Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why I celebrate and why you should too!

Photo courtsey: Swami stream

As the festive season comes knocking in the US, In India its already upon us. We are past Dussera and Karva Chauth and its a couple of days to Diwali, the biggest festival of Hindus. As the big day approaches I just thought of sharing what I'll be doing and what I did last year.

Diwali is celebrated in the honour of Ram, the prince of Ayodhya. This day marks his return from exile after 14 years.

When I was young we used to celebrate Diwali with our extended family and everyone tried to be at home on this particular day. We would light clay lamps and wear new clothes. There would be a feast and lots of pictures and then we would worship Godess Lakshmi, the godess of prosperity. Just the mention of Diwali brings back such precious memories. Well, then I grew up, and for my studies I had to stay away from home fo quite a while. Athough, living in dorm and doing on my own taught me a lot and made me very independent, it also made me very practical. Sometimes too practical for my own good. I now think of everything as how well it fits with my current life, if it doesn't, it goes. And now that I am married and working, time is at a premium and I have scores of things that I want to do everyday, this strategy seems to be best.

Since my husband is also happens to be on the pragmatic side, sometimes together we become too blinded by the reason and logic to notice that there's a part of life that's slipping past. Take last Diwali for instance, it was a working day and must have been little hectic. We had bought some stuff to celebrate, but by the time we came back from work, we were just too tired to celebrate and went on with life as usual.

Its only now that I realise that since we don't have our parents here, its our responsibility to keep up the traditions. I just tried to imagine, what it will be like if we just didn't celebrate Diwali
any year...and shuddered at the thought. My parents had been busy too, but they took time out to celebrate festivals and showed us there importance and in process created lots of sweet memories. Missing a whole year's worth of ocassions would be just letting those opportunities to create memories slip by and wouldnt it be just letting the life slip?

So I commit to celebrate all the occassions that I get an opportunity to celebrate and I urge you to do that too. Doesn't matter whether you're away from your loved ones, living alone or just with your spouse. Look up the calendar, and mark all those festivals that once excited you in red. Bring on the decorations, the nice dress, the food ( doesn't matter if its just the grocery store cake or even bread). Raise a toast to life! Even in the worse of time, if you just look around, you will find a lot to be thankful for.

Live it up! Carpe diem!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Online Earning Opportunities

Youdata is an innovative website with a sleek interface and a brilliant concept. On signing up they ask you to watch the ads from their clients and in return award you money. You will need the following for sigining up - A cellphone number and an email id. Every week they deposit the amount you earned into your paypal account. That means you'l need a paypal account as well to earn money on youdata. But it is a neat way to make some money. Thanks to Bella Casa for telling me about it.

1000 Mypoints:
Blockbuster usually offers 1000 mypoints if you sign up for the trial AND become a paying member, but this time I'm told they are offering selected members a chance to earn 1000 mypoints just for signing up( you don't need to become a paying member). If you haven't yet used any trial offer from Blockbuster, watch out your Inbox carefully for this cool offer. I'm normally wary of trial offers but a reputed company like Blockbuster shouldn't be a problem in that regard, just don't forget to cancel your account within the 2 week trial period.

Start Sampling is a nice site if you'd like to get some cool samples. I've used them to get many samples and magazines. Its easy to sign-up with them, and you can request any of the available samples. The only constraint is that you can request only one sample a day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October Half Month Pulse Check: No news = Good news edition

October has been uneventful month so far. We have had all the usual expenses and then some for my gym clothes. This time we also spent all our entertainment money on a movie at the theater. This month also included more than usual trips to restaurants but since they were relatively inexpensive and I had some coupons we didn't spend a lot. I am about to concede that we consume ( and keep consuming) more gas than I thought we would. Our gas expense is all set to hit a new high this month as well. I'll try one more month before setting up a higher limit for it.

Thanks to Walgreens our toiletries and other household expenses have been kept in check. So if nothing untoward happens we should be hitting our targeted budget this month.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My post included in Carnival of Personal Finance

I had submitted this post quite a few days ago and was a little disappointed( and surprised) that it didn't made it to the carnival...or so I thought. I always used to get an email whenever my post was included in the carnival and the carnival went live, since this time I didn't get that regular email, I just thought that my post fell through and got on with life.

Lately, when I started getting hits from BankerGirl I decided to check out the source and was pleasantly surprised to find that my post indeed made it to the carnival. Read my post here.

Like they say, better late than never.

Big Deal

There's this money-maker deal going on for Sure Deodorant. Sure Max Clinical Power is free after Mail-in-rebate here.

