Entertaining a super cute puppy on the cheap

I haven’t had time to post much lately, mostly because our new puppy thinks that typing on a computer instead of scratching him or playing tug-of-war with his favorite rope toy is cause for biting my feet.

Pets, especially puppies, can be quite a financial commitment. Vet bills, kibble, toys and dog walkers all add up… fast. We were able to save a little in start-up costs by inheriting a crate from some good and generous friends.

With teething turning Kirby’s sole mission in life into chewing everything in sight, I didn’t want to spend a ton on toys yet. Plus, the aisles and aisles of stuff at the pet store is so overpriced. Keeping with the theme of this blog, here are some free or low-cost things we use to keep him entertained.

  • Frozen rags: Just soak, throw in the freezer and grab when needed. The chill makes his mouth feel better and by the time he gets tired of it, you can just throw it back in the ice box until it’s time for another round. You can also soak the rag in beef or chicken broth if you don’t mind that melting on your kitchen floor.

Omnomnom

  • Carrots: Our breeder suggested this. Be warned: his poop will be a bit orange after chowing down one of these.

So much email

  • Computers: OK, that’s not really a good toy for a dog. Nor is it cheap. Moving on.
  • Ice cubes: Kirby loves to push an ice cube around the kitchen floor and lick it until it’s gone.  Just watch the pup closely to make sure he doesn’t slip and dislocate a joint.
  • THE KONG: These things are awesome, and you can usually find a small one for less than $5. I stuff it with cheese, peanut butter or pieces of Milkbone. Keeps his attention every time.
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Tip Jar: Take a ‘financial tune up’ day

The Your Money column in this weekend’s New York Times is worth a read.  The topic? Taking a day to give yourself a financial tune up.

I highly recommend setting aside a few hours to check off some of the tasks the Times suggests. With online banking, things like setting up automatic bill payments and upping your 401k contribution can easily be done on a Saturday or Sunday.

My personal tune up includes going through my goals and budgets on Mint.com to make sure I’m on track. I also like adding logging expenses for work, cleaning closets and drawers for things to throw our, donate or sell and setting up dentist/doctor/optometrist appointments to my tune-up list. Preventative care keeps you healthy and helps avoid bigger issues and bills down the road!

What’s on your financial tune up to do list?

Your Money: Planning a financial tune up [New York Times] 

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Five things I won’t buy without a coupon

Confession time.

Despite my deal-seeking ways, I’ll never make the cut for TLC’s “Extreme Couponing.”

I don’t even deserve a spot on the junior varsity of recreational squad. I’m not organized enough (have you seen the binders those deal mavens carry?). Even if I did clip and sort and match the coupons with the store sales and all that jazz and clear out my closets and spare room to create a stockpile room, really see the need to keep a trailer of cereal  or 70 bottles of mustard hand.

Plus, I do at least half of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. And as some critics of couponing point out, many of the fliers feature snacks and processed foods. Not exactly the healthiest of fares.

That being said, I still make a beeline for the coupon inserts as soon as I bring the Sunday edition of The Sacramento Bee off the front stoop.

Throwing out those glossy “RedPlum” booklets would be like passing up cash. Plus, if I used a few dollars or so off a week (on things I already planned to buy, of course), and I’d easily make back the money I spend on my subscription.*

Sure, coupons will lure me into the occasional purchase a new snack or product that I just have to try. Just last weekend, I bought five boxes of dog treats for the puppy who will soon be joining our home, picking brands based on the deals.

But for the more mundane purchases, I’ve crafted a list of five pantry or personal product staples that I try my darnedest not to buy without a cash-off incentive from my clippings:

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Mayday! Getting the budget back on track

May was a very busy month (hence the scarcity of posts).

It was also a total budget buster. 

There’s no loot from super pricy splurges or shopping sprees to blame for my dwindling bank account balances. Simply put, a bunch of stuff added up.

First there was a weekend trip to Austin. My flights and hotel were free (thanks to Southwest points and the boyfriend), but I picked up the tab for the rental car. Add Mother’s Day (flowers), the boyfriend’s birthday (tickets to a Mariners game in the fall and a party at our favorite watering hole, Pangea Two Brews Cafe), a wedding in San Francisco ($100 for the gift, plus a new dress from the Nordstrom Rack sale rack), my brother’s graduation ($40 cash gift and various costs associated with traveling across the country) and preparations for our new puppy (more on that later) and, well, you get a boatload of cash.

