Money To Live

September 14, 2013

New Purchases

Filed under: budgeting,cost analysis,scrimp/splurge,spending — by moneyconsciously @ 10:33 am

Recently I made a purchase of items over which I hesitated. They cost more than I planned to spend, but were very lovely. Here’s why I chose not to scrimp, but to splurge.

The items were a good fit. They filled the niche I planned to use them for, in more than one way. They would be long-lasting.

The items were also well designed and made of good materials. Some or all of the work (design, production) was done locally rather than outsourced to sweat shops. And the items were sold by a wonderful local business.

It’s the second set of points that probably contributed to the higher cost of the items. However, those points were congruent with values I support. So, putting my money where my mouth is, I made the purchase.

No regrets.


August 17, 2013

Create money to live

Hmmmmmm… I sat down to write this blog post at my usual schedule. Ideas popped in, but none flowed into writing. I willingly spent a few hours procrastinating. I reminded myself, as any writer knows, that you just have to do it.


Today’s blog message is simply this: to create money to live, you just have to create money to live. Do you know how to earn more money? Do you know how to save more money? Do you know how you can improve the quality of (the value you experience from) your money? Go create money to live!

July 7, 2013

Grow your own

Filed under: cost analysis,home,savings,simplify — by moneyconsciously @ 11:20 am

Assuming an already-established garden spot, i.e. neglecting start-up infrastructure, growing your own fruit and vegetables can be extremely cost effective.

Arugula / rocket lettuce: Half a dozen healthy plants in the garden provided my salads every day or every second day. Cost of seedlings: ~$4. Cost of arugula: $8/month. Savings: $4 in the first month, then $8/month.

Kale: I’ve just planted kale and estimate at least the above savings.

Kumquats: A mature tree in citrus season produces a lot of fruit! Cost of a small tree: ~$10. Cost of a jar of marmalade or relish: ~$5. Savings over three jars/year for five years: ~$65.

Herbs: A variety of herbs can be used for garnishes, flavour, sauces… Cost of four varieties of herb seedlings: ~$15. Cost of one store-bought fresh herb per month over a year: ~$30. Savings: ~$15.

Sweet potato: When a sweet potato in the kitchen started sprouting, I sliced off the sprouting piece and nurtured it. Cost of starter slip: free. Cost of half a dozen sweet potatoes: >$5. Savings: >$5.

Gardening can be yummy, fresh and cheap!

September 27, 2010

Costs associated with working full time

Filed under: career,cost analysis,spending — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

There are extra costs involved in working outside the home — gasoline and clothing are two common examples.

For me, I would also need to find someone to walk my dog every day. To keep my sanity, I would get a grocery delivery service and a cleaning person. The cleaning costs could vary from $50-$100/ week, depending on how much we needed. I’m estimating at the higher end because in the summer we would have to pay someone to do the weeding and lawn care that I do. If I am honest with myself, I know that I won’t pack a lunch every day, and I’ll end up eating out more frequently.

I spend a non-trivial amount of time making sure that we don’t get ripped off — and it’s resulted in $2-3k of savings this year alone (disputing the purchase of flawed merchandise, holding credit card companies accountable for their advertised rewards, disputing false information on our insurance reports, …). I’ll lump that category into “extra fees” that we avoid by me having the time (and energy) to fight for the money.

To even consider taking full time work, I would need the salary to trump my current annual wages by $23k! Of course, there are some very real benefits of full-time work — employer match to retirement savings and health insurance, to name a few.

What do you think of these expenses — did I leave something out, or do you think this is ridiculous?

I’m earning $X now (where $X could swing +/- 10% in any given year), and I would really only consider working full time for $2X, which would more than cover the extra expenses. But is it worth it?

August 26, 2008

Cost Analysis: Dry Cleaning

Filed under: cost analysis — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

The name of this blog comes from my complaints about how expensive “things” cost. In particular, one expensive thing is dry cleaning.

When buying clothes, I check labels, and most of my clothing is machine or hand washable. Some fabrics, flax and silk come to mind, are lovely and I want to have some of these items in my closet.

