Friday, January 27, 2006

My Favorite Quote

I have a favorite quote that is credited to Mohandas Gandhi.

"Be the change that you want to see in the world."

It is an eloquent way of telling you to take action rather than complaining; put your money where your mouth is; lead by example; pave the way for others. I love this quote.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mod Mod Homes

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article on mod(ern) mod(ular) homes. I considered building a modular home a few years ago now that American architects are entering the market with high-tech, quality construction solutions for less than half the cost of constructing a home going the traditional route. I eventually decided against it since the prefab industry is in its infancy, and there are very few options available commercially at this time. But it is an exciting industry that takes into account green building, sustainable living and cost-effective building methods. The article references a web site that links to all the architects developing mod mod buildings: Some Assembly Required. At this time, the web site appears to be unavailable, probably due to the WSJ readers trying to view the page.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Save Big Bucks on Recurring Expenses

Auto Insurance
Last week I decided to spend 30 minutes getting competitive bids for auto insurance. I started by having my current coverages in front of me so I could make an apples-to-apples comparison. Then I went to the websites of several major insurers and obtained online quotes. By the end of the exercise, I found a large reputable company who beat my current annual rate by $250. Kind of a no-brainer.

Cell Phone
I called my cell phone provider and they informed me that I was eligible to renew my contract. They offer a $75 bill credit for a one-year contract renewal, and a $150 bill credit for a two-year contract renewal.

Call around and see what found money is waiting out there for you!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Girl, Interrupted

I hate call waiting. Actually, I take that back. I don't hate call waiting, I hate that there is no call waiting etiquette in our society. I'm always amazed when on the phone I'll get interrupted in mid-sentence by someone who says, "hang on, I've got a call" and they immediately click over to see if there's someone more interesting on the other line. Grrr! I miss the good old days of answering machines and busy signals.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Living Small

A friend of mine is in the process of selling his house and buying a new one. Last night I was helping him pack and he couldn't believe all the stuff he was pulling out of his cupboards and putting into boxes. He has owned his three-bedroom house for six years and as is the case with many people, his possessions grew to fill the space. I went with him shop for houses, and anytime we looked at a house built in the 1920's, he always commented with disbelief that people actually raised families in those tiny places with no closet space.

I read about a college student who conducted a study of her own possessions. She counted every possession that she owned and classified it based on how often it was used. The result was shocking - something like she used less than 2% of her possessions on a daily basis. How much of your stuff do you use on a daily basis?

In my simplicity journey, I have chosen to live in a small one-bedroom condo. I have combed through my possessions and ruthlessly discarded, sold, or donated items. As a result, I have plenty of storage / cupboard / closet space. Plus I can always find what I'm looking for. More than one person has made statements about my living situation like, "Surely you don't intend to live in a condo forever. Don't you want a house someday?" Sure it would be nice to live in a larger house, but I don't feel the need to. I am resisting the urge to upgrade in exchange for a small, simple living space.

Small living is the means to an end for me - it helps me to minimize material clutter and it is cheaper than owning a larger space. Live small.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Money-Saving Tip for Online Shoppers

If you shop for clothes online, keep the packing slip that comes with your order. Check the price of the items every week or so after you receive the order. If the item goes on sale, many companies will credit the difference back to your credit card if it's within 30 or 45 days. This works for brick and mortar retailers as well, but it's easier to do with online shops. I asked for and received a $30 credit today from Lands' End for a sweater I purchased two weeks ago!

Why I Happily Paid an Erroneous $20 Library Fee

I am a enthusiastic user of my local public library. I am fortunate to live 3 blocks from the library. Actually, I shouldn't say that I'm fortunate to live close to a library - I live close to a library by design. It was one of my neighborhood requirements when considering where to live when I was in the market for a new home.

I especially like checking movies out from the library. I can keep it for two weeks before it is due back, which eliminates the time pressure so I can watch it at my leisure. Plus it give me time to watch the director's voice-over version as well. Before Christmas I checked out the DVD The Usual Suspects. I watched the movie and returned it a few days later at my local branch. The following week I received an e-mail from the library stating that I hadn't returned the movie. I dropped by the branch to let them know that I did indeed return it in, and they said they'd put it on a 45-day watch list. If it turns up within 45 days, then I do not have to pay a late fee. If not, then I'll be charged a replacement fee for the video. Well 45 came and went and the movie was not found. So last week I paid a $20 replacement fee. I did not argue with them, or plead my case. I understand that it was simple human error. These things happen occasionally.

I gain so much benefit from using the library. I've saved hundreds of dollars by avoiding movie rental fees and for books that I never have to purchase. When my young nieces are visiting, I stock my house with children's books and videos from the library. I also check out children's stories on CD or tape that I play in the car when driving around town. They love it.

So I don't mind that $20 fee that I paid. I think of it as a small donation to my local library.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Simplify Home Cooking: Create Two Recipe Files

An easy and common way to be frugal is to cook more at home and to eat out less. Over the years, I've collected a thick stack of recipes from newspapers and magazines that I keep in a manila folder next to my cookbooks. I never bothered to categorize the recipes because so many of them fall into multiple categories (is it a soup or stew or entree? Gaa!). So the traditional way of organizing recipes just doesn't work for me. Plus I kind of enjoy flipping through the recipes when I'm looking for a specific one. I get ideas for meals that I've completely forgotten about.

