Oct 31 2008

Results of my cash-only month of shopping

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Well it’s finally the end of October — the end of my cash-only experiment.

At the beginning of the month, I withdrew $400 from my bank, intending to use it on groceries, laundry, and my other little shopping errands that pop up.

What went well:

  • I could really appreciate the value of seeing my cash supply slowly dwindle.
  • Handing over $40 here and there certainly felt different than swiping my debit card for that amount.
  • I do think I tried to spend less, since I knew I wanted to make that amount last for the whole month.

What didn’t work:

  • I wrote down most of what I spent, but there are still transactions where I forgot to do that. Who knows where the money went?
  • I forgot to budget for some things, including parking fees.
  • Toward the end of the month when my cash stash was low, I felt really broke. Even though I could have just gone to the ATM or used my debit card, I didn’t want to “fail” my little experiment. That was dumb.
  • I ran out of cash a few days ago and said, “To heck with it, I’m using my debit card instead of going without something.”

Going cash-only for a period is a good exercise in monitoring your spending habits — so long as you hang on to all receipts and/or write down every purchase. And if you absolutely do need to stick to a finite amount of spending, going cash-only will make sure you stay within the parameters.

During my final grocery trip of the month, you betcha I had my calculator in hand to make sure I wouldn’t be embarrassed at the checkout. I don’t do that when I use my debit card. I just try to keep a mental tally of my total price.

In the end though, going cash-only didn’t work for me. I hated feeling so limited. It sort of stressed me out, even.

For November and the foreseeable future, I’m going back to my debit card. I’ll still follow somewhat of a budget for our flexible expenses, but I’ll approach it knowing that hey, you can’t know exactly how much you’ll need to spend in a month. There are unbudgetables that will certainly pop up.

I’ll track our spending and make adjustments as the month goes on.


Oct 29 2008

How I’m going to outsmart old man winter

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When I stumbled into the kitchen at 7 a.m., it was still dark outside. I fumbled with my glasses and searched for a sweatshirt and sweatpants to keep off the chill.

“It’s starting to snow,” Shane told me.

I turned, facing our northern window, shaking my fist in protest.

Here in Pittsburgh, we abruptly went from warm sunshine to frosty mornings and freezing rain. While we could see temperatures back in the 60s, I’m not counting on it. Though it’s not quite November, I think it’s time I discussed some tips and tricks for keeping warm this winter.

Winterize your house

Seriously. Don’t avoid this one, unless you live in a tropical climate or love paying ridiculously high heat bills. Last year, I installed foam covers on the reverse side of our electrical outlets and covered our windows.

Window treatments: I’ll repeat what I did last year. After cleaning the windows to remove dirt (adhesive tape sticks better to clean surfaces), I lined the seals and other edges of our windows with adhesive foam tape. Then, I covered the seals with blue painter’s tape. I wanted to make sure the tape stayed put for a few months, and I hoped the tape would add an extra little layer of protection.

Next, I covered the windows with clear plastic designed for this purpose. Finally, I rolled some beach towels and placed them along the window sills. I thought the towels might be a bit of overkill, but on one particularly frigid day in February, I felt just how cold those towels were. They were doing their part to keep cold air from seeping in, and hey, since they’re beach towels, they’re a little reminder that summer will come again eventually.

The whole project cost less than $20. See how frosty my windows can get, even after being bundled up.

Doors: We have one door to our apartment, and it opens into an enclosed entryway. I’m sure this setup helps us stay warm inside. Still, this year I’ve added a foam door seal along the base to keep drafts out, but also to prevent our heat from seeping into the hallway.

Insulation: If your attic could use some more insulation, do it now, rather than wish you did come January.

Be sure your furnace is working properly. One broken bit could quadruple your bill, a customer service rep. at my electric company told me last year. And, change your filters regularly. Also, turn it on now just to make sure it works. You don’t want to turn it on in a few weeks when you really need it, to find something wrong with it.

Change the settings on ceiling fans. Flip that little switch on the fan so that air is blowing upward, rather than down.

Close your doors. Keep closets closed, as well as bathroom doors and doors to rooms you’re not using throughout the day. I close the vents in my bedroom during the day, and the ones in the living room at night.

Adjust your thermostat. If you have a programmable one, you’re in great shape (so long as you adjust the temperatures!). See how cool you can keep it before driving your family nuts, and be sure to lower your thermostat when you’re not home. Typically, you can set it lower at night when you’ll be toasty under your covers. Just don’t set it so low that you’re too cold. It can be dangerous — even life-threatening.

Maximize extra heat

Don’t use your shower’s exhaust fan. In the winter, we don’t use the exhaust fan in our bathroom. We want to keep that warm, moist air in the apartment for as long as we can. I tape over the switch so we don’t forget this. After a warm shower, we leave the bathroom door open for awhile so that nice air can escape to the rest of the apartment. After that, we close the door again.