When I searched through my coupons, I found that I have a $2.5 coupon for this same product. I don't remember which insert it was in, but it was in one of the Sunday inserts and it is still valid. So you can expect to make $2 on this one after taking into account your mailing expenses.

Bootstrapping: Motivating yourself towards your goals

Many years ago I heard this during a conversation "You just can't maintain status-quo, you either make progress and improve yourself, or you go backwards and downgrade yourself, you just can't remain the way you are.The catch is that making progress requires a lot of effort but going down doesn't. If you don't do anything to make progress you will fall, it may be a slow process( if you're lucky) but it happens for sure." I don't remember anything of the conversation that led to this, but these words remain etched in mind because they are so true and profound. And therefore, I always strive to become better than what I'm today. I keep trying to develop better habits, to maintain a positive attitude.

This year I had made the following changes:

1. Trying to stay fit( read lose weight)
2. Saving for our home down-payment
3. Eliminating plastic bags from our life
4. Work on generating some extra income
5. Maintain a small container garden with some flowers and herbs.
6. Live on a budget

I believe all these things will improve our life slowly but surely. And I'm already seeing the changes, in our financial position, in our outlook, in our priorities, basically everywhere. Some have a smaller impact and some bigger, but the impact will be positive. It wasn't easy to do all these along with a full-time job and all the household work. Here are a few things that worked for me while developing new habits and achieving my goals.

Set microgoals
Losing 30 pounds would seem like a huge undertaking, but working out everyday may not. I broke the goals into tiny microgoals and tried to achieve them instead of trying to achieve that big goal all at once. It has worked well and while I eventually saw myself moving towards the bigger goal, the smaller successes in micro-goals kept me motivated.

Work out a routine
Try to make a routine of whatever you need to do to achieve your goal. Try to save a little bit everyday, try to workout everyday, carry the reusable shopping bag in the car even if you think you're not going to use it. Even if you've little time, try to devote just one minute to actually doing something towards the goal you've been trying to achieve. Do at least a little bit everyday or as frequently as possible. While trying to insert exercise in my busy schedule I promised myself that I'll exercise everyday, while I kept at it most of the days by biking down the trail or working out in my office gym there are days when it is simply not feasible. So I bought a skipping rope and now on busy days, I just workout for five minutes in my home by skipping. It may not be burning all those calories, but what it does is it helps me keep up the good habit. It encourages me to go to the gym next day.

Write down / track progress
This is a big morale booster, don't ignore its power. Keep a close tab on what you've achieved (or not achieved) so far. Tracking my weight almost daily, looking at the plants in my garden and clicking snaps in their various stages, tracking my bank account for any increase in my net-worth, give me some sort of high and leave me more motivated than ever to follow through. With the web2.0 applications available today, this goal tracking has been easier than ever. Here are a few things that I do :
Write a blog : I write about my monthly goals and how did I do with respect to those goals on my blog. This makes me accountable and keeps my spending in check.
don't break the chain : This is a nifty website, which makes tracking the goals super-easy. The concept is very simple, if you're trying to do something everyday ( or weekday, or once a week), it tells you whether you broke the chain this time around. For every time you completed your effort, it lets you mark with color. So you'll know in a single glance how many times you dropped the ball. It will take at most 15 seconds to make an entry in it. I have been using it for 8 months for tracking my exercise, "no-expense days" and my skin-care regime.
zoho sheets : These are simple worksheets like MS-excel, but they store your docs on internet so you can access them anywhere. There are many such services, but zoho is the one that I have used most. I use them to write down my daily weight, store my grocery list etc. Once benefit of tracking my weight with them was that I became aware what was stopping me from losing weight. I used to exercise well during the weekdays, but on weekends I worked out very little and usually ate a lot. So my weight was consistently shooting up on Mondays. Once I became aware of this fact, I joined a nearby gym, and now I sweat it out on the weekends as well, and I'm seeing some improvement in just 2 weeks.
So I would recommend tracking your progress, even if there's none. Just don't fuss over it too much. Its ok if you can't log it for a day or two, or you don't track it using the niftiest tools available. Doing it in an old notebook will have the same effect as doing it in the fanciest of the organizing gadgets.

