Name This Blog!

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 7:00 AM

I'm announcing a contest to name this blog. "The Road to Black" is too cryptic. It needs a new name.

Criteria:

  • The new name must describe one or more significant parts of this blog: a path to debt freedom, tips, stories, family. If you want ideas, you can read the archives or look over my labels.
  • There must be a domain name available for me to register. While I'm renaming, I might as well get rid of the "blogspot" in the URL.
The Prize:
  • A link in this post and in the post in which the new name is announced
  • 200 Entrecard credits, if you use Entrecard (bloggers, join Entrecard if you haven't!)
  • A link in the sidebar if you don't have one already
The new name will be announced for the new year. Leave ideas in the comments. Thanks!

Five Tips for Saving Money On the Road

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 11:10 AM

With the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approaching, many people will be travelling — and trying to save money while doing so. Here are some money-saving tips for road trips:

1. Use cash for on-the-road purchases such as meals. It's well-documented that you spend less with cash than with debit or credit cards.

2. Check your tires and get a tune-up. A breakdown or blowout on the road will cost more than a little preventive maintenance.

3. Buy snacks ahead of time. Chips, beef jerky, sodas, and other human fuel cost a lot less at the grocery store than at convenience stores on the Interstate.

4. Know thyself when buying snacks ahead of time. In the past, with the best of intentions, I have tried to buy only healthy snacks like fruit ahead of time. Later, on the road, when I was faced with delicious salty junk food and fatty candy, expensive impulse purchases won out. If your willpower is as weak as mine is, stock up on stuff you know you will eat, not on an ideal.

5. Pack a cooler for meals. Sandwiches (your favorite sandwiches; see the tip immediately preceding) prepared in advance are just as fast as fast food, and far less expensive.

What Do You Splurge On?

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:26 AM

If you are trying to save money, get out of debt, or just live frugally, you know all about buying used, shopping sales, sticking with store brands, and other tricks to spending as little money as possible.

But we all splurge on a few things that are important to us.

A splurge is not the same as impulse buying. Impulse buying will bust your budget in a hurry. Marketers would love for you to impulse-buy rather than mindfully splurge.

Mindful splurging reflects your values and your passions.

Here are some of the few things I splurge on:

  • Organic milk. This is one of the few areas where I am willing to pay extra for organic. In our family, only the kids drink milk, and it is important for me to offer them milk that is "clean." Also, it keeps longer, not because it's organic, but because of the way it's pasteurized.
  • Cage free eggs. Hens kept in cages get bored and peck their neighbors. As a result, on many farms, the hens' beaks are removed. I don't harbor any illusions that cage-free or even free range hens live active, frolicking lives, but it's important to me to know that the birds that laid my eggs at least had beaks.
  • Baby carrots. They cost around three times as much as regular carrots — but I don't snack on regular carrots. They're just not snackable. Even pre-cut into sticks, they are just not as good to me. Since eating vegetables is important to me, I spend extra for the baby carrots.
  • Brand-name diapers. With my first child, we did well with the least expensive store-brand diapers, but my current baby seems to have more sensitive skin. The name-brand ones do seem to absorb more. We use Luvs, the cheapest of the name-brands, which do a fine job.
I want to know what you splurge on. Do you have a blog on living frugally, getting out of debt, or making money? Tell us about your mindful splurges. Leave a link in the comments!

Using Cash Boldly

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 1:43 PM

As a kid, I earned a cash allowance. Yet even so, I was conditioned against cash throughout my childhood. My mother always warned me about waving cash around where people could see it because they might try to steal it. And it was so easy to lose. Later, when I was a teenager, I was ashamed to make purchases with cash. It seemed so unsophisticated. I could not wait to have my own plastic or checks like an adult.

Now my fundamental view of cash has changed. You can't spend money you don't have with cash. No bounced checks. No credit card debt. If you can't afford it, you are incapable of buying if you use cash. It's both a method and a symbol of controlling one's spending.

But I realized I am still affected by my conditioning against cash. When I pull bills out of my envelopes to make a purchase, I tend to treat it like it's my underwear or something. I'm embarrassed that someone will actually see it.

My goal for the next week or two is to be bold when I use cash. Be obvious about it. Let people see it. Be proud of it. Using cash is counter cultural, and you can't be counter cultural if you are timid about it.

Salmonella Bacteria in Cat and Dog Food

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 7:00 AM

All babies eat cat food, right? Well, at least all babies who share their homes with cats. Dogs are less likely to leave food behind for baby to snack on, but I suppose it's possible.

Scientific American reports that 79 people in the United States have gotten sick after eating pet food contaminated with the bacteria Salmonella enterica. Most of those are under age two, which is only to be expected, since most people over age two have the good sense not to eat pet food.

As with other food potentially contaminated with bacteria, such as raw meat and poultry, it may be a good idea to treat dry pet food as a potential source of cross contamination. Wash food bowls after every feeding, and wash your hands after feedings your cats and dogs.

No pet illnesses are reported. I could tell you the probably reason why, but that would be off-topic. This is not my science blog; this is. Suffice to say that carnivores are not very susceptible to getting sick from spoiled meat. (If you are really curious, leave a comment and perhaps I will elaborate on my science blog.)

Creating a Budget When You Don't Know Your Income

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 10:09 AM

My husband recently took a new job with a modest raise. We are not eligible for health insurance for 90 days, so that expense won't come out of our paycheck until around January. They pay biweekly on a schedule offset from his previous job's schedule, which means his first paycheck was for only half a pay period.

It will be nearly two weeks before we know what his take-home pay will be.

How do you create a budget with that kind of uncertainty? Simple: you estimate.

I multiplied the one-week check by 1.8 to estimate the amount of the normal two-week check. Why 1.8 instead of 2? Because most payroll software calculates taxes on the amount of the check, not the annual income, so a bigger check will have a larger amount of tax deducted. I think this is a conservative approach.

The resulting November budget does not put much toward our debt snowball. On the other hand, that is because a great deal is being saved for various anticipated expenses: Christmas, the HOA fee (due January 1), vehicle registrations (both due in January), tire repair or replacement for one vehicle which keeps going flat, and doctor visits (I mentioned we won't have health insurance for 90 days, didn't I?). If our income estimate was low, we can take from one or more of these categories, and replace it in next month's budget. If the income estimate is high, we can add more to the debt snowball.

I hate the uncertainty of not knowing what our take-home pay will be. But there is no reason why we can't create and live on a zero budget in the mean time.

Halloween Humbug

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 3:00 PM

I confess that I am a Halloween humbug. I just don't care for the whole thing. It's not a real holiday (do people get the day off work? are the banks closed?) and it is not terribly clear what it "celebrates" (death? fear?).

We dress up the kids, take them trick-or-treating, and hand out candy to the neighbor children. We like pumpkins. But I don't go any further. No Halloween lights, no fake spider webs, no weird sound effects coming from speakers near my door.

Being a Halloween humbug means I don't appreciate other people's Halloween decorations. Autumn-themed decorations are nice, but death-themed ones, not so much. They're eyesores, to be frank.

You want your front yard to look like a cemetery? Really? You want a decaying skeleton on your mailbox? Are you sure about that?

I don't have principled reasons behind my humbuggery. It's an aesthetic thing. Halloween makes people forget their good taste. Even the colors are ugly.

Am I the only Halloween humbug? Do you enjoy creepy Halloween decor? Or would you, like me, rather skip straight to Thanksgiving cornucopias and corn stalks?