Monday, October 30, 2006 Find and share info about locally-owned businesses near you!

Looking for a good independent coffeeshop, bookstore, or movie theater but don't know where to find one?  Or do you know about great locally-owned places you want to share? 
Try using Delocator!  It has the handy features of a chain's website gizmo to "find a location near you"-- put in your zip code, pick the distance you're willing to go, and it pulls up all the places in your area which other people have entered (often with terrific descriptions and comments). 
It's especially handy if you're traveling out of town and don't know your way around the area.  It's so easy to stop at the recognizable and omnipresent Starbucks rather than try to figure out which of the unfamiliar places you pass are a) coffee places, b) locally-owned, and c) any good.  I'm actually on a trip for work right now and have put the site's info into use already!  And when I get a chance I'll take a good look at my local area and see if there are any places I should add.
Many kudos to Dawn at Frugal for Life for the link...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Be a smart organic shopper and save: learn about the most and least contaminated produce

Are you interested in buying organic produce-- for health and/or environmental reasons-- but are put off by how darn expensive it is?  That's how I am, and so I end up basically ignoring organic food altogether.  It feels like an all-or-nothing thing, and I can't bear to spend the money for the "all" so it ends up being "nothing."

But it turns out that not all organic produce is created equal-- or really, that not all non-organic produce is created equal.  There are actually huge disparities in the amount of pesticides on fruits and vegetables.  For example, more than 90% of non-organic apples, peaches, nectarines and celery have pesticide residue on them after normal washing/preparation; less than 10% of onions, asparagus, frozen sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, and avocados do.

That data's from the Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides in Produce, by the Environmental Working Group.  They used data from the FDA and Department of Agriculture, and rated the 43 most commonly purchased fruits and vegetables based on a number of criteria, including likelihood of pesticide residue, number of different pesticides present, amount of pesticides present, and more.  If you visit, you can download a pocket guide with the top 12 worst and best fruits and vegetables, as well as see the whole list of 43 and read more about the methodology.

There are a variety of ways to put this information to good use.  You can choose to pick a handful of the worst offenders and go organic for those fruits and veggies; you can go organic for all except the best cases; if you're already shopping organic and the prices are killing you, you could go back to standard onions, asparagus, and other low-pesticide produce.  Another option, rather than the pricey organics, would be to cut back on or eliminate your purchases of particularly contaminated produce.  If you like but don't love peaches, and you enjoy pineapples or mangoes almost as much, maybe it makes sense to change your habits.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that the "good" fruits and vegetables are a perfect solution.  Even in the best cases, you've got a 1 in 10 chance of ingesting some pesticides.  If you want to be on the safest, healthiest side, and promote chemical-free organic farming, you'll want to buy organic across the board.  But honestly, reading this information has opened my eyes.  I keep a lot of criteria in mind when I'm shopping for food, but I've always said that I "don't do" organics, and it's all been because of the price tag.  But now I've got a plan to be a selective, partially organic shopper in the most beneficial way, and I'm excited about the implications.

Do you buy organic produce (or other food)?  If so, do you do it across the board or selectively?  If you only do it sometimes, is it just kind of haphazard, or do you choose what organic stuff to buy based on the price differential, or based on data like this, or other reasons?  If you have kids, has that affected your thinking and practices regarding organic food?

(I got tipped off to this info via Green LA Girl , a new favorite read of mine who I'll surely jabber more about on a future day.  Be especially sure to check her blog out if you're interested in fair trade coffee!)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How to write a novel, run a marathon, become debt-free, save a million, or achieve any other audacious goal!

I apologize in advance for being a little distracted in late October and all of November. You see, I am about to embark on a great adventure, take on a massive challenge, and (hopefully) end up with an impressive achievement. I aim to write a novel in a single month.

It's a big goal, but I'm hopeful I'll achieve it, because of some of the wonderful aspects of NaNoWriMo. And after watching my boyfriend run his first marathon this week, I think the same factors will help anyone who's aiming for an ambitious goal, financial or otherwise. Whether it's writing a novel, running a marathon, paying off your debt, saving a certain amount of money, buying a house, or anything else, you can help yourself out in a variety of ways...

