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Archive for February, 2007

February Sales Book Review

February 28th, 2007 at 12:32 pm

So I've been keeping my sales 'book' for one fiscal month and found the results rather interesting, so thought I would share.

Bear in mind, this only accounts for 'things' the house buys like groceries, speakers for the computer, paper goods, toiletries, etc. It doesn't include either of our allowances, major planned or arranged purchases such as the TV, or money spent at restaurants (which I'm also keeping track of, and can I just say dang we gotta work on that!).

Here's the overview of the spending:



Food is the biggest expense category, which is expected. If all goes according to budget, food should account for 70% of the spending I track, but this month we were over in the household category and under in the food category. Medical was also below budget (even though I took advantage of a great Claritin sale).

Next is the breakdown of the type of spending. 'Regular' items that are bought on a fairly regular schedule regardless of price (milk, OJ, coffee, Claratin, etc.). 'Planned' items are those planned around current sales or events (i.e. Coke is on sale let's stock up, Mom asked me to bring a dessert for Valentine's day dinner, we want chili for Super Bowl Sunday, etc.). 'Impulse' items are the things bought on one whim or another. Tax should be fairly explanatory, although I must point out we have a different rate for food and non-food items.

Items of note

* this was a really good month for sales for me, over 70% of my regularly purchased items were on some sort of sale. Woohoo! With the way sales cycle, I should have another month like that in April or May.

* there's a LOT more impulse purchases there than I'd like. the main culprit is grocery shopping with DH. items he has weaseled into the cart this month include rice pudding, canned chicken and tuna, and hungry man dinners.

* not all the impulse purchases are a bad thing, believe it or not. it includes things like the reduced for quick sale chicken i found, not to mention unadvertised specials that i stumble upon in the store (like frangelico coffee, softsoap body wash, and my favorite chai tea all on special). even a lot of DH's 'impulse' buys were on sale

Looking over the items purchased, most of the household items are once in a blue moon kinda thing. If those weren't in the picture, 'household' would have been in budget. Medical was well within budget, and anything that is 'leftover' gets put into the little medical savings fund online (I figure that'll be where I go if I ever have to come up with a deductible).

Even though groceries are within budget, I'm interested to see how far I can take it. Especially when paired with the amount spent on eating out... BAH! That's OK, DH will get a financial statement tonight and I'll wait for him to freak out about the amount spent at restaurants. Sadly, he's more likely to do something about it if he's the one freaking out instead of me...


Bought My First TV

February 28th, 2007 at 07:30 am

Here I am, 29 years old (OK, 28 and 360 days, whatever), and I just paid for my first TV. Seriously, I've never once bought a TV in my life, not new, not used. Mind you, I've had TVs for the past 10 years, but each and every one of them was either given to me or brought in by a significant other. Not too shabby!

The most recent freebie, a 48" 10 year old Hitachi, was on it's last legs. The filter had gone bad and from what we could tell just the part would cost $300 if we could find it. The picture was pretty much unviewable: offset so the bottom was at the top and vice-versa, rolling all the time, etc. Sound was fine, but if all I wanted was to listen to TV I'd be using the radio, right?

Plus, with all the rumblings about the switchover to HD, I knew we were going to have to bite the bullet. And, you see, there was this sale... Drats...

So last Wednesday we walked into HH Gregg on the last day of the sale, found a salesman, and asked if they still had the 51" Hitachi. The man tried to shaft us on the price saying the sale had ended the day before. Tina doesn't play nice like that, so we got the price we intended to pay gave the man a check, and DH went the Thursday to pick it up.

All was well with the world, and if this one lasts 10 years like the freebie one did, I'll be perfectly content.

But hark, what light through yonder window breaks? It's money karma, and the canoe is the sun!!! That's right, the canoe was listed for less than a week and POOF it was gone! Not just the canoe, either: both paddles and my slightly too small life jacket too. DH and I each took $20 out of the cut, bought new RGB cables for the TV, and the rest pays the house back for most of the TV purchase.

And you want to hear something ironic? I mean REALLY ironic? The day after we bought the new Hitachi, my dad calls and says he's found someone with a part for the old TV. It's all OK, though, because this guy has someone who wants to buy it. He's willing to fix the TV, sell it for us, and split the profits after the cost of the part. SWEEEEEEET!

So, between selling the canoe, selling the old TV, and maybe taking a little from our vacation fund, we have a bright shiney new TV for basically nothing!


Jane of All Trades

February 27th, 2007 at 08:59 pm

Frequent readers have likely noted my admittedly short bio to the right stating I am a Jane of All Trades. I wish I could say this was an exaggeration, but truth be told I have been paid for a wider variety of job activities than almost anyone I know. My job duties over the past 10 years have included (but were not limited to):

* working with autistic children
* irradiating clear-nose skates
* dressing up in a bee costume
* talking to homicidal and suicidal people on the phone for a crisis line
* talking to the italian police about a russian mafia credit card scam

Good grief...

I bring this up not to ensure everyone thinks I'm one odd chica (which, honestly, I can understand if that's what you're thinking).

I bring it up to explain the point of this blog entry: I'm waiting for an order of incense oils.

All trades, remember?

