Thursday, July 31, 2008

Black Hole Hobbies

At what point does someone who is involved with say, oh, I don't know... scrapbooking.... say, "I have enough stuff," and mean it?

I'm beginning to feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that's available. And oh, I long for it! I look forward to each new month and the little bit of money I get to spend on myself and I count the days.

But at what point does this black hole hobby finally stop sucking on my finances? There are people with far less than I have who create beautiful layouts and cards and are quite happy. There are people with far more than I have who are equally happy. I'm sure there are those with the exact amount who are, also, very happy.

So why am I not?

I'm going to be seriously examining my motives over the next few weeks and try to figure out what it is about "new stuff" that is creating this craze. I've been working with what I have and making some really cool thing. I challenged myself to do so. And I'm finding I have plenty... but I still want more.

Stay tuned for more about my black hole hobby and how I'm going to carve a cork large enough to plug it up.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Budgeting Forward

Yesterday we discovered how to do something new with our budget. It's almost August and we needed diapers, formula, and baby wipes (oh my!). We found some deals at Target and ended up spending just over $100.00. This is what we got:

- Two extra-large boxes of Huggies size 3 on clearance. This will last us the month, if not longer.
- One large box of sensitive wipes. Again, this should last us through August.
- Two cans of "bonus size" formula that includes 20% more formula "free". Same price as we normally pay. This is two weeks worth for our seven-month old.

Here is what we did:
- Took one can of formula out of this week's food budget.
- Took the other can of formula out of next week's food budget.
- Subtracted remaining amount from remaining July household budget.
- Carried remainder forward to August's household budget.

I don't like to "borrow" from money that is in the budget but not funded yet, however we made an exception this one time. I was very proud of myself for figuring out what should come out of where and how to do it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Due in August: Utility Bills

Our efforts (assisted with the Kill-A-Watt device) to reduce our utility bills yielded the following:
  • A $45 reduction in electricity.
  • A $19 reduction in water/sewer.
We reduced our bills by over $60.00 for this past reading. I'd say that was well worth the time, effort, and $20 for the Kill-A-Watt device!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Garage Sales and I (heart) My Car

I found several toys for the baby this weekend at garage sales. One is a shape-sorter. It's a simple tube with a cap that has three shapes and a number of colorful plastic shapes to go through the cap. I think everyone has seen a variation of this at some point or another. Fifty cents. Another is an interlocking floor puzzle--not one of the great big ones--with characters on it. Buck-fifty.

I found a few other toys that I was interested in and luckily I spoke up, "do these work?" I did not bring batteries with me and so could not test them. They had an extra set and tested both. Unfortunately neither worked. They admitted that they tend to leave batteries in things for too long.

My mother called while we were out. She said she things that we should get a dresser for the baby's clothes and that she'd like to buy it for us if we found one. The only catch was that it had to be real wood. I thanked her and we looked at each garage sale. Finally we came across one that had a dresser. It was perfectly sized for a little girl, was made out of real wood, and was only $20! I asked, "will you take $15?" and to my surprise they agreed. The dresser is worth far more but it was a warehouse filled with things five different households had donated to raise funds for a charity. Some of the things had prices that were hugely inflated and some were a little low. I got a fabulous deal!

I didn't think it was possible to love my new car anymore than I already did. We managed to get the baby (in car seat), full-size stroller, diaper bag, garage sale loot, and the dresser in the back of my PT Cruiser. AND we were still able to fit in it ourselves! We knew the seats folded but I didn't know that they could also be moved out of the way. Very, very cool. (The only concession was that I had to drive; hubby was too squished with the car seat behind the driver's seat.)

A correction/apology

I have since changed my mind about said friends decision to buy pants simply because she was soaked. I did not realize that she needed pants for work and that she found two very nice pairs of khakis on sale that fit her in a flattering manner.

