A few days ago, Savvy Frugality was excited to learn that the music companies had finally joined the 21st Century and a free, legal online service offering unlimited music downloads was on the way. Dubbed "QTrax", the Mozilla-based system using the Songbird music player and P2P client was to be available for download, and downloading music, on January 28th.

QTrax said it had reached a deal with major music companies to allow some 25 million songs to be downloaded through the service. However, at the 11th hour, before the program was even available for download, Warner Music Group announced it had not reached any deal with QTrax. Many other major music labels issued similar statements within a matter of hours.

Since then, I have been able to download the QTrax player, but the P2P client, the part of the program which would enable users all those free downloads QTrax promised, is disabled. Users can import their own music libraries and use the player for now.

The music industry has been suffering the past few years. With P2P clients like Limewire and BitTorrent allowing computer users to share their music files for free, record labels and recording artists have been missing out. I'm all for artists getting paid for their music, but the main problem is the music industry has failed to change with the times. When more people started listening to their music on computers and IPods, the music industry stuck to selling CDs, which were rapidly declining in popularity. Instead of offering download and subscription services to compete with P2P services, record companies started suing the people who were using these services. In other words, they sued their potential customers, creating further animosity.

Services like QTrax appear to be a great solution...if they can successfully get off the ground. Many television networks now offer much of their programing online for free, and make money from the advertising. Services like QTrax are trying a similar approach.

While QTrax is in talks with the record labels to get up and running, here are a few other online services which offer a free and legal means of listing to streaming music:

Deezer - Search and listen to songs online. If you like what you hear and want to download, you are referred to Amazon.com to buy the album. Deezer gets it. Deezer is based in France, so not all songs will play if you're based in the U.S.

Pandora Radio - It's half Internet radio, half streaming song player. You can search for the artists you like, and Pandora will play songs by that artist, although you don't get to listen to the exact song you want when you want it.

Songza - This is sort of like YouTube, only it plays songs. You can actually play a video of the song if it is available. Type in the name of an artists, song or album and Songza will find and play it for you. If you like what you hear, you can buy music through Songza at Amazon.

With each of these services, users can listen to the songs, but if they want to download they have to pay, which is the way it should be. These types of services prove that people can enjoy music for free (just like they do on the radio), and artists and record labels can still make money if someone wants to take the music with them.

Savvy Frugality is pleased to be included in the 137th Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted this week by The Dividend Guy. Savvy Fruglity's post, Clutter Costs Money, is among this week's entrants. Here are some other posts from the carnival I highly recommend:

I've Paid Twice for This Already says There’s No Shame In Not Being Able To Afford It. Yep...nothing wrong with saving for it.

Plan Your Escape has Finance for Couples. My wife and I have separate bank accounts, and it has worked great for us. If my account is overdrawn, I have nobody to blame but myself...and my account is never overdrawn.

Ryan from Millionaire Money Habits presents You’re in Your 50s - Wake Up and Start Saving!

Jacob from SuccessMinders presents How to “only” yourself to death. Great reading if your considering buying something for four easy payments of "only" $19.99.

The Simple Nickle presents Work Hard + Work Smart = Wealth and Success. Great formula for success!



I am a member of the Middle Class, and I have never owned my own home. Granted, my decision to rent was by choice. I used to work in radio broadcasting, which required me to move all over the country to take new jobs. In a span of 20 years, I probably moved 20 times. Now I have "settled down", changed careers and have lived in the same spot for about 5 years. My wife and I plan to buy our own home in a few more years.

But, according to this article on MSN.com, many members of the Middle Class may never own their own home. In a nutshell, affordable homes are increasingly out of the reach of many families because their incomes are not keeping pace with increasing home prices. The record number of recent home foreclosures further underscores the fact that many people purchased homes they simply could not afford.

I agree with some aspects of the article, but a couple of thoughts struck me: why not buy a home you CAN afford (the proverbial "starter home"), or simply move to an area where housing is cheaper? I'm not talking about moving to a sketchy area of town. I'm talking about a lifestyle change.

My father-in-law is doing this. He and his wife currently live in New York City, where they both work. They plan to retire in a few years, but in the meantime, they have purchased a home in Oklahoma City. They plan to retire there, and the cost of living is much, much cheaper than New York, which will help them stretch their retirement dollars. They paid about $148,000 for their 1,800 square foot home in Oklahoma. In New York, they probably would have paid about $500,000.

