Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’


Squeezing out every last cent

July 11, 2009

One of the downsides of handy modern packaging is that it’s sometimes hard to get out that last little bit of something.

And this is an example. This hand sanitiser, in short supply currently because of people worried about swine flu, is no useless. This is because the level of the gel contained in there has dropped below the level of the tube that sucks it up into the dispenser. As a result, we’re out money because we can’t squeeze out those last few drops.

Now, some people would throw this away now because it is, after all, only a little amount of gel. Other more sensible people will unscrew the cap, and wait a minute or so for the gel to drop all the way to the cap end, and then use the remainder. But, that’s at least a dozen or more uses of that gel in there, and unscrewing the cap and waiting for it to trickle down involves an interminable wait when you have an infant on the changing table giving you hell about, well, anything.

So what to do?

Well, we’ve put the boffins here at Frugal Me onto this one, and we think we may well have an answer.

  1. tip the now-useless dispenser bottle of gel upside down until all the gel runs to the cap end.
  2. unscrew the top carefully, so as not to get gel all over yourself, and tip the remaining gel into the new bottle of gel you bought to replace the old one.
  3. relax in the knowledge that you probably saved 50c, while also not telling those manufacturers get the better of you.



Cheap and cheerful, or expensive and durable?

May 6, 2009

A warm and frugally welcome to our new visitors from Pundit. Thanks to a comment from George Darroch on a post there, we seem to have acquired quite a lot of you.

I was interested to read Eleanor’s post, The Frugal Elitist, because among other things it outlines a strategy that I find quite tempting at times: to buy an expensive item on the basis that it will outlast several cheaper ones, or yield more jollies than several cheaper purchases.

My husband calls me a ‘frugal elitist’ because I insist on buying quality but I don’t buy much. When we moved into our current home we found we needed an extra bookshelf and something to put dishes in. We ended up with a leather and wood bookshelf and a beautiful oak Dutch hutch we will use for the rest of our lives. We could have bought something much cheaper that would have done the job in the interim but I prefer to have less and better stuff. (more)

I think this strategy can be sound but it needs some strong caveats.

First, some things are out of the question for me because I tend to lose or break them easily: quality sunglasses (broke them), leather gloves (lost them).

Second, if you have any aesthetic sense at all, you can be tempted into buying things that are merely beautiful without being more durable, functional, or efficient than the cheap equivalent. For instance, a lot of clothes fall into this category.

Third, I don’t have deep knowledge about many things. For example, I do buy expensive musical instruments. I know their ins and outs, I know what I’m looking for, I know what’s rubbish and what isn’t. I am on much shakier ground with consumer electronics, or cars. If you don’t know what good construction looks like or what fabrics last, how can you tell whether an expensive coat will last one season or five?

Fourth, you have to actually do the maths. For example, my bookshelves include some very cheap ones from the Warehouse. They’re ugly, but they’ve lasted years and several moves, and probably have another move or two left in them. If I need more shelves, my first thought is going to be salvaging some planks and bricks, student-style. The expensive shelves that last a lifetime just don’t add up as a deal for me unless they actual cost less than a lifetime’s supply of cheap ones from the Warehouse. No doubt Eleanor is more averse to squalor than I am, and I don’t disapprove of the mindful purchase of something that gives you great jollies (like my musical instruments), but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that something represents a saving when it isn’t.

Fifth, unless what you are buying will appreciate over time, then it has to be not just the same cost as a lifetime supply of cheap things, but a bit cheaper. Here’s why. Suppose I could buy 5 cheap frobbles that last 5 years each, or one very durable frobble that lasts 25 years for $1000, and suppose I have $1000 lying around. If I take the cheap strategy, I only lay out $200 upfront, and I can invest the remaining $800 until my five years is up, invest the remaining $600 plus interest from the first five years for the next five, and so on. And also, I have the flexibility to decide I’m not that into frobbles any more, and spend my $800 on something else. If I take the expensive strategy, I lose all the interest, and my money is all sunk into one frobble which I may have to sell at a loss if I need the cash.