I use an eco-friendly dry cleaner near my house (= expensive real estate). The cost to dry clean 1 pair of pants, 2 short-sleeve shirts, and 1 sweater is $26.50. Really? The total is more than the pants cost brand new on sale at Banana Republic (I do not wash after every wear, but I spilled a piece of s’mores nacho on the pants … and to be honest a little tequila also; they needed to be cleaned).

First of all, why do some clothes need to be dry cleaned? Basically, some fabrics do not play well with water and/or soap. Instead of using water, a dry cleaner uses another solvent. It may be a liquid, so the dry cleaning is not actually “dry,” but it is called “dry” because water is not used.

As annoying as it is to shell out cash for dry cleaning, the owners/employees are not making out like bandits. In most areas, there are several dry cleaners competing for business. Rates must be competitive. Across the industry, the average revenue per employee is $60,000, significantly less than for The Gap (which owns Banana Republic), which has average revenue per employee of over $100,000. Hourly employees in laundry and dry cleaning earn on average $9.41/hour, which is more than minimum wage but not enough to support a family.

The best option for lowering the dry cleaning bill is to wear clothes that can be washed at home.

NPR gives a warning: ” If you think your dry cleaning bills are high now, hang on.” Metal hangers cost more, driving up prices of dry cleaning.

August 22, 2008

Cost Analysis: Moving Expenses

Filed under: cost analysis — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
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Over the last week, I moved my belongings from New Jersey to Virginia. This is how I did it.

Moving budget: $1300

A friend gathered a lot of estimates and found that with a reputable moving company, an in-town move costs $1600-$1800. Moving across states would cost more, and I have heard lots of scary stories of using movers (they might hold belongings “hostage” and demand more money, delay delivery for weeks, or simply break everything).

I know a few people who used PODs to move all over: from New Jersey to Texas, from Texas to Pennsylvania, and from California to New Jersey. A POD is a large storage container that you load and unload, and the POD company moves it from Point A to Point B. The POD is dropped off at your home and is picked up a few days later. I could not have used a pod because I had no where to put it. Overnight parking is not allowed in front of my house, and the backyard is full of cars (mine & the housemates’). Storing the large POD was definitely an issue. From my friends, I hear that prices on PODs range between $1,000 and $2,000.

When I told my retired/unemployed father that my new apartment is on the ground floor, he offered to drive a U-Haul and help me move. Thanks, Dad! That is the option I went with, and here is the breakdown of the costs:

Penske renal: $350

I used Penske because they guaranteed pick-up and drop off locations. U-Haul quoted half that price but would not guarantee a truck (or locations) until 18 hours before picking up the truck.

Extra costs with the rental: $100 (hand dolly, insurance)

Gas + tolls: $100

I paid for the gas with cash. Many gas stations give discounts, as much as 10¢/gallon for paying by cash instead of credit card. When a customer pays with credit card, the gas station is paying a small percentage of the transaction cost to the credit card company.

The moving truck got 12mpg — better than the 6-10 mpg estimate from the company.

Dinner for three friends who helped load: $180

Dinner for friends who helped unload: $100

Cash for two teenagers who helped unload: $200

These teenagers are cousins of a NJ friend of mine, and they were awesome. They were motivated to help because they each made $100 in 1.5 hours. They did not complain a single time and did not stop to rest for a moment.

Pizza and beer for my father: $27

Total: $1,057

The move came in under budget and ahead of schedule — we finished more than a full hour ahead of when I expected.

August 13, 2008

Financial advice for college students: How to not spend $5,000

Filed under: cost analysis,education — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am
Tags: ,

The point of college is to learn to think critically and effectively and communicate ideas. No matter what you do after graduation, these skills will take you far. Somehow, at the end of four years, you are supposed to know how to find a job.

The problem is that, in classes, you are usually too busy learning about Shakespeare or how neurons fire in a rat’s brain to address these bigger goals. Your professors may be so focused on their own disciplines that they provide little guidance to your broader intellectual growth.

