My 12 New Things


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Calling all New Thing ideas!

Four days to go on my ten day Media Cleanse for my July New Thing (and New Thing #8). It's going well as I'm thinking of things to work on instead of turning on the tv or cruising facebook. I've completed some of my to-do list and have even added a few things to it. I've drafted a new speech for the Advanced Communicatin series I'm working on for my Professionally Speaking Toastmasters group, outlined a business plan to submit to a foundation seeking new ventures and have been doing some research in preparation for my upcoming trip to New York City. It's all good stuff and I'm enjoying the time I've spent on these things, but I'm really itching to watch the new Mad Men episode. I've heard that the season premiere that aired recently was excellent. I'm thinking that watching it will be part of my Sunday itinerary (post Media Cleanse).

If you've been following this blog, you know that I've subjected myself to a bunch of random new experiences as a challenge and will continue to do so through the end of the year. If  you happened to read the paragraph above, you know that at the end of this week I'll finish my eighth New Thing. September's New Thing will be visiting New York City for the first time and all of the things that go into that (NYC subway, etc.). Past September I am going to need some ideas and I need your help generating those ideas!

The parameters are that the experience has to be outside of my comfort zone, it has to be something of substance, and it needs to be accessible. While I'd like to learn how to fly a helicopter as a New Thing, that really isn't in my budget. Unless you know a flight instructor willing to give me lessons for free...

Send any ideas you may have for me to experience as a New Thing and I'll take them into consideration. You might not intuitively know what is outside my comfort zone, but I'll recognize it when I see it! You can either leave a comment in this post or email me.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 4 of my Media Cleanse

Day 0- Wednesday, 7/21/10
T minus 6 hours until the beginning of my July New Thing- a 10 day Media Cleanse. This is going to suck. Why can't I be complacent in this aspect of my life? What if something happens in the world (or on Facebook) and I miss it?

My goal is to focus my time on things that are important or relevant and to cut out all of the time wasters in my day. It's easier said than done.

Things I can do for the next 10 days during my Media Cleanse (what I'm calling my experiment of no tv or internet surfing- my two biggest time wasters):
  • Floss. I've been meaning to do more of this anyway.
  • Clean my bathroom. I've been meaning to do more of this, too.
  • Transfer my damaged recipe box to a new recipe binder. Just call me Suzy Homemaker... really excited about this one. (There should be a sarcasm font. The completed product will be nice, but I'm not looking forward to the project as my recipe box got moldy from sitting too near the sink.... Riveting information to share, I know).
  • Organize the Christmas and birthday gifts I've bought.
  • Finish Christmas shopping.
  • Write a to-do-list.
I must also give a qualifier on how I spend the majority of my day- I work full time, commute 1.5 to 1.75 hours/ day and have a 2 year old daughter. What I will accomplish during my Media Cleanse will be what I can get done in my "free time." I'm not necessarily a couch potato normally, but if I have a spare hour before I go to bed, I generally check in on Facebook, TMZ, MSN or watch television. That's the part I'm cutting out these days. I'm also wanting to spend more time engaging in activities with my daughter and being overall more purposeful with my time.

Day 1- Thursday, 7/22/10
When I drove to work this morning I wanted to get off to a good start on being productive. So, instead of listening to the radio like I normally do,  I called my sister-in-law and worked out some dates for an upcoming garage sale and talked through ideas for a niece's birthday party.

After work, my daughter and I went to Walgreens and CVS to pick up a few things. She loves going "to the stoo-ah," as she calls it. Her favorite part was tearing up a sales flyer and throwing it in the cart, tiny piece by tiny piece. I let her. After we checked out I shoved the million little pieces of paper in my purse to take home and put in the recycle bin. It was worth her being entertained so I could get my shopping done.

After she went to bed, I organized and inventoried all gifts I have bought for birthdays and Christmas, boxed all the kids' gifts and made a list of who I still need to buy for. I told my husband that if I die tomorrow, he'll be set for the next year with a list of what we have for who. Then we had a friendly debate as to whether or not he has bought a single gift for someone besides me since we've been married. He hasn't, I'm sure. He was fairly confident he had, but couldn't produce a name or item.

