Category Archives: Frugality

It Pays to Keep Your Stuff

Published / by Annie / 6 Comments on It Pays to Keep Your Stuff

In this disposable age most of us don’t think about the value in using items until they are completely worn out. Rather than keep the old, they buy new even when the item they already own still works.

It makes financial sense to keep things, however. The longer you use something the less it actually costs to own it. Here are a few examples from my personal life.

I purchased a small window air conditioner in 2010. I paid $105.99 for it ($99.99 plus tax). I’ve now used that little air conditioner to cool my home for eight seasons. When I averaged the cost over the eight summers I’ve used it I realized that I’ve only spent $13.25 a year to own an air conditioner. If I had upgraded to a newer, larger, fancier one, my costs would have went up exponentially but this one still works (it’s a bit noisy these days) so I plan to continue using it for as long as possible to reduce my cost of ownership even further.

I purchased a van in 2007 for $500. It needed a new transmission but I was able to get it on the road for $2,000 (that includes the purchase price). I sold that van to a young man in 2014 so that I could write my book The Car Free Experiment. Not including annual taxes and insurance, that means it cost me $200 a year ($16.67 a month) to own that van. To calculate the cost I subtracted the amount I sold it for from the initial purchase expense and then divided by the years owned.

I purchased an iPad mini in January 2013. It cost $344.50 after tax. I’ve had it 60 months, or 5 years. So far it has cost me $68.88 a year, or $5.74 a month to own. It is still going strong so the longer I keep it the less it will cost me.

This is the reason why businesses try to keep their equipment working for many years before they replace it. They know that the longer they keep an item, the lower the costs of ownership.

I want you to think about that. Every time you replace an item that still works you increase your cost of ownership. For folks like myself, who used to replace items like computers every year or so, that money can add up but the longer that you keep an item, the inverse is true.

You can save a lot of money just by keeping your stuff.

Have you ever calculated the cost of owing the items in your life? Please share your stories in the comments below

Monitoring Energy Usage

Published / by Annie / 3 Comments on Monitoring Energy Usage

Every month my electric company sends me a letter concerning my energy usage. They keep track of your usage over a 12-month period. This letter covers details about how you compare to similar homes in your area, how your usage changes from month to month, and even how your usage compares to that of the previous year.

I must confess that I’ve not paid too much attention to all the information that the letter contains; I usually look at it to ensure that my usage is similar or lower than similar homes (it’s usually a bit lower) for the month and leave it at that.

This month I actually took the time to read more than the little comparison chart on the first page. I discovered that I’ve used 9% less electricity over the past 12 months than I did the previous year!

I had thought that we were actually using more. It seems as if the bills have been a bit higher, at any rate.

As a result of this I plan to start keeping copies of my electric bills so that I can take the time to review them periodically. I would like to see just how much electricity we use over a period of years in this house, and my electric company only keeps records for the previous 12 months. Since I plan to remain in this home for the long haul, that information would show me if I am slowly lowering my energy usage over time or if last year’s energy savings was a fluke.

Do you keep track of your energy use from month to month and year to year? Has the information benefited you? Please share your stories in the comments below.

The Art of Delayed Gratification

Published / by Annie / 5 Comments on The Art of Delayed Gratification

There comes a time when even the biggest cheapskate decides that it is time to bite the bullet and spend some money. I needed a new writing computer whether I liked it or not.

It isn’t easy to wait for something you need while you save up money for the purchase. Every time you see a sale pass you by it burns. I am not immune to that.

I’ve learned to cope by developing a ritual for the process. Every single payday when I set some money aside for my goal I write it down and take a moment to give myself a mental pat on the back. I remind myself that I’m a bit closer than I was the previous week.

When it seems like I’ll never make it I look at the money I have already saved along with a picture of the item in question. I close my eyes and imagine how wonderful it will be to see the item in my home and to use it for the very first time. I look back at the photos of previous purchases to remind myself that I felt the exact same way as I saved up for them as well. While it always feels like I’ll never make it, those photos are proof that I have in the past and will do it again.

When the moment arrives where I have saved up enough money I take a few moments to savor the sensation. Sometimes I will deliberately delay the purchase even longer to enjoy the fact that I actually have the money to purchase the item in question. By the time I sit down to place the order I feel truly rich.

Then I sit down at the computer, look at the item one last time, and ask myself the following questions:

* Do I really want to buy this?
* Will this item meet my needs?
* Have I shopped around enough to get the best deal that I can?

If the answers are yes then I complete the purchase. I schedule the delivery to arrive when someone will be home to sign for it when it comes. When that is done, I prepare a place in my tiny home for it while I wait. I make sure the area is spotless as I mentally plan the unboxing and initial setup.

