Month: April, 2012


Sometimes I can’t imagine life before Craigslist; how did we ever sell furniture without it?  As much as I love Craigslist, I am starting to love Freecycle even more.  Are you familiar with Freecycle?  If not, you should definitely pay attention because Freecycle can save you a lot of money and a bit of hassle too.

Basically, Freecycle allows people to post things that they would like to get rid of and request things that they would like to get for free.  The posts are shared on a listserve that serves a particular metropolitan region.  It’s great for the environment because it diverts unwanted items from the landfill, and it’s great for your budget because it can help you save some serious cash if you’re smart.

I’ve had excellent experiences with Freecyle on both ends of the exchange.  When our microwave bit the dust  I knew that I couldn’t fix it and I was less than excited about figuring out how to dispose of it.  Fortunately I didn’t have to!  I posted the microwave on Freecycle (with a clear explanation that it was broken) and someone with mechanical skills took it off my hands.

As a person who hates wasting anything, I find that Freecycle allows me to get rid of things that might be hard to unload otherwise.  For example, I had lots of scrap paper that I didn’t want to toss or even recycle, so I posted it and a woman with young children took the scraps for art projects.  Beauty products, like body sprays, are often popular too.  I am a much better declutterer thanks to Freecycle.

I have also picked up some great items because of Freecycle.  After playing Bananagrams with some friends, I decided that I really wanted to own this game.  It’s compact (great for traveling) and lots of fun.  However, I wasn’t really excited to drop $16 on something that definitely isn’t a “need.”  I posted a request for Bananagrams on Freecycle and almost instantly had an offer.  All I had to do was go pick it up!  I was also able to acquire about 30 Ball mason jars for my wedding using Freecyle.

I am trying to do a better job of turning to Freecyle first.  It is very hard to break the impulse to go to the store to get something that I “need,” but I have found it so rewarding when I am victorious that it is quickly becoming addictive!


Federal Student Loans: A Primer

I will preface this post by saying that I was very fortunate not to have to take out student loans for undergrad.  Therefore, I know very little about the student loan process for college loans.  However, I do have a hefty six-figure balance from medical school, and I will be talking about those loans a lot here on this blog.

I am very fiscally conservative; I always pay my credit card balance in full every month and I’m generally pretty risk averse.  Therefore, my student loan debt is very stressful for me.  I did try to minimize my debt as much as possible by limiting the loans that I took, but I largely ignored the issue during medical school.  Over the last few months I have been much more proactive about learning about my loans.

The first important thing to understand about your loans is where all that money came from.  As you enter the repayment period you need to understand who you need to pay.  Generally graduate student loans are provided by banks or the federal government.  Direct student loans are paid directly from the Department of Education.  Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) student loans come from banks, but are backed by the US government.  For federal student loans these are the two main lenders.

However, when you need to pay back your student loans you don’t called up the Department of Education.  Each loan has a servicer, which is basically a company that performs the billing functions on behalf of the lender.  Sometimes the lender and the servicer are the same, and sometimes they are not.  The servicer will send the monthly bill, and you will send a check to the servicer.

Unfortunately, most students will have more than one lender.  I have 3 different lenders, and I will get individual bills for the loans of each of those lenders every month.  It is really important to know who your lenders are and who your servicers are, and be prepared for all of those bills when they come!

Clothing Swap

Throwing a clothing swap with friends is frequently tossed around as a frugal way to update your wardrobe.  I’ve always been very skeptical of this idea, probably because I didn’t want to come across like a cheapskate/werido to my friends.  Fortunately, I have friends who are much less insecure than me who decided to invite me to participate in their clothing swap this year!

(Side note: Of course I didn’t judge my friends for organizing this. They suggested something that I thought was a great idea, but was too insecure to bring up.  Lesson learned: don’t be afraid to suggest things that seem a little unconventional.  Other people probably have the same ideas anyway and will be thrilled that you brought it up!)

So that was how I found myself full of good food, with a glass of wine in hand, rifling through my friends’ clothing this weekend.  Everyone brought their unwanted clothing, which was spread throughout the house so that others could try on and take whatever they liked.  Everything left over at the end was donated.