I also made a to-do-list and went to bed at midnight. To keep myself accountable and motivated, I'll share my list of things to accomplish during my Media Cleanse, to be completed by July 31:
  • Inventory Christmas and birthday gifts. (Done! I just wanted to be able to cross something off already).
  • Organize and de-clutter
    • my closet;
    • my 2 year old daughter's closet;
    • the cabinet under my bathroom sink;
    • and the basement.
  • Prepare for a garage sale by
    • set things aside during my organization adventures;
    • price items;
    • and take pictures of furniture and post on Craigslist for people to come by the day of the sale.
  • File all 2010 paperwork.
  • Put Ella's 2 year portraits in frames. 
  • Work on the marketing and PR tasks I volunteered to do for a fundraiser for a local homeless shelter. 
  • Complete recipe binder project mentioned above.
  • Research publications to submit my writing to and then do so.
  • Blog 2 times a week.
Day 2- Friday, 7/23/10
At 6am I cleaned out Ella's closet and re-organized it, removing all items that were still in there from before she was born (such as old cell phones). I also removed and stored all of the things that she has outgrown. After Ella went to bed, I cleaned the whole house.

Day 3- Saturday, 7/24/10
We traveled a few hours away to spend the day at a nearby state park with family and had a great time fishing, swimming, and playing Monopoly with the nephews.

Day 4- Sunday, 7/25/10
We didn't go to church this morning because we got home so late last night and felt the need to sleep in a little bit.

We had quite the productive day. I did laundry, sorted Ella's 2 year photos and put them in frames, reviewed information for the charity event I'm volunteering for and sent some emails in regards to that, loaded and ran the dishwasher, made banana bread, researched publications to submit my writing to and booked my tickets to go to New York City in September. (I'm going to NYC in September! I've never been and am SO excited). Ella and I played outside for a while and I even got to take a nap this afternoon when my husband took her to the park. Not a bad day at all... :)

In this experiment, I'm finding that if I pay attention and keep moving things moving on my task list, I enjoy my down time a lot more. I think it's because when I was laying on the couch watching The Real Housewives of New York City, I wasn't always enjoying it because I had other stuff I needed to be doing. It's kind of like how a milkshake tastes when you're on a diet.... you budget Weight Watcher points all week to be able to "afford" the milkshake and it tastes far better than if you allowed yourself a milkshake every day.

I'm not going to lie, though. It hasn't been completely easy. There are a few times that I really wanted to turn my brain off and just watch some tube for a while. I had a couple of email correspondences today that I had to send through Facebook and I really wanted to read through all the updates to see what was going on with all my friends... just for a minute. But, I didn't. I got in and I got out.

Six days to go on my self-imposed ten day Media Cleanse for New Thing #8. We'll see how it goes and how I adjust my new habits for the long-term.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Starting New Thing #8- 10 Day Media Cleanse

One day last week I pulled into my driveway and thought how did I get here? I barely remember leaving work.

I try to live consciously and with purpose. I think before I make decisions. I set goals. I recycle.

But, far too often recently I find myself zoning out and escaping the present. I get lulled into unconsciousness by the mindlessness of my bad habits (watching too much television and screwing around on the internet) and hours later groggily coming back to consciousness. It may be a little like experiencing a roofie. Who's been roofie-ing my life? Apparently I have.

I get frustrated because I have lots of projects I'd like to finish and also feel like I have too little time to do things that I enjoy. I think, "If only I had time to hear myself think I could get something accomplished." Then I swamp my brain with a bunch of useless nonsense because I think I'm too tired to think. Ironic, isn't it? All this thinking about thinking.

I need to clear my mind of the clutter and be more purposeful with my time, so this concept will be New Thing #8. For the next 10 days I am going to do a media cleanse and here are my rules:
  • No television.
  • No movies.
  • No flipping through magazines.
  • I can only be on the internet for purposeful tasks and be on for as short amounts of time as possible.(I'm still going to allow myself to blog as that seems purposeful to me as I've had a goal to start posting more frequently).
  • I am going to keep an activity log of all the things I can get accomplished when I'm not otherwise screwing around.
This media cleanse is going to start tomorrow.... tonight I have a new episode of Kathy Griffin- My Life on the D-List to watch. I have priorities, you know.  : )

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Strategies to Save Oodles of Money

In the spirit of my June New Thing, that I posted the other day, I thought I'd share some of my thriftiest pointers. For years my strategies have included being what I call "shamelessly shopportunistic." I think Marshall's used this term a while back in an ad campaign, but I've been saying it for long before that. :) Being shamelessly shopportunistic just means keeping your eye out for the best steals and deals for things you need (and want) and helps save oodles of money in the long run.

