I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike…without getting hit by a car.

This animation will get you thinking about bicycle safety, whether you are a cyclist or a driver.


Cars and the Frugal Life

As I mentioned early on, I am trying to ride my bicycle more and utilize MAX, the new public transportation system that I can ride for free as a CSU employee.  Not only is driving expensive when you take into account gas prices, wear and tear on the vehicle, and maintenance, but there are the social and environmental impacts that come from being dependent on cars.   However, living in Colorado is hard without a car.  The weather is unpredictable and things are spread out.  If I want to visit my parents in Wyoming, I need to drive because there are no trains to catch and I take my dogs with me.  If I want to go to a neighboring town for dinner or pinball or whatever, I’m going to need my car to get me there because there aren’t many alternative options.  So how do I make car ownership work with trying to live frugally?

Frugal in FoCo pro-tips for car ownership

  1. Buy a car that will do what you need and last forever.
    I moved to Fort Collins with a 2003 Buick Century. It was reliable, it was (mostly) safe, the insurance was inexpensive, and, best of all, it was paid for. But it didn’t have all-wheel drive or anti-lock brakes, which are critical for driving in snow. When I decided to get a new car, I wrestled with the need for something I could drive in the snow without sliding or feeling like I was about to die, and taking on a car payment and the insurance costs of a new car. I ultimately decided that it would be far less expensive to not be in an accident so I decided to start the car hunt. I went with a Subaru Impreza hatchback with the all-weather package.  Subarus have all-wheel drive, have great safety ratings, and the all-weather package provided me with things like traction control and seat warmers (critical in CO!).   I also knew I needed a car with backseats that would lay down and a hatch.  I was tired of dealing with a trunk and the inability to access the space in my back seat if I needed to carry snowboards or a bicycle.  Subarus cater to the more outdoorsy set, so I knew I could get those features in any model.  I decided on the Impreza because my beloved Buick got AMAZING gas mileage and I wanted something comparable.  The Impreza, because it is a car and not an SUV, gets much better gas mileage than the Outback or the Forester.  Crosstreks weren’t really a thing when I was car shopping in late 2012, so that model wasn’t in the running, though I would get one if I were shopping for a car now.

    Look at it handle all that snow. Photo courtesy of Subaru.

    Because used Subarus are basically impossible to buy in Colorado with less than 200,000 miles on them and somehow they still cost almost as much as a new car, I decided to buy new.  My Buick did not retain value at all.  When I traded it in, I think I got about $1800, which was basically a miracle.  But If I can sell my Impreza at 200,000 miles for almost what I paid for it, I feel like that is a great investment, as far as vehicles go.

  2. Do your research and negotiate.
    Once I had decided on a Subaru Impreza with the all-weather package, I contacted all Subaru dealerships in NoCO, Denver, and Wyoming for availability and quotes.  Because I have learned to drive stick repeatedly and still can’t make it happen, I needed a car with an automatic transmission.  I was not at all concerned about exterior color, interior fabric or color, sound system, or other add-ons and made sure the dealers knew trying to talk up add-ons would not sway my decision.  After I collected internet quotes, I went to a dealership where I knew they had what I wanted available so that I could test drive it and go from there.  After I test drove the car on the highway and in town, I knew it was exactly what I wanted.  I told the salesman that I was interested in the car, depending on if he could match a price I had gotten from another dealership, which was a couple thousand dollars less than “the lowest price” he told me they could do.  Because I was so prepared, there wasn’t much negotiating.  They wanted the sale so they made it happen because I made them aware I could go 30 minutes away and get the same car for a better price. I also went prepared with my Buick cleaned out and detailed so that I could negotiate a good trade-in deal. Fortunately, they offered me way more than I expected, based on Kelley Blue Book values and the condition of my car, so I just took it.
  3. Pay cash when possible or negotiate a lower interest rate.
    I went prepared to put down a substantial down payment, but I wasn’t able to pay for the car outright. I was willing to trade in my car, knowing that it would be less headache and pretty comparable to selling it myself, just because it had retained no value and was in fair condition because of a couple of minor accidents (I was never the driver, fyi). Because I couldn’t pay for the vehicle fully in cash or trade-in, I made sure I went during an interest rate promotion. With little credit history, but good credit with what history I did have at the time, I knew I would get a good, but not great, rate on my own. The promotion, though, was 1.9% interest if you qualified for financing. They offered me an interest rate of 3.5%, I countered by mentioning the 1.9% promotion from the Subaru website, and they gave it to me on the spot because I had done my research. I also made sure there is no penalty for paying it off early so that I can put a little extra toward the principal when I can and save a little more on interest over the life of the loan.  It worked out for the best that I couldn’t pay cash and needed to take on a little debt because I am building more of a credit history and paying as little as possible in interest.
  4. Protect the investment.
    I spent a couple hours this weekend cleaning the inside and outside of my car from top to bottom to keep it looking as nice as possible. I also make sure I take it in for regular oil changes and maintenance. My Buick lasted 10 years and never had any issues other than someone else getting into a couple fender benders and a really annoying windshield wiper problem (known by GM and just a fact of life with 2003 Buicks) because I took it in for regular maintenance.
  5. Don’t use it all the time.
    Fact: cars last longer if you aren’t driving them all the time because it keeps the mileage and wear and tear to a minimum.
  6. Drive it until it’s done.
    I bought my Subaru with the assumption that I will drive it until it gets to the point where it is no longer reliable. It will be paid off hopefully in the next year or so, and then I plan on enjoying no car payments and lower insurance rates for as long as possible. Then I will trade it in or sell it when I absolutely NEED a new car. Avoid feeling the need to keep up with the Joneses and get the newest, coolest car. As long as my car does what I need, makes me feel safe, and I can depend on it, I’m keeping it.