It all started with the soap. Remember the blog post about the soapmaker's perspective on changing a drain pipe? If not, here's the moral of the story: I can and occasionally do make soap. And in case you're wondering, yes I have made money selling soap before. I got started into soap because I'm allergic to most popular sunscreens. Makes no sense, right? Well, in '99 I started researching how to make my own sunscreen, which led to homemade cosmetics, which led to homemade soap. This was a good thing, because I have really dry skin and I can make soap to exactly my personal specifications.

Buying soap ingredients online led to a sampling of fragrance oils and some smelly good soap. Smelly good soap led to a few folks asking to buy smelly good soap from me. This snowballed into body powder, linen spray, lotion, and (here's the connection) incense. Eventually I decided to can most of it. There were a lot of ingredients to keep on hand, contamination issues to consider, and the time involved made it hard to make it really worth my while. I kept dipping incense because it's pretty much a hands-off process. Plus, I had 40,000 blank sticks and about a thousand bags... It was either keep making incense or get into some really weird modern art.

All of this brings us to the present day. I really thought I was done with incense. I haven't made any in a while so supplies were starting to dwindle, and I was cool with that. The blanks can be used as firestarters, so it wasn't like they were going to waste.

But, it turns out I've got some customers I just can't shake! There's a lady who used to live in the area who is now in Costa Rica. Once every 3 months when she's in town, she heads to my dad's store to see if there's incense. She's offered to buy it in bulk and have a friend pick it up and ship it to her, so I don't even have to worry about am extra trip to the Post Office. How could I say no?

And thus, I had to go online and order the specific oil used for her incense. While I was there, well, I caved. I ordered a couple of sample sizes just for me. The good news? I can make DH some cologne now for $2, and perfume for me too...

So here I am: technical administrator by day, website designer by night, photographer by weekend, and incense dipper by... Well, I'm working on when that'll happen...


It's Alive!!!

February 26th, 2007 at 09:30 pm

OK, all, my website version 0.1 is up and live. ACK!!! Everything looks OK so far in IE7 and Firefox, I'll just have to double-check IE6 tomorrow. Since I don't know anyone running locally running IE5, I can't test it.

So, here it is folks:

http://www.focusontheupstate.com/



The everything is up and running (sort of). For those that are curious, this is running on PHP and CSS (two technologies I haven't gotten to work with much before, so I took it as a learning opportunity). It looks all nice and simple, which is what I want, but believe me there's a hairy mess of code underneath there. Bluh!

Issues that I know about thus far:

* the 'comment' and 'request for quote' forms both have a verification code system to prevent spam (yay!). sometimes it doesn't show up the first time the page loads, which i think i might have just fixed but i don't know for sure. lemme know what happens!

* internet explorer can bite my big toe! everything looks proper in Firefox, which is a compliant browser. unfortunately, i've been spending countless hours trying to make things legible in IE, which apparently doesn't like proper code. what does all this mean? i fully expect someone somewhere to be running a version of IE that chokes on my page. lemme know what happens!

Things I intend to work on but just can't muster the will to do so right now:

* more photos (although this will be the nicest part of the job!)

* a better naming system for the photos

* ability to comment on a specific photo or gallery

* a 'credits' page for all the Open Source that's running in the background. although i've hacked it up ALOT, neither the mail engine nor the gallery were my original work

* more specifics on business offerings

* possibly a 2 layer drop down menu for the nav bar, but the bones are already there for that. i just don't have one now b/c there's not enough content to warrant it.

So, there it is for all the world to see. I'm going to go sleep now!!!


Nifty OT Blurbies

February 25th, 2007 at 03:00 pm

Website's almost there, I promise. I've started to realize that I'm pretty much never going to be fully satisfied with it. Not really a bad thing, just the realization that perfection isn't possible and my options are to take forever getting as close as possible or get it good enough for now and work on it as an ongoing project once it's up...

Anyways, back to the blurbies...

I got a surprise yesterday: $25 from my inlaws for my upcoming birthday. WOOHOO!!! BTW, the big day is March 5th, in case you have any spare chocolate or coffee you'd like to send my way Big Grin In all honesty, I didn't realize my birthday was right around the corner until Friday anyways... It's weird, 'cause to be so young I have ask "What year is it?" when someone asks how old I am. This year is 29, next year 30. I decided a while ago that on the 30th I was going to scrub my face good, braid my hair into pigtails, put on baggie overalls and a pair of cons, and go try to get carded.

Something else OT yet super cool (IMO). We all know my dad owns a cigar store, right? Well, he has a private label that is really exceptional, and I found out last night that one of those found its way to Michael Jordan and he loved it and might be try to come around for a box. TOO COOL!!!! The mental picture of my dad (5'6") standing next to Michael Jordan is just too funny for words, BTW...


Weather, Website, and Want Some Help!

February 22nd, 2007 at 01:05 pm

Yes, these are 'blurbies' (like my compromise between quickies and blurbs?)

Weather
OMG it's 74 right now and I'm going nuts!!!! Last place I want to be is at work. Interestingly, it's going to be in the low 30s/high 20s tonight. Nothing like a 40-50 degree temperature shift to get the blood going.

Website
Bah!!! Here's my problem. OK, I'll be honest, I have multiple problems... I have a general idea for the site, but I can't decide if I want to go 'artsy' or 'businessy'. And I have a really nifty PHP driven Open Source image gallery that works on it's own perfectly, but isn't quite embedding into my pages the way I want. And finally, since this is something all my own and I can do it however I want, I'm creating text files that get marked up by PHP and then stich it all together with CSS for design and layout. This is cool because, when I want to change how everything looks, it'll take a few minutes tops. This is not cool, because right now I'm banging my head against a wall trying to make everything layout properly in both IE and Firefox. Forget the other browsers, I just want these two to work! I'm having to slide in some unfortunate hacks to get IE to cooperate...