I deliberately psyche myself up to a feverish pitch before every major purchase. I know that I won’t buy anything large for quite a while so I make the most of the experience. After it arrives I take a moment to just admire it in its packaging. I snap a few photos, take a deep breath, and slowly begin to upwrap it.

This is what I purchased this time: a refurbished desktop computer running Windows 10 with a set of specs that will more than meet my needs. Even better, the system can be upgraded at a reasonable price so that I can keep it in service even longer.

My total price was $325, including shipping. Not bad for a quad-core computer that has 16 GB of RAM. It even has a 2 TB hard drive.

How do you deal with delayed gratification? Please share your stories in the comments below.

I Have Lived Three Years Without a Car

Published / by Annie / 5 Comments on I Have Lived Three Years Without a Car

It has been over three years since I sold my van. I wanted to go car-free for one year, write a book about the experience, and then move on with my life.

I honestly believed that I would purchase another vehicle once the experiment was over. I enjoy traveling on occasion, have family to visit, and prefer buying some consumables in bulk. Aside from that, it gets cold here in the winter; I knew that I would prefer driving to work during inclement weather.

Three Years Later…

I realized the other day that I haven’t even seriously considered buying another vehicle since my one-year fast ended. While I still admire beautiful vehicles and borrow one on occasion I have no desire to purchase one of my own.

What?

I know that I can save the money to buy one. It might take a bit of time but I am a pro when it comes to sniffing out bargains and saving up for big purchases. Money wasn’t the problem, so what was going on? It was time for some soul-searching.

I have to plan my shopping trips now but that has made me a better consumer. I have eliminated a lot of impulse purchases simply by eliminating how many times I go to the store. While I may spend a bit more money when I borrow a car or ask a friend to take me somewhere (I pay for gas and enjoy treating them in some small way as a thank you), I still spend less money than I did when I could go shopping whenever I wanted.

I love the fact that I no longer have to concern myself with maintenance duties. I no longer have the fear that a breakdown is going to decimate my monthly budget. I feel an odd sort of relief when my friends tell me of their latest automotive woes; I don’t have to worry about that any longer.

I also feel better than I have in years. I can walk across town at a decent rate of speed regardless of weather without getting out of breath. I can even jog for short stretches now, something that I’ve not been able to do since 1995.

Even better, I realized that I’m saving a small fortune every year. I no longer have to budget $50 a month to pay for car insurance or $100 for my annual taxes. That might not be a huge amount of money but it adds up over time.

While I am no longer able to visit my beloved aunt as often as I like we are closer than ever due to regular phone calls and Facebook chats, and when we do see one another, we make every moment count.

I get to spend more time with friends as we plan trips together. We both save money by splitting the cost while receiving the added benefit of good companionship during the excursion.

I have gotten better at planning my purchases beforehand. Since I never know when I will get to visit a certain store, I save up the money ahead of time for pet supplies, personal care items, and anything else I know I will need to buy soon. This allows me to take advantage of spur-of-the-moment opportunities when they arise.

The time has come for me to admit to myself that I am really, truly content without a vehicle.

Have you ever considered eliminating your car? What is holding you back if you are? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Is Your Life in the Black?

Published / by Annie / 15 Comments on Is Your Life in the Black?

I ran into an old friend the other day. We hadn’t seen each other for several years so we took a few moments to catch up. My friend announced proudly that he had recently purchased a house, showed me his car, and bragged about his high-paying job. He was a little worried about making the new house payment but his wife had just started her own business selling cosmetics for a popular company. Could I attend her party in a couple of weeks?

I must confess that the conversation left me feeling somewhat small. While he regaled me with the size of his paycheck, the square footage of his new home, and other things, all I had to share was that I had written a few books, lived in a small rented home, and earned minimum wage at a grocery store. The little trips I take to help animals achieve a better life couldn’t hold a candle to his latest vacation overseas so I didn’t even bother to mention them.

I went to bed that night with a heavy heart. Over the past few months even my daughter had told me that she looked down on my simple life; while she was thankful that I had sacrificed higher paying jobs in order to spend more time with her as she grew up she bluntly announced that she might have been better off if I had ignored her wishes and spent more time making money. She would have had fancier things that way.

Was I really such a failure that my own child looked down her nose at my simple lifestyle? The look on my friend’s face when he discovered that I didn’t even own a car spoke volumes.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching since that fateful encounter. I’ve examined my life thoroughly as I asked myself did I make the right decisions? If not, should I start making changes? Should I apply for a job at a local factory where a friend of mine earns almost a thousand dollars a week with overtime? I wouldn’t have the time to write anymore but I would make a lot more money. I could buy a car, save up for a house, buy some nicer clothes….

