Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Update

May was a busy month with one trip to Florida, last day of school, a children's day service at church, and prep for our 3 week road trip.  No wonder I didn't find time for blogging or my favorite series "Frugal Living".  In fact I will have to skip writing a monthly post for Frugal Living because we've hit status quo for the moment.  Instead I'll work on a few travel with family posts, my 2nd favorite topic.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Frugal Living - April 2017



Here is my April edition of money saving tips.  Subject matter - my road to recovery from 10+ years of cell phone contracts!

I've been an AT&T subscriber for more than 10 years.  I can't remember what my bills were in the beginning but I know they got more expensive once my husband and I got hooked on iPhones.  My first iPhone was a 3GS 8gb.  I adored that phone until the space got so small that it couldn't accommodate email, photos, upgrades and everything else I wanted so I upgraded to the iPhone 4 with 16gb and stayed happy with that until 2 years ago when the same problem occurred.

A very helpful man called me over at Target and made a very compelling case on how we should upgrade to the iPhone 5.  I guess he caught me right when my contract was about to end because the bill came out to only slightly more than what I was already paying, approximately $130 per month for two phones.

The new plans 2 years ago were showing that we would have paid considerably more per month on the iPhone 6 so I thought we were getting a great deal on the 5's. I realize now how sadly naive I was.  Here is how it breaks down:

We paid $130 per month for 2gb of data total.  This past month our contract ended on April 17th.  Our bill would have gone down to $84 if we had stayed with AT&T.  Subtract $130 - 84 = 46.  Take 46 x 24 months and the total is $1,104.  We paid $1,104 for two iPhone 5's.  Excuse me while I curl into a ball and cry myself to sleep.  But wait, I don't have time for self-pity, I firmly believe that we must be constantly trying to make ourselves better at everything so I will take this as a wake up lesson that I finally managed to learn!  
Even before I did the math, I was already feeling uncomfortable with 2 year contracts so I started looking into other plans a month ago and promptly ran out of time due to travel and illnesses so I decided to start with Cricket who was offering $70 p/m with 3gb data each for two phones that we brought into the store .  There is no contract so if we find a better deal elsewhere, we can walk away at any time.  I did later find that GoPro is offering $50 for two phones at 2gb each and Freedom Pop has a similar deal so maybe I'll try them later.

I went on eBay a few weeks ago and bought an iPhone 6 with 128gb of space for $255 because I was once again running out of room for email, photos, upgrades, etc.  My husband decided to stick with his iPhone 5 because he was not running out of space.  I can honestly say the difference between 5 and 6 is very little in terms of how fast apps run or operate so for me it was simply a choice of more space that was the critical factor.

Lessons learned:
  • buy phones online after scouting the best deal
  • no more phone contracts - EVER!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day is Every Day!

I love Earth Day as a reminder to be kind to our planet.  Regardless of where you might stand on global warming, it's still wise to be kind to the space we inhabit, for ourselves and future generations. 

I'm excited to share a few ways that we combine living frugally with being environmentally responsible:

1.  We take our trash to the dump twice a month and pay an annual fee of $166 VS our prior cost of $384 to Apple Valley Waste.
  • We recycle all cardboard, paper products, plastics and glass.
  • We compost all food (except meat) which includes scraps, forgotten leftovers (really trying hard to minimize these) and egg shells.
  • We shred all bank documents along with any paper that is not saturated in color ink and it all goes into the compost bin.
2.  I make a weekly menu which includes home cooked meals for 95% of what we eat.  We save money and reduce packaging.  Examples:
  • Refried Beans - with just 2lbs of dry beans, we make 6lbs of Pinto Beans that are frozen in 1lb containers and thawed for making quick refried beans. 
  • Homemade Yogurt - with 1/2 cup whole milk, I can make 1.5 quarts of yogurt.  It's not as thick as store bought yogurt, but it taste wonderful with homemade smoothies which we make almost every day.
3.  We garden a small 10x10 plot in the summer and can/freeze the following to be used throughout the year:
  • Tomatoes
  • Squash
  • Pinto Beans
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Sweet Red Peppers - we go through these too fast to save
  • Onions
  • Garlic
4.  Mowing with a push mower rather than gas.  We have both, but my husband prefers to use the push mower as much as possible.