And Finally: I Want Some Help!
I have been cordially invited to write some articles for SavingAdvice on computers, technology, and saving money. I'm flabbergasted, not to mention honored! Here's where I need help: what kind of articles would ya'll like to see? Are there any questions you'd like to see addressed, resources you've not been able to find, etc? I want to make sure these articles are worthwhile for Jeffrey, so any and all suggestions are more than welcome. Please, Help ME! Big Grin


Blurbs: I'm a Toasty Photo Handyman

February 15th, 2007 at 07:23 pm

Sorry, BA, but I just can't bring myself to call 'em quickies Big Grin

* We're in a cold spell right now. I'm holed up in the den with a hot fire and three kitties. Leftovers for dinner since DH is out at pool night. Thursday's are my leftover night, completely cook free. Unless I want to, of course.

* Along those lines, our January was unusually cold for this area. I've had both space heaters on more than expected. The electric bill was still only $100, so I'm feeling pretty comfortable with the current system.

* I got a weird offer in the mail today. I have been invited to join the "Handyman Club of America". A direct quote from the letter:

Why you?

Well, it's no secret among your friends and family that you are an outstanding handyman.

I'm pretty sure my friends and family would find it a HUGE secret if it turned out I were a handyman. HAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAaaahhaha! Reminds me of spam I used to for Viagra and home equity loans when I had neither a penis nor a house...

* I am taking the picture plunge. I found a great deal of a webhost (details later) and got an OK domain (not great, not crap). I'm working on getting a site thrown together as we speak. Well, obviously not this very instant, but you know what I mean. When I get it moderately presentable, I'll post a link here to get some feedback from everyone (if you don't mind!). This way, I'll have a place I can point prospects and realtors, not to mention a slightly more professional email address than tina.p.beana

OK, enough procrastination, back to the grindstone I go!


The Joy of a Sales Book

February 14th, 2007 at 09:03 am

OK, well, it's not quite a book, is a spreadsheet. DH caught me entering stuff into this weekend and almost freaked out, he thinks I'm an uber-dork. Yes, I freely admit I'm an uber-dork, but I think the turn of events will prove this to be a good thing, not a weird thing.

In my spreadsheet, I keep track of

1. where I shopped
2. item bought
3. quantity bought
4. date
5. general category (Household, Food, Medical)
6. on sale (Y/N)
7. whether the purchase was impulse, planned (due to weekly sale), regular (would've bought regardless of sale like milk), or tax (yup, keep track of sales tax too Big Grin)

Since I've migrated to Open Office, I get to take advantage of the easy 'Sub Totals' function their spreadsheet offers. For instance, I know that so far about 30% of my purchases are marked as impulse. YIKES! But, 80% of those were unadvertised sales I found going through the store. Suddenly, that doesn't seem so bad now does it?

Anyways, the fact that I keep track of what was bought on sale gives me a big advantage. And not just sales-paper sales, it's the unadvertised sales that can really add up. Like name brand soy sauce, half off. If I were a couponer, I'd know to start looking for coupons for Kikoman!

Plus, some things go on sale in cycles. Since I keep track of what I bought, the date, and if it was a sale, it's easier to spot trends. This is especially true for meat, at least at my store. I told DH last week that the sirloin sale had to be coming up, and sure enough it hit this week. WOO and HOO!!!

Actually, a lot of sales hit this week for items I purchase regularly, so it is stock up time!

whole chicken 49c/lb reg 99c/lb
sirloin steak 2.99/lb reg 6.99/lb
edy's icecream 1.99 reg 4.99
pepsi can 12 packs BOGO 4.99
alexia organic fries 2/4 reg 2.69 ea
2lb bag froz veg 1.99 ea reg 2.39 ea
smithfield bagon BOGO 4.99

Guess it's time to get the new-to-me freezer ready and loaded!


Dear Freebie Thank You-er

February 14th, 2007 at 06:48 am

You shall remain nameless so I don't get flamed. But you know who you are!

I know you mean well, and I can appreciate that. You're right, it is polite to say thank you when someone does something nice and/or useful for you.

With that said, do you have to post a 'thank you' message for absolutely every freebie that's been posted? It would seem reasonable one is only obligated to say 'thanks' for the freebies one is actually going to use. Are you using all 126?

And if you want to say thanks to each and every one, so be it. In that case, please check the forums more frequently, so that you are posting a few thanks every day. As it is now, you come on once every week or two and post a thanks to umpteen freebies that have been posted since you were last here.

For those of us who use the 'show new messages' functionality of SavingAdvice.com, this is maddening! I jump on and see there are 100-200 new posts. ACK! I skim through page after page of threads that are 'new' so I can find the handful that don't show your name is the most recent poster. It makes it difficult to keep up with actual active threads, as opposed to simple 'thank you' replies.

So please, Freebie Thank You-er, please consider only thanking for the freebies you're using. Or at least send your thank you-s a few times per week, rather than saving them all up for one giant thank you bomb.


