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Bat Mitzvah Planning

March 2nd, 2008 at 01:32 pm

My daughter will have her Bat Mitzvah in late September. For those not familiar with Judaism, that is a service/ceremony when a Jewish boy (Bar) or girl (Bat) reads from the Torah, the Jewish bible. It symbolizes them becoming adults in the eyes of the Jewish community.

Anyway, along with the service, there is typically a celebration party. Both to be creative and to keep costs down, we are doing a lot of the work ourselves. I've designed the invitations and place cards. We will be making the centerpieces. And we will be making some of the favors.

Today, we went in search of something to use as the base for the centerpiece. I had seen a metal planter at A.C. Moore recently that I liked, but it was $6.99 and I was hoping to find something a bit cheaper. We checked Michael's and found nothing. Then we went to the new Container Store and found something novel for $4.99. We bought one so we can play with it and make a mock-up centerpiece to see how we like it. I just searched online and I can get the same item for under $3.00 each from a few different vendors, so if we like the idea, I'll order them online and save a couple of bucks on each.

For favors, we want to do a chocolate mold related to our theme. My wife searched at Amazon and found just what we are looking for, so I just ordered a couple of those along with a few other things I needed from Amazon. I have nearly $400 in gift certificates with Amazon from doing surveys, so that helps limit the out of pocket costs.

In case you wonder why I'm being kind of vague on details, I want everything to be a surprise and you never know who might be reading your blog, so no specifics.

All of these little costs will keep adding up to a not-so-little total by the time we're done, but we're doing our best to find the cheapest way of doing things.

Where did all these twist-ties come from??

March 1st, 2008 at 08:28 am

I'm sure most everyone has a "junk" drawer in their house, typically in the kitchen I would guess. We somehow have managed to develop 3 junk drawers in our kitchen. I decided to tackle cleaning a couple of them today. The first one wasn't too bad. A few assorted items that really didn't belong in the kitchen. Way too many pens. A bunch of new pencils that didn't even have points yet. Some expired coupons. You know - junk.

Then I moved on to the 2nd drawer. I was running short on time by then so chose not to dump it and start fresh. Instead, I just kind of dug around in there to see what I could find that didn't belong. The main thing I found was twist-ties, twist-ties and more twist-ties. Dozens and dozens of them. Different sizes. Different colors. Both new and previously used.

We buy trash bags that come with twist ties, but we never use them. We tie off the ends of the bags to close them instead. So the pack of ties goes in the drawer. Well, after a few years of this, you end up with a drawer overflowing with twist-ties apparently.

Twist-ties also come from bread packages, toy packages and assorted other places. Being the thrifty type, I don't throw away the used ones. I straighten them out and stick them in the drawer. Boy, I won't ever do that again. It was tough, but I made myself throw out all the old, used, twisted ones and just saved the new, flat, clean ones (and I saved way more of those than we would possibly need).

Who knows what lurks in drawer #3? That's a project for another day.

Odds and Ends

February 16th, 2008 at 04:38 pm

I realized it has been a week since my last post. Not a whole lot has happened financially, though earlier tonight I transferred $1,000 from the money market in one of my Vanguard IRA accounts to purchase more shares of the international fund. I've been gradually doing that and had forgotten the past couple of months. I want to build up my international exposure which is much too low currently.

DW and I are going to Atlantic City tomorrow. DD is going on the youth group ski trip - her first time. She'll be snowboarding, not skiing. Hopefully, she'll let the instructor work with her and take instruction well (not always her best attribute). I'm looking forward to the day as I haven't been to the casino since the day after Thanksgiving. We're also meeting friends for lunch while we're there. They spend most weekends down there.

Our portfolio has recovered a bit from it's low point a couple of weeks ago. I'm hoping that the market will stabilize, though I'm still taking advantage of buying opportunities so staying flat isn't such a bad thing.

I'm still doing my doctor surveys - just did one tonight for $100 and got a check for $30 on Thursday from one I did last month.

