driving an older vehicle

There are moments when I really detest our car.

Don’t get me wrong: I am thankful to have a reliable vehicle. At 203,000 miles, she is still running strong. We’ve been driving Dory for nearly seven years and still have had to do only routine maintenance and very few side repairs, such as replacing a cracked window and a broken ignition.

It’s just that she is so low to the ground, and the seats are so very uncomfortable, and it is so very awkward to get two small children in and out of their huge carseats in the backseat, and it is so annoying to have to cram groceries in every nook and cranny, and I wish I could take the stroller with us all the time instead of just on select trips. My bi-weekly grocery shopping trips to the city an hour away are becoming a thing of immense exhaustion and much inconvenient maneuvering. I’m tired of having no room in the car to change a diaper, I’m tired of taking everything out of the trunk to get the stroller in, and most of all I’m tired of those darned uncomfortable seats.

And I wish there was a windshield wiper on the rear window. And maybe dual climate control. And a CD player. And I wish that one of our rear seat belts wasn’t broken. And I wish there wasn’t that blind spot where the huge molding on the back window interferes with my line of sight.

This is really nothing new. I have been fighting discontentment with Dory for various reasons for a few months out of every year for oh, the last six years or so. Overall, she’s a great car. But the discontentment has been strong lately, so we have been analyzing the situation again and reminding ourselves why it is not yet time to get a different vehicle. Here is the reasoning:

  • We’re driving Dory less than 1000 miles per month right now. I see no reason that this car wouldn’t last easily until 225,000 miles, meaning she has at least a few good years left in her.
  • Most of my miles are highway miles, so if the average speed (between town driving and highway driving) is 50 mph, then I’m really only in the car for 20 hours per month.
  • If we were to get a newer car, we’d want to get one that was good quality and thus would last us another seven years or more. If car payments were $300 per month, and if we were only driving it 20 hours per month, that means that we would effectively be spending $15 per hour for the privilege of driving the new vehicle, or $20 per hour if you count gas.
  • As uncomfortable as Dory may be, the four of us can still fit in her and she still works for us. I look forward to the day when we get a higher vehicle with more room in it, but the ability to pay down other debts still seems more important than paying $20 per hour for the privilege of driving a newer car.

I think that for me, when it comes to things that are such strong wants that they are almost becoming needs (such as getting a newer vehicle), it is exceedingly helpful to analyze the cost ratio. Our car is not nickel-and-diming us; on the contrary, she is saving us car payments and is holding up tremendously well. The gas mileage is good, the air conditioning works, and the vehicle is acceptable in every other way. For now, it behooves us to continue driving Dory and continue putting more money toward our already-existing debts rather than taking on new ones.

And when the time comes to get a new vehicle, we will just be that much more grateful for it. Right?

Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 12:15 am  Comments (3)  
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thoughts on groceries: buying in bulk

We are big fans of buying in bulk.

I lived half an hour from the nearest grocery store during my teenage years, and my parents bought nearly everything in bulk. We had two or three freezers full of meat, bread, and milk. The pantry was full of canned goods bought by the caseload during good sales. We even had a root cellar laden with six months’ or a year’s supplies of onions, potatoes, and carrots.

The benefits of having a lot of food on hand are far-reaching. Lots of ingredients means lots of supplies available for many types of meals. Having enough food to last a family for a month or two means that groceries take care of themselves if there is an unexpected shortage of time or money to buy more food. And perhaps most importantly, it means having the freedom to buy in bulk when the price is right.

Keith and I have used this same mentality in our years of marriage. In the college years, it meant something more akin to buying Mountain Dew and Shin Ramen in bulk. (Seriously!) Now that we live more than an hour from our grocery stores of choice, it means buying most of our nonperishables in bulk, and even some perishables as our family grows in size and in appetite. There are some extra considerations, though, and I’m going to delve into those a little bit here.

Costco is a fantastic source for cheap prices on many bulk items. Salsa, toilet paper, sundried tomatoes, hummus, onions, pesto, dried cranberries, frozen chicken, fruit leather, almonds, yeast, tomato sauce, dry noodles, spices, salmon patties, and plain yogurt are some of our favorite things to get from Costco. I think the savings in toilet paper alone probably makes our yearly membership worth the cost. The trick, though, is that not everything is cheaper at Costco. The salad mixes are a great deal, and so are a few other vegetables, but most of the fresh produce can be found elsewhere for a lot less. Lesson #1: Just because a store has a lot of cheap bulk items doesn’t mean that all of their bulk items are cheap.

Another consideration for us in our current living quarters is that we just don’t have that much space. This makes buying in bulk a lot more tricky. A two-month’s supply of feta cheese can fit easily in our freezer, but a three-month’s supply of chicken broth requires a bit more planning. We have to make sure that the amount we save on the items bought in bulk will make up for the fact that it will take up a large segment of our storage space. Otherwise, we would either end up with groceries spilling into our living space, or we would have to cut back on buying something else in bulk which would actually save us more money. Lesson #2: Don’t buy in bulk just to save a few cents, unless you have a lot of room for it.