Boring Stuff

February 12th, 2007 at 05:12 am

As I have nothing much else to say, I will now begin wasting space and time by catching everyone up on yesterday's 'thrilling' adventures in food and married life. Are you excited yet Rolleyes

Let's see.... DH woke up ornery. His sciatic nerve was acting up (has already had one surgery for this), so he didn't sleep well and couldn't get very comfortable when awake. Around noon he started saying he was hungry.

>> ratle off list of breakfast food
>> begin

He said "But I was thinking more lunch, not breakfast". No problem.

>> rattle off lunch list
>> begin

"Want to go to Jack in the Box? Or Waffle House?" he asked.

"If given the option, no, I'd rather not go out. I've got stuff to do around here." was my reply.

DH relented and ate 2 pieces of left-over pizza for lunch. Don't know why he made a fuss, I know for a fact that he enjoys leftover pizza as much as I do.

About an hour later, he says he's bored and wants to go somewhere. I look at him and say "You're bored?". Yup.

>> rattle off list of household duties
>> begin

"But I don't want to do anything too physical, my back's acting up."

OK, I can agree to that. Last thing I want is to get my wood chopped to the tune of another $1500 my portion hospital bill.

"So, instead of sitting around here, you want to go sit around somewhere else?" I ask.

"Yeah, I guess."

>> stiffle urge to throttle husband
>> begin

"Well, you could go to the cigar store to watch the NASCAR qualifying. The library. Or a bookstore, or coffee shop. But, if you're at a bookstore you might as well go to the library..." I replied, as our main library branch also has a coffee shop in it.

"Wait, I've got library books checked out, right? I can read those. Do you know where I put them?"

>> stiffle urge to throttle husband
>> begin

>> sigh inwardly
>> wonder when I became a single mom
>> begin

"They're on the table. Where you put them, when you were 'cleaning up'".

So I'm puttering in the kitchen, and DH askes if we have the bits to make rice pudding. He thinks it'll make his back feel better, which is a very obvious ruse. But it's cheap, easy, and warm, so I happily commence.

>> stuff self silly on rice pudding
>> begin

A load of dishes and laundry later, I ask DH if he's decided what he would like for dinner. I ask because usually I have absolutely no preference, whereas DH tends to change appetites on a whim. When he replied "I don't care" I jumped on the chance and said I'd make grilled chicken alfredo. Quick, tasty, and always generates leftovers because it's not one of DH's favorites. Sneaky, I know, but I take those leftovers to work. Last time I made something expecting leftovers (crockpot chili on Super Bowl Sunday), it disappeared with a frightening quickness.

I'm getting bits together, and DH shuffles into the kitchen.

"You know, spaghetti actually does sound better."

>> stiffle urge to throttle husband
>> begin

"I wish you'd mentioned that earilier. It's 4 now, and the sauce always tastes better when it simmers longer."

"It'll be ready by 7 right? Plenty of time to simmer...."

>> deep, calming breaths
>> begin

So I make spaghetti sauce. Sautee one chopped onion. Brown a pound of sausage and use half for the sauce (package up the rest to make dirty rice later this week). One 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, one 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (drained), onions, sausage and seasoning. Add one drained can of mushrooms halfway through (8 oz after draining).

Since I'd already gotten a taste for alfredo, I made a half batch of that during the 3 hour simmer-a-thon and packaged it up for lunch.

Then, I made a box of Jiffy's blueberry muffin mix, except I make it as a small cake rather than muffins. BTW, I love Jiffy mix. One box is 39 cents, fills the little tray for my toaster oven perfectly, and results in eight 2x4 inch cake bars. Two of these equals breakfast, so almost a week's worth of breakfast for 39 cents plus milk, egg, and tax.

DH smelled the baking, and came in and sampled a piece (as I had done). "Interesting" he said. This translates into "Wow, this is foul, how can you eat this?!?" Doesn't hurt my feelings a bit, because now I know DH won't be bogarting my breakfast cakes because he thinks they taste funny.

I'm chilling in the kitchen to occasionally stir the sauce, so I decide to clean out the fridge. Oh boy, I have GOT to get better about left-overs. On the plus side, I now know that pineapple makes an excellant substitute for a petri dish.

Another load of laundry and dishes later, and the sauce is as done as it's gonna get. This translates to "I was hungry and didn't want to wait any more!". When it was all said and done, there were maybe 2 cups of sauce left. Out of 2 quarts... Good thing I made the alfredo, I guess!

DH finally broke down and took something for his back, which made him much more agreeable. This in turn made me much more agreeable, and the rest of the evening was spent taking turns playing computer games on my laptop and drinking hot tea.

My Allowance is Frugally Fabulous

February 10th, 2007 at 08:35 pm

Yes, it is!

A new member joined the blog ranks today, and mentioned that she's feeling constrained by her spending plan. Little L, I have felt your pain! The more I thought about this the more I realized that my allowance has given me the best of both worlds.

I have a fairly rigorous spending plan for our household. Right now it's just me and DH (unless you count the cars, which I sometimes do!), but DH is a spendy type which can sometimes put a crimp in my frugal style. Line items on my plan include (among others) housing, car payment, all debts, all utilities, house and car insurances, house and car property taxes, house and car maintenance, gifts, holidays, medical costs, retirement savings, etc.

And then the 2 slightly different line items. "DH allowance" and "TinapBeana's allowance".