I was still tormented by these thoughts when the first of the month rolled around. As I calculated my monthly budget and paid my bills I realized something: I could pay all of my bills before they came due. I didn’t have to struggle. I don’t toss and turn at night wondering where the money is going to come from to pay my electric bill. I don’t have to hide a car to avoid repossession until I could make the payment. I’m not driving around on expired tags because I can’t afford to put insurance on my vehicle as some of my friends are doing. I don’t cringe when the phone rings and I’m certainly not in danger of losing my home because I failed to pay the back taxes.

I’m operating in the black. Each and every year my writing business pays to support itself. It has done this from the beginning. For a few years there it also brought in enough money to support my simple lifestyle without the need for a public job. While it may not be able to support me currently it is still earning a small profit.

While far from rich I have enough in the bank to pay my bills without struggle every month. I can afford the things that I need without having to rob Peter to pay Paul. I’m able to splurge on some extras and save up for more expensive items. I even have a small savings account that I contribute to.

And unlike my friend who looked at me askance when he discovered what neighborhood I called home, it doesn’t take multiple jobs to support my lifestyle. I am able to live on minimum wage at my part-time job, which allows me time to pursue my passion of writing. I have even been able to take time off from working entirely over the years and savor the experience of being a stay-at-home single mom without having to sacrifice my morals to do so.

Even better, my simple lifestyle granted me the ability to recover from an injury that would have bankrupted many that I know. It enabled me to quickly regain my financial footing when I was able to start working again.

I may not have a fancy car or a luxurious house. I may not be able to take fancy trips or turn my friends green with envy but the truth is I have something far more valuable.

I have peace of mind. I can go to bed at night without worrying over unpaid bills. I can take time off work to help save the lives of unwanted animals. I have the time to make the world a better place by sharing my knowledge and experience with others.

I can afford to pursue my passions.

Do you live in the black? Please share your stories in the comments below.

The Wisdom of Experience

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on The Wisdom of Experience

I can always tell when Daughter’s payday arrives. She rolls into the house, arms filled with purchases as she hands me her share of the bill money.

I resist the urge to ask her if she opened up a savings account. While I know from experience how unpredictable the world can be I still remember what it was like to be a fresh adult of 18. You are excited with legal freedom, brimming with the confidence of youth. You are so excited to have money of your own that it burns a hole in your pocket as you hurry to spend it.

“I’ll do that next week,” I know she’ll say if I ask.

In the meantime she announces, “Right now XX is having a big sale. Look at my new stuff!”

I stifle a sigh as I examine her purchases, nodding my head as she tells me I should splurge on a new pair of shoes or a couple of bras while they’re on sale.

“Maybe next time,” I put her off. “Right now I’m saving up for a writing computer. My old laptop won’t last forever.”

“You’re just waiting for me to get bored with my new clothes and give them to you,” she counters with a huff.

I glance down at the brand new pair of Converse sitting beneath my desk. In her rush to order them she selected a size too big. Rather than exchange them she had passed them down to me.

I am content with oversized shoes.

“You got me,” I laugh.

The time will come when she realizes that money doesn’t buy happiness. She will look back in amazement at all of the money she spent on passing fancies. She will count her change and wonder how to survive until payday.

Eventually she will look at mom wearing her handmedowns and realize that, while far from rich, that Mother has the bills all paid, money in the bank, and the contentment that comes with having enough.

I just have to wait.

The Longevity Factor

Published / by Annie / 1 Comment on The Longevity Factor

We don’t consider the longevity of purchases much in this disposeable age. For the most part we buy the best we can afford without a thought about how we intend to use the item.

Once upon a time as a snot-nosed kid I stumbled upon an elderly couple quarreling about this in a grocery store. Wide-eyed, I watched the man snatch a package of super-soft bathroom tissue out of their cart and exchange it for the cheaper brand.

“There ain’t no sense in spending a fortune on something we’re gonna wipe our asses on and throw away,” he grumped at his wife’s protests.

Just the other day my daughter and I found ourselves facing that situation.

“Look, mom! This facial tissue has lotion in it!” Katie exclaimed as she handed me the box in question.

“Why the hell would I want to pay more for something we blow our noses on and throw away?” I grumped as I handed it back. “Toilet paper not good enough for you now that you’re working?”

“It scratches my nose,” she complained.

“Then use a bandanna like I do. It’s softer and you can reuse them.”

Katie snorted as she placed the box in the section of the cart reserved for her personal purchases.

“I’ll get it for myself then,” she huffed.

The old man smiled from the halls of my memory.

Magic Bullet

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on Magic Bullet

The other day my daughter saved one of those Magic Bullet mixer kits from being tossed. She brought it home and announced that we would once again be able to make smoothies.

