Frugality in practice: The DIY footrest

I've been working at home for a month now. I like it. The first week was a little scary, but the past few weeks have been immensely productive. I've caught up on e-mail. I've conducted and given some interviews. And I've planned some posts for the future.

Most of my day is spent at my desk writing. The first few days were awful. My wrists hurt. I couldn't find the right chair height to match my keyboard and desk. Eventually I discovered a solution: move the keyboard from the keyboard tray to the desk and raise my seat so that I can use the entire desk surface to support my arms. But this created another problem. Apparently my legs are a little short. When I raised my seat to its maximum height — which is where it needs to be — my toes dangled a couple inches above the floor. I felt like a little boy.

Because an ergonomic office is vital for what I'm doing, I went to the nearby office supply store to buy a footrest. "Sure, we have those," the helpful salesman said. "Well, we have one model, anyhow," he added.

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How to get rid of ants (Without calling an exterminator)

I Hate Ants.

At our old house, Kris and I were constantly at war with the little devils. Every time we suffered another invasion, every time they managed to find the pantry, every time they discovered the cat food, every time they ruined my chocolate chip cookies, I would berate them with colorful euphemisms.

Eventually, it got so bad that we had to bring in an exterminator. It seemed crazy to hire an exterminator to deal with little sugar ants, but nothing else we tried would work. So we plopped down $100 every three months to keep the ants under control. (It may not have been $100 for each visit — Kris thinks it could have been $300.) It didn't really help. After the exterminator visited, the ant problem would subside for a couple weeks, but then we'd be right back at war with them again.

Sad but true: the ants were one of the reasons I wanted to move out of that house. Continue reading...

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The Lazy Man’s Guide to Groceries on a Budget

This is a guest post from Karl Katzke.

Eating well is one of the small pleasures that I decided not to forego when I dug myself out of credit card debt. I'm a busy bachelor with an active social life and an absorbing job; I like food with a lot of flavor to it; and I live in a rural area without a lot of shopping or coupon options. These three things don't usually go hand-in-hand with eating well or cheaply.

To meet my financial goals, I had to keep my food budget under $100 per month — that's $25 a week to feed one or two people (since I often cook for dates and friends). It's been a challenge. Luckily, in Texas and many other states, there is no sales tax on unprepared foods. Using a few simple strategies I managed to meet my goal and then some. I didn't eat rice and beans for the entire month (unlike Morgan Spurlock), I don't waste time digging through supermarket circulars, and I don't spend hours in the kitchen every night. This is definitely the lazy man's approach to groceries on a budget.

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What can I do if my girlfriend isn’t serious about money?

In the Get Rich Slowly forums, DannyBoy has a question that I think many people face: "What can I do if my girlfriend isn't serious about money?" He writes:

I'm the sort of person who essentially looks into every area of his life to save, start investing, and be smart about money as much as possible. Do you think that somebody like myself, who cares so much about where his money goes, can be happy with a girlfriend who doesn't? Everything else between us is cool, fun, etc, But I don't want the money issue to turn me off her.

We're both young: I'm 19 and she's 23. She says she doesn't want to save for retirement because we could all die in a second, therefore it's a waste of time and money to save if the worst should come around. I don't really agree with this. I mean, chances are most of us will make it to retirement. (Unfortunately, some won't.) How do you think I should handle the situation?

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Frugality in Practice: Home-Based Physical Fitness

Lately, I've been making rumblings about getting in shape again. I want to get fit slowly. The trick is figuring out how to do it. It took a lot of reading and a lot of trial and error to take control of my finances, but I've finally achieved a healthy attitude toward money. Now I hope to do the same with physical fitness. But where to start?

One approach would be to just throw money at the problem. I've been looking at fitness clubs, for example; they offer great exercise equipment and motivational classes all in one facility. But they cost more than a frugal fellow like me wants to pay. (Yes, I've looked into the YMCA and local community centers — there's nothing nearby.)

I've also been fighting the urge to purchase a new bicycle. The Redline 925 makes me drool, but do I really want to spend $800 on bike? What's wrong with the bike I already own?