The cost of living is one of the reasons I moved to Oklahoma. I also lived in New York. Although I took a 20 percent cut in salary, my cost of living plummeted once I left New York. I found it was easier to meet my living expenses on less salary in Oklahoma. Sometimes, downsizing your life can result in gains in the QUALITY of your life.

People might have many reasons for staying in a high-cost area of the country: family, friends, jobs, etc. We weighed these options before we moved...and to be honest, we have kept in touch with our friends (and made new friends), our family comes to visit us and my wife and I both found new jobs which were much better than what we were doing before we moved.

The saying is true: sometimes less is more.

(This post is quoted on MSN.com's Smart Spending Moneyblog.)


I recently moved to a nearby suburb of Oklahoma City, and I managed to do so for a grand total of $80. That was just the move itself. However, as I have mentioned earlier, I also encountered some unexpected expenses AFTER the move, such as higher utility bills at the new home, the need to pay the final utility bill at the old home and the new utility bill at the new home....in the same month. On top of that, I can't participate in the average monthly billing program I was taking advantage of with the gas utility. Now, a new expense has reared its ugly head.

I called my insurance agent to notify him of my change of address for my auto and renter's insurance (I'm not renting, but I don't own the home, either. It's my father-in-law's, and he's letting us live in the place rent free until he moves here in a few years. Thanks, Dad!) My agent's secretary took my information, and then informed me my auto insurance rates just increased by $100 every six months. Huh?

Did I have an accident recently? Nope. Was I given a traffic ticket in the past year? No. Was I convicted of DUI? Absolutely not. My rates went up because of my new zip code.

Mind you, I moved a grand total of 15 miles. It's not like I moved to a high crime area where auto thefts are common. In fact, I moved to a much nicer neighborhood where SUVs and luxury sedans are the most-spotted vehicles on the street. Me? I drive a KIA.

I asked why my insurance rates had increased so much in the span of 24 hours, when none of my driving history had changed. The secretary explained that I now lived in an area where the rates are higher. I protested.

"But, my commute to work has dropped from 15 miles to less than a mile. How could the rates go up so much?" She responded it was the price of moving to a new area where the rates are higher. I say it's just not fair.

Before I moved to Oklahoma, I lived in areas where the insurance rate was based on one's driving history, not some crummy zip code. In some states, such as California, legislation has been enacted requiring insurance companies to do just that.

At least I don't live in Louisiana. That state has the highest auto insurance rates in the U.S., edging out New York, according to Insurance.com's 2007 Auto Insurance Pricing Report. The Ten Most Expensive States for auto insurance are:


1. Louisiana
2. New York
3. New Jersey
4. Washington D.C.
5. Delaware
6. Rhode Island
7. Kentucky
8. Maryland
9. West Virginia
10. Nevada

The Ten Least Expensive States for auto insurance are:

1. Ohio
2. Wisconsin
3. Iowa
4. Maine
5. Idaho
6. Indiana
7. Vermont
8. Oregon
9. Kansas
10. Illinois

So, a word to the wise: if you plan to move and want to estimate your new budget in your new home, be sure to check with your auto insurer to see how the relocation might affect your auto insurance rates...even if it's just a few miles.


I have mentioned before that Starbucks Coffee, like bottled water, is a blatant ripoff. You have to give it to Starbucks...they are marketing geniuses. They managed to convince an entire country, no...the world...that paying $4 for a cup of coffee is perfectly reasonable. I don't harbor any ill will toward Starbucks per se...just the idea of being grossly overcharged for something that I remember used to cost 50 cents...and I'm not THAT old.

Perhaps Starbucks read this article, or customers wised up to the fact they are overpaying for coffee, or the economy is taking a toll, or increased competition from places like McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts has them rethinking their strategy, but Starbucks has recently started test marketing CHEAPER coffee.

The 8 oz cups cost $1, for drip coffee only...no lattes or espressos...and they are being test marketed in Seattle, for now. The deal even features free refills...just like the corner diner or truck stops.

With talk of an economic downturn and recession topping the news these days, it's probably a smart move for Starbucks to appeal to those who practice Savvy Frugality. $1 for a cup of coffee, with refills, is reasonable enough (although I still prefer to get mine from 7/11 if I'm out and about). Of course, it's still cheaper just to make your own coffee.

Financial experts are finally using the "R" word: recession. The economy is on the downswing, the price of gold is booming as investors look for something more tangible to invest in, and the stock market is taking a beating. People are fearing for their jobs, their retirement accounts and their ability to hang on to their homes.

