Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Managing health

I always have the best of intentions with exercise. I get a gym membership, go for a few weeks or months, and then just really mean to go back. Or I'll rent a Pilates video, or get a yoga mat and try a few classes...but it somehow never sticks. And this is not precisely cost-effective, either in the short-term, when I'm spending money to become fit, or in the long-term, when I'll be buying blood pressure medicine or having back, hip, and knee problems from hauling around extra weight.

One possible solution that Husband and I have come up with is to buy an elliptical machine. The idea solves a lot of the problems that the other attempts have had (inconvenience of traveling to the gym, waiting on a favorite machine & dealing with drama queens once there, self-consciousness), but it creates some of its own problems. For starters, it is easy to stop a membership after only a small initial investment, but if we buy a machine, our costs are all upfront. If we want to move, as we were looking to do within a couple of years, we'd have to haul it around with us. We don't have a clear, open space to put it and use it; we'd have to clear out our spare room much more aggressively than we have done.

Also, we are facing a choice about what sort of machine to get. Consumer Reports lists two Best Buys: one that costs around $2K and is gym-quality (Precor) and one that costs around $900 (Schwinn 418) but is flimsier. I am inclined to go with quality--it'll be safer, last longer, and retain a larger resale value. On the other hand, if the convenience of having the machine doesn't surmount the excuses not to use it, that extra thousand dollars is pointless. It's a sticky dilemma, not made easier by the fact that we could afford, with our reserved savings, to go either way.

I think a possible solution would be to look for used machines, now that I am thinking this through with an eye toward frugality. We still need to clear out that space, but once it's free for us to get our elliptical, perhaps some other ambitious soul will be ready to jettison theirs.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Budgeting Bliss

Husband and I have been working, somewhat desultorily, on creating an actual paper budget. As I half-expected, our expenses look really good on paper, but in practice, there usually isn't as much left as it seems there should be. Which means, of course, that the budget isn't accurately reflecting reality.

We're still in an evaluative stage with the budget-creation, now that the wedding is over and things are getting back to a normal pattern again. As we do that, we're taking some baby steps toward frugality, but not cutting back so much that we feel deprived and might backlash into some unwise spending. Luckily, neither of us particularly enjoy shopping as a stress-reliever (although my cooking/baking habits and his video-gaming habits can both increase some budget columns).

I find that I enjoy discussing the budget/expenses with my husband; it feels familial, homey. Then again, I so rarely handle cash that all of this budgeting feels like a role-playing game, or an academic exercise--like we're playing at being grown-ups. It's very abstract to me, and unconnected with anything that's important in life. Would I choose to live differently if we had more money? You know, probably not. I like our cozy, crazy, cramped little condo (though granted, a little more counter space in the kitchen wouldn't come amiss); I like our cars, our computers, our stuff.

Back to the game, I suppose.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Doing the next thing

Now that the wedding is over (it was yesterday), Husband and I are starting to save up a good-sized house down payment. Nothing like moving forward on those goals! (We'll have a honeymoon first, of course--I'm writing this as we await the flight to San Francisco here in JFK).

We spend just under $20K on the wedding, including the trip out west, the rings, and hotel & airfare for one bridesmaid. Considering we'd saved about $30K over the last year and a half while we were being vaguely frugal, I think once we buckle down, actually make a budget (instead of budgeting-by-the-Force), and trim down some fat, we might be able to move into a really nice place within the year.

Oh, and the wedding was delightful. :D

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Felicitous Convergence

The other day, we received a 5 qt. KitchenAid stand mixer as a wedding gift. This last week was quite busy, so I hadn't had a chance to pull it out until today. Now that I god, it's heavenly! We got along fine without it (she said defensively), but it's utterly boggling to be able to make, say, mayonnaise without killing my arm and taking forever. Now, I can set the yolks whisking and actually walk away.

Oh, sorry, too much effusing. Anyway, because of the long weekend, I've decided to make some more complicated things, and the mixer is a big part of my plan. Challah, always before, has been a project for a very quiet day and untired arms--but now I have a dough hook. Mayonnaise, madeleines, meringues--all of them suddenly near-instantaneous. I'm in foodie heaven.

I'm thinking very seriously about pursuing cake-making as a bit of a side business. Always before, I've restricted myself to fun cakes for my friends' birthdays (my favorite was the period corset-torso for my friend Amy, who is a costumer and a Rennie), but with more professional tools, it's easy to get some Ideas.

One of those Ideas is a fond old favorite of mine--starting a business that provides home-making services to busy families. Hand-made cakes, home-made Halloween costumes, help with meal planning--all the things that people wish they had time to do. I really just want to make a career out of things I love doing.

For now, I'm just going to enjoy them as ends in and of themselves. Here, have some challah.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Frugal life skills

Today, I mended my favorite pair of jeans. There are two little holes beginning to rub through at the inner thigh, and I don't want them to show wear. I wear these jeans every single day (I love working in a small office!), and they're pretty much the best ever. So knowing how and when to place a patch? Save me more than the cost of this pair of jeans.

In order to get these jeans, I would say I spent probably 30-40 hours shopping, and about $200 on "interim" jeans--something to wear that are good enough, but not perfect enough to stop shopping. So I'm going to wear these jeans until there's more patch than original jean.

I like doing this as much as I can. I try to keep only well-loved things around me, and repair the hell out of them before letting them go. A twelve dollar part at the right time can extend an appliance's life longer than you might think. Most of the time, this saves money, which, really, is a side benefit for me. The time and effort invested in finding an equally-beloved replacement is much more important to me.

I'm going to go admire my patch for awhile now.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Farm Share

I just got the last farm share in town! My particular city has three farms that participate in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs, and I just love it so much.

The idea: you pay a fee in the spring (usually late March--I'm lucky to have gotten in this late) to help pay for upfront costs like seeds and labor, and every week in the summer, you pick up a box of freshly-picked produce.

The share at the farm I'm going with is $350 for the season, from June 4th until October 15th. That means that a box of produce--locally grown, fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs--will end up costing us $17.50 per week. Considering I can spend that amount at one STAND at a farmer's market each week, it sounds like a really good thing to try.

I'm really excited. I wish it started today.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Balancing Frugality with Love of Food

First, my apologies to the 6 people who still visit me; I had a last-minute freelance project pop up to steal all my time for the last fortnight or so.

Now, back on topic. Recently, I've been doing a lot of reading about good foods and the right way to eat, and everything that comes up seems to sound both (a) delicious and (b) expensive. My most recent read, real food: what to eat and why by Nina Planck, urges consumption of grass-fed beef, wild salmon, local, organic veggies in season, and raw, full-fat milks and cheeses. Her particular evil is what she dubs "industrial food," the food products like margarine and high fructose corn syrup that were developed primarily after WWII.

I'm on board with this philosophy (although I would miss refined sugar and white flour quite a lot), but it's quite expensive to pursue. I had an experimental swipe at it this weekend, and though it's been delicious so far, the weekly grocery bill looked more like our usual monthly bill.

But I think it's worthwhile to give it a try, especially after the farmer's markets open next month, and hopefully our doctor's bills will go down to compensate.