Green Washer Fluid

Today I was at wal-mart searching for, among other things, some new wiper fluid for my vehicle.  I typically dont give much thought to purchasing washer fluid, but something struck me when I was looking at the 5 or so different choices.

There was an eco-friendly alternative for wiper fluids.

Of course there was, why wouldn’t there be.  It seems that going eco-friendly or “green” is in vogue, and consumers will gladly pay a premium for eco-friendly products.  Such consumers typically buy and give  little thought going into whether or not the product was actually produced as they claim. (I do this on occasion)  At first thought, I figured this was just a well disguised attempt to separate me from my scarce financial resources.

Does the Earth Really Look like this from Space?

Upon further investigation, wiper fluid is typically hefty stuff, as the majority of the wiper fluids have some sort of anti-freezing agent in them.  It used to be methanol, but due to its known harmful effects (blindness, among other things) now they typically use ethanol and ethylene glycol (more commonly known as antifreeze).  So, did getting the green product really matter in this case?  The antifreeze is a key ingredient in the fluid in the winter (quick tip: if there’s frost on the windshield in the morning and you don’t have time to wait for the defroster to heat up, spray some wiper fluid on it.  It will melt the frost), and removing the things that make the wiper fluid not freeze would drastically decrease performance, and ultimately, my satisfaction with the product.

So, what’s a green conscious consumer to do?

Well, as mentioned before, the eco-friendly wiper fluid only went down to 32 degrees.  I bought two gallons to use for the summer time, and when the winter time comes back (in 3 months) I’ll use the eco-unfriendly stuff unless I can find an alternative.  Not only did I get the eco-friendly product, it was also 50 cents or so cheaper than the regular washer fluid.

Questions:

  1. Have things gotten too “green”?  You can find green things everywhere these days, but who really cares if your wiper fluid is eco-friendly or your superman underwear contain 100% organic cotton
  2. Would you sacrifice performance to stay green?

Saving Money Tip: Open Source Software

Last week, I was having a twitter discussion with one of my favorite PF Bloggers, Matt Jabs of Debt Free Adventure.  Matt’s a great blogger, and offered to put my car situation on his website, and I got valuable feedback from him and his readers.  Anyway, Matt & I share slightly similar professions (Although he has recently gotten a new job, Congrats Matt) in that we are both IT Geeks by day.  (I should probably stop talking about Matt & get to my post.

Anyway, Matt got me thinking when we were talking about a computer purchase.  At work (and I work for a very by-the-book employer) we have even begun using open-source software because it is so cost effective, and I thought it would be a great way for non IT geeks to use to lower costs when purchasing a new machine.  There are many different programs that you have been working on computers with for years, and probably just purchase because the program is good (or OK) and don’t know what else can do a similar function for a better cost.  Microsoft Office comes to mind here.

So, here are some ways you can save money on software when purchasing a computer

Open Source Software

Word Processing/Spreadsheets/Presentations

Standard Program:

Microsoft Office – To Order a new Dell PC with Microsoft Office, it costs $119.00, and is not the “professional” edition, which includes an email client, Microsoft Outlook.  For that, You’ll need to cough up $279.00.

For Microsoft Office on an Apple Machine, it costs $149.95 for the regular edition, and $399.95 for the “professional” edition

Open Source Alternative:

Open Office – Open office is a great program, and as long as I’ve used it or talked about it with friends, I’ve never heard a bad thing spoken about it.  It has spreadsheets, wordprocessing, graphics and databases.  This is more functionality than you get with the standard version of Microsoft office, and it’s free.  It also has a simple save as “*.docx” or whatever microsoft format you need.  It also has a save as “*.pdf” option.  You can download open office for free at their website, www.openoffice.org

Email:

For Cost Option – Microsoft Outlook included with Microsoft Office Professional Edition.

Open Source Alternative:

Thunderbird is the email client designed by the people who created the Mozilla Firefox Browser.  It’s got many of the same features as outlook, such as email search, easy set up, and integration with their calendar program, called Lightning Calendar.  If you think these sources are unsafe, think again.  Use of Firefox (the browser) has been gaining steadily over the years, and is probably safer at this point than Internet Explorer, the Microsoft Web browser.