Haven't done my taxes yet. I've pretty much got all the paperwork together. I just need to tally up my ebay sales for the year. Then I'll give my accountant/cousin a call to make an appointment.

Speaking of ebay, I have continued to list 5 items/week except for the week before and week of the Superbowl. Of my current auctions, 3 have bids and 1 other has 4 watchers so will probably sell. Only one looks like it may go unsold as it has no bids or watchers. They all end tomorrow evening.

I guess that's all for now.

Of Broken Windows and Incompatible Printers

January 25th, 2008 at 05:59 am

We were, unfortunately, awake about 5:30 this morning. I've had a cold and was all congested which got me up. That in turn woke DW. Just as we were lying there talking, we suddenly heard a loud CRACK. One pane of the window next to the bed had cracked. I got up and looked outside to see if anyone was out there and had thrown something, but it was deserted. Plus, it was the inside pane that had broken. The outside pane was still intact. So it couldn't have been a rock or bird or anything like that. It just broke on it's own. Now I have to track down somebody to replace the window. We actually have another pane downstairs that cracked a while back that we never repaired, so that's 2 windows that need replacing. $$$

In a previous post, I told of my great laser printer bargain last week. The printer sat untouched until last night when I finally hauled it up to the computer room to unpack it. I also went online and ordered toner cartridges on Amazon. I proceeded to rearrange the workspace to accomodate the new printer, carefully unpack it and set it up. Then I put the CD in to load the printer software only to discover that HP doesn't provide Macintosh support for this model. I checked their website and it said the same thing. So this weekend, the printer is getting repacked and returned to the store. So much for my bargain.

2 new CFL bulbs today

January 10th, 2008 at 03:34 pm

We have 2 light fixtures at our front door, 1 on either side. 1 bulb burned out a month or so ago and the other died this week, so it was time to replace them. I've tried various bulbs in those fixtures and found the Phillips Halogen bulbs seemed to last the longest. I went over to Home Depot today to buy a pair of those. After I found them, I looked at the CFLs to see how they compared. For the same price, I was able to get 2 CFLs instead. The Phillips bulbs are rated for 2 years of life at 4 hours/day. The CFLs are rated for 9 years of life at 3 hours/day. So assuming those estimates are accurate, the CFLs should last more than 3 times as long and use far less electricity. All for the exact same cost as the traditional bulbs. Sounds good to me.

New Computer Desk

January 5th, 2008 at 04:48 pm

My wife has been bugging me for a few months about rearranging our family room to put in a computer desk so that we could have a computer set up on the first floor. There were a few reasons for this. One, we use the internet constantly for all kinds of information, recipes, shopping, games, etc. and it is often a pain to have to run upstairs for every little thing. Two, our daughter is 12 now and spending more time online and we'd like her doing that in a common area so we can keep an eye on what she's doing. Also, when she is doing school work, we can be there to help her without running up and down the steps every time she has a question.

We finally found a desk we liked the other day and got it at staples.com. It was $30 cheaper online than in the store and shipping was free. It came yesterday and we assembled it this afternoon. I'm sitting at that desk typing this entry on our laptop which is now set up on the new desk.

This is only vaguely a financial topic, though I did post about how we saved that $30 by shopping online instead of in the store. Also, we often use the internet to save money in other ways and having even easier access to it can only help with that.

Now, we just need to buy a printer and a little desk lamp and we'll be all set.

Assorted ramblings

December 14th, 2007 at 12:46 pm

I haven't posted this month (except the survey income) so thought I'd try and come up with something to report.

I bought a new microwave (see prior report). I spoke to my friend who fixes appliances and he said don't bother. It is 16 years old and not worth repairing. We'll probably save more in electricity conservation than it would cost to repair. So I went to Wal-Mart and got a GE unit for $55. The first one was damaged when I got it home, but I exchanged it yesterday and the new one works fine. I used it to cook grits this morning. We lost a chunk of counter space, but we'll manage.

I took my wife's van in for service last week. With a coupon, that came to less than $200 which wasn't too bad at all. It recently turned 100,000 miles and is doing fine.

