Frugal Friday for Spring

Right on schedule, March went out like a lamb. The daffodils in my front yard are swaying in the breeze and that special occasion that marks theCattle Crop cultural start of spring for many of us comes this Sunday. (It’s the start of the baseball season. What did you think I meant?)

In the frugalosphere, March was a time for both revisiting old ideas and exploring new ones. We had a follow-up from Provident Planning on Bambi the male “cow” being raised in a back yard for beef. It has an embedded 61 second video of the beast eating grass.

And one of my favorite frugal tips from last year made a sudden resurgence. It took a while, but apparently fonts chosen, and in some cases designed, to save printer ink are finally getting some traction. Not much mention of my suggestion to favor words that contain ink-saving letters, such as i and l, over such ink-hogs as e and w, but I am sure that the frugal world will get to that soon enough.

And a trend spotted here last year, the emergence of an advanced form of frugal living that I call the Substance Abuser Lifestyle, or SAL, continued to become more mainstream with a series of posts at Bargain Babe about dumpster diving. The Babe even embedded an entire movie about “living completely out of trash.”

Now, we all know all about saving money on lattes, but Wise Bread had a new take on the topic with an innovative examination of the most cost-effective means on ingesting caffeine on a per-milligram basis. Two of the top three are pills, but good old Tetley’s Tea comes in at #2. Mountain Dew is your best soda choice and it turns out that Diet Coke beats regular Coke. Useful stuff.

Of course, consuming cheap caffeine will give you nervous energy you will want to burn off, and the obvious place to do that is the gym. Gym memberships are a difficult subject for frugalists. The cost of belonging needs to be balanced off against the costs of being fat. For now, carrying around extra weight can cost you more in health insurance premiums, but in a few years, when Obama’s bountiful health care reform kicks in, this will no longer be true.

Thankfully for those of us who would then have difficultly justifying the Gym, the Journal of Healthy Living points out that to properly weigh the cost of being bigger, you need to count the added wear on your clothes and furniture. The cost of replacing worn chairs and mattresses alone should make the gym worth it.

As the frugal movement expands, it is important that it be inclusive of other lifestyles. Which is why I am saddened by the demise of QueerCents, the hybrid frugal-gay blog. But I am heartened by a raft of posts this month on the topic of frugal strategies for what might be called normal food dissenters or NFDs.

WiseBread now has a running series on frugal gluten-free living. Frugal Babe told us about An Amazingly Easy, Tasty Alternative To Grated Cheese. (It’s called Hemp-esan, equal parts hemp seed and nutritional yeast. She also recomends Kristen’s vegan nacho cheese sauce.) And Almost Frugal posted Adventures in TVP. For those of you unfamiliar with the NFD lifestyle, TVP is texturized vegetable protein. “The one thing weird about TVP is that it comes in flake form.”

March also brought reminders that the frugal life is all about restraint, and that includes limits on frugality itself. Organizing Your Way had a healthy discussion on Finding a Balance Between Repurposing and Hoarding. Saving objects until you start wasting money on real estate and can’t find what you need is counterproductive. So, the blog tells us, you must set a limit on, for example, how many empty toilet paper rolls you will save and stick to it.

And on a seasonal note, Peak Personal Finance warned us Don’t Get Too Carried Away with Tax Deductions. Turns out, many of the strategies you will be tempted to use to lower your tax bill are actually illegal. For instance, the IRS rules say that you can’t deduct expenses that were reimbursable by others, even if you turned down the reimbursement. So as much sense as it may make to you to refuse that $1000 expense check from your employer so you can increase your deductions by $1000, the IRS doesn’t allow it. Good to know.

MoneyNing brings up the caboose in this month’s survey of the frugal frontier with another reminder that being frugal doesn’t mean not having fun. You can still go on vacations, just spend less on them. And one way to do that is to reconsider your destination. MoneyNing suggests Syria, pointing out that it was “recently removed from the State Department’s warning list.” That’s a great tip, but I understand that the prices are even lower in neighboring Iraq. Sadly, Expedia, as of this morning, is temporarily unable to book flights to Bagdad. But I can get to Kabul, which is much nicer in the summer anyway, for $1800 roundtrip.