Our allowances are exactly that: pocket money that we can do whatever we want with. I don't keep up with his, he doesn't keep up with mine. We don't have to keep track of what we do with it, if we don't want to. I list my grocery and household purchases item by item in a spreadsheet, but I don't have to do that with my allowance.

Having this little bit of money to splurge if I want makes things so much easier. Same for DH. He saw a golf bag he wanted, but the house hadn't budgeted for it. It was on sale, a good price but only available for a limited time. He put it on lay away with the sporting goods store and is paying for it out of his allowance. It's not a need, but it is something that will bring him some amount of happiness (and exercise!). All without trying to figure out what to 'shift' in the household budget.

So, readers, if you're starting to feel constrained (or possibly suffocated!) by your spending plan, I suggest you consider giving yourself an allowance. Doesn't matter what the amount is, big or small, just a little something that you're comfortable with. When you want doughnuts or a special coffee or a night out on the town, use your allowance for it's intended purpose: to keep you sane and on task.

Software Review: Money Manager EX

February 9th, 2007 at 07:46 am

* * * * * * * * EDIT * * * * * * * *
If you can't see the images in this
post, try clicking 'Refresh' on your
browser...

Also, the full screen pictures are a
little hard to see because they've
been shrunk down. Try clicking on one
and it'll open the bigger version.
* * * * * * * * EDIT * * * * * * * *

This is a partial review of the Open Source program Money Manager EX I use for financial management. Specifically, it focuses on the 'investment account' capability, since this has recently come up on the forums.

This is the opening 'Home Screen' for MMEX. As you can see, it shows an overview of current account balances and income/expenses for the month. To start tracking investments, you first have to create an 'investment account'.



These are the simple screens you use to set up an account.









Once you finish, you're taken back to the 'Home Screen'. Notice that the new investment account 'ML: Roth IRA' shows under 'Stocks' on the left-hand nav bar.

When you click on an account, you are taken to the account page. For checking/savings, this is where you view and enter transactions. For an investment account, it's where you view and edit holdings.



When you click 'New' you get a pop-up box to enter holding information.



And this is what your holding/s will look like in the account screen.



If you click 'Stocks' on the left-hand nav bar, you'll see an overview of all your investment account holdings.



And the 'Home Screen' will reflect the value of your stock holdings.

Silly Problem to Have

February 8th, 2007 at 02:01 pm

Preamble:
I warn you, up front, that this problem might not strike you as a problem at all. It may even sound like a nifty thing to have happen. If that is the case, please don't email me or comment about how I need to quit my bit@#ing and be happy about it when so many people are suffering the exact opposite. Deal?

Alright, now that I've got that out of the way...

Here's the silly problem: I'm loosing weight and I'm not trying to. See? Seems silly. But it's noticeable, and the fact that I'm not doing anything different is what's causing me some mild concern.

Someone is sure to point out that I posted in the threads about the fact that I threw away my scale. Right you are, observant one!

Thing is, I bought 3 new pairs of business casual pants in September. Two of them were just a hair too tight but after an hour of wear fit fine. You've had pants like that, right? Now, 5 months later, I put them on and they're hanging off of me straight from the dryer. At this point, they're almost too big for me to be able to wear to work and still be decent!

Now, my pants don't fit, my high heels are too big so I shuffle when I walk so they won't go flying off, and my wedding ring fits comfortably on my right middle finger. Even without a scale, it's pretty obvious I'm loosing some weight, right?

Like I said before, under normal circumstances this might be kinda neato. But, I'm not trying to loose weight. Add to that the fact that the holidays just passed, I've cut my smoking in half, and I sit in front of a computer 10 hours a day, and it starts to become crystal clear that I most certainly should not be loosing weight.

My diet hasn't really changed: moderately healthy with moments of sheer stupidity. I'm not walking or lifting or any of the things that would constitute exercise (you know, the ones I should be doing).

The only thing I can think of is kinda funny. Maybe it's partly because we're keeping the house colder than last winter? Maybe I'm shivering the inches off Big Grin

It's getting to the point that I'm going to have to start getting new (or new to me) clothes, or I won't be able to sit down in my work pants without clipping the waistline shut. I don't want new clothes, I like the ones I have! More to the point, I don't want to buy new clothes. I'm sure if someone offered me a free assortment of properly fitting pants I'd take it. But actually buying replacements for the 6 pairs of pants and 3 pairs of shoes I'm playing "Dress Up" in right now? Bah!

Spring and Frugal Fixin's

February 7th, 2007 at 08:02 pm

First let me just say: Spring decided to visit today. Monday it was 17 degrees when I woke up. Today the high was over 60. No wonder my sinuses are all funky...

Nothing much to report from the great upstate region. I'm test-driving some open source finance programs to see if I can review one here. I've only found one so far that specifically lets you assign one entry (say a credit card payment) to multiple categories and specific dollar amount (i.e. paid $200 to Visa, $50 for groceries, $100 for electric bill, $50 for debt payment). Cool function, but the rest of that program bites so I can't recommend it. I'll find one that's nifty and get something posted in the next few days.

And now, for frugal fixin's. Lunch was leftover salad from last night's dinner. Place here has an $8 salad but it comes with about 12 oz of salad greens, currents, walnuts, bacon, sliced turkey and ham, and provolone cheese. Easily 2 meals, and pretty AOK on the healthy scale.

