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Archive for January, 2008

How I save on textbooks

January 20th, 2008 at 04:52 pm

Being an apprentice at the Guild is a really great experience for me, and I'm truly thankful that they've agreed to take me on. But the cost of materials can be super high -- I eat ramen and tuna for weeks after visiting the storerooms.

But a buddy of mine attends Modernus Universitas, and told me the benefits today's scholar has over an apprentice of ancient Rome:

1. Information Management. I know, in your mind, you're like...wha?

But do this. Take a look at the back of your textbook, and find where the price is located. Try not to vomit at the cost of this book -- instead, focus on the 10 to 13 digit number sequence right above the barcode. This is the ISBN number, and it is your key to unlocking the power of:

2. The internet. Yep, the internet. Ancient Guilds didn't use the internet: if we wanted to send messages to each other, we had to run 26 miles and have a heart attack at the feet of the Senate. Luckily, students today live in a digital age.

So what to do? You plug in your ISBN into Google and see what comes up. There are tons of places where people are selling their old books for way less than the college bookstore. In some places (like Amazon), it'll even be a new book, at a lower price. There may even be hits for the international version of a book: same content, different cover, and these tend to be a lot cheaper.

Another place is from students who have taken the class before, and who want to sell their books. This is what we do at the Guild -- scrollwork is notoriously hard to find online. This requires a little more coordination to find someone more advanced in your field who is willing to sell, but it's cheaper.

One thing: getting the right books at the right price requires a little bit of planning. You don't want to buy a text and find out that you won't be using it. So a well-timed email (or a really fast runner) to your instructor can be a good way to find out what you'll really need for the class.

Final note: sometimes the best place to get your materials is from the school. In that case, take good care of your books, and if you think you won't need them, list them on Amazon at the end of the term.

Knowledge can be expensive, but a little bit of applied knowledge can maybe drop the cost a little bit.

Starting Small

January 15th, 2008 at 11:25 pm

Ok, so here's the plan for the rest of the month: use the use the surplus $$ from the grocery money to get a crockpot. I was talking to a girl today who said she loveloveloves her crock pot. I figure if I just use it for stew, I'll be golden.

Second plan: make a list of my favorite cheap eats, and set a menu for the next few weeks. This will put me on target for one of my goals for 2008: lose weight. I'm a little too cuddly for long-term good health. So being more careful w/the meals is a good way to be both economical and healthful.

Sticker Shock

January 13th, 2008 at 06:08 pm

So I'm getting ready to return to the Guild, which begins the new session at the end of this month. It's kind of a wierd schedule, but it gives a nice relaxing downtime for the long holidays. So I've been waiting to learn what I'll need to bring with me: they provide the raw materials, but we still have to purchase books and specialty equipment (eye of newt, dragon-hide gloves, a calculator, etc.) Plus spellbooks and scrolls.

Well, I got my letter in the mail today, and holy crap! The items they want me to get are really expensive. I've been looking online to find a better deal, but even the used scrolls are high. And the worst part is that we will only use them for part of the session, not the entire thing. So aggravating. Especially since the information hasn't changed much from the Dark Ages.

I put in a request to my former Guildhall, to see if I could borrow some things (I mean, you can use the same cauldron and scrolls for years, if you're careful with it.) But I don't think they'll be able to ship me the gear in time: apparently the guild intends to hit the ground running, and want us to concoct some potions before we actually meet. So I might have to make an early trip to the Guild's storerooms, which is the most reliable, but also the most expensive option.

I'm hoping there's a recipe for dyspepsia, because that's what I'm feeling right now.

Two steps back or h3ll in a handbasket?

January 12th, 2008 at 07:13 pm

I mentioned before that over the holiday, I really overextended myself. I didn't use credit, so I don't owe anything, but travel expenses and gifts took a healthy bite out of my savings.

I knew I'd need to buckle down: I've got Guild fees that are due, and I'll still need to purchase materials. And I have a going-away present that I promised to get . I had a little cushion for these things.

But I got a call recently, from a relative, and he'd blown the bank: a few checks overdrawn. He owed me a check for some work I'd done for him, and called to say he wouldn't have it. This isn't the first time he's been short on cash. And it's not the first time I've given a hand. I'm also not really ready to not help him.

I know I should be angry: he's mismanaged the money so much he's not able to pay for even the basics right now. And I'm looking at tapping out my funds (not to mention my time) with the Guild, so I can't easily pick up hours at the Souk to bring in more cash.

But I realize how sloppy I've been in the last few months, and how easy it is to get so far off kilter that you can barely right yourself again. And I'm worried, for myself, and for this person.