For the record, I used brand names because this is what’s true to my life, and this was in no way a sponsored post.


Minimalist Game Update

And The Purge continues.

Not this purge, though…far less murdery and crime-ridden at our house.

July 12

2014-07-25 17.59.422014-07-21 15.58.162014-07-25 18.14.032014-07-25 18.09.43

Sell: vintage vanity chair that I love but have no room for, K2 rollerblades (new with tags–purchased at a pawn shop.  I’m assuming the previous owner and I both thought, “Rollerblading is such a great workout!  I’ll buy these and never use them because it’s no longer 1995), and a running belt thingy because I now have one I like more.

Recycle: special event magazines from my previous like as someone who cared about flower and catering trends.

Get someone to adopt her: Petal, who I love dearly, but I want her to find her forever home.  Check out A Soft Place to Land for more info on Petal and other adoptable rescue dogs in Fort Collins.  And yes, I’m counting her toward the minimalist game because I can plug her and ASPTL, and she decided she needed to be in the picture.

July 13

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Sell or donate: another Otterbox HTC Evo phone case, a New Belgium shirt, headphones that came with some electronic device, Hello Kitty Chia Pet and seed packet, two tiny dog collars that buckle, three books that help create successful human beings post undergrad, and a running armband and the mp3 player or phone holder that goes with it, and two pairs of underwear with broken and worn out elastic (not pictured for the sake of all of us).

Total number of items purged through July 13: 91!  Not too shabby.

More updates coming soon!  I’ll catch up on posts by the end of the month, I swear.

Cutting costs over the lunch hour

Andy and I have been trying to find ways to slash our bills over the last year in order to minimize the impact of moving from a terrible duplex to our wonderful house.  I have had some pretty great successes with lowering our bills, and it often just takes a simple phone call over a lunch hour.

When I switched jobs, I had to get my own cell phone plan.  The university had paid for my phone previously because I had to be available 24/7, you know, in case some flowers didn’t show up or there was a table linen mishap (obviously critical emergencies).  In my current job, while I choose to use my phone for work, that is simply out of bad habit and not necessity.  I didn’t realize, however, that I could get a discount by letting them know I was a CSU employee.  After a couple of months on my own, Andy and I combined phone plans.  Someone mentioned that CSU gets a discount, so I made a call to Verizon and we instantly saved $25/month off our bill with very little effort, and we even got an extra GB of data added at no additional cost.  Over the course of a year, that is $300 that we aren’t spending on cell phones.  If we were willing to live without a data plan, I’m sure we could save a HUGE amount, but we aren’t animals.  🙂  But, really, we’re in a contract, so we might try it out when our contract is up.  Might.  I do love having my phone navigate for me, though, and having my Dropbox and Evernote accounts available wherever I go…

The next success happened today.  Our internet promotional discount through CenturyLink ran out last month and our internet went up $18/month.  I opened our most recent statement, and when I was done vomiting over the price increase, I decided I would call about bundling our Verizon plan to get a discount because of an ad they included.  In a two-minute call with probably the nicest person that has ever worked in customer service, I was able to keep our Verizon plan the same (including the CSU employee discount), and they discounted our internet by $20.  Even better, they upgraded us from 12 mbps to 20 mbps for a year for the same price.  For those who are math impaired, we will now be paying $2 less per month than we were with our original discount for even faster internet.  Since we don’t have TV service and rely on internet streaming, this is awesome.  Savings: $240 off our current bill over the year, and SO MUCH MORE INTERNET.

Last week I officially canceled my massage membership, so I eliminated a monthly $75 bill from my recurring expenses.  Next on the list will be decreasing my yoga costs, and Andy and I need to work on decreasing our utility bills.

Have you had success getting a bill lowered?  Or have you run into problems like the horrible Comcast call floating around the interwebz?