Some guys at my synagogue play in a weekly poker game and have been inviting me to join them for years. I finally did 2 nights ago. Everybody buys in for $20 - it is more about having fun and socializing than making big bucks. We played for close to 4 hours (way past my bedtime) and I lost a total of $7.00 which was just fine by me as I had a fun time. I can't see myself playing weekly, but I will join them from time to time.

My wife's birthday is on Monday. I'll give her her gift on Sunday, probably, since I work late on Monday. I know she doesn't read my blog, so I can share what I got her. We tend to buy each other practical gifts, but good quality/luxury versions. She is always complaining about her bed pillow but doesn't want to spend the money to get a better one and isn't sure which to get. Anytime we travel and stay at a Marriott, she always loves the pillow, so I ordered one from Marriott's website. It was $65 which is extravagant for us, but if she likes it as much at home as she does at the hotels, it will be well worth it.

My wife has been stressed out this week because they have been doing a special project at work and she has had to work lots of extra hours. She normally works part-time, a few hours a week, but this week has worked every day and a few days were 9am to 6pm which she hated, but at least we know it was just for this week. After today, it is back to the usual. The only good thing, which I appreciate more than her, is the extra money those hours will bring in. 50% of her pay goes to her 401K, so this week will give that account a nice boost.

Nothing else comes to mind right now, so I'll stop here. I hope everyone has a great weekend.

I killed our microwave today

December 1st, 2007 at 07:19 am

I was making breakfast this morning and nuking some veggie bacon strips when there was a quick zzzt sound and the microwave went dark. Never a good sign. I immediately stopped what I was doing and headed downstairs because the last time our microwave blew out, it was because there was a short circuit in our circuit box and when I went downstairs to check, smoke was pouring out of the box.

Fortunately, that wasn't the case this time. The box was fine. The circuit was still on. Just the microwave was dead. I came back up and checked the oven, which is an all-in-one unit with the microwave, and it was still working. So we have one dead built-in microwave. I'm quite sure it isn't worth repairing as it is about 15 years old.

So I think we will be cleaning and rearranging our kitchen counters today to make a space for a countertop microwave. At least those aren't terribly expensive, but we've been hit with several unexpected bills lately that are starting to add up to a few thousand dollars. So be sure you keep that emergency fund fully funded.

My car was hit yesterday

November 15th, 2007 at 06:49 pm

During work yesterday, someone called the office and asked if any of us owned the red car parked on the side street because someone had hit it. I was the lucky one. I went out and sure enough the left front corner was smashed. Apparently, a plumber was turning into the driveway and misjudged the turn, taking the corner of my car with him. The turn signal got destroyed, the front bumper is shredded and the side fender panel is scratched up.

I called the main office for the company and the business administrator came over to see the car and said they'd pay for everything, including a rental car while it was being fixed, so at least the process shouldn't cost me anything.

After work, I went to the body shop and got an estimate: $1,400. They said they'd need the car for about 3 days. I'm going to bring it in first thing Monday morning so I can have it back Wednesday before the holiday. I'm just hoping everything goes smoothly and quickly and it gets fixed up good as new (or at least as good as 10 years old) by next week at this time.

Shopping at Whole Foods

October 14th, 2007 at 06:35 pm

DW and I agree that we haven't been eating all that healthy lately and need to get back on track with diet and exercise. I decided to take a trip to Whole Foods today and spend some time exploring some different options, particularly looking for some healthier snack options since that is often our downfall.

I picked up a number of new things to try, a couple of which we already sampled tonight and liked. I was mainly focused on items with little to no saturated fat, no trans fat and no high fructose corn syrup.

The one problem with those things is, of course, that they are more expensive than the crappy versions, but I'm willing to spend a little more for good health. Also, we are working to get back to cooking at home more and eating out less which will save a lot of money. I'd rather spend it on better quality groceries than on high calorie meals out.

