Archive | April 2014

April 2014 Net Worth Check

Three months ago, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that our net worth was over $50K$51,681.47 to be exact. Since then, we’ve made some changes. For one thing, I haven’t been in school, having finished a DE graduate program in December, meaning I’ve had more time to work. We sold our more expensive car and used the the money to pay down debt. We’ve been holding off on certain purchases (besides the ones I mentioned before, I’ve temporarily given up scrapbooking and we’ve put off buying a new ink cartridge for our printer). And I rolled over my old 403(b) into a shiny new Vanguard IRA.

So here’s how it’s looking in April:

Cash: $3712.36

Investments: $50,722.35

  • Mr. FP’s 403(b): $27,292.21
  • Mrs. FP’s rollover IRA: $16,311.68
  • Mrs. FP’s Roth IRA: &7117.71

Property: $3000 (1999 Honda Accord)

Credit Cards: -$1326.77

Loans: -$1374.51

Net Worth: $54,238.43

That’s a nice increase over a few months ago! Our net worth is up by more than $2500, or almost 5%! Thanks to selling the CRV, our debt is down by over $10,000. Since we have major expenses coming up, we might not be able to knock out that last bit of student loan right away, but I’m still hoping it will bite the dust in the next several months.

Now, the next few months will see some big changes for the Frugal Paragon family. We will be leaving behind our cushy free housing and dining hall food in late May/early June and relocating to Colorado, where we will be paying rent and buying all our own food.  The expense of trekking halfway across the country with two toddlers, the cat, and all our worldly possessions is bound to eat up pretty much all of our cash, but if I work hard and we keep the credit cards in our wallets, I’m hoping we at least won’t lose any ground in the next quarter.

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Don’t Put Shampoo on Your Grocery List

I’ve mentioned on here a few times that I’ve been washing my hair with baking soda and rinsing with vinegar.  Other bloggers often use the unfortunate name “no poo” for this method, but I call it… washing my hair with baking soda and rinsing with vinegar. Because it sounds less stupid.

Now that I’m a few weeks into it, I feel qualified to tell you how it’s going–it’s going great! The impetus for trying it was that I was out of expensive natural shampoo and didn’t want to drop $15-20 on a new bottle of shampoo and conditioner, and I already owned baking soda.

Different people have different methods. What I do is use two glass baby bottles that I have lying around. I fill one with eight ounces of water and one tablespoon white vinegar (some people use apple cider vinegar, but I didn’t have any of that) and the other with four ounces of water and one tablespoon baking soda. I get my hair wet in the shower, then gradually pour on the baking soda mix, rubbing it in. I let it sit for several minutes while I attend to other washing. I rinse out the baking soda thoroughly (the goal is NOT to create a science fair volcano on your head), then slowly pour on the vinegar, and rinse that out, too.

Glass baby bottles, small bottle of vinegar, box of Arm and Hammer baking soda.

My hair care supplies. I refill the vinegar from my laundry jug and will probably start buying baking soda in bulk, too.

Advantages I’ve noticed:

  1. It’s extremely cheap.
  2. My hair actually stays cleaner longer. I’ve never seen it so squeaky clean! I was washing at least every other day, but now I can EASILY go every third day and might even be able to push it to a fourth day.

Cons:

  1. It takes slightly longer, since I have to get it from the kitchen every time I wash my hair. But I think the extra time cost is made up for by  washing less often.
  2. I can no longer use shampoo to wash behind my ears.

Other bloggers have mentioned problems that I haven’t experienced:

  1. A break-in period during which your hair looks bad. I had no trouble with this. My hair looked totally fine from the first day.
  2. An off smell. I actually rinse out the vinegar (not sure if other people do) and have had no trouble. Mr. FP has a very sensitive nose and I’m sure he would tell me.

I was worried about that break-in period, and I let that keep me from trying it for a whole shampoo-and-conditioner cycle. Turns out I didn’t have a break-in period, so I wish I’d tried it sooner. If you’ve heard about the baking soda and vinegar method but have been hesitant to try it, just go for it! If you don’t like it, you can go back to using shampoo.

Making from Scratch–And Not

Joke: “Of course I made it from scratch. Scratch is what comes in those boxes, right?”

We’ve actually never been big spenders, so when we started trying to cut back even further, one obvious place was buying fewer things in their final, more expensive form, and instead making them from cheap ingredients. Another leading factor was that we wanted to avoid certain toxins and chemicals, and organic/natural/etc. products can be a lot more expensive.

Our time, however, is not infinite, and if I wind up using my work time (that is, paid daycare time) to make things from scratch, it probably doesn’t pay off.  So we focus on the things that are most worthwhile and give the best return for our time.

So far, here’s what we used to buy but now make:

  1. Hummus. Commercial hummus often contains the preservative sodium benzoate, which we’re trying to avoid, and is often made with cheaper oils like soybean and canola instead of just olive oil. It’s also pricey. One pound of dried chickpeas will make three containers of hummus; even with the tahini, EVOO, and toasted pine nuts, it costs about a third what the store-bought stuff costs.
  2. Laundry detergent. I use a common Internet recipe for powdered detergent made from soap, borax, and washing soda. Vinegar in the final rinse helps keep the clothes from turning yellow. ( I do NOT use this on my cloth diapers as the manufacturer says not to use soap or vinegar; I buy BumGenius detergent for them.)
  3. Granola. There’s a pretty high disparity between the cost of granola ingredients and the high cost of prepared granola. This is about the cheapest cold cereal that exists, although we actually don’t eat it that way–we mostly put it in yogurt
  4. Sugar wax for my eyebrows. I never bought wax, but I used to pay to have my eyebrows done professionally.

