Personal Finance 
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10 Frugal Hobbies

Royal LibraryIt’s easy to jump into the car and head to the movies if you want something to do this weekend, but it’s mighty expensive when tickets are $9-$10 and gas is $4 a gallon. However, it costs far less if you visit your local library and borrow a movie and watch it at home. It costs far less if you borrow a book or volunteer or do any of the ten hobbies I’ve listed below.

So, this weekend, instead of going for the easier, more expensive, option, try one of these.

Reading

Reading is my wife’s favorite hobby and, best of all, it can be one that cost very very little if you have a library nearby (if you prefer to buy books, reading is a very expensive hobby). We were lucky to find a home that is actually right next to the library, a mere three minute walk, so we essentially have a bookshelf of thousands of books, movies, magazines, and newspapers at our disposal. Even if you don’t have one within walking distance, you can easily pick up a month’s worth of books in one trip and then renew them online if your library offers it. Reading is perhaps one of the most frugal hobbies you could have (if you borrow the books!).

Community Center Classes

Our local community center shares the same building as the library and so we often check the schedule for any interesting classes. The courses are often quite reasonably priced but the downside is that many of them occur during the workday (it doubles as a senior center too). For a few dollars a class ($5-20), you can learn all sorts of cool hobbies.

Volunteering

When I was younger, I volunteered at the children’s center of the local hospital. The children’s center was a large room filled with toys and our responsibility was to play games with the children who had been admitted. My friend Raymond and I had a great time playing board games with the kids and learning all about them and their conditions. It was amazing how resilient and fearless they were given their medical conditions, but it was a great way to spend a few hours on the weekend (plus they gave us lunch vouchers!). Consider volunteering to a local organization such as a hospital, soup kitchen, or something of that nature – they will greatly appreciate it (and you can deduct the driving).

Bird Watching

Heading over to your local park is a great way to spend a leisurely afternoon enjoying the sights and sounds of the wilderness without spending a lot of cash. If you have some spare change, you could always pick up a pair of cheap binoculars from your local sporting goods store or a thrift shop. If not, you certainly don’t need one to enjoy the birds. Visit the local Department of Natural Resources (DNR), or their website, for your county and see if they have any recommendations.

Hiking

While you’re at the local DNR, look for a pamphlet or brochure on good hiking trails in your area. You can often hike regular trails with little more than a pair of sneakers and you might want to spring a little extra for sunscreen and bug spray, depending on where you live.

Geocaching

Think of geocaching like hiking, except the purpose isn’t necessarily to reach a summit or a great view, but to find a little hidden package in the ground. It’s like a walk in the park but with a defined purpose. This is probably one of the more expensive of the hobbies on this list because you’ll need a GPS unit (~$100) but I wanted to bring it up because it sounded so interesting. There are hundreds in my zip code alone… now I just need a GPS unit. :)

Disc Golf

Golf is expensive. Disc golf… practically free (you’ll need a frisbee though). Disc golf is like golf except you throw a frisbee-like disc and try to get it into a basket or hit a post of some kind. Another huge difference is that you don’t have to spend thousands on clubs and hundreds on green’s fees because discs are inexpensive and the “courses” are often on public parks (PDGA’s course search tool). Enjoy the outdoors and consider this burgeoning sport! (they have a tour and championships!)

Card Games

All it takes is a pack of cards, some friends, and you have yourself a card game. Learn classics like Gin, Rummy, Bridge, Hearts, Spades, or even Go Fish. Avoid games like poker, as they can expensive if you’re bad. :)

Basketball

A pair of sneakers and a $20 basketball (and at least one friend, preferably in even numbers) is all you need for a game of pickup basketball. You can usually find a court outside near your local high school and it’s a great workout.

Blogging!

How could I not list blogging as a frugal hobby? It’s like scrapbooking but for all the Internets to see and you can do it absolutely free. There are plenty of services like Google’s Blogger and WordPress.com where you can start one up for free. And who knows, maybe you can learn to become a problogger and earn a little money off it!

