Saturday, June 14, 2008

Is a Pool worth the Money and Trouble?

It's summertime again. (We may as well call it summer with temperatures soaring into 3 digits in early June this year.) And when it gets hot, what do the kids usually want? A swimming pool.

I've resisted the requests for a pool up till now because I
know the chores that come along with having a pool will fall to - you guessed it - me!

But, this year my 15 year old daughter swore she would keep it clean, covered, chlorinated, pumped, and use it faithfully all summer long.

, it would save me the money that I would normally give her to go to the local pool, she says. She knows that saving me money is a big plus when she is trying to talk me into something.

So, I gave in. I bought a 10 foot pool, and that's when the fun ended.

The things to keep in mind when buying a pool - besides money of course - are the chores that come along with maintaining a pool. But, let's talk about money first.

First, filling a pool of any size (other than a kiddy pool) requires a lot of water. This is not something that usually occurs to you when you are looking at pool sizes.

Usually you just consider the "fun factor" of how deep it will be. But, believe me, 1000 gallons (or more) of water will not be cheap. So, the pool must be kept clean, treated, and covered to keep from having to dump and refill it.

Second, there are chemicals, chlorine tablets, filters, ph test kits, and algaecides that are needed to keep the pool clean. These things aren't cheap.

Third, leaf/debris nets, foot rinse/bath, towels, and of course new swim suits will be needed as well.

Now, onto the maintenance issues. The pool (if it has a pump) must be located within 10 feet of a GFCI receptacle. That's going to make it difficult to place the pool far enough away from the house to keep the noise outside.

The second and most difficult issue with the maintenance of the pool is finding a
completely level area in your yard to set the pool up. Eye-balling it wont work.

I dumped and moved the pool 3 times trying to find a level spot. I've come to the conclusion that there are
no completely level areas in my yard.

That means that if the pool has soft walls (not rigid) like mine does, you will never be able to fill it up completely. If the ground has a slope to it, the pool will collapse once it is filled about halfway.

I ended up having to brace one side of the pool against (8) 18 gallon totes that I keep gardening amendments in. My teenager is
not happy with how it looks.

So, she has the pool she has been requesting for 2 years.

She has used it 4 times.

It is now full of leaves and other debris. She did cover the pool the last time she used it, but it has sunken to the bottom since it rained last week.

And, she asked me for money to go to the local pool already.

My opinion? Save your money for a yard swing, or table and chairs. That way, you save yourself a lot of extra work
and money over the summer - and these items might actually be used.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Valentine's Day - Frugal or Free Gifts

It's often the small - unexpectedly - kind things that we do for one another that are the most memorable. There is no need to spend a bunch of money, or even any money, on a meaningful gift for someone you love.

Here are some of my favorite frugal ideas for Valentine's Day:

  • Buy a Single Red Rose - in full bloom, a single red rose means "I Love You."
  • Make or Buy his favorite Cookies from the grocery bakery.
  • Buy an "I Love You" balloon and put it in the bathroom or in her car before she gets up.
  • Take the time to find a romantic card, and add your own words to the card - Don't just sign it!!
  • Write "Will You be My Valentine" on a piece of paper and slip it into his lunch box or her purse.
  • Cut a heart shape from blank paper. Write "Will You Be Mine" on it and color around the words with crayons. Place it where she will see it when she gets home.
  • Write "Lucky Me - I have You" across the top of the mirror (with bar soap or lipstick) before you go to bed at night. Make sure the words don't cover the whole mirror and it's still usuable.
  • Have "Your Song" playing when she gets home, and sing along.
  • Write out All the things you love about your mate on little slips of paper and place them in a jar. These things don't have to sound romantic. "I love you because you cleaned up after the dog when I was too tired to do it," is a real expression of love and appreciation. Don't underestimate the power of honest appreciation.
  • Rent his or her favorite movie and plan on watching it with him or her. This is especially meaningful if you don't like the movie and usually won't watch it.
  • Tell your partner you want to go for a drive, and take her to the place where you first met, had a great time there, or something special happened. Talk about the memory and how it made you fall in love with her.
  • Show up at your mate's job with a home-cooked (by you) meal for lunch.
  • Write "I (draw a heart) U" on your forehead and pretend you don't know it's there.
Make the person you love feel truly loved on Valentine's day. That doesn't cost a thing.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Who Lives in these Rooms Anyway

I was watching Decorating Cents last night, and as usual they had a segment on interior redesign. In that segment, interior redesigners move the furniture in the room around, then scout throughout the house looking for accessories to bring the room together.