Not exactly “made”:

  1. Hand soap. We bought containers of Method foaming hand soap and refill them with one part Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap to four parts boiled water (cooled). The foaming action saves a lot of soap and it’s the only way to use Dr. Bronner’s in a dispenser without clogging it.
  2. Shampoo. I’ve switched to baking soda with a vinegar rinse.

And here’s what we still buy:

  1. Yogurt. I am not convinced that the cost of milk vs. the cost of quarts of plain store brand yogurt would really make this worthwhile, as it sounds labor-intensive.
  2. Dishwasher detergent. I tried homemade, but got bad results. Unfortunately, I also didn’t get good results from natural brands, so I am back to using large boxes of Cascade, purchased at Costco. I only need to fill the compartment about half-way.
  3. Bread. I know how to make bread, but Mr. FP just prefers store bought for his sandwiches and again, I’m not sure that the cost of my time would make it worthwhile to make it from scratch. (We get Sarah Lee Soft and Smooth 100% Whole Grain Bread, which Mr. FP has selected as having a good price and fewer undesirable ingredients.)

Let me know in the comments if you want to see full recipes for any of these! Or share your own make-from-scratch money savers.

The Frugal Paragon Rescues Her Money

Investing can be a lucrative hobby for those with knowledge and luck. But it is not, and has never been, one of my hobbies. My favorite ways to advance our family financially are more along the lines of cloth diapering, hemming my own pants, making laundry detergent, that sort of thing. Or working at my laptop, especially with Leapforce at Home. So while I ambitiously created a “Finance” category for this blog, it is nearly empty.

Frankly, we don’t have a lot of money to worry about anyway, but we do both have 403(b)s. I had half-forgotten about my orphan TIAA-CREF account from back when I used to be a middle school teacher. I remembered it last week when Mr. FP asked me to look over his allocations.  HIS were fine; his current plan has a lot of good fund options. But MINE were dreadful. Many of my funds were underperforming and I had few better options.

rescue_money_in_crisis_21983Time to rescue my money! Since it’s an old account with no money going into it from an employer, I can move it at will (with permission from Mr. FP). By moving it to Vanguard, I can get much lower fees–especially by buying Admiral shares–and therefore better returns. Here’s what it took to move:

  1. 40 minute phone call with Vanguard, later conferencing with TIAA-CREF. I already have a Vanguard account, so it took about one minute on the phone to create the rollover IRA.
  2. Form to fill out, get notarized, scan, and upload to TIAA-CREF.
  3. About an hour researching investment options and choosing how to allocate.
  4. Check Vanguard every few days to see if the money’s there yet.
  5. Click some buttons to put money in the right baskets.

That’s less than two hours of time now that could add up to thousands of dollars by the time I retire.

I have about $16000. My first thought was to break it up into four or five funds to “diversify.” Then I realized that I could get Admiral shares of the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index. The general consensus on the interwebs is that that particular fund is the best one that exists. By making a $10,000 initial investment, you can reduce the already-low fees by getting Admiral shares. So why not put most of my money there?

I eventually decided to put about $13K in the VTSAX and the balance, about $3K, in the Small-Cap Value Index Fund, which is also well-regarded and increases exposure to smaller companies. When I get more money, then I will worry about adding more diversity in the form of foreign markets, REITS, bonds, and other fanciness. (Mr. FP has some of those in his 403(b) anyway.) But for now, I think most investors would agree I’m making a wise choice.

March Report Card

Setting goals for March really helped me stay focused. The whole last week, I kept reminding myself that if I didn’t get another ten minutes of work here and there, then I would have to admit (horrors!) that I had not met my income goal.

Here’s how I did on my goals

Money-making goals:

  • Earn a full $1000: Done! In fact, I beat it by $10. That’s even though the kids’ daycare was closed for two weeks, cutting into my work time pretty majorly.
  • Consign baby equipment and clothes: Took a bunch of things to the consignment store* and gave away the leftovers to an expecting mom. I’ve already made about $20; the car seat sold immediately and it looks like some of the clothes have as well, but the Travel Lite Crib hasn’t yet. That should be another $25 or so depending on when it sells.

Money-saving goals:

  • Save 3 disposable diapers a week: Well, yes and no. SOME weeks I managed it, but then Big Brother got diarrhea, and I am not a martyr. And in fact, we were using extra diapers because he would wake up at night needing a change. But when I used them, they worked, so I’ll keep trying.
  • Spring consignment sales on half-price day: I only found a few items, but they sure were cheap. I wanted to do a second sale on “regular” price day so I could get better selection, but Mr. FP was out of town with the car.
  • Food spending: Mr. FP did the shopping and I didn’t go along behind him with a calculator, I admit. But we ate a lot of eggs and oatmeal and bananas, so I’m sure we did well.
  • Food waste: No edible food went to waste. Actually, I got so carried away eating bread ends that I forgot to save some for making bread crumbs!
  • Baking soda and vinegar hair care: I’m one week into this and it’s going well. Hair is squeaky clean and I don’t see any differences.

My new goals for April are so simple, they don’t need their own blog post:

  • Earn $1200.
  • Buy nothing but groceries and possibly clothes for the children (they still need summer things).
*In theory, it would be more profitable to sell things myself using Craigslist instead of letting the consignment store have half the money. But our area does not have its own Craigslist and we have not gotten good response in the past.