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Archive for January, 2008

The Best Way to Dress Up on a Budget

January 31st, 2008 at 02:35 pm

Although I am retired now, I spent many years in an office environment where business dress was required. We didn’t have to wear suits, but hose, heels, blazers, skirts and dress pants were everyday wear.

A lot of people I worked with spent a ton on their clothes. I didn’t, and I think I looked every bit as nice.

There are three parts to dressing on a budget: planning, acquiring, and maintaining a wardrobe.

You have to know what you have in order to know what you need. I inventoried my clothes on a regular basis. I didn’t write everything down, but made a mental note of what kind of clothing I had in good supply, and what was lacking. What made this task easier was keeping my clothes sorted by type, and then by color. Yeah, very anal, I know!

When I felt something specific was needed, like a navy blazer, I wrote in down in a little notebook I carried in my purse. I didn’t necessarily buy it right away, but watched for it to appear at the right price while I was shopping.

I shopped at the mall, or at any retail clothing store, VERY RARELY. I acquired most of my clothes at garage sales, Goodwill and a resale shop which deeply discounted clothing due to “expire” at the end of every month. I used my list, of course, but I also bought clothing that was in good shape, the right style, and the right price, even if it wasn’t on my list. I would say I bought 90% of my wardrobe this way.

Some things I just never could find secondhand. I usually had to buy shoes, boots, casual coats, and, of course, underwear at retail stores. For these I haunted the 50-70% off racks at stores like Macy’s, where the quality was good. Again, if I saw a sale that was terrific, I would buy outside of my list. But I was careful never to buy in categories in which I was “overstocked.”

I have to add, I was also very gracious in accepting any clothing people offered to give me. I couldn’t necessarily use everything I was given, but I got some real gems this way.

Another point – I tended to stick to a certain color spectrum. I look good in black and white, light pastels, jewel colors and primary colors, so I stuck to those. I never bought beige, except for pants, or heathery colors, for instance. So almost everything I had worked well together.

I am Wonder Woman!

January 27th, 2008 at 01:41 am

Well, I'm pretty proud of myself anyway. The remote on our gas fireplace wasn't working -- I couldn't find the manual -- so I changed the batteries, reset the remote, got down on the floor and took off the panel and looked at the wiring. No dice. Couldn't figure it out. Finally I found a manual online and figured out that the receiver, which is behind the panel, was the unit that needed new batteries, not the transmitter. Now it works! Ta-da!

Today was a spender. I spent $94 on groceries. With my son and his girlfriend coming, I had to stock up. And I also bought a book of stamps for $7.38.

Back in business

January 25th, 2008 at 09:49 pm

A few days ago I posted the news that the restaurant my son manages had closed. He called me last night to let me know it will reopen next week. Even so, he is updating his resume and reviewing other options. This job has been a rollercoaster, and he would like some stability. He also wants to relocate to Chicago to be near his brother.

He also said he is in Savannah with his girlfriend and they will spend a few days with me on their way back! I'm so excited! Not too sure yet what I'll do to entertain them, but I am planning on hosting a lunch/dinner on Sunday that will include my sister, cousin and their spouses. I'm going to make steakhouse hamburgers, spinach & fruit salad, fried potatoes & onions, and Harvard brownies.

My first thought was taking them to a nice restaurant -- but with all that money having to go toward my teeth, I had to nip that thought in the bud!

I spent $0 today. I redeemed my Discover cashback bonus by applying it to my account. I put most of my spending on Discover and pay it off each month. This month it is high, because of Christmas and traveling expenses. So that will help a little.

The dentist said...

January 24th, 2008 at 11:53 pm

Periodontal disease has set in, plus I need two crowns (one a replacement)and a filling.

For the periodontal disease I have to schedule two sessions of scale and root planing, $400 each. Then I have to go on an every-three-months cleaning schedule. This is the best-case scenario -- if it doesn't help, I have to have surgery.

The crowns will cost $1100 each, including crown buildup and pins. The filling will be $175.

I am so shocked, I don't know quite what to do with myself. I knew that at my age I was likely to begin having problems -- and I have felt some discomfort. I just didn't think it would be this bad.

What really makes me mad is that I have only myself to blame for not being more diligent about flossing. Floss, people! It really is important.

After I got back my sister called and asked if I wanted to go see Juno at the theater. Did I! I needed some comfort. It was a delightful movie.

I am continuing to try to conserve in little ways -- although right now it seems hopeless. I walked a letter to the mailbox rather than running it to the post office, thus saving a little gas. I fixed my Kitchenaid stand mixer by finding a solution on the internet, saving a repair fee. I walked from the doctor's office (where I had blood drawn) to the dentist's office, even though it was early, and waited there, saving more gas and getting a little exercise. I resisted the temptation to get breakfast at a restaurant after the blood draw. Since I had to fast for the draw, I didn't eat until I got home from the dentist at 11:00. I was hungry, but after the shocker at the dentist I was glad I hadn't wasted any money on eating out.