  • Picking the right goal. You need a goal that's challenging but achievable. Naturally you want a challenging goal, one that stretches you, pushes you to your limits. One that gives you a feeling of pride and accomplishment at the end. But at the same time, if your goal's too high, you're just going to get discouraged. You'll feel yourself slipping farther and farther behind, and it'll be hard not to give up. NaNoWriMo's challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel because it's hard but doable if you have the self-discipline to write for a couple of hours every day. A marathon is 26.2 miles, which is an incredible feat, but is also something that most healthy adults can do if they train long and hard enough. As far as I'm concerned, that's what goal-setting is all about: finding the sweet spot to aim for that keeps you driven but not discouraged, that's a stretch but not impossible.
  • Knowing you're not alone. Part of the fun of NaNoWriMo is the fact that you're taking on this crazy challenge alongside tens of thousands of other people in your area and around the world, and that many of them will succeed and have succeeded in the past. Marathon runners often train together, and on marathon day they're part of a sea of people. And as you probably know, writing and/or reading personal finance blogs can be incredibly helpful as you try to stay on pace to pay off your debt, cut your expenses, boost your savings or your net worth.  Sure, some people draw motivation from feeling like they're way ahead of the pack, but most of us will be trying things that have already been done by other ambitious souls, so having the moral support of fellow-sufferers and fellow-victors can be tremendous.
  • Keeping yourself accountable.  If you tell other people what you're working towards, it's harder to let yourself wriggle out of it.  This can tie into the previous point, because who better to keep you accountable than other people who're trying-- and succeeding at-- the same thing?  The internet is a great source of support and a kick in the pants, as anyone who's familiar with the pfblogosphere knows; on the NaNoWriMo forums, you can display your word count on your profile, and if you go to write-ins, you'll have to fess up to other writers about your progress.   And there's nothing like having friends and family members in person, too, so you can see the excitement in their eyes when you're doing well or picture  their expression of well-intentioned disappointment if you're thinking about giving up.
  • Muzzling your inner critic and pushing past your doubts.  One of the keys to succeeding at NaNoWriMo is to shut down the little voice in your head-- the one that says "That's awful, you're doing a terrible job, you're no good at this," the one that demands perfection in your first sentence before you ever move on to the second one.  There's no way you can write 50,000 words in a month if you're always worrying about having a perfect final product.  You need to just write.  This means that a lot of the writing does indeed end up being terrible. But amazingly, it also means that you end up with a lot of really great creative stuff, things that you might not have written if you were constantly self-editing and afraid of bad writing, the seeds of wonderful possibilities.  I think the general principle is a broader one, though.  Don't feel like you have to be perfect-- if you're cutting expenses, for example, small splurges are okay sometimes!-- and keep questioning yourself when you think "I can't."  "I can't stop bringing lunches to work": maybe if you push yourself you'll come up with some fantastic ideas that are easy, healthy, delicious, and cheap.  "I can't go without cable TV": maybe you'll find out giving it up was the best choice you've ever made.  "I can't live on $X a month": maybe you can if you try.
  • Getting started now!  Despite all of the other factors, NaNoWriMo wouldn't be nearly so helpful for perenially procrastinating aspiring novelists like me if it wasn't so straightfoward on the timing.  If you could just write 50,000 words in a month, any month, many of us would keep pushing it off to next month.  But with NaNo, when November rolls along you know you've got to do it now or wait a whole year.  So even if your November looks hectic, even if it's not a good month for you, even if you have good excuses not to participate (as you always, always will) you plunge right in.  You've got to do the same thing with any goal!  If it's personal finance related, the dates will probably be more arbitrary, and you'll need to give yourself the extra kick in the pants to get going.  But don't let your goal fall victim to the never-ending "I'll start soon"...
By the way, if you're interested in participating in NaNoWriMo, it's not too late to sign up.  The founder recommends spending a week or less on prep time, and many people start on November 1 with only the vaguest idea what they're writing about.  I promise, it'll be fun, and you won't regret it!
What are some big goals you've shot for and achieved, financial or otherwise?  What's helped you along your way most?
By the way, I fully intend to keep writing at Money and Values during November, don't worry!  I'll need a good break from all-novel-all-the-time occasionally.  I'm going to aim to post twice a week throughout November.  And then I'll be back in December with a bang (how does hosting 3-- three!-- carnivals in the first half of the month sound?)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Picking money over time-- are we working too much? (Take Back Your Time Day, 10/24)