I expressed some of my concerns about a possible approaching recession last September. I also posted a few tips to help prepare in case the economy should take a downturn, which it appears it has. It's not too late to enact a few of these tips, if you haven't done so already or you have just discovered Savvy Frugality. In fact, I am beefing up my emergency fund beginning next month, I have already taken steps to reduce monthly expenses and retire my debt, and if I should lose my job my car payments will be met, thanks to the unemployment insurance I took out on my mini-van. I had already diversified my income, but to be honest, if I lost my job tomorrow that would certainly hurt.

But what if you haven't prepared, and you're already feeling the crunch of an economy gone sour? The first step is to recognize there is a problem (which the White House has finally done, and they have offered a "stimulus package" for the U.S. economy), and then develop a plan.
Drawing upon my own experiences from the Recession of 1991, during which my family suffered greatly (I was out of work for six months, and it took years to recover), I have developed the Savvy Frugality Recession Survival Guide:

1. The first thing you want to do is insure your most basic needs: shelter and food. Stick any extra money in a high-interest savings account to help cover rent or mortgage payments if the worst should happen. In fact, your emergency fund should have three to six months worth of living expenses in it. If you don't have that much in your emergency fund, do what you can to start saving that amount now. Take a part-time job. Bank unexpected windfalls. Sell stuff you really don't use or need anymore and stick it aside for a rainy day. If a month comes where you can't pay the rent, you'll know it's raining. Stockpile dried goods in a closet designated your "emergency pantry". This can include canned goods you found on sale at a ridiculously low price, large bags of rice, dried beans, canned meats...things that will keep for a few months to a year. Think Y2K preparations...without the irrational fear of planes falling from the sky. During the Recession of '91, there were times I didn't know where my family was going to get its next meal. That's not a good position in which to find yourself.

2. If you have a retirement account, make sure it's diversified. Don't have everything in stocks. you should have some savings in lower-risk investments, too...such as bonds, or cash. Warren Buffet does, and he's done OK for himself. Put your short-term savings in high-yield savings accounts or money market funds...accounts where you can access your money quickly in an emergency. I have some savings in the online bank Emmigrant Direct, but ING is good, too. They both pay more than 4 percent interest. Whatever you do, DON'T cash out your 401k. You'll need that money when you retire.

3. Stop spending on non-essential items. I know the government wants us all to go shopping with a $500 tax rebate they want to give us this tax season to help stimulate the economy, but that $500 will do me more good in my emergency fund than it will going toward a new flat-screen TV. Put discretionary spending on big ticket items on hold for now. Reserve your money for NECESSITIES: food, shelter, clothing, transportation. The key is to live BELOW your means. If you are living on credit or are spending more than you earn, you're in trouble.

4. Make yourself indispensable at work. If you depend on a job for a paycheck, look for ways to help your employer make more money, better ways to doing things at work, make yourself available for special projects, be the first to arrive and the last to leave each work day, etc. If you are the model employee at work, and your boss has to start trimming the payroll, they will keep a top performer over somebody who does the minimum. On a related note:

5. Have something else going on the side. I do some freelance writing which helps bring in extra income, but you may have some other skill you can put to use to have another source of income besides your job. Use that cash to beef up your short-term savings and your emergency fund. Network with others in your line of work, outside of your current company. The more friends you make in the industry, the more people there are to help you with job leads should you find yourself looking for work.

6. Investing. You can hedge your investment bets in a recession by buying stocks in companies that seem to weather recessions just fine. Companies that sell food, alcohol, tobacco, utilities...things people will use regardless of how the economy is doing...are usually stable. Also, when stocks are bottoming out, that's a great time to go shopping and pick up some bargains on companies that are stable and are leaders in their industry. The book Rule #1 by Phil Town deals with buying stocks while they are "on sale".

Most important: don't panic. By planning ahead and taking action now, YOU are controlling your own financial future.

(This post is also featured on MSN.com's Money Central Smart Spending blog. )

I spoke to a client at my job today about making a purchase, and they said something that I found very telling.

"I just can't afford it right now. Because it's so cold outside, my utility bills are more than $300 a month."

When there is a cold snap, like the one much of the U.S. is experiencing right now, it can mean skyrocketing natural gas, electric and fuel oil bills. My home uses natural gas, and I have recently moved to a larger home, so I have immediately noticed a difference in my gas bill. It was $60 last month. This month, it was almost $150. Ouch.