I had an even better idea. One of our favorite treats in the summer just happens to be milkshakes but due to the price we are rarely able to treat ourselves to one. I suggested that we go to the store and grab some ice cream so that we could make our own.

A few scoops of ice cream, some milk, and a spoonful of caramel later Katie had a delicious caramel milkshake. Some ice cream and coffee later I had a coffee-flavored milkshake. We even grabbed some inexpensive whipped topping to put on top.

Since a half gallon of cheap ice cream costs slightly over $2 in our area, we are now able to make several large milkshakes for half the price as a single small one in a restaurant.

We’re quite proud.

How have you saved money lately? Please share your stories in the comments below.

I Hate Planned Obsolescence

Published / by Annie / 8 Comments on I Hate Planned Obsolescence

The other day a friend stopped by and announced that he had a surprise in the back seat of his car. Curious, I stepped outside to see what it was.

To my surprise, he had an ancient iMac sitting on his back seat. He explained with a grin that he had been visiting another friend when he saw their neighbors carry it out to the trash.

“I immediately thought of you, so I asked permission to have it,” he explained.

We carried it into the house. It lacked a keyboard and a mouse, but it fortunately still had a power cord, so I connected a spare Windows mouse and keyboard to the machine and plugged it in.

That old dinosaur powered on.

According to my research, this machine (iMac model M5521) came out around the turn of the century, which means that it is almost 20 years old. The hard drive is a bit noisy, the slot loading CD-ROM sticks, but it still works!

The more I played with that old machine the angrier I got. This computer cost someone $999 new. That’s the equivalent of two month’s expenses for me. The thought of someone tossing that much money in the trash just pissed me off, not because they discarded something they no longer needed or used, but because of the fact that this poor machine was obsolete just a few short years after it was purchased.

That’s the way it is with stuff anymore. You purchase a new phone, computer, gadget, outfit, or whatever only to be told it is useless or out of fashion before you’ve hardly managed to break it in, so what do you do? You go out and buy a new one, tossing the old one into a closet or—like this poor old machine—in the trash.

Heck, purchase a new appliance these days and you’ll discover that the lightweight gears and moving parts within the machine will fail within a few short years. Don’t believe me? Go to the store and buy a cheap fan. See how many seasons it will last you before it dies. Next, go to a thrift shop and buy one of those ancient fans with the old cloth-covered power cords. I’ll bet that thing still runs even if it is close to 50 years old. In fact, I happen to know a gentleman who uses an old percolator to make his coffee that is even older than that! He got tired of buying coffee makers every couple of years so he dug out the old percolator his mother used to make her coffee with.

Anyway, back to this computer. After tinkering with it for a while I decided to try an experiment. I’m going to see if I can acquire the parts needed to give this puppy an upgrade and make it useful once again. I want to get it set up with some simple games, configure it for printing, add a word processing program, and let my grandson use it to play and do his homework on.

This isn’t exactly a priority to me so I plan to spend as little as possible. I’m going to ask around for spare parts to upgrade the RAM and search online for a copy of the operating system that I can download and burn to disk. If I get lucky I’ll manage to score a new CMOS battery for it, since the original is long dead.

And piece by piece I am going to turn this ancient machine into something that can be used today, just to prove that it can be done. It won’t be the fastest but that’s not the point. The point is that we spend a fortune on items that manufacturers declare completely useless years before they actually are. We spend hours of our lives each week earning money to buy items like this old computer, only to discard them as worthless a short time later, when in fact, with a little love and a bit of work, they can last longer than Big Business wants us to keep them.

I’ll let you know when I get the old dinosaur running. I will also let you know just how much money I spent turning it into something that can actually be used (paperweight is not an option).

What was the last item you saved from the trash? Please share your stories in the comments below.

To The Simple Living Haters

Published / by Annie / 16 Comments on To The Simple Living Haters

Over the years I have had so many people tell me that I am insane for keeping my bills low and living such a simple life. They have told me that I’m cruel to my daughter by forcing her to live in a small one-bedroom house (despite the fact that she gets the bedroom), and that I am depriving both her and myself of things that we need.

But you know what? Those haters can take a long walk off a short pier. Living a simple, frugal life has saved my ass more times than I can count.

And in recent times it managed to save us from being completely homeless.

As you know, I’ve been unable to work a public job for around two years. But guess what? Thanks to my extremely frugal lifestyle, my books generating passive income, and with help from my friends all of my bills are paid off with the exception of my rent bill (I’m working on that).

And guess what? I’m starting a nice, simple, part time job at a grocery store today. I’m not sure if I can do the work but by golly I am going to try!

The lifestyle that so many have condemned allowed me sufficient time to heal to the point to where I am now able to try working a bit. The lifestyle that so many have declared insane will allow me to work just a few hours a week to keep my bills paid up and continue paying my rent debt down.

