Help Me Solve Reader Dilemmas
I am sorry some of the questions have been sitting in my inbox for so long. I apologize for having lack of blogging inspiration. Below are questions from readers. Add your comments please. I am thinking of this blog as a g'mach of sorts, where we exchange cost effective advice, instead of money or goods.
A reader writes:
In an effort to cut our grocery bill, I dutifully went out in November and got a freezer. Its a stand-up freezer (as opposed to a chest) and it isn't energy start, but I distinctly remember the energy sign saying that it cost about $60/year to run the freezer. They delivered it the first week of December and set it up in our (cold) basement. Its been running at a 4 setting- which is what is suggested. Its only about 1/4 full right now (I'm still trying to fill it up) and everything is frozen solid inside. I noticed that it runs a lot. We just got our December electricity bill and it jumped from $200 to $330. I know, I know, most people would wish for a $330 bill, but $200 is typically the high end for us. We budget about $190 a month, which evens out in the Spring and Fall. Anyway out kWh jumped from 528 to 815kWh, with an average daily use was 21.6 in November and 23.3 ion December (I honestly have no idea what this means, but it may be important). Anyway- could this freezer be increasing our bill that much? BTW- I've found some great sales and really have tried to be mindful to set aside money to be able to buy food when it comes on sale.
Sounds like you have an issue with a defective freezer. I only hear our energy star upright freezer running for a brief time after I close the door and from time to time it comes on. If you hear yours running all the time, it is possible that the freezer is faulty. I'd call the company and speak to them first. My reader Miriam points to this product, http://www.smarthome.com/9034/Kill-A-Watt-P4400/p.aspx , where you can find out what energy culprits are in your home. Before I'd spend on another product, I'd speak with the company, stuff your regular freezer and unplug this freezer until the next utility bill. I'd also consider whether the culprit is from another source (fan on the heater, workman and their equipment, or perhaps a neighbor doing work and using your outside plug). And, please report back.
Another reader writes:
Here is a situationt that has come up in our family that you may want to write about in your blog.
My family has been fortunate to get a fair number of hand-me-downs, especially for our younger boys. I dislike shopping and try to save money, so the hand-me-downs have been very helpful. Some bags have a lot of clothes we want; others have just a few, and some have no clothes we want. I pass clothes we don't want to WIZO (like a g'mach).
My children understand that we look through these free clothes before filling in with new clothes. Sometimes they reject a shirt or pants that I think they should accept, but I am generally willing to respect their preferences. After all, they have to wear the clothes, not me. And I don't want my kids to develop negative associations with hand-me-downs, like "those yucky clothes Ima makes us take". This system works pretty well for us.
Except for coats for my 11yo. We get some nice coats as hand-me-downs. Sometimes they're even name-brand coats, like Lands' End. They are good, warm, well-made coats. There's nothing wrong with them. They're not girly or stained or nerdy, just a little plain. But my son doesn't like them and wants a new coat. But a new coat is expensive. It seems unreasonable for me to lay out money for a new coat just to give into his whim. OTOH, he will probably avoid wearing the free coat except if he is really freezing. I know this from experience, since this situation has come up with him before.
I explained the situation to him. I also asked him if having a coat he *likes* (as opposed to just a coat he doesn't particularly care for) is important enough to him to spend some of his own money on. Of course, I woudn't expect him to pay for all or even most of the cost himself. But I explained that if it was important enough to him to spend *some* of his own money on, then I would be more willing to spend my money on it too. He said it wasn't at that level of importance, but he is clearly still unhappy about the situation.
So, two questions: In this specific situation, am I doing the right thing? And in general, how do other people approach giving kids choices about which hand-me-downs to accept?
I'm more interested in how my readers will respond than what I have to say. I think it is important to respect kids preferences in dress (to an extent) and I think you are doing this. We basically employ the same method: take what you like and we will fill in around the edges as needed and within a budget. Some kids are pickier than others, and I have one of those kids, so I'm symathetic. I won't give into whims that are expensive and go against the values we are trying to inculcate (although I haven't been asked), but I'm happy to respect the preference that pants have pockets in the back and front, or whatever the flavor of the month is, at the time clothing is picked out.
If your son isn't willing to pitch in a few of his dollars for a jacket of his own, I'd probably let the situation go. If the motivation becomes stronger to have a certain jacket, I'd state the budget before heading out, and make sure it is understood that not every jacket in the mall is a valid choice. Unfortunately, the post-holiday season markdowns have not been particularly strong.
Readers, share your ideas.
Another reader writes:
As one of those people who can't seem to get my food budget down below $250/week for family of 5, I'd like to see some more details on how people do this.