Don't worry too much about the results
I know, easier said than done. I'm a strong believer in Karma, I believe that if the efforts are in right direction the result will be right. Of course, it may happen that the results may not be in the form that we had expected originally, but the hard-work has a habit of paying for itself miraculously. You have to try it to believe it

Don't worry too much about setbacks: Minor or major

Life happens and with all that I have said above, there are still those crazy days when I can't work out, there's a pebble that hits the car's windshield and wipes down the savings for the month. While its easy to get disheartened with these events and lose sight of your goals, you can choose to do otherwise. There's always tomorrow to work double as hard, there's always next month to save even more, look forward to that. And then there's the other side of the things to see, what could have happened if we weren't saving already, instead of wiping our savings that pebble could have thrown us down the path of debt. If I compared those two, saving money and paying from the savings for emergency definitely looked good. It's been eight months since I have started working out, and I haven't lost any's very easy to get discouraged and think that exercise just doesn't work for me, but I choose to think the opposite, if it hadn't been for my workout routine I would have become really fat by now.

Evaluate your goals periodically for relevance

Some of your goals may need to change over time. You may exceed the goal in lesser time than you initially allocated, and you may need to think about the next step. For us it happened in the house down payment category, because of the falling real-estate market we had to re-evaluate our goal and decide to leave the money aside for next year, instead of buying a house this year. It could also be in the form of a change in priorities, for example having a child may cause generation of alternate income to take a backseat. Nobody can make that decision for you except yourself. But a periodic evaluation of your goals will save you a lot of frustration and disappointment in the long run.

Bring your spouse/children on-board
I can't emphasize this point enough. Talk to your children and spouse and other family members about what you're planning to achieve. More often than not, you'll find out how supportive they are of your ideas and how helpful they can prove to be. I used to fret upon saving money until I talked about it with my husband, together we worked out a plan and once he was on board our savings went upwards very quickly, he worked on reducing our insurance premiums, our phone bills and that made a big difference to our bottom-line.
Even if you're met with an initial indifference or resentment, be patient and try to show by example. My husband never believed in coupons, that is, until he saw them in action. Now he asks for them for his toiletries and jokes that if I pay anything more then zero for any of our toiletries we're not getting a good deal. He even came up with the idea of no-expense days to save money.

Be with like minded people
If you're trying to go frugal, it wont help if you go out everyday with a friend who believes in retail-therapy. Either you'll end up resenting her for spending callously or you'll feel inferior for not having that much extra money. Neither is a very pleasant place to be. Same is true for anything you're trying to achieve. Being with like minded people helps you stay focused on your goal and encourages you to go that extra mile. As bonus you also get to share a lot of tips and tricks and meet interesting people and potential friends. If you find it difficult to meet such people personally, you can always do it in the virtual world. Join a community of bloggers, become a part of mailing aliases. I have learned a lot from "Frugal Hackers" community of bloggers and you can too.

Try to make things as convenient as possible for you to achieve your goal
Making yourself better doesn't mean that you've to fight with yourself, you deserve rest, happiness, leisure, me-time as much as anybody else. While you try to work on your goals be on the lookout for things that are making you miserable and things that can make your life convenient. When I first started working-out I tried to do it in the morning and my already busy mornings became nightmare. After a lot of tinkering with the schedule, I found that evening workouts work best for me and thats what I'm sticking with now. I was always forgetting to water the plants in my container garden, until my husband bought a timer based watering system. Another thing was constantly forgetting to bring my reusable bags to the car, and ending up getting plastic bags. So I bought 2 more of those reusable bags and kept them in the car always.
Get creative to make yourself comfortable, you're trying to enrich yourself, not harassing yourself.

Celebrate success (but dont break the bank)
Achieving your micro-goals is a step towards your bigger goal and a just cause for celebration, make most of it. Even if an elaborate celebration is not in order, just prepare your favorite dinner, go on a picnic, fly a kite. Do something different from the routine and let the feeling of achievement sink in.

Cut yourself(as well as others) some slack
Don't feel guilty or resent yourself for falling behind on one of your goals, take a look at your past achievements and other goals that you've achieved and reassure yourself that you'll achieve this one too. Also keep in mind that the other people in world may have different goals and values than you and that doesn't necessarily make them any inferior. Don't try to judge people on the basis of your achievements, thats a sure way of losing friends (quickly). Celebrate your achievements and try to be supportive of what the others trying to achieve in their respective lives.