The lifestyle that people have declared impractical has once again saved my ass. Literally.

So to all the haters out there who believe that a simple life isn’t worth the effort, you can kiss my behind. This lifestyle has saved me yet again.

I have survived the impossible. Again.

So the next time someone tells you that you shouldn’t reduce your recurring expenses, that you shouldn’t live in a simpler, less expensive home and ditch the fancy stuff, point them to this post.

It is time the world got a wakeup call.

Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale

Hello Everyone!

Once again I have joined the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale. To thank you for being such loyal readers, I have listed all of my books at a sizeable discount or for free. You can find a list of my books here.

All you have to do is click on the book you are interested in. When the description page loads, simply choose to purchase it using the sale coupon on the right hand side. While you are there, please check out all of the other books that are on sale as well. You will find a lot of bargains.

Enjoy!

Annie

Cheap Ventilation

Published / by Annie / 8 Comments on Cheap Ventilation

Day by day, my daughter and I are working to recover from the financial blow my injury caused. My daughter has managed to land a part time job at a grocery store and is contributing a portion of her paycheck every week to help with bills. It isn’t a whole lot (they don’t give her many hours, and it only pays minimum wage) but it helps.

In the meantime, I’ve hopefully recovered enough to try some simple part-time work. I’m greatly limited by my limitations (fast food is definitely out of the picture at present) but I’ve submitted some applications at the few places around here that I feel I might be qualified for. Even if I only worked a few hours a week it would help greatly to pay back the money I owe my landlord for back rent.

While I wait, I stay busy writing and working on my skills to improve them for the time when I land a job. I’m busy on another novel for the other pen name I told you about. It’s definitely not high quality reading but if it brings in a little money that is better than none at all.

We’ve resolved to keep our bills as low as possible while we recover financially. For the moment that means that we’ve decided to hold off on installing our little window air conditioner despite the warmth of the days. Instead, we’ve opted for a cheaper solution.

In order to provide ventilation in the house, we open the back door. We latch the screen door and place a small barricade in front of it to deter any potential intruders. While it only stays open during the day while we are awake, the little barrier makes me feel a bit safer. Since our front “screen” door doesn’t actually have a screen, I prop it open with a chair and place a baby gate from my grandson’s younger days across the opening to keep the dogs contained. This combined with the ceiling fan in the living room and a fan in my daughter’s room, allow for a crosscurrent of air to flow through the house.

It’s actually staying rather comfortable in here. I’m honestly surprised. The back porch is shaded due to the trees that surround our back yard, and the covered porch on the front allows some protection from the heat of the sun in the afternoons so the breeze that flows through the house is a comfortable temperature.

To keep even cooler I’ve shifted my primary hangout from the kitchen to the living room. That way we don’t have to invest in another fan. It stays darker in the living room, which also keeps it cooler in here. Considering that we’ve congregated in the kitchen almost since the first day we moved in here, this room is getting used more than it ever has. I’m sure that my poor kitchen is feeling neglected as a result.

Once it gets late enough that I feel uncomfortable, I shut and lock the doors. An open window in the living room and another in the bathroom allow for a smaller (but no less effective) breeze through the home while we sleep.

It’s a bit noisier at night with the windows cracked but that’s better than roasting, though usually before the night is over I shut both windows to hold in the cool air. This house is nicely insulated so the method is quite effective.

The next day we repeat the process, starting with opening the doors. Once I feel more comfortable with our finances I will install the air conditioner.

What are you doing to reduce your energy expenses? Please share your stories in the comments below.

If you would like to learn about more ways to save money, check out my book The Shoestring Girl: How I Live On Practically Nothing and You Can Tooavailable at the following retailers.

The Improvised Pitcher

Published / by Annie / 2 Comments on The Improvised Pitcher

The other day a friend of mine passed along three bottles of concentrated Cranberry Juice cocktail. I hadn’t had any in ages so I dug through my cabinets in search of something small enough to mix it in that would fit in my refrigerator. To my dismay I didn’t have anything. The only pitcher I had was a bit too big to fit in my fridge along with the other contents.

Disappointed, I placed the bottles in my pantry. I would wait until I used down the supplies in my refrigerator to make a batch, I told myself.

The next day I went over to have a cup of coffee with my neighbors. As I was finishing up my cup, one of the kids reached into their fridge, pulled out a two-liter, and poured the remaining contents into a glass.

My cheapskate mind started jumping in happiness. I had a spot on my refrigerator door that was just big enough to hold that bottle.

“Hey, can I have that empty bottle?” I asked as they went to put it in the trash.

“Uh, sure. What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m going to use it as a pitcher,” I responded.

“Go for it.” My friend handed me the empty bottle.