Spending on family, friends, loved ones and memories is all worth it in my mind — it’s just too bad all those things had to hit in the same 31-day window.

So now it’s time to get my bank account back on track. Here are five personal finance resolutions for the month of June:

1.) No eating out at work: It’s going to be a month of turkey wrap, salads and soups from a can. It’s healthier that way, anyways.

2.) No shopping: There are plenty of things I want right now. Knockarounds (my old ones broke), some Jack Rogers, a full size of the sample Benefit foundation I recently tried. But those purchases are going on ice for at least the next month. I added two dresses, new workout shoes and a few T-shirts from Target to my wardrobe last month (score!), and that’s going to have to tide me over for now.

3.) Sell some stuff: Many financial gurus will tell you that one way to maximize your money and declutter your life in general is to get rid of stuff you don’t need. I tried to sell some clothes last month with little success. On the auction block this time around are a mirror we don’t use and my old iPhone.

4.) Reinstate the dollar jar: I’ve been slacking on my effort to away spare dollars and cents for some rainy day cash. Time to start filling that jar again.

What steps do you take when you need to get your fiscal house in order?

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My new easy egg eating routine

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack? Get crackin! Via IvyDawned at Creative Commons.

Eggs are awesome.

Easy to prepare, tasty, versatile and, most importantly for the purposes of this blog, cheap. Even a carton of fancy cage-free eggs costs less than $3 at Trader Joe’s. They totally deserve their shout out on The Kitchn’s list of 10 low-budget pantry items you should have on hand at all times (I regularly stock up on all the times on this list).

I make a habit of hard boiling a few most Sundays for easy breakfasts and snacks throughout the week. The online downsides of this routine are 1.)  my absentmindedness/ADD leads me to forget about that boiling pot of eggs and overcook them more frequently than I would like and 2.) sometimes a girl just wants some yolk.

Enter the microwave egg poacher.

My friend Christine raves about the one she uses at work, so when I saw one for the modest price of $2.79 on a Safeway rack, I threw it in my basket without hesitation.

It’s changed my life.

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How much is your car costing you?

It’s no secret that your car can be a major toll on your budget.

That was reinforced in the latest figures released from AAA this week, showing the cost of owning and operating a car rising 1.9 percent in the last year. One big factor in the increase was gas prices (up almost 15 percent!), but insurance, maintenance and tire costs have also gone up.

AAA’s survey found the average cost of a midsize sedan to be $8,780, with more gas-intensive vehicles like SUVs coming in at a whopping $11,360 (click here to check out the average for your car). That includes finance charges and factors in depreciation in the car’s value.

How do I compare? According to an analysis of my spending tracked via Mint.com, which doesn’t include cash purchases, I dropped about $2,100 on my ride (a 2001 Toyota Camry with about 120,000 miles) last year. I’m lucky to have generous parents who gave me the car after I landed my first post-college job, so a car payment isn’t part of the picture.  I also don’t log many miles on a weekly basis — a definite perk to living right outside Sacramento’s midtown grid.

Still, there’s always room to save. Here’s what I’m going to do to try to keep spending in this category down this year:

  1.  Walk or ride my bike more. With work just a few miles away and two grocery stores within six blocks of my house, there’s really no excuse on this one.
  2.  Call my insurance company and try to negotiate for a better rate. If I can’t get it,  (Editor’s note as Darrell notes in the comments, this won’t fly in California. Calling competitors it is!) the calls to compare quotes could be worth the money saved if I switch plans. It never hurts to ask!
  3. Be better about going in for oil changes and other tune ups. This may cost me up front, but routine maintenance helps keep long-term costs down. No one likes a big repair bill!

What do you do to keep your car spending to a minimum?

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Snap and save: Smartphone deposits arrive at ING!

Saving at ING Direct just got easier.

The online financial institution rolled out this week CheckMate Remote Deposit, a new feature allowing customers to deposit checks using your Smartphone or computer. Snap a picture, submit and cha-ching — the cash is deposited into your account. Cool, right?

While ING isn’t the first bank to use this technology, the development is especially noteworthy since it doesn’t have branch locations or ATMs for deposit (savers previously had to send in checks via snail mail).

I rarely use checks, relying instead on direct deposit from my employer and autopayments for rent and most bills, but this will be an awesome way to stash away those birthday checks from my grandmother and the occasional reimbursement check.

If you aren’t familiar with ING, go check it out. I’ve set up separate savings accounts there and am a huge fan.

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