Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lovin' the Local Music Scene

I heard that my favorite band is passing through town, so I decided to check out ticket prices. The cheapest I found was $80!  This is common for national acts. The average concert ticket price for 2011 is $31.57. The last few times I've gone to big concerts, I've been uncomfortable because of the huge crowds, and the drink prices were high enough to make anyone go straight-edge.

That's why I go to local concerts. I get a bigger bang for my buck and enjoy some local bands as much as the national acts. Despite what some critics say, this is not necessarily second best. Some of my favorite bands are locals.

The  obvious advantage is the price. A high end local concert usually doesn't exceed $10, whereas the cheapest national act is never so cheap. Often, I find shows for $5 or even for free. I can choose venues where there are drink specials, or everyday low prices. One of my favorite places has $1 beers and free shows, so I can have a night out for a few bucks.

As a locavore, I don't like seeing my hard-earned money going into the pockets of billionaires somewhere far, far away. I would much rather see it go to a person that lives right here. By going to a local concert, my money is going to a local bar owner, concert promoter and band.

My city has an amazing scene. There are many, many talented musicians that it has been my pleasure to see. Once, my favorite local band actually brought me up on stage and sang to me for my birthday! I doubt Alice Cooper would ever do that!

I also buy CDs from local musicians. The price for a new local CD is about the same as a used CD online, and, again, I'm supporting individuals.

Comparing a national act to a local act, there really is little question which is the best deal. Seeing my favorite national act is $80, seeing my favorite local band is $5. Would I really enjoy seeing the big-guy 16 times more than the local one?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Literary Savings

The cost of books has risen to an astonishing level. It's hard to feed your lust of the written word when a new book costs $25. Fortunately, there are some great ways to save some money while reading as many books as you'd like. is my first go when I have a specific title in mind, but I don't order from Amazon. Instead, I check out the Amazon Marketplace where I can buy used and new books from individuals. Some books are still pricey, but others can be found very cheap. Some books (especially older bestsellers) can be found for a penny; with shipping it's $4 for a book. This is a great deal if you are looking for a specific title.

Paperbackswap ( allows you to give your books to other readers and then pick out books for yourself. When you sign up, you are given 2 credits. After that, to earn credits you list your books to trade. When someone requests a book, you ship it at your expense. Then when you order a book, you pay nothing for shipping. This is even cheaper than Amazon, as the shipping is usually around $2.50.

Thrift stores don't usually have an amazing selection, however the price is right. Chain thrift stores usually charge around $1-2 per book, but the smaller stores sometimes offer them as low as $.10. Even with the limited selection, I occasionally find a specific title that is on my wish list.

Yard sales have an even poorer selection, but prices are good. Sometimes I'll find a box full of similar books (romances, mystery, etc) and will make an offer. Once I got a box of 100 books for $5.

Library sales are great. The selection is usually pretty good, and it's sorted by genre or topic. Prices are usually $1, or less for children's books. At my library, the last day is bag sale day where I can fill a bag for $3. I carefully fit the books into my bag and can get between 30 and 50, more if they are smaller kids books.

The library itself is the obvious go to. Any book you want is there or can be requested from another library. There are books, children's books, audio books, magazines and more. You can enjoy it all for free. I always read a book from the library before adding it to my wish list.

Sharing with friends is great if you have a similar taste. You might want to write your name in the cover so it doesn't get confusing. 

Project Gutenberg ( is a wonderful online resource that boasts free access to 36,000 books. You can read online, with your portable device or listen to audio books. A link to affiliates gives you access to over 100,000 books. You could be reading for free for a long time with that.

Amazon offers some free Kindle books. If you don't have a kindle, you can still download the free Kindle app. A search of "free ebooks" pulls up many, many websites. Also, if you are subscribed to any e-newsletters, check their websites for any free ebooks.

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Homestead Barn Hop

Monday, September 12, 2011

Early Winter Preparation

I know, I shouldn't be talking about it. It comes quicker every year. Like it or not, winter will be here soon, but it is never too soon to start getting ready. I start preparing for winter early on in the season,  to keep my family warm, safe and comfortable. There are many little steps that can be taken and most will not take much time at all. Start now so that when winter comes, you are warm and cosy.

* Caulk around drafty windows and doors. To check for drafts, close all windows on a windy day, then hold a lit candle up. Move it slowly around the border of the window. If the flame flickers, you've got a draft.