I stumbled across a great tip that has made searching for recipes in my ever-growing folder much easier. I have divided the recipes between two folders: one for recipes I've tried and decided were keepers, and another for recipes I want to try. I can find recipes much quicker, and I still get to enjoy sifting through a stack!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ten Years Ago I Was Visited by a Simplicity Angel

That sounds crazy, doesn't it? But it really happened. I was sitting at my desk at work in Seattle and had just been notified a few days earlier that I was being transferred to a job out of state. I was very disappointed because I had fallen in love with the Pacific Northwest.

So there I was at work, minding my own business when a stranger stopped by and introduced himself. He was a vendor waiting to visit a colleague of mine who was on the telephone. The stranger was a gifted people-person and he cordially made polite small talk while he waited for my colleague to become available. But that small talk quickly led to a profound piece of advice that I still remember to this day.

Since we had never met before, he asked how long I had worked there and I told him about my upcoming transfer out of state. He quizzed me on how I felt about the move and I shared with him how much I loved the Seattle area. At that point, he said...(dramatic, soap opera pause of expectation)

"There are three things we must figure out in order to live our best lives.
One: Where we want to live.
Two: What we want to do for a living.
Three: Who we want to be with.
When you've figured out those three things, you'll be happy."

And honestly, at that moment he bid a polite farewell and left. I was left speechless. It was as if he reached into my soul and knew exactly what to say to me. It really IS that beautifully simple. Three little things. Amazing. I loved having it all boiled down to three little things. He struck a chord. And I was charmed by the ethereal quality of the experience. I was visited by a simplicity angel! Lucky me.

A $2,000 Benefit for Exposing My Finances to the World

This morning I received a comment on my blog that gave me the same feeling as receiving a Christmas present from Santa. On my post showing my 2005 tax estimate, I reveal that I contributed $3,000 to my 2005 IRA. An anonymous comment popped up on my post for my 2006 goals pointing out that the 2005 maximum is $4,000, and that I can still add to my 2005 IRA. Wahoo! I completely forgot that you can still contribute to last year's IRA.

Another comment on the thread for my 2006 goals pointed out that I had set my 2006 IRA contribution goal too low. The result of these two comments that I will transfer an additional $2,000 from my money market account to my IRA account. For a compulsive retirement saver like me, that's quite exciting.

I wish I could send a couple of canned hams to those anonymous commenters who have made my day. Thank you!!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hit and Run Update: Determining Liability

Auto insurance companies are infuriating! Last month my car was parked in a lot and when I returned, I was treated to a large scrape and dent on one side (oh no!) and a note on the windshield from the offending driver (yay!). After a few weeks of unanswered phone calls, I finally connected with the driver who reported the incident to her insurance company (hurrah!). I was impressed when her insurance company called me at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning to start the claim process. I have received a quote for the work and await scheduling of the repairs with the body shop that the insurance company selected for me.

Silly me, I thought everything thing was going smoothly. Today I received a call from the body shop saying they can't schedule my repairs until the insurance company determines liability for the accident. I wasn't even in the car when it was hit! Who's fault do they think it was? Grrr....

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Being Single Aids in Rejecting New TV Purchase

Yesterday I decided to rearrange some furniture in my condo. As part of the rearrangement, I moved my TV and DVD player from the office to the living room. The only spot in the living room for my TV is above the fireplace. As a result, the line of sight to the TV is undesirably high, but I'm sure I'll get use to it. The TV sits even higher because the DVD player is underneath it. My boyfriend stopped by after work and immediately noticed the new TV placement. He spent quite a bit of time trying to convince me that I now needed a new TV with an integrated DVD player. As part of his argument, he pointed out (with disgust) that I maintain the cable connection on my existing TV with twist ties because the connection snapped off in a previous move. But the twist ties work just fine to hold the connection in place. Sure, I occasionally have to play around with it to fix fuzzy reception or ghosts on the screen. It's still a perfectly good TV and I don't mind that minor inconvenience when I think of the alternative. I know if I walk into an electronics store, the salesman will inform me that I must get a flat screen HDTV for $1,500. And of course I'll admire the shiny new TV's and probably think that I actually do need one.

So as my boyfriend stated his opinion (multiple times) I just smiled and nodded and acknowledged that he was right - yes, the TV is too high and a new one would certainly improve the situation. Sure, using twist ties is a bit "ghetto" (his word), or rather "frugal" (my word). But you can't see them - they're in the back of the TV. But will I buy a new TV? Heck, no. What I have is just fine, thank you. That's one benefit of being single. I get to make 100% of my own decisions.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Hit and Run Driver is Paying Up!

I wrote back in December that a driver who hit my car while it was parked in a lot left a note for me. We traded voicemails once just after it happened in December, but after three weeks of trying to reach her, I had given up hope and was considering paying for the repairs out of my own pocket. The repairs are substantial. I obtained three estimates and they ranged from $900 - $1,000.