I mentioned in an earlier post about my friend Rufus, and his friend Chris: Chris was going through some chronic unemployment, and is really struggling. Part of the struggle is that there was nothing saved for a rainy day. It's a total train wreck, and it makes me ill just thinking about his situation...maybe because it's a possible conclusion of my own actions?

I will, by the end of next week, have zipped down to zero in my emergency stash. And while I'm working now, I have been warned by the Guild that I won't be able to work full-time if I want to become a Senior Apprentice, which will be mandatory for my career. They'd prefer I don't work at all, but may concede me working part time.

So I'm looking at taking a huge financial shortfall, probably within the next year. And, this relative is very likely also looking at a reduction in income within that same time frame.

I am uneasy. I know the right answer: tighten the belt, boost the capital and the earning power...but I feel very anxious right now.

Frugality at it's finest (and funniest)

January 8th, 2008 at 11:07 pm

If you haven't had a chance to check this out, go over to the getrichslowly.org blog for the entries for the ultimate cheapskate's contest. The contest is over, but the stories are really good. Some of them are kind of ordinary, and some have a touch of the scammer, but some of them are just jawdropping, and there are some really funny ones too.

My computer's being bratty, but look for the ones with dental floss, or roadkill. Wink

Unpacking boxes, begging favors

January 6th, 2008 at 06:12 pm

After considering, reconsidering and boring everyone rigid with the topic of my potential move, I've decided to stay put for a little while. I have too much stuff to make a quick or easy move, and there's nowhere so compelling that I need to bend over backwards to get, especially with the Guild starting up again soon.

One of the commenters in the previous post thought it might be better to move to the apartment that comes available when the Guild shuts down for the equinox. I agree: it would be handy timing. I'm going to keep purging my stuff, because that's the hardest part. It's easy to toss stuff in boxes, but it's a lot quicker when you already know what you plan to leave behind.

But staying put doesn't solve my original problems: quick/cheap to the Guild and food that's not hot-plate cuisine.

So I started calling in favors. I talked to one of the Scriveners in the Alchemist's ward, and he may allow me to use his Guild's transport permits for the next few months. It's really hard to get this: you pretty much have to wait a long time, AND know someone. But for me, it would be a big weight off my shoulders, because my parent Guild doesn't give transport, and the public caravans don't run as late my classes do.

Finally, I've started the new year's finances: I think it's going to be the year of giving my self an allowance, and leaving the debit card at home: it's too easy to replenish the $20 in my wallet when I can go to the ATM.

So the current goal is more manageable: staying within the budget and using the surplus to reduce debt. I allowed for trip money to visit relatives, and for a big trip I'd like to take in 2009. But I've allocated every dollar to a given category and I want to stick to that.

Revisions of Decisions....

January 2nd, 2008 at 07:05 pm

So I contacted the landlord of the apt that's losing the current tenant (mentioned in the last post.) He told me (love the lovely Skype) that he's out of the country and won't be back for several weeks. As such, he doesn't want to enter in a lease with me until he returns.

This is problematic, because I really want to move before the Guild sucks all the oxygen from the room. When I said as much, he offered to let me take the place now, and do the final paperwork on his return.

This makes me super antsy. Basically it's a huge issue of trust: if I'm not on a lease, I might start paying what the current tenant pays, but the landlord has the option to raise the rent when the paperwork is finalized. Currently, the rent is at the peak of my desired price range, and if I move there, I really won't have the time to move again for several months. So I'd have to accept the lease at a higher rate than I want to pay.

The other option is to wait until he returns, and take the time to get myself properly ready for the move. I've only just started cleaning and purging: I have a ton of stuff. We've left it open for a few days, while I mull it over.

In the meanwhile, I called another place, where I heard had a vacancy. I'm not sure of the price range, but a little birdie told me that there will be 2 vacancies by spring, and one of them is teeny, so hopefully the cost will be managable.

Life might be easier if I had a roommate, but after looking at the numbers for the person who offered, I'd still be at the top of the price range.

So I recrunched the numbers, and found that by moving to the first apt, I would be paying about 1300/year more than what I currently do. By moving to the second apt, it's about 800/year more.

So I'm super bummed. A one-time extra 1300 applied to one of my debts will (due to interest) allow me to pay it off like 15 months earlier.

So now I'm looking at the current place (shivering) and trying to figure out how I can make this workable. Is it a case of gutting it out, gazelle-intensity style? Or just being penny-wise and pound-foolish, as this place would be reduced to the most basic function: just place to sleep? I can already tell, I'll be stashed away in Gryffindor Tower because it's too blasted cold in my room.