Tonight: grilled the chicken tenders and boneless thighs I got on sale 50% off this weekend. I always try to grill extra and keep it in the freezer, since it makes things like chicken alfredo much easier on lazy days. We had stir fry green beans (freezer shopping) and rice (from the 15 lb bag we bought 2 years ago).

And then the coup de gras (sp?): homemade rice pudding. OH MY FREAKING GOODNESS was it good!!! And super easy, so I'm going to share:

1 1/2 cup cooked rice
2 cups milk, divided
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tblsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

cook this over medium heat for 15-20 minutes until it starts to get thick and creamy. add half a cup of milk and a beaten egg and cook for another 2 minutes (mine wasn't thickening, so I cooked for 5-7 minutes rather than 2). remove from heat, stir in the butter and vanilla. add cinnamon/raisins if you like and server warm.

YUM YUM YUM! I'd have made another batch, but I ran out of milk as it is and had to use watered down half&half to finish the recipe.

No worries, though: I always make a bunch of rice when I cook it, so I've got 2 cups just waiting to become rice pudding this weekend

Big Grin

Software: You Don't Always Get What You Pay For

February 5th, 2007 at 01:56 pm

Chances are you're already using Open Source software without even knowing. How is this possible? You're online, right now. As of January, Apache webserver is the backbone 73.17% of the world's websites. The cost of this amazing bit of software? Nothing. Zip, zilch, nada. It's Open Source.

This just goes to prove that you don't always get what you pay for.

The internet abounds with free software, it has for years. Terms like freeware, shareware, and careware are familiar to most net-hounds. When you download freeware, the license agreement typically says something to the effect of "free for personal or non-commercial use". There might be a pop-up that says "click here to buy a feature rich version", or possibly some ads floating around. Freeware is free from a cost perspective, but there are restrictions on what you are 'allowed' to do with it.

Open Source, while not exactly new, is a little bit different. One of the best descriptions of the spirit of Open Source is from the GNU Operating System webpage.

Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer.

Open Source software is not always cost-free. A lot of it is, but not all. You might have heard of a little piece of Open Source software called RedHat Linux, the one available in a box for a price at your local electronics store. Open Source software is free in terms of freedom of use. Once you have it, it's yours to do with as you see fit. Want it for commercial use? No problem! Want to burn copies to CDs and give them out as birthday gifts for 50 of your closest friends? Go ahead, it's yours to do with as you see fit. Want to burn it to CDs and sell them at 5 bucks a pop? Feel free! As long as everyone who gets your software gets the same rights you did, it's all good.

The other perk of Open Source software, though not of interest to the bulk of the public, is that the source code creating the program is made publicly available. Hence the name Open Source... When the source code is available, a knowledgeable programmer can add to a piece of software, making it do exactly what is needed, rather than having to be satisfied with 'close enough'.

Even the average software user can take advantage of this capability, though. Most Open Source software has some sort of active online presence where users and developers can discuss bugs, fixes, and feature requests. They offer ways for you as a consumer to get involved in making the software you use better. Can you imagine being a member of a web group and asking Microsoft® developers for a particular feature in the next release? Right...

So, are you excited yet? More importantly, are you wondering where to go to get started? Below are the Open Source programs I have installed on my thumb drive, home computer, work computer and/or laptop.

Office Suites, Text Editors, Productivity


Boy, where to begin with this one?!? I'll give you my three main kudos for this program, and then I'll leave the rest up to you.
1. OpenOffice opens existing Word®, Excel®, and PowerPoint® files with no problem, and gives you the option to save files in OpenOffice or Microsoft® proprietary formats. Translation: You can still use your old files, and everyone else can still use your new files.
2. This office suite natively supports PDF creation. Translation: You can make your own PDFs from your own documents, without using a plugin, installing a printer driver, or having to buy Adobe Acrobat® (MSRP US$449)
1. I'm formatting a book for a friend of mine for small-run publishing. This book is over 3 megs when saved as a Word document. When saved in the OpenOffice native format, it's less than half a meg in size...


Please note that Keynote is no longer being actively supported by its creator. With that said, it's still a nifty, useful piece of software. It is what's called tree-based noting software, which is hard to describe without actually showing it to you. Imagine typing recipes, calls to return tomorrow at work, a grocery list, your favorite websites, and a poem, all on different sheets of paper. Now imagine you're filing these: there could be a folder for work, a folder for homelife, and a folder for personal interests. Lastly, imagine putting them into one filing cabinate labeled "ME". This is kinda what Keynote does: creates one file on your computer (like the filing cabinate) that can contain multiple notes (like the folders) that can contain multiple nodes (like the sheets of paper holding different information). Since it's all written onto one file on your computer, the information always stays together and can be re-organized as you see fit. And yes, you can create more than one file if you want or need to!


This is what I use as my checkbook register. I don't particularly like how the budgeting functionality works, but I like the flexibility it offers with regards to categories. It can import CSV and QIF files, and can export CSV and HTML files.


This is another text editor, but this one is specifically for coding. It allows project creation (to keep like bits of code together) and automatic code syntax highlighting (even for COBOL, Fortran and Assembly!). Neat software for the geeks among us.