Spending today: $225 for x-rays, examination and cleaning at the dentist, $6.25 for the movie.

Now I'll just take my tin cup to the street corner....

Tuesday musings

January 23rd, 2008 at 12:30 am

I just transferred $10 from Pinecone into my bank account. I noticed I have $20 coming back from Discover, but I haven't transferred it yet.

I figured out that I will have to save $170 a month to have enough to pay my medical premium next January. (That's in addition to savings I already have). My income from my pension is only $637 right now, and I suspect with the stock market dropping my income will drop as well. Granted, I have few expenses, but it's scary.

This was a no spender. Also, I did some aerobics and walked the dog. Trying to get back into some good habits. If I have to be poor, I'm at least going to be healthy!

The doctor said ...

January 21st, 2008 at 11:49 pm

Today I went to the doctor -- no charge for now -- it will come later, I'm sure. She said, I have three things to say to you: mammography, bone density test, colonoscopy. I told her she was no fun. On Thursday I have to go get blood drawn to have my cholesterol checked, and I have to get my blood pressure (which was too high) rechecked in one month. Sigh.

Then I dropped off a bag of clothes at Goodwill, deposited a check in the bank, picked up dry cleaning ($12) and bought groceries ($54). I also topped off my tank, because prices were so low. That was $11.

Now I hope to go for another week without spending anything. Except for the $225 I will have to plunk down at the dentist on Thursday. Golly, body maintenance is expensive! Worse than a car.

This and that

January 20th, 2008 at 11:34 pm

More card games today, with my sister and her husband. And we watched some of the NE-SD game.

Before they came, I made a cheesy Mexican eggplant casserole -- only fair. I also made oatmeal cookies that turned out only fair. But food came to the door. My sister brought pulled pork, plus lots of snacky things. My cousin dropped off some white chili to taste-test for a chili cookoff at work. So I've got LOTS of food. I feel a little guilty.

Yesterday I did two Pinecone surveys, so I should have $10 soon. And I am edging over 3,000 points on MyPoints. I think I'll get a gift card for Burger King or Subway -- something I can use on trips.

I have to go to the doctor tomorrow. Don't look forward to that! Just a "first checkup." I hope it warms up a little -- I also plan to do all my errands so I can combine trips. I have to go to the bank and Goodwill and the dry cleaners, and I should make a Wal-Mart stop, too. Hopefully, that will be it for the week.

The restaurant closed!

January 19th, 2008 at 08:47 pm

My older son called last night to tell me that his restaurant closed. He was the manager. The owner had neglected to renew the liquor license and they were heavily fined. The restaurant may reopen in a month, but my son is looking at other options.

I feel so sorry for him. He was having so much trouble getting himself established, and then it seemed like finally everything was working out for him. Now he has to start over.

I can't believe his boss was such an idiot.

He says he has enough money to live on for a couple of months, so I will try not to worry.

Voluntarily housebound

January 18th, 2008 at 04:03 pm

Well, I ventured out once yesterday, just to check the mail. It looks like neither the mail or the paper was delivered. Being from the Midwest, it really amuses me how freaked out people down here get about a little snowfall. This is nothing! But I admit, the possibility of ice is scary.

Today I may stay in as well, not because of the weather, but because it guarantees I won't spend! Well, unless I shop online, but I don't do that except at Christmas.

My plans for today are to do a load of laundry and make an eggplant casserole. I am a very frugal laundress. I don't make my own detergent or anything like that -- I've tried but didn't like the results. But what I do is use just a smidgeon of detergent and then let the laundry soak all day. In the early evening I'll let the washer run and finish up. My laundry is always very clean and I go through detergent very slowly.

I am having a lot of trouble with my wireless mouse, which I used to love! Now it just stops working for no reason. Then it starts up again for no reason. I have changed the batteries, cleaned it, etc. but it still fails suddenly. I don't want to have to replace it, even though it's not a lot of money. I'm trying so hard to spend NOTHING NECESSARY this month, and a mouse isn't necessary, is it, on a laptop? I can use the pad, I just don't like it....

Snow day

January 17th, 2008 at 03:43 pm

I woke up this morning to a beautiful blanket of snow. I am living in a postcard!

I just saw someone trying to drive up the hill in front of my house, and he didn't make it. So I guess I am stuck inside. Well, that will guarantee a no-spender.

The other day I made a low-cost recipe from Woman's Day -- penne with mushrooms and bacon. Even though I halved the recipe, it made a ton. So the second day I made it different by warming it up with marinara sauce. Today I'm going to make some Alfredo sauce. If there's still some left tomorrow, I'll toss it in dressing and call it a salad!