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How to prepare for a baby (without going broke)

Preparing for a baby doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Magazines and TV ads will tell you that you need to spend a fortune in preparation for your little darling's arrival, but it's simply not true. When my husband and I were expecting our first child, my husband was working at a small radio station and had a pretty small salary. I was a teaching assistant at our local special education preschool, and my paycheck was also pretty small. Here are some of the things I've learned about preparing for a baby when you don't have a lot of money.

Borrow things. Women love to share maternity and baby items. Don't buy a lot of things before you publicly announce that you're expecting, because once you make the big announcement, you're sure to get offers of gently used maternity clothes, baby clothes, and baby well as lots of baby advice. I think it's a rite of passage for women to pass down their maternity clothes to other pregnant women. Take advantage of it.

Buy used. There are many stores that consign strictly baby and children's items. Consignment stores are great for stocking up on baby clothes and baby equipment. Since the owners are usually very strict about what they will accept for sale, the items you'll find in a consignment store are generally in excellent condition.

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My frugal valentine: Cheap ways to say “I love you”

I don't like Valentine's Day — it fosters the notion that romance is something for special occasions. Worse, it's yet another commercial holiday filled with cards, chocolates, flowers, and gifts. I reject the idea that romance is only for special occasions, and I reject the idea that buying stuff somehow demonstrates affection.

I believe it's important for couples to find ways to express their love year-round. If you do choose to celebrate Valentine's Day, don't feel obligated to give a dozen roses and a card — there are plenty of low-cost ways to say "I love you". Here are just a few:

Love Letters

Instead of a card, write your partner a love letter. A mass-produced card isn't nearly as romantic as a hand-written note. I don't remember any of the cards that Kris has given me for Valentine's Day, but I do recall with fondness all the notes and letters I've received. It's a treat to sort through a pile of old papers and to stumble upon a note she wrote to me years ago.

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21 money-saving sites from around the web

Marshall Loeb at MarketWatch recently shared some tips for online coupon clipping:

A recent study by comScore, an Internet information provider that tracks consumer behavior, found that 53% of consumers say they regularly visit brand Web sites to find promotions.

Visiting a manufacturer's web site is a great way to find coupons (or other promotions) for products you plan to purchase. But, as Loeb notes, there are many web sites that amalgamate deals into one location so you don't have to waste time looking for them yourself. He recommends these five:

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The GRS garden project: How much does a garden really save?

Kris and I are huge fans of gardening. We grow our own flowers, herbs, fruit, berries, and vegetables. We're not able to supply all of our needs, but we do what we can. For the past two years, I've argued that this is an excellent way to save money if you have the time and the space. But is it really?

An actual weekend harvest from August 2006.

During the next year, Kris and I plan to track all of our work and expenses in the yard. I'm not going to tabulate how long it takes to trim the laurel or the boxwood, but I will track the following:

  • The cost of seeds and fertilizer.
  • Our approximate water usage.
  • The time we spend planting, weeding, and harvesting.
  • The amount of food we harvest.
  • The cost-equivalent from the local grocery store.

For example, when Kris places her seed order in the next week or two, I'll note how much she spends for a packet of tomato seeds. I'll keep track of how much she uses her grow lights (using my handy Kill-a-Watt electricity usage monitor), how much water and fertilizer we consume, how many tomatoes we harvest, and how much that would have cost us at the store.

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The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Guide to True Riches

Jeff Yeager calls himself the Ultimate Cheapskate. He's serious about saving money. He's the sort of guy who soft-boils his morning eggs by putting them in the dishwasher while it runs. In a package he sent me recently, he included his business card, which is simply a rubber stamp printed on a piece of a brown paper bag. His wife calls him the cheapest man in America, and he's proud of it.

The road map to true riches

Yeager has a new book called The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches, in which he preaches the virtues of frugality and the dangers of mass consumption. Before the first chapter, he offers a statement of purpose:

Living on less is a good thing to do. It's the only financial advice that will work for almost everyone. It's about a quality of life that you cannot buy, a sense of satisfaction you cannot fake, and an appreciation for others that gives life value. It's also about helping save the planet and sharing with those in need. Living on less can be funny, but it's no joke.

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More about...Books, Frugality