything. If you have ever had sugaring done professionally like that, you might want to try it, but I just made a mess trying it on my arm. So I use the sugar gel method, which is essentially the same technique as waxing.

For eyebrows, I use the flat end of an orange stick to apply the sugar gel. For strips, I just cut up some non-stretchy scrap fabric* (I’ve been using the end of a pillowcase that I cut down from king size to standard) and Cornstarch bottle with fabric and orange sticksthrow it away afterwards. You can actually wash and reuse, but I couldn’t figure out how to make reusable strips small enough for my eyebrows. (If you know how, please tell me in the comments!) Anyway, it takes very little fabric. I actually find it LESS painful than professional waxing, maybe because I’m more in control.

Child-sized plastic fork with flannel ragFor larger areas, I apply the gel with the handle of a plastic fork (why not?) and use an old flannel rag as a reusable strip. (I have a giant stack of these on top of my microwave, and use them for pretty much everything.)

Is it difficult? No. I know, it will probably make you nervous to start messing around with your eyebrows, but I got totally reasonable results from the very first try. And I’m hardly one of those ladies who can, you know, put on makeup and do fancy things with their hair. In fact, I have had the same “mom bob” since I was in high school.

Ready for the payoff? Assuming a typical rate of compound interest (7%), and compared to quarterly professional waxes at $15 a pop, I can expect to save, over ten years, $904.

*I’ve been noticing that one way people find my blog from Google is looking for what fabric to use, so I will elaborate. I am using wrinkle-free sheets, so it’s fairly shiny, treated cotton. Untreated might be better, but the treated works. Good sources for fabric to cut up: the legs of worn-out flannel pants, the edges of worn-out flannel or regular sheets, old pillowcases, remnants from the fabric store, scraps from Freecycle.

January 2014 Net Worth Check

Sometimes it seems like Mr. FP and I have very little show for twelve years of marriage and adult life. We lost buckets of money on a house that we had to sell when the market was down.

The truth is that we’re not really broke, we’re cash-poor. We’ve been funding retirement accounts and they’ve been growing; we can’t access that money readily, but it’s still there and we’ve never been desperate enough to touch it.

At the beginning of our Mustachian lifestyle, here’s where we are.

Cash: $4723.08

Investments: $47,227.08

  • Mr. FP’s 403(b): $25,036.13
  • Mrs. FP’s 403(b): $15,373.43
  • Mrs. FP’s Roth IRA: $6814.74

Property: $15,000

  • 2007 Honda CRV, worth about $12,000
  • 1999 Honda Accord, worth about $3000

Credit Cards: -$4059.66

Loans: -$11,259.03

  • Mrs. FP’s student loan at 1.62%: $3491.02
  • Mr. FP’s student loan at 1.62%: $7768.01

NET WORTH: $51,681.47

Well, it’s over 50K, which is actually more than I expected! We have really gotten our spending down and my income is up, so we’re hoping to see rapid growth. We’re also in the process of selling our CRV; $3500 of that credit card balance is actually a fee-free cash advance that we took out in order to pay off the lien and get the title so that we can sell the damn thing and get out of that particular hair-on-fire debt emergency. (It won’t actually raise our net worth–since the equity in the car is already counting toward it–but it will get our dollars working for us more effectively.) We owed closer to 6K, but we used some cash from savings as well. Once we unload the car, that will free up some cash that we can use to pay off my student loan and have some cash left over.

In Which the Frugal Paragon Throws a Toddler Party

2014_01_23_firetruckBig Brother is turning three. Now, at this age his expectations are limited, and I could probably have just sent some cookies to his day care and he would have been happy with this. But he likes parties, and I wanted to do something nice for him and his little friends.

Throwing parties has never come naturally to me; in fact, I think Big Brother’s first birthday was the first time I tried it as an adult. The trouble for me is that I like “simple,” and it’s so hard to find the perfect sweet spot where “simple” is charming, not “cheap and boring.” And what if I think it’s charming, but my guests think it’s cheap? This dilemma plagues me every time I think about entertaining.

But I decided to go for it! Mr. FP suggested doing tour of the firehouse that is just a couple of blocks from our house. Oooh, now I had a THEME for the party and everything. The plan was to tour the firehouse together, then come back to our place for cake. Not cake and ice cream; not cake and games; not cake and presents, because we said no gifts. We’re talking about four kids between the ages of twenty months and just-turned-three. It’s not they’re going to be playing organized party games.