I guess you would like to know what is my status on my goals, here is the breakdown:

1. Trying to stay fit( read lose weight) - Worked out 75% of the days since last December. Lost the holiday weight that I put on during my trip to India in May. Other than that the loss in weight has been...err...slim ;-) But I feel more fit than ever.
2. Saving for our home down-payment - Have about 7% of the down payment in savings right now. This is besides the property we bought in India recently, including which it would become about 20%.
3. Eliminating plastic bags from our life - Done. :-)
4. Work on generating some extra income - Generated about 100$ in surveys and using mypoints. My blog is also climbing up in popularity slowly.
5. Maintain a small container garden with some flowers and herbs - Its a work in progress, but I was finally able to see some plants in the arid soil in our tiny yard. The flowers (calendula, mums, poppy) and herbs (mint, basil, fenugreek) in my container are doing well.
6. Live on a budget - Made (and broke) budget in June. And we look all set to hit our targeted budget this month.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Oct 12 - 18: Notable Walgreens deals


Arm & Hammer Laundry Detergent: 26 - 32 Loads: $2.99 - $1 MIR - $1 Coupon here = 99c

Bounty Basic Paper Towels: 89c - 25c = 64c

Walgreens Heavy Duty Plastic Cutlery: B1G1 = 2 for 99c

Bic Comfort 3 Disposable Razors (4 pk): $3.99 - $1 (Easy saver coupon) - $2 coupon = 99c

Kotex feminine care products : 3/$9 - $3 = 3/$6

Aquafresh Toothpaste: 2/$3

Ban Antipersipirant Deodorant: 2/$3 - 2*75c (Oct 12 Newspapers) = 2/$1.5

Crest Whitening or Nature's Expressions Toothpaste, 6oz: 2/$6 -$2 RR - 2*$1 (P&G coupons) = 2/$2

Oral-B Advantage 1-2-3 or Toothbrush: 2/$6 -$2 - 2*75c (P&G coupons) = 2/$2.5

Always Infinity Feminine protection 14 - 18 pk: $4.99 - $1RR - $2 (P&G coupon) = $1.99

Jane and Jane Be Pure Mineral Cosmetics: B1G1 - $2 coupon

Glade Plugins Scented Oil Refill with Warmer: $1.99 - $1(MIR) - 99c

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Night Link Love

What's holding you back: This post from This wasn't in the plan hit home. I myself can think of many things that I should be doing or should have done, but didn't do because of some psychological reason. I didn't have any logical reason or excuse of not doing it, and when I did get down to do it, I was surprised by how simple those things were.

Ten things I wish I'd Done Differently While Buying a House: The Simple Dollar explains in this lucid post about his experience of home-buying and what we can learn from it. Since we are in the market for a house right now this post had a lot of value for me.

How to avoid a good deal gone bad: Money Saving Mom has this guest post by Spin the Deal. She gives great tips on how to snag that perfect deal with all those coupons. How I wish I had this post to read and follow when I had just started couponing. I have learnt many of these things the hard way. Follow her tips and you'll never face that post-deal regret.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Some new money making opportunities

Photo courtsey : Daniel Starrason

I have gone over my experience with online money making opportunities in my guest post over at Wide Open Wallet. I was trying out some of them at the time and hadn't redeemed any prizes so I had refrained from talking about them in the post. Now that I've had some experience with them I thought I would share it with you.


This is a search engine that claims to use Google and under the hood. It awards you one or more points on some of your searches. My experience has been that it awards points once everyday. It looks like they are keeping track of ip addresses, because when I have tried searching from my home PC and office PC on the same day, I got points for both. Since I anyway do a lot of searches it made sense for me to start using Swagbucks. It took me about a month to get enough points for my first $5 gift card. Since the prizes start from as low as 30 points ( or less if you're into gaming or collecting baseball cards, which I'm not), its a rather painless way of getting some gift cards. Although, like other online earning opportunities, it wont be a life changing amount ( or even substantial)...but hey with the holiday season approaching soon, I'm not complaining some 'Free' gift cards. If you're planning to join them I would appreciate if you go through my referral link on the sidebar.


Been there, done that, didn't work. Most of the offers were trial offers and I'm not really into trying out things for points/cash and canceling them later. I find it too much of a hassle. So I quietly bid adieu to cash-crate.