My goal for the next year is to eliminate (as much as possible) zip lock bags.  They've been a weakness of mine for years and while I don't think the savings is significant, it's more of a desire to reduce our trash/landfill contribution.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Update

There has been more travel and sickness in this year that I would have initially imagined.  The March Asia trip ended with a few days in California to meet with a client and review all the plush toys we had worked on the prior week in China and ended with me getting the most horrific cold I've ever gotten!  I couldn't even sleep the night before my return flight home, it was that bad!!  I called a doctor from our Telehealth plan and they assured me I'd be fine flying home but to try and get as decongested as possible.  I bought Afrin the next day in the airport and that completely cleared my head.  I will keep this in my "required medicine travel bag" from now on!  I had a netti pot, cough drops and other meds with me but none were effective in loosening the clog.

The jet lag and cold combined made it an almost two week sickness after which I returned to California for another quick two day trip.  Thankfully I have no more travel until the 2nd week of May!

Last week our 5 year old got a stomach bug and now this week the oldest has it!  I can't wait for everyone to be healthy again!

I missed writing about finances last month and I've got a great report to write this month so stay tuned!  This one is about our changes in cell phone coverage and I'm excited to share how we've grown in this area.  I think most financial changes involve a certain amount of will power to change bad habits along with bravery to try new things.  Let's face it, isn't it just easier to live with what we've always done?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Back in Asia - Trip 2 of 3 for 2017

I was told at the end of 2016 that I was on the budget to travel to Asia three times in 2017.  I don't think I've traveled this extensively since 2006 or '07.  I remember going three times a year 10 years ago.  It was right before I started having babies and the trips back then were three weeks long.  At least they are shorter now.  I'm down to 11 days and that includes travel!  My schedule is as follows:

13th Monday - flight to Newark, then Hong Kong
14th Tuesday - arrive in Hong Kong at 8 or 9pm, spend night near China boarder
15th Wednesday - stop at international grocery store and get breakfast foods for the week, drive into China, 1.5 hours, work in plush toy sample room until 7 or 8pm in evening
16th Thursday - drive to another part of China to visit an IC office, 6 of us stand over an engineer for 4 hours until we get the sound/mouth movement needed.  Poor girl.  I'm sure she was glad when we left.  Return to our sample room and work till 7 or 8pm.
17th Friday - work in sample room
18th Saturday - work in sample room
19th Sunday - work in sample room
20th Monday - work in sample room return to Hong Kong in evening
21st Tuesday - fly to California
22nd Wednesday - meeting with client
23rd Thursday - return to Baltimore (home)

I'm not sure what condition I'll be in when I get home but for now I feel fine.  Strange how the body adapts.  I'm praying for down time after this trip and dreaming of all the fun things April will bring - Easter, Church Revival, a birthday party with friends from Maine, ladies children's day event from church, and time with friends.  See, my 2nd Asia trip was supposed to be in April and I might have missed these things.  It was hard taking this trip with short notice, but it will be better when April is here.

The question I'm asked the most by friends and family in the US is this - what do you do when you are in Asia?  Well, I've accumulated 16 years of Disney plush toy design experience and I direct a team of pattern makers on how to make the plush toys look like the Disney character.  I don't speak Chinese and I don't sew patterns.  I create spec sheets and correction through Photoshop and Illustrator and a translator is needed to communicate with the team.  We go shopping for materials, visit printing factories, embroidery factories, mechanism and IC factories while I'm here.

When I'm in the US, I review plush toys through photos.  Being here in person allows us to get 200% more work done because we can work faster in person.  There are no delays.  So when we get big projects from Disney, I have to come here to work.

My job has given me amazing flexibility to work from home in Maryland so when Asia travel is needed, I do it.  In time, there will be more creative people hired to work here what I'm doing now and this will not be always necessary.  I might even miss it one day.  For now, it's my life and I'm going to make the best of it.

This is the view outside my hotel window at 8:49am:

The bridge has been like this since I was here a year ago.  I'm wondering if it will ever get finished.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

KFC in China

KFC in China is completely different from KFC in the US.  I tell people here and they look at me in surprise. I tell people in the US and they are also surprised.  How can an international chain have a completely different menu?  Well, I guess they are smart enough to appeal to local taste.  Chinese love chicken.  It's more popular here than McDonalds for the price and taste.  When I first started coming to China, 15+ years ago, the menu was very basic.  It was not the fried chicken we associate with KFC but lots of basic wings and ribs.  No giant inflated chicken breasts that we think are normal in the US.  No gorgeous potato wedges.  Just a very basic menu.  I'm pleased to see they've grown in China to include sandwiches!


