Check Out “If I Were a Boy” Blog Series at Fabulously Broke

FB at Fabulously Broke in the City coordinated — and participated in! — a great blogging series called “If I Were a Boy.” It presents¬† female points of view of working in traditionally male-dominated industries from FB and a number of other great personal finance blogs, such as Young and Thrifty, Musings of an Abstract Aucklander, Stacking Pennies and more.

Unfortunately, I’ve been super-busy and wasn’t able to get my contribution in, but I may post here about the experiences in the publishing industry.

Check it out over at Fabulously Broke in the City and offer us your thoughts!

Commentary: WE tv’s “Downsized”

Mr. NSF recently introduced me to this train wreck of a show, Downsized. It follows a blended family — a couple with 7 children from previous marriages — in Arizona who suddenly have to cut corners after the father’s contractor business went bust along with the economy.

I’m sure a lot of the things that happened in the few episodes we watched were orchestrated by the producers. At least, I hope so, because the things they were doing to make money made no sense to me.

In fact, every single scenario I saw drove me batty — so much so that I’m blogging about it two days later!

Here are just a few of the situations that made me nuts:

1. Wife takes on a part-time job cleaning a neighbor’s house. Then proceeds to make their 4 daughters come and help, promising to pay them $5 each as their “cut.” THEN she only charges the homeowner $80 instead of the $100 she first said would be the fee.

My thought: It would make much more sense to 1) Charge what you’re going to charge and 2) Not take all four girls with you and pay them a ridiculous $5. We’re not talking young kids here – the ages are 10, 14, 15 and 16. The older three could easily get jobs of their own and use the money to pay for a portion of their needs and wants. In fact, the oldest one is said to have a waitressing job.

2. The family JUST now starts to cut down expenses. This is after exhausting their savings and 401(k) plans. One episode has them outlining how much cable TV, extracurricular activities and eating out cost them. They figured out that they could pay the entire rent by trimming the fat and spending less. Their two homes went into foreclosure, but they’re still renting a pretty big house for what seems to be about $1500 a month — and that home fits all 9 of the family members.

My thought: Sure, they originally were living beyond their means, but once the contracting work began drying up, wouldn’t it have been smart to reassess their budget then — and not two years later?

3. The mom complains about giving up her morning coffee, which she purchased from a coffee shop. But her “morning coffee” is really some sort of iced coffee drink. The father comes home with the ingredients necessary for her to make her own, complete with a reusable plastic cup with a lid and straw. So what do we see? The mom proceeds to make a large quantity of the coffee drink and share it with the kids.

My thought: First of all, kids don’t need the caffeine found in coffee, and secondly, she just wasted her entire ingredients supply.

4. One daughter gets to go to prom (father’s daughter from previous marriage), while other daughter (mom’s from previous marriage) can’t, even though she already has a dress. This one really blew my mind. While I know the dad’s daughter was able to go to prom because her biological mother paid for her ticket to attend, the “destitute” family couldn’t afford the same ticket. Adding to the sad story, the tickets wound up being sold out before her boyfriend could buy them.

My thought: The money the dad spent on the coffee ingredients could have put a nice dent in the ticket price. And the situation could cause animosity between the stepsisters.

There were many more examples, but these were the ones that stood out to me. I won’t be watching this show ever again, that’s for sure.

A Week Off, and I Can’t Sit Still

Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I are off from work all week, and I don’t know what to do with myself. My brother attempted to finish the trim in our newly renovated bedroom, but the compressor broke. Once that’s up, we can clean up in there and get our bedroom set up in there. I was hopeful we could have it done this week, but I don’t know when he’ll get back over to do the trim. I can get a compressor from a friend, but even I draw the line at using machinery while pregnant — amazing, right?

Instead, I’ve started to sort through the many bags of baby clothes given to us by a friend. There are 8-9 bags/bins, and I got through ONE in 45 minutes last night. So that’s a task that will take up some time. I also have a new freelance assignment to get started on.

