Saturday, January 29, 2011

Step two - cutting back on things I can control

Ok, so when it comes to a household budget, there are a few immovable components that you will likely not have an impact on decreasing even if you want to: rent, utilities, insurance, etc. But there are other things you can change - groceries, cell phone, television, internet, etc. Last week I talked about getting our cell phone to a manageable place, and this week I'm going to tap into a part of the grocery budget that I have definitely been overspending on: cleaning supplies.

I consider myself to be a relatively clean person. As much as I hate to admit it, I have a little panic attack when people come over and my house isn't clean. There is just something about being in a clean house that helps me to clear my mind. The opposite is also true.

I really love to cook, but if I go into the kitchen to cook and it is dirty, I have to clean it before I cook anything. So by the time I clean the kitchen, I have no more desire to cook anything because THE KITCHEN WILL BE DIRTY AGAIN. It's a dreaded cycle.

So anyway, I will admit right away that I watch television and I will buy into the latest cleaning crazes. ShamWow? Awesome. Kaboom? Of course. OxyClean? Brilliant! I see these things that wipe right through limescale, grease, soap scum, and I am enamored. I truly desire to try one of those shower things that apparently keeps your shower clean by spraying it periodically, except it makes me think of having a robot in my shower and that is something I think would genuinely freak me out. Have I always indulged on these urges? No. But do I know that I am a sucker? Yes.

So with that in mind and also my recent goals about saving money, I spent some time doing some research. I found another great blog about saving money that offers some more practical suggestions and how-tos than "And Then She Saved" (although I really like her, so I will likely keep reading hers): What drew me to his blog was a recipe for Homemade Laundry Detergent, which I was all gung ho about trying. But the skeptic in me was curious about the numbers.

He says that a person can spend on average $60-$70 a year on laundry detergent alone. So what do I do? I went through my grocery receipts from the last year and my number was $74.16! I know in the grand scheme of things that is not a ton of money, but it got me thinking about other things I shell out that kind of cash for that I know I could do without or reduce. My largest vices included:
  • Clorox wipes: $65
  • Swiffer dusters, floor pads (wet and dry): $85
  • Paper plates: $36

For me, the worst part of all of that is all of those are things I eventually THROW AWAY. I might as well have taken that $186 and just flushed it down the toilet. I am a product of American consumerism and convenience. Why should I go through the trouble of washing dishes when I have paper plates? Why should I just use a broom and a mop like in the olden days? Why should I just use a multi-purpose cleaner when I can clean something and just throw away this handy dandy wipe? Well the simple answer is because I am lazy. But a better answer is that as a citizen of the world, I should be doing my part to help the environment. I would also like to save a few pesos.

So I continued to look on the internet for helpful hints about this, and let me tell you it is an overwhelming place out there. Some websites seem helpful at first, but later they never quite get to the nitty gritty (like how much white vinegar and water will clean anything?). What did I do next? I went to the library of course!

Yea I know there are those of you out there who are exclusively internet information-o-holics, but every once in a while I like to take a break from my mindless searching and actually pick up a book. This time the effort was worth it. I found this little gem: Green Clean: The Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home . I only get to keep it for a few weeks, but I know I will be making copies of the recipes chapter and trying some of them out. Although their main focus is on the environment, I would say that majority of their solutions also come with a much smaller price tag than my usual purchases.

So here are the things I am willing to give up/ change:
  • No more paper plates! Sorry hubby, looks like we will be washing more dishes =(
  • Homemade laundry detergent. I may try a few recipes and see which one I like. Stay tuned for this =)
  • Floors - I have a perfectly good broom and even an awesome steam cleaner I bought on ebay that I don't use enough. Since it only uses water to clean, there is a nearly $60 savings right there!
  • No more Clorox wipes, I will be investigating new recipes for multi-purpose cleaners made with things like white vinegar.
So I know this is all very exciting too all of you (smell the sarcasm) and I hate to leave you in suspense about how this whole transition will go. But, as a wise man once said, "Good things come to those who wait..."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Learning Karate or: How I Figured Out How to Try Something New and Overcome Timidity

Like my title, a -la Dr. Strangelove? I do. Anyways...So around last February, my husband came home and said "I'm going to start taking karate!" At first I was little surprised, but then remembered that a coworker of his was a black belt. Duh. So the story is that their company allowed his coworker to start teaching classes in an empty floor in their building. I'm sure it was something to do with teamwork, discipline, etc. At any rate, Jennings was super excited. So he went on his merry way and bought a gi and practiced katas in the back yard. After a month or two, we went to see a tournament, and by the time the next tournament came around he was ready to compete in one. All this time he kept encouraging me to come to class too. "You should go," "It's awesome!" is all I heard.

I was skeptical that karate would be for me. Also with work and school, I was feeling like there was no way to squeeze in another activity. But then I saw how much he succeeded and enjoyed it. I realized it had been a long time since I had done a physical activity and really enjoyed it. Probably high school.

Being in the colorguard was a pretty awesome thing, and before that dance classes were something to look forward to. There is something about being in a group and doing things together that is rewarding in a different way than writing a good article or making a good grade. Those things seem so isolated, but being part of a group is a rare and good thing.

So finally, as last semester slowed down, I started going to karate class. At first I was a little nervous about trying something new in front of people I barely knew. But that fear quickly faded when I saw how encouraging everyone was. There was no judgment when I go things wrong, only patience. So I have stuck with the karate thing since late November, and I am proud to say that - pending official testing results - I will be a yellow belt!

Also, this past weekend, Jennings and I went down to Fort Walton Beach for a karate winter camp. The main part of the weekend was a workout on the beach (it was 45 degrees outside!) and then we all had to get into the ice cold Gulf of Mexico for a few minutes and do some moves. Originally I was completely dreading this whole experience, but afterward I realized that it was worth it. It was worth it for me to try something I was afraid of and actually get through it.

Here is a shot of all of us in the water. Can you find us?

All in all, the experience was worth it for me. Also it makes regular karate class seem not so bad.

Are things that you have been afraid of trying that you ended up doing? Tell me about in the comments section =)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Step One - getting the cell phone bill under control

So Friday night, Jennings and I spent almost our whole evening at the AT&T store. We had already discussed making some changes to our cell phone plan, but when we went there last week to ask some questions we decided to wait a little while before we made any changes.

Well all of that changed when my hubby accidentally dropped his iphone and got it slammed in his car door. It was quite a traumatic event for him. So we knew we had to get him a new phone, and it was time for me to investigate other options also.

I had a Blackberry, and apparently if you have smart phone you are required to have a data package - lame! I know that is the whole draw of getting a smart phone, and two years ago I thought I needed that. Well times have changed, and I told the salesman I wanted to DOWNGRADE.

As I was explaining it to him, I almost felt like the other people in the room were turning their heads in my direction, all the chatter coming to a stop as they stared at me in disbelief - downgrade?! Who would ever want to do such a thing? Well, the simple answer is - me!

So fortunately, the sales guy helping us was actually a really nice and knowledgeable person. He helped us save some money and even recommended a good non-smart phone to me. It's a new, up and coming brand, Pantech, and this model has a touch screen like a smart phone, but also a full keyboard. It's also just as thin as the iphone4! So we both bit the bullet and bought new phones, but the end goal is saving on our monthly bill. I will have to get back to you with the results!

Are there any things you are cutting back on to save a buck these days? Leave them in the comments section!

Friday, January 21, 2011

It's official, according to the internet

So most you know that I recently started a new job at UA. For the last two years I had been working at the School of Music in sort an office job with only a choice few opportunities to use my knowledge and skills as a writer/photographer. It was a fun ride, but something needed to change.

So anyway, I heard about a communications position that opened up with the Dean's Office for the College of Arts and Sciences. I checked out the job listing in October and knew I had to go for it. For October and November, I didn't hear anything about the job. I assumed that someone else had gotten the position, and I was already to resign myself to another few years working in Music Services. But lo and behold, the week after classes were over, I get a phone call asking me for an interview. I later learned that there were 130 applicants for the job, and they were only interviewing seven people. Yikes!

If you know me at all, you know that I get nervous/anxious over just about anything, and especially anything that has to do with my own personal abilities. I spent most of Christmas in disbelief that I actually got the job. I was excited to tell people, but I was really unable to fully express to them how big of a deal it was for me. Also, I think I tend to hold back when I know that others are still struggling to find jobs. The state of this economy has left many of my dear friends in a kind of job limbo, and I know all too well how tough that is - I went through it myself when we moved from Demopolis to Tuscaloosa in 2008.

The thing about getting a job is, it is one of few times that you willingly and knowingly put yourself up for scrutiny. You even prepare an entire page (or more) of information for people to judge you on. If you're like me, you have spent years on a path of success, doing every little thing to make that piece of paper stand out from all the others. Also if you are like me, job hunting is the only time you are willing to put yourself out there for all to see and pick apart.

I guess I say all of this to say that although it is tough to put yourself out there, sometimes it is worth the risk. Two years ago, I was happy to have any job. But now, I dared to looked outside of my safety net and go for something I really wanted. I would encourage all of you out there to do the same.

So if you are ever bored and want to know what is going on in UA's College of Arts & Sciences, then head on over to the UA News site and look me up. You may just get to read something awesome like this (totally sarcasm):

Also, here I am on the A&S website - it's official!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And Then She Saved

So recently I was following a link on CNN, which led to my usual browsing afterward and they featured a blogger named Anna Newell Jones of And Then She Saved. She is a young person, like myself, who works a decent job and is married, but still finds herself in debt from consumer credit cards and student loans. She spent a whole year on a self-imposed spending fast and she was able to pay down $17,000 of her debt. Incredible, right?

So over the next week or so I obsessively read all 70 something pages of her blog from the last year. A little much, I know. But I was so drawn into her story. After her first three months, I was read to do my own spending fast. Then I got my first paycheck of the year, and realized I already put the majority of my salary toward debt payment, so how in the world was I going to save money?

Well, there are a few things that really stood out for me from her blog that I will most likely consider using and doing without actually doing a complete and total spending fast. Here are the elements I am most likely to try:

  • Cut down on eating out. This one fits in especially well with my next plan - losing weight!
  • When grocery shopping, buy store brands - there is almost never, if any, difference between these and the fancy brands
  • When planning meals, plan around items I already have in the pantry.
  • Spend less on cleaning supplies - I realized at the store the other day that I would have spent nearly $9 on those Swiffer duster refill things. Obviously, that is too damn much money to spend on something that I am just going to throw away. So instead I bought a can of hypoallergenic dusting stuff that was $5 and will last me much longer. In the future I plan to investigate homemade cleaners for laundry, etc.
  • Cutting down on costs like cell phone. I have a Blackberry with the Internet, but I am at a computer all day for work, so why should I pay for Internet on my phone? I have started to look into this, but it is apparently more complicated than I thought it would be. More on that later.
So that's just a start on some things I would like to try from And Then She Saved. Only time will tell how they will pan out for me!

Back to the Blogosphere

It is a new year, and as such, I am buying into the typical "make resolutions, make yourself better" thing that has been going around, and so what do I do? I decide to create a personal blog. For those of you that know me, you know that I do have a blog for my home business, but there are lots of things I am doing, thinking, creating that don't necessarily belong there, so I decided I needed a new blog. Also, I jumped on the blogging craze before we even knew what the blogging craze was (If you are really bored, you can go check out how angsty I was on Livejournal when I was in high school. I just found this thing again - it's a hilarious read, really.) and after several years of not doing it, I find myself wanting to be a part of that again. Also, this will be my inaugural run with Blogger, to see if I want to switch Blue Bird Baskets over from Wordpress. Yay!

So here it is, for all to see. And, if you'd like to read it from time to time, feel free to jump in. Hope to see you real soon!