So, how can you keep warm without burning a hole in your pocketbook? The folks over at RealSimple.com have some great tips. Mainly, it comes down to conserving energy and sealing your home to prevent that heat from escaping outdoors (or allowing the cold to come into your home).

When I was growing up on a pig farm in Minnesota, my stepfather was very miserly with the heating fuel. In fact, we rarely ran the oil burning furnace. Instead, he covered all of the exterior windows with plastic. It looked like our home was covered in Saran Wrap. If you have nice, new double-pane insulated fiberglass windows, you probably don't need to take this step, but if you live in an old farm house like we did, it was critical. It really did work. In fact, our screened porch was totally covered in plastic, and on a sunny day we could open the exterior door and sit on the porch, which was a warm and toasty 80 degrees, even though it was 18 degrees outside.

He also put a wood burning stove in the basement. Each Saturday, we would split wood for the stove, and before we went to bed each night, he would throw a few logs in the stove, and they would last until morning.

So if you are suffering from a cold house and high heating bills, check your windows and doors for drafts, seal them up with plastic or the many other products you can find at your local home improvement store, set your thermostat at 67 degrees (hopefully you have a programmable thermostat), set the water heater at 120 degrees and make sure your pipes are insulated. Higher heating bills during a cold snap are almost inevitable, but having a warm house doesn't have to send you to the poor house.

Actually, I finished moving into my new home a week ago, although I am still unpacking boxes...a process that will probably take a couple of months as I try to find a new home for all of my stuff.

I was able to complete the move itself for about $80, and that was the cost of the UHaul truck. There were some other expenses associated with the move...some I had expected, and some I did not. For example, this month I have to pay utilities for the house I moved from, and the one I moved into. I also had to pay $130 for carpet cleaning, which was required in my lease.

Also, once I moved into the new house, I discovered a few things which I had to repair, such as all of the toilets in the house, so that required a couple of trips to Home Depot. My wife also wanted to repaint some of the rooms, so that was another $160.

Between utility expenses, extra cable TV connections in the house, paint supplies and toilet repairs, all of the costs associated with the move will probably total about $500...still a far cry from the $1,900 I paid the last time I hired movers.

I am still waiting for the cable guy to show up at my new home to get me connected to the Internet, so I hope to be posting regularly again soon!

This is the weekend of my big move! My family and I are busy packing boxes (which we got free from Walmart and a couple of other stores) and on Sunday we'll be loading up the U-Haul ($29.95, plus 67 cents per mile for mileage. A much better deal than hiring movers). We're only moving a few miles, to a home which will be rent and mortgage free to us, thanks to my father-in-law. Of course, we'll have to move again in a few years, when he retires and wants to live in the house, but by then we'll have enough saved for a down payment on our own place.

I have a couple of friends who will help me do the heavy lifting when it comes time to move furniture and appliances. When all is said and done, this move should cost me about $100. The last time I moved, I used movers, and it cost me $1,900.

It will be a few days before I have my Internet service up and running, so I'll be taking a short hiatus from Savvy Frugality. I should be back before next weekend. In the meantime, please explore the archives here at Savvy Frugality, and feel free to leave comments. I promise to get to them just as soon as I'm able to log in again.


Being able to buy a brand new car...not a "new" used car...for $2,500 sounds like Savvy Frugality's dream. Tata Motors of India today unveiled what is being called the "world's cheapest car"...the Tata Nano.

Initially built for the India market, where there are few car owners, the Nano is built to suit the pocket book of the Indian working man and woman, but there are plans to export the vehicle beyond the streets of New Delhi to markets in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa. There are currently no plans to bring it to the U.S., which likes its Hummers and Expeditions.

The Nano measures 10 feet long and almost 5 feet wide, with a two-cylinder engine capable of speeds up to 65 miles per hour. It would make a great "around town" car in the U.S.

I'm all for ultra-cheap, fuel-sipping cars. An all-electric version would be even better if they could perfect the battery for such a model. However, I'm reminded of another ultra cheap model from my youth...the Yugo.

The Yugo...so named because it was built in the former Yugoslavia...was a terrible, cheap (and cheaply made) car sold in the U.S. in the '80s. A friend of mine in the Navy had one. I'll never forget the day his wife drove over a railroad crossing and the rear window fell right out of the car. The Yugo didn't last long.