Open your oven door. Of course, you should never ever use your regular oven to heat your house. But if you’ve used it to bake some goodies, why not leave the door open a crack so that heat can warm up your kitchen? It’s only a good idea if you don’t have pets, small children, or clumsy adults living with you.

Stay toasty

Keep blankets handy. I have a basket of throw blankets ready for cuddling with. I’ll also use our warmer bedsheets and add an extra blanket to our bed. Don’t really need this now, since I’m a human furnace, but on down the road that extra blanket will feel nice.

Pre-warm your bed. If you can’t stand the initial chill of cold bedsheets when you first turn in, heat up a rice sock and put it under the covers a few minutes before bedtime. It’ll start to warm things up, and you can hold on to it. Or…you could have your spouse get into bed first, but lay on your side to warm it. Heh.

Eat warm things. Believe it or not, not all people are significantly warmed when they drink hot coffee. Weirdos, I know. But if I want to warm up from the inside out, I just drink some hot tea, cocoa or coffee. Choosing hot foods over cold alternatives also helps me. This morning, I had hot oatmeal (used some apple cider in place of water and added cinnamon and brown sugar — oh man, that’s good!). If I had cold cereal, I’d certainly feel cold.

Wear warm clothes. Duh. You already know this, but let’s just say one of you is from Hawaii, and you’re spending your first winter in a northern climate. Layers are your friend. Wear a t-shirt or tank under a long-sleeved shirt, and put a sweater, jacket or vest over that. Wear heavier-weight pants, or leggings/hosiery with your skirts. And for goodness’ sake, wear socks! I know ballet flats are super cute, but when it’s cold out, wear sensible socks and boots! Sometimes, two pair of socks are needed.

For those sub-zero days, you can’t go wrong with a pair of long johns under your pants. Whether you opt for real thermal underwear or some sort of cotton blend, this important layer can make a huge difference on your comfort.

If you’re shopping for a winter coat right now, then look for something that will cover your rear. It’s amazing how much warmer you’ll be with a covered rump. The coat should fit snugly against your body, so that no air can seep in. If the sleeves don’t have binding at your wrists, then you’ll want longer gloves to compensate. Attached hoods are nice, since they can help protect your neck from the elements.

I have two winter coats: A black semi-water resistant (I think/hope) coat that ought to be good until about 25-30 degrees, and then a big blue monstrosity that I wear on days so cold your snot freezes in your nose. That does happen, by the way. Both coats are from Old Navy.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good hat, scarf and gloves. Some people go without these items. I don’t know why. Your head loses a lot of body heat, and if your ears get too cold, they can hurt pretty bad. Scarves are incredible. It’s amazing how such a small piece of fabric can keep you so much warmer. My husband refuses to wear one, but maybe I can find a super-manly scarf and convince him to try it this year. Finally, gloves will help keep your fingers from falling off. Yah. Ever tried to scrape car windows or drive in a cold car without gloves? It’s torture.

In your car

One day, I will have a garage. And it will be lovely. Until then, I get to deal with the joys of a frosty car. There are a few things you can do with an outdoor-living vehicle to try to outsmart winter.

Park facing the east. If you don’t need your car until after the sun rises (yay, daylight saving time next week), those sunbeams facing your front windshield can help minimize the dew or ice on that window. Of course, you’ll still have three other sides to deal with, but maybe your biggest window will be in slightly better shape. Plus, the direct sunlight can start to warm up your steering wheel and seat.

Remote car starter, anyone? I don’t have one, but I’m thinking I’d really love to have a remote car starter. Of course, this isn’t great on gas or the environment, but if you’re going to let your car run for awhile so it’ll heat up, you might as well be able to start it without going outside first. Anyone know what this costs to have one installed?

Emergency supplies. Hopefully you have a first-aid kit in your trunk. In some pre-assembled kits, you’ll find a space blanket. I also keep a regular blanket to wrap up in if we need it, and I’ll probably add one or two more. It couldn’t hurt to have some warm clothes (especially warm socks!) in your trunk as well. I’m going to toss a pair of socks in my husband’s work bag, so he can put them on at work if his feet get wet or extra cold.

Gas. Some people suggest not letting your tank dip below 1/4 full ever — especially during the winter. But, if you can stand filling it up a little more often, it might be a good idea to keep it closer to 1/2 full at all times. You just never know when you might be stranded somewhere. It’s no fun to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, or on a busy freeway.

Other car maintenance: Oil changes, fluids topped off, tires rotated and inspected for wear, tires properly inflated (check this often, as cold air can really help seep air from your tires) and any important repairs. Do ’em now.

The proof is in the numbers. Last winter, I tracked our electric usage and kept track of our bills. Our highest electric bill was $89, but we had a $67 bill from late October to mid- November.

From the bloggosphere:

How do you stay warm in the winter?



Hey! I'm Kacie, wife to Shane and mother to Jonathan (8), Vivienne (6) and Amelia (3) . I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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