It's almost October 24th, which is Take Back Your Time Day. It's set on October 24th because that's 9 weeks before the end of the year, and the average American works almost 9 weeks (350 hours) more each year than the average citizen of Western Europe. 350 hours!

Part of that is because of less vacation time (and other time off, like holidays, sick leave, parental leave, etc); as I wrote last month , we take less than half the vacation days that our European counterparts do.

Another big issue is overtime. In America, mandatory overtime is at near-record levels, and the average American works more hours a year than ever before. You wouldn't think it would be this way. Back in 1965, a Senate committee predicted we'd have an average 22 hour work week in 1985 and a 14 hour work week by 2000! Why? Because of automation and increased productivity. Well, the technology and the productivity have come along pretty much on schedule (and other countries have taken advantage by working less). But in America, instead of harnessing that to give us a shorter work-week and more leisure time, we are working more than ever before and spending more than ever before. Per-capita consumption has nearly doubled in real dollars, from $11,171 to $22,152, in the last 30 years or so. Instead of cutting our work time in half, we've just doubled our spending.

Overwork has serious consequences. It damages our health, interferes with our relationships with family and friends, and cuts down the quality of the free time we do have (when we're too tired to do more than "veg out"). Our communities suffer when we're too busy and tired to volunteer, participate politically/civically, or be creative. Overwork hurts the environment (studies show that the more hours we work, the more processed and over-packaged products we buy, and the less we recycle). And our productivity per hour is actually less than in other countries where people work less. [Check out a terrific New York Times Op-Ed piece on these issues and more, reprinted here.]

Take Back Your Time Day is a day to spread the word about this situation, to encourage others to stop and think about how much we're all working and whether it needs to be that way. And recognizing that the problem and our hopes for improving it come from both an individual and societal level, Take Back Your Time has both small-scale and big picture suggestions to address the problems.

Some of the many individual/small-scale suggestions they make:

  • Keep track of your expenses on such "time savers" as fast food, convenience items, etc. and calculate how much work-time it takes you to buy them
  • Cut TV viewing to one hour a day or eliminate the TV for a week
  • Take a long walk
  • Learn to meditate
  • Start a discussion about work-sharing in your work place
  • Have a meeting in which everyone brings one item they bought but never used, and talk about spending habits
  • Put up posters and signs about Take Back Your Time
  • Read some of these thought-provoking books about Take Back Your Time issues, and share and discuss them with friends and neighbors
  • Take back four "windows of time" between Take Back Your Time Day and December 31st for slow, quiet, life-renewing activities ( see here for more)
There's also the Time to Care six-point policy agenda, most of which has already been implemented in many or most European countries:
  • Guaranteeing paid parental leave
  • Guaranteeing at least one week paid sick leave
  • Guaranteeing at least three weeks paid vacation leave
  • Putting limits on employers' ability to impose mandatory overtime
  • Making Election Day a holiday
  • Making it easier for employees to choose part-time work

So, what do you think? Is there a problem? Do you agree that Americans are working too much in general, or not? How about yourself personally-- do you work more than you'd prefer? If so, do you feel like you're doing it willingly in order to be better off now and/or in the future, or do you feel pressured to? Where does that pressure come from-- from your financial needs? From your financial wants? From the culture and expectations at your job? And what do you think about Take Back Your Time's policy suggestions? If you think there's a problem but you don't agree with the policies suggested, do you have other ideas?