I took it home, washed it out, and carefully poured the contents of the concentrate into the bottle. I added water, mixed it up, and squeezed it into the one empty spot in my tiny fridge.

I am now enjoying a nice cold glass of cranberry juice cocktail, courtesy of improvisation.

Refreshment never tasted so nice.

When was the last time you improvised to meet a need? Please share your stories in the comments below.

The Best Solution is Often the Cheapest

Published / by Annie / 10 Comments on The Best Solution is Often the Cheapest

In today’s society we are taught that the best solutions are the most expensive. We buy the high-end phones, the expensive computers, luxury cars, high-end appliances, and many other items and services based on the logic that it must be wonderful if it costs so much.

I’m as guilty of this as the next person. In my hunger for knowledge, I have paid hundreds of dollars for information products that ended up being worth less than the paper it cost to print the crap. I’ve bought high-end computers (my other primary weakness) only to discover that in a year or so they were falling apart (compared to the cheap old laptop I purchased on sale back in 2006 that is still going), and many more items that I can think of counting.

Learning a lesson from this, when I faced a recent difficulty I decided to look at what I needed instead of what society said I should buy. My male cats had decided to rebel against the small but expensive litterboxes I purchased when they were kittens. They got tired of only being able to stick a portion of their bodies in the box to do their business so they started going beside the box.

Talk about a mess! I scooped, I cleaned, I did every trick I could think of, only to have those stupid critters glare at me balefully as they stubbornly did their business with the wrong end inside of their litterbox.

I searched online for a better solution and winced at the prices. Not a single litterbox was large enough for my needs, yet every single one of them cost a small fortune. The higher the price point, the greater the argument that this box would solve my problem.

I stepped back from the problem for a few days to consider. What did I really need? Ideally, I needed a box that was large enough for my cats to fit inside with sides that were high enough to minimize scattered litter. I didn’t care if it was pretty or expensive; I just wanted something that would work.

My eureka moment came when my grandson came over to visit. He marched over to his toybox, reached in, and started pulling out toys to play with. It dawned on me that a similar-sized tote, sans lid, was considerably larger than commercial litterboxes. The sides were high enough to prevent scattering litter, even if I gave them a nice deep pile of litter to do their business in.

I didn’t want to spend the extra money on what constituted an experiment on my part (I wasn’t sure the cats would like having to hop into the thing), so I started asking my friends to scrounge me up an old storage container that was missing a lid.

One of my friends came through. I found myself the proud owner of a grungy old Rubbermaid tote that had been destined for the trash. I cleaned it out, filled it with litter, and placed it beside their regular litterbox. I scooped up the cats one by one and placed them in the container to let them know “hey stupid, here’s a new litterbox for you to try” and then waited.

I woke up the next morning to discover that both cats had visited the new box. In fact, one of my cats made a point of visiting the new one as I scooped both boxes out! In a few days I plan to switch the cats over to the new box entirely, clean out their old litterboxes and either sell or donate the old ones to the local animal rescue.

This just goes to show that the best solution is not always the most expensive. I solved my problem without spending a penny. I love it when I can make the Gods of Consumerism cry. Every time I solve an issue without spending money, I feel like I’m giving Big Business the middle finger, so I do it as often as I can.

What was the last problem you solved by getting creative? Please share your stories in the comments below.

The True Cost of Stuff

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on The True Cost of Stuff

My daughter Katie finally saved up the money to purchase her very first cell phone. She will be paying for the service out of her own pocket since she now has a part-time job.

When she told me how much the phone cost, I was struck by how much of her life she had to spend working in order to earn the money to pay for it. She worked an equivalent of two weeks to buy the phone and pay for the first month of service. It will cost her ½ of a week’s pay every month to pay for the service.

I asked her if the phone was worth losing two weeks’ of her life working in order to pay for it. Katie gave me a blank look before regaling me with how wonderful her new gadget was.

That made me realize that most people have no concept of the amount of time they sacrifice from their lives in order to pay for things.

For instance, say you decide to purchase a new computer. You want a nice one so you select a model that costs $1,000. If you are on minimum wage ($7.25 in this area), that means you have to work full-time for a month to buy the device.

If you decide to buy a new car for $20,000 (I’m just picking a random price here), you would have to work 20 months just to pay off the base price, not including taxes and interest if you finance it!

Calculate Before You Buy

Before you purchase an item, calculate just how much of your life you have to sacrifice to a job in order to pay for it then ask yourself: Is this item worth so much of my life?

If it is, you’re good to go. Buy that whatsit and have fun.

But if it’s not, save your money. Remember, the less stuff you buy, the less you have to earn to pay for it. Also, remember that there might be a less expensive way for you to get what you need/want. For instance, if you want to own your own car, instead of purchasing a newer one that you have to finance, take the down payment and buy an older vehicle outright. You will have transportation at a fraction of the cost—without having to worry about a monthly payment.

