Category Archives: Cutting Back

Finding an Outlet

I have a confession that would have embarrassed the heck out of me back in high school: I like to sing. Not just along to the radio, but in church choirs and to show tunes in my kitchen. I looked into local community musical theater, but it’s an enormous time commitment. Then a friend invited me to join our town’s chamber choir with her. I was interested to have another creative outlet and a real live audience, but this group charges membership fees. Fortunately they have a scholarship program, so in exchange for volunteering a little extra of my time, I get to sing for free! They also provide attire for performances, so all I’m out is a pair of black hose and flats. We’ve been rehearsing for a few weeks and I’m getting excited about our Christmas performances. Don’t ask me for pictures though; the concert outfit would be perfect formal wear for a very modest nun.

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Filed under Cutting Back

New Toy!

Two years ago, I desperately wanted to upgrade to a smartphone. However, my house closing got pushed to the day before I had to be out of my rental, and somewhere during the process of supervising the movers (yay college students!), exchanging freaked out calls with my realtor because the sellers were suddenly refusing to sign the papers (boo!), and sobbing to my friend who lives nearby and has a fax machine (thanks!), my phone stopped receiving calls. I had been planning on researching plans and phones, but I didn’t have time for that and was freaking out ever so slightly over hemorrhaging money, so I renewed my same plan of limited minutes and texting and got a fairly basic phone. And for the past two years, I’ve resented paying $58 every month for so little and I’ve been a little jealous of my friends and their super cool smart phones.

Anyways, last week my contract finally expired. For months I’ve been researching plans, network coverage, and phones. I love the coverage Verizon has, but their plans were way too expensive for what they offered. In the end, I went with Virgin Mobile. They have contract free plans with 300 talk minutes, unlimited texting and data for $35 a month. If their rates get too expensive or I get a better offer elsewhere, there’s no penalty for changing. Plus, their network is run through Sprint so it’s very reliable. The only downside is that you have to pay the entire price of the phone, but even with that, I’m still saving money within 9 months. I ended up saving my babysitting money all summer to splurge on a top of the line phone. As much as I wanted an iPhone, I couldn’t rationalize $600 (!) when the HTC Evo V is virtually the same thing for only $300.

So, with savings of $20 a month for a better plan and a fun new toy, I’m a pretty happy camper.

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Keeping Cool

In order to save on energy bills this summer, I’ve been avoiding running my air conditioning unless I have friends over. It’s not too bad, particularly after I sit in my freakishly cold office all day, but I have learned a few tricks for keeping cool.

  1. Top knot. If my hair is off my neck, I feel way cooler.
  2. Strip it off. As soon as I get home, I get down to as few layers as possible. Currently I’m rocking a tank and short shorts that I’d never wear in public, but I’m also a huge fan of pulling out an old sarong.
  3. Cucumber water. My vegetable bin is overflowing with cucumbers, which are delicious sliced up into a pitcher of water. Also, it saves me from having to eat any more of those, since I’m going to burn out soon.
  4. Popsicles. I’m currently obsessed with homemade fruit popsicles. Puree some seasonal fruit, add a pinch of sugar, pour into molds and you’re done. Right now I have a batch of blueberry, peach, and blood orange. A friend always has several strawberry lemon.
  5. Fan. Fortunately this area has low humidity and cool off from 100 during the day to 55 at night. I’ve perfected propping a fan in the window of my second story bedroom window and can lower the temperature of my room by almost 10 degrees.

Any other tips for keeping cool during a hot summer?

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Filed under Cutting Back, Going Green

Upgrading My Intertubes

I hope everybody had a great 4th of July! Today, I’m celebrating a different kind of freedom.

Y’all, I published this post from the comfort of my own couch. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but I’ve been functioning without wireless internet for over 2 years now. Unless I was sitting at my kitchen table, I couldn’t play online, watch movies, or blog. Occasionally I’d be irritated by the set-up, but never irritated enough to bother to buy a wireless router and set it up. What changed? Well, I’m glad you asked.

In January, I called my internet company to see if I could get a discount. They gave me one that would run for six months. Since that was ending soon, I thought I’d call again and see if they could extend that special offer. Unfortunately, the customer service rep couldn’t do that for me, but he could sign me up for another discounted program. It would only cost $3.50 more than I currently paid. However, it would require an upgrade from DSL to the fiber-optic network, so I would need to get a new modem. But wait! He had a rebate offer of up to $100 for wireless modems, which happens to be the exact cost of the standard model.

So, for $3.50 more a month, I’m getting faster service and wireless. Totally makes it worth navigating that voice activated customer service menu, doesn’t it?

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The Transportation Experiment: Phase 2

One big part of cutting back for me was taking the bus. Last summer I was great about biking to campus most of the time, but fell out of the habit when I had an unexpected minor surgery last fall. By the time I recovered, it was the middle of the academic term and what we call winter was starting, and driving or riding the bus became easier.

Now the weather is nicer, the academic year is wrapping up (yay!) and my excuse for not biking is that riding the bus is just easier: I get to sit and read a book, drink my coffee, or take a quick nap. But, it is more expensive and actually takes longer than biking. Plus, I really need the exercise. So, for the time being, I’m going to try to bike to campus at least 4 days a week. I’ve done the math and while I might spend more on gas, it will be less than gas plus a bus pass.

Wish me luck!

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Filed under Cutting Back, Cycling

Energy Care Program

A few months ago, I swallowed my pride and applied for the low-income program with my power company. I shoved it to the side of my mind, until I got a call a few weeks ago that I had been accepted, and would now be charged reduced rates. I was relieved, but wondered why it required a phone call, until the woman continued that with entrance into the program, I was entitled to a free home energy assessment. I like free, I like saving money and I like things that make me more environmentally friendly, so I said yes.

Y’all, it was awesome. I’ve been slowly replacing my regular light bulbs with CFLs as they burn out, but they went through and replaced them all. Then, since CFLs aren’t very pretty, they replaced three of my light fixtures that had exposed bulbs with ones that covered the bulbs, and conveniently, matched the ones already in my house. My water heater got a new insulating blanket, new weather stripping for my doors and windows, and new insulation around the exhaust for my furnace and stove vents. They even replaced my showerhead with a handheld low flow version that has multiple massage settings.  And, had my refrigerator been old enough, they would have replaced it.

They also gave me some tips for how to reduce energy further: shorter showers and wash clothes in cold water (which I already do), clean refrigerator coils and replace my furnace filter (which are now on my to do list!).

I admit, I was really nervous to admit to perfect strangers that things were tight financially, but they were so professional and matter of fact that I never felt like a failure. And, now my power bill will be reduced two fold: lower rates and lower usage.

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Filed under Cutting Back, House and Garden

Freecycle Vases

Have I mentioned how much I love Freecycle lately? Because I do. My latest find was a group of pretty and vintage-looking vases and bottles. My flowers are doing really well this spring and I want to scatter some around the house. Ooh, or buy corks and fill some with herbs from the garden and vinegar for home infused vinegars. Basically, I’m excited about this. Any other great ideas?

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Filed under Cutting Back, House and Garden