Archive | Thriftiness

The “Oh $#!T” Gift Guide: presents for when you run out of money, don’t want to leave the house, or just plain forgot about someone

I haven’t blogged in awhile, then last night I had a flash of inspiration to write a blog post about gifts you can give people when you run out of money, don’t want to leave the house, or just plain forgot about someone. These are a dozen gifts ANYONE can make. You should have the supplies for these items already laying around your house. Yes. Even YOU, my non-crafty, non-hoarding friend!

And these are gifts that are GOOD GIFTS. They are things people actually WANT to receive.

So, without further ado…

Cookies

(1)    BAKED GOODS

Cookies, brownies, cupcakes, fudge, candies, pound cake, scones, lemon bars, cinnamon rolls…there are so many different foods that fall into this category and people LOVE them. Most people have “a specialty” that they make which others love. For my grandmother, it was monkey bread. For my aunt, it was fudge. You know what “your thing” is; you always have the supplies for it.

(2)    FAVORITE RECIPES

A collection of favorite recipes is a personal and cherished treasure. What do you make well? Are you “king of the barbecue”? Write our your tips and tricks for grilling hamburgers, along with some of your favorite seasoning combinations. Or do you make excellent soups? Are you the Casserole Queen? Do you have a knack for stir frying greens into magical deliciousness?

I recommend using 3 x 5 cards or trimming normal paper down to that dimension because it’s the size of most recipe boxes. Alternately, you could fold regular paper in half, staple it together & call it a cookbook!

(3)    LETTER OF LOVE

None of us can ever be told enough that we are loved. Stop and think about the person you want to give a gift to. Why do you love them? What is special about them? Write it out. OR you can write out some of your favorite memories together.  Be personal and open hearted. Overshare.

(4)    CREATIVE WRITING

Poetry. Short stories. Jokes. Think of a topic you share, or something that you think the friend would find amusing, and use your imagination! Darth Vadar as Santa. A dialogue between Kant and Kafka. A limerick about puppies rolling around in paint.

(5)    DRAW A PORTRAIT

I know. I know. “You’re not an artist.” I don’t care. Draw a portrait of your friend. Or their family. Or a picture of you & him. Use crayons, or a sharpie, or both. And here’s some huge advice: be bold! Don’t try to draw a “perfect picture”…that’s what photography is for. Use your imagination. Have fun!

(6)    MIXED CD

A tried and true favorite has  always been the Mixed CD,  but we often forget about it! Throw some of your favorite tunes on a playlist & burn a copy whenever you have someone new in mind!

(7)    ORIGAMI

You can make origami out of any paper and there are tutorials all over the internet. Because origami is so delicate and handmade, it is incredibly special. You can even string up the origami so it’s ready to hang.

(8)    T-SHIRT PILLOW

We all have one of those old favorite T-shirts that we just can’t get rid of, but that we never wear. So turn it into a craft! Turn the shirt inside out, sew it into a pillow, leaving a hole for filling, turn it right side out & stuff it before you sew it closed. Don’t have stuffing? Stuff it with other old T-shirts. Yes. Seriously.

If you are a sewer and have a ton of T-shirts, you can also use them to make a quilt. Fronts on the top, and backs of the T-shirts make the backing. Cozy cozy cozy!

(9)    BUNTING

You can make bunting with anything. You don’t need special fabric or paper. You can just make it with tape and magazine pages or wrapping paper or brown paper bags. Use what you have. Bunting is so full of whimsy!

Romping

(10) NATURE FROM YOUR YARD OR NEIGHBORHOOD

I know it’s winter, so this is a tricky one; but look outside. Are there pretty twigs? Is a holly bush nearby? Are herbs still growing? Maybe there is a collection of interesting stones? Make a “winter bouquet” from whatever you find.

(11) LIBRARY BOOKS

Yes, technically you have to leave the house to pick up library books, but chances are your library is close-by. Also, most libraries have online catalogues, so you can request holds on the books you want from your home computer, and they will be waiting & ready for you to pick up when you stop in. No hassle.

I love the idea of giving library books, because it’s a way to share a favorite literary work without the burden of ownership.

(12) TIME

We too often forget that the best gift we can share is the gift of ourselves. Drink some coffee together. Do a puzzle. Go for a walk. You don’t need any THING to substantiate your relationships. Just BE with the people you love. Sometimes the “gift giving” of Christmas season can become overwhelming and rob us of deeper joys and spiritual fruits. Follow your joy this season. If your gift giving in becoming too stressful, prune it from your schedule, try to relax, and soak in all the gifts we are already surrounded with.