I do, however, have issues with the two rings, earrings, and the watch she bought. (She bought the watch because it's a "$55 watch that was only $20! And then they gave me a scratch-off card because I used my store card and I thought 'what the heck'.") Granted, the jewelry was only about $5 a piece, but that's an extra $35 on top of the two pairs of pants.

But, it's her life. I see some of the mistakes that we've made in the past few years and I see a few things she does and realize we're doing the exact same thing. She's such a good friend and sometimes a good mirror. I wouldn't want to be without her friendship.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Swap Bot

I used to love a website called Basically someone would create a project and people all over the US would sign up and take part. One of them was a wolf book. I sent a blank journal to the first person on the list. She added something wolfie to it and mailed it to the next person. Eventually I got the book back and it was all decked out. I worked on many projects and created many. There were also swaps where one person would trade something with another. It was great fun.

I've now got quite a pile of scrapbooking and cardmaking loot. I want more, of course. That's the nature of the beast. I'm trying to make up for my indiscretions earlier in the month and found a website called Swap Bot. Basically it's a website where people sign up to swap things with each other. Some are artist trading card swaps, others are embellishment swaps, and some call for swapping handmade items.

I've signed up for a few. For the cost of postage I can let go of some of the items I had purchased and either wasn't that impressed with, have scraps leftover that I can't think of a use for, or am simply bored with. In return I get an envelope full of things that are new to me! We'll see how it goes.

An unwise pair of pants.

It's so easy to judge the actions of a friend, and that's just what I'm going to do here. I've already told her what I thought of her decision, so she knows everything I'm going to say in this post.

My friend went to Orlando, which is about a three hour drive in bad traffic. She got caught in the rain shortly before it was time to come home. Soaked, she ran to her car and took off her shirt/bra in favor of a sweater that she keeps in there. (I'm assuming nobody was flashed in the making of this story.) She was giving me an update, by phone, when she said, "Oh good! There's a Kohl's right next to the campus. I've got my Kohl's charge card. I'm going to stop and buy a pair of pants so I don't have to drive home in wet ones."

She had also commented that there was another store, at chain at which she works in our town, right next door. "Why don't you just run in to your store, get your employee discount, and buy a really cheap pair of shorts or something." She basically said that she didn't have the money to buy a pair of pants from her place but she "could afford it" if she put it on her charge card.

I've made the drive in soaked clothing before. I went to Orlando for college and drove home almost every weekend. (At the time gas was less than a dollar a gallon!) Being Florida, sometimes you get soaked, ya know? Also being Florida, however, I did not freeze to death nor even get hypothermia.

Since I can't make choices for anyone else, all I can do is learn from the choices they make and hope to not repeat the same mistakes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

This month...

I fell off the wagon this month. Only a little bit. I think my hip might be a little bruised, but other than that I managed to crawl my way back on and am now strapped down and clinging for dear life.

I read somewhere recently that when you buy stuff the result is that you want to buy more stuff. It's not something I've ever really thought about. This month, however, made me realize that this is completely and totally true for me.

Most months I am content with my $50 spending money. I can throw it around however I'd like. I use coupons and sales and the like to extend this money and usually get about $60-$80 worth of items for it. What I can't buy I eagerly place on my "want" list and look forward to my next envelope of cash like a kid waiting for Christmas.

This month, however...

I had some cash laying around that was from things I had sold. I mentioned my success with ebay and craigslist last month some time, I believe. Additionally the amount was the same as what I owed myself for spending money. I figured it saved me a trip to the bank. My favorite scrapbook store was having a 40% off sale. This is a place that doesn't do coupons or have weekly specials or anything like that. Two or three times a year--usually New Year's Day and 4th of July--they open their doors and it's first-come first-buy-out-the-store. I mean, first-come, first-served. It's hard to resist.

The mental process of having cash that was not specifically withdrawn for a purpose was interesting. I didn't really treat it like I treated my usual spending money. It didn't seem so important that it last throughout the month or that I had already earmarked a certain amount for something else. I spent the entire wad. All of it. In fact, I had to run out to the car for the $5 I had stashed from a few months ago. (I keep $5-$10 hidden in my car for "just in case".)

