Frugality is the New Normal

Being frugal is the new normal, as it is estimated that even after the recession is over, Americans will return to spending 86% of what they did prior to the downturn. While this has ominous economic implications, I don’t see it as a bad thing necessarily. The bubble economies we have experienced over the last decade (the tech-bubble, housing bubble, etc) have not been good for the long-term economy, and if we can become an economy that grows steadily based on innovation and hard work, as opposed to growing because of reckless spending, then I am on board.

My wife and I have been frugal since our marriage, and really, since we have dated. Why? Well, I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in religion, so it should come as no surprise that my income is not exactly six-figures. We have had to be frugal. Plus, for me it is a philosophical issue. Because I am independent and conservative, I don’t think the government should be bailing me out, and I believe that I should fix my own problems. I also think that outrageously high energy and other commodity prices are bad for our country for a variety of reasons, and I think conserving energy (which also saves me money) is essential for the common good. I am an old-fashioned conservative who has thought for years that the materialistic, “spend-what-you-don’t-have” lifestyle, is neither good for our country nor good for the individual. Thus, I go to extremes to keep my family costs down. I have spoken of this before and provided savings tips.

I am glad being frugal is the new normal. I don’t want to sound judgmental, but how in the world did spending money you don’t have for things you don’t need, or even want, ever become  “normal” to begin with?

Black-Out Curtains: Save Sleep and Save Money Making Them

It seems like every house, apartment, or dorm I’ve lived in during these past 10 years has had some type of light right outside the bedroom window.  Right outside!?!  While they do make me feel more secure, they also make it harder for me to get quality sleep. I am not totally off-base, as studies show that sleeping in a room with some light is associated with higher levels of some cancers. In fact, just last week, Science News announced a new study has linked artificial light at night to a higher risk of prostate cancer. The studies are clear: artificial light leaking into our bedrooms at night cause health problems due to a lack of sleep. However, as I explain below, the solution need not be expensive (or involve you wearing one of those strange-looking sleep masks).

I’ve tried every solution, from taping up garbage bags to buying fancy curtains.  Yet, nothing seemed to work as well as the high-end brand black out shades my mom installed in her house.  I commented about this to her one day.  Her response was for me to go get some black out material at the fabric store.  Obviously I’ve never made curtains before, and I didn’t even know they had this “stuff”!  But for around $6 (after using the 40% off coupon in the paper), I got 2 yards of fabric.   I sewed a pocket for a tension rod and I was done.  Instant dark! Even in the day time it’s really dark in the room. It makes for a world of difference in our room.   I can’t tell you how great this material is.  You do not need to hem it.  Even if you don’t sew very well, you can make these.  As a matter of fact you don’t have to sew it either if you get a tube of liquid stitch.  Or if you’d like to take it one step further Martha Stewart has a How to Make Your Own Roman Shade tutorial here.

Save Money, Go Open Source (Part II)

In a previous post, Save Money, Go Open Source, I listed various open source (and free) software programs I use regularly. I like the idea of open source software on a philosophical level, in that a variety of people can participate to make a program better. However, my main reason for loving them is that they are completely free! Using open source software really should be an important part of living frugally and embracing financial wellness. Below are a few more programs that I find useful that can save you a lot of money if you use them in place of costly proprietary software:

GnuCash – I posted on Getting to Know Gnucash, but I will summarize GnuCash here. GnuCash is the equivalent to software like Microsoft Money and Quicken. It handles things like mortgages, credit cards, bank accounts, expenses, etc. You can even import Quicken and Microsoft Money files, so you can just download your information directly from your online banking sites, and reconcile it. GnuCash isn’t quite as intuitive as Microsoft Money, and is more advanced software, since it uses double-entry accounting principles, while Money is a single entry system. The former is more thorough, but more difficult to understand. I use GnuCash for business and personal purposes. It can generate handy charts to show your income versus expenses, where your expenses are coming from, etc.

PDF Creator – This is a .pdf printer, which means that you can print any document, image, etc, on your computer as a .pdf file. If you install it, you will see it listed as an option on your list of printers. Once you choose to print with it, you are given a choice to name it, assign an author, etc, and then you can save the document in any folder that you like. This is a handy way to create .pdf files!

Free Mind – Free Mind is an idea mapping software, which reminds me of those “pre-writing” bubble-like diagrams we used to do in English class. It allows you to brainstorm and generate ideas. I haven’t played around with it too much, but it looks cool.

Inkscape – Inkscape is a nice vector graphics design program. It is like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. You can make some pretty cool logos and art with it, and I haven’t even begun to utilize its many features. If you design art for bulletins, newspapers, e-books, etc, this software is essential, and could potentially save you hundreds on software costs.

CamStudio – CamStudio is a program that allows you to record your actions on your computer screen, which means you can make videos of what you do on your computer. You can also record audio while you do it. You can save the output as various video file formats, so you can post your efforts on You Tube, etc. This software is very helpful for individuals who are making software or computer-related video tutorials. I haven’t used it too much, except to test it, but there is a lot of potential here.

This round of Open Source programs isn’t quite as broadly useful as the last round. The last round included some major programs (like OpenOffice) that help us with common tasks (like word processing). However, these FREE programs I have just listed will help make your life easier!

Save Money, Go Open Source

When I bought a computer in 2004, I didn’t know much about open source software, and so when I ordered my computer I bought quite a few products I knew I needed, including Microsoft Office and Paint Shop Pro. I since have discovered “open source” software, that is, free software in which the programming code is made available so that individuals can collaborate on the effort. The result is often quality software that is completely free. Currently, there is a lot of open source software of a mixed quality. Some is good, some is difficult to use, but that is true of paid software too I guess. Below are some open source software programs that I use regularly. I tell you what paid product they replace, as well as strengths and weaknesses of each product.

OpenOffice.Org – This is the office suite that is similar to Microsoft Office, that is backed by the Sun Corporation. The programs I use the most are Writer (like Word), and Present (like PowerPoint). If you can use MS Office, you can figure out OpenOffice.Org. I use it at work and at home. One nice feature (among many) is that Open Office exports to .pdf files with the click of a button, which is good for creating e-books and other projects.

When I buy a new computer, I won’t be buying MS Office, saving hundreds of dollars. The only weakness of Open Office that I encounter is that sometimes when it saves as a .doc file, or other Microsoft file, it doesn’t always look perfect when you open it in a Microsoft Office application, which could be a problem if you are creating a file for someone else’s consumption (but there is always the .pdf option). There is a version of Open Office marketed to professionals called OxygenOffice, which is basically Open Office with a bunch of extra fonts, templates, and things not included in the regular Open Office. It too is free.

GIMP – This is a graphics editor similar to Photoshop. It is rather powerful, and once you get past its slightly confusing interface, you will see how powerful it is. Photoshop is still more powerful, but for what I need, GIMP is fine, and saves me the hundreds of dollars that Photoshop costs.

Scribus – Scribus is a publisher, similar (but not nearly as easy to use) to MS Publisher. I find using Open Office Writer much easier to use than Scribus, although the former is not technically as powerful a publishing software as Scribus, but it is much easier to use. I will probably use Scribus more in the future.

Firefox – Quicker and more innovative than Internet Explorer, I browse with it 95% of the time, except when a website requires IE.

WordPress – There are a lot of free blogging sites out there, but WordPress is an open source software that you can either host on your own website (like we do), or else you can blog with it with someone else hosting it (like at WordPress.Com). It is free regardless, and extremely powerful. I prefer it to other platforms.

Filezilla – For those who run a website, this is a nice open source FTP client (sending files from your computer to your web host).

Audacity – Last, but definitely not least, is Audacity, which is an open-source audio file creation and editing software. I have heard a lot of praise for it from people who should know, and I have produced a few podcasts and songs using it.

To go “open source,” you may have to give up some familiarity with current software, and perhaps relinquish some power, but in general, making the switch to these open source software programs will save you quite a bit of money, with few hassles. Some people make the leap to full open source and ditch Windows…I am not there yet! Also, if you run a business, you may want to seriously explore using open source software. Our school uses almost all open source stuff, and saves a LOT of money in licensing fees.

Sale at Money Saving Mom

Attention (mostly) ladies and (perhaps some) gentlemen, Money Saving Mom is having a big sale on her e-books, downloadables, and audio workshops, offering $100 worth of stuff for only 5.97 (today only). Check them out! Her blog has more details about the sale.

Saving Money at Garage Sales

I used to go to garage sales to look for used books and possibly even records (although I rarely found anything too exciting). However, now that I have a house, I am always on the look out for good deals on furniture, dishes, etc. We bought a nice set of dishes, a complete set for 6 people, the other day at a yard sale for 5 dollars. Someone didn’t want it or have room for it, so we benefited. However, today we got a really good deal.

Jennifer has been after a hutch for awhile now. I would get on the computer and there were always about 50 Firefox tabs open with hutches on craigslist. They were for sale for around 100-300 dollars, and not one of them was located within an hour’s drive, not to mention, without a truck, we had no way to really transport it if we did buy it. Well, all that changed today. At the YMCA last night Jennifer was reading the local paper while I was finishing up in the locker room. She found a garage sale advertised near our house, so after my morning coffee, we headed over to it. There was a hutch there that matched the style she wanted. The only problem was that it was 250 dollars with a table and chairs set. We didn’t need the latter, so we asked if the two could be separated. The lady said she could separate them, and said the Hutch was 75 dollars and her husband would even deliver it for free! I offered to pay extra for delivery, but she wouldn’t hear it, and I still tried to pay her 90 dollars when they delivered it, but she gave the money back to me. A photo of the hutch is below.

Hutch

I like garage sales if, and this is a big “if,” people don’t use the garage sales to buy junk that is just going to sit around the house, until you actually have a garage sale yourself. If you can actually buy things you need, then going to a garage sale is a great way to save loads of money, and to resuse an item that already has been produced. I recall reading awhile back about a group of people who decided to buy nothing new for a year (toiletries, food, etc, excluded I am sure!), and they found that they saved a lot of money. While I don’t know if I would be able to do this right now, buying quality items secondhand has saved us a lot of money.