7 Comments

  • By Kosmo @ The Casual Observer, April 2, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

    “So as much sense as it may make to you to refuse that $1000 expense check from your employer so you can increase your deductions by $1000″

    Lol. I’m hoping this actually didn’t make much sense for most of the readers.

  • By Lance, April 2, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

    “So as much sense as it may make to you to refuse that $1000 expense check from your employer so you can increase your deductions by $1000, the IRS doesn’t allow it.”

    Don’t worry, I’m always one step ahead of the feds. The thing to do is to cash the $1,000 expense check, then donate the $1,000 to charity. Then, you get the $1,000 deduction and a $1,000 went to charity, so you essentially turned $1,000 into $2,000. There’s no statutory limit to how many times you can do this in a year.

  • By Neil, April 2, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

    MoneyNing has good advice. You have to spend a few weeks for the cheap living costs to offset a higher flight cost, but if you’re taking a vacation, cheap destinations are certainly the winner. Syria is dirt cheap, safe – you’re far more likely to get killed or robbed in Boston than in Damascus – and a fabulous vacation destination. Last time I was there, I lived like a king on $35/day. Iraq is actually more expensive, but still worth considering. Tourism is a big growth industry, at least in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is as safe as any other country. The main danger there is “accidentally” crossing the Iranian border. Don’t do that…they’ll arrest you and then there’ll be big international incident over the whole thing.

    Lance – I hope that was in jest. You don’t need an expense cheque in order to make a charitable donation, and by your logic, why not just donate all your money, then you wouldn’t have to pay any taxes…

  • By Mt, April 2, 2010 @ 9:14 pm

    Then again, one could calculate an imputed cost of the risk of beheading, and add that to the cost of the trip. Given a statistically significant number of repetitions of your trip, you might have some trouble, Neil, because the Syrian constitution was scrapped in favor of “emergency” law, in 1963.

    In a way I admire your courage, but I assume you’re neither female nor Jewish. Either feature may make you more concerned with the “Arbitrary Detention, Torture, and ‘Disappearances’” which have occurred in the recent past.

    MoneyNing and Human Rights Watch seem to have opposing viewpoints.

  • By Lance, April 3, 2010 @ 9:08 am

    Neil– Yeah, that was in jest, playing off Frank’s jest that it might make sense to turn down a $1,000 check to get a $1,000 deduction.

  • By kitty, April 4, 2010 @ 7:43 pm

    “Tourism is a big growth industry, at least in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is as safe as any other country.”
    “In a way I admire your courage, but I assume you’re neither female nor Jewish.”

    As I am both female and Jewish, I think I’d pass. On the one hand, all those things that can happen in those places could provide some excitement and unusual adventures compared to boring old Europe or the Caribbean. On the other hand, I am a bit too old for this type of excitement. Really, you can easily travel cheaply to Europe – it’s all the question of the level of comfort you require.

    BTW: in December 2008, 2-week transatlantic cruise Rome-San Juan + air (NYC-Rome, San Juan-NYC)+ 2 nights in a reasonably decent central hotel in Rome + excursions cost me in total about $2500. Keeping in mind that being single, I had to pay 1.5 cost of the cruise cabin. Cheapest room, but it was noisy, I complained and they upgraded me to a nice window suite… My friends room was noisy too, and they also got upgraded to a similar suite. No need to fly to these “exotic” places unless you really like excitement.

  • By Julie, April 5, 2010 @ 6:14 pm

    “For now, carrying around extra weight can cost you more in health insurance premiums, but in a few years, when Obama’s bountiful health care reform kicks in, this will no longer be true.”

    Does your health insurance company know how much you weigh?

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