A blog about spending wisely in your twenties, with advice on everything from cooking to saving money on gas; how to teach yourself to save money instead of spending it, traveling without breaking the bank, and much more.

Friday, April 11, 2008

You've Got Less Than Five Days, Kids...

It's April 11th. Why haven't you filed your taxes? If you have, well done. If you filed and you gave away some of your money for a refund loan, shame! It took less than 10 days for my refund to be direct deposited into my bank account in January. My state refund took even less time. Don't give away your money!

Did you make less than $54,000 last year? If you're reading this blog, chances are you did. Did you know that you qualify to file your taxes online for free? I used used H&R Block's Taxcut Free File (other companies are available) to file my federal return & the CA Franchise Tax Board's CalFile for my state return. If you're not in California, find the website for your state's tax board, chances are you can file for free through them.

I'm sure everyone's heard the buzz about the Economic Stimulus Rebate. What you may not know is that you'll receive it faster if you opt to receive your refund via direct deposit. If you haven't filed yet, make sure you choose to have your refund direct deposited, that way your stimulus rebate will be direct deposited as well, and you'll receive it earlier.

Once you've filed your taxes, you can use the IRS's Rebate Calculator to determine how much of a rebate you'll be receiving.

Here's the payment schedule for the rebates:
Last two SSN digits:
00 through 20 Receive Payment on: May 2
21 through 75 Receive Payment on: May 9
76 through 99 Receive Payment on: May 16


Last two SSN digits:
00 through 09 Payment Mailed by: May 16
10 through 18 Payment Mailed by: May 23
19 through 25 Payment Mailed by: May 30
26 through 38 Payment Mailed by: June 6
39 through 51 Payment Mailed by: June 13
52 through 63 Payment Mailed by: June 20
64 through 75 Payment Mailed by: June 27
76 through 87 Payment Mailed by: July 4
88 through 99 Payment Mailed by: July 11

Good luck, and don't wait so long next year!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An Argument For VHS

The losers of the format wars can be some of the biggest winners when it comes to saving your money. If you can get over the thrill of purchasing a movie the second it's released on the latest format, you can end up with a great collection. I know that there are video-philes out there who swear by DVD and the idea of watching a VHS makes them twitch. To that I say, get over it. If you've got the money to afford your fine tastes, go ahead and indulge in new release High-Def (or is it Blue Ray now?) movies for $14.99 a pop- but if you just want to watch a movie without spending a ton of money, then outdated media may be for you.

VHS is the most obvious choice. You can pick up a VCR for well under $10 at a Goodwill (or free on craigslist) and videocassettes are cheap as heck at thrift shops and yard sales. If you've got a particular movie in mind, look it up on Amazon, ebay, or half.com. Chances are, you'll find what you're looking for for 99 cents or less. Finding even a used DVD priced that low is pretty rare, unless the movie was godawful.

A second option that doesn't even occur to most people is Laserdisc. For just under a decade Laserdisc was the wave of the future, before folks realized the disc didn't have to be nearly so big and moved on to DVD. Laserdiscs tend to be even cheaper than VHS when purchased at a thrift shop, though they might run you a little more online. The disadvantage to Laserdisc is that there are fewer of them, and you can't really find anything released post-2002 (at the latest).

Buying your movies used and on outdated formats can save you a ton of money. Having a dual VCR/DVD player makes life in our house pretty great. We can buy loads of movies on VHS for $1 or less to keep, and we rent our TV shows (or movies too new for outdated formats) on DVD from Netflix.

While rows and rows of shiny DVDs look great, too often a $14.99 DVD gets watched once and then lives on a shelf for years. If you've got piles and piles of DVDs, I encourage you give them an honest look-through. How many of them have you played more than once in the past six months? I'll bet anyone between the ages of 18-30 has a huge pile of movies and music they're not watching. If you made a list and researched how much your unwatched movies and un-listened to CDs sell for online, I'll bet you could make a nice chunk of change. Why hang onto items you're not using when you could turn them into money that will earn interest? Why not sell your DVDs that can be replaced with an older format and chuck the difference into savings (or at your credit card debt)? Why not just buy a movie on VHS at Goodwill or half.com in the first place? You can watch it over and over again, and it won't lose nearly as much value as a DVD.

Now, I know there are people who will say "But Margaret! You plebe! DVDs have better picture clarity and sound and omg it is ALWAYS better!" and they're correct. Owning movies you really love and will watch semi-often on DVD can have lasting value. There are about 50 to 100 movies that I'd love to own on DVD one day, but for now I'm perfectly happy to rent them or watch them on VHS or Laserdisc. If you really Only Want DVDs Ever (or if a movie you adore is too new to have ever been released on VHS), please- at least have the patience to buy them used.

Ten new DVDs a year will cost you about $149.90 (assuming you're paying an average of $14.99 for them). Ten used DVDs (assuming they're about $7.99 on average) will run you $79.90. Ten movies on VHS will run you $20 tops, probably less. That's $59.90 - $129.90 a year in potential savings. Personally, I'd rather just rent 2+ DVDs a week from Netflix for about $1.12 or less each over the course of a year than have unwatched movies on any format just sitting around. But I've totally got the original Star Wars Trilogy (box set!) taking up space. It was $2 at a yard sale (that's for all three), and you never know when it might be time for a Star Wars fix. If I watch any one of them just once a year, it'll cost me just 66 cents per viewing. If I'd bought it on DVD when it was finally released and watched any one of the set once a year, it'd run me about $17.33 per viewing. Consider the cost of a movie in viewings per year. Whip out that cell phone calculator and tell me if it's really worth it to purchase a DVD you'll watch maybe twice. That's [Price of DVD] / [Estimated Viewings per Year] = Cost Per Viewing.

