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More decluttering notes

June 17th, 2008 at 02:47 pm

The night before last, I sorted through the bookcase shelf that holds all our travel guides and maps. I ended up with a nice big pile to recycle.

There were several guidebooks that were way out of date for places that we won't be returning to anytime soon. If we do, we'll just get new guidebooks (the free kind from the tourism boards).

There were guidebooks for places we go regularly, but we had the 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004 editions. I discarded all but the current ones.

Then last night, I went through a pile of papers on another shelf. I found 3 more travel guides, 2 of which were duplicates of ones I had dealt with the previous night.

Also in that pile were numerous magazines that were saved because I had articles published in them. I didn't toss them, because I still want them around, but I did decide that I no longer need to keep several copies of each, so those are out of here, too.

I'm going to keep chipping away at all the clutter. It is very stress-relieving to clean and organize and declutter. You should all give it a try.

Decluttering - I'm serious this time!

June 15th, 2008 at 05:35 pm

I must confess - our house is a mess. Plain and simple. We just are lousy at keeping things neat and organized. I occasionally get upset with our daughter for having stuff strewn all over, and then my wife points out that we haven't set much of an example for her to follow.

I'm a piler. Every flat surface tends to have a stack of papers, magazines, books, whatever, whether it is my desk, the computer desk, the dresser in the hall, the kitchen table, the floor, the closet, etc.

About 4 or 5 weeks ago, I once again realized my dresser was covered with assorted crap. I came up with an idea. I committed to taking care of at least one item per day on the dresser that didnít belong there. That might have meant throwing out a receipt I didnít need, putting something back where it actually belonged, filing a paper that I had left out, putting loose change into my change bank, or whatever else needed to be done. I stuck with it, most days doing multiple items, not just one, though some days I did do only one thing. After about a week, I had cleared off a pretty decent section and what was left was stuff that pretty much belonged there. Iím glad to say that I have continued to keep the dresser cleared off since then.

Once the dresser was cleared, I moved on to my desk, home to a couple of ever-present piles of assorted papers and a vast assortment of other junk. Over several days, I got one pile down to nothing except items that are part of a project I am currently working on. The other pile was cut in half, though there is still work to be done with what remains.

Then I started branching out tackling the ďto be shreddedĒ pile in a few shredding sessions, papers piled under the desk and on the computer scanner and a few other places. The past few days I started attacking the large bookcase in the computer room. Just before posting this, for example, I cleaned off the Travel shelf, tossing outdated guidebooks, maps and other items that we no longer needed, putting them all in the recycling bin.

Little by little, my efforts are starting to show. There is noticeably more floor space and desk space in the computer room. The kitchen table pile isnít gone, but now holds just current items. The bookcase has started looking much neater (at least on the 3 shelves I have worked on so far).

Is any of this financial? Kind of. One thing that invariably happens when we clean is we find things we had forgotten we had. Knowing we have them and where to find them helps prevent us from buying duplicate replacement items at a later date. For example, there is now a neat stack of spiral notebooks on the bookcase and another stack of 3-ring binders. When it is time to shop for school supplies for next year, that supply will get checked first before heading to Target or Wal-Mart.

Reducing clutter is also a psychological thing. I just feel better looking around and seeing what Iíve accomplished so far. I still see plenty left to do, but seeing what is already done helps motivate me to keep at it. And taking it in little steps of one item per day helped keep it a manageable goal, rather than being overwhelmed by the big picture.

Entertaining at home is expensive

March 23rd, 2008 at 11:14 am

We hardly ever have people over anymore. I realized today that one reason for that is the cost. We were hosting a meeting of the planning committee for a retreat we do every fall. All together, there were only 7 people but we spent nearly $50 buying food and goodies to put out a nice spread. Of course, not everything got eaten and we kept all the leftovers, so the true cost wasn't that high, but still, the money got spent on stuff that we wouldn't have been buying otherwise.

Having a bigger party for a couple dozen people can easily run into hundreds by the time you add in paper goods and plasticware and everything.

I'm glad we did it and we had a very productive meeting, but it was still kind of pricey.

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.