We managed to get a quick grocery shopping trip on Monday morning, while the store was only semi-crazy. We needed two very important things: cat litter and the free ham or turkey for which we qualified (we went with the ham). Picked up a few other essentials and booked out of there in record time. By the afternoon, there wasn’t a spot to be had in any of the store’s three parking lots. It gets so busy, the town posts a police officer to direct traffic along the busy main drag.

Non-holiday season, the store is always busy. That’s why I place my order over the internet and pick it up twice a month. To me, it’s well worth the $10 fee each time to show up, give them the money and coupons, and have them place the bags in the car trunk for me. But now, I’ve gotten a bit more tired with the pregnancy, so Mr. NSF will now be picking up the orders — because lugging those bags into the house up the front stairs is tiring. And every 5th order is free, so really it breaks down to only $8 per order.

I don’t anticipate going anywhere on Black Friday. I haven’t done a lick of Christmas shopping yet this year, and I’m not going to start until I know if we’re doing grab bags for Mr. NSF’s family. We don’t have many people on my side, so we don’t do the grab bag thing. I have a feeling we’re going to get a lot of things for the baby-to-be, despite it being a grab-bag Christmas. People just can’t control themselves when it comes to baby stuff!

Busy Bee

I’ve spent the last week knocking out two freelance assignments — I have to admit, I’ve never had so much trouble getting sources for an article in my entire career. But I and my editor were happy with the end result, which is all that matters.

Besides grocery shopping, I didn’t spend any money this week. There was the possibility of a THIRD car repair since August (see here and here), but the ‘thumping’ noise I heard — similar to a flat tire sound — wound up being a dirty brake caliper. Go figure. Instead of charging me to disassemble the brakes just to clean it, the mechanic suggested that a car wash might be the ticket to getting rid of the noise. The reasoning is that he had checked the brakes just two weeks ago with my last car repair, and they’re fine. So there’s no need to do anything that will cost me money at this point. He also made a point to tell me that he wouldn’t put me in harm’s way, so that was reassuring. The fact that he’s a family friend also helps.

We’re down to putting up the trim in never-ending room renovation. I’m off all next week, so hopefully my brother will come over with his nail gun to do that. Then we’ll putty over the holes and slap a dab of paint over them. Finally, Mr. NSF can clear the tools and paint cans from the room and clean up the floor in preparation for moving our furniture in. The room is going to double as our bedroom and the “nursery” while the other upstairs bedroom gets renovated. At this point, I’m so tired of talking about this ongoing project!

We’ve also been lucky that friends, family and co-workers are giving us tons of baby stuff, which I’m putting away for now. Strollers, clothes, bouncers — thank you, everyone!

Commentary: “Amish Fireplaces”

By now, we’ve all seen the commercials and advertisements for the Amish fireplace. It’s basically an electric space heater dressed up with a wood mantel and made to look like a fireplace. And it can be yours, FREE, if you just purchase the mantel!

It’s supposed to save you tons of money on your heating bills. MSNBC.com’s ConsumerMan column has a more in-depth explanation of this ruse.

The “Amish fireplace” mantel costs $337. For another $18, you get a remote, and a 2-year extended warranty will set you back another $36. Of course, there’s a $49 charge for shipping and handling. So the heating component is free, free, free! /sarcasm/

So who in their right mind would pay $440 for a glorified space heater? While I can appreciate Amish craftsmanship, I doubt it’s worth that much. And who knows how much of the

The Heat Surge technology claims to crank out 4,606 BTUs of energy — “Heat Surge infrared technology safely heats a room faster and more effectively than typical space heaters.”

Well, my $35 oil-filled, radiator-style electric space heater puts out 5,115 BTUs on the high setting, and within 20 minutes, our formerly-cold porch room is comfortable enough to use. Another 15 minutes, and the ambient temperature meets that of the rest of our home.