Minimalist Game Update

I am so behind with posts, but I don’t want to bore you with massive posts on the junk I’m getting rid of.  Starting with a few where I left off earlier…

July 9
Sell: two pairs of nicer brand sunglasses.
Donate: a business card holder and a cheapo pair of sunglasses.
Trash: four expired McDonald’s free sandwich coupons and a losing scratch ticket left on my dresser by Andy (thanks, BTW).

July 8

July 8

 July 10
Sell: The Woman Movement and an Otterbox case for an HTC Evo (provided there is still someone out there with an Evo).
Turn in: three winning scratch tickets totaling $5 in winnings.  Actual thanks this time to Andy for leaving them on my dresser and the coffee table.
Trash: an old, filled up day planner, two basketball tickets from last season that have been sitting on our shelf since before the game, and a pompom that I made and it looks terrible.
Electronics recycling: an old broken phone.

July 10

July 10

July 11
This is the day of getting rid of some big stuff from the garage and cleaning out my office because clutter does not stop at home.

Sell: my bike from middle and high school that I barely rode. It’s still in great condition because it was preserved in the museum quality environment of my parents’ garage for all these years.
Electronics recycling: a giant tube TV that weighs a million lbs (not pictured). Works great, but evidently you can’t even donate these nowadays. I will try to post on Craigslist for free before I have to pay to recycle it. Two printer cartridges that have been sitting my office for a month.
Return: a defective printer cartridge that has been sitting in my office for a month, two keyboard trays that have needed to be returned since November, but the company never sent me return labels.
Recycle: four cardboard boxes.

July 10

July 10

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It might surprise you that I believe that giving is critically important to frugal living and gaining wealth, and that I’m not alone in this belief because giving is promoted by many personal finance experts.  Giving looks different to everyone, but is always a reminder of what we have that others don’t.  When I get in a cycle of “oh em gee, I’m so broke,” sometimes I need a reality check to realize that no, if I were actually broke,  I would be choosing between necessities and truly struggling.  Not being able to go out for lunch or a beer does not equal broke.  I have a house.  I have a reliable car.  I have more stuff than I care to admit.  I have two totally spoiled dogs.  I find ways to give because I can and that makes me want to.  By giving, I can use my resources to help someone else become successful, and remind myself that, while I do work really hard for what I have, a lot of the reasons I’m able to be successful and have more than enough are through the lottery of birth and my societal privilege as a middle-class white woman in the United States.  Let’s be real: not everyone can blog about things like yoga and kombucha, or finding the best deal on a CSA (that’s a post you can look forward to), or getting rid of all the stuff I wanted and then decided I didn’t want anymore.  My blog is how to be hipster as shit without breaking the bank.  I am fully aware of how ridiculous that is, and I give because I am grateful that I am able to realize this and I want to give back.

What giving looks like in my world

  • I currently give to Serve 6.8 because of the work that the Murphy Center does to advocate for the homeless and those in poverty in Fort Collins.  Sister Mary Alice Murphy is basically a Fort Collins celebrity because of her commitment to helping those in need in Larimer County.  The amount of resources that they offer to help people get out of or avoid homelessness is incredible.
  • I used to work in the Division of Advancement at Colorado State University and now work in Academic Affairs.  For the last four years, I have seen every day how donations to all areas of the university help our students succeed in their degree programs and as graduates.  As a student at the University of Wyoming, I benefited from donor-funded scholarships.  Giving to public land-grant universities will always be one of my top causes.
  • I believe in the power of social entrepreneurship.  I would rather support a for-profit company that gives to people in need or provides a living wage to the people producing the products, than spend a little less (or sometimes more…barf) and have all that money go straight into the pockets of the company bigwigs, while the people doing the bulk of the work are struggling to get by.  TOMS (provides shoes and eye care to those in need throughout the world) and Pura Vida Bracelets (provides full-time jobs for the artisans producing their bracelets in Costa Rica) are a couple of examples of for-profit companies that are doing great things.  I do always look for a coupon or discount, though.  If my TOMS only cost $30 and a kid in Africa still gets a pair of shoes to protect his or her feet from flesh-eating parasites or enables him or her to attend school, then awesome.
  • I also believe in the power of microloans.  Organizations like the Grameen Bank and Kiva provide loans to those who would normally not have access to credit, working to end the cycle of poverty by enabling the recipient to start or build up a business.
  • Sometimes people just deserve to have their day made and I try to pay it forward as best I can, without regard to who is on the receiving end.
  • We are currently fostering a dog through A Soft Place to Land because we believe in helping rescue animals.  Banjo andPrexy are both rescues and we can’t imagine them not being loved.  Banjo was on the kill list at a shelter in Kansas after being found as a stray and he is probably one of the greatest dogs that has ever lived (this is just science).  The difference between two dogs and three is minimal, especially when they are all under 15 lbs.  If we can take in a foster to help a rescue save another dog, and ourcuddles and dog treats are going to make Petal happy until she finds her forever home, then we’ll gladly have another puppy around.