Funny faces

^_^ Erin

12-16-2013

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Google Maps GPS Tracking Still Works on my iPhone, even without a cell plan or data coverage

When I decided to cancel my cell phone contract and use my iPhone solely as a device, I knew I’d have to rely on apps to call and text people.

One of the things I would miss about my AT&T coverage is the ability to use google maps to find my way, especially if I got turned around while headed somewhere new.

I knew I could look upmy route on wifi and take screen shots of if. Easy peasy.

I checked out several apps that allowed me to download maps, much like carrying a Rand McNally atlas in my car. These apps were cumbersome, costly and not nearly as intuitive as Google maps.

Imaginemy surprise when I accidentally openned Google Maps one day, and saw a blue dot for my location!I checked. I was not on wifi.

I had no cell coverege or data coverage.

Google GPS was tracking me! I tried zooming in, and I could see major street names. Smaller streets were unmarked, but the larger streets are enough to help me find my way.

And then, when I started moving, the blue dot moved with me! Google maps was tracking my location in real time!

I don’t know how or why my google maps GPS still works, but I love it! Thanks, Google, for being awesome!

Erin
6/17/2013

Posted using Tinydesk blog app

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Talkatone iPhone App, a review of the app that replaced my cell phone company

As I blogged about previously, I cancelled my cell service and decided to use apps on my iPhone 4S to make calls and text over wifi. Here is an update.


There are many apps available for communication in the App Store. Some require that both users be logged onto the app in question, and then users are only allowed to call or message within that app. This does me no good because I want people to be able to use my google voice number as if it were a regular number.

There are several apps that will let you send texts and make calls using your google voice number.

But there is only one app that will allow you to RECEIVE calls on your device as push notifications, in a similar manner to the way the native phone app works. This app is TALKATONE.

One week into my no-cell-bill experiment, the app crashed. And I couldn’t get it to stop crashing.

I contacted Talkatone via their blog and twitter. And eventually I started trouble shooting with them over email. They worked with me to get the app working. And now I can receive calls like normal again!

I’m glad I didn’t give up.

The people at Talkatone were extremely supportive.

Kudos!

The only bad thing I have to add, in the interest of full disclosure, is that the call quality is splotchy at times. I have had people I call regularly comment about it. If I’m going to be on a longer call, however, I can always use the Google Voice app directly; calls are much clearer through it.

By Erin
6/14/2013

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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Skype: video calls for free

Since I cancelled my cell phone coverage by AT&T, I’ve enjoyed using different apps and services to communicate with my friends & family. One of my favorites is Skype!


HOW I SKYPE:

First off, I almost always Skype exclusively with my parents.

If I’ve planned the call ahead of time, I will email to set up a time.

Typically, tho, I call my mom on her home phone line, using my Talkatone app & Google Voice number. If I catch her at home, I ask Mom if she & Dad want to Skype. And we switch over to a Skype video call. They sit at their computer & I use my phone.

HOW DO I LIKE IT?

It’s cumbersome to call & then call back, but it’s not too cumbersome.

Sometimes the audio quality isn’t that great. It depends on the Internet connection.

I love including Phoebe in Skype calls. She gets to interact with her grandparents SO much, even though they’re on the other side of the country. And video calls help her communicate without having a big vocabulary.

It’s free.

It’s easy.

It’s more enriching to communicate via video than just on a phone. I come away feeling like I actually spent time with my folks!

Skype vs regular cell calls is an easy win for Skype, in my book!

I should try to Skype with a cell phone off wifi to see how that goes, as well.

^_^ Erin
5/17/2013

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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My Plan to Give Up Cell Phone Companies, Make Free Calls and Save Tons of Cash

IMG_9475This month my cell phone contract with AT&T is up for renewal, and instead of getting a new device and committing to pay them $75 dollars a month for another two years, I am cancelling my cell phone service with them. That’s right. I will kick AT&T out of my house.

BUT HOW WILL I MAKE PHONE CALLS?

I have a smart phone; an iPhone 4S, to be exact. I set up a FREE Google voice number. There are a number of apps available for placing free phone calls with a google voice number. Starting out, I’m trying Talkatone. As long as I’m on wifi, I can make calls for free. If I miss a call when I’m off wifi, Google voice will alert me to messages and will even email me transcripts of my voicemails. I can check messages and return calls once I’m on wifi again.