I ordered the one with an avocado next to it.  It had a yummy spicy sauce in the center and guacamole.  The chicken inside the sandwich was brown meat.  I must confess, I've been so brainwashed into thinking white meat belongs inside a chicken patty that my brain screamed it wouldn't be good even though the taste was just fine.  I had to literally not look at the inside while eating it.

We had regular fries and a Pepsi.  I don't even drink soda in the US but it was somehow very fitting in this location.  Next time I'm trying the green tea ice cream cone!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Frugal Living ~ February 2017


Welcome to my February edition of what works and what doesn't in frugal living!  For me it's a month of no work travel and a very relaxed work schedule because it's Chinese New Year in Asia so work is slow.  I'm spending more time with friends and relaxing rather chasing side-hustles with my free time but there is still room for experimentation so here's a summary of what works and what doesn't work for me.

Apps that don't work for me:
  • Checkout 51 app - I downloaded this app a few weeks ago.  It promises to save money on groceries.  You go through the list of items it's promoting on Wednesday, select the ones you are interested in and then upload your receipt.  The only problem for me is that I don't buy many brand items!  I have the same issue with coupons.  I rarely use them.  I'm sure a very savvy person who loves brand products might enjoy combining coupons with this app.
  • Swagbucks - I know some bloggers who swear by this app/website but I think that big blogs benefit hugely from driving traffic to Swagbucks.  Here are the reasons this app does not work for me:
    • Every time I try to take a survey, the app tells me they've already exceeded the amount of people who can take the survey.  Simple fix guys - update your coding to NOT show the survey once you've had enough take it!  
    • On the website there is an inbox full of suggestions, some of which lead to gambling sites.  That just seems extremely counter intuitive to saving money!  It bothers me.  I don't want to see it.
    • So far, it seems like a tremendous amount of time is needed to click on stuff to earn Swagbucks.  
    • If an app is not productive or interesting in 1-2 months, I move on.  
Easy apps that earn minor spending $$:
  • ONGO surveys app - The first 10 or so survey's gave me $0.10 because I did not qualify and $0.50 for "about me" survey's.  At one point I earned a whopping $2.00 for a phone survey but after 2-3 months I finally got a decent survey.  It was a lifestyle one about entertainment and I guess we have considerable entertainment habits to contribute because this one netted a cool $10.00.  I'm now up to $19.00 for doing very simple and occasional surveys. My only suggestion is to turn off the notifications because it has a very loud "kaching" money sound when a new survey pops up and it always caught me off guard when I was out in public. 
  • Shopkick app - I'm in love with this app.  I use it every time I got to a store which seems to gained enough points to keep my Starbucks card loaded.  I only go to Starbucks once or twice a month and it's nice to have free money for a treat.  
Long Term Strategies:
  • Samaritan Ministries - I've written briefly about our switch from traditional insurance to this Christian health care sharing network.  We're two months in and it's going great!  Here is our strategy:
    • Last year our monthly payment to Evergreen Health Care was $660 per month for two adults.
    • This year to Samaritan Ministries it is $440 for two adults (our kids are still on the Maryland Children's Health program for $66 per month)
    • We are putting the differences into our own healthcare savings plan, $220 per month
    • Samaritan does not cover regular doctor check ups so our savings will go to annual health care checks and prescriptions that are not covered.
    • Samaritan will pay 100% of our medical bills should we have a serious illness or medical situation that requires hospital care and they have enough members that with our low monthly payment of $440 all medical needs submitted do get paid for.  In fact, some months they reduce our bill by 5% if they take in more money then is needed for the month needs.
    • At the end of the year, the money I've saved from putting $220 into health care savings, will go into my long term savings account.  Twelve months of savings is $2,640 of which we will probably use 1/3 for 4 annual doctor check ups.  When we had Evergreen, we were paying our monthly bill of $660 + co-pays with each doctor visit and subsequent bills of a percentage of the office visit that was never covered.  I'd much rather pay out of pocket for preventative health care visits if my monthly bill is lower.  At the end of the year, if we have money left over, this will feel like the greatest deal ever! 
  • Phone Contracts:
    • Next month I plan to tackle our phone bill!  We are planning to go off the grid with contract phone bills, buy cheap phones with no contract and putting our iPods to use with a purchase as you go wifi device like KarmaGo.  I'm still working out all the details!  End of March our contract with AT&T ends and thus ends our days of phone contracts!  I want to get our mobile and wifi costs down to $50 per month.  Currently we are paying $130 for two iPhones.