If the Nano is built well, has good safety features and is up to snuff on emissions standards, I don't see a reason why it couldn't be sold in the U.S., just as long as it's not the 21st Century version of the Yugo.

As I have mentioned here before, I am moving into a new home on Sunday, courtesy of my father-in-law, who purchased it for his retirement, but isn't retiring for about four years. Rent-free housing!

The home is heated by natural gas, just like the rental house I currently have. I had an "average monthly billing" plan with the gas utility. What this means is that instead of getting hammered with a large gas bill during the cold weather months, the annual average of gas usage is averaged out and each month's bill is a lower, more manageable amount. Instead of paying $30 per month for gas in the summer, and $250 a month for gas in the winter, I have been paying about $60 per month for natural gas.

My plan was to continue average monthly billing once I moved into the new home, but it is not to be. The utility informed me that the plan will come to an end once I move, because it is a different home and the AMB plan is figured out according to each customer's usage, not the historical usage of the home itself. I received my first gas bill for the new home this week. I had the heat set at 60 degrees to keep the empty home's pipes from freezing. Two week's worth of gas usage was $105. In the words of the great American philosopher, Homer J. Simpson: "D'Oh!"

Over the course of a year, my gas usage may be no more than I'm paying now, but my MONTHLY bill during certain months will certainly be higher, which actually throws off my monthly spending plan (remember, I don't like the word "budget"). It is only after I live in this home for a year that I can participate in average monthly billing once again.

Fortunately, we have had a mild winter so far, but you can bet I'll be looking for other ways to hold the line on utility costs.

Once again, Savvy Frugality is taking part in the Festival of Frugality. My post on the U.S. switching to digital TV broadcasting and the need for a digital adapter for analog TVs was included. Some of my favorite picks from this Festival include:

Frugal Guy at A Frugal Living Blog developed a Financial Risk Advisory System

Alison from This Wasn’t in The Plan tells us she Got paid for winterizing her home.

Moneywise from The Real Returns gives us the cost of owning a car. Moneywise says, “The total car expense over the 10 year period is too much.”

FIRE Finance tracked all their expenditures in 2007 and realized $1000s in Savings!

Rocket Finance says you don’t have to pay for your child’s college education.

If you use a lot of Bisquick or other baking mix for your cooking and baking and pancake making, you'll appreciate this tip. I wish I could claim credit for this, but my wife actually found it in a 1950s cook book. Mom really did know best. This will save you a lot of money over the cost of buying the store-bought mix:

Ingredients:

10 cups of flour
1/3 cup baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
4 tsp salt
2 cups of shortening (crisco or generic)

You'll need a large airtight container to store the baking mix. It will keep for up to six weeks on the shelf, or up to six months if you freeze it. Just take what you need out of the freezer and thaw before using.

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. With a pastry blender (or wire whisk or fork) cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. If you're using a wire whisk or a fork, make sure you mix it well. Mix it until it looks like...well, Bisquick.

That's it!

Many thanks this week to No Credit Needed for including my post on using a financial windfall to reduce debt in the 121st Carnival of Debt Reduction. You'll find other savvy advice in this week's carnival, including:

Paid Twice has a great post about dealing with debt reduction ups and downs!

The Digerati Life has some thoughts about folks who have major debts. Interesting read.

Finance and Fat has some information about debit cards.

One of the first things I did when I adopted a lifestyle of Savvy Frugality was to take a close look at the money I was spending on recurring expenses, such as groceries, household bills, gasoline, etc. I figured if I could save even $20 a week by ensuring I was paying the absolute lowest price for these items, I would be well on my way to living below my means.

I started using what a lot of frugal zealots call a "price book". For me, it was a simple spiral bound notebook that I used to keep track of the prices of items like a head of lettuce, a can of coffee, cereal, bread, milk, etc. After writing down the price that I usually paid at my favorite grocery store, I kept my eye out for prices that would beat it. Eventually, I was able to identify the 2 or 3 stores that consistently had the lowest price on the items I normally bought. Often, it was a store brand, but sometimes it was an item I could get during a sale, or with a coupon.

This method can be used for non-grocery items as well. I kept track of my monthly phone usage, and then found a VOIP plan which consistently beat the cost of my land line phone. I even kept track of the price of socks and underwear. That may sound extreme, but I have been able to save hundreds of dollars each year by keeping track of the lowest price, and only shopping at the stores which offer them. Those "convenience" trips for bread, milk, eggs, etc. can be budget busters. I eventually got to the point where I had a lot of prices memorized, and didn't need the price book.