Photos, Image Editing

I've used Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro (when it was Jasc, before Corel got their hands on it!), and I'm still pleased with what GIMP offers. Especially when you compare the pricing structure. Be forwarned, though, that The GIMP is intended for relatively intensive image editing. If all you need is to resize your photos and remove some red-eye, this might be a bit overkill. Like shooting a squirrel with an AK47 would be considered 'overkill'.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom® US $199*
Adobe Photoshop CS2® US $1199
Paint Shop Pro Photo XI® Full (197 MB) - Download $79.99
The GIMP: Free


Utilities

Not OpenSource, but a great piece of freeware and the easiest data synchronizer I've seen! Per their website "A single user license for SyncBackSE covers its use on up to 5 computers for personal use. If you also intend to use SyncBackSE to process business related data on a separate computer, then you should buy a second license."


A nice little zip/unzip utility. Works with zips, jars, tars, gzs, cabs, etc. If all you recognized was 'zips', don't worry: it'll do exactly what you need it to!


This is the cleanest Open Source synchronizer I've been able to find. By 'clean' I mean the interface is nice, I'm in no way referencing viruses of any sort. It runs using Java, so it doesn't actually install itself on your computer, which is nice. I don't find it as intuitive as SyncBack, but it also doesn't have the same 'freeware' restrictions.


Internet, Email, Calendar
I'm not going to go into too much detail on these because I think they might be a little more widely known. For those that aren't familiar with some or all of these products, Mozilla offers software for email, calendar, FTP, and internet browsing. They are separate downloads and work independently, so you can pick and choose as you like.




Or, try a 'sampler pack' of sorts! Portable Apps offers a suite of popular OpenSource programs as a single download (including many listed above). This package is designed to run on thumb drives, so the software it offers is compact. The trade-off is that, since it is slightly stripped-down in order to make it smaller, you get fewer of the bells and whistles for in programs than you would if you downloaded the full-sized versions.

Believe me, this list is in no way exhaustive: there are literally tens of thousands of Open Source projects available online. If you have an idea of the type of software you're looking for, here are some common Open Source repositories.



Quality Alert: Hanes Sweatpants

February 3rd, 2007 at 06:36 am

Just noticed something and thought I would share. ARGH!!!!

I bought a new pair of Hanes Mens sweatpants at Target on Tuesday. I've lost my other pair, don't know where they are, and I wanted a pair b/c it was going to be cold.

Regardles. $7 on a new pair of sweatpants, and today I notice there's a hole in the crotch that wasn't there before. WTF! They can't even make pants that'll last a week?!???

Not sure what to do b/c I've spilled coffee on said sweatpants already, and I'm not comfortable taking a pair of stained pants back even with the receipt. So I'd have to wash them, and not sure if I'm comfortable washing something and taking it back either. Plus, I know it's not really Target's fault, Hanes quality control needs to learn how to do their job.

ARGH! I knew I should have bought a pair at the thrift store. They've already made it through the first week with someone else!

Freebies and Kizmit Coupons

February 3rd, 2007 at 06:15 am

Yesterday was a good day, financially speaking. Actually a pretty good day over all, but especially for finances.

I went to Publix on my lunch break, as they're a quarter mile from my office. THey had Pepsi products on sale (FINALLY), avocadoes 2/$1, and Excedrin migraine 50 packs BOGO for $5.99. They also had the store brand organic canned beans and tomatoes I use on sale, so I need to go back and stock up. Anyway, Publix is the only store I go to that has the coupon dispensers on the aisles, so I always walk the entire store seeing what they have available. Yesterday, they had Claritin D coupons: 4 bucks off. YEEHAW!

Why so excited? Well, DH takes these everday, and even the store brand is close to a buck a pill. ACK! Plus, CVS has Claritin on sale this week, regular 18.99 for the 15 pack, on sale for 14.99, AND you earn 5 reward bucks for the purchase. Oh, and I happened to have $1.50 in CVS bucks already floating around in my purse. So, after work, I beeline it to CVS and get the 1 pack of Claritin I'm allowed per day by law. Grrrr... Regular 18.99, I paid less than 11 after my 2 coupons and the sale and I'll be earning 5 bucks back on the purchase. DH and I are going back today and we're each going to buy the one pack we're allowed, by law, which is the closest we can get to stockpiling a restricted substance. Grrrr...

OK, back to a financially woohoo day. When I pulled into the driveway, DH had just gotten home. Odd, since I was an hour late due to CVS and traffic. Suddenly it made sense when I saw the half-size chest freezer in the back of his truck. His parents had just bought a new one and are letting us use their old one. YAY FREEBIE!!! It needs a good washing as it's been kept outside, but other than that it functions and that's all I care.

I'm going to pause a moment to mention that the wish list on the fridge is proving very effective at bringing me and the house the items we need. The house had 4 items on it's list: computer, dishwasher, freezer, and a fire-proof safe. We've received the first three in the last 2 weeks, and 2 of them were freebies... My list has a new camera bag and a tripod on it. I bought a nifty new bag with my allowance savings last week, and Lux just emailed me a link for a schnazzy flexible tripod. Coincidence? Who knows, but I think I'm gonna add more stuff to the list!

Alright, back to yesterday. DH also brought back his dad's animal trap and a small 22 rifle. The trap was at my request so we could try to catch the possum in the basement. The gun was at his, in case the possum gets ornery. At first he just wanted to shoot the possum and get it over with. I looked at him and asked if he'd shoot one of the neighborhood cats just because it wandered into our basement, and he said "No, of course not" and then got quiet for a few minutes. Then he agreed to get the trap. Score one, Tina!