I really like to s-t-r-e-t-c-h my food!


January 16th, 2008 at 04:01 pm

So yesterday I got my invoice for my health insurance premium. I was expecting it, but it was still a shock: $4802. (I elected to pay annually to save some money). It took more than half of my emergency/big ticket fund. Now I have to be really mindful to replenish the account so I'm not caught short next year.

Then I checked my retirement assets. I lost nearly $6,000 due to the stock market. I know, it will come back, but what a downer of a day!

Errand day

January 15th, 2008 at 05:16 pm

Yesterday was my errand day. I went to the post office and mailed several packages. I had found many items while cleaning up my files that really belonged to my children. I also found things that would be useful to the new owner of my old house. In addition, I mailed back some shoes I borrowed from my niece at the funeral (my own shoes were hurting me.) And I had a few things to send to my cousin in Florida. Altogether the postage was $14.

I also bought groceries: $45. I bought the ingredients for two new recipes I took from a Woman's Day magazine I picked up at the library "free" table. The recipes are for inexpensive entrees. One is penne with spinach, mushrooms and bacon, and the other is a Mexican eggplant casserole. I made the first one this morning, and it's pretty good. It will last me several days, and then I'll try out the other one.

While I was out, I used my new Christmas toy, a TomTom navigator. I was relying on it to save me some gas, by giving me the best directions around town. Turns out it directed me to a post office that doesn't exist any more, so I wasted a lot of gas. Oh well. Now I know that I need to look up addresses and navigate specifically to them. I do love the TomTom. It was a present from my kids. It was a great help when I went to Michigan for my brother's funeral.

I just made "new patient" appointments with a doctor and a dentist here in my new locale. I made the doctor's appointment so I can get a referral for a mammogram, which is due to be done this month. The dentist's appointment is a six-month checkup that I should have done in December, but it was too busy a month for me. The dentist's assistant told me up front that the first visit will cost $225, which includes x-rays. Ugh. Healthcare is so expensive, even if you're healthy.

Movies, movies, movies

January 14th, 2008 at 03:43 pm

I broke my "fiscal fast" yesterday. I went to see "Atonement" with my sister. (It was an excellent movie.) Movies are my favorite thing, so I jump at the chance when anyone wants to go.

The good news is it was a matinee - $6 - and I resisted buying popcorn or drinks, even though I had skipped lunch and was pretty hungry.

In the evening I watched "Bobby" -- a Netflix movie, so it was quite a movie day. That was a good movie, too.

I reduced my Netflix subscription down to only two movies a month. I found I wasn't keeping up with watching them to make it worthwhile. So that's a savings of $8 a month.

Cards and snacks

January 13th, 2008 at 03:12 pm

Yesterday I did nothing money-related, except I didn't spend any!

My sister and her husband came over to play cards (that's cheap entertainment, folks!) They also brought soft drinks, cheese and crackers and brownies. Probably because the last time they came I offered very dry bagel chips and a mostly-used-up tub of French onion dip. I didn't have much on hand. I do need to be better about stocking snack foods that can be pulled out at a moment's notice.

Anyway, I not only didn't spend anything, but got free food!

Chores and no spending

January 12th, 2008 at 03:47 pm

Yesterday I crossed a few chores off my list. I went to the Social Security Administration building to order a new card (my old one was laminated, which made it invalid -- my ex did that for me a long time ago, but it wasn't until I got a driver's license here in NC that anyone questioned it). While I was there I asked a few questions about applying for benefits. I'm four years ahead of myself, but I did have a few questions!

Then I dropped off the dress clothes I wore to the funeral at the dry cleaners. This is the first time I've gone to the dry cleaner's since I retired -- I sure haven't missed that!

Then I stopped at an antique dealer's emporium to ask about renting a booth. I'd like to sell some things just for a little pin money. The rent is $125 a month, so I think I would have to have more inventory than I have right now to make it pay.

I didn't spend anything. If I can make it throught today and tomorrow without spending anything, I'll have gone a whole week!

Shredding paper

January 11th, 2008 at 03:20 pm

Yesterday I tackled the cleanup from my file organization the day before. I had a huge stack of papers to shred, mostly because they had my social security number on them. My credit union AND my medical provider used to print my SSN on every document! Of course, ten years ago we didn't even think about it. Anyway, I had to get rid of them all. My shredder was not quite up to the task. It stopped several times during the process. I would clean out the teeth and let the motor cool down, and I eventually got through it, but it took a long time. Sometimes I just cut up papers myself in frustration. I wanted to run out and get a new, better shredder, but I remembered my resolution -- no unnecessary spending this month. A new shredder is not necessary. Nice, maybe but not necessary.

Well, now that the BIG job is done, I think the shredder will be fine for the few papers I do every day. That's the key -- I must do it every day, as I process the mail.