I was gleeful as I came home. I got so much stuff! Stuff I had been wanting for ages. Stuff I had drooled over and fantasized about. Really cool stuff.

Well, I somehow convinced myself--and I am shamed to admit this--that since it wasn't money I had pulled out for my spending money that it didn't really "count" as my spending money.

I decided that since I had sold my stuff and we had enough to pay the bills last month that I should be able to spend the money on whatever I wanted. After all, I sold MY STUFF to get that money. I put the work and effort into it. I shipped the items or arranged times with buyers. Therefore that money, leftover from our needs, should be mine, right?

I asked hubby about it and he said that it should absolutely be mine. After all, I did all the work, I sold things I had owned, and therefore as long as the bills were paid and our debt and savings goals were met for the month, have fun and good job and I'm proud of you and all the things that supportive hubbies say.

Woohoo! That meant I still had fifty bucks to spend!

Part of what I purchased at the scrapbooking store were Tim Holtz's alcohol inks. I had read about them and various techniques and had yearned to try them out. The day I bought them I came home and the first thing I did was a small project to test them out. Not only are they as cool as I had read about, they completely surpassed my expectations. I am in love with them. I would probably marry them if I could. Fabulous stuff.

So, what did I do? The week following the fourth I drove back to the scrapbook store and bought all the colors they had in stock that I hadn't already grabbed on Saturday. At full price. (No big deal, actually, since their prices are lower than even what I could find online for this particular item, so I till saved about $0.60/each on them.)

Then, since I had a particular project in mine, I headed to Michael's to get the other items I "needed" for this project. And a few of them were a little more expensive than I had anticipated.

I ended up spending my $50 cash PLUS about ten dollars more.

But that's okay because I "had" to have these items to finish a project I started and isn't it more important to finish something that you start--something which had a deadline of Wednesday--than to have yet another thing sitting around waiting and...

Do you see where I'm going with this?

My stamp club met the second Friday and I was more than a little upset with myself. I have a commitment to spend $15 (plus tax and shipping) each month and in exchange I get 2-3 techniques and projects a month plus food while I'm there for free. Stamp club is one of the reasons why my artwork has improved so dramatically and it's really a sanity saver to be able to get out of the house without the kid (most months, sometimes I do bring her with like I did this month) and have some adult conversation and a project to work on at someone else's house.

But Yipes!!! I had to write a check.

So total for the month I've spent $40 more than I was allotted and I'm still having to hold myself back from running out the door. After all there are several other items that I've wanted for a really long time and don't I deserve them? And on top of that I already blew my budget so why not just really go for it and spend more money... we can technically absorb most of it and so what if we're a little short...

These are what the voices in my head are telling me.

I've had days on diets that were like this. You know what I mean; you eat one piece of chocolate more than you meant to and suddenly the whole box is gone. Plus the chips. Plus a Starbucks on your way home from errands because you might as well. It's awful!

So this post, while disjointed and a little psychotic, is my way of being accountable. It's my way of admitting what I've done and putting it out there. I don't know if this might serve as a warning post or a "you're not the only one" post, but I do hope it's somewhat helpful to someone else. Learn from my mistakes!

How not to spend a zillion dollars on craft supplies

Okay, the title of the article is misleading. Frankly scrapbooking and cardmaking and all those great hobbies are probably the worst ones to get into when you're trying to save money and build wealth. Why? Because something new and sparkly is always coming out and it's so hard to resist! There are many new techniques that are just screaming your name. Projects made by others make you say, "wow, I never thought of that--I have to try it!"

So the title of this post should probably be more along the lines of, "Why organization will save you money on your craft stuff."

Here is a short quiz. If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, chances are you need to reorganize your crafting space:

1) I sometimes forget what I actually have and am surprised when I go through my stash.

