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.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Painting CAN be done with a two year old

I seldom paint with the kids because of the mess and attention everyone needs for paint, water, etc., but looking back at the results makes be realize it's well worth the effort and I should really do it more often.  Painting is more than an art, it's freedom of expression and the more we close ourselves off from art, the harder it is to make art.

Surprisingly, the baby did not end up with paint on her clothing, hair, or face!

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Tiny Snowman

The news keeps talking about huge epic storms sweeping the country but somehow they keep missing our area!  This is our 4th winter in Maryland and all prior have had significant snow.  Somehow this year we've had 2 snows, each about 1 inch!

We've already got spring flowers coming up because it was so warm in January!  I sure hope it doesn't end badly for the local orchards - a late extended cold spell will do that.

Here's our tiny snowman made after we got a 2 hour delay this morning!  He's so small I couldn't get the rocks to stay in for a mouth!!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Trials and Tribulations of Driving in California

Despite flying to CA almost annually for 15 years, and living in LA for two years from 2002 - 2003, I still get lost every single time I visit.  Well, maybe not lost, but I seem to have lots of trouble with the GPS.  Maybe it's because the Los Angeles and surrounding areas is in a constant state of road repair?  This last trip at the end of January found me clinching the wheel as the GPS stated in it's most alarmed voice "driving into oncoming traffic on a one way street".  It was not a one way street, it was re-routed traffic and others were clearly going the same way.  Still, it's un-nerving!

This past trip I decided to rent a truck, because I like driving trucks, but all they had was a F-150.  I had to literally hop to get into the truck!  The guy next to me at the rental place was like, "wow, you look really small in there".  It was a big truck.  I felt like I was driving a battering ram.  The biggest stress factor was that small cars literally disappeared into a blind spot and drove me into wild waves of panic.  On the plus side though, I found more than one car in my rear view mirror having second thoughts about cutting me off as I puttered down an off-ramp hoping I was taking the correct exit.  That was empowering.

California parking spots are very small so parking also very stressful.  Fortunately I was early for my  meeting had had time to circle the block before street parking at my destination and had the great fortune to find a spot that didn't require parallel parking!

My trips to CA are like a Navy Seals mission, I'm in and out in 20 hours.  I get up at 4am to leave for the airport at 4:45.  The airport drive is 1.5 hours.  My flight usually leaves at 7 or 8am.  A flight takes 6-7 hours depending on stops and then time goes backwards 3 hours for PS time zone so I get in around 11 or noon.  Hopefully I've managed to eat somewhere along the way because when I get to Burbank all I want to do is rent a car and get the drive to Pasadena over with!  My meetings are always the same day around 3pm so I have about 3 hours to get myself to Pasadena without dying in a car wreak along the way.  After a 2 hour meeting, I head back to Burbank and drop off the rental same day.  My flight the following day is usually 8am and gets in at 6pm local time.

When dropping off a vehicle at the Burbank airport rental car zone, there is no transport to the Marriott hotel which is located across a very busy 6 lane wide street.  It's very annoying to have to walk across a street with luggage but even stranger to consider asking an Uber or Taxi to pick me up and drive me the quarter mile distance!  It's probably not a big deal in normal circumstances but after being up at 4am and getting to car rental zone at 6pm, which is 9pm EST, my brain is fried!

The best part for me is always the return.  One very long day of travel with nothing to do but READ! On this particular return, my favorite author, Alex Berenson, had just released a new book giving me one glorious day to read with no interruptions!  And by interruptions I mean of the "mommy mommy help me" type.

Here's the link if you want to check it out:  https://www.amazon.com/Prisoner-John-Wells-Novel/dp/0399176152/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486684814&sr=8-1&keywords=alex+berenson