To accessorize they bring in lamps, tables, throws, pillows, plants, candles, art, knic knacs, etc. Once the room is accessorized it looks good. Well, it looks like it's ready for a magazine shoot.

The problem with these rooms is that once they are accessorized, they aren't really comfortable to use. I mean, the room looks great but how are your guests going to sit down when the sofa is covered with pillows and throws?

How do you manage to see the person you are talking to with tall candles or a bunch of flowers on the coffee table? Someone please tell me - what's the point of a coffee table that is so full of accessories (things you don't use) there is no room for your cup of coffee?

Don't people intend to use these rooms? Are the rooms just for looking at? Do the people who live there constantly straighten the throw on the sofa or rearrange the pillows once someone leaves the room?

Are our "living" rooms really supposed to look like magazine ads? Aren't we supposed to live in these rooms? That's what the den is for, you say. Then your intention is to pay for a living room that you can't use, you can only look at, obsess over, and worry about, right?

I don't get it. I mean, I understand that everyone wants their home to look nice. But, who decides what looks nice? Is it up to the designers, or the TV shows, or the mother-in-law...or us?

If you ask me, a room is meant to be used. If you can't use the room without having to worry about everything being straight, centered, fluffed, and unwrinkled, then you have a showcase - not a room for your family to use.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Cranium Board Game - Frugal Fun

We spent part of our Entertainment budget this month on a board game called Cranium. Although this game was one of the higher priced games in the store ($18.22), it was a good investment in our Entertainment needs.

Compared to the little value we would have gotten had we spent that money on a movie, a fast food run, or an hour of bowling - this game will give us months, if not years, of fun.

Cranium offers something for everyone. Depending on where you land on the board, you may have to draw with your eyes closed, shape clay into a recognizable form, act out a charades word, unscramble a group of letters, or answer a trivia question.

This game is fun because there is always something different to do. You aren't locked into just trivia (don't you hate it when you can't answer 3 or 4 0r 5 questions in a row), or just charades, or just word scrambles.

If you are good at some activities, but not so good at others, you will still have fun with Cranium, because it's just a matter of time till the fun activities come 'round again.

Cranium is set up for teams, but you can play it with singles. There are three people in our family so we just act out the hints for each other. For example, If a player had to guess a song title while a teammate hummed the song, one (or both) of the other players would hum the song.

Having a teammate wasn't really necessary, and helping each other kept us all interested in the game. We laughed at each other's attempts to hum or whistle a song that we could only remember the chorus to.

Cranium has a family edition of the game that is made for families with younger children (8 and up). We bought their regular version for adults and teens, and my 14 year old daughter enjoyed the game.

I recommend Cranium. The value you receive from this board game is much greater than just about anything else you could spend $20 on.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Homeowners Insurance - Watch Your Escrow

Our Homeowner's Insurance Company is wacked. They don't seem to know what they are doing. And, my mortgage company (escrow account) can't keep up with their changes.

We contracted with an insurance company in June of 2004 for a homeowner's insurance policy. It was, of course, a requirement of our mortgage company that we make payments into an escrow account to pay the insurance premiums.

OK. That's fine. The mortgage company is making the insurance payments - accurately and on time - right?

Well, not exactly.

In July of 2005, we get a bill from the homeowner's insurance company for $29. Thinking this was a mistake since our mortgage company pays our homeowners insurance, we call the mortgage company.

They say they don't know what the bill is for, and their records show a payment made to the insurance company in May of 2005. It was paid in full (not a quarterly payment), so it shouldn't be due again until May of 2006.

So, we call the insurance company. They say it's an increase.

OK. We call the mortgage company again and tell them the insurance went up. The mortgage company says they will pay it. Just send the bill to them.

They make the additional $29 payment in July.

A few months later the mortgage company does an escrow analysis and raises our mortgage payment to reflect the increase in the insurance policy. That's fine; we were expecting the increase.

Since I'm a meticulous record keeper, I went to the mortgage company website to get a printout of the escrow analysis for my records and noticed that the $29 payment that was made in July 2005 was added back to escrow in August 2005.

What? Why did they do that, I wonder. The extra insurance bill/payment must have been a mistake, I think. Maybe our insurance shouldn't have gone up, so the insurance company issued a credit back to the mortgage company. Why else would we have a credit to our escrow account?

Now I'm watching the escrow account more closely. I see that the mortgage company makes the homeowner's insurance payment in May 2006. It's for the same amount that was contracted for originally. So, I figure (the bill and) the extra payment that was made was a mistake.