I'm so interested to hear what everyone has to say about this!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Food shopping for less at discount stores (or, Penny's chocolatey nostalgia!)

When I was a kid, my favorite food-shopping trip was to what my sister and I called the "snack-cake store." We'd walk inside, and all of the tasty treats-- always off limits at the regular grocery store as "too expensive"-- filled shelf after shelf. My mom would eye a sign reading "5 for $4" or something like that, and set us loose: "Okay, girls, pick out 5!" Great big boxes of Ring-Dings, Ho-Hos, Yodels and Funny Bones were ours for the taking!

Eventually I learned that the reason we could get them so cheaply was that they were near or past their "sell-by" date (or sometimes were holiday versions past their holiday-- orange-colored Halloween frosting in early November or some such). They always tasted perfectly fine; they were rarely too far past their prime, and a sell-by date is really just a guideline anyway, allowing for plenty of time for the product to sit in your pantry at home. And when I look at the prices for snack cakes at grocery stores now, I realize just how much they were marked down!

While my sister and I were searching through the sugary treats with glee, my mom was searching through the many other products the store had for sale. To be perfectly honest, I never paid enough attention to remember what they were! I think there were crackers and chips, cereal and bread, but I know there was much more than that. I'm pretty sure they didn't just sell products near or past-date, but also goods in damaged packaging, like dented soup cans. But all those details fade into a fuzzy sugar-induced haze...

I haven't been to one of those places in years, but my research tells me they're sometimes called grocery outlet stores, grocery thrift stores, bakery thrift stores, salvage grocery stores, discount grocery stores, discount marts, or a variety of other names.

So, my questions to you: Are there stores like this near you? What do you think of them? If you use them, have you been able to save on your grocery bills? Do you have any tips on what to buy there and what to stay away from? I don't suppose you know of one in Chicago, do you? (Writing this post has made me really hungry for a good ol' Ring-Ding or Yodel...) And, of course, what's your all-time favorite snack cake?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sprint/Nextel cell phone? Act quickly & get out or get goodies...

Because Sprint/Nextel have raised their text messaging charges from 10 cents to 15 cents, customers have the right to get out of their contracts without an early termination fee-- or can threaten to leave and get some goodies to urge them to stay. But you've only got until October 31st, maybe sooner!

My understanding is that if you don't have a text message package and you have sent or received at least one text message in the last couple months, this is a "material change" that gives you the right to get out of your contract for free. (Or if you use the internet and don't have an unlimited internet plan, since that fee changed too.) The change was effective October 1st, so if you have already paid a bill that covers part of the month of October, it's effectively agreeing to the new terms so you're out of luck. (The CSRs may tell you that if you have sent or received text messages since Oct 1st you have also effectively agreed to the terms; you can fight it with that rep, or call back and try to find another one, since other people have gotten past that objection.)

I learned about this from Free the Drones , who has some good thoughts about the benefits of canceling your service. If you've been wanting to cancel for a while, this is a great opportunity; even if you haven't, it's still a chance to sign up for a new contract with all the associated bells and whistles (and sell your old phone for profit, too!).

But if you don't want to cancel, you can still come out ahead here, as long as you're willing and able to bluff. From what I can tell (threads at FatWallet, SlickDeals, Digg, Consumerist, etc), the CSRs are offering 500 free text messages a month to most people to get them to stay. And some people are getting even more goodies-- service credits, 10% or 20% discounts, free phones, extended free calling hours, free internet service. A lot of it will depend on who you happen to get on the phone, how persistent and convincing you are, if you can get to the Retention department vs regular CSRs, and how many times you're willing to call back! But if you're up for it, you might be in luck. I'll let you know how it goes for me!

Here's the language:

If we change a material term of the Agreement and that change has a material adverse effect on you, you may terminate the Agreement without an Early Termination Fee by calling 1-888-567-5528 within 30 days after the changes go into effect.