In general, space heaters only warm up small areas — one room. And to reap the “benefits” of space heaters, you need to turn down — or turn off — the heat to the rest of the house. Otherwise, you’re paying for two heating sources.

Also keep in mind that in most areas, electricity still costs more than gas — so whether or not you save money remains to be seen.

Another Car Repair = $750 Down the Drain

As I previously mentioned, I had to take my 7-year-old car to the mechanic again on Monday, but this time, it was of my own volition. I already knew what the problem was, so I was able to anticipate that it would be a costly repair.

The ABS, Trac Off and Service Vehicle Soon lights started twinkling a few weeks ago intermittently as I started driving, but they would turn off just as quickly. So initially, I thought it was a bad fuse or a small electrical issue. When I finally decided to do some research on the interwebs, I soon found out I was dealing with something a bit more serious.

The wheel sensors were shot, and it was affecting the car’s anti-lock brakes and traction control feature. I also discovered that it would be a costly repair because they’d have to disassemble the wheel hub. It’s a problem that seems to occur in many GM vehicles.

So when I spoke to the mechanic about dropping off the car, I knew it would be costly. I even estimated in my head that it would be $500 to fix the errant wheel sensor.

Then the mechanic called back with this bombshell: BOTH wheel sensors/bearings had to be replaced. Awesome. The estimated repair bill? $800.

At the end of the day, the cost was $700 plus tax, so $749. That put a big damper on the savings/Christmas spending budget I had in my head, but that’s why a big emergency fund (or in our case, a big savings account) comes in handy. But with a baby on the way, I need the car to be safe for both me and the little one (and Mr. NSF, of course).

Someone suggested that I could have made 3 payments on a new car for about $800 without having to worry about car repair. Sure, that’s true in the short run, but new car payments last a lot longer than 3 months — more like 4-5 years. Plus, we already have a “new” car that we’re making payments on. At 0% interest, of course!

I just hope my car is now satisfied that I’ve taken care of it and won’t cause me any more problems in the foreseeable future. Other than this and the fuel pump, I haven’t had to do more than oil changes, brakes and tires over the past 7 years. I think that’s a pretty good deal that outweighs the allure — and waste — of paying for a new car.

One Day, $110 in Prescriptions — With Insurance

Saturday was a very expensive day at the pharmacy. Not only did I have to refill my 90-day supply of prenatal vitamin, but I also had to get another 90 days worth of my thyroid medication, Synthroid. As I’ve mentioned in the past, it actually costs LESS to pay for the Synthroid outright than it would be with my co-pay. Every 30-day supply has a $30 co-pay, so 90 days would equal $90. However, it’s “only” $80 retail for that same amount, so they charge me the lesser price. After the baby comes, I may press to go back on the generic version in order to save $20/month on that prescription.

The prenatal vitamin would also cost $90 for a 90-day supply if I didn’t get the generic version. But I’m happy to pay $30 total. Again, after the baby arrives, I’ll be more than happy to go back to my Centrum multivitamin, which costs $6 or less (on sale with coupons) for 130 tablets.

Other than that, I had a wonderful dinner meetup with two fantastic ladies. Even better? We went to a cheap Mexican restaurant where the bill for three people was… drumroll please$16 plus tip!

However, Monday promises to be a doozy of an expensive day, as I have to bring my car to the mechanic to fix a wheel sensor problem that’s messing with the traction control and anti-lock brakes. I told him that while the tires are off as he tries to figure out which wheel has the wonky sensor, to see if a tire (or two) has a slow leak, look at the brake pads and rotate the tires, if necessary. I’m going to prematurely estimate the wheel sensor repair (which involves disassembling the wheel hub) at $500. This comes on the heels of my last major car repair, the fuel pump replacement that set me back $600. Other than these two issues this year, I can’t complain about my almost-7-year-old vehicle. I haven’t had to do anything other than change the oil and get new brakes and tires on occasion.