My biggest secret for saving said oodles of money- try to avoid paying full price as often as you can without being a jerk. Be a smart shopper, don't be a rude cheapskate.

It was around the time that our daughter was born two years ago that we went full Rambo on our finances, Dave Ramsey style. (See here for my last post on that). We had to get serious. With a new little critter (our precious child) in the house, we had new little expenses that weren't so little.

That same summer, my friend Jenn, aka Super Jenn, started a blog on money saving techniques and the use of coupons, in particular. (Her site has evolved to include more now). Following how someone else scores deals was incredibly helpful. While I've always been a bargain shopper, Jenn taught me how to spend pennies on the dollar and sometimes even make money buying groceries and other household items. It's true... you can actually make money buying toothpaste and razors. I haven't actually paid money out of pocket (or "OOP" as the coupon junkies say) for toothpaste in over two years. Check out Jenn's website at here. She also writes for the Lawrence Journal World in a blog called Shop Talk with Jenn and Julie. She's a true frugalista and taught me amazing ways to save money.

A few months ago I taught a workshop I called Mind Your Money and shared a number of things I've learned over time. Here are my best money-saving tips:

First, buy things before you need them. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but in my experience, I pay much for an item when I need it in a hurry than if I see it on sale and use coupons to pay for far in advance. I stockpile groceries when I find good deals. I also shop for birthday and Christmas gifts throughout the year. I'm able to collect gifts when I see good prices as well as this technique helps me spread the cost throughout the year.

You don't have to go au naturale just because you're watching your spending. I'm not about to cut out hair and makeup "essentials." No one would want to see that. Instead, find the deals. Here are a few ways I save money in the beauty department:
    • I used to buy Clinique foundation at about $23/ tube. I now use L'Oreal True Match and like it just as well. The last time I purchased the base and powder, they were on sale at Walgreens and I had coupons that brought the cost to $3 each (regularly $10 to $11 each). I bought several, which will last me about a year.
    • Target clearances all their departments out at least once a year, including the cosmetics section. There's nothing wrong with these items and usually the products aren't being discontinued. Generally they clear a section via clearance so they can build a new planogram (shelving and peg arrangement) and it makes more sense for them to sell the product rather than take it down and store it only to restock with the new planogram. Thus, the items go on clearance. You can combine coupons with clearance and get really inexpensive cosmetics. I've often been able to find Almay, Revlon and L'Oreal eyeshadow, eyeliner, lipstick, lipgloss and nail polish for around $1 or $2 by doing this. I've sometimes been able to get them for free or pennies, depending on the amount of my coupon. (For instance, if a L'Oreal lipgloss is on clearance for $2.15 and I have a $2 off coupon, the lipgloss costs me 15 cents. Not a bad deal and this has actually happened on a number of occasions).
    • I prefer my hair color to be reddish brown over my natural mousey brown color. I use Natural Instincts because it is semi permanent and healthier for your hair than permanent color (according to Kandee Johnson, make-up/ beauty guru). This brand frequently goes on sale and offers coupons just as frequently. Just this week, I was able to get 2 boxes for $2 each (regularly $7 to $9 each). Since I learned how to keep my eye out for deals, I've never had to pay full price for hair color or makeup.
    • Speaking of which... I mentioned that haven't "paid" for toothpaste in 2 years. That's true. How you do that is simple drugstore shopping. Walgreens and CVS (as well as others, I'm sure- those 2 just happen to be in my area) frequently offer staples such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, and shave gel for "free" (or close to it) after store rewards programs. These same products often have coupons out at the same time which (when combined or "stacked" as the coupon junkies say) end up being free or even making money. For instance, say CVS has Colgate toothpaste on sale for $2.99 this week and you earn $2 in Extra Bucks (in-store credit). That takes the real price to 99 cents. If there's a $1 off coupon that you can use on the transaction, that makes the total cost of the toothpaste $0. If there happens to be a $1.50 off coupon (which sometimes happens), you make 49 cents on the deal. You dig? You'll pay out of pocket (or OOP as the coupon junkies say), but you'll receive it back in store reward Extra Bucks. It's what I call a steal in the world of steals and deals.
Pay attention and be aware of bargains in all that you do. Just because you're sticking to a budget doesn't mean you can't do anything fun.  Every year I buy an updated Entertainment Book for my area. They are specific for cities across the country and contain coupons for restaurants, attractions and stores. Restaurant.com is a great place to go for discounted restaurant gift certificates.

