Sunday, August 29, 2010

Culture and recreation

First a bit of housekeeping to answer some questions that were posted to me.
I am on a graduate stipend and working as a TA. The Dude is doing a distance program for his last year of undergrad and he has some grants and loans coming to him. After I finish my PhD (5 or so years down the road), I would like to teach, advise, research, and write. The Dude will (hopefully) have finished his undergrad and gone through grad school by then, and so it won't be a full five (or so) years of poverty, just 2-3.

One huge concern of mine is that everyone's creative soul is fed. I want our lives to be rich with experience if fiscally poor. Fortunately I am pretty resourceful. I found 2 free sleepaway environmental science camps for Rin through our local parks dept. We forgot to register the first day and so I figured all the spots would have been snatched up, but to my great joy, he is enrolled. They are each 3 nights long and involve hiking, stream observation, camping, treetop canopy ecosystem observation, and all sorts of fun stuff like that.

We are trying to take advantage of our university community as much as possible. We are checking out free movies, free museums, and exhibit openings. It is also important to me that the boys get a taste of college life. I don't want it to be something I go and do and return from, and their lives remain untouched and separate. So we have devised a plan. I will be in school Monday through Friday from about 9 to 5 or 6 most days. I will try to get as much work done there. In order to save money and get fit, I am walking to and from school. It is about 3 miles round trip, and uphill both ways. So I want to leave my books at school. On Monday evenings I come home, we have dinner and then walk to our local library. On Tuesday nights we have quiet family evenings at home.

Wed and Thurs I have class until 6. On those nights, the rest of the family will walk or drive to the college and bring me lunch. And then we will hang out on campus. Thursday was our first run through of this. While I ate in the commons, the boys played WII with some college guys. And then we headed over to the library for an hour of quiet study time. Sadly most of our time was spent wandering the library getting lost because it is so freaking huge! But you know what? Now when my boys go off to college and they get lost their first week, they can remember that it is a common occurrence and they are not alone. And we will get better acclimated in the coming weeks. They did finally find some books and we all settled into a nice cozy time. Other opportunities we will have include free concerts, star parties, and events associated with sporting events.

Although I have use of the university rec center, it was not a good buy for the rest of the family. But once again, I followed my nose into a deal. Our park and rec department has an indoor pool and fitness center, as well as an outdoor seasonal pool. It is almost $500 for a full year, which is a good buy but a little much for us. But they have a weekend only pass for half the price. Since we will be busy with school during the week, that will work fine for us. ANd it gives us access to the outdoor pool in the summer as well (again, weekends only). So, I was feeling okay about that. About $20 a month. But then I got a flyer in the mail. They are running a special in Sept, everything is 1/2 price! So we will get our membership for $120! So we will be spending a lot of weekends there.

We have a yearly membership to the science center in our old town. There is a science center here that honors the membership, so we will be able to go there for free as well.

We are working on building our camping supplies back up (this was an excessively stupid move when we were in purge mode before moving, we sold our tents and sleeping bags). We got our tents back today. We found two at Goodwill for a total of $14. We bought two sleeping bags for $4 each this week as well. Once we have all that in order, we will be able to camp again, and that is fun cheap entertainment for us. We are also keeping our eyes open for cheap snowboards and cross country skis for fun in the winter.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Furnishing the house

When we moved, we realized that we didn't love our furniture and so we decided to pare down to the stuff we really liked, sell or donate the rest, rent a small trailer instead of a truck and buy what we needed when we got here. We have always had really good luck with free piles, thrift stores, yard sales and craigslist.
Well, it is a different creature out here! The craigslist community is very small, the thrift stores are dowdy and somewhat overpriced, not many garage sales, and no free piles!
However, we have done okay. We have been here about a month.
From craigslist:
Captain bed with mattress and matching bookshelf for Luigi $40
Queen sized futon (no frame) $20
Nice metal shelves (in Magnus and Rin's room) $10
Very awesome old gold swivel rocker $15
A set of 6 chairs $5 for the set! Not in great condition but they do the trick and luckily most of the people we will have to dinner are graduate students, so they will not be shocked by the condition.

