• Like a bad penny, debt always turns up…

    unless we change how we interact with money, of course!

    The Bad Penny is dedicated to two pursuits: getting out of debt and staying out of debt! It recognizes that frugality and caring for our planet go hand in hand, and that our unsatiated need for stuff is hurting us in so many ways.

    Easier said than done!

    Disclaimer

    I am not a finance professional. I write about the world as I know it, and my advice may not be the best course of action for you! Please seek qualified advice for your particular situation.

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The Best Gifts

Coming home from grocery shopping last night, I noticed a package on our porch.  I’m sure it had been there at least a couple of days – at one point I thought I heard a car door and then someone on our porch, but when I peeked out the window I didn’t see anything or anyone.  Turns out the UPS guy put the white package right under the window and didn’t let us know, and with all the snow against our white house, it blended right in!

We opened it up to find three presents from our good friends in North Carolina – one for each of us.  Our friend had made beautifully quilled pictures for my husband and me – mine a beautiful saying about mothers with a blue floral design, and my husband a brown and white saying (we still haven’t figured out what it is, but I’m convinced it’s Hebrew!)  Knowing this friend, she put a lot of time into not just making these pictures, but in researching quotes and likely a little Hebrew so that the gifts would be perfect.

Gabe got a brand new coloring book with really nice toddler-sized crayons with one flat side to prevent rolling.  He was ecstatic!  New crayons!  New coloring book!  He spent the rest of the time before bed taking his crayons in and out of the box.

Our friends have even less free money than us.  Between massive medical bills and high insurance premiums because of their medical history, they don’t have much to spare.  Things are getting better for them, but they’re still really tight.   But when it comes to giving the perfect gifts, they always do.

Why?  Because they are creative.  I don’t mean that they do crafts, although the wife does.  I mean they are thoughtful and open-minded about gift giving.  They don’t try to buy the most expensive present, thinking it’s the best because it’s the most expensive.  They take the time to figure out what is important to their friends and build on that.  And even though the last time they saw our son he was just over a year old, they realized that now he’s almost two.  It’s easy to forget when you don’t see people for a while!  For a one-year-old, these gifts wouldn’t have been very appropriate.  But for a two-year-old, life’s simple pleasures include a brand new coloring book and crayons!  And it probably cost our friends $3.

The last few Christmases I have tried to be like my friend.  The year I was pregnant with my son, we had no money for gifts.  I collected all the fabric I was saving (why?) and made five patchwork quilt tops – two queen-sized and three full-sized.  Yes, I had a lot of fabric! I stuck batting or even old blankets in between a sheet backing and tied the quilt with yarn from my stash.

They turned out beautifully and we gave them to each set of parents, each of our siblings, and we had one left over. I surprised my husband with the last one (he thought I only had enough material for four quilts.)   It was an especially special gift to my mom because I used fabric scraps from things she made for me as a child – like a dress she sewed for a play I acted in during sixth grade.  This was the only gift we could give our families that year, but they are used and loved.  My in-laws and my husband both use the quilts on their beds, and my parents keep theirs downstairs in the family room for wrapping up in while watching TV.

Gifts don’t have to be expensive to be wonderful.  In fact, some of the most expensive gifts I’ve gotten ended up not getting used at all – because they didn’t fit us, our home, or our style.  I’m sure many of you agree – the perfect gift is one that fits your personality and one that you’ll use!

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New Year Decluttering – The Office

I’m one of those people whose desk is a disaster.  Piles of paper, loose pencils and paperclips, and often a food wrapper under all that mess!  Ask me where something is, and I can usually tell you which pile it’s in.  But not always!

And this disorganization isn’t frugal. It costs you – in time, in efficiency, and in money!

How?

Have you ever forgotten to pay a bill because it’s at the bottom of a pile, only to be found two weeks after the due date?  What about not getting a rebate form filled out and mailed on time? What about late videos and library books?  Those fines can add up quickly, and they cost you unnecessary money.

And searching for those items in piles of papers, in a messy living room, or in your cluttered purse costs you moments of time – I’d argue, in fact, that they cost you more time than if you took the time to organize in the first place.

I’m not blameless in this.  Normally, I know that my penchant for piles on my desk will get me in trouble, so I spend time filing and throwing at least every few days – every day if possible – so the piles don’t build up. Lately, though,  our office has been really cold and while I continue to put things up in the office, they are sitting on my desk until I get them cleaned up.  I really just need to get the space heater going and get to work!

I thought I’d pass along some organization tips that I use (since I had to learn to be organized, rather than having it happen naturally.)

Efficient Desk Organization 101 

1. Make space for five piles:

1. A “file” pile
2. A trash can/shredder
3. A recycling pile
4. A “to do” pile
5. A “this shouldn’t be on my desk anyway” pile.

2. Grab a pile and get sorting.  Recycle what you can, but make sure you shred any documents with sensitive information.  Don’t file right now – the point is to make the piles smaller!

3. File your “file” pile – I have a file cabinet with folders labeled for each bill – for example, “Electric,” “Mortgage,” and “Tax Information/Giving.”  My semi-annual bills like garbage pickup all go in one folder label “Misc. Bills.”  I tend to throw out bills more than a year old, unless they are for taxes or credit card bills.  When I can get really organized, it really helps to have the bills in chronological order, paper-clipped by the year (so my 2006 bills are paper clipped together, and my 2007 bills are clipped together.)