Photo Editing:

Many of the photo editing software comes standard (a perfect reason for you to use it and not think about it).  Some of it is OK for the amateur photographer, but there are programs that do a much better job and are also free.

Picasa: Picasa was purchased by internet giant Google quite some time ago, and then was (as is google’s motus operandi) made free, and features were added like crazy.  It has a much more intuitive way of finding your photos, and also adds support for red-eye removal and tagging pictures with places and people in them.  You can also upload some of your photos on the internet to share so that grandma can see pictures of your new baby (or puppy), for free!

USB Jump Drive

You probably bought one of these to store files, thinking man, this is handy.  Well, if you’ve lost yours and don’t want to replace it, try….

Dropbox – Creates a folder on each of your computers and syncs the items in the folder across the dropbox folders.  Along with moving your files to computers, you can use files on the dropbox website.  If you’re interested in more, check the homepage for a short video on how to get the most out of dropbox.

For most users, these options would save you lots of money in software when purchasing a new computer.  There’s more products that will allow you to cut the cost of Microsoft Windows out, but I didnt mention them for 2 reasons:

  • It’s usually included in the cost of the computer
  • Other Operating System software (Linux, Unix) is typically for IT geeks like myself.

So, I encourage you to take some of Bakers advice and Unautomate your software choices.  The old methods work ok, but there are newer, better and free-er (is that a word) software options.  Explore them, you’ll save money and be glad you did.

April 2010 Recap

Well it looks like April is finally over, so its time for my monthly spending recap. I was hoping to be credit card debt free by the end of this month, but unfortunately that dream did not become a reality, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. I was the happy recipient of 3 paychecks in April, something us bi-weekly paycheck receivers covet that happens twice a year. To me, it is better than Christmas and my birthday put together. So, without further ado, here is what went down last month.

I’ve started to keep track of my debt in something in addition to mint, and I’ll explain that as well.  After what seemed like many prosperous months in a row, April included quite a few oddities, mostly me misallocating my funds, and forgetting about autopayments (this was the biggest mistake, and most costly).

Citi Card$ 1,702($790)– This had been the focus of my efforts for last month. Im glad to see this one go down, but I wish that it would have been gone by now. I’ll keep at it next month.

Southwest Card $ 477($477)This was paid off in March, but I put more on it this last month.  I’m really, really not sure how this happened (well, I know how I spent it, but I’m not really sure what it was on).  It looks like most of it was to gas & food.  Part of the reason this was used was because I caused myself a cashflow problem.

WaMu Card – 0 – Im considering closing this card, but I don’t want to change my available credit and thus the ratio of credit im using to what’s available until I pay off more of the other 2

Other Debt – This is all non credit card debt.  Just Student Loans and an Auto Loan that I took out which you can read about here.  This went down more than I had expected, and caused the liquidity crisis that I mentioned above.  See, one night I went home and was really excited about paying all my bills (I don’t know why) but I paid just about everything in one night, and then about a week later, one that I paid came up for Auto-draft, right after I had sent what I had left to my Citi Card.  This caused me to overdraft my account (which made me mad, as I havent had one in ages, and was hoping to not have one all year), but caused quite a cash crunch while I waited everything out, causing me to turn to the other card.

Nelnet Student Loan $ 3,106($60) This normal payment is $50, but I paid extra last month.  I think when I get my Cards paid off, I’ll shift my focus to this because the balance is so small, although I’m not too sure yet.  This used to be a department of ed student loan, but was sold.

Direct Loan $ 7,535($262).  The regular payment on this is 92, but my parents threw me some extra change to toss on this bad boy.  This was up above 12k, but I started sending them a bit of interest payments while in grad school, and by the time my repayment came around, my balance was lower than what I borrowed.  I’m glad this is going down.

Great Lakes Loan $13,269($239)This is where my double payment happened, so it went down much more than normal.  I’d rather have the credit card lower than this, but progress is progress, and my numbers are lower than they were last month, so I don’t have much whining to do.

Ford Credit $20,874($350) This is the truck loan.  I pay $15 extra every month, but on some months, I’ve forgotten to call & ask for them to apply my extra to the principal instead of next months payment.