(Photo by cuellar)


 Frugal Living 
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Leftover Calendar: Reduce Food Spoilage

Leftover CalendarMy wife and I have been trying to cook more often as a way to combat rising everything prices to the tune of three dinners a week (Friday is happy hour, duuuh). One unfortunate side effect of this is that we’ve been throwing out our leftovers as we discover them pushed into the back of our refrigerator. Boooo! :(

The solution is to use a leftover calendar. For us, we took advantage of a calendar we already have in the kitchen and turned it into our leftover calendar. We just found ourselves Sharpie and stuck it on top of a calendar hanging on the wall. As we made meals, we’d write what we made in the box for that day. As we ate the leftovers, we’d cross it off the list. With one glance, you can see what we have left as well as the priority they should be eaten in (if you really are in the mood for anything). It acts like an inventory, so we know what we have in our fridge, when we made it and roughly how long we have left until it’ll go bad.

We only started using the calendar since the beginning of the month and I’m happy to report that the only thing we’ve thrown out is a small container of homemade chicken broth. I estimate that it’s been in there for about a month, so I claim that it’s a casualty of the pre-leftover calendar system. :)

We don’t confine this list strictly to leftover we made ourselves, or leftovers themselves. Last night we visited our favorite Pho place and my wife brought back some leftovers, those made it on the calendar. When she eats them, they’ll get crossed off rather than tossed out because we forgot the small white box behind the milk.

Lastly, we also plan on marking raw foods we buy, like chicken or beef, so that we are aware of the limited amount time we have. We rarely throw out raw foods, maybe once every six month, because we don’t buy them unless we plan on using them.

As they say, “Out of sight, out of mind” and we hope this leftover calendar prevents that (so far so good!).


 Frugal Living 
3
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BFP Garden Project: 2 More “Pots”

Thank you to everyone who commented on the last two garden posts ($29 kickoff and $60 worth of planters), it was based on those comments that we decided to buy some more “planters” (you’ll see why I use the quotes later) and move some tomato plants.

The recommendation was that each tomato have about five gallons of dirt to play in. Our solution was to buy five gallon buckets (we could’ve gone to restaurants and asked) from Home Depot and move some tomatoes out of the party buckets they were in. So, the huge planters now have at most three tomatoes and two five gallon buckets have one tomato each. We’ll be giving the odd tomato out to my parents.

Trip damage: $8 (lost the receipt, it’s something liek that)
Running total: $98.20

Our plants are growing pretty well with nothing too tragic yet. We’ve been having some wet days recently so the little guys are getting plenty to drink, plenty of sun, and things are progressing nicely.

MSN had an article recently about the best plants to grow yourself. They were fruit trees, lettuce, herbs, vine vegetables, and bell peppers. We are growing a few herbs, some eggplants, and bell peppers (orange and green) so three out of five ain’t bad (fruit is out of the question here). I wish we could grow fruit trees. In Hawaii, everyone had fruit trees (and chickens!). So every morning at the bed & breakfasts we would have tons of fresh fruit (that’s not even that much of an exaggeration).

The five plants you should skip: Potatoes, carrots, celery, asparagus and wheat. There’s no chance we would’ve grown any of those. :)


 Cars, Personal Finance 
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Can You Really Give Up Your Car?

Higher gas prices suck, but you’re willing to pay them. You’re willing to pay them, much like I’m willing to pay them, because you pretty have no choice but to fund the extravagant palaces of those oil rich families in the Middle East (if you think Exxon is making insane profits, it’s nothing compared to many of the ruling families over there) right? Well, if you’re like me, you’ve probably considered what it would take to surrender the keys to your car and came away with the conclusion that life would be too difficult without your car… but would it?

Mass Transportation

If you live in a major city, mass transit is your best “next alternative” to a car. For people in New York City, with an intricate subway system, this is a no brainer. In fact, very few people who live in NYC have cars because it’s simply not worth it. Why pay for a car, insurance, gas, and parking when you can easily get around the city for a subway token or cab fare? If you need to leave the city, rent a car or go with a ZipCar. If you need to move a lot of stuff, rent a truck or van.

In fact, if you live in a major metropolitan area (the full list of participating cities, surprisingly NYC isn’t on the list), Google Maps can give you a “Take Public Transit” option that includes walking. The next time you do a search between places in a city, look for a “Take Public Transit” link in the Directions section (next to the Drive There option) and it’ll explain exactly how to get there. Pretty useful!