Cars are money pits

August 8th, 2007 at 06:04 pm

Took the van in for service today. It wasn't actually due yet, but we leave for vacation on Saturday and I wanted it serviced before we took it on a road trip.

It was due for the 90,000 mile service, needed an alignment and had to have some other general maintenance stuff done. Of course, that all added up to hundreds of dollars. I did have a $25 coupon which helped a tiny bit, and they don't charge me for the rental car for the day, which also helps a bit.

Whenever I'm upset about how much the service is costing, though, I just think about how much more it would cost if we got a new car. If we average about $100/month or so on repairs, I figure I'm way ahead compared to getting a new one.

New car starter = $486.

July 19th, 2007 at 05:14 pm

A few weeks ago, my car died. Wouldn't start. Finally had to jump start it and drove it straight to the mechanic to replace the battery. It was about 5 years old, so I figured it was about time.

Fast forward and the past week or so, I had a few times when I got in and turned the key and nothing happened. Turned it again and it started right up. That got much worse yesterday and when it took 3 or 4 tries to get it started and today when the last couple of times I wasn't sure it was going to start at all.

Needless to say, I was back to the shop for what I figured would be a new starter. I'm not much of a car guy, but I know the basics and it turned out I was right. Fortunately, I had nowhere I needed to be and they were able to do the work right away and had the part in stock. About 45 minutes and $486.00 later, I was on my way.

The only thing I'm kind of wondering now is if it was actually the battery causing the problem a few weeks ago or if it was the starter beginning to fail. Doesn't really matter at this point, and the battery was 5 years old, so probably would have needed replacing soon anyway.

Early Father's Day gift

June 16th, 2007 at 04:04 pm

My mom came over today to give me my Father's Day present. She gave me an Orka oven mitt, the really nice silicone ones. I've looked at them for years but never splurged to get one.

She also gave me a batch of her homemade pizelles. Yum.

After she left, DW said she had to give me something too. I said she could wait until tomorrow to give me my present but she said I had to have it today. Turns out it was another Orka. One oven mitt isn't enough and I was about to start dinner (eggplant parm) so she knew I'd need two.

Great Father's Day so far.

Garage sale report

May 19th, 2007 at 04:19 pm

We had our garage sale today. The weather forecast was iffy but wrong and it turned out to be a beautiful day.

We woke at 5am to start setting up. First sale was at 6:50am and we were pretty busy almost the entire morning. We started packing up just after 2:00pm because we were pretty much done and the weather was starting to turn. We didn't want it to start raining while everything was still out.

Our goal for this sale was to get rid of stuff, not make big bucks. With that in mind, it was very successful. We sold lots of stuff, including some larger items that were taking up a lot of space in our garage. Usually, we are much firmer on our pricing but this time we took almost any offer on things.

Total for the day was about $250. We spent $30 for the newspaper ad so netted about $220. Not a lot of money considering the amount of work involved, but we're satisfied and, like I said, we were more focused on freeing up garage space which we did nicely.

Just placed Garage Sale ad

May 13th, 2007 at 04:36 pm

I just e-mailed the ad for our garage sale next Saturday to our local paper. I brought up the old signs from the basement and just need to change the date on them.

All the stuff we will be selling is already packed up and ready to go in the garage. In fact, we have tons more stuff than we can possibly put out in one day. My plan is to have this sale and then have another at the beginning of September. Anything that doesn't sell next week goes to Goodwill, NOT back into the garage. It is time to clear this stuff out once and for all, one way or another.

Now we just have to hope for good weather.

Home repair success

May 12th, 2007 at 07:53 am

Sometimes it is the simple things that excite us.

About a year ago, my daughter accidentally swung the front storm door open a bit too far and stretched the hinges out of place. Ever since then, the door wasn't quite right but we hardly ever use it as we enter through our garage, so I never did anything about it.

Then a couple of weeks ago one of the spring closers broke. Now the door really wasn't right as it was hanging down a bit and not flush with the frame. To close it, you had to lift up on the handle to get it back in the frame.