Since universities know that professors might not help you out in these areas, they provide resources on campus. You just have to know where to look.

As a graduate student, I stumbled across these resources, and if I were to pay for the services on my own, I estimate that it would have cost more than $5,000.

Writing Center

At the Writing Center on your campus, you can get help generating ideas for a paper, detailed line-by-line editing, or anything in between. Both undergrads and grad students can make appointments for anything they are writing. I visited the writing center regularly when writing my dissertation. My advisor read my final draft and gave great feedback, but he did not have time to read each draft I wrote. At the writing center, someone sat down with me and went through line-by-line.

This is a summary of the resources I used and the estimated out-of-pocket expense I would have to pay off campus:

Workshops on writing scientific papers $100/hour: $1800

Conferences with my writing teacher $100/hour: $300

Conferences with a graduate student peer tutor $50/hour: $450

Total: $2,550

Learning Center

This wonderful office sometimes gets a bad reputation on campuses. This comes from a misunderstanding of its purpose. Students with high SAT scores who get into good colleges think they know how to read effectively, take notes quickly and effectively, and plan a large project easily. Maybe a few do, but most could benefit from these resources.

I admit I am biased: I worked for this office at two different universities and took advantage of the resources “from the inside” by teaching the ideas and techniques to other students.

Services typically aimed at undergrads:

  • Effective reading
    This could be speed reading or effective reading of textbooks. Learning this changed how I read the newspaper — I spend much less time, and I am much more informed.
  • Note-taking
  • Exam preparation
  • Planning for a large project
    This is great for planning a term paper or a senior thesis.

This office usually also offers resources for teaching on campus. Graduate teaching assistants can get help with teaching right now or in planning to go on the job market.

Services typically aimed at graduate student:

  • Workshops on pedagogy development
  • Individual advice on syllabus design and teaching statements
  • Interview preparation

This is a summary of the resources I used and the estimated out-of-pocket expense I would have to pay off campus:

Workshops (pedagogy development) $100/hour: $1,000

Teaching observation (videotaped to a DVD): $300

Teaching statement advice: $100

Total: $1,400

Career Services

These services are typically offered at a career services office (it might be the “career center” at your school):

  • Guidance in choosing jobs and industries
    They might offer you personality tests or books about career choices.
  • Guidance in finding internships
  • Practice interviewing
    This is great for perfecting your answers to questions like “What is your greatest weakness?” and “Tell me about a time you worked on a team.”
    This is also great for identifying bad interviewing habits. Whenever I finished talking in an interview, I nodded my head several times. The interviewer helped me find something else to do (shut up, sit still, and smile).
  • Resume or C.V. advice
    Be prepared to go back several times with revisions of your resume.
  • Negotiation advice
    Got an offer? Congrats! Take it in for some guidance in interpreting the offer (what is a non-disclosure agreement?) and negotiating.
  • Workshops
    Ask for a schedule of workshops or panels that the office sponsors

Keep in mind:

  • It could be hit-or-miss depending on who you meet with. Ask friends for recommendations of who is helpful.
  • The more prepared you are, the more you’ll get out of it.
  • If you don’t know where to start, go anyway and say you want help getting started.

To get similar career advice takes a lot of money. I estimate that I would have to pay $100/hour for most of these services. The director at my school was particularly helpful, and I think she could charge $200/hour.

This is a summary of the resources I used and the estimated out-of-pocket expense I would have to pay off campus:

Resume, mock interview $100/hour: $200 total

Evaluating offers, negotiation advice $200/hour (director): $400 total

Workshops on applying for jobs, interviewing, … $100/hour: $500 total

Total: $1,100

Total in free resources

Total: $1,100 + $1,400 + $2,550 =$5,050

There are countless other resources on campus — your classmates, professors, teaching assistants, residential staff, and many more.

Already out of school? Some of these offices can also help alumni, especially career services. Check with the alumni office at your school to see what resources are available.


What did I leave out? What campus resources have you used? Leave them in the comments, with an estimate of what the services cost out-of-pocket.

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