2) I've purchased more than one of an item because I could not find the first one or forgot I had one already.

3) I find it hard to see what supplies I have so I use the same small section over and over and get bored.

4) My crafts have gotten things spilled on them, wrinkled, or otherwise damaged because of the way they are stored.

I'm sure I could come up with more, but you get the idea.

I went to the dollar store yesterday and purchased some clear shoeboxes with lids and other containers to help me reorganize my crafting area. Until yesterday I was mostly using little boxes that I got on clearance at Michaels for about ten cents each. They are very colorful and pretty and I can't see a darn thing. They're great for things that I don't need to see. For example, glue sticks. Glue sticks aren't exactly inspirational to look at. Therefore a quick label and a shove to the shelf and viola! The glue sticks are stored. But for ribbon and bling and stickers...

One of the items I picked up are plastic baskets that are somewhat V-shaped. The bottom part, that sits on the shelf or desk, is slightly smaller than the upper part which flares out slightly. I bought three. One has all my stickers, one has my rub ons, and one has those "special" items that I hoard and love to look at. I may not use items from that basket frequently but they are the crafty items that inspire me and make me drool over the idea of making something.

I discovered that these items are only good to me when I can see them. Otherwise I don't think about them. Having them out where I can leaf through them allows me to get ideas. Not only for how to use them but also for color combination, themes, and so forth.

I replaced my boxes with the shoe boxes. I only bought five because I wasn't sure that my system will work well. If it does then I'll go back and get some more. Many of my more important items are now in the clear boxes. I can pick it up and see what I want rather than having to open every lid of every box and poke my fingers in. It sounds simple but this really will save me about an hour a month, if not more.

The other benefit of having things more organized is that it's also easier to put things away. If my boxes are labeled and I can clearly see what is in them I have little excuse for not cleaning up after projects. More time saved, not to mention a happier household.

I am going to challenge myself to the following: Make at least ten scrapbook pages, ten different cards, and finish at least two projects using nothing other than the items I already have. Care to join me?

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I've realized over the past few weeks that the $3000 sitting in our emergency account has made me feel more secure than I've felt in a long time. Even with everything that had happened, such as hubby getting laid off for 12 weeks when our daughter was born, taking a job for $6,000 less a year, having to pay 100% of our own health insurance, and having business dry up, we managed to put that much aside. And not touch it. So it sits there earning interest and it makes me feel really, really good.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Our electricity bill has been climbing. Yes, we live in FL. Yes, A/C is far from optional. No, we can't turn it off when we aren't home because someone is always home. No, we can't raise it by even 1 degree because it's already at the point where my mom, who gets overheated very easily, can barely stand it, spends most of her day undressed and under the fan. Something needs to be done.

I looked online and found a meter that tracks the measurements of the electronics. It also tracks kwh based on how long you plug it in for. This would be useful, except I don't want to plug stuff in and walk away. I wanted to go through the house and figure it out.

Based on a website "how to" guide, this is what I did in an excel spreadsheet:

Column 1 Find out watts of the unit while in use.
Column 2 Divide that number by 1000.
Example: 200 / 1000 = .2
Column 3 Multiply .2 by our kwh rate (just over 9 cents)
Column 4 Multiply that number by 24 (this gives us how much per day)
Column 5 Multiply that number by 30 (this gives us how much per month)

I also figured out how much the electronics use when they are off. Surprisingly, it wasn't a whole lot. The items that we can turn off cost us just over a dollar a month to leave off. Some items we have to leave on. One example is our portable phone that's connected to land service. It has to be charging on the base. Another would be our television/entertainment center. We have a DVR service and it must be plugged in for it to record shows. Unfortunately the most common ghost items such as cell phone chargers and so forth don't give a high enough reading to tell us how much they're costing us each month.