So I think my overall strategy would be this:

  1. Things I am paid to take away. Free is for people who lack ambition.
  2. Free things.
  3. Where I don’t care about beauty, a succession of cheap things OR one expensive one, whichever has the least lifetime cost, bearing in mind whether an expensive one holds its resale value.
  4. An expensive thing that gives jollies, looks nice, and lasts longer than a bunch of cheap ones.

Reusable vs. Disposable nappies

December 10, 2008

I’m hardly on old hand at this parenting business, but I think I’ve realised the financial benefit of making sensible decisions about convenience versus cost.

The main thing, and the philosophy of Frugal Me, is to think through what you’re doing and spending.

So here’s the thing. I just bought infant disposable nappies on special from New World and they were $10 for 30. Not bad, right? $0.34 per change. But with a minimum of 8 changes a day that adds up pretty quickly.

That pack of disposals might last for three days if we were using it exclusively.

But what we have been using is these Real Nappies. They have a reusable padding that’s extremely good at catching all the liquids, and these liners that catch any solids. You chuck the liners down the toilet (they’re paper so break down quickly), and wash the padding.

In total, we were given a Top-Up Pack, and bought an Essentials Pack. In total this costs, $118, and should last until the wee tacker is around 9kg, which is a fair old way off (hopefully). Once he gets that big we’ll just replace the outer pocket, and keep using the old padding.

So how much do we expect to save? Current estimates are around $2000. The boy is only 6 days old, and that would have cost us ~$16 in disposal nappies. If he keeps using nappies at the same rate we should have paid off the investment in around 20 days. Considering that he’s going to be in nappies for at very very least a year, we’ll be saving money (even considering washing the nappies – hot water and detergent), we’re still up.


Recording every damned thing

September 2, 2008

A few years ago I was contracting rather than working for a salary, and I started keeping basic books. I used Gnucash to do it. Gnucash is a very sophisticated double-entry accounting package, but reasonably easy to learn to drive.

Ever since, I’ve been tracking my expenses in a rough and ready sort of way. I can tell you what our power bill was last winter, and for several years before; how much I spend on coffee; and all the money Infratil has ripped off me through parking at Wellington Airport. This has been easy because Gnucash can import my online banking statements, and if I assign a transaction to a category, it’s smart enough to remember who the payee was and automatically put all subsequent payments to them in the right place.

However, there is a hole in my system: cash withdrawals. Some things are easier or cheaper with cash, so I regularly withdraw $50 or $100 (big withdrawals minimise ATM fees). But up until now, I haven’t anything but vague intuitions about where it goes. This bugs the hell out of me, to tell the truth: where did that $50 go? What do I have to show for it? I don’t know.

A couple of weeks ago I got a book out of the public library*, Your Money Or Your Life. I’m going to be writing about it more in coming weeks, but for now, I just want to mention one practice from the book: diligently recording every purchase. Every one. For the last two weeks, I have been noting all cash purchases, no matter how small, down to the cent, in my cellphone. This is not as hard as I thought. I almost always have my phone on me, and it’s already become a habit. $2.90 cheese puff, $15.40 taxi, and so on.

The funny thing is, judging by my cash withdrawal rate, I’m already spending less, purely because I have become more conscious of the money leaving my wallet.

The authors of Your Money Or Your Life want you to account for all your spending for more elevated reasons than just reducing your expenses. The idea is that after a month, you categorise all your spending and then rate the categories of expense, thinking about how much satisfaction you have derived from each category. You can then make decisions about whether to rebalance or reallocate your spending, based on your new understanding. Most of us spend the biggest part of our adult lives working to obtain money; that money represents stored time; the book wants us to consider whether we are getting enough happiness in exchange for it. I have yet to complete that part of the exercise, but I will, and when I do, I’ll post about it.

BONUS LIBRARY TIP: thanks to my friend Sue, I’ve become a convert to Library Elf. You can hook Library Elf up to your library card, and then it will email you before your books are due back, thus helping you to avoid a fine. Every frugal person should use the library instead of buying books, and avoiding fines is definitely frugal. The Wellington Public Library has no reminder service at all; I’ve always wondered whether this was a revenue gathering strategy…