    Banjo!  You cannot adopt this dog.

    Banjo! You cannot adopt this dog.

Full Metal Petal.  You can adopt this dog.  I will cry though.

Full Metal Petal. You can adopt this dog. I will cry though.

Do you give?  What causes are important to you?

Yoga–not just for the 1%

As I’ve mentioned before, yoga is an absolute necessity in my life.  I rewarded myself with a membership to CorePower when I got my new job in September after I tried it out for a week and loved it.  I was in an extremely stressful job and I was suffering from burnout in a major way, and I was taking out my stress and frustrations on the people I love (sorry, Andy).  I try to go around 5 times a week and I feel better physically and mentally when I’m going regularly.  I am pretty unflappable and adaptable, but yoga makes me even more so.  Quick example: Prexy is broken and can’t walk through doors sometimes, and I have been late to work or social engagements on several occasions because she’s shaking in the yard while staring at the door frame.  It used to be frustrating and but kind of adorable.  Then it got just plain frustrating in the height of stressed-out, burned-out Liz.  Now Yoga Liz can stand there alllllllllll day until Prexy summons enough courage to walk through the door and I love her even more.

I am a crazy dog lady who hates pants.

I am a crazy dog lady who hates pants.  Prexy loves me anyway.

Also, yoga has made me crazy strong.  I was pretty strong before from working in events and hauling boxes and heavy equipment up and down stairs for so many years, but yoga has helped me build muscle like crazy.

Photo from Pinterest.

But you know what I HATE about yoga?  The fact that I pay $109 every month so that I can actually afford to go frequently to classes I love.  I have a very reasonably priced gym membership, but there was only one yoga instructor at my gym that I liked, and then she left to open her own studio in a neighboring town.  Also, my gym’s yoga schedule is terrible and I can make it to about two classes a week.  I feel very fortunate that I was able to free up $109 each month for unlimited yoga classes, enabling me to go sometimes twice a day, but I do wonder if I should try something new and put that money to use somewhere else (I’m looking at you, emergency fund).

How to have a regular yoga practice without breaking the bank

  • Practice at home.
    This doesn’t do it for me and I never get around to doing it unless I’m actually going to a class.  But if you can do a home practice, it’s basically free.
  • Find free yoga classes.
    Today, I did yoga on the Oval for free.  I chatted up a former coworker who does yoga and mentioned that there was a CSU employee who teaches a free class each week on the Oval.  I found myself in a meeting with that person, introduced myself, and got the details on the free class.  The teacher was trained at CorePower and it was exactly what I am used to, but it was OUTSIDE!  Even better.
  • Take advantage of introductory offers.
    I mentioned above that I got a week of free unlimited yoga before I started my membership.  Most studios have an introductory offer available to help you decide if you like their style, space, and teachers.  Take some time to explore studios and you could probably hop around and do free or absurdly cheap yoga for a while.  Elan Yoga has a 20 days for $20 offer for unlimited yoga.  I want to put my membership at CP on hold to do this.
  • Work for it.
    Lots of studios have working memberships where you clean or do other work around the studio and get free classes in return.
  • Recruit other yogis.
    Drop my name when you sign up for a free week at CorePower and I get a $5 credit.  Thanks in advance.  This is a frugalness blog–did you really think you were going to get away without me at least trying for the free money?
  • Find teacher training classes and be a guinea pig.
    When yoga teachers are doing training, they need to practice.  I have been to a couple of studios for free classes as part of the wrap-up of 200 hour teacher training or extensions classes.  The teachers are certified, just new and needing to practice on real students.
  • Befriend a yoga teacher. My friend Riley has practiced on me by leading a class (basically a private lesson) in my backyard.  I have grand plans to get her to teach a SUP (stand up paddleboard) yoga class for me (I’ll provide the paddleboards, utilizing my outdoor industry connections).  If you go this route, make sure you are extra nice to them.  They are doing you a favor and you’re not a jerk.  Don’t take advantage.
  • Seek out donation-based classes. Last week, Riley and I went to Yoga at the Gardens on Spring Creek.  These classes are generally in exciting locations and the recommended donation is often a lot less than a drop-in price for a class.  I was willing to shell out for the class because it was outside and surrounded by beautiful flowers and sculptures, and all the money went to support the Gardens.  Bonus: we got free day passes to my gym, so Riley was able to go sit in the sauna with me later that day and will soon be forced to join me at a hip hop class, and we each got a packet of flower seeds.
This guy did yoga with us.

This guy did yoga with us.

You don’t need expensive see-through yoga pants made by a terrible company or to spend a lot of money to practice.  I am going to try to heed my advice and see if I can save some $$$ while maintaining my practice.