We discovered that if we turn off our computers every evening before bed we'll end up saving about $11/month. If we go down to one computer between the two of us and giving mom the old one so she can get rid of her ancient one AND turning mine off at night, we'll save almost $16/month. That's over $180/year!

I haven't had a chance to get around to every corded electronic device yet. Cross your fingers that this will help us reduce our electricity bill. It was over $240 last month!

Monday, July 7, 2008

A very expensive carwash

Hubby took my car up the block yesterday morning. There is a do-it-yourself car wash there. It has power sprayers, soap, vacuums, and everything else you need to wash a car in a short amount of time. Usually this costs slightly more than a drive-thru wash, somewhere in the neighborhood of $6. Since our neighborhood has all kinds of deed restrictions and rules about what you can do when plus factoring in the complete lack of space due each of the three of us having a car, it's not a bad bargain.

Unless, of course, it costs almost $70.

Why did it cost that much?

Because as he was vacuuming out the interior hubby took out the stroller system. And left it there. And didn't realize until our shopping trip later. By the time we returned it was nowhere to be seen.

We left a message at the contact number they have posted on the door. I also checked all the businesses in the strip mall next door. No one had turned it in. A quick search revealed it hadn't been moved/stashed anywhere. I posted an add on freecycle, hoping that maybe someone has an extra one or one they've outgrown.

My fear is that I will be somewhat housebound with the baby now until we replace it. We have two strollers, one is a regular push stroller and the other is a jogging stroller. I don't know how to use either yet. I do know that baby is so amazingly good about traveling and will sit in a coffee shop with me and people watch for hours. Her attention span continues to impress me. But, I'm not sure that it will continue if she's closer to the grown and wants to try and get out. We'll have to see.

I know that $60 is a lot of money. Our July budget is completely dependent on whether or not I get enough massages to cover our basic expenses. We have some money socked away in case I don't... June and July usually suck. However, things will start to pick up again and when they do it's usually fairly quickly. Unless we dip into the emergency fund, there is no $60 just laying around.

- See if stroller base can be recovered
- Failing recovery, see if I can find one for free on freecycle
- Attempt to use regular stroller
- Failing freebie and regular stroller, leave word at consignment shops that one is desired
- Failing that... If none of those steps result in replacing the stroller base, I'm going to buy one. I'll sacrifice something in the budget... not sure what. I do know that a large part of my enjoyment, and sanity, as a new mom is the ability to pick up and go whenever I want. She loves to get out of the house and see new people and things, I love to meet with my friends and be able to network and have a good time with business acquaintances, and we both need a change of scenery from time to time. Even if I have to reduce the grocery budget by $10 for the next six weeks well... that's what I'll do.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Borrow before you buy

My neighbor is a physical therapist. I want to get back in shape. I asked her what she thought of the mini trampolines that were very popular in the eighties and that are making a come back. One of our sets of neighbors is trying to sell their house and is storing theirs in another neighbor's garage, which I had seen, and that's where I had gotten the idea, thinking I could borrow it. She said they were great and suggested that I borrow one before I buy one. Then she offered me hers.

I finally saw her out with her son and dog again yesterday and walked down to chat. I asked if the option was still open for me to borrow hers. I figured since I already had the offer I didn't want to see if I could get an offer from the neighbor whose equipment I had originally seen. She was more than happy to allow me to borrow it. In fact, she sent me home with it!

Their trampoline has probably three times the surface are of the smaller ones. I didn't realize that they came in different sizes. The trampoline wasn't heavy. I carried it easily up the street. It was, however, large enough that half my face and down to my knees was covered. I probably looked pretty funny!

If her husband wants it back I told her he can come and get it anytime. She says that he's been talking about how he uses it but never actually does. Guess they'll figure out who's right fairly quickly! Otherwise we can keep it for a few months.