Now I'm about to revisit the price book. I have a couple of major ticket items at home which will need replacing within the next year. My refrigerator is a model I purchased used for $80. It still works, but it's becoming more difficult to regulate the temperature. The items in the back on the top shelf freeze if they are left there too long. I can't help but think this older model is also costing me more money on electricity. And, since we are moving, my wife wants to get a new refrigerator which has an ice and water dispenser.

This isn't an expense I take lightly. I'm going to start saving $50 from each paycheck, and keeping track of the price of refrigerators in my price book. Once I locate the store which consistently has the lowest price on the model I want, I will make a purchase when I have saved enough money for it. I won't be putting this on a credit card. I'll pay cash.

The other items we'll need in the next year or so are a TV set and a computer. They both work, currently. The TV is 11 years old, and it the tube-type model. My last TV, which was a similar model, lasted about that long before the picture tube went out, so I figure it is just a matter of time before it will need to be replaced. The computer is also several years old. It works, but doesn't have the features, disc space or memory newer programs require. I'll also be setting aside money for these items as well, and keeping track of the best prices in my price book. Between these three items, I should be able to save several hundred dollars by being patient, shopping around and buying when the time is right.

The price book method isn't for people who want instant gratification, but it can definitely save you a lot of money in the long run.

My house looks like a war zone. I'm in the process of packing for a move, and it's taking longer than I would like because of all of the papers I have to go through while packing my moving boxes. I'm not talking about newspapers. I'm talking about the boxes of financial files, unopened bills and assorted other crap that I apparently packed the last time I moved, and then never looked at again. Until now.

I found bills and unopened mail and other paperwork that was almost seven years old. Seven years! Shameful. No wonder my financial life was a shambles back then, something I detailed during a previous post about why I chose a life of Savvy Frugality.

As I looked through the boxes of papers, I also realized how much money all of this clutter has cost me over the years...in late fees, negative entries on my credit report, higher interest rates, etc. If I had tackled things head-on before I had even packed those papers (something I did start doing about five years ago), not only would my finances have been a lot different, but I wouldn't have all of these papers making my shredder work overtime tonight.

Some people choose to deal with their problems by ignoring them, hoping that someday things will work out. However, "someday" never comes, and things never just "work out". I know, because I used to live that life, as evidenced by the boxes of papers currently stacked in my living room. I had to take an active role in digging myself out of a bad situation. It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't fun, but in the end it was totally worth it. I was recently able to get an auto loan, and today I received a pre-approved offer for a platinum card...something that seemed impossible five years ago when I was staring homelessness in the face.

If you were like me, if you have "boxes of clutter" hiding in your house, it's time to dig them out, develop a plan and take a good, long, hard look at what your finances are REALLY like. I know, it's scary...but not as scary as what could happen if you continue to ignore the clutter in your life.

Clutter costs money.

With oil prices recently hitting $100 a barrel, and gasoline expected to average $4 a gallon for regular unleaded, driving a car is about to become a lot more expensive. As I filled the tank of my mini-van last night, and paid $53 for the privilege, I fondly thought back to the days when I didn't even own a car.

I'm not talking about my high school days, although I didn't own a car then, either. In fact, I didn't own my first car until I was 23 years old, and I was just fine without one. I had lived in Norfolk, Virginia, which has a great public transit system. Back then, a five mile trip on the bus from the Navy base to Military Circle Mall was 50 cents. If the place I needed to go to was within a mile or two, I walked. I walked a lot, and I was in great shape back then, too.

I lived in New York for awhile as well, and there are literally millions of people in the city who don't own cars. They either take a train, a bus, a taxi or they walk to get to where they need to go. It wasn't until I moved to Minneapolis that I needed to buy a car. They have buses there, too...but I needed a car for my job and to drive home on the weekends, which was 120 miles from Minneapolis. For the most part, in a major city, you probably can get by without a car.

Our cars represent a bit of independence, a "home away from home" and many people are reluctant to think about not having a car, or using theirs less. But, that's exactly what I have decided to do. I do need my mini-van so my wife can get to doctor appointments and for work-related activities, but we will be using it a lot less. After I spent $53 buying gas last night, I informed my wife we would be grouping our errands for the week into one day. Grocery shopping, doctor appointments, errands around town...they all need to be scheduled on the same day as much as possible, to cut down on individual trips all over town.