If you want to own a home, consider purchasing a smaller, older, simpler home instead of that fancy one the realtor shows you. I have personally purchased older mobile homes on a rented lot for less than $2,000—one time I even purchased one for $100 and some furniture taken in trade! Some mobile homes and older houses in the country can be purchased for $10,000 or less if you look and are patient. You could purchase one of these, live in it, and save the difference that you would normally pay in rent to buy something better. Once you buy a better place, you could sell the first place (saving the money if you want to upgrade again) or rent it out for extra income.

If you practice this method of thinking before you buy, you will end up saving a LOT of money over time. You can either put that money away or decide to regain some of your life by working less.

I discuss this and other ways of saving money in the book The Shoestring Girl: How I Live on Practically Nothing and You Can Too, available in print and ebook at many fine retailers.

Fun and Games Shoestring Style

Published / by Annie / 3 Comments on Fun and Games Shoestring Style

My daughter and I haven’t owned a Monopoly game since our last one bit the dust in a horrible accident. We missed it but such is life.

We struck gold the other day, however. Sitting on the top of a trash can was a Monopoly box. We snatched it up and brought it home to discover that only a few of the pieces were missing. We gathered up some of the stuff we had managed to save from our old game and created the items we still needed using pieces of paper and whatnot, then sat down and started playing.

We had a blast! Hopefully we will be able to scrounge the cards we’re missing over time, but until then the game is playable. We just have to remember that giving an IOU for rent when just two people are playing doesn’t work out so well. We kept passing that ticket instead of one of us giving up until we finally called a draw. It was fun, though!

Have you ever scrounged or created something you could use by just piecing it together from scraps? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Old Computers

Published / by Annie / 3 Comments on Old Computers

I have a confession to make. I really, really love computers. In my heyday when money was flush it was common for me to purchase at least one new system a year. One year I would purchase a new desktop, the next I would buy a new laptop. If a new version of Windows came out or a computer with an operating system that I wanted to try entered the market I would buy even more.

These past few years of being financially strapped put a stop to that. The last new computer I purchased was around 2015 when I sold my van and even that computer is long gone due to finances. At first I was upset about it but then I realized something:

Computers haven’t really changed much over the past decade.

The other day I found myself at Wal-Mart with some time to kill while my ride did their thing. I wandered into the computer section to check out the latest specs and drool. To my surprise, there was nothing to drool over. The computers being offered didn’t have any better specs than the ancient machines I already had at home. The only difference was the operating system.

In fact, the computer I use the most these days is an 11-year old Toshiba laptop that runs Windows XP. I don’t even take it online. I use it to play music, read the occasional book, and write. I connected an adapter to it in order to have sound (the speakers on it are shot), an external keyboard to type (since the keyboard is shot as well), and a nice large monitor that I traded for years ago and kept for troubleshooting purposes. It is an ancient piece of shit but it still works and does what I need.

While I do have another computer that I use to access the Internet (2011 laptop running Ubuntu Linux), I have realized that I no longer need to purchase new computers. In fact, the refurbished business computers available these days are actually more powerful than the newer systems and they cost a lot less. As an example of this, here is a link to the refurbished desktop I have on my private wish list. It runs Windows XP, which is what I want, but if for some reason my other laptop decided to die I would invest in one of these and install Linux on it to have a nice, powerful system minus the constant nagging from Microsoft to buy this or update that.

If you have any older computers in your home instead of buying a new one I urge you to consider using the ones you currently own. If it was manufactured during the last decade, chances are that it is more than enough to meet your needs. If the operating system is out of date (and you need to take it online) install one of the many wonderful versions of Linux out there or get a friend to do it for you. You might want to upgrade the RAM (commonly called memory) on your system, but that’s a lot cheaper than buying a new system.

If you have an older laptop with a busted screen or a failing keyboard, connect external devices to it and convert it into a desktop system. That’s what I’ve done with this ancient Toshiba and it serves my needs perfectly well.

In other words, stop buying crap you don’t need when something you have works perfectly well. Stop giving the corporations your money when you don’t absolutely have to. They’re not out to improve your life…they just want to improve their bottom line. They could care less about you.

What one thing do you have now that you could continue using that you’ve been thinking of replacing? Please share your stories in the comments below. And if this post has made you think, please share it with others. Thank you.

Clothing

Published / by Annie / 5 Comments on Clothing

I have a confession to make. With the exception of my panties, every single piece of clothing that I am currently wearing was either gifted to me secondhand or thrifted.

