The misadventures of a first time father

Tag Archives: Saving money

library-shelvesRepository of knowledge. Information Center. Bibliotecha. Whatever you call it, libraries are the bomb.

Do kids still say the bomb?

I absolutely love libraries and these days I’ve rekindled that romance after a shifting mindset with an emphasis on simplicity and purging. This summer, Meg and I made it a goal to sort through the numerous boxes in our basement and closets that have sat there since we moved, and some well before that sat dormant in the basement of our previous house. And while the amount of ‘stuff’ varied, one thing that we certainly had a lot of, was books. Books we’ve read, many books we hadn’t, books we’re likely to never, ever read that just looked nice on a bookshelf. But of those books we had read, they were rarely, if ever going to be read again.

First LIbrary Card Rev1And so this growing fire of simplification was inspiration to start using the public library system more for things that were only going to get one use. The best part of all – we brought the kids with us.

On our son’s fifth birthday, Meg took him to our local library where he excitedly signed up for his first library card and walked away with an armful of books to sift through at home (yes, even though mommy told him to limit it to three). The next week or so were filled with great new stories at bedtime and any random time. And the best part – when we were all done, we brought them back.

No finding shelf space or storage space, no added clutter around the house.

And the selection! So much to choose from, right at your fingertips! Whether some Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems for the kids, or a non-fiction or novel for mom and dad (or graphic novel, even!), we get to enjoy the pleasure of reading, enjoying, then returning and it’s wonderful.

Yes, at times it can be a bit of a struggle to pull the kids away from the fun of toys in the play area, or the cool games on computers or tablets set up for public use. But it’s just part of what the library has to offer folks and I can’t encourage patronizing your local library enough.

library booksLibraries are books, they are knowledge, they are information for the masses versus only those who can afford it. It is access to technology to complete homework, to apply for a job, or conduct important research. They’re more than stacks. They’re a community center.

I know. I know. This post reads as if I only just discovered the library.

On the contrary. I worked in a public library for a bit of time when I was in college and my wife is a school librarian. And we’ve both been visiting our local libraries since we were little, but I think in this modern, internet-commerce world, it becomes easy to hop online and drop a few bucks (or a lot of bucks) for a book we have a sudden urge to read, but might never read again.

Are we done with bookstores and online ordering? Gosh, no. But we’re just becoming pickier about what we want to have eating up space, about what we’re buying that we don’t need to. And visiting our local libraries has certainly helped.

Yes. I’m excited to talk about my love of the library because let’s just think about this for a minute. There is a place where anyone can go, find information on almost anything, or entertaining reading on almost anything, catch up on the newspaper, use resources we may not be able to afford on our own, and all for free, provided we return it or use it in certain parameters.

To me, that’s simply amazing.

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Paying BillsWhat a feeling.

If you’re just tuning in, some months ago I decided to apply what’s known as The Snowball Method of what remains of my large debts. It’s all steps toward as much of a debt-free life as I can muster, and to show my son that no, debt is not just ‘something you’ll always have,’ as so many of us, myself included for many years, were led to believe.

Some years ago, I decided enough was enough and started taking control by paying off roughly $13,000+ in credit card debt. But I was still saddled with four student loans from four different banks, and a car payment. For the purpose of this, I am referring only to debt accumulated through borrowing (including a car, but excluding out home), not monthly bills for services.

With that said and the credit cards paid off a few years back, I had taken aim at my four student loans. One student loan (Keybank) was paid off earlier this year. I then used the Snowball Method and applied everything that was being paid on that first student loan toward my second student loan, on top of my regular monthly payments.

To recap, this is where I was in May:

National Education – $1,500

Car Payment – $6,800

Sallie Mae – $12,200

Discover/Citibank Student Loan – $23,000

Well, last month I’m very glad to say that the National Education is now paid off too. This was accomplished by taking the roughly $300 ($150 each paycheck) and applying it on top of my monthly payment of $75 to National Education.

Four months later, my debt now looks like this:

Car Payment – $4,833

Sallie Mae – $11,878

Discover/CitiBank Student Loan – $21,379

Now, all that money (the $300 originally from Keybank then to National Ed, on top of the $75 from National Ed normally) will get applied on top of my usual monthly car payment of $325. That’s $700 a month, roughly toward my car payment. By my estimation, I should have my car paid off by late winter/early Spring, leaving me only with two student loans to worry about each month.

It may no look like a lot on paper (or screen, as it were), but the feeling to know there is one less in that stack every month is invigorating. Knowing that within a few months that can be down to two is rejuvenating.

Even if I get down to the two and only continue my regularly monthly payments, that frees up at least $700 a month for our family. Money that can be put aside and saved, or even put toward a new home someday as our family grows (not growing yet, just for the record. But we hope to someday).