In about two weeks, I will move to a new home which is located about half a mile from my job. I will be walking to work most of the time, and riding my bike in the summer. The gas in the van can be used for errands and to take my son to school, which is located about 10 miles from where we will live.

In Oklahoma City, where I live, there are other options to driving as well. The city's transit system has a bus pass which allows people to ride the buses an unlimited number of times for $40 per month. That's less than what I paid for a tank of gas. I'm going to get one of these for my son, so he can take the bus from school to his job. It will save me plenty of money in the long run. A tank of gas currently lasts me about five days. Since a tank of gas costs about $50, well...you can do the math. I'd rather not continue to pay $300 a month for gasoline.

With gas prices on the rise, now is the time to develop alternative transportation plans. If you can't give up your car altogether through public transit, carpooling, walking or bicycling, you can at least use some or all of these methods to CUT BACK on your reliance on your car. It's not as convenient, but it will save money...and you might even get into shape while you're at it.

As I have mentioned here before, I wear reading glasses. They were recommended to me by my eye doctor. However, I did NOT buy my reading glasses from the eye doctor. I spent $4 at Dollar General for 1.25 magnification reading glasses. I showed them to my eye doctor, who told me that he could get me nicer frames and they would be covered by insurance, but that the lenses were BASICALLY THE EXACT SAME THING HE SELLS, although for a lot more money. I told him I would stick with the $4.

Well, I have moved up in the world. I have a much nicer pair of reading glasses which I purchased this week from CVS for the princely sum of...$22. The reading glasses from the eye doctor's office would have cost me $150.

But what if you need prescription eyeglasses, but not the big bill which comes with them? You can't exactly buy those at Dollar General...or any other dollar store. But you can buy them at Zenni Optical.

Zenni Optical is an online seller of prescription eyeglasses with prices started at $8. That's right, $8. All you need is the prescription from your eye doctor or optometrist (they must give it to you if you ask, you are not required to buy glasses at their office). Fill out the online form using the information from your prescription, pick your frames, and your glasses will be shipped to you. Zenni even offers UV and scratch-resistant coatings, which would cost you big bucks at the eye doctor's office. There are more expensive glasses on the site, but I didn't see anything over $46, and they look comparable to the glasses I've seen at eyeglass stores in the mall.

If you shop around, you CAN find good deals on necessities like eyeglasses!

Disclaimer: Savvy Frugality has no direct business relationship with Zenni Optical. This is NOT a paid review for Zenni Optical. I just like to note services like this which can save people a lot of money.

If you unplugged your cable or satellite TV service and went with the good ol' rabbit ears for free TV reception, you may be in for a rude awakening in about a year. Full power TV stations currently broadcasting in analog will make the switch to digital television broadcasting on February 17, 2009.

What this means is this: if your TV gets reception using an antenna, that will come to an end next February...unless you buy a converter box. The converter box will cost about $50 to $70, and it will work with your antenna. You'll still need that. If you do use cable or satellite, you don't need the converter box.

The government-run web site dtv2009.gov is offering a coupon worth a $40 discount off the cost of the converter box. There is a two-coupon limit per household, so you'll want to request those as soon as possible if you're using antenna reception for your television at home.

If you live near the Canadian or Mexican border and get most of your TV reception from those countries, this conversion to digital won't be such a big deal because they are not switching to digital TV broadcasting yet. But, if you get most of your reception from stations in the U.S. of A, you'll need the box...unless you watch all of your TV shows online.

Plan ahead, and your conversion to digital TV can be both painless and cheaper!

Playing The Percentages

Posted by T | 8:11 PM | 0 comments »

I hate the word "budget". Yes, I know having a spending plan is important, but calling it a "budget" automatically implies that you are depriving yourself of something...sort of like the word "diet". It is far better to have a "spending plan" or a "savings plan" rather than a budget. Savvy Frugality is not about living without things that make your life comfortable. It is about living a good life with the resources you have.

But, what if you are struggling to make ends meet NOW? You say "but, I don't have any money left over after paying bills to save or invest for my retirement". What this really means is you either need to:

A) Make more money,
B) Spend less money, or
C) Both

Where do you start? By allotting a certain percentage of your income to each category of your spending plan, such as rent (mortgage), food, auto, insurance, etc. There are a number of resources online where you can find budget...er, spending plans...with the percentages already built in. I like to give a certain amount of money to charity each year. Other people tithe their money to a church (I do both, but split the money between the two). Therefore, I use the Spending Plan Calculator I found at Crown Financial Ministries. For purposes of this demonstration, I'm going to use an annual salary of $45,000 as a hypothetical situation. Statistics show that half of all Americans earn about $46,000 or less. However, Middle Class America donates a greater percentage of its income to charities than other income classes. According to the Crown Financial Services calculator, the spending plan looks like this:

Gross Income: $
Tithe $
Tax $

Printer Friendly Version
Need More Help?