I'm going to think harder about what I save, too. A lot of records are available online now, like bank statements and such.

I paid my phone bill today ($44.92), but that is the first spending I've done since I got home on the 7th. I'm going to try to go a whole week -- a fiscal fast, as Mr. Yaeger recommended on this morning's Today Show. Other than that, I didn't get too much out of his spiel, but maybe his book is worth looking at. I think it was called The Road to Riches?

Life goes on

January 10th, 2008 at 01:49 pm

Thank you to everyone who sent such kind words to me upon the loss of my brother. I am back home now. The funeral and the coming together of family was very healing. I am looking at everything in a new way now, knowing that I should take nothing for granted. Ironically, I am appreciating life more.

After I got home, I spent a few days reorganizing my files. It was a huge task, because when I moved, several boxes were dropped and the files spilled out. Also, I had files dating back to the 80's. I threw away TONS of paper. But now I am ready for tax season.

My resolutions: Besides blogging more frequently, I have resolved to eat healthier (that's a new one, isn't it?) and exercise more (ditto). I'm going to keep up on my filing now that my files are so neat. I'm also going to do monthly resolutions.

For January, I am resolved to spend nothing that is not necessary. With all my traveling in November and December, and the funeral in January, my finances are a wreck. I need to do some catching up.

Once again, thank you. You are such good friends.

Bad news

January 2nd, 2008 at 01:51 pm

I was planning to post today about my New Year's resolutions -- one of which was to blog (or try to) every day. I've really been letting it go.

But I got bad news early this morning, so I will only share this for now. My big brother passed away suddenly from a heart attack yesterday evening. He was only 66. He leaves his wife, four children, and five grandchildren, as well as two sisters and a brother. He was shoveling snow after a big snowfall, which he probably shouldn't have been doing, but it was so typical of him to tackle a job that was too big.

I'm still in shock.

He was a very religious man, so if you are of like mind, please say a prayer for his family.

It was a crazy year

January 1st, 2008 at 03:59 pm

I say it was a crazy year because I retired in the middle of it, which makes my annual financials a bit crazy.

But I'll start with December 2007. My biggest expenditure was $331 for vacation/travel. I took a weekend trip to Chicago and and a two-week trip to Florida, so all in all, it wasn't bad. There were no hotel costs, and a lot of my food was provided by relatives.

My next biggest expenditure was $318 for car insurance -- a semi-annual payment.

I spent $286 on gifts -- probably unavoidable, considering the season. But spending on gifts is something I need to address in the coming year.

Vet/pet supplies was only $69. I say "only" because I've been averaging $262 a month in that category since retiring. I have only two pets but they've had lots of issues. My 13-year-old dog, especially, has had a lot of trouble, and I'm afraid I haven't seen the end of it.

I spent $50 on my cell phone bill. It is usually $45, but I bought a ring tone, and I guess there were some extra taxes, too.

I spent $31 on an oil change. Could have done better, but I was in Florida and didn't know where to go.

Gas was $28 (not counting the gas I spent on vacation).

I spent $24 on miscellaneous items, and $16 on groceries. For most of the month my cousin was providing the food, but she is staying in Florida this winter, while I stay here, so I will have a grocery bill again till she comes back in the spring.

I spent $15 on clothes -- two long-sleeved tops I found in Florida, about 75% off.

I spent $24 on personal items, household supplies, entertainment, and fees & services.

All told I spent $1191 -- $542 in monthly expenses, and $648 for big-ticket things.

My annual spending was interesting.

My largest expenditure was $16,520 on credit card repayment. Whoo-hoo! (I was able to do this because I sold my house.)

I also paid off my car for $6343.

I paid $4500 in mortgage payments before I sold my house in June.

I paid $3623 in home improvements before selling my house.

I spent $3139 on vet/pet supplies. As I said, it was a tough year for my animals.

Spending on my own health was $2841.

Vacation/travel cost me $2434.

I paid $2311 for utilities.

I spent $1563 on gifts (and charity).

Car insurance was $1413.

Moving expenses were $1010.

Groceries were $633. That was from January to June.

I spent $600 on lawn care. That was also from January to June.

Eating out cost me $548.

Gas was $476.

Fees & services: $410.

Clothing: $385.

Miscellaneous: $238.

Entertainment: $225.

Personal items & haircuts: $204.

Car Repair & maintenance: $131. (Wow, what a good year! Buy Toyota!)

Garbage: $107.

Snacks: $17. (This is just things I pick up to eat while I am out, doesn't count meals out).

The grand total was $51,073. Monthly average was $4256, which is about $1000 more than it was last year. However, paying off my credit cards really jacked up the total. And I'm sure glad I did it!

I can hardly wait to see how 2008 falls out.