You can probably think of something better to do with that money.

As with everything else you might decide you Must Have, consider your bottom line. What's more important to you? Saving money for a trip/apartment deposit/house/car/wedding/safety net/debt reduction or being able to see every single pore on Christian Bale's face?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The No-Groceries Experiment Update

This month's experiment to spend no money on groceries is going swimmingly so far. (Well, it is only the 9th. But still!). The closest I've come to grocery shopping is paying one roommate back for 6 or 7 bottles of beer and asking the other to please pick up a lime. I've eaten/drank:

Leftover Pesto Pasta
Bow Tie Noodles with Tomato Sauce
Pea Soup (vegetarian)
Pancakes (make a Big Batch on a weekend morning, and then freeze enough for quick breakfasts during the week)
Irish Soda Bread
Peanut Butter Cookies
Black Bean Soup (with cilantro from my container garden!)
Corn Bread
Chocolate Truffle Cookies
A Bagel or Two
Sweet Iced Tea
Apple Juice
+Burgers from Work (about 5 a week)

The soup + bread combo works wonders for me. I can make a big batch of soup and I'll get about two dinners (me + Boyfriend), one or two lunches for me, and I can send some with him to work. If I make a batch of a quick bread to pair with it, I've got quite a filling meal indeed.

Because even Pea Soup haters love my Pea Soup, though it might more accurately be called Vegetarian Pea Stew, here's my recipe (in all of it's guesstimating glory):

1 lb Split Peas
7 c water
2 vegetable boullion cubes
2 large carrots
2 small potatoes
1 brown onion
1 1/2 Tbs Cumin
2 or 3 Bay Leaves
Tabasco Sauce

Place the split peas in a bowl with 3 cups water to soak. Put the other 4 cups of water in a stock pot to boil. Chop the carrots and potatoes into your version of bitesize. Peel the onion and chop it in half. When the water in the pot boils, toss in the boullion cubes. Once the cubes dissolve, dump the split peas (do not drain), the half onion, carrots, and potatoes into the pot. Add the cumin, bay leaves, and salt & pepper to taste. Add Tabasco if desired. Keep in stock pot over medium-low heat for about 30 mins, or until peas have become mushy and potatoes are tender. Remove onion and bay leaves before serving.

You can replace the boullion cubes + water with vegetable broth if you like.

I make a batch of this soup about once a month. I eat at least one meal a day for about week with it, and that includes feeding my significant other when he comes over. I serve it with Irish Soda Bread or plain old biscuits.

And the very best part is that this soup costs me less than $5 to make. Much, much less. More often than not, I'll offer this one up to the roommates for dinner, because they love it. Even my roommate's 5 year old daughter will attest that the mushy green stew "... looks yucky but it tastes really good!"

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Where Even Roaches Fear to Tread

Here's a bit of advice you won't find in too many finance blogs; What do you do when the kitchen in your communal apartment (or house) is far too filthy to cook in? I consider myself very lucky- our kitchen is so huge that even when the dishes pile up a bit, there's still room to make dinner. And even when the dishes pile up, you'll never find actual food still stuck to them. But we're in the very lucky minority. Most twentysomethings living in apartments (or houses) with more than one roommate have kitchens a Hazmat team would balk at, and it's not just about who left their plate & spoon in the sink for a week.

Four week old leftovers rotting in the fridge. Some of the dirtiest stovetops known to man. Pots and pans and baking sheets that would be better suited to a scrap metal shop (or a landfill). The list goes on. Not to mention the fact that most apartment kitchens are more like the tiny galleys you might find on a submarine. And just as amazingly, it's never anyone's fault, even though the filthiness of communal kitchens is generally everyone's fault, whether they realize it or not.

So what do you do? Grumble to yourself a bit, and then clean it yourself. The half hour to hour a week you'll spend cleaning your kitchen is worth it. If you spend an hour a week cleaning your kitchen so that you can prepare meals in advance, you won't have to go out and drop $5-$10 (or more) every time you walk into the kitchen and sigh at the filth. Just pull out the pasta you made on Tuesday while the kitchen was clean for 24 hours, warm it up, and wash your spoon and bowl when you're done.

One hour of your time to clean up a mess that is at least partially yours is certainly worth not spending $40 or more a week on fast food. Right? Cleaning up after someone else might suck (and most of us have been on both sides of this equation, I think), but in the long run isn't your financial bottom line more important than the injustice of washing out your roommate's girlfriend's cereal bowl?

The Festival of Frugality

On the heels of yesterday's Carnival of Personal Finance, I also participated in this week's Festival of Frugality at Penny Saved. Highlights include How to Get Anything for Free Online and 32 Reasons to Be Frugal Besides Saving Money.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Carnival of Personal Finance

Hey guys! I participated in the traveling Carnival of Personal Finance this week. Loads of bloggers contributed, but here are the articles I think you guys will find the most useful.

The Cost Of Instant Gratification I go on and on about how having credit isn't the same thing as having savings. Here's a great post at Moolanamy to drive the point home.

How to Get Great Credit in 2008 Pracical tips to raise your credit score at The Penny Mine.

21 Days to a Negative Money Habit Jennifer at SavingAdvice.com tackles 21 nasty spending habits and how to combat them.

Finance Girl plays "I Never" with her finances.

There are many, many more articles over at the full carnival on Moneyning. Check 'em out!