About the Online Budget Guide:
With increasing technology on the Internet today, Crown wishes to take advantage of this technology to help bring information regarding biblical stewardship to the Internet audience. The online budget guide is only a guide. We realize that all families do not fit the same criteria.

Instructions:

  1. Input your pre-tax /pre-giving income into the box labeled "Gross Income."
  2. Input your giving.
  3. Input your taxes.
  4. Click the Submit button.
  5. You will receive the results on another page.

Results:
You will see your income listed at the top with four columns below. The Category column will list the 12 to 14 sections that Crown recommends. Next, you will notice a Suggested Percentage column, which gives a recommended percentage for the given category section. Next is the yearly allotment for the category. Finally, the monthly allotment is given next.

If you wish to input another income figure or choose another family scenario, click your browsers Back button or the Start Another Budget button.;

Category Suggested Percentage Annual Amount Monthly Amount
Net Spendable:Monies remaining after all taxes and charitable giving are paid.

$33,500.00

$2,791.67

Housing:This expense should include mortgage, insurance, gas, electricity, maintenance, and phone. 36 % 12,060.00 1,005.00
Food: This expense includes your basic grocery list. Do not include eating out in this category. 12 % 4,020.00 335.00
Auto:This expense includes auto payment, insurance, maintenance, and replacement. 12 % 4,020.00 335.00
Insurance:Life, health, and other. 5 % 1,675.00 139.58
Debt:This category, if needed, should not be overlooked. Getting debt eliminated is a very important goal of any budget. 5 % 1,675.00 139.58
Ent/ Rec:Eating-out, vacations, and activities should be included. 6 % 2,010.00 167.50
Clothing:Do not overlook this category. Many persons do not budget for this category. The minimum amount should be at least $10 a month for each family member. 5 % 1,675.00 139.58
Savings:A wise option. Regardless of the amount, a regular savings plan is crucial. Even if it is only $5 or $10 per month. 5 % 1,675.00 139.58
Med/Dental:Dentist, physician. 4 % 1,340.00 111.67
Misc:This category is generally for items that do not fit any other category. This category can be the most dangerous as far as budget busting if not kept under control. 5 % 1,675.00 139.58
School/Childcare*:Tuition, day care, and related expense. This category is added as a guide only. If you have this expense, the percentage shown must be deducted from other budget categories.

The School/Childcare category is added as a guide only. If you have this expense, the percentage shown must be deducted from other budget categories. Remember, all percentages must add up to 100 percent.
6 % 2,010.00 167.50
Investments:Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other. 5 % 1,675.00 139.58

* The School/Childcare category is added as a guide only. If you have this expense, the percentage shown must be deducted from other budget categories. Remember, all percentages must add up to 100 percent.


Of course, your own particular situation might prevent you from strictly following this plan. You will have to adjust the percentages to fit your particular situation, but those percentages MUST total 100 percent. This will at least serve as a starting point or a guide for your spending plan. My own spending plan is slightly different from this one. In my household our medical bills are higher than most because my wife is diabetic and my wife, myself and our two children all take prescription medications. Also, this spending plan allots 36 percent of monthly income to housing. Personally, I suggest trying to keep that number to no more than 30 percent. Also, I prefer to increase my savings and debt payments to 10 percent each, rather than the 5 percent suggested by Crown. Using frugal living principles, you can save money in other areas to increase your savings and debt payments. Hopefully, you do not have outstanding debt, but if you do, being able to increase spending in other areas of your life will serve as incentive to eliminate that debt.

Other organizations also have their own spending plans, but they are very similar to this one, with the exception of the tithing category. If a financial disaster hits your household, such as a job loss, hopefully you have emergency savings in place to temporarily absorb the loss of income, and you can adjust all of these spending categories accordingly.

You can adjust the calculator at Crown Financial Ministries to fit your own income, and go from there, but at least it is a starting point, and we all have to start somewhere.

*Disclaimer: Savvy Frugality has no direct business affiliation with Crown Financial Ministries, and this article is NOT a paid review. I just happen to like their spending plan calculator.

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