Friday, February 27, 2009

Time To Learn Something New - 7 Relatively Frugal Ways to Continue Your Education

Above you'll see a picture of a place I've never been. This is my alma mater. I received a B.A. degree from Western Illinois University in 2005. Never took a step onto the campus. It only took me 22 years to get this piece of paper and I am particularly proud of it. I started at the University of Louisville in 1983, doing the whole college trip from dorm room to sorority house and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Sadly, I stopped just 15 hours short and it was a long haul to finish my degree.
As we are in the bad times now, I think it's advantageous for all of us to have a backup plan. One of the reasons I finished my Bachelor's was just in case. I didn't want to find myself trying to replicate my current income elsewhere without a degree. There are endless education options now and not all of them fit the frugal requirement or your particular needs. The major online and brick-and-mortar universities are vulgarly expensive and increasing every year. It can be argued that any education is good, but if you are saddling yourself and your family with extra debt it can become a burden instead.
Here are some less pricey and time-friendly options to think about for extra training, to try something new or to finish up something that was started a long time ago:

  1. Your own state school system. Here in Louisville many more classes are being offered online or in hybrid form (half online and half classroom). Kentucky offers a website that encompasses all online courses including full degrees and certifications at Kentucky Virtual University. They range from a Bachelor's of Public Administration to a certification in Archive Studies to a Master's in Criminology. Community college classes here start at $121/credit hour. Not bad for some extra knowledge. Most states have composite websites along the same lines including a fantastic Iowa Consortium that is chockfull of useful prerequisites for $120/credit hour for out-of-state students. The Iowa colleges are great in that an actual human answers the phone and says things like, "OK, thanks for calling. You are now enrolled in the class you requested." Bizarre.
  2. Additional certifications. Along with the aforementioned certificate in Archive Studies, how about a Grant Writing Certification? Or Library Information Technology. Most of these are fifteen hours of class and apply toward a Master's if needed. It's a quicker way to get a leg up without a commitment to a full degree.
  3. The Illinois Virtual Campus. For my money and opinion, this is the way to go. Illinois offers 329 accredited programs that can be completed online. I think for the average student they are head and shoulders above the rest. My tuition at Western Illinois was $167/credit hour. A bargain by any standard. The University of Illinois at Springfield is also a bargain at $283.25 for graduate tuition. They offer a great Master's of Public Administration that is NASPAA certified and an M.A. in Environmental Studies that looks like fun.
  4. A total departure from your norm. Apparently welding and trucking class enrollments are skyrocketing. I personally love the idea of learning to weld. My local community college offers a program for Welding and for Culinary Arts and Surgical Technology. Probably can't go wrong with any of them.
  5. A little known school that's cheap and accredited. American Public University and American Military University are accredited schools with bargain tuitions at $750/class for undergraduate and $835/class for graduate students. Primarily catering to overseas and active-duty military, these schools conduct all classes online and have spread out to include the general population. They offer all sorts of degrees ranging from an Associate's in Explosive Ordnance Disposal to a Master's in Emergency & Disaster Management. They also carry the basic history and poli sci degrees and that sort of thing.
  6. That Harvard degree you just can't live without. Harvard Extension School offers several classes and degrees online or with a minimum of onsite attendance. They are taught by Harvard professors without the attendant $32,000/per year tuition. Extension School classes range from $800 to $1725 per class. You can earn a graduate Environmental Management certification entirely online. It may be considered Harvard lite by some, but it's still Harvard and certainly would be worth something out here in the hinterlands.
  7. Learn a language. We all need to be fluent in something besides the King's bastardized English. The library offers a multitude of dvds and cds and books to get you started. There are plenty of continuing education classes offered that can get your feet wet and almost any of the above options have language education as part of their programs. I had a distance Spanish class that I had to call in to the professor and do my pronunciation and speaking homework on her answering machine. Unorthodox but it worked. You can also sign up through many community programs for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages programs. In many programs there are opportunities to become a practice buddy for a person learning English. It's a great to way to volunteer, meet someone new and trade language skills.

A few caveats:

  • Make sure any official program is accredited by a regional agency. This is fairly easy to find out. An accredited school will have it prominently displayed within their literature.
  • Lots of people find that online classes are not for them. I loved them and I'm a terrible procrastinator. They do take a lot of discipline. Many professors pile on the work to make up for the time not spent sitting in a classroom. I did find that, for me, I was much more interactive than I have been in regular classes. My opinions were less structured to the expectations of the class and so was my writing and I was definitely a better student for it.

So what talents can you parlay into a viable livelihood if need be? I can wait tables, bartend, write, and speak enough French to get me kicked out of the country. I think I probably need to learn how to weld just in case. Any more ideas for ways to educate yourself as a hedge against the future?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How I Got Over My Shoe Fetish

Back in the day, which really wasn't so long ago but feels like it when I get out bed in the morning, the Frugal Maven was a runner. This is something you probably wouldn't believe if you met me today. Not only do I no longer look like I could run to the corner, I have a general malaise that has developed over the years. Basically my aura says, "If I could run to the corner I wouldn't but thanks for asking. I'll be on the couch if you need me." I used to jump hurdles, an enterprise that seems downright stupid when I look back on it. Anyway, after my glory days as a mediocre athlete, I became a server and bartender in a very busy restaurant where we had to wear dress shoes and walk about 645 miles every night. Then I went to work in the car industry where I stood on concrete for 15 hours per day without a stool. I was obviously an idiot. Who didn't know a good labor lawsuit when she had one. During these stellar moments you are reliving with me, this is what my shoe collection would have looked like at any given time:

Because I could tart up my feet. No matter how long the shift, no matter what time of night or day, I could be counted on to be wearing some shoes that took effort. And looked pretty and cost a fortune. Then one day my bank account starting hurting. Then my feet started hurting. My heels hurt. The balls of my feet hurt. My toes hurt. I was going on a trip to Europe and didn't want to be limping everywhere so I visited the comfort shoe store. You know the one. The one you take comfort in that you'll never have to darken the doorway. Well, