Green Your Summer: Collect Rain Water

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be running a  short series on how you can save some money and live a bit greener this summer by taking some very simple steps.  I enjoy the warmth of the spring and summer time, and all of the delicious foods that it brings along with it.  The berries, summer squash, warm weather, longer days, more nighttime activities in the community (at least for me) and generally a great time for relaxation and fun.  Because there’s more time during the day, I figured I’d throw out a few tips to green up your summers.  This is the first entry in the series, you can find all the entries here.

Along with starting a garden collecting rain water can go a long way to help your fledgling garden get on its feet and save you some coin.   Back in the days of this blogs infancy, I had quite a few posts on how to save water (here and here).  These tips are great and include a lot of things that can help you save money, but I figured that I’d talk a bit more about something new: rain water.

Now, people in the pacific northwest may not even need to collect rain water, because of how much it rains there.  In Wyoming, that’s just plain not the case.  The western US is actually a high elevation desert, and most of the water we get comes in the form of snow.  So when the rare occasion that it does rain comes along, I make sure that I get the most out of it.  I do this because it’s free, and it otherwise would just go down into the sewer system or evaporate away sometime in the next 24 hours.

Most of the places I’ve lived, rain barrels have not really been legal – mostly because they can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and sometimes these parts get the worst cases of mosquitoes.  I’m talking wear long sleeves outside in the summer bad, mosquitoes as big as a penny bad.  Given the recent water shortages though, I think they are coming back into favor a bit – so check with your  city or county to see if you can put one up yourself.

I don’t have a rain barrel (not ready for that, yet) but from what I understand, they look fairly simple.  All you’d need to do is modify the gutter to drain into a barrel and you’re good to go.  Make sure that the barrel is elevated a bit so you can access it easier and get some pressure.  Unfortunately, I havent made one of these because the house I live in is just rented, and I have an aversion to moving something like that twice – not looking forward to it.

I do keep a bucket or 2 outside and when it rains, I use the contents of the bucket to water the flowers out in the backyard.  The rainwater makes for great water, and I don’t have to set up the sprinkler or jack with the hose when I do this – it’s such an easy process.  I can save some money on the water bill (which goes up quite a bit in the summer due to lack of rain) and I can help out the earth a bit by making sure that all the water that comes around me is put to some good use.

Keeping your rain water will save you a lot of money if you’ve got a lot of plants to water, or it could just help out your gardening.  Either way, why let the resource just run off your property?

Readers: Do you have a rain bucket, or some other way to catch rain water?  Do you like it?  Where do you use the water it captures?  If not, are you interested in having one?

Easy Ways to Save Energy this Winter

Right now in Wyoming, its 43 degrees with a high of 51 (at the time of this writing).  Even though it’s winter and weather is occasionally nice, you always need to be thinking about easy ways to save money.  One of the easiest ways to do this is plug your house so that it doesn’t let heat out and cold air in (in the winter) and cold air out (and heat in) in the summer.  These cheap tips are great for an empty weekend day or a holiday that you’ve got off work.  They are simple, cheap and effective at saving energy and money.

Plug the Holes

There are a lot of places that energy can leak out of your house, one of them is around pipes and windows.  Often, they have to cut a hole for the pipes and can’t get a tight fit – so there’s air seeping in and out of the hole.  Head over to your local hardware store and buy a bottle of caulk to plug these holes.  You dont even need a caulking gun and a tube of caulk should cost around 3 bucks.  Find the holes around the edges of pipes that go from the outside of your house to the inside.  Once this is done, look for some gaps around the windows and caulk them up too.

Another easy fix is to stop the drafts behind the outlet plates and switches.  You can get a fews packs of these at the hardware store and they are fairly cheap.  They are also very easy to install.  Just take off the switch plate with a screwdriver and then put the foam piece behind them.

Once that is finished, you can head back over to the windows and cover them with plastic film.  This will add another layer to the window, and stop the leaks that are coming through the window.  All this takes is a blow dryer and some time to put up the plastic on the windows.  If it’s nice outside (like it is today) you can do the inside and the outside.  This is also a fairly inexpensive way to save some energy.

The last tip I’ve got is to stop the drafts around the door.  You can get something off of tv that goes on both sides of the door and will block air coming in under the door.  I just use a towel behind the door and move it when I have to open the door to get the mail.

You can easily use these four tips to save some money and energy this winter.  Figure out the next day that you’ve got free, get the supplies and get started.  Good luck with this project, and soon I’ll have some more easy tips for you.

Do you have any other tips or easy ways to save energy?  What do you do in your home to keep your energy bills low in the winter?

Getting the Most Out of Your Student Loan Payments

For most people currently under the age of 30, student loans are basically reality. We all know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who doesn’t have student loans, but for the most part, everyone we know has them. Some of our friends could be buried under them, and some could just have a little bit, but they are a reality for just about everyone. For me and most of the people I know, talking about going through school with zero loans is a waste of breath. We’ve been through school, graduated and moved on. The only thing that is really of interest now is how to get the balance of your student loans down as much as possible. If you can’t do that, you figure out how to refinance your student loans. I figured this out a while ago, I just was not sure if it was worth sharing or not. Depending on how you do things, it doesn’t really amount to that much savings, but what the hey, right – any time you can save even a bit of money on interest, you’re going to be better off in the end, right?

I’m not sure about your loans work, but with mine, they take your payment, use it to cover interest, then put the rest towards the principle balance. So say your minimum payment is $100 per month, and $45 goes to interest that has accrued since you last made a payment, so there is $55 left to put towards the principle. Usually, this won’t take your balance down that fast, so next month you’re going to have about the same situation. My family pays a little bit towards my student loan every month (which I’m very thankful for). After this had been going on for a while, I talked to my dad about trying optimize the payments so that more of the payments were going to the principal. Here’s what we do:

We usually make payments around the same time. They aren’t always credited on the same day, but they are usually very close. One payment takes care of the interest that has been piling up for the month, and the other one is basically free to dig into the principal. The best case scenario goes like this: Payment of $100 clears, and away goes $45 of interest and the rest goes into the principle. Now, there is currently $0 in interest on the loan, and it would start accruing at say $1.25 per day. Within the next 2-3 days, another $100 payment comes in. It pays $2.50 in interest, and sends the other $97.50 to the principle balance. This puts more money to the principle of the loan, reducing the amount faster.

While it’s not going to help you pay down your debt as fast as getting a second job, I’m a firm believer in the “anything helps” mantra.

Do you do something like this with your payments, or is this strategy news to you? Would you be willing to try it?

February 2011 Monthly Review

Hi everyone, glad you’re here.  If you’re new, I update with my financial progress at the end of every month to.  I track the amount of debt that I have and how much I paid over the course of the month.  I’ve also started a to add progress on my health related goals for the year.

This month has been one that’s relatively crazy – I’ve had a lot going on lately, and while I’m not ready to share just yet – things will be changing for me personally.  I’m excited, but also nervous, and have learned first hand about the power of routines and goals.  Also, it doesnt look like there will be a debt payment this month, because I’m using that money to pay the tax man.

Student Loans

I started out with student loans from 3 companies, but now I only have 2 – I paid one off last year.  My current target is the federal loan, and I’m hoping to have that paid off by the end of the first quarter of 2011.

Direct Loan $3,343 ($566) –I’m looking to have this paid off by the end of march, but given a few different changes, it may or may not happen – I’m still going to try though.   Unfortunately, it looks like the tax man has taken away my snowball payment this time around.

Great Lakes Loan12,184 ($64)  Just sent my regular minimum payment to this loan. The amount applied to principle seems to change every month – which is totally lame.  This is the last loan marked for payoff.

Truck Loan

This is for my vehicle.  I had already started trying to become debt free when I bought this, so I was quite torn as to wether or not to take on new debt while I was trying to eliminate other debt.  If you want to read more about it, check herehere and here.  Tough decision, but it was in-line with my future goals, and I think I still made the right choice.

Ford Credit: $17,405 ($290): Just made the regular monthly payment on this loan this month.  This one I’m going to try to pay off by the end of the year – right now it’s got over 42,000 miles and is 13.5 months old!  Also, the warranty is expired.  I’d really like to get out from under this so that I can save for repairs/replacement as soon as possible.

Health Goals

I’ve also decided to track my health goals for the year.  My goal was to go to the gym a 4 days per week.  Last month, I got to 4 days a week 1 week, then the other weeks I made it 3 days.  I’d like to get more, obviously and I hope that will change this month.