Now this is a novel concept that I absolutely love. You register here and fill in some details about your general health. They promise to keep it confidential but I would still recommend exercising some caution while filling in some sensitive data like a life threatening ailment or some medical condition that you wouldn't want to be popping up in Google searches...after all you never know in this world of data leakage and internet scams. Its not wellness360, its the general state of the world, I always take things with a pinch of salt. Once you're registered you can log-in your daily exercise data and food intake. They award you points for practically everything you do on their website, fiddling with their tools, clicking on their various links and filling in details about your exercise and diet. I haven't redeemed any money yet, but they mention that I can claim the money after 15th of every quarter, provided that it is above $25, which seems quite achievable so far. Along with this, you also get 25% of the amount that the person referred by you has claimed. So I hope that it is another decent way of earning some money. I used to log in all these details in a worksheet earlier, so its basically the same thing for me, except that now I get paid for it and they have some snazzy tools to show my progress using charts etc. As earlier, if you plan on joining it, I would appreciate if you let me earn the referrals using this link.

Bzz Agent Jono:

This was something that I had registered for and forgotten about but was reminded of them when they'd sent me an offer to join Sweet Tomatoes campaign. Incidentally I had been bugging BEB to take me to Sweet Tomatoes for a dinner, so the timing couldn't have been better. I jumped at the opportunity and soon enough , I received a kit from them which had One dinner voucher from Sweet Tomatoes and lots of Buy 1 Get 1 50% coupons. So this has been a pleasant surprise. So I recommend Bzz Agent Jono highly.
By the way, I liked Sweet Tomatoes, because they had plenty of vegetarian options and the food was yummy. One bonus of joining BzzAgent is that all the points you get there can be credited to your MyPoints account.

Things that I've been trying:

This is something thats in the pipeline. Its a nice girly forum to voice your opinion on anything and everything related from health and beauty. I had been writing some reviews of the products that I've used personally. They let you join their tester panel once you've contributed 5 reviews. I haven't done that, so we'll see how it goes. By the way, this won't give you cash or gift cards but I have heard that they send great products your way to test and provide feedback on.

Disclaimer: I'm not getting paid for any of these reviews. Although, I might get some points if you join one of these using the referral links I have posted.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Kite flying: Frugal family fun

Have you ever tried flying a kite? I had been wanting to try flying one for a long time, this weekend we went to Fry's for something and there were beautiful kites on sale there. I couldn't resist buying one, BEB was initially reluctant to the idea but warmed up later as I assembled the kite at home. So this Sunday we went to Half Moon Bay and there, BEB started off the kite and once it was flying he handed me the string. It was so much fun. I even named it Nemo - because it was in the shape of a fish. On the return trip we were treated to colorful pumpkin patches throughout our ride. It was a truly funday , sunday. Here's Nemo flying high - who said fishes dont fly?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

September budget report: It wasn't that bad really

So I'm back with my results for September. This month was a month of some extra expenses which I should have planned beforehand, but didn't, and that resulted in our going above budget. Also we decided that we wanted to spend some money on our fitness and paid a substantial amount upfront, which was also unaccounted for so that led us to go over-budget this month.

So our major budget breakers this month were: Personal grooming ( this included gym membership fees) and gifts for friends and family. Besides these, we relapsed into our habit of coming home from our offices for lunch+tea and that combined with some picnics, so we paid almost 2X for gas this month. Apart from this we did really well in all other categories.

After all is said and done we ended up going 64.13$ above our targeted budget. I also expect to get $57 back in mail in rebates, so it is actually $7 deficit. So I think it is not so bad after all and I just need to be more careful about irregular expenses next time.

So that was the lowlight for the month, and now about the highlights:

1) I am pretty excited about the new fitness regimen that we have been following. Recently BEB and I completed 50 days of uninterrupted daily exercise. Now that's a first and I hope we'll have many more such milestones.

2) My efforts to generate alternate income have been gathering momentum, slowly but surely. I have gotten really good at handling coupons, snagging deals. I have had many freebies and gift cards coming through various survey and test-drive opportunities. BEB was initially ho-hum about the whole idea but now he has become open towards it. This blog has also seen some progress in terms of new opportunities, although I haven't been able to devote the kind of time I would have liked.

3) I've also become much better at taking care of my appearance. I have been updating my nail-polish frequently, paying more attention to my clothes and trying to look better in general. And you know what, it shows...I got many complements from my colleagues about my clothes :)

4) I've paid more attention to the upkeep of our home as well. Now I try to clean it more frequently so that I have to spend less time on the weekends in cleaning. I think this is working out well but we'll see...

5) We have made great progress towards saving for the down payment of our house, but we still have a long way to go before we reach that "No PMI" mark, i.e. 20%.

By the way, I celebrated my birthday in September. In a way it felt like all those freebies, new opportunities and rewards were some sort of birthday gift for me because I have been working on them for such a long time with little returns and suddenly this month it all started falling into place. I just hope this wave of good events continues and with that, I look forward to October.