Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My favorite frugal blog

I have a favorite frugal blog out of all those I read. It's called The Simple Dollar. I like it particularly because of the following:

- Trent (the author) appeals to a wide audience. It doesn't matter if you are young, old(er), single, married, have kids or not, you will find something here that will appeal to you and/or help you.

- He writes from a perspective of having been there (i.e. in debt and money-challenged). He tells his story very honestly and in great detail, and that helps people to relate and to know that this did not come easy for him and his family.

- The content is not only "frugal-task based", but also from an emotional connection standpoint. He goes into the thought processes attached to spending money and how to handle and/or correct the negative ones.

- He doesn't tell you to "cut this out because it works for me", he tells you to go with what works for you, and understands it's not one-size-fits-all (something that I struggled with for a long time - "this works for everyone else, why not for me?")

I would suggest you check it out, maybe click into some of the categories you find interesting (listed on the right sidebar if you scroll down a bit). I'd be curious to know what you all think about it :)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Productivity Tools I Use (time and money savers!)

This isn't an all-inclusive list, but some of the ones that sprung to mind and are the most useful to me.

Of course, these are all FREE - would I use them if they weren't?! Alright, there ARE some services I would pay a minimal amount for, but it has to be something very important to me or something I need for convenience to work from home and has a minimal cost (i.e., 12 cents/page for faxes, and my $20 buy in has lasted like 2 years).

By the way, the browser I use is Firefox, so if I refer to plug-ins or add-ons, it's FF based. I know some people like Chrome better, but I simply haven't tried it and don't like too much change (TBH). I have a lot attached to FireFox in the way of Plug-ins, also, which makes it more difficult to switch and retain the functionality I enjoy.

Last note before the list - I know a lot of these can do things I'm not going to mention, but I'm going to hit on the basic "why I love it" functionality of each one.
  • Google Toolbar (including Gmail, Calendar, Voice, Reader): I don't like to have too many toolbars mucking up my browser, but this one is very useful, as are the separate applications. The toolbar allows me to email myself links and pages when I need to, and also allows the use of Autofill, which for some sites, is helpful (such as when I'm submitting for a free sample or a form to join a simple website).
    • Gmail: Obviously, an email applications. Very quick/light, accessible via mobile (even if you do not have a smartphone), and easy to use. It doesn't have folders, but uses labels to sort, which is fine and ends up being very similar to folders. I'm a fan of folder organization. The "" address sounds a bit more professional than yahoo or hotmail, etc etc if you're going for a semi-businessey email address as well. I also use email to send links to myself and make folders/labels that save important info like recipes, employment, learning, and "for future reference" items.
    • Calendar: This is my savior! I enter all of my appointments and things to remember into it and have it email me reminders. You can have it send you texts as well. Again, also accessible via mobile. If I need to know when I can make an appointment, I just load it on up and it shows me what I have in my choice of views (although I almost always choose month view). You can also set repeating events.
    • Voice: I was able to nix my home phone number (saving $20/month) while still being able to screen my calls. This allows you to have a local phone number also. It's by invite, but I believe I have a few, and most people who already have the service have a few as well. It actually is better than a home phone for me because it will send me a text when I receive/miss a call and when I get a "voicemail". I don't have it set to ring through anywhere, I just give it out to people I wouldn't pick up the phone for anyway (informational services, placing orders online that require a phone #), and if it's something important, I can just call right back. You can also send SMS (texts) from it, which is great if you're in front of a computer and don't want to muck with the tiny phone buttons but the person on the other end is out/traveling/otherwise only able to receive texts.
    • Reader: Well I just can't tell you how many websites/blogs I want to keep up with! Getting their feeds in Google Reader helps me to consolidate so I don't have to click on a million links all the time and then forget what sites I want to keep up with. Plus, I don't have to read it on the day it comes out. I can catch up when I want to and it's all right there for me when I'm ready. It saves me a lot of money because I can keep up with coupons/sale matchups, free samples, and productivity information (which allows me to find out about all of these free apps/programs).
  • Very light web-based multiple message service application. I use this to IM when I'm not at my home computer. No signup required, either. Basic background also which makes it more discreet. It works with MSN, Yahoo, AIM / ICQ, Google Talk, MySpace, Skype, and Facebook.
  • PDFEscape: Again, web-based application. Use it to edit PDF documents for free. I was looking for something free that would allow me to add text to PDF documents because I fill out a LOT of forms at work and sometimes my writing is too large or messy or my hand starts to cramp after filling out pages and pages of forms. With this, you just upload the document (you can choose to join or not), edit it (add text, shapes, white out, delete pages, etc), and then when you're done editing it, you can download it to your computer and do what you will with it. 
  • Kaboodle: a wish list tool. You can add items from ANY site or add them manually. I keep track of things we want or need for the house, stuff Bobby likes for reference when grandparents ask what he wants for Birthday/Christmas, and things we each might just want in the future but want to put on the back burner/allow more time for consideration. I also used it to keep track of the items I wanted for the baby after reading extensive reviews and selecting what I thought was best. It has a toolbar, which is a bit hefty, but it also has a button you can just drag to your existing toolbar so that when you see something you want to add, you just hit the "Add to Kaboodle" button and it shunts you to the site to enter the details. You can make the lists public or private.
  • DropBox: I LOVE DropBox! I use it for home AND for work. You get up to 2GB free, but if you refer people, you get more space. You can also pay for more space, but I have not needed to yet. I use it to be able to access files from all of our computers, and so that the guys can reference my meal plan and bills sheet without me having to send them files. I use it to transfer files from work to home and vice versa. I use it to back up photos. I use it when I created a file on another computer not connected to my printer, so that when I go back to my computer, it's right there for me to print. I use it to keep my bills spreadsheet up to date from wherever I am. It's an application (download) that shows up on your computer as a file folder, but it's actually cloud storage. You can also download or upload items from the website if you need to. Excellent!
  • CutePDF Writer: a post-script printer that turns anything you want to print into a PDF file. I use this at work  A LOT in order to make documents stay a certain size or have un-editable text, or if I want to print a webpage to a file. I use it at home to print my shopping lists to my desktop until I'm sure I have them right (saves on ink) and don't need to add anything. There are really infinite reasons you might want to print to PDF, but I'm sure you have your own. It is a download but it very light. It will also install GhostScript, which you need in order for it to work. Once you're done installing, it will show up as a "printer" in your list when you go to print something. Nifty!