Week of Jan 30: 4 Days
Week of Feb  6: 4 Days
Week of Feb 13: 3 Days
Week of Feb 20: 2 Days

Goal Visits: 16
Total Visits: 13

The month started out good, but I’ve had a few events towards the end of the month that dont normally come up, and they inturrupted my schedule.  This is going well, however.  When I’m at the gym, I feel like I belong there and I enjoy myself, and when I feel like I’ve got a spare hour or more, I start to think that I should go to the gym (instead of doing something else).  This is starting to turn into a habit, which is what I’m most excited about.

How did you fare this month in finances and your yearly goals?  What sort of things are you going to do next month to keep working towards them?  Also, if you’ve made it this far, odds are good you’ll make it to the end of the year: Most people drop off within the first 30 days.

Food Tip: Make a Pizza Pot!

One of the biggest factors for our “carbon footprint” is the food that we eat.  When just shopping for some food, meat has often traveled a long distance to get to the store shelves.  It’s almost impossible to know how far it has actually gone (given the way they mix meat, specifically ground beef), but I’ve heard that it can average up to 1,500 miles!  That’s quite a long way to travel, just to get it on  your plate.  One of the easiest ways to lower your carbon footprint is to produce some of your own food, but to do that on a scale big enough to feed yourself (and your family), you’d need some land, and it’d have to be pretty fertile to produce as much variance as you’re used to seeing in the store.  Obviously, not everyone can just go around and plunk down a nice chunk of change for a large amount of land, so if you’re interested in local food, what can you do?  (as an aside, watch this local food clip from the show Portlandia).

Knowing that you’ve got no garden, and little time what can you do to start growing some of your own food?  If you want to get started now, you can.  Just grow a Pizza Pot!  For those unfamiliar with a Pizza Pot, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a pot of vegetables/herbs that you can put on a pizza!  As you’re surely aware, you can’t grow everything on a pizza in a pot, but you can try.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A large pot to grow your pizza ingredients in
  • Soil (or, you can use your home-made compost!)
  • Plant food
  • Your Favorite Pizza Toppings! (Make sure they can grow in your area

So, once you’ve got everything, here’s what you need to do.  Put your soil in the pot, and leave about 1-1.5 inches at the top.  Now, you’re ready to plant your favorite pizza toppings.  Here are some ideas:

  • Tomatoes (I like Roma), but you can use any type
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Curly Parsley (I don’t use this, but you can)
  • Garlic Chives (I don’t use this either)
  • or anything else you want!

Now, there is a certain order to this, so that everything will grow to its fullest potential.  You need to plant the tomato first, and it needs to go in the center of the pot.  Once that’s done, you can plant everything else that you want in your pot around it.  Once everything is in, put it in an area that will get a lot of sun.

You can also put a stake in the pot for the tomato, but it’s not necessary right away – however it will still need to be done.  Now, the fun starts – You can watch your plants grow, then enjoy some pizza in the fall!  You’ll have fresh ingredients to put on your pizza (I’ve found that this really lends itself to the construction of a margherita pizza that could rule the world).  So, enjoy your pizza, and enjoy the fact that you’re doing the environment (and even your pocketbook) a favor.  Then you can start plotting your next pizza pot, or if you’re feeling extra crazy, you can move on to a small garden.

High Cost of Being a Moron: Round 2

For those of you who have been around here for a while (thank you, I wrote very infrequently then), you probably remember my post the high cost of being a moron.  For those of you that don’t to make a long (and rather ill thought out) story short, I bought a car for a good price, had it all lined up to sell it for more than I bought it, and then it got towed, which basically ate up all my profits (and then some).  However, that was basically the last time that I really messed up my finances.  I’ve been doing a good job avoiding fees, making payments on time, and spending less than I earn since then.

Like all good things though, it didn’t last.  In 2010, I decided one of my goals for the year was to not get anymore overdraft fees.  Well, I was able to make it through a whole year without them, and to be honest, I didn’t miss them at all.  I was glad that I was able to keep my money, and because I was spending less than I earn, I got to keep even more of it.  This led to me paying down a lot of debt.  Pleased with my progress, I figured that overdraft fees were a thing of the past and moved on with my life.