Here are some other phone numbers, courtesy of Consumerist, who says they checked 'em:
1-888-211-4727 Retention
1-407-475-6982 Judy Rathcliffe, Retention Department Supervisor

And if you're not with Sprint or Nextel-- just keep your eyes open, wait for a "material change" in your contract, and you can do the same thing...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Check these blogs out!

Here are two blogs I've been enjoying lately and want to share with all of you.

  • Millionaire Artist is a pretty new blog, but she already has a ton of great posts on socially conscious investing and banking options, and on giving, as well as other thoughts on personal finance, art, and life. (Plus, she introduced me to Ideal Bite-- awesome daily e-mail with environmentally/socially friendly tips.) Go visit and enjoy!
These links will be over in my blogroll for future reference!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Slay your energy vampires: Unplugging appliances saves money and cuts pollution

I love finding new ways to save energy, because it's one of those great areas where money and values work in tandem. This week I learned something I totally new to me (thanks to Ideal Bite)-- many household appliances are draining energy even when they're turned off!

According to the government's ENERGY STAR program, 40% of the electricity that home electronics use is consumed while the products are turned off. The impact of this on your energy bill will depend on your particular situation-- one Berkeley study suggests the savings would be 6 to 26% off your total bill.

The "phantom load," as it's sometimes called, is a result of many different household items (sometimes called "vampire devices," leading to perhaps the best-named law ever, California's Vampire Slayer Act of 2006). Some of the most problematic energy-drainers while "off":

  • Tivo
  • Cable boxes or satellite dish boxes
  • Sound systems
  • VCRs and DVD players
  • Computers
  • Computer printers
  • Cable modems/DSL
  • TVs
These items often use 10 to 50 watts each while off/in standby (6 to 30 kilowatt-hours a month, if they're off but not unplugged 20 hours a day). The Berkeley study, this graph, and this article have some information on typical wattage of specific items-- but if you really want to know how much yours use, you'll need to buy or borrow a meter like Kill-a-Watt, or try this manual method.

There are also the smaller items; for example, did you know that your cell phone charger is using energy even when your phone isn't attached? It's only a couple of watts, but it's a good idea to get into the habit of unplugging your charger from the wall when you unplug your phone from the charger. Kitchen appliances like microwaves, rice cookers, breadmakers, and coffee pots also typically use less than 5 watts-- but there's no reason to leave them plugged in when you don't have to. The little things add up.

And how much do they add up to? Around 50 to 100 watts in the average house, which is 30 to 60 kilowatt-hours a month (based on 20 standby hours a day). At prices of 5 to 15 cents per kWH in July 2006, that's somewhere between $1.50-$9 a month.

Okay, so doing this isn't going to make you rich (although most frugalites like to trim where we can!). So how about finding another motivation? Every kilowatt-hour is equivalent to 1.55 pounds of CO2 emissions (U.S. average). That means if you use 30-60 less kWh a month, 550-1,100 pounds less of CO2 go into the air every year. (For context, a gallon of gas puts about 20 pounds of CO2 in the air, so this is the pollution equivalent of using 25 to 50 gallons less gas!)

Now that I know about this, I've started right away to change my habits. One easy way to make sure you're not wasting energy is to plug many appliances into one power strip; then you can turn it on and off, which is a little easier than unplugging and replugging everything individually. Maybe half of my relevant appliances are already on power strips, which I've started turning off this week; this weekend, I'm going to think about the logistics to make sure all my vampire devices are either on power strips or are plugged in outlets in convenient locations (the TV's plugged in behind the bookcase at the moment, for example). For curiousity's sake, I'll try to see if there's an effect on my electric bill-- although since my heat is electric, it's going to be hard to be very scientific about it as heating costs go up.

I would absolutely love to hear from all of you guys on this. Do you have any more information on the watt usage of particular devices while they're turned off? Do you unplug things already? If so, have you seen the effect on your electric bills? Or do you think this is small stuff, not enough to be worth your effort?