I highly recommend borrowing before you buy exercise equipment if at all possible. My main fear is that I'll have bladder issues that will come up when I'm jumping. (The PT still has problems four years after childbirth and I'm quite sure she does her kegels!) And, of course, there is always the fear that the equipment will take up a lot of space we don't have and gather dust. At least in this case I can walk back down the street and give it back. I'm not stuck with depreciating equipment or a monthly payment.

Office Supplies

It surprises me how many people have made money off of buying office supplies, such as binder clips and brads, and repackaging them as scrapbooking and cardmaking embellishments.


  • If you want to try a certain technique or use a particular embellishment, find out where it originates from.
  • Use Google's shopping service or another online comparison tool to find out if the item is generally less expensive from Home Depot or Scrapbook Warehouse, for example. You'll almost always find it's far less at the hardware or office store.
  • Find out what changes have been made to make it scrapbook specific. Many times the only change is that the items have been repackaged. Do you need special packaging? Are there special modifications? Are they worth the money? What about if you use a 40% off coupon that some stores are notorious for?
  • Many modifications can be made at home. Brads and other non-porous items can be easily colored with inexpensive alcohol inks.
  • The scrapbook and craft stores might, however, offer options that you cannot reproduce at home. Or you may not want to take the time to glue gems onto the head of your brads.
  • Don't buy a craft item just because it contains "project ideas" or instructions. You can find thousands of these online.
  • Search You Tube and other internet sites for detailed tutorials that will give you other ideas on how to use your new tool and get the most out of it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Amazing Supper

I was a little embarrassed last night. There is a group of wonderful ladies that gets together once a month to network, talk about husbands and kids, and generally have a good time. Last night the restaurant was a little tapas bar on Main Street.

I'd never been to a tapas bar. I did some research online, even going so far as to look at their menu and write down the four things I was interested in. They were all from $5.95 to $7.50. (The menu items went up to $16.00 in some cases, more for wine.) I figured that I would bring a $10 bill, which I did. This would cover an $8.00 dish and leave $2.00 for a tip. Seemed fair to me.

I got there and found out that the group had ordered white sangria, which I had never had. They poured a glass for me. It was delicious. A theme of this post will be, "I don't usually like (insert item here) but it was so good!" I don't normally like white wine. I'm not a big wine drinker in general. However, I have to admit, this sangria was fantastic. I had one glass; the one that they poured for me.

The group had ordered a bunch of food with most ladies ordering 2 tapas items to start. They were brought out as they were prepared rather than when everything was ready. I enjoyed this feature. I tried a few things at the urging of the others including items that I would never have dared try. Tuna tar tar, for example. It was delicious. I also really don't like salmon. I try to like it. In fact, any time I can try some I do. Usually it's one bite, chewed for far too long as my gag reflex tries to make me spit it out and I sip water to try and get it to go down. Last night I ate several bites. It was yummy.

The evening ended with the bill. The group had decided that they were going to each order 2-3 items and then split the bill. There were seven of us and with eighteen items the cost, including tax and tip, was $27.00 per person. Oh crud. I had a $10.00 bill. Luckily one of the ladies was more than happy to put in for me and laughingly said to tack it onto the end of her next massage. So she gets fifteen more minutes of pampering and I got a great discount on a fabulous meal.

I left the restaurant stuffed. I had tried every dish except those that had shellfish, since hubby is deathly allergic, and didn't find anything that disagreed with my pallet. My favorite memories of going out to eat all involve multiple people; this time certainly fit the bill.

But that bill...

I'm going to send an email to my friend that put in for me and ask her if she'd do me a favor and email me some hints for dinners in the future to avoid faux pas. I hadn't eaten at a tapas restaurant before. I understood the concept of sharing, but I didn't get the whole picture.

Would I have gone if I knew that it would cost me around $30.00? I'm not sure. Hubby and I both get $50.00 per month to cover our wants. Most of the time we end up treating it as an extended entertainment budget. Near the end of the month we'll take each other out, treat for ice cream, and that kind of thing. $20.00 of mine goes to craft supplies. Do I want to commit the rest of it for one meal?