Well, I finally went to Home Depot and bought a new closer. That fixed one problem but not the hinge problem. I was able to fix that with a hammer and a nail punch to tap the hinge plate back into shape.

Now the door is good as new and it cost me all of $10.50. And I had been procrastinating because I really thought the door was trashed and I'd have to replace it for a few hundred dollars. Wasn't I pleasantly surprised?

2 new cell phones today

May 5th, 2007 at 01:36 pm

We took the plunge and bought DD her first cell phone. We've been researching it for a few weeks. We checked the prepaid options but finally decided to add a line to our Cingular/ATT family plan. On the surface, the prepaid option looked cheaper. However, with her on our plan, calls she makes to our cell phones (or us to hers) are free. Also, any friends she calls who are on the Cingular/ATT network would also be free.

We never use all of our plan minutes and, in fact, have about 4,000 rollover minutes stored. So even if, with her, we now use all of our plan minutes, we've still got a cushion of rollover minutes so we wouldn't generate any additional charges.

We did opt for the phone insurance for now until she gets used to carrying and caring for the phone.

Of course, while we were there, DW started looking at all the nice new phones. Her phone is almost 3 years old. I upgraded last year after losing my phone. The clerk said she was eligible for a free upgrade - just had to pay for the new phone. She looked at the options and liked one that was $29.99. We decided that would be her Mother's Day gift. She's been wanting a new phone for quite a while. We rarely splurge like that or upgrade things that are still working okay, so it was actually a hard decision, but she's happy to have a nice new phone with more modern features.

Cleaned garage; Scheduled yard sale; Listed on ebay

April 21st, 2007 at 07:28 pm

A very active day today.

I spent about 3 hours cleaning in my garage. I managed to consolidate a lot of stuff, stack things more compactly, fill two 30-gallon trash bags, fill 2 carton boxes with recyclables, put a couple more cartons on the yard sale pile and find a few things for the ebay pile.

When my wife came in to check on me, I asked what Saturday we had free in May to do a yard sale. She checked and we are free on the 19th, so that's the day. Last year, we never managed to have one so stuff has really piled up, even more so since we cleaned out my mom's house before she moved last June.

Until today, we had just enough of a path to walk through the garage. Now it is a few feet across and more open feeling even though I really didn't get rid of much.

Finally, I just listed 2 items on ebay and wrote up descriptions for a few more that I'll post tomorrow night.

Oh, and I also did another medical survey for $50 (see prior post about those).

Time to go crash for the night.

The joys of home ownership - not

April 16th, 2007 at 07:22 am

We got the heater serviced today (see previous post). Actually, I didn't call until today because it seemed to be fine all week, then went out again last night (in the midst of our Nor'easter storm).

Of course, the unit is out of warranty.

The repair was $361.60 including the service call. The other option was to extend the warranty for another year. That would be $369 and cover the service call and twice/year routine maintenance visits on the heater and AC, plus 20% off any needed parts. So including today's repair, it would come to $545.53. I don't normally believe in extended warranties, but in this case I figured it was really only costing us $184 to be covered for the year instead of $369. Plus we'll get the 2 service visits included for that price. So we decided to take the warranty just in case something else breaks. And even if nothing breaks, we'll get 2 service calls for $184 which isn't such a bad deal.

Heater not working right

April 10th, 2007 at 05:43 am

We noticed Sunday night that our heater wasn't working quite right. It is coming on and it is blowing hot air but it isn't quite keeping up with the temperature it is set for. Last night, it was set at 70 but according to the thermostat it was only 68 in the house. I just put in a new filter and to my untrained eye, everything looks okay, but I know it isn't right. So I'll put in a call to the service folks today. Wonder what that will cost me?

Housecleaning can be very lucrative

April 7th, 2007 at 06:34 pm

Ok, we weren't exactly housecleaning. We were searching for my wife's wallet on Thursday. She had put it somewhere while cleaning earlier in the week and couldn't remember where. She thought she had stuck it in a drawer or cabinet because we had guests coming and she didn't want to leave it out in the open.