Wifi hotspots are everywhere these days. I live in an urban area with Starbucks and McDonalds everywhere…if I want to check in with Matt at work or change the time for a playdate, all I have to do is swing into a parking lot or grab a quick coffee and take care of my messages. Also, if I NEED to make a call, I can always ask to borrow a landline! Isn’t that what people used to do?

WHAT ABOUT TEXTING?

When I’m on wifi, I can iMessage other apple users. For free. And nothing will change for any of my family or friends that want to message me through iMessage. IF I’m away from wifi, I’ll just get the messages once I get back in range of service.

For non-iPhone users, I can use talkatone or kik or any number of other apps to send text messages for free.

Also, email is an easy and reliable way to communicate on a smart phone, as I can read email messages as easily as I can read texts.

WHAT ABOUT EMERGENCIES?

Whenever I’m at home, I’m on wifi and can make a call if need be. If the wifi is down (which might happen once a year), I can use my neighbor’s phone. No big deal.

Whenever I’m out alone with Phoebe, I only ever drive around town to go to parks or run errands. I can handle most inconveniences on my own. If I had a true emergency, there are so many businesses and people around, I’m sure someone would be happy to assist. That’s what people do.

When we go on trips or on longer drives, it’s very rare that Matt isn’t with us, and he has a cell phone for work. So, for instance, when we go on our cross country roadtrip, we will already have one cell phone. We don’t need two.

MAPS AND DIRECTIONS

I’m not worried about getting lost or finding new places. I’m going to look for a mapping app to see if I can download local maps onto my phone that I could access without data or internet. If not, though, I’ll just buy a map for the local area. That’s what I did when I first moved to Tacoma, before I had a smart phone.

If I get lost, I’ll do what former generations would have done: I’ll pull over and ask for directions.

THE BIGGEST INCONVENIENCE

I will lose my cell phone number. Instead, I will need to change all my accounts to reflect my new Google Voice number. That IS quite a hassle.

A NOTE FOR FRIENDS AND FAMILY

I emailed all of you my new Google Voice number. If I did NOT email you, please shoot me an email…I could not find everyone’s email address. If we know each other, please assume I DO want you to have my number. I am NOt trying to become a hermit. I am NOT trying to avoid people by canceling my cell phone coverage.

IMG_9145

WHY AM I DOING THIS?

I want to save money.

More than that, I don’t like cell phone companies. Specifically, I do not like AT&T. Many customer service representatives and sales representatives that I have encountered have been misinformed, uncooperative, more concerned about commissions, or have outright lied about information pertaining to their service or my bill. The cell phone companies always have unexpected fees and overage charges. And YES. That is the way they do business. And that is their prerogative. But I still don’t like it.

This is my way of DOING something about it.

This is my way of saving money so that my family can pay for things we truly NEED, like clothes or quality food or tools for the yard.

This is my attempt at removing some of the clutter from my life.

This is a statement of faith to myself that we will be OK without a digital safetynet.

I will still talk and text and email. I will still be on twitter and instagram. I will not be going away. I will just be taking advantage of the awesome piece of technology i own, my iPhone, and using it to it’s fullest potential to work around the cell phone provider industry.

WILL I DO THIS FOREVER?

I don’t know. At this point, I think I’ll do it for 3 months or for a year. But every month I go without a cell phone bill is $75 in the bank that we can use for other things. So we’ll see how it goes. I’ll blog updates and my experiences as I have new ones to share, and I’ll try to remember to tag the posts with “Cell Bill Free” so you can easily find them. I invite you to ask me any questions you have. ^_^ I want to be an open book about this experience so that I can inspire others!

xoxo
Erin

5/08/2013

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Budgeting 103: Be Faithful

Some people can get by without a budget.  I am not one of those people.  This is part of a three-blog arc on how Mr. Wetzel and I have been able to successfully budget for the last year: Know Thyself, Set Your Course and Be Faithful.

Some additional guidelines to help you stick with your budget…

Find Balance. Once or Twice a month, balance your accounts with bank records.  Go through your bank record and credit card statement and mark off the entries in your Budget Binder.  I like to make a note of the date each time I do this task and use a different color highlighter to make the section stand out.  Doing this check will help you make sure you don’t forget payments for auto-withdrawals or lost receipts.

Pay Off the Cards. If you have a revolving balance on a credit card, don’t use your card to pay for things until you have paid off your revolving balance.  This will force you to use the money in your checking account and remove the temptation of accessing the entire available balance on your card.  This habit is key to getting and staying out of debt.  Don’t spend what you don’t have.  You only will end up paying for it more in the long run.