We needed the trap because we also went to Home Despot and got the bits needed to fix the vent. $15 well spent if it means no more suprise wildlife visits! After fixing the vent we setup the trap downstairs with some cat-food inside. If there's a possum or a neighborhood cat still in the basement, we should get it.

Final frugal act of the day was taking SunCom up on an offer they sent me in the mail. I was pre-approved for cell service with a free phone and no deposit. Boy their standards must be low! This was very fortunate b/c currently we have a house phone with a number we love on VoIP (cable) and I have a cell phone with a number I hate with the company who laid me off last summer. BLUH! Not to mention the phone isn't in my name it's in my SIL's. She didn't want the service and I took over her contract, but they place wouldn't switch the phone into my name without a $250 deposit. WTF?!?!??

At any rate, we were in and out of SunCom in less than 20 minutes and paid no money out of pocket. Walked away with a new phone (my old one was going to the birds anyways) and a temporary number until the house phone gets ported over. When it's all said and done and everything is switched and cancelled, we'll be saving about $50 per month.

Drove 3 buildings up the street to the other place and asked if we could put my existing phone on a loyalty plan (15/month before taxes & surcharges)for the end of the contract (5 months). We could get the plan, but it would extend the contract out a year from the date it was added. WHAT?!?? OK, cheaper to have them cut the phone and pay the cancellation fee of $175. BAH BIG RED!!! You're getting your last money out of me, stupid down-sizer!

Frugal Checklist for Snow Days

February 1st, 2007 at 11:34 am

Make a fire in the woodstove using free wood: logs from FIL and limbs that were already down from the last ice storm when we bought the property.

Place a pot of water on woodstove to steam up the air, since humid air feels warmer than dry air.

Spritz linen spray into the pot of water to make the room smell yummy!

Wash a load of dishes in the new dishwasher (WOOHOO!!!)

Lament the 2 hour pot & pan cycle on the dishwasher since it prevents me from washing a load of laundry or taking a shower. Secretly congratulate self on creating time to be able to surf the internet and still feel productive.

Find a teriyaki sauce recipe online so we can have pork fried rice for supper.

Go outside and freeze fingers taking pictures of snow, ice, and freezing little daffodils.

Open the door to the dishwasher to let dishes air dry. Warm moist air pours into the kitchen, doing double duty to heat the house.

Sweep the the kitchen since it was already shuffled around for said dishwasher installation.

Dip 2 pieces of clean fake-fur fabric into the near boiling water on the woodstove. Throw them on the kitchen floor and mop with free hot water.

Dip 1 clean microfiber towel into the near boiling water on the woodstove. Add 2 drops of dish-soap to the cloth. Clean the kitchen counters, stove, sink, microwave, and toaster oven with free hot water.

Entertain self by dripping water onto super-hot woodstove and watching the droplets dance.

Drink infinite amounts of coffee. Make it special by adding 1 tsp of hot cocoa mix and a dollop of milk: instant mochaccino!

Coming up: laundry and moving boxes into the attic. Wanna help?

Ice Queen

February 1st, 2007 at 07:30 am

Not really, but couldn't think of a catchy title Big Grin

I'm sure everyone around the country knows already, but in case you've been hiding: the South got winter weather today. I myself got 1.5 inches of snow.

Now, if it were just snow life would be hunky dory and there would be no issues. I'd be sitting at my desk at work right now, wasting the day in a work-like fashion. Instead, the South gets what is known as 'Freezing Rain'. For the uninitiated, freezing rain is when the atmosphere temp is warmer than surface temps. Liquid rain falls and coats every available surface in a thin sheen of water that instantly freezes over. Do this a couple million times and you get ice everywhere: cars, roofs, roads, trees, powerlines.

Invariably, it's the ice that does us in. I don't care if you're from SC or NY or MN or MI, I don't know anyone that can drive properly on ice with unchained tires. You might think I say this because I'm from the South, but the reality is that both my parents are from Detroit. Guess what: they can't drive in ice either.

And it's not just the roads; ice on the trees becomes a killer problem. I'm being literal here: tree limbs crack under the weight and come crashing down. Cars, powerlines, houses are all fair game. A former co-worker of mine saw a tree limb fall right on her sister about 2 years ago when she was walking to her car. ACK!!! Amazingly she was fine, but her car was trashed.

In '93 we had a major winter storm ("Blizzard of the Century" according to the news). There was about 8" of snow in one day, VERY MAJOR for us. But the ice and wind is what got us. We lived in the mountains and had no power for 2 weeks. Since we were so far out, no power meant no water from the well pump. Time to break out the 5 gallon buckets and start hauling water from the spring... Final count between the house, 2 cars, and our 1/3 mile driveway was over 50 trees down. Bah...

At any rate, I played my wussy card and called in to work. Luckily, working for a software company means I don't actually have to be at the office to be at work, so I'm happily 'plugged in' from home. We'll see how long the power lasts.

No worries, though. One of the perks of a woodstove is independence from electricity. Can't even say that about gas heat: no electric means no blower. As soon as I got up I started a fire. Just out of curiosity, I put a pot of water on the top once I got it good and hot, and sure enough the stove top is hot enough to cook an egg on. WooHOOO, I can even have coffee when the power goes out! As an avid camper and coffee drinker, I have a French press accessory for my water bottle. Hot water and coffee grounds go in, nectar of life comes out...