Lose some of your brand loyalty. I buy more name brand items than I ever did , but only because and when I get a great deal with stacking sales and coupons. I don't generally buy brands unless they're a deal- I buy generic staples. For instance, I've found Walgreens brand diapers to be sufficient and have consistently bought them when they're on sale. In fact, in November of 2008 (my crowning couponing achievement to date), I was able to combine a sale with a coupon and got diapers for $2.50 a pack (regularly $9 each). I bought 40+ packages, stored them in a closet in the basement and didn't have to buy diapers again for over a year and half. That was awesome, if I do say so myself.

Look online for good deals on clothes. There are a few online sites that I frequent. Landsend.com is a new favorite. They often have great clearance and there's a tab called On the Counter which is clearance on steroids, but in limited quantities and sizes. Items are posted on Saturday. On Monday, that discount price is reduced another 25%. On Wednesday, 50%. And on Friday, 75%.

Buy things at garage sales and on Craigslist. When I was pregnant with our daughter we found some great things on Craigslist and got a  really nice, new-looking crib, baby bumper set, changing table, bouncer and high chair for $100 total. I also like to think of these items being of the Reuse category in the Reduce, Recycle, Reuse way of things. I like the idea of items being passed around from person to person as long as use can still be gotten out of them. (I would suggest looking around online to be aware of recalled items, especially when purchasing items for infants and children).

I know everyone has little ways that they save money. Comment on this post or email me with yours and I'll compile for another post at a later date! Happy money-saving, yah'll! :)

Here are  few things that I'm not super familiar with, but have been recently informed of and will be looking into:
  • Take a look at Gymboree clearance and store rewards called Gymbucks. If you feel the need to buy new clothes and/or want to give as gifts, utilize store incentive programs. Gymboree has Gymbucks in which during certain times of the year, you earn $25 in store credit for every $25 spent during that time period. You can combine this with coupons and clearance selections to get the most bang for your buck. My sister-in-law Abby makes a passionate pastime out of this one and my daughter has some really cute clothes to prove it.
  • Shop online and earn cash back on purchases through Ebates. My friends Melanie and Jenn utilize this. According to the website, you can get up to 25% back from 1200 stores.
  • Get 50 to 90% off what your city has to offer by becoming a member of Groupon. A few colleagues at work have told me about this and really like it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Thing #7- June 2010- Eliminate Debt

Dave Ramsey should be proud. For New Thing #7, I eliminated debt by selling my gas guzzling, loan-financed SUV and replaced it with what he refers to as a "cash car."

In other words, I sold a car that I owed money on, paid off the loan and bought an older one I could afford to pay cash for upfront, resulting in no ongoing car payment. Wahoo!

This month we were also able to pay off the credit card debt that we've been diligently working for years to pay off. Double wahoo! No car payment plus no credit card debt= freedom!

(In full disclosure, we did get a small boost this month by receiving an insurance settlement for a theft this spring. However, we are very proud of ourselves because we've been working very hard to chip away at the debt for years AND in younger, more stupid times we might have squandered the extra money and could have stayed in the exact same indebted position).


Deciding to sell my car was a little painful, but my strong feeling is that when you have debt, debt has you. There are so many things that we tell ourselves that we need. But, what does it cost you to own those things? If you have to give away every single moment in your day and sacrifice time spent doing things that you want to, are those things worth it? At the end of the day, do you own your stuff or does it own you? What can you live without in order to do the things that you want with your life? These are the questions I have asked myself.