My tee shirt was a handmedown from my daughter Katie when she became sick of it. The button-down shirt I’ve layered on top of it was purchased at the local clothing closet during one of their sales, where you can purchase a whole bag of clothing for a dollar. I bought the jeans I’m wearing at the same time as the shirt. My flip flops were originally gifted to my youngest from my middle daughter then later passed down to me.

You wouldn’t know it if you passed me on the street. I am clean and everything is in good condition. While I may not be dressed in the fanciest items, that is by choice and not by necessity. You can get some really fancy clothes at a thrift shop if you know how to look. In fact, I have a leather jacket that looked practically brand new when I stuffed it in my bag at the same sale where I purchased my jeans and the button-down top, which means I paid less than a dollar for it.

Of course, companies don’t like it when you do this. They want you to spend your hard-earned cash buying new stuff. They’re even selling clothing that looks ragged and filthy for hundreds of dollars these days, clothing that looks so nasty that I wouldn’t be caught dead in it unless I had spent the day digging a ditch!

So before you visit your local mall I urge you to hit the yard sales and thrift shops in your area. Instead of buying new I encourage you to look through your closet and use something you own already.

And above all, I urge you to stop spending cash to buy something you don’t absolutely need.

Where did you acquire the clothing you are currently wearing? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Consumerism has Gone Too Far

Published / by Annie / 10 Comments on Consumerism has Gone Too Far

The other day I discovered that there is a new fashion piece that has taken over the Internet. It is a pair of jeans with a piece of transparent plastic at the knees. Here’s a photo of them:

This is a prime example of how businesses are deliberately creating things that encourage us to spend our hard-earned money to purchase things we don’t need.

Think about it: exactly what purpose do these pants serve? Reviews say that the plastic causes your legs to sweat, sticking to your knees and becoming physically uncomfortable over time. The plastic is too high up on the leg to be useful as a knee guard for those who like to garden, so they aren’t very useful to protect your pants from stains in situations where you need to work on your knees. Considering the lack of comfort, you would definitely be better served by using an old, stained pair of pants that you already own if that’s the reason you want them.

If the purpose is purely cosmetic, purely fashion…why are you so shallow? Do you actually think anybody really cares what type of clothing you wear?

Now let’s be honest: why were these pants really created? They were created as a gimmick. People aren’t buying as many pants or whatever so the designers decided to create something controversial to spur their sales. Every time you purchase these pants or something similar you are encouraging them to market more stupid stuff to reel people in.

Stop it. Just stop buying this crap!

Seriously, how many pairs of pants do you need? How many shirts, or shoes, or underclothes do you need? I’m willing to bet that you’ve got enough clothes in your closet, right now, that would allow you to wear a completely different outfit every day for several weeks, if not longer.

You don’t need new clothes any more than you need a new car or a new television or a new computer or a new phone. What you’ve got already does the job, so stop it! Use what you’ve got already and stop giving these assholes your money. Save that money or use it for something you really need.

Until we stop encouraging these idiots they are going to continue creating artifical needs, they are going to keep designing ridiculous products in an attempt to keep us roped into working two jobs, taking extra overtime, and running up credit card debt. Do you think these businesses give a damn about you? Hell no! All they want is your money. All they want to do is keep you trapped in wage slavery until you fall down and die. Then they will focus their market on the next generation.

So stop it. Just stop. Don’t you dare let them win.

High School Parents: Beware of the C3 Scam

Published / by Annie / 1 Comment on High School Parents: Beware of the C3 Scam

The other day my daughter received a letter in the mail informing her that she was selected to attend a special workshop to help her receive financial aid for college. Considering that I’m scrounging around for enough money to keep our water from being shut off today, I had her there with bells on.

Come to find out, this was just a ploy. They were marketing a service for $2,000 that would tell us what we need to do (like completing the FAFSA and study for the ACT).

My first warning sign was when they started talking about their service. My head popped up because in the letter it was indicated that the basic financial aid help was free.

The second sign that something was up was when they po-pooed the fact that my daughter has already received one scholarship plus money from the state due to her grades.

“We go after the big money,” they told us.

The third sign that something was off was when the “counselor” didn’t know an important fact about taking the ACT.

The straw that broke my back was when they told us we either had to shell out this money now or my daughter would never be able to go to college because open enrollment ended the next day.

This wasn’t my first rodeo when it comes to folks like this so after I refused we went home and looked them up. Even the Better Business Bureau is warning people about these folks. Complaints ranged from not doing what they said they would to refusing to accept their cancellations. One person reported that this company was taking money from their mother’s account two and three times a month despite the fact that the service had been cancelled (sorry, I misplaced the link on that one).

Even more interesting, my daughter went online and promptly found a number of websites that do the exact same thing that they claim to do for FREE.

So if you happen to get a letter from this company, I advise you to toss it in the trash.