Anyway, we were going through every drawer in the bedroom and hallway, among other places. While we didn't find her wallet (which did eventually turn up - at the bottom of the washing machine), we did find quite a few items that we agreed we had no use for. Three of those items have already gone on ebay. Two already have bids totalling $95.99 and they don't end for 5 more days.

So take some time and go through those drawers and closets. You never know what hidden value you might find.

My dollar store gamble that didn't pay off

April 3rd, 2007 at 03:35 pm

I admit it. I squandered $1.00 today. Actually, with tax, it was $1.07. We went looking for some things DD needs for the Renaissance Fair her class is doing. I came across compact fluorescent light bulbs. I figured the ones they are selling for $1 probably couldn't be as good as the ones sold everywhere else for 10 times as much, but I decided to gamble and buy one.

Guess what. They're not as good. First, it is a white fluorescent, so really can't be used to replace an incandescent bulb as it is a totally different type of light. Also, the package said it lights instantly. That isn't quite true. There is a couple second delay when you turn it on. Finally, it didn't seem very bright, though I didn't leave it on long so it might have brightened after a minute or two as some bulbs will do that.

Of course, it isn't a total loss as it is a working light bulb. I just can't use it where I was planning to.

Anything to save $15

March 29th, 2007 at 02:43 pm

In preparation for Passover, we are in the midst of our annual major house cleaning. A couple of days ago, my wife said she wanted to make a very frivolous purchase. I could tell from her tone that she was kidding, so I asked what this frivolous purchase was going to cost me. She said it would be more than the new bathmat she bought last week - that was $5. Now I knew I was in trouble - LOL! Turns out she wanted a new kitchen trashcan since the one we have is quite dirty. She figured about $15 to replace it. Being the cheapskate that I am, I promised to clean it for her and if it didn't come out clean enough, then she could buy a new one.

I just took it outside and scrubbed it with a Brillo pad and it is bright white, as good as new. Wife is satisfied and said, "Boy, you'll do anything to save $15, won't you."

Yup!

Made a sale on Half.com

March 27th, 2007 at 09:46 am

I've used Half.com several times in the past but hadn't listed anything lately. The other day I was packing old clothes to give away because Purple Heart was coming. I found my wife had put a book in pile. Rather than give it away, I listed it on Half.com. It was a novel with the dust jacket. I priced it at $2.89 which seemed to be the going rate. Less than a week later, it sold! Certainly not a big windfall, but it couldn't possibly have been easier so it's found money as far as I'm concerned.

Successful new recipe tonight

January 25th, 2007 at 06:16 pm

We happened to be watching America's Test Kitchen last weekend and saw a recipe we wanted to try ourselves - Pot Stickers. They made theirs with ground pork, which is out in our house since a) we're Jewish and don't eat pork and b) we're nearly vegetarians and hardly ever eat meat. So I took on trying out the recipe with a few modifications.

Thursday is my short day at work, so I stopped at the store and picked up supplies: shitake mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, scallions, won ton wrappers (wanted gyoza wrappers but couldn't find any - have to go to the Asian market next time).

Using the ATK recipe as a guide, I chopped, salted and drained the cabbage, chopped the scallions and mushrooms, added a couple of egg whites and, in place of the pork, mixed in vegetarian ground beef substitute. I assembled the pot stickers and froze about half the batch - it made lots! I held the rest aside for us to eat tonight. I also made the scallion dipping sauce that ATK had the recipe for.

While I was cooking the pot stickers, I also cooked up a pot of brown rice to eat on the side.

I was fully expecting my daughter not to like them. I even told her she could make Ellio's pizza as a back-up dinner if she didn't like them.

Well, there was no Ellio's eaten at our house tonite. My daughter ate 7 or 8 of the pot stickers, as did my wife and I. I even had to get up part-way through and cook another batch. One more recipe to add to the family dinner list. Plus, we have a ziploc bag full of frozen pot stickers that we can make next time. I have to figure out approximately what the whole batch cost to make, but I'm sure it wasn't a whole lot.


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