And I’ll be very happy and proud to know that through saving, determination and hard work, I was able to earn it for us and to teach my son and any other children we may have that it IS possible to live within one’s means. That you can get by without credit cards, without a big television, or the latest technology, and still live full, enjoyable lives.  We can still be one big, happy family and we can also be debt-free (or close to it) at the same time.


File photo of ReceiptsFor somebody who still has a lot of debt from college to manage, I like to think I’m good with money. Not great, but good. My wife always tells me she thinks I’m better at it, especially since I’m meticulous about keeping a written, balanced checkbook ledger.

I try very hard to be frugal. Sometimes I think I even come off as a cheapskate at times. I don’t mean to. Sometimes I just get into overdrive about saving, especially since I’m trying to pay down (as quickly as possible) what I can of my student loan debt and move toward a debt-free lifestyle for our family (a future post all in itself, I’m sure).

Then there are other times where I am, for whatever reason, completely careless and spend more than I intended, only to feel the sense of regret as I load the bags into the car or balance my checkbook. Take a recent trip to Target, for instance. I had run in with one particular goal in mind – purchase a hot pot or electric kettle for the office to make tea. We have a coffee maker there, but I feel like the accessibility of coffee being there all the time has made me to eager to drink it way too often. And I don’t like making tea in the microwave. They had one left for what I thought was the reasonable price of $12.99. Simple, no? Okay, I’ll spend $13.

This is where I always fall into the trap. Wait, we need creamer at the office. So I go, find some organic creamer (naturally a little more expensive than non-organic). So, there’s another $3.19.

You know what? I might as well stock up on some tea for my desk while I’m here. I’m buying the hot pot for coffee, after all. Okay. Green Tea and some black tea. ($3.59 and $2.29, respectively).

See what happened so very quickly? I just bumped the Subtotal of my bill up from $12.99 to $22.06. Throw in tax and now I’ve spent $23.20, roughly $10 more than I had agreed to spend in the beginning of this trip.

It’s an issue I really, really need to get better at. I can’t stand the sense of regret I feel when I get done, get home, or get in the car and realize “what just happened? why did I spend that?”

Discipline. I lack discipline sometimes.


© Copyright 2012 CorbisCorporationEven before we had the baby, Meg and I have been doing our best to see where we can cut back when it comes to expenses. We may not be disciplined enough to chuck all the expenses and go live in a tent somewhere, but here and there we’ve found some things that may seem a little quirky, but have helped cut down a little here and a little there in our overall expenses.

And believe me, now that we do have the baby, yet still have my massive student loan debt, every little bit helps.

Here’s a few of the things we’ve taken a crack at.

Basic Cable

Like many other folks we know, we used to have the standard Digital Cable plan. The box, the DVR, hundreds of channels, the whole kit and kaboodle. However, one day, long before we were even expecting, we just looked at each other and realized how often we were finding things amid the plethora of channels, even if it wasn’t great, just for the sake of watching something. It was like paying for all those channels made you feel like you needed to be watching one of them. What we started realizing as we’d flip through the channels, was that there were numerous times where we’d find nothing to watch, even with that large a selection.

Sherlock_and_Downton_AbbeySo, we decided to try the experiment of going down to basic cable and see how it went. It took a little getting used to and there’s still some shows Meg misses seeing (she loves those DIY and Cooking programs), but we’ve now been going a few years strong with just basic cable and it’s been great. We’ve discovered which shows we enjoy enough to look for when they’re on (versus DVR) and have really embraced the variety of programming on our local PBS station. (Sunday nights have never been the same for us since Sherlock and Downton Abbey)

Netflix

When we decided to do away with the cable, we thought we would rely more on Netflix for entertainment. At that time, we had the one disc at a time plan, that also included streaming if you so chose. However, in time, Netflix made that two separate plans and began charging people for each. So, we made the conscious decision after seeing a number of discs sit around for weeks and weeks without viewing, to cut our losses in half, do away with the disc option and go solely streaming. Sure, your choices are different and you may not always find what you want, but we’ve discovered some very entertaining films, documentaries and television shows, both old and new, that we would never have had we had the ability to have ‘whatever we wanted.’

Television

This one doesn’t really equate to a monthly bill, but while we’re on the subject of entertainment, I wanted to throw it in. We’ve had quite a few offers for a new television, whether it’s a friend or relative getting rid of some widescreen behemoth or relatives offering one as a Christmas present. While grateful, we’ve respectfully declined each time. We like our little 4×3 television set. It’s the same one I’ve had since college, and not only has it lasted like new over the more than a decade since I got it, we still have Meg’s (almost the same model) in the basement if this one ever goes.