Some questions are:
1) How do you get your kids to eat the food you make. I can't seem to make them eat meals other than the standard "kid" fare. Do you bribe? Force? Deprive them of after-school snacks until dinner is ready? (I am usually scrambling to make dinner when I get home in the afternoon). How much after-school snack do you give? It's hard to give them enough to make them not hungry and yet not kill their appetite to eat a dinner they don't love (eg pizza). I have a hard time forcing my kids to eat meals even I don't find appetizing -- usually the cheaper, pareve meals. Likewise leftovers. So much food gets thrown out even though I do plan many meals. Just because I plan it, doesn't mean they will like it. Anyhow -- I find my food spending goes up when I plan because I tend to plan large vegetarian meals and produce is expensive. In the trash it goes most of the time.
When I got married my husband was like your average kid. His diet probably resembled your kid's diets. I started by introducing a new dish, and alternating with meals he would recognize. Soon, he started really enjoying my meals and the chicken nuggets became something of the past. Fortunately, this happened before the first kid started eating, so I never had to wean a kid off of pizza, nuggets, or fish sticks. I tell my kids that if they don't like what I'm serving, that they can make themselves a bowl of cereal or a sandwitch. And, I try to put meals I know they like into the lineup, rather than pack each night with something experimental. This way everyone feels that their preference is being listened too, and we also get the variety of a good diet.
As for snacks, my own kids love bananas (didn't always), which are filling and not full of fat and sugar. Hard boiled eggs also work. Some parents let kids put snacks in a box at the beginning of the week and take as they like, but when you are out, you are out. I use this for yogurt because my kids could easily eat three at a time. They conserve a bit because they know what they see is what they get until the next sale comes along.
2) How do you keep track of what you spend at the supermarket while you are shopping? Walk around with a calculator? Someone told me recently she does exactly that -- she uses a calculator and buys her essentials first, extras next depending on how much money she has left. I'm planning to get a calculator soon and try it.
A calculator works. I keep a calculator hany while I shop, but tend to add (and subtract coupons) in my head as I go along. I think it is important to keep track because shopping registers do make mistakes. Today I realized that something went wrong because the bill was a lot higher than what I had in my head and it turned out my club card didn't register. Glad I caught that before having to stand in line at customer service.
3) I'd really like to see some weekly menus for those of you spending $100/week on food. Especially from those of you who work full-time and don't really have time to cook. What do you serve for breakfast? Kid lunches? And, of course, dinner. Someone posted in a comment once that they eat fish and meat during the week and yet spend $60-$75/week on food budget? I'd love to know how. I do have a pressure cooker.
I think a lot of our savings is in the shopping, rather than the meals. We use a lot of tomato products, e.g., and I will buy lots of cans when the 28 oz can is on sale for $1. For breakfast I serve whatever cereals I bought for a $1.25 or less a box. If we run out, my kids make oatmeal. Lunch varies, but probably includes some season fruit and a peanut butter sandwitch. We have a lot of dinner options. Sometimes I serve legume based soups such as Indian red lentil soups, vegetable and pasta soups such as ministrone, a veggie and cheese bake that uses mostly cottage cheese, homemade pizza with smaller sprinkling of cheeses, bean and rice burritos. My kids love pasta and I try to vary the sauces, sometimes by adding a can of tuna for each 28 oz can of tomato sauce (a receipe no one thought they would like, but that we all enjoy). I sometimes serve tuna patties with frozen brocolli.
4) If anyone wants to work with me :-) I'll send you a sample of my weekly menu as well as an overview of my supermarket tape -- I'd really love some feedback/training in this area. Actually, that wouldn't be a bad idea -- to write down what I buy, what I cook, and then what I throw out to see where all that money is going. I've never done that before. If I get around to it I'll let you know what I come up with.
Sounds like a great idea. Send it over.
5) I work practically full-time and do 99.9% of household chores. I get up at 5 am and go to bed at 11 or 12 almost every day. I justify eating meat several times/week because I have no time and no household help whatsoever and it's really easy to prepare. When I come home really stressed out and in what I call "nervous breakdown" territory -- rather than order pizza out, I'll roast a chicken and make rice. It's easy. It's satisfying. It's a heck of a lot cheaper than pizza. I really can't feel guilty about this because I work my tail off. How do other "newly frugal" or FFB (frugal from birth) people deal with this?
Sounds like you need a little help. I'd collapse on this schedule. I'd say that before tackling a new menu, you need to get everyone on board with a vision and some responsibilities because you shouldn't have to shoulder it all.
Hope that helps. I'm sure my readers will be even a greater help.