Total Debt $46,726 This number is higher by last month, and by a bit.  I apparently need to determine what calculator I use and use the balance, because it should be lower.  My spreadsheet has it going from 48k to 46k.  This needs to be worked out.

Here’s how I monitor all of my stuff in excel (along with monitoring my day-to-day with mint)

It consists of 2 Graphs:  One showing my monthly income vs my monthly expense, plotted over time.  The other has my debt to income.  It’s got a line for each one of my lines of credit (credit cards, auto & student loan), my total debt, and my income.  I just take all of this info from mint, and make the charts myself.  I also calculate the difference between my spending and income, and I’m happy to report that I have not been at a deficit since 12-09, when I stretched (maybe too much) for a down payment on the truck.

The only thing that confuses me is the difference between the accounts. I’m thinking they should be mostly similar, but I’m relieved by the fact that they are trending downward.

Questions for the readers:

1) What has been your best/worst month for paying down debt, and why do you think it was?

As an aside, I’m hoping to continue to blog 2-3x per week, and I’m also looking to change the theme.  Not sure if I like the one I’ve got, and I may change up quite a few things about the blog.  I’ll keep you posted!

Thanks for reading.

How to be Poor and Environmentally Conscious

The following is a guest post from Kyle over at 21andbroke.  Kyle writes about life and advice for the real world. This is a site for current students, recent graduates, and other young people who are in that strange phase of life where everyone expects them to suddenly be adults.  I know the feeling and the group of people that Kyle is trying to reach, because I am one.  Enjoy!

A. H. Allyn Mansion by cliff1066™.
[Image Credit: Cliff1066 on Flickr]
After my newfound friend Jeff and I decided to swap guest posts this week I was left with the classic blogger’s dilemma. An empty, white, and very blank word processor taunting me. What was I going to write that was both sustainable and relevant to poor college students? That’s when it hit me. College and early adulthood can be the most sustainable times of your life. In fact, being frugal often leads to increased sustainability without even trying.
Think for a moment about all the reasons Americans are chastised for not being “Green”. That big SUV driving from the suburbs to the strip mall, endless rows of McMansions costing thousands just to heat, massive boats, and the list goes on. Students don’t normally have these things because they can’t afford them. Many students don’t drive at all, choosing instead to walk to class or work. And you might knock it for the comfort, but few things are as efficient as cramming 20 students down a dorm room hallway. That meal of ramen they had earlier this week? It didn’t put out nearly as much CO2 as that five-course steak dinner being served for the business executives downtown.
I’m not trying to say that the key to sustainable living is eating noodles every night. There’s no need to “rough it”. After all, I wouldn’t want to spend my whole life living in a dorm. But if more people thought like starving students the world could be better off. Okay, maybe not thinking like the students who have the front yard-turned-landfill every Sunday morning. I’m talking about these hypothetical smart and sustainable students. Thinking like one of these students can save the planet and your pocketbook.
Think of all the ways you can be frugal and sustainable. Pretend you don’t have a car and take the bus. You’ll save on gas. Stop buying paper plates and do some dishes. You’ll save that cost too. Use those thin plastic bags, buy only the living space you truly need, cut back on the Coke and drink a little more water. That last one could even help your health. It just keeps getting better. By cutting life back to the essentials the most important things become abundantly clear.
If you’re a student right now, try to avoid the lifestyle creep that so often comes with that first job after graduation. So often people’s expenses will raise evenly with their income but this doesn’t have to always be the case. There’s no need to go out and buy a new car right away or upgrade to a fancy apartment. Treat yourself, then take that extra income and save it. Put it towards retirement. Pay off that student debt early. Buy some stocks. Live well within your means and you won’t regret. A few years of living life on the cheap now can pay off huge dividends down the line.
While your friends are paying off their credit card debt, their boats, their giant homes, and just beginning to worry about retirement you’ll be well on your way to financial freedom. All this because you took a little time to think like a student.
For more ways to “save like a student” be sure to visit 21andBroke.

Healthy Routines

Im back to health again after long time focusing mostly on finances and the environment.  Like I say everywhere in the blog, these things are quite interconnected, and some of the rules that apply to your finances can apply to your health.