(This post was inspired by an Ideal Bite tip; I found Ideal Bite via Millionaire Artist.)

Pick a carnival, any carnival...

Come one, come all, and get this week's links and highlights from the Festival of Frugality, Carnival of the Green, , and Carnival of Personal Finance...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Happy Fair Trade Month! All about fair trade & where to find it

October is National Fair Trade Month. If you're not familiar with the term, "Fair Trade" means that when buying products (like coffee, chocolate, tea, and fruit), instead of following the market's ups and downs and paying as little as possible, you pay a fair amount that producers can count on. The fair trade process also cuts out exploitative middlemen, and ensures other standards of decency and good management.

Fair trade coffee is one of the most well-known and widespread fair trade products, partially because coffee is the second-most traded commodity worldwide, after petroleum. But while we pay $6, $8, $10 a pound or more for coffee, the market prices right now are around 85 cents a pound (up from a low of 41 cents in 2001!), and small farmers get more like 20-40 cents a pound from the middlemen who export their coffee. In contrast, the fair trade price is at least $1.26 a pound ($1.41/pound if it's certified organic)-- if the market goes above that, the producers get the market price plus 5 cents. Fair trade coffee comes from small producers, not big farms which depend on and exploit hired labor; however, small farmers are encouraged to form democratically-run cooperatives to increase their efficiency. It's relatively easy to find whole bean fair trade coffee for sale; try this list, this one, or this if you're having trouble.* Also, Dunkin' Donuts now uses fair trade coffee in all its espresso drinks, although not its regular coffee. Starbucks likes to brag about fair trade coffee, but it will only sell it brewed if you specifically ask (they do have fair trade beans on sale).

Fair trade chocolate is also a major fair trade product. One important reason to support fair trade chocolate is that much mainstream chocolate is actually made with child labor (and even child slave labor). Most cocoa comes from Africa, and 43% of it comes from the Ivory Coast. On average, for every $1 spent on chocolate, producers get 5 cents. The small farmers live in poverty; the large plantations squeeze out a profit by working their employees for long, brutal hours at very low pay. But fair trade cocoa not only sets a floor price, but also requires that no child labor or forced labor be used, and that workers' rights to organize are not violated. Global Exchange is a leader in the campaign for fair trade chocolate, including the effort to get big companies like Nestle and M&M/Mars to use fair trade chocolate. Learn more here. And click here for places to buy fairly traded chocolate and cocoa. (Or here's a listing of places selling chocolate, cocoa, and coffee.)

There are other fair trade products, too. Fair trade tea is often sold by the same vendors as fair trade coffee and cocoa, or you can try some of Honest Tea's bottled iced tea varieties; learn more here. Fair trade fruit is new to the U.S. market, but fair trade bananas, mangoes, pineapples, and grapes can be found at these locations-- and fair trade bananas are available at Wild Oats Markets across the country. There may also soon be fair trade vanilla, rice, and sugar available in the U.S. And fairly traded crafts and gifts were where the fair trade movement began; there are many, many places to get them, including the 160+ Ten Thousand Villages stores nationwide.

A lot of these links are for online shopping; here's a good general fair trade search engine to find places to shop near you. And FYI: In honor of Fair Trade Month, orders over $20 at the Global Exchange online store are 10% off (use Coupon Code ftm2006). Other fair trade retailers may also have specials.

Some people object to fair trade in principle, believing that when low prices cause small farmers and their families to live in poverty, it's a natural process to drive them off their inefficient farms, which Fair Trade efforts shouldn't interfere with. Or that when workers on plantations work grueling hours for little pay, there's no reason to be concerned, because if workers are willing to sell their labor at that price, it's a natural function of the market. As you may have guessed, I disagree; I think that a) there are more important things than maximum economic efficiency; and b) it's healthier and more efficient anyway, in the broader sense, to help struggling people in poverty earn enough from their work to support their families.