At the end of 2006, the mortgage company does its annual escrow analysis and issues a refund. According to the analysis, their projected payments from our escrow account were too high. They didn't actually have to pay as much as they thought (projected) they would, and they are refunding the overage.

So, I figure that extra $29 payment must have been a mistake. I fall back into trusted complacency again.

Oops. It was a mistake to trust that they know what they are doing. This year we get a bill from some insurance company that we have never even heard of. Upon calling our insurance agent we learn that not only has the insurance company changed its name (over a year ago), but our homeowner's insurance has gone up again.

Again? Yes. It seems that bill we received in 2005 was for an accurate increase. It has increased again for 2007.

So, I'm looking forward to another round of phone calls between the insurance company and the mortgage company. They can't get anything right.

My advice to you? Keep a close watch on your escrow account, and notify your mortgage company of any changes in your homeowner's policy. Don't, not for a second, rest assured that those two companies are keeping up to date with one another.

Ultimately, it's Your Responsibility to make sure everything is paid - accurately and on time. Don't trust your mortgage company to handle it correctly.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Veterinarians are Salespeople - Be Aware

We've changed vets. To my disgust, I learned the hard way that veterinarians are salespeople, too.

The first vets we chose were chosen for convenience. A husband and wife veterinarian team's office is less than 2 miles from our house.

In the beginning, we always saw the husband and he was great. Our first appointment was made because we had found a 7 week old kitten, covered in fleas, with obvious eye infections, outside in the rain.

At that time we were still renting and pets were not allowed at that property, but we just couldn't let the little thing suffer out in the rain. We explained to the vet that we were not supposed to have animals, and we had very little money to spare on a kitten that we would probably have to get rid of (if the landlord demanded it).

That vet reduced his office fee and didn't charge us for one of the tests, and we were grateful. So, when we bought our own house and adopted a dog from the Humane Society we took our dog (and that once-ill cat) back to him for their health-care needs.

That was when we started seeing the wife in that team. She was entirely different from her husband. Where he had been happy to discuss the costs of high-end pet foods and their more affordable alternatives, dog shampoos and which worked fine while costing less, and flea treatments and over-the-counter alternatives, she pushed every line of every high-end product they sold.

Now, I'm not saying this woman shouldn't sell products that make them money. After all, every business is in the business of making a profit, but when this woman began pushing puppy shots every two weeks I started getting irritated.

I didn't have a problem with the first three shots. I understood that it was difficult to be sure that the immunization had "taken" and was not neutralized by immunity received from the mother. But on the third visit I asked if this or the next one would be the last and this vet proceeded to tell me that my puppy may need more than five puppy immunizations.

Now, that is rediculous. I knew from doing research on this issue that too many immunizations were worse than too few. And, the timing was equally important in determining whether the shots would "take" (every two weeks is too close together, but she insisted on that interval).

Combining this pushiness about giving shots indefinitely with the fact that this woman didn't even want to discuss cheaper alternatives for basic dog care (brushing dog's teeth rather than paying for a cleaning, etc), led me to believe that she was simply trying to make money and had no interest in the health of my pet.

So, we found another vet. This doc doesn't push his sales products on us and is willing to discuss cheaper alternatives for basic pet care.

If you want to stay in control of your money, do your own research. Don't take your vet's word for everything. Some of them are just as hooked into consumerism and greed as any other salesman you might encounter in a store or on TV.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Best Exercise Most Frugal

According to a study from the Duke University Medical Center, a brisk walk each day (a total of 2 - 3 hours each week) will significantly cut your risk of cardiovascular disease. Walking is also the best way for middle-aged people to lose weight.

This is good news for those of us who find that we are gaining weight as we get older, even though our eating and exercise habits stay the same. According to the Duke University study we gain about 4 pounds a year as we age. So, if you are exercising but not losing any weight you are still ahead of the game.

It's nice to know that the most frugal exercise - walking - is also the best. Walking doesn't cost anything. I'd call that frugal.

If the weather is too bad to walk outside, just go to your local Walmart supercenter or the mall and walk up and down the aisles for 30 or 45 minutes. That's not hard to do, and if you combine your exercise with your normal shopping trips you won't even have to add the cost of gas to your workout.

So, there is no need to run out and buy all of those exercise machines and gadgets. These gadgets usually end up in the thrift stores anyway. If you shop at thrift stores you know what I mean. I've seen entire rooms at the thrift store filled with nothing but exercise equipment.

Don't waste your money. Just walk. It's good for your heart, your waist, and your wallet.