* Make draft busters for all doors. These can easily be made by using a leg from an old pair of pants, tying on end closed, stuffing (with anything from a rolled up towel, scraps of yarn, old rags) and tying the other end closed. Just lay them at the bottom of the door-either the outside door, or to a room that you want to keep warm (or cool) so air doesn't move between rooms.

* Start shopping for more blankets. Thrift shops and any yard sales still going on will have them at good prices. If you wait until winter is here, the selection (and price) will be less desirable.

* Make blankets. If you craft, make an afghan, quilt or blanket.Since it takes forever to crochet an afghan, starting now will allow you to cuddle under the length of it while you finish it later.

* Stockpile food. You don't want to be one of those people crowding at the grocery because there's a storm on its way. Stock up when you find something on sale and have a coupon. Fill the freezer with meat and veggies. Have some canned foods that can be heated for easy meals if you can't get to the grocery.

* Evaluate your wardrobe. Do you have warm pants, long sleeved shirts, flannels, warm socks, scarves, a good coat with no rips, winter boots that will repel water and keep your toes warm, ear muffs, hats, and gloves or mittens that actually block the wind? Find your weaknesses and fill them with thrift store finds. Once November gets here, you won't be able to find this stuff easily at thrift stores and you'll be forced to buy new.

* Take care of the house and lawn. Any odd jobs that need done around the homestead should be done sooner rather than later. Mend the fence, fix the roof on the chicken coop, clean out the dryer vent. Get it all out of the way so you won't have to think about it when it's cold.

* Get a new apartment. If you are in the market for a new apartment that you'll be in this winter, it is worth considering your utility bills. Since heat rises, look for a second or third story apartment so you can take advantage of your downstairs neighbor's lost heat. Consider if the bedroom is against an interior wall or an exterior wall, as the exterior walls allow a lot of cold in. Consider where the air will flow in when you open the door. In my current apartment, the front door lets in a lot of air directly into the room I sleep in, which will not work during winter.

By getting a few of these little jobs out of the way now, you can lower your bills and increase your comfort levels during the frigid months.

Happy living!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Prioritizing your Spending

Most of the suffering that comes from frugal living is not about cutting expenses, really, but from cutting the wrong ones. I am frugal so I can have the things I need and want. I just don't pay for anything else.

Often, personal finance gurus will tell you to know the difference between wants and needs and to spend only on the needs. That's a load of crap. No one can live a happy, frugal life without some of those wants! If you really want something, you should have it. The expenses you should cut are those things that you don't need, and don't really want either.

Every few months, I sit down for an hour and add up all of my check/debit/credit card purchases and organize them into different categories: groceries, utilities, eating out, business expenses, coffee dates, concerts, shopping, etc. From this, I can tell where a bulk of my money is going and figure out if it is going to the right places. On the more recent audit, I found that  "pleasure" shopping and eating out combined cost more than thrift shopping, coffee dates and concerts combined. In fact, we spent 3x as much on shopping/eating out as thrifting/coffee/concerts. However, we really don't like shopping and always feel guilty and less than satisfied with the quality of the food when eating out. Why were we spending so much on it then?

I am a pretty amazing cook, if I do say so. I also have a small apartment, so stuff takes up valuable space that I just can't spare. There is no need for me to spend money on those categories and I don't get very much pleasure at all from doing so. In fact, sometimes I feel sick after eating out (especially at Chinese buffets), so I am paying a high price to feel sick. On the other hand, I like going to local concerts and having coffee with Trucker where we read and talk for hours. I like finding things I need (or really want) for pennies on the dollar at thrift stores. I get a lot of bang for my buck.

There are a few of ways of looking at this. One: by cutting out the eating out/pleasure retail shopping categories, I would free up enough funds to go out for coffee/concerts/thrift stores four times as often as I currently do. This would certainly provide much more enjoyment for me. Two: I could take that money and throw it into savings for a big goal (right now my house down payment). Three: I could cut back my hours worked. The amount spent in this unwanted/unneeded category was the equivalent of 5 hours a week ($$$ spent divided by my pay rate after taxes). That's a lot of time spent for something I don't enjoy.

For now, I will combine the first two options. I will eliminate going out to eat, except under very rare circumstances (out of town guests, anniversary). I may go out for coffee once more a week. Otherwise, I will throw that extra money into my house fund. Just a note: by the time I am planning on buying my house, the savings will equal one third of my needed down payment! Once my goal is met, I may decide to cut back my hours, or I may wish to start saving for the next goal.