And it was a great success. Since it wasn’t an overwhelming, overdecorated, overplanned event, none of the toddlers got overstimulated and had a fit. The firefighters clearly enjoyed having some visitors on a quiet Sunday; they even pulled the ladder truck into the yard so the kids could see the ladder go up and down. The boys got to climb in and out of the engines and pretend to “drive” them.

And was cake “enough”? While my mother would maintain that a birthday party without ice cream is simply embarrassing, only half the kids even finished a whole slice of cake. No one went hungry and no one’s dinner was totally spoiled.

The total cost of the party was less than $20. We could have easily spent ten times as much and—here’s the important part—had less fun.

Total list of party purchases:

  • Construction paper to make a banner
  • Extra butter and powdered sugar for cake baking
  • Balloons
  • Candles for cake

Party purchases we avoided:

  • Decorative, disposable plates, napkins, and cups–so wasteful. We already own these things.
  • Invitations—Since I only invited two families, I just e-mailed the moms.
  • Party favors—Who needs ‘em? I sent each guest home with a balloon. And as an unexpected bonus, the firehouse gave every kid a little bag with fire safety coloring books and stickers and whatnot, so there were good bags after all.
  • Ice cream, potato chips, and other snacks. Like cake isn’t a good enough snack?

Who is the Frugal Paragon?

I’m a part-time work-at-home mom with a financial situation that is pretty typical. Mr. FP and I have student loans and a car loan. Our net worth is less than $50,000. We’re in our early thirties, we have two little kids, and Mr. FP is a schoolteacher.

But “typical” doesn’t seem good enough anymore. A little over a year ago, I discovered badass early retirement blogger Mr. Money Mustache and the concept of financial independence. MMM and his wife worked their asses off while stashing most of their incomes for several years so that they could both “retire” at age 30 and start a family free from the daily grind of full-time jobs.

Now I don’t know about you, but I learned about that way of life and said to myself, “Wait, why didn’t I do that?” And the reasons are, of course, many and varied, but mostly they boil down to the fact that I didn’t think of it and so I went about my life more or less like other people do.

I may have missed the boat on retiring at thirty and before procreating, but I’m ready to stop shoveling money the Everybody Else Way.

What’s the Everybody Else Way?

Well, for starters it’s a term I just made up. It refers to beginning with the assumption that if most of the people that you know personally are doing things a particular way, then that way is right. When you’re driving down the Everybody Else Way (because Everybody drives, right?) you often utter phrases like too much trouble or a big hassle. As in, “I thought about using cloth diapers, but I hear they’re a big hassle,” or “I just traded the car in at the dealership. It seemed like too much trouble to sell it myself.” You’re afraid that people will think you are “crunchy,” cheap, or just plain weird if you go a different way.

The thing is that when you go the Everybody Else Way, Everybody doesn’t pay for it; you do. And you are not just paying for it with dollars; you are paying for it with extra hours, days, years of your life that you will spend at work instead of reading, playing with your children or grandchildren, going for bike rides, and wearing your favorite jeans.

What do you mean, extra years of work?

The Everybody Else Way assumes that you will spend most of your income, no matter how much you make. It promises that if you save something like fifteen percent of your income, you can retire in your late fifties or early sixties and be able to keep on spending almost as much money as you were before.

But if you don’t spend most of your money, you won’t have to work as much for two reasons. One, you will have more money to save, so if you have a number in mind, you’ll reach it faster. Two, your savings goal can be lower because your expenses are lower. If your goal is to match, say, $50,000 in spending with investment income, you’ll have to save a lot more than if your goal is to match $25,000 in spending.

Having enough investment income to cover all your expenses even if you never earn a paycheck again is financial independence, and that’s the lofty long-term goal that I’m shooting for by becoming the Frugal Paragon.

So what’s the blog about, anyway?

In a nutshell, the Frugal Paragon blog is about starting the journey toward financial independence during the raising-little-kids years: financial decisions like debt payoff vs. savings, frugal living tricks, mindset changes, and balancing income generation against time with the little ones. If that sounds like the journey you’re on, too, then keep reading.