Unfortunately, if you live in the city then you’ve already realized this. If you don’t live in the city, you can’t benefit as much from this. If you live in the city but work outside of it, again you probably can’t benefit significantly from this either. That puts you in the same boat as those people who live in the sprawling suburbs. Is it really possible to give up your car? The answer is yes, if you’re willing to do the work. Transportation comes down to figuring your options and taking advantage of the resources you have available, which oftentimes is time.

Bicycle

If you have a bicycle, you have the second best mode of transportation available to you (the first being your legs). The key here is to take advantage of it by researching how to get to different places using only your bicycle. I knew a guy (Paul G, this is you if you’re out there) who would bike a twenty minute car commute once a week (or more, I can’t remember) for the exercise. This is the same guy that one day came in with a broken thumb because he fell into a big crash at a weekend bike race! He knew all the little detours underneath highways so that he never had to cross a major highway. If you want to bike to work or to the mall or wherever, you need to find yourself a Paul G. either in person or on the internet.

Incidentally, you should never try to cross a highway. If you can’t find a way around, scrap the idea of biking into work entirely. The danger is simply not worth it.

Also, there’s a petition to Google to provide a Bike There feature like the “Take Public Transit” option mentioned earlier. If this is ever made available it would be awesome.

Walk

This option requires a little planning at the buy/rent phase, meaning you need to plan the idea of walking someplace into your decision to buy a home or rent a home/apartment/condo. We lucked out and bought a house that gives us the opportunity to walk to a library, bank, supermarket, liquor store (this is crucial!), neighborhood bar, and some random food places (that we’ve never eaten at).

When you are thinking about buying a place, keep this in mind when you’re surveying the neighborhood. How easy is it to navigate the area on foot? Are there a lot of paths? Are they well lit? While you can’t walk to work, at least you can try to find a place that is within walking distance to a lot of other places you’d frequent.

Other Modes of Transportation

I’m at a loss to think of any other modes of transportation other than by train, bike, or foot… anyone have any clever ideas? Segways are out of the question. :)


 Frugal Living 
21
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Save Earth & Cents with Reusable Shopping Bags

This Is Not A Plastic BagFrugality has met environmentalism at my local Giant supermarket as those 99 cent reusable shopping bags can now net you a five cent discount at the checkout register. It’s estimated that Americans consume a hundred billion plastic shopping bags each year and we recycle about none of them. Those hundred billion end up in the woods, in the water, and in the throats of small furry animals, so do your part and start using reusable shopping bags because it can actually save you some money too.

At 99 cents each and a nickel discount each time you use them, it’s a mere twenty visits before each bag pays for itself. After the twenty visits, you start turning a small profit on the bags and can save yourself some money while saving the environment. And if you don’t want to spend the dollar on a reusable bag and you don’t have any totes, you can always turn a tanktop into a shopping bag (or use some other feat of ingenuity). :)

These stores offer some sort of discount for using a reusable shopping bag:

  • Giant Foods,
  • Whole Foods,
  • Trader Joes,
  • Krogers,
  • Super Fresh

If you know of a store that offers a discount for using a reusable bag, please leave it in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list.

(Photo by bsing)


 Frugal Living 
15
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BFP Garden Project: Need More Planters & Potting Soil

This weekend we took our potentially financially viable crop and turned it into a 100% guaranteed financial loss (but no worries, we’re building for the future!). As it turns out, tomatoes need about a quarter of my body weight in dirt to grow to their full potential and we weren’t even close to having that much space for them with the existing planters we had. We knew that tomatoes grew best in the ground but we didn’t have anywhere in the ground to put them that actually got any sun, so planters were our only other option. We clearly did not have enough planters for them so we visited the local Home Depot to pick up planters and some more potting soil.

Trip damage cost: $61.20
Total cost: $90.20 ($29 spent on the kickoff of the BFP Garden Project)

We bought three big pots (two 20″ wide and one 16″ wide) for some of the tomatoes and the eggplant, plus six cubic feet of potting soil. It turns out we got potting soil that was really nutrient rich and had to be mixed in with existing ground soil (it was the type of stuff that had lot of compost in it), so we really only used about 5/6ths of the $23.31 of potting soil we purchased, but now we’re splitting hairs.