The one I have been thinking about most recently is the automation portion.  Every morning when I get to the office, I park in the farthest parking spot that I can from the door.  Im typically one of the first ones there, so I do have my choice, but choose to park quite far away.  So, I walk a bit further to get into the door, and feel nice and energized when I get there.

However, I dont think you need to do this ALL the time.  One example for me is target: I swear, whenever I go in there it rains or snows, without fail.  That, coupled with the big-box store mentality of parking close to the entrance, I typically try to find a parking spot as close as I can to the front door.  To me, this isnt a big deal at all.  I go to target about once every week and a half or two weeks, so not taking the extra steps is not that big of a deal.  However, I go to work EVERYDAY.  Taking those steps everyday will create a solid routine for the future, and will also add up over time.

Just like with saving money, in health, Every little bit counts.

This solution also works well with messages you need to take around the office.  You could use the phone, but you’ll probably feel better if you walk up a few steps to talk to whomever you need to talk to.  I’ve never worn a pedometer or tried to count steps, but if you’re interested, you can get them for cheap or probably get a free one.

Another healthy routine to get into is eating breakfast.  I know you heard it from your mom everyday, but it’s the truth.  I usually dont have mine at home, but I eat it while at work.  I just keep a box of blueberry flavored granola in my desk and have a cup when I get to work every morning.  Couple this with a bottle or 2 of water, and I’m set for the day.  (I’m not all that dependent on caffinene, and with the granola, I dont really need to be.  Its very energy dense, and keeps me going through lunch.)

November Month Review

This is an update about where I stood in November as far as budgeting and paying down my debt.  Im hoping this will be all inclusive, but sometimes I do forget things, and will update them as I realize.

Budget For November

I do all my budgeting in mint, and its helped me greatly.  I’m not really into getting down to pencil & paper budgeting, but this has worked fairly well for me.  If you are struggling, I suggest you give it a try yourself.  If it doesnt work, move on to something different.

Rent $325 of $375 – I was able to get a discount on rent for this month for fixing a fence that the wind blew over.  It took the better part of an afternoon, but was totally worth it.

Auto Insurance $33 of $35  – Always the same, but I think my rate went down a dollar or two for my next cycle, starting in december.  Nothing to complain about there.

Groceries $99 of 110 – I was fairly close on this one, which is good.  This is just food that I buy to cook at home.

Transfer to Savings $50 of $50 – it’s great to maximize this transfer.  I set this up recurring every month, even though Im not finished paying down my debt, I still think it’s a worthy endeavor.

Fast Food – $68 of $35 –  This one obviously needs to be adjusted.  There is no sense in making your budget goals so unrealistic that you blow by them (like I did) and then feel bad for the rest of the month about missing them.  I’m thinking of raising this $10 or $15.

Gas – $189 of $200 – No, I’m still not happy about this, but due to some recent changes that I’ll detail in the future, this one will only get worse before it gets better.

For the Month, I spent $1361 out of a total of 2,330.  I’m living well below my means, and to ensure that I keep it this way, I have given myself a Monthly Budget of $1375,  with everything else going to debt repayment.

Status of Debt

My goal for this was to have the credit cards paid off before I really had to get into my student loan payments at the beginning of 2010.  Unfortunately, this didnt really work out as planned, and you can read the story about me not thinking properly here.  Just in case you were wondering, I prefer to get lessons from the school of hard knocks instead of verbal advice.  My

Chase WaMu Card 666.14 this is the one I’m most happy about.  I’ve had this card for about 5 years, and it’s been a burr in my saddle ever since.  I currently have the cash on hand to knock this one out, but I am reserving that until I get paid again, in case I will need said cash for an emergency.

Chase Southwest Card $1,534 This one was paid off in August of 2009, but I had to use it before I had the change to close it.  I had planned on paying it off with proceeds from the sale of the car, but that did not pan out.  Find the link above if you want more on that story while I cry forget about it and move on.

Citi Card2,622I’m not to worried about this, as it’s on 0% interest and does not expire until may.  It will be gone by then.

So…..how much did my debt cost me this month?  a whopping $69.  Not too happy about this, but soon enough it will be gone, and I can assure you that my lesson has been learned.


The High Cost of Being a Moron

Yup, Im an Idiot.  It’s official Now.