My husband and I came to this realization several years ago and we made some changes. We cut up the credit cards and created a plan to pay off all debt,  and since then have tried to be very careful about expenses that aren't necessary. At that point, though, I was still categorizing my car as a necessity. This month I decided that a car is a necessity, but a fairly new and somewhat expensive (in my opinion) SUV is not a necessity. Thus, I decided to sell it. The prospect of not having a car payment meant more to me than the vehicle.
Years ago, I started out my car purchasing on the right track. Let me take you back a few years...

I bought my first "cash car" the month after I turned 15. I was working as a waitress (we were called waitresses back then) and saved all my money for a car. I paid $1200 for a 1985 silver Mercury Cougar and I was stoked.

When I totaled it a couple years later, I didn't have the cash to buy another car outright. My dad made a deal with me. He would co-sign for a small loan with me at the beginning of the summer, but only if I could pay it off by the end of the same summer. He instructed me to write out a cash flow plan and present it to the loan officer at the bank.  I did this on purple paper with a purple pen, outlining the multiple jobs I had secured, the hours I would work and the amount of money I anticipated earning with a date that I could pay the money back. I'm sure that the loan officer thought my presentation was amusing, though he was nice about it and seemed to take me very seriously.

I got the loan and I bought a teal 1994 Geo Prizm for $5,125. I still remember the exact price because it was the largest check I had ever written. I remember the date because my loan was due in full 12 weeks later in September.

I had three jobs that summer. I worked the day shift at a deli, the evening shift at a restaurant, and cleaned a church in the time between. I  worked 70 to 80+ hours a week that whole summer. But, it was worth it because after 8 weeks, I paid the balance of my car loan in full, with 4 full weeks to spare.

I'm glad my parents had me go through the process I did because that lesson taught me far more about life than if they had just bought me a car and handed me the keys. They taught me how to manage money by making me manage money.

I made a few mistakes after college, though. At that time, I was tired of the Prizm's dented hood and the air conditioner knobs falling off. I told myself I deserved a nice new(er) car and that a car payment would be no problem at all because I was making $26,000/ year. It was my first job out of college and I thought I was on my way. That seemed like a lot of money to me at the time. Obviously it wasn't, but, I didn't let that stop me. I bought a (relatively) sporty 2003 two door Civic. I thought that if I was ever going to have a cute sports car, that was the time. So, I went for it, even though deep down I knew I probably shouldn't. The same goes for buying the SUV later. I thought I needed an SUV.

When I sold it, I made a little more than I owed and had a some cash saved up, so I bought a 2003 Toyota Camry sedan. That's the car I should have bought back when I bought the Civic. But, I was young and stupid and now I've learned my lesson. I plan on driving my Camry until the wheels fall off.

If you're interested in learning more about managing personal finances, here are some resources I've found to be interesting and helpful:
  • Dave Ramsey
  • On the Money with Carmen Wong Ulrich
  • Clark Howard- Save More, Spend Less and Avoid Getting Ripped Off
  • Suze Orman
  • Oprah recently aired a series on her show called the Debt Diet which she enlisted financial experts David Bach, Jean Chatzky and Glinda Bridgforth to offer a step-by-step action plan. If you can find the Oprah episodes, go back and watch them as they help 3 families through a financial makeover. The families that are walked through the Debt Diet are a hoot and it's much easier to recognize other people mistakes than recognize your own. You'll also learn something in the process.
  • If you want to go ├╝ber old school and conservative, look for a book called Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. The book was published in 1980 and was given to me by my ever frugal father. (He always drives well below the speed limit to better his gas mileage. If that's not commitment to saving a buck, I don't know what is. I'm not quite that hardcore, but I can respect the determination). I found the book to be an interesting compilation of money saving tips. Some are submitted by missionaries living overseas and others are from regular folks who've found ways to pinch pennies- some in ways that you'll want to do yourself and some that you may not be willing to do. Either way, it'll help you prioritize. Don't believe me? Page 113 describes how to make Rubber Tire Sandals with an old car tire in six easy steps. Or if you ask me, you could save yourself the trouble and just buy shoes on clearance or at a garage sale. But, how far you take the money saving strategies are up to you!
New Thing #7 down. I don't miss my SUV and I definitely won't miss making the payments on the car or the credit cards!