If you find yourself tempted to spend on credit, step back and ask yourself why you want to purchase the thing in question.  Will you be fine without it?  If you need to, call a friend or partner before making the purchase so that they will hold you accountable.

Cut the Cards. As you pay off your cards, simplify your financial life and get rid of extra credit cards.  Mr. Wetzel and I only have 2 credit cards (one in each of our names, so that we’re both gaining a positive credit history), 1 store credit card and a debit card.

Cash counts! Never treat cash like its money already spent.  Cash always counts.  If you buy something with cash, make sure to save the receipt or note the purchase in your Budget Binder as soon as possible.  Save your change, as well.  If you put all your spare change in a jar, you’d be surprised how handy it can be on a rainy day.

Wish Lists & Shopping Lists. The best way to thwart impulse spending is to set goals for the things you want to purchase and then save up for them.  If you have an attractive goal ahead of you, you are less likely to blow your money on something you don’t really care about.  Currently, I have an ice cream maker on my wish list.

Shopping lists are handy on a day-to-day basis because they keep you from small impulse buys at the store.  If you see something at the store that isn’t on your list, consider writing it down for the next shopping trip.

Accountability. Tell someone what your budget goals are and ask them to check on your progress.  If you are budgeting with a partner, your companion doesn’t count!  As a couple, you need another couple or another individual to hold you accountable.  Telling others what your goals are also helps clear the air of needless spending; if you and your friends are both trying to get out of debt, you can think of cheaper ways to spend time together and it will help all of you out in the long run, whereas lack of communication too often serves only Mr. Visa, Madam AmEx and Master Card.

By ekwetzel
2010-02-04

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Budgeting 102: Set Your Course

Some people can get by without a budget.  I am not one of those people.  This is part of a three-blog arc on how Mr. Wetzel and I have been able to successfully budget for the last year: Know Thyself, Set Your Course and Be Faithful.

What spending categories do you have?  How much do you need to budget in each area? Think of these categories separately instead of lumping them together with all of your earnings and spendings.

The Budget Binder & Individual Account Pages. Once you know how much you are bringing in and how much you are spending, you can sit down and face your spending habits.  Find a way to balance your budget by continually re-examining your needs and your wants.  Decide on a goal to spend for each category: groceries, car payment, rent, etc.  Finally, create a Budget Binder to help you keep track of your spending on a day-to –day basis.

The Budget Binder works in the same way that a checkbook does, except the Budget Binder has a page for each spending category.  We call these “individual account pages.”  Before learning this trick, Mr. Wetzel and I would have spending goals for different areas of our life; however, it was impossible to keep track of our actual spending and to hold ourselves accountable to our goals until we used the individual account pages.

Sample Individual Account Pages: download from Google Documents. These are some sample pages that we have found useful.  Adapt the pages to your own needs, adding or subtracting categories as needed: View on Google Documents

How It Works. When you get paid, disperse the funds available for each of your accounts onto each of the individual account pages.  When you spend money, subtract the funds from each of those pages.  Let’s use Amy as an example:

Amy earns $100. First she notes +100 on her “Earnings and Disbursements” page.  She disperses $50 to grocery, $25 to household and $25 to fun, noting +50, +25 and +25 on each page.  She then goes back to the “Earnings and Disbursements” page and notes -100 for a final balance of zero.

As Amy spends money, she subtracts the amount she spends from each of the individual account pages.  She tries to keep aware of how much money is left in each area of her budget.  It is easy for her to quickly check the funds for her budget because each category has an individual balance, instead of being lumped together into a total sum in her checkbook or online account balance.  If she doesn’t spend all the money in a given fund, she sets it aside and lets it accrue. You never know when you’re going to need a little extra dough, after all.

For example, Amy knew that a blockbuster hit was coming out on February 10th and that she’d want to go see it on opening night with her friends. So, she made sure to keep enough in her “Fun” fund so that she could go out to the theatre and catch a bite to eat from concessions.  In order to have enough money available, she skipped a few lattes during the week, but she reminded herself, “I don’t need a latte.  I don’t need to go to the movies, either…but I’d get much more pleasure out of going to the movies than drinking a few lattes.”

Remember: this is a Tool, not Torture! The whole point of budgeting is to be a good steward of your finances.  Create your first budget plan, and if you find that your spending habits continually break the budget, re-examine the budget.  Sometimes you’ll need to crack down on your spending habits, but sometimes you’ll need to change your budget to suit your needs.  Everyone has different desires, habits and goals, so everyone has a different budget as well.  The important thing is to find a budget that works for you, and then stick to it.