Go Reusable

© Copyright 2011 CorbisCorporationOkay, so they’re not saving you a fortune, but every little bit helps, right? Some time ago, my wife and I realized how we were always (or fairly frequently) spending money on napkins at the grocery store. So, while at Target one day we decided to purchase a package of cloth napkins. We also used to use brown paper bags for our lunches. However, the purchase of a reusable cloth lunch bag has meant we haven’t had to buy any brown paper bags in years. It’s amazing how reusable these items have been, all with a simple run through the wash with the rest of our laundry when they start to get a little dirty.

DIY 

There are few things satisfying as knowing that you did something with your own two hands. Since moving into our little starter home, I’ve had to learn to do a lot, mostly out of necessity. Whether it’s installing a new front door, renovating a bathroom, putting in floors, it all has been infinitely cheaper to purchase materials and devote the time and elbow grease needed to get the job done instead of hiring someone else to do it for us.

The Library

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporationYour library card can be one of the most valuable pieces of plastic in the arsenal that is your wallet, and I highly suggest taking full advantage of it. It breaks my heart every time I hear about another library not doing well, and not just because I worked in one in college. I love libraries. The idea that a place filled with the knowledge of a civilization or civilizations stands, ready and accessible for anyone to come and partake, is just breathtaking to me. And as long as you follow the rules, it’s absolutely free. What an amazing thing. Whenever I come across a title that I’m interested in reading, I always check the library first. If I like it enough to read it multiple times, I’ll purchase a copy, but if it’s only getting one read, why spend the money? Libraries are a great place to gain some knowledge, test some literary waters, and save a pretty penny.

On the same topic of books, I find myself often looking at our bookshelves and realizing how many books we have that I either haven’t read yet or haven’t read in so long that it’s like new! It’s like going to a book store where a) it’s free and b) they carry your favorites.

eBay

I love eBay. Not so much the buying, although I do now and then, but I love having an auction at my fingertips to unload items that I realize have been sitting around our house since we got together and heck, in our individual apartments well before that, doing nothing but collecting dust. I’ve learned that we, as humans, have a weird ability to create sentiment toward EVERYTHING, even when it’s not warranted. There’s nothing wrong with having a connection to something, it’s just having a connection to everything where you stir up trouble. Assess what you have, what you need, what you really want, and what you’ve held on to ‘just because’ and you’ll find there’s a lot of ‘just because’ you will be just as happy without, and someone else will be quite happy to take off your hands for a price. And if you have books you can’t seem to unload, try something like paperbackswap.com, an online book club where you list books you’re willing to send out to those who want them in exchange for credits that you can then use for books you’re looking for.

This isn’t an end-all, be-all list, of course – just a few small ways that we’ve taken on in an ongoing effort to “trim the fat,” as they say. They may not be huge, but they help, and I feel like at the same time, I’m learning a little something through each one of these efforts.


dinner party retroEver since we’ve become parents, it has become, as expected, a lot more difficult to get together with friends and family, especially in the frequency that we used to.

Before, it was fairly easy to set up a coffee meeting with our friends or go grab dinner with some family without much challenge. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a lot more to take into consideration these days with our little guy – his feeding schedule, his mood, his bedtime routine and keeping it routine, as well as our own exhaustion by day and week’s end.

However, we’ve recently started trying something. Something so simple, so novel and timeless, that it’s hard to come up with any sort of legitimate excuse as to why we hadn’t thought of it before  – having people over.

Years ago, it was not uncommon to have guests over at a particular night of the week; each person bringing a dish or a dessert. People got together and just socialized. Yes, before Facebook and text messaging, people actually got together in person at their homes and caught up on what was going on in their lives.

So, we’ve decided to start implementing this into our lives a bit more. Not only is it less expensive than meeting up at some restaurant with friends, as we make dinner here at home, think of how much more freedom you have to sit around, chat, let the baby be a baby and not worry about those around you or a waiter or waitress who you’re keeping from filling that table with other guests.

vintage dinner party 01On top of that, my wife and I have discovered a fun little side effects of these social Friday night dinners at home – having guests over and socializing on a Friday night makes the weekend seem longer than it actually is. Since we’re actually doing something with that evening, it never feels like it does when you get together on a Saturday night, which is that feeling of ‘ugh. tomorrow’s Sunday and then it’s back to work.” You almost feel like you’re getting extra time out of your weekend.

Not only that, but with a somewhat regular gathering at the home, it helps us stay on top of keeping the house cleaner than we had been otherwise.

Save a little money. See good friends and family. Enjoy good, homemade food, and get a little extra time to your weekend.

How can you go wrong?



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