We also keep a file for our cats and vet visits, one for product manuals, and one for warranties/receipts.  I’ve been so thankful I did that when we’ve sold appliances or we’ve had problems with a product!

4.  Your “to-do” pile should contain bills that need to be paid, rebates, and other assorted paperwork you need to take care of right away.  I like to keep a inbox for these items.

Bills go in a three-ring binder that I’ve placed pockets in for each month.  I file each bill in the month I need to pay it.  I keep track of what I pay on each bill with a list on a piece of filler notebook paper and place it behind the pocket.  That way I can look at my list and know exactly what still needs to be paid and how much.  When I’ve paid the bill, it gets filed.

Better yet, one of my goals is to start being paperless when it comes to bills!  No bills equals less mess, not to mention the benefits to the environment to have less paper in the trash!  I’ve already opted out of the prescreened credit card offers that I was getting every day.  When I feel like I have fewer bills and more control over my finances, we’ll start getting online statements for our bills instead of paper.  We do get some emailed to us already, but for some reason the companies still send paper bills, too.

Plan a day to sit down and take care of that paperwork!  It’s important!

5. Put away random items on your desk!  Put pens in a nice cup or inside a desk drawer (those drawer organizers are incredibly useful!)

6. Get your “it doesn’t go here anyway pile” and start putting things away.

7.  Wipe down the surface of your desk with an appropriate cleaner.

There!  Your desk should be nice and clean!  Now you just have to keep it that way.  It doesn’t take long to file a couple papers, or to put a pen back, or to put paperwork into your inbox instead of on the desktop.  In my own experience, as soon as there’s a little mess on my desk, it’s so much easier to just keep making a mess instead of keeping things clean.  And that costs me money, time, and efficiency!

The Peanut Butter Cup Problem

Just after Halloween, I bought 2 bags of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. The fun size.

Why? Because they were half off. And I like the taste of Peanut Butter Cups.

Most of them are still sitting in my pantry – along with the Halloween candy my two-year-old got from trick-or-treating.

Gabe Trick or Treating - Halloween 2007

The thing is, as much as I like the taste of that candy, it makes me feel sick afterwards. The sugar in it makes my blood race and my stomach feel strange. Yet I keep buying it, and eating it!

Shopping is a lot like that candy for many of us. It’s exciting to buy something – exciting to imagine the “taste” of our selection when we get home.

But if any of you are anything like me, it’s easy to buy things that aren’t good for us – things we don’t need.  That we might even not use, even if we think we will.  Some of us even go so far as to buy things we don’t even want – simply for the sake of the purchase. I’m sure many of my readers can all relate me when I talk about the shirt we thought we would love that we never wear. Or another magazine subscription we don’t have time to read. What about the healthy box of granola in the pantry that routinely gets passed over for the chocolate puffs?   We feel ill that we aren’t using the items, but we ignore the fact that those items are in our house the next time we want a taste out at the mall or the grocery store.

The thing is, the “sick” feeling isn’t just from the fact that it’s sitting in your house, unused and unwanted. It’s because of the money you wasted on that purchase.  It might even be because you are still paying it off and accumulating interest in the meantime!

The only solution I can think of to my Peanut Butter Cup Problem (PBCP) is simple hindsight: I shouldn’t have bought them. Yes, they are delicious, but it doesn’t take long before I feel ill from the sugar, and it’s just not worth it. Will I remember that the next time I want to purchase Peanut Butter Cups at half off? Hopefully. Probably not. 🙂

Take the next step: The next time you want to make a purchase, ask yourself if it will make you “sick” in the future. If it will, don’t buy it!

It’s not quite regifting, but…

Merry Christmas! I hope your time with friends and family was most fulfilling, and that you received the gifts you were really hoping for! We celebrated here at our house with my parents-in-law and my sister-in-law, her husband, and their two kids. It was a lot of fun seeing the kids enjoying their presents, and the food was really yummy! Especially the lefse, which I’m still perfecting!

So…

Right now I’m sitting in my living room. And there are three -yes, three garbage bags of wrapping paper, ribbons, and toy packaging sitting in front of me. On top of that, there’s another bag in the kitchen full of the disposable plates and cups we ate off of (all given to us when we moved in to our new home.) And one more bag – the only bag I’m not completely disgusted with – a bag of pop cans, foil, and plastic to be brought to our recycling center.

I tried to figure out what I could do to reduce this trash before I filled the bags. I kept tissue paper and boxes that weren’t completely destroyed, and recycled what I could. Obviously I still have a lot left, and I hate the fact that this trash is simply going to a landfill to sit. But I don’t know what else to do with it. Since the majority of the presents were for the kids (2, 5, and 7) the paper is completely unusable for rewrapping presents.

So help me readers! What are some ways that you reduce the trash that comes with Christmas? I’d especially love to hear what you do when you have family who isn’t as concerned about it as you are. After all, not only are bags of wrapping paper sitting in a landfill taxing to the environment, but they are taxing to your pocketbooks as well – you have to pay to have it removed.  And with my family coming next weekend, we’ll have more to dispose of, so I need some ideas!