By ekwetzel
2010-02-03

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Budgeting 101: Know Thyself

Some people can get by without a budget.  I am not one of those people.  This is part of a three-blog arc on how Mr. Wetzel and I have been able to successfully budget for the last year: Know Thyself, Set Your Course and Be Faithful.

You must be aware of where you start from.  Assess your current spending habits, as well as the attitudes you have about spending.

Keep track of all spending and earnings for 1 month. The easiest way to do this is to save all your receipts and all your pay stubs.  If you buy something that doesn’t have a receipt, or if you tip beyond what’s noted in the receipt, just write it down on a slip of paper, date it, and put it with the rest of your receipts.

Mr. Wetzel and I put all our receipts on a big glass plate by the front door until they are checked into our budget book (see Budgeting 102).  We have also been known to keep them in shoe boxes, tucked in our wallets or purses, or jammed into the pockets of a three ring binder.  Once we are through recording the receipts, we toss the ones for gas receipts and grocery trips, and save the important ones in a box.  We also hold onto all our monthly statements from credit cards or other accounts, as well as our pay stubs.

Don’t be materialistic. You are more than your possessions.  You do not need to be defined by what you have or what you buy.

One reason I like to watch the TV show Survivor is that it’s interesting to see Westerners come to realize the difference between needs and wants.  We need food, for example; but, we do not need a take-out pizza.  A baked potato (or plantain) will do.  Sometimes we use the things we buy or the act of shopping as a distraction to keep us from confronting things about ourselves or our lives.

Mr. Wetzel and I pray over our finances and try to grow in spirit, instead of growing in debt.  We have learned a lot about ourselves as we have given up things that we think we need.  By trusting God more and believing more in ourselves and our relationship, we spend less money yet find ourselves even richer than before.

By ekwetzel
2010-02-01

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Thinking Inside the Box

December is the coldest month of the year in Tacoma, and we wanted to heat our apartment as efficiently as possible.

Since we are renting, there are many things Mr. Wetzel and I cannot change about our apartment that would shave money off our heating bill, such as installing double pane windows or replacing our inefficient baseboard heaters.  We put some simple ideas into practice this fall; and, when we received our heating bill for the month of December, we saw that the ideas paid off.

Chart of Electricty Usage, Dec 2008 through Dec 2009

The chart above is from our power bill. As you can see, we used 590 fewer kilowatt hours, cutting our bill down 67%.

We’ve gone through the usual rigmarole every year: turning lights off in unattended rooms, installing energy efficient bulbs, turning the heat off at night or when we’re away, and wearing sweaters and slippers.  In addition, we were thinking “inside the box,” being creative about the space that we are in and channeling its strengths to work for us.

The layout of our apartment is very open concept, with the kitchen, eating area, living room and entry all part of one big room.  In the summer, this area is airy and cool.  In the winter, it is a very hard room to heat because it is so large.

When Washington gets rainy and dark outside, Mr. Wetzel and I spend a lot of time indoors, watching TV, playing videogames, surfing the net or reading.  Last December, our television was set up in the open living area, but this year we moved the TV into the smallest room of the apartment, one that we used as an office.  This TV room is at the end of a hall, along with our bedroom.  We purchased a two-panel curtain set ($30 from World Market) and extension rod (a few bucks from Home Depot), and positioned the curtains in the hallway, just outside the entry to the two rooms.  This helped to insulate the heat in the rooms, while allowing our cat to roam freely throughout the apartment.

On warmer days, we wear sweaters and let the heat of the electronics warm the rooms.  Yes: we play videogames and watch TV to stay warm.  It makes me chuckle!  On cooler days, we turn the heat on for a while; once the rooms are warm, we shut it off.  The curtains help to seal in the warm air, and since the space is small, the warmth doesn’t have many places to escape to.  On the coldest days, we leave the heat on, and the rooms stay noticeably warmer than the rest of the apartment.

Without the television in the main living area, we now have the sofa and chairs in our main room set up to face each other.  When we have guests over, the TV no longer gets haphazardly turned on.  Instead, we sit around chatting and getting to know our friends and neighbors more intimately.  That too brings more warmth into our lives…590 kilowatts of “friendship” warmth a month, to be exact.

Mr. Wetzel and I support green power through the City of Tacoma.  Here is more information about Tacoma Public Utilities Evergreen Options .  For homeowners and renters, you can support green energy at the Frog, Salmon, Otter or Orca levels (more info here).

By ekwetzel
2010-01-13

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