Look for things you spend money on that don't bring you pleasure and stop spending! If you make a rockin' homemade pizza that's far superior to any take out joint, stop ordering out! If you are annoyed constantly while driving three miles to work, start biking! Take the time or take the money for other things that will bring you happiness.

Happy living!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Longing for Poverty

I am not rich. My income is in one of the lower brackets. However, I'm making more money now that I have in the last few years. Truth? I kind of miss being poor.

Sure, I know that I'm in a good place. I have stability and am saving for a house of my own. I own my truck, and am not without anything I need. I suppose I should be glad, but I still long for some of the aspects of my lower-income life.

When the stock market crashed in 2008, my business failed and Trucker's hours were cut back. Once I got a job after 3 months of looking, I still only got 15 hours a week. Trucker was working 25. Since we were living in Chicago, rent was high. We had very little money left after paying rent and our utility bills. I only had $10 a week for groceries and had only a few bucks (literally) left for fun money. We were really happy.

We had lots of time to explore our city and spend time together. We played board games, went swimming in Lake Michigan, and used the library extensively. -

We had dollar date night twice a week. It wasn't anything particularly grand, but we had some of our best dates during that time.  For example, McDonald's rolled out their McCafe and gave away free 6 oz lattes on Mondays. We would walk a mile to the nearest location, each would get a latte and we'd purchase two pies for $1. We would sit and laugh together or walk around the neighborhood. Other times, Baskin Robbins had 59c ice cream cones on Wednesdays, or Dunkin Donuts would offer 25c iced coffee. During the worst month, we would walk to the grocery store and get a 25c soda from the vending machine to split as we'd take a two hour long walk.

We would spend one of our many days off by walking to the Chicago Public Library and check out a museum pass. We would walk or bike several miles away to enjoy the displays. We went to nearly every free festival in the city, from Blues Fest to Celtic Fest. We went to the free movies in Millennium Park.

We didn't have money, and sometimes did without the things we needed (such as new socks; ours were darned over and over). We weren't saving for future goals, and we weren't very secure. But we had something that is too easily lost: time. What we lacked in funds, we more than made up in creativity and innovation. We weren't bored and it was the time that we first really got to know each other and became incredible friends.

I may never be in such dire circumstances again, and I should hope to never be so close to the edge. However, I try to find a balance, somewhere between enough time and enough money.

Friday, September 2, 2011

For More Than Money

This week I was in Chicago visiting family. While there we stopped at a bakery in Archer Heights. The smell was amazing. I wandered around deciding what bread to bring home with me. After I selected a pan de canela, the baker started bringing out items for us to sample as they came out of the oven:  cream cheese and jalapeno filled rolls and corn muffins. His eyes lit up as he described each to us. He watched as we smelled, tasted, moaned and tasted again and smiled when we told him just how amazing it was. His baked goods were some of the best I've had and his passion for his occupation was awe-inspiring. Even his helpers looked proud to hear our compliments.

I have been to other bakeries that are vastly different. The baker looks frustrated and stressed. The helpers look bored and tired. Their products are okay, but far from excellent. Imagine stopping by the bakery department of one of those big grocery chain stores and expecting the baker to come up to the counter and talk with you about all the details that go into making that boule perfect. It's not going to happen.

Most people work because they need the money. And it shows in their quality of work. They are in a hurry to get the work done and go home, rather than taking time to produce the highest quality they can. This goes beyond bakers and includes those in retail, offices, finance, restaurants, grocery stores and landscapers. You can tell just by looking at the end product if the person was in it only for the money.

You can also tell the person that takes pride in their work just by watching them at it. The baker who loves to just look at their bread at the end of the shift. The waitress who knows everyone who comes in the door. The barista who perfectly steams the milk and makes latte art. The nursing home worker who looks for opportunity to engage the residents and make them laugh.

We all have to make a living somehow. However, when we are in jobs that drain us, or that we lack passion for, we spend more money forgetting work. We go out and get wasted after a shift, or need to go shopping because we work too hard not to get a little something for it. This drains our money away and we have to start working harder and longer hours. Conversely, if we work in jobs we love, that passion fills us up with happiness and the rest of our lives gets better. This might mean a lowering of expenses. When I worked as a retail manager, I hated every moment of my working life, so I spent a lot of money to try to make myself happy outside of work. Now, as a proud baker, I am happy at work. When I am away from work, I don't have to spend as much money on stuff and entertainment, so I can easily live on a lower income. When I got into a passionate career, I bought my life back.

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