Before the swap, I did a wardrobe inventory to identify the clothes that I would take to the swap and to give myself some basic guidelines. My main rule for myself was that I would not take anything that I wouldn’t spend money on.  I’m trying to be more organized and minimalist, so I did not want to use this as an excuse to start accumulating crap that I don’t need.  I chose to focus on dresses because that was what my wardrobe inventory told me that I should look for.

So how did I do?  Do you remember how I said that I don’t need any more skirts?  Of course I chose a skirt.  It was this lovely, hardly ever worn J. Crew skirt.  It went perfectly with the shirt that I was wearing (so I knew that I would have something that I could wear with it), and it fit perfectly.  Well, perfectly except that it is too long.  However, I feel comfortable enough with my sewing skills to hem it myself.  I’m going to put it in rotation as soon as I hem it.  If I don’t wear it, it will get donated!

The second item was a casual button-down shirt.  In the past I have bought button-down shirts but didn’t ever wear them.  However, I noticed that I do wear button-downs if I can roll up the sleeves, if they are long enough, and if they don’t need to be ironed.  The button-down at the swap met all three of my criteria and will replace a shirt that I have in my closet that is too short.  I have already worn that shirt this week, so I’m confident that it will earn its spot in my closet!

I took several items to the clothing swap, so I feel great that I still had a net loss of items this weekend.  I am trying to buy a little more used clothing.  It’s good for my wallet and for the environment.  As I have gotten older, I have noticed that my priorities have shifted some.  Right now, I want to spend less on my clothing and contribute more to my student loan payments, retirement fund, and vacation savings account.  Of course I would love to be able to spend more on clothing, but I realize that I don’t want to sacrifice my other goals to have a perfect wardrobe.

My Wardrobe Inventory

Is there ever anything that is more dissatisfying to a woman than her wardrobe?  I always feel like I have too much crap and not enough quality clothing.  Earlier this year I tested out Project 333 for a couple of months and was actually really pleased with the results.  Limiting myself to 33 items of clothing seemed really challenging initially, but I soon realized that I tend to wear the same (very small number of) items over and over anyway.  Even better, moving the rest of the stuff out of my closet freed me up to see what I had more quickly.  Suddenly getting dressed in the morning was much easier!

I decided to go through my closet this weekend to take an inventory of the clothes that I have.  I need some clothes for work, but I wasn’t quite clear on the specific holes in my closet.  The numbers were pretty surprising to me, actually, and now I have established some new ground rules for my shopping.

Here’s what remained after culling a few items:

1 suit

2 pairs of jeans

3 pairs of dress pants

4 skirts

9 cardigans

3 sweaters

11 blouses (including 7 camisoles that need to be worn under a sweater or blazer)

6 long-sleeved T shirts (casual and dressier)

4 camisoles

4 t-shirts

6 work dresses

3 cocktail dresses

1 blazer

*This list does not include my workout clothing or sweatshirts.

Nine cardigans!  I do wear the hell out of my cardigans, but nine is insane.  Especially, when I admit that I really only wear 3 of those most of the time.  I was also surprised to realize that I have 4 skirts because I rarely wear them. To me, finding tops to match skirts can be quite difficult, so I end up pushing them to the back of my closet and forgetting them.  On the other hand, I love my dresses.  I don’t own a single dress that doesn’t make me feel great when I wear it.  Unfortunately 1/3 of the dresses that I own are special occasion dresses that I might wear once or twice a year.

With these numbers in mind I have devised some rules for myself:

1. No more skirts.  I am also going to challenge myself to wear the skirts that I do have more often, and give away the ones that aren’t earning their space in my closet.

2. No more cardigans or sleeveless camisoles.

3. Purchase more work-appropriate dresses.  No more cocktail dresses!

4. Wear the blazer more often.  I have a great khaki blazer that I love but never remember to wear.  I’m sure my cardigans would appreciate the breather.

5. Pick up some 3/4 or long-sleeved blouses.  I have 3 sweaters that I don’t like very much.  Most of my long-sleeved T-shirts are pretty ratty too, and are not work appropriate.

6. Consider getting rid of more items.  Start the 33 item challenge again to simplify preparing for work in the mornings.

7. Check out the local consignment shop.  I have read great reviews about this place but haven’t been yet.