We have been doing a bit of thrifting as well:

Nice desk chair $4
Beautiful drafting table top in new condition $6.50
Microwave for $7
Desk lamp $2.50
A 6' high wooden shelf $10
Big plastic drawers on wheels $4
Camping table $4.50

Another thing we need is art for the walls. We have high ceilings and a lot more space than our old house. I was walking along downtown and noticed a sign that read "Free posters."  I stopped by and it turned out to be a travel agency, so I got a couple of cute posters which are ads for vacations. OUr office/dining room is very kitschy, so they work there. We have also hung a Monopoly game and the Twister spinner as well as old record covers on the wall to add some fun and color.


So, let's start with textbooks. I am a student and have to buy books. If I purchased my books through my college bookstore and got all used, I would have spent $455 including tax. And that assumes I could find used. If I couldn't find thme used in the bookstore, it would have been around $600 with tax. I was in a bit of a bind because I couldn't register for classes until orientation, so I had under a week to get my books. I went to the campus bookstore online store and got a list of my books. One of the books on the list had been given to me as a gift from my mother-in-law for Christmas! One down. One of the recommended books was a how-to guide on Stata, but I decided I would be able to find any question I have either through the computer, my school library, or in the computer lab. So I opted not to purchase that one.

With those decisions made, I was off to my favorite site:  I enter in the ISBNs of all my books, they search through all sorts of booksellers (amazon,, textbooksrus,, marketplaces, etc), add in the shipping charges that each seller lists, and combines them to find the absolute cheapest combination. Then I click each seller and order them. Since I needed them fast, I clicked on "need them by Saturday" and they found me the companies that had the lowest 2 day shipping price. I did buy one book through the bookstore. A new thing companies are doing is textbook rentals, where you rent the book for the semester. You are still allowed to write and highlight in them and then you return them in the prepaid envelope at the end of the semester. I did this with my stats book because I already have a great statistics book at home that I will use for long term reference. I was able to get all my books by the days I needed them and I spent only (!!) $330 including shipping and any taxes. Next semester I will know my classes earlier and will be able to save even more money, since I won't need two day shipping. Some of the companies had the books at greater savings, but they only offered 8-14 day shipping.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Five years ago, on a whim, I decided to give college a try. Turns out I liked it and it liked me. Now here I am in graduate school, pursuing a master's and then doctorate in sociology. In order to do this my husband and I left our relatively comfortable life and moved to a new city. One major decision we have made is that my husband will be a stay-at-home dad for the next year. Our income has been cut in half and since we want to keep our debt level as low as possible, we are going to be living near the poverty level. If it were just my husband and me, it might not be too much of a challenge, but we have three school aged boys along for the ride.

I have decided to keep a blog to help keep us accountable and also show what can be done with little money. I will be posting big and little monetary triumphs and failures as we try to navigate our new income bracket.

We moved to our new town at the beginning of August. Of course, moving is never inexpensive and this time was no exception. But we got here safe and sound and that is the most important thing. Before we moved we did a huge declutter and pare down so the unpacking was done pretty quickly and clean up in the new place is a snap.

One place we could save money is in housing, but we chose not to go that route. We could have moved into an apartment, either part of an older house or in a complex. However, our children are loud and need space to roam. We were also searching for a place online from across the state. Keep in mind this is a college town with very limited housing options. But I think we did good overall. Sure we could have saved about $200 a month in a smaller place. But this house is big enough, is charming and was still $150 a month less than we had been paying. But it is a lot on our meager income, so we are finding other ways to economize.

This blog will focus on those things that we do to economize. One of my major goals is that my family not feel deprived.

Although a lot of real life friends will be reading this, I want to keep it somewhat anonymous to the rest of the world. Therefore, I will be using pseudonyms and keeping my location somewhat vague. So, our cast of characters:

Me: Already introduced
The Dude: The SAHD (Stay-at-home-dude)
Magnus: Oldest son
Rin: Middle son
Luigi: Youngest son
Stumpy: Bad little dachshund #1 (Girl)
Waddles: Bad little dachshund #2 (Boy)