This weekend on one last desperate attempt to reach her, she answered the phone when I called! I think her guilty conscience got to her because she agreed to report it to her insurance company and she immediately called me back with a claim number.

This morning her insurance company called me to settle the claim. I took my car to their recommended repair shop for an estimate and to schedule the repairs. I was surprised when their estimate was only $650. Did the other repair shops estimate higher because there was no insurance company to lean on them to keep the costs down? I find that to be very curious.

This is all very good news. My car will be repaired later this week. Life is good.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Hit but no Run Update

Last month my car was hit while parked in a parking lot. I was thrilled to find a note on my windshield with an apology and a phone number. I called the person who left the note and left a message. She returned my call and left me a voicemail saying she'll be happy to pay for the damages. Well, that was three weeks ago and she will no longer return my calls. It looks like I'm on my own for this tab. I got three estimates on the body work and they average $1,000. I might think about driving around with the damage. Dang.

Simple Solution to Manage Store Affinity Cards

Sometimes my goals of frugality and simple living conflict with one another. An example is how to manage all those store affinity cards. I'm talking about punch cards ("buy 9, get your 10th free!") or membership cards like those you have to scan at the grocery store to avoid being charged $18 a pound for bananas. The frugal side of me adores those cards. But my simplicity side hates having the cards junk up my wallet.

Some stores will tie your affinity card to your phone number, allowing you to make a purchase without the card. But not all stores are that sophisticated. I devised a simple solution that allows for the best of both worlds. I purchased a zipper-top coin purse to be the new home for all those cards. Now my wallet contains only my drivers license, ATM card, Visa card and library card (that one scored a precious spot in my wallet because I use it so often). All other cards now live in my little coin purse, happy and snug, always with me, and easy to locate in my purse.

When shopping for a coin purse, be sure that the zipper is long enough to allow you to easily slide the cards in and out. I tested coin purses at the store with my drivers license and found that many coin purses are a little too small for cards.

Now I never find myself at the Greek deli kicking myself because I left my gyro punch card back at home.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Discover the Joy of Canceling Something

If you have yet to discover the joy of simplifying your life, you can take some baby steps by reading an excellent article called Modest Change: Cancel Something posted on 43folders. Be sure to read the comments, too. The article correctly points out that by reducing just one time-sucking thing from your life, you reduce the mental clutter associated with it. It provides some examples of things you can eliminate, such as RSS feeds (not this one, please!), a newspaper or magazine subscription or TiVO.

I quit subscribing to the Seattle Times when I moved into my condo because it was getting stolen from my building several days a month. I still ache for the daily crossword puzzle, but I have gained 30 minutes to an hour back in my day when I would peruse the paper. I realized that I got just as much news from the online version.

So start today and eliminate something small from your daily life. You'll be surprised what you can live without!

January Net Worth $401,134 (up $5,532)

I broke the $400,000 barrier this month. This month's gains are mostly attributed to investment gains in my IRA, 401(k), ESPP and stock option accounts. I would like to devise a way to estimate my current condo value without bothering a local real estate agent. If anybody has any good resources, I'd like to learn about them.

The zero change on my mortgage balance is because I calculated my December net worth after I made my mortgage payment on the 10th of the month. Going forward, I will calculate my monthly net worth prior to that date.

I anticipate increasing my monthly net worth by $5,000 each month in 2006, so I should end the year around $460,000.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Selling Clothes at Consignment Store Results in $135 Check

Last year I completed an overhaul of the clothing in my closet. In a previous post, I wrote about how I've actually saved money by buying high-quality clothing in classic styles. I purged my closet of all clothes and shoes that were either too trendy, nice but ill-fitting, cheaply made or redundant. I replaced the clothes with high-quality staples. As I purged, I set aside items that would be appropriate for my local consignment shop. Before taking the clothes, shoes, purses and belts to the shop, I made sure everything was impeccably clean and pressed, polished and shined. And I only took clothes that were appropriate for the current season. I went to the consignment shop every two months dropping off clothes and picking up checks from the previous batch. Because I was meticulous with the clothing I took to the shop, they sold 100% of the items. Yesterday I picked up the final check for $135. My bi-monthly checks averaged $75. This one was a bit higher because I sold a leather jacket in a dated style. My closet is now organized, minimized and filled with beautiful items that I love. And I have a nice little check that I will put toward an extra principle payment for January!

Monday, January 02, 2006

American Consumerism in Dick and Jane

I saw the movie Dick and Jane this weekend. I won't be ruining the movie for you by mentioning that it contains a typical example of the consumerism that runs rampant in our society. There is a scene in which Jim Carrey is in his driveway standing next to his BMW. His neighbor pulls up in a brand new Mercedes that turns on and off using voice commands spoken into a remote control. Jim Carrey immediately feels that his BMW is inadequate. It is a brief, witty moment in the movie simply because all of us can relate to how Jim Carrey felt when his neighbor one-upped him with his fancy new car. Even though I could relate, I gave up keeping up with the Joneses a long time ago.

As a sidenote, the movie is pretty weak so I wouldn't recommend paying to see it in a theater. Wait for it to come on cable or video.