Unfortunately, it did not last.  When I was in school, my dad often had interesting sayings that contained advice, and one of my favorites was “Don’t crap in your own mess kit“.  What this meant was that I basically needed to get out of my own way and stop making things hard for myself.  It’s good advice and I found that it works well when I follow it.  One would say that with my paychecks, I don’t.  Here’s how my system works: I have paychecks from both jobs deposited into my savings account at bank 1.  It’s the only account I have at that bank, and it links to my checking account.  After I get paid, transfer some money (but not all) into my checking account.  From there I pay bills, and it usually works out well. At the end of the month, I move more money into my checking account and make a debt payment.  Using this method, I’ve been able to build up some savings as well as pay off a lot of debt.  It’s worked well.

Last week, I made my usual transfer as I had my car, car insurance and student loan payments coming up.  After I signed off, I didn’t think anything of it, and just waited for the auto-bill pay to pull the money from my account.  Two days later (after my payments were supposed to be drawn) I went to check my account balance.  I had -350 or so in my account!  I was obviously stunned, and when I looked at my savings account, the reason was staring me in the face.  Apparently in my haste, I transferred the money from my checking to my savings, instead of the other way around.  There was not enough in my checking to cover the transfer, so the bank turned it down.

Once that happened, I was basically just going to hang there until I could get a new transfer set up and have it finish.  Between those two times I had 2 bills pulling.  The car payment came first, and because of my history (according to the girl at the counter) they decided to pay that and charge me $30 for it.  Then they did the same for my insurance.  The student loans had not drawn by the time I got my account back into the positive, so the damage stayed at around $60 bucks.

After being annoyed at the overdraft fees, I started to look at it another way – what if they had not paid it and I was going to be charged a higher rate over the life of the loan (5 more years)?  I think the rate would have gone up enough (it’s currently .9%) to make the $30 seem like small potatoes in the long term.

Obviously, I’m trying to look on the bright side here, but I’d rather just have my $30 back and have not made a mistake. Have you ever made a dumb financial mistake like this?  What did you do, and how did you rectify the situation? Unfortunately for me, there really was nothing that I could do, so I just had to wait it out.

January 2011 Monthly Review

It’s the first month of the new year.  Have you given up on your goals/resolutions?  I haven’t and I’ve been working hard at them since the first day of the month.  Along with my normal debt review at the end of the month, I’m going to begin to include updates on my health/gym goals.

Student Loans:

I haven’t made as much progress as I’d like on these since I paid off my nelnet loan at the beginning of November.  I paid a big payment in late November to my direct loan, but haven’t paid anything since.   I need to step it up.

Direct Loan $3,909 ($360) – This has been my prime target since November, and I’ve been doing an OK job.  December was an expensive month, and most of what I would have put towards this went to various things.  On the other hand, I’m beyond excited that this is under 4k!  My goal was to have this paid off by the end of the first quarter, and that’s looking pretty probably at this point.  Hopefully I’ll get some assistance from various places.  I haven’t made my snowball payment on this yet this month, but it’s looking to be $700 or so.

Great Lakes Loan $12,248 ($117)  Just sent my regular minimum payment to this loan.  This loan will be the last one marked for payoff.

Truck Debt:

This is for my vehicle.  I had already started trying to become debt free when I bought this, so I was quite torn as to wether or not to take on new debt while I was trying to eliminate other debt.  If you want to read more about it, check herehere and here.

Ford Credit: 17,695 ($264): Just made the regular monthly payment on this loan, not going down as fast as I’d like.  On the up side, I’ve paid it down 4k from its original balance over the past 12 months.

Health Goals Progress

I’ve been keeping track of my progress this month, and I can say that it has been a total mixed bag up until this point.  I started out ok, then took a small vacation where I didn’t get a chance to go at all, then got a little sick.  Enough with the excuses, next month is time to bat 100%.  I’m trying to go 4 times each week.

Total Visits

Week 1 (Jan 2-8): 4
Week 2 (Jan 9-15): 3 (was on vacation for this weekend – no excuse, though)
Week 3 (Jan 16-22): 3
Week 4 (Jan 23-29): 3
(Rest of days will count in Feb)

Goal Visits: 16
Total Visits: 13

Total Debt Level: $33,854 ($739)  Obviously not as much progress as I would have liked, but it’s moving in the right direction.  All I need to do now is keep working hard and keep focusing, and I’ll be towards my goal in no time!