What do you think? How do you feel about the concept of fair trade in general? Do you buy fair trade products? Why or why not? How often?

As for me, researching this post has reminded me that I don't buy Fair Trade nearly as often as I'd like. It's hard for me to pay a little more-- I have that little voice of frugality telling me to buy the cheapest stuff-- but this is something I feel strongly about, and I shouldn't give in to the little voice as often as I do. For me personally, I think this crosses the line from me being frugal to being cheap, since it affects other people (the producers/workers), and I hereby resolve to make a much stronger effort on this front. (Hold me accountable, folks!) Now if I could only find fair trade mocha mix...

*Apologies for the U.S.-centrism of this post; if you're from another country and would like suggestions of where you can buy fair trade products, e-mail or leave a comment and I'll be glad to share what I know.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Have you considered a solar water heater?

This is a terrific article about solar water heaters. Obviously a water heater is a big purchase, but besides being much better for the environment, the monthly cost savings start adding up-- 50% to 80% off your bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's estimates. You're also eligible for a federal tax credit of 30% of the system's cost (up to $2,000), at least through the end of 2007, and you may be eligible for one of these state-level incentives, too.

The article profiles homeowners in Seattle-- I assume in order to reassure the rest of us that no matter how little sun you get, a solar water heater can still work! They mention the effect on the environment and the savings on their energy bills. " 'Plus, the water heater increased the value of the house,' Bob adds. 'And it's a hedge against future energy cost increases.' " They also point out that it's a simpler and cheaper step than a full conversion to solar energy using photovoltaic cells.

The article goes into a lot of technical detail about types of systems, and if you're interested in that you should just go ahead and read it. It also says that the heaters cost around $2,000-$6,000. I'm not a homeowner and I've never priced out conventional water heaters, so I don't know how that compares; clue me in?

(By the way, if you are interested in seeing solar technology in action in your area, tomorrow (October 7th) is the National Tour of Solar Homes Day all across the country. Check out this link to find a tour near you-- and some of them occur after the 7th, in case you've missed it, so it can't hurt to check.)

So, what do you think? Have you looked into solar water heaters in the past, and decided for or against one? Would you consider one in the future?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Monthly Financial Update

A nice big 12.8% increase in my net worth this month, and a respectable increase in charitable giving, makes Penny a satisfied girl.

Savings: $22,696 (up $2,006, or 9.7%)
Retirement: $14,435 (up $594 or 4.3%)
Debt: $13,795 (down $50 or 0.4%)
Net worth: $23,336 (up $2,650, or 12.8%)

Year-to-date giving as percent of 2006 goal: 51% (last month: 41%)

I know that a lot of the extra money comes from getting three paychecks in September (and part from some reimbursements at work I was late on submitting for), but it's still nice to shoot up so much in a single month. I just have to remember not to expect that it's a trend!

That increase in giving is one of the reasons I love having this blog. Last month I said:

if I'm not at or near 50% by the end of this month, I've got a lot of 'splainin to do...
... and voila!

That makes me think I need to set giving goals for the next few months, too. I'm planning on backloading some of the giving-- counting it for this year, but giving it on January 1 or 2, in case 2007 is the year I finally itemize. But I'd like to get to at least two-thirds (67%) in the next two months, by December 1. So that means I should be at roughly 59% a month from now. Hold me to it!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Highlights from the Carnival of Personal Finance, Festival of Frugality, and Carnival of the Green

When I see there's going to be a carnival at Punny Money, I'm always excited to see what Nick comes up with, and this week he didn't disappoint. His Oregon-trail themed Carnival of Personal Finance brought back fond memories of elementary school. Was I the only one who named my companions after mean girls and school bullies so I could get a little sadistic glee when they died of cholera or drowned in a river? Annnnnnyway, here are some of my favorite posts from the Carnival:

The Festival of Frugality is up at Tired But Happy.

And I'm trying to read, link to, and submit (although not this time) more often to the Carnival of the Green. It's at GreenerMIAMI this week, and here are some of the money-related posts: