Monday, August 8, 2016

Frugal Hits and Misses: Am I Doing My Job?

This starts a monthly feature that makes me PROVE I'm doing what I urge you do:
      Live frugally! 

For us, it's out of necessity. The Brick's pension rings in right around $1500, including paying for incredibly expensive health insurance. We intend to try to do something about that this month. We are tired of  paying WAY too much for health insurance that only starts covering when we've shelled out $12,000 from our own pockets first. (Yes, you read that right. 12,000 smackeroos. When the Brick's hospital expenses came due, the hospital rep said, "You still owe this much...and you actually have insurance?")
    Brickworks, my business, has paid for many an extra bill -- but I am finding myself wanting to take fewer gigs, and do more stuff here at home. Maybe it's called 'needing a rest.' (Last year was rough.) Maybe it's 'retirement.' (The Brick started his retirement about a year ago, so I'd be in good company.) Maybe it's wanting to try things and go places I haven't been able to. I'm not sure. I just know that the idea of judging, teaching and appraising regularly for the next twenty years is not an appealing one. After all, I've been doing this since 1984 -- 32 years and counting.

So, if you're living on a $2000-or-more budget -- and normally I would think that was modest -- it's still hundreds of dollars more than what we've got to spend every month.

That's the reality. But there are positive sides to this, as well:

     *We can go anywhere we like, live where we want -- and the pension still comes in.
     *The Brick has the freedom to indulge in projects he likes, and turn down the ones he isn't interested in. 
     *We sleep in when we want to, and stay up when we want to. (Unless I have an appraisal appointment or gig...or we have another commitment.) This is wonderful for the writer's side of my life -- I don't have to go to bed, if the creative juices are flowing. He doesn't, either.
     *I suddenly have a partner who has more time to help out. The Brick cooks Monday suppers now. He vacuums. (I hate vacuuming.) He runs interference on how-to jobs, vet appointments and car repairs. 
     *Our house is paid off. I'm grateful now for the many months we put a little extra toward retiring the mortgage. It would have been almost impossible for us to live now, without this.

We have extra savings, thanks to several 401(k) plans. Engineers often have this option, including matching funds -- but it stops when their five-year contract runs out, and everybody gets laid off. That's not uncommon for engineers working for government contracts, by the way. And here in the Denver, CO area, it happens a lot.
     So there's money we could use -- but both of us want very much to keep that for 'later.' Can we live on just what we're making now?
     So far, in spite of some near-scares (and God's grace), we are. 

So what helped (and hurt) this past month or so?

*When Daughter #2 and her partner went to Michigan to tell family about their engagement...we didn't go. (We were supposed to, but the extra funds for gas just weren't there. It was hard to say 'no.')

*We picked berries and ate eggs. Our raspberries provided several bowls of fruit, and the chickens gave us enough to sell three dozen eggs a week, as well as for our own use. The egg sales more than paid for the chickens' feed; the chickies also took care of leftovers or wilting vegetables.
     The green beans are just starting to bear -- so those go on the menu next. I love fresh green beans.



*We were careful on food purchases. Basically, if it wasn't on sale -- I didn't buy it. 
    (By the way, just found an interesting series by The Prudent Homemaker on eating for 40 cents a day, from snacks to meals. Her suggestions don't add up to 40 cents in my book, but they're helpful, anyways.)

*We ate at home. A lot. Honestly, I didn't mind that much. Even when we ate out, it was $5.95 Little Caesar's Pizzas, or Red Robin, from gift cards we'd earned via Swagbucks. If you're not in this program, you really should -- we earn at least a hundred dollars each year in Amazon and restaurant gift cards this way. Go here for more.

*Birthdays were already covered. As mentioned, August -- especially early in the month -- is tough. But I'd purchased gifts earlier in the year, and bought groceries for birthday cakes and general celebrations. (I bought flowers discounted, too.) The Mama's natal gifts are modest this year -- but I'll be sending a whole line of birthday cards, instead of just one. (Purchased for 25 cents each, on half-price day at the local thrift shop, by the way.) She'll get cards, all right -- from us, dogs Charley and Abby, the chickens, etc. etc.
      And she'll love it.






*No big doctor visits. Primarily for the Brick. A root canal for me that dental insurance covered some of, at least. (sigh)

*We stopped spending. June and July's bills were horrendous, thanks to car repairs, travel, renewing our passports and birthday purchases. (Both girlies are August babies, as is The Mama.) Since our credit card payments come due in the beginning of each month, then we generally held off making purchases until the next billing cycle had started. (We pay our credit cards off each month -- without fail. No matter what.)
      That made August's bills half the amount of the previous month's. (Whew.)
      Now if we can do the same in August, so September is easier...

*I had extra income from appraising. In fact, quite a bit of extra work. Normally I do very little during the summer months. Was this a God thing, to help cover bills? Sure seems like it.

*We made a mistake -- but were able to fix it. Mostly. A math error contributed to four checks bouncing in a single day this month. And at our local credit union, that means 4 x $30 penalties. Fortunately, we were able to point out that the first 'bounce' came because the largest bill was paid first -- and the succeeding penalties gobbled up money that could have kept nearly all of the others from bouncing.
     Also, we emphasized that this was unusual, we were good customers (we are), and the money was replaced promptly. (Which it was.) The manager saw it our way, and cancelled three of the four penalties. (Whew.)

     Lesson learned: It doesn't hurt to ask. Politely.

*We didn't get a lot of extra work done. Too much time was spent lazing around on the internet, watching movies and just hanging out and talking to each other.
     I should feel guilty about this. The basement especially should have been cleared away.

     But I don't.






Goals for this month:

*Keep food expenses to a bare minimum. Other than the birthday celebrations, probably not going out to eat much. It's okay -- our freezer is full. The garden is producing. I can handle it.
     This will include a month-end trip to Palisade, for several bushels of peaches. We buy them at roughly a quarter of the price locally, eat all we can, and freeze some for winter's use. (Several friends and neighbors get cheap peaches, as well.)
      But we also get to go camping this way. Nice.

*Finish the certification requirements for my personal property appraising membership in ASA. (American Society of Appraisers) My experience is still there. So is the certification from AQS. (American Quilter's Society) I have found, though, that I've been doing a lot more than just quilts for a decade now. It's time to capitalize on that.

*Give at least ten hours to organizing and cleaning out the basement area. If we're going to put the house on the market in the spring, I need to get cracking on this.

*Find out if the neighbor down the street is going to use those luscious-looking apples on the tree in her front yard. They're small. She didn't last year. Maybe I'll luck out.

*Put at least five items up for sale on Ebay or Craigslist. Ditto.

*Beef up our emergency fund. The math mistake cleared that out, sadly. (On the other hand, thank God we had an emergency fund.) I have a large gig coming up, judging and appraising for the Cheyenne Heritage Quilters, that will help. So should any sales. (Possibly a garage sale the end of this month, too.)

Life goes on.












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