A third consideration is whether having a certain item in bulk is a good idea. We can buy pesto in large containers, freeze it, and have it last a while because we only have pesto noodles once every other week or so. But what about something like ice cream? The last time I went to Costco (on a hot August day!), I very nearly bought a case full of delicious-looking chocolate-and-almond-coated ice cream bars. My rationale at the moment was that it would save us money on ice cream. But we usually only buy one quart of ice cream every few weeks. Had I brought home ice cream in bulk, we would have gone through it much more quickly, rather than reserving it for a special treat, thus costing us more. It is for this same reason that I don’t buy chocolate chips in bulk. I adore chocolate chips, and I will quickly eat through a ten-pound bag of them all by myself in one month. Tasty, but a big extra expense. And that’s not even to mention what it does to my waistline. Lesson #3: If buying an item in bulk causes you to consume it more quickly, it may not be worth buying in bulk.

There are exceptions to this, of course. When we buy broccoli or snap peas in bulk, we go through them more quickly than we would otherwise, because we want to eat them all before they go bad. This just means that we rotate these foods in and out of our diet. When we get sick of broccoli because we had to consume a bunch of it just before it went bad, then we don’t buy broccoli next time. I think it works out. The important thing with buying fresh stuff in bulk, though, is making sure we do consume it all before it goes bad; otherwise, it wasn’t worth the extra cost. Lesson #4: Don’t buy in bulk unless you will use all of the item before it is no longer useable.

I’ve mentioned Costco several times in this post, but only because it is our bulk store of choice. You can always buy in bulk at other stores when they have good sales. I tend to buy several pounds worth of items like tomatoes and avocados from Fred Meyer, because their daily low prices are lower than the daily low prices of Costco. Combining coupons with sales at Fred Meyer often results in much lower prices than I have found anywhere else. I have raised more than a few eyebrows by piling dozens of cartons of Pacific Foods soups in my cart when they are on sale, but the long-lasting value of great deals is well worth it. Lesson #5: When something you need is on sale, consider getting a lot more of it!

Some of our favorite things to buy in bulk are listed in this post, as well as some things which we purposefully choose not to buy in bulk. What about you? What are some of your favorite things to buy in bulk? What are some things which you have regretted buying in bulk?

Published in: on August 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm  Comments (2)  
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thoughts on groceries: using coupons

I still haven’t totally worked out my opinion about using coupons at the grocery store, but I am greatly inclined to agree with Trent at The Simple Dollar: using coupons often ends up costing you more money. If you base your grocery shopping around your coupons, you end up buying name-brand stuff that you didn’t really want that’s not on sale just to get $1 off, when really you could have bought the generic brand, a brand on sale, or something healthier for the same price.

I would absolutely love to be proven wrong on this, but thus far I have not been able to see a huge value in using a lot of grocery coupons. I followed one blog for about a year in which the author chronicled her weekly grocery shopping trips and how much she saved at the store. The reason I have not been inspired to follow suit is that the foods she ended up with were things like soda, chips, hot dogs, and lots of other stuff that really lacks in nutrition. She saves a ton of money every month, probably spending less than $50 total on groceries, and yet I can’t bring myself to feed my family that way. Like I’ve said before, we try to eat primarily organic foods, and our meals are usually based around fruits and vegetables. I find it more useful to buy cheap organic produce from Fred Meyer, cheap healthy chicken from Costco, cheap organic beef from independent farmers, and cheap organic grain foods (pasta, bread, rice) from Costco than to hunt down coupons for the less-healthy, higher-priced equivalents of these items at other stores.

That said, I do use coupons whenever they are applicable to me. Costco doesn’t accept manufacturer’s coupons, but they do have coupon books that come out every few months and I make it a point to use those. Parents magazine has coupons now and then for 20% off diaper orders on Amazon, so I am able to stack the subscribe-and-save with the 20% off to get Seventh Generation diapers for cheap. Fred Meyer often has in-store coupons as well as stackable brand coupons for things like organic cereals and pasta sauce, so I use those when available. Usually though, I just buy according to the sales, and I think that is working out pretty well for the kinds of foods we want to eat.

The one area in which I need to start seeking out printable online grocery coupons is dairy. I would really like to begin getting raw milk, but I have been meaning to do that for a while and for now we are still just buying expensive organic grocery store milk. I know there are $1 off coupons for that if only I could remember to find them. I get cheap healthy-ish yogurt and cheese from Costco, and pasture butter from Pilgrim’s or Azure Standard, but we haven’t been eating other dairy because I haven’t been able to find good prices for it yet. Maybe I should get going on that.

To differentiate grocery coupons from all other coupons, though, I should add that I absolutely love to use coupons in other areas. We use an Entertainment book or Restaurant.com coupons whenever we go out. I have begun using Groupon – carefully, though, to make sure that I don’t buy something I wasn’t already planning to buy. I click on eBates before buying things at most online sites; so far that has given us $49.90 in cash back rewards. I click on His Place Church before buying on Amazon, as a small fraction of what I spend then goes back to the church.

But back to the subject. That’s where I am at with grocery coupons. What about you? Have you found that using grocery coupons has saved you money without compromising your nutrition?

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 11:37 am  Comments (4)