Planters for Tomatoes

As you can see in the above, we packed in 4 and then 5 tomato plants in each of the bigger planters and then stuck a tomato with an eggplant in the smaller 16″ planter. We’ll see how the packed in party goes… we didn’t have any other place for the tomatoes so we did the best with the space we have.

I considered doing the proper corporate accounting method of amortizing the pots to make the financials work a little better but what’s the schedule for plastic planter pots? Five years? Seven years? Thirty? :)

Anyway, it’s possible that our $90 investment can yield, in its first year, $90 worth of vegetables but who knows. We’ll keep our eyes on the little guys and you never know!

Anyone have any more gardening advice? Both of us aren’t experienced in the ways of the green so any and all advice is appreciated!


 Frugal Living 
10
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BFP Garden Project: $29 Kick-off

My wife and are planning on putting together a small little garden of potted plants that have had success with in the past. Our deck doesn’t get a tremendous amount of sun because of enormous trees behind our property but it gets enough that we’ve had pretty good success growing tomato and peppers in the past. This year, we’ve decided to give the garden project another go and document our progress.

This past weekend, we visited our local farmers market and picked up $29 worth of plants and potting soil and anticipate that will be the extent of our expenses besides water. Due to prior garden projects, we have a sufficient number of planters as well as some fertilizer, so we should be set in those departments.

BFP Garden Project: $29 of Garden Loot!

For $29 we were able to pick up:

  • Cayenne Pepper (2)
  • Eggplant (2)
  • Thai Basil (1)
  • Hot Pepper – Kung Poa (1)
  • Sweet Basil (1)
  • Orange Bell Pepper (2)
  • Patio Tomato (1)
  • Oregano (1)
  • Super Steak Tomato (6)
  • Green Sweet Bell Pepper (6)
  • Roma Tomato (6)
  • 40 lbs. Country Boy Potting Soil

As they grow, we’ll compare them to the grocery store prices and see if the whole garden process is “worth it.” My hypothesis is that the financials will come close and the real value is in being able to say you’re somewhat self-sustainable (and gardening is fun!).

Right now, tomatoes on the vine are going at $2.79 a pound, orange bell peppers were $2+ a pound (by far the most expensive of the bell peppers), and green bell peppers were under $2 a pound. While I don’t see us getting ten pounds of tomatoes, they’re certainly the most valuable of the vegetables we purchased.


 Frugal Living 
7
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You Don’t Always Need The Best Deal, Just A Deal

On relatively inexpensive things, it’s oftentimes good enough to get a decent deal rather than hold out for the absolute best deal ever.

Every once in a long while, usually around large sporting events or during the hot summer months, my local Giant Food has a great deal of five 12-packs of soda for ten dollars. At $2 a pack, this brings the price per can of soda down to less than 17 cents a piece. This is compared to a regular price of $3.99 a 12-pack (I think, but I can’t be certain because I’ve never purchased it at full price before) which turns that seventeen cent piece of caffeinated heaven into a nearly 34 cent David Bach-worthy indulgence (okay, there was a bit of hyperbole involved there but you catch my drift). Those five for $10 deals aren’t very frequent and oftentimes Giant Food throws its customers a bone and offers the 12-packs at three for $10 or sometimes four for $10. At those prices, the unit cost of a can is only slightly lower but don’t carry the stigma of full price.

My strategy for weathering the droughts between good soda deals was to not purchase soda at all. It’s arguably better health-wise to skip the soda (one of my friends doesn’t drink soda on the advice of his dentist because the acidity damages your enamel if you let it linger) so I often go for more coffee when it’s cooler or plain water when it’s hotter. However, every so often I’ll crave a soda and then drop $1.29 for one of the plastic 20 oz. bottles. The end result is that it’s either feast or famine… I either get the deal and buy cans at seventeen cents or a bottle at over seven times the price (ignore the fact that I get eight more ounces because it’s not really relevant for the purposes of this discussion).

So lately I’ve been following my own maxim of getting a decent deal in the absence of the best deal. The five for $10 isn’t always available, but the 3 for $10 and the 4 for $10 is usually available and I pick up one to hold me over. By spending a little more, I prevent myself from going all the way over to the other extreme and get more value for my dollar in the long run.

Or I could quit drinking soda and stick with tap water, which costs nearly nothing. :)


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