Credit: Southsidetowing
Cars Impounded

Wow…..I never thought it would have happened, as I’ve been on quite a good streak with my finances and personal life lately.  By “good streak” I mean to say that I havent done anything that will knee-cap my chances of being successful in the future.  Some people call this “Staying out of your own way”.  As I mentioned, I have been quite good at getting out of my own way lately (I wasnt always this way, but that’s a topic for another post).  I was making good headway on my debt (I still am, sorta) and just really had not done anything that I could look back on in 5 minutes and say “What the hell was I thinking?!”

Well, as you can probably gather, this completely blew up in my face recently, and I’ve finally gotten around to writing about it.  You’ll probably say I was stupid as well, but at this point, I’ve put my moronic actions past me, and have updated my plan/situation to reflect that.

As I mentioned in a previous article (The cost of your car, Pt 2), I purchased a new car when my old one broke down on the way north, and because I got a fairly good deal on a not that old car, I figured that once I got my other car fixed, I could sell it for at least what I paid for it, or possibly a profit.  So, with the help of a great friend, I retrieve my car from its location, take it to the repair shop, and they tell me it will be about a week, because they were a bit behind.  (It was fine with me, as hunting season had just opened, and I know that my mechanic hunts frequently)  So I drive the newer car until the old one is fixed, and then list it on craigslist.  Within a few days, I had many promising responses, and set up a time to have someone look at the vehicle.  I had left room on the price to haggle a bit and still make some money, and the first person that looked at the car made me an offer that I accepted.   The buyer informed me that the transaction would take a while to complete, due to some funding issues, which I agreed to.  One of the reasons that I did this was to avoid having to pay insurance for the car – though I do think that insurance is important (such as Life Insurance, Health Insurance, etc)

Once that happened, I imagined all this progress I was going to make on my credit card debt with this money that I did not yet have.  I ran numbers over and over in my head, and I thought I would be able to hit my goal of being free of credit card debt by 1.1.2010.  I was ecstatic, and applauded myself on shrewed business skills.  All the while, I left the vehicle parked on the street in the city I work in (45 mins from the city I live in).  It was a couple blocks from my place of employment, and so I didnt really figure it to be that big of a deal, as it was parked on the street next to a vacant lot.  The plan was for the car to sit there for around 8 days, and I figured that no one would mind (or even notice, really) that the car had been parked there.

The problem with that situation was that there was an issue with the funding source of the buyer, and I figure that im in no hurry, and can wait for her to straighten everything out.  The car ends up sitting there for the better part of three weeks!  On the day of the sale, I go to retrieve it and ITS GONE!  Im thinking to myself, holy crap, where is it, what happened to it, etc.  I come to the conclusion that it got towed, and I need to find it and get it before I can sell it.  (I havent panicked yet, but im sure annoyed at this point).

I call the city, they tell me (after waiting a bit) that it was towed.  I call the towing company, and they say that have it, and that it’s going to cost $900 for me to get it out.  They had it for almost 2 weeks.  I was not happy that I was not notified, but right then, all the dreams I had of using that car money (and profit) to pay off my debts went out the window, and life gave me a well placed kick to the midsection.

I retrived the car, swallowing a $900 bill before hand, and thought, well, im glad this mess is over, sold the vehicle and wont really look back.  Except to weep continuously.

I learned the following lessons from this escapade:

  1. Keep track of your crap – This would not have happened had I not assumed that all was going to be hunky-dory with the world.  The car got towed, but it could have just as easily gotten stolen.
  2. Get out of your own damn way – Personal finance is difficult enough (so much so that many dont bother with it), and it’s even more difficult when you keep tripping over yourself.
  3. Dont count your chickens Dollars before you’ve got them –  This definitely didnt help either.  It just made me angrier at myself for being such an *idiot*
  4. Persevere – I think this is the most important take-away from this.   Although my Jan 1, 2010 goal for being credit card debt free is most likely unattainable at this point, this is no time for me to just give up.  I’ve gotten too far, enjoyed the successes that I have had too much to just quit now, even though I did take one on the chin pretty hard.

As they say on Intervention, Relapse is part of recovery.  You have to just keep plugging away, and eventually you’ll be where you wanted to be at the beginning.

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