I need to do well this session, and I don't have time for my environment to be a distraction.

I've got one apt in the bag, the super-tiny one mentioned previously. This will cost me an additional 800 in the year, plus the fact I'll have to pay double rent for the month, because I haven't yet given my landlord notice. I kind of wish I hadn't seen my relatives, because I could have used that time to pack. I feel like if I were ready to go right now, the decision would be easier.

I'm wondering if's just smarter to put a little extra love into the current digs (as in, hire a pro) and stay put for a few more months, and hope that the low rent doesn't come at the price of my sanity.

Spending to Save?

January 2nd, 2008 at 12:01 am

Warning: rambling commentary ahead:

Lately, I've been under a lot of pressure to perform. Luckily, it's all self-imposed, but it doesn't stop the feelings of being unprepared to do a really important job.

So I've been doing some self-monitoring, to see where my weak spots are. One of the big ones is that my current living situation isn't really that great: it's too far from where I need to be, and it's pretty ramshackle. It's a "studio", which means the plumbing is iffy, the heating is bad, and the kitchen is non-existent.

So I've been looking around, and I've found a couple of options.

But, it means juggling the trade-offs: the choices are size, price, quality and privacy, but you can't get all the options.

I found a high quality place, good price, but with the square footage of a postage stamp. This would be ok, but it's really dimly lit (only 2 small windows.)

Another is high quality, a good price bright and airy, but I'd be living with someone. I have strong feelings about cohabitation: if I have to pick up someone's dirty socks, I'd better get something in return, you know? Also, I'd be pinch-hitting for someone who left mid-season, so my lease would only be 6 months. And then the other guy would be moving, so I'd have to find someone new.

The third is good quality, good price, light, location, and not a postage stamp size...but unavailable until March. Guild starts up at the end of January, and I really don't want to move mid-session.

The last...well, I'm not sure about the last. It's a good size, bright and airy, looks clean, good location. But the current tenant is in a rush to leave (family problems out of state) and I'm afraid I'm rushing in as well. There's no laundry on site, which isn't so bad, as I use coin-op now (but on site)...but it's off street parking, which might be.

And, the total cost is 50 more a month than I pay now, because I could put my minimum transport cost into the rent.

I know that's only 600/year, but I'm worried. What if I hate it, or it's really not that great? The current tenant was really nice: I liked him and he seemed honest. But I'm afraid I'm making a bad decision. I've had my current landlord for years now, and I love him. I just don't love the place. He's said that I can build in a kitchen, but the city disallows it, and I'm really loathe to break the rules.

But I worry: what if I lost my job? Right now, my rent is low and it's all the other things (transport, high grocery bill) that add the cost. But moving will mean that the rent itself is higher. So I'm antsy. And then there's the parking...other people do it, but I've never had to before.

I guess I'm afraid to take a chance, but things really have to change for me. It was so cold in here, I had to run the space heater for a few hours before I take off my gloves -- a big impediment when you've got Alchemy work to do. And even though I work the daylights out of an electric skillet, I've only managed to make one meal at a time, which makes it hard for me to set aside meals for my busy weeks, and I skip meals or get carryout a lot. It feels like a bad Victorian play, all chilblains and gruel, lol.

But I'm not sure I'm making the right decision...is it better to just take the chance and see what happens? Or stick with a situation that works poorly, but is a known quantity?

Plans and Plans

January 1st, 2008 at 04:57 pm

Whooboy. It's been crazy.

First off, the Guild's winter session ended, and I nearly lost my shirt in the process: my first Christmas gifts were passing marks in my final tallies.

Before the ink had dried on the reports, I went off to see my family. I had told everyone that my Christmas gifts to them were my presence (plane tickets), but that well-intentioned plan didn't stand up to the Giftmas onslaught.

I will never. ever. EVER! wait until the last minute to gift shopping. I felt like I'd been robbed by brigands. Not only did I end up buying more than I planned, but because I was away from home, I didn't use my discount at the Souk to drop the total cost. OUCH.

Never again. Even if it's little token gifts, I'll get them throughout the year, and avoid the sticker shock b!tch-slap I got from the Mall. Luckily, I used a debit card, so all the cost is paid at the time of sale.

Even so, I see a few bean&rice dinners this January.

The financial plans for this year are very much like that for the previous: I need to check and update my totals, and go from there.

I spent 2007 working hard, but not working smart. In 2008, I want to work hard and work smart, and really knock out those goals.