Thursday, February 22, 2007

Preventative Maintenance

I was recently speaking to a friend, Silas, when he mentioned, somewhat despairingly, how badly his car was running, and what a burden it was. He wanted to buy a new one, he said, but he didn't really have the money for it.

I asked him what was wrong with it, and he had a long list. I was horrified--not at the condition of the car, but by how many of those things would've been easily prevented with a small investment. If he didn't take care of this car, I inquired, why did he expect a new car to do any better?

It turns out that clueless Si barely knows how to gas the thing up--he doesn't know how to check or fill the air in the tires, change a wiper blade, check the oil, research good tires, or find a mechanic. Well! I may not have any kids, but my mothering instinct for my friends is alive and kicking.

He spent about $3000 on this car (with ~150K miles, an older Toyota--it should have another 100K miles in it, properly maintained). He hasn't had an oil change in over a year, and it's 6 months late for its inspection. The paint is scraped, the A/C doesn't work, the seals around the doors are loose, the wipers are split, the brakes squeal, and the tires are worn. The cassette player's broken too, but who has cassettes anymore?

Let's break this down, shall we?

Things I can teach him or help him do right away:
Repairing scrapes: $20 for ugly but effective anti-rust measures (no need to be pretty--they just need to not rust)
Replacing wiper blades: $15
Air for tires: Free
Changing air filter: $15
Weatherstripping repair kit: $20 (possible overlap with scrape repair kit)
Oil change: $20 (if we had some garage space, I could do it myself for under $10, but alas, everything is covered in snow at the moment.)
Si's Total: $90

Slightly more intensive repairs:
Inspection: $25 (plus fixing whatever's wrong)
Brake pads: $100-150 (if rotors need replacing too, add'l $300)
A/C: depends what's wrong. If too expensive, he can get by without it.
Modest set of tires: $400
Si's Total: about $875

Si is a student, and works part-time. He's very careful with his money, and is afraid to spend anything he doesn't have to. He's proud that he doesn't carry a credit card balance from month to month. But his ignorance of car repair is intimidating him so badly that even basic maintenance seems daunting and expensive. Even more daunting and expensive, though, is the idea of simply buying a new car every time he drives his into the ground. I'm hoping to show him that spending that $965 now is far preferable to spending another $3000 for a new car when his breaks down--and it will. It's hard to convince him of that, because he doesn't have the $965.

But then, he won't have the money for a whole 'nother car very soon either.

Are there any basic maintenance things that I've missed? I'm planning to double check fluid levels and check the hoses & belts, but I'm open to suggestions from more experienced home mechanics.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Gosh darn it anyway!

You better believe I said the actual swear words this afternoon. A couple days ago, I got some very nice-looking steaks to cook for tonight. I just know I should've popped them in the freezer, but I figured they'd be fine in the fridge (there's a texture change in steaks after thawing that I don't like).

Well, they weren't. I grabbed them around four to get them to room temp for cooking, ripped open the packaging--and got a case of the nasty greys. Blech! That's $20 in the trash.

Luckily, the dinner was salvaged: chicken marsala and corn chowder, followed by homemade truffles. (So easy, but so good!)

Tomorrow is my favorite holiday, though, and it only comes around three times a year. Discount Candy Day, celebrated by knowledgable sweets enthusiasts everywhere!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Making food stretch

Last week, I took a look at the store circular before I went grocery shopping, and I noticed that whole chickens for roasting were $.79 per pound. Usually, I buy frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts in bulk from Costco for chicken-related meals, but I've been wanting to roast a chicken for awhile--this seemed like a pretty good time for it.

Cost of a six-pound (smallest available) chicken: $5.31.

We had roasted chicken on Wednesday night, and a few pieces on Friday's leftover night. I made stock out of the bones today, so we're having chicken soup tonight, and we'll have some left over tomorrow. I also made a casserole with diced leftover chicken--that'll last us two meals, too.

So out of that five-dollar chicken, we got six meals for two people and some really nice, rich stock.

At this rate, I'm sort of ashamed to go buy steak tomorrow! (But not all that ashamed, as the cut I want is on sale this week, and it's going to make a really nice Valentine's Day meal).

I always feel particularly effective when I have dinner plans in place for more than a couple days. I'm not very consistent with this--some days I'm so tired I just slap together some shepherd's pie or vindaloo curry, which are my easy standbys--but I feel like a goddess when I do.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Does it make me a conservative...

If I'm incredibly distressed at the idea that $8.8 BILLION dollars have magically been disbursed with no plan and no budget? In a country where people are actively trying to kill American soldiers (and each other)?

Have you heard about this? It's crazy.

Questions were raised about an audit report issued in 2005 by Mr. Bowen that concluded that more than $8.8 billion in cash was disbursed without adequate financial controls.

I don't want to get political or debate the foundations of the war in Iraq. I'm just a touch bitter that I'm budgeting my few hundreds each month, and this guy, Former Ambassador L. Paul Bremer is sending out billions of dollars willy-nilly? And no one's getting upset about this until now?

The Federal Reserve disbursed $12 billion dollars in CASH, by the way. That's 363 tons of money. Tons.

I would be less distressed if he said, "We spent it on kickbacks and bribes in order to actually get something done in a corrupt and unstable war zone,and on trying to distribute wealth to the Iraqi people to help alleviate some suffering." Maybe they should've thought a little more closely about those goals and documented the money trail, but at least they'd know where the money was.

What he said was actually "I have no idea, I can't tell you whether the money went to the right things or didn't - nor do I actually think it's important."

I wonder what my creditors would say if I said that? I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure that some laughing in my face would be happening.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Wedding Frugality in Practice

We haven't done very much wedding planning this week, but last week, we picked out our entree details and ordered the invitations. Considering that, I feel comfortable resting a touch on our laurels (also, I hate working on stuff when my back hurts, but that's an entirely different story). But I'm ready to start thinking about it again, so I'm starting with a blog post.

We've been saving up for the wedding since we got engaged, just over a year ago. We managed to sock away about 12k (including the $200 or so in interest from HSBC, yay!), plus two of our three sets of parents have agreed to help with some things. Our goal is to keep this thing under $20k, mostly because I feel totally ridiculous spending that much on a single day's party. If I look at it another way, it's really averaging 10k for my parents to get both their two kids married off; my brother and his wife got married in September for under $100 (streamers, cake, and dinner for ten), so it's like we both just had smaller-than-average weddings, right? Right?

So far, we've spent just under 5 grand. That's a couple of deposits on the reception site, photographer, florist, invitations, and honeymoon plane tickets. The estimated amount left to pay (unless all 192 of the invited guests show, and all want the beef dinner instead of the fish or pasta) is around 13k. All in all, I think we're about where we budgeted for.

We saved money in some places--as many as we could. The first step any manual suggests for this is cutting down on the guest list. The problem is, we both have a lot of people to invite (his dad has 8 siblings, most of them married with kids; I have very close extended family and a sorority). Trust me when I say that the guest list has been cut until it cries, and unless this becomes a very different sort of party, they stay. So the budget has to squeak in other places to accommodate people.

The first, very effective, budget cut was the dresses. My gown, all four bridesmaid dresses, and the flower girl dress are all being made by the same woman in my hometown in the Midwest. Because my mom's handling that cost, I'm actually not entirely certain of the exact cost, but I'm pretty sure it's not a lot higher than the cost of the fabric. Also, I'm borrowing the hoops from one of my attendants, who wore them at her own wedding 5 years ago. And the bridal tiara, as described earlier, will be very cheap. Wedding shoes and underwear--also bought at 75% (or more) off. I'm planning to get some tulle and make the veil myself, once I get the tiara.

The next was the invitations, which we ordered from this website, very kindly recommended by David. Budget was $400; total cost for 150 invites, $292. Rock! If I didn't have the design skills of a rhesus monkey, I'd've gone with the print-your-owns from Costco, but even though we have access to some very nice printers at work, I wasn't willing to try to make the damn things look good. So, midrange savings overall.

I'm over the moon about the next one: a friend of mine who deejays on weekends has offered to spin for us in exchange for free beer. Hooray! (This is not a budget-related hooray. I'd be thrilled to have him, even if we were paying his going rate. For starters, he is standing staunchly with us in our firm desire never to hear the Chicken Dance ever ever.)

Our honeymoon is going to be 6 days long, mostly because I don't have very much vacation time. Fiancé gets three weeks a year because he's been there for five years, but I'm only at 18 months or so, so I only get two weeks. Sigh. But we're still going to have a great time. The savings on the rental car and hotel room comfort my mind enough to be happy splurging on activities (spa day, here we come!).

The photography package is actually quite inexpensive as well. The studio makes most of its money on the expensive and very nice photo albums they sell, so having chosen just to receive digital images saved us quite a bit. And I'm really glad, because that way we can choose to have just a few shots printed very cheaply for framing, and have only a CD of photos, rather than a big ol' book to dust.

We're also not having a videographer. We have a very eccentric and funny friend who's volunteered to bring his digital camera for documentation, and that'll be far preferable (even if it will feature his wife in her bridesmaid dress a little more than is strictly proper) than having some pro who doesn't know anyone there. Again, personalization is worth zillions.

As for favors, we don't want to go overboard, especially because Fiancé is unfamiliar with the practice. What we're planning to do is have a disposable camera or two for each table to play with during the reception, and a little tulle package of Jordan almonds for each guest. Cameras are about $5 each, and the almonds packets are about 30 cents per person (bought in bulk), so about a dollar per person for a couple of cute traditions (one old, one new). I'm also planning to do gift baskets for out-of-town visitors, but baskets are cheap at Michael's, and the thoughtful touches almost free (town maps, homemade cookies, photos, things like that).

A big money-saver (I can't believe I just thought of this one) was that we booked the hotel reception site as a package deal. Reception decorations, cake, champagne toast, and dinner are all packed together and calculated as a per-guest cost. It worked out to be thousands less than most any other local reception site, and still really lovely. Before we booked it, I was pulling for the local VFW hall, which at home is a very cheap yet perfectly respectable reception site, but which here, apparently, are not well-kept. Too bad, really.

There are a couple of places where we just totally splurged, though. Fiancé is allergic to a lot of metals, so the bands (and my engagement ring) are platinum works of beauty. We're also paying for our attendants' dresses and tuxes, which is only fair, since 80% of them have to pay for airfare (international, in one case) and lodging to be here. My parents are also paying for a lot of our family to fly out; this is going to be a pretty big vacation for many of them, which is exciting. We're also paying a bit of a premium for nice silk flowers. I don't want to be sniffling and sneezing on our wedding day! There's going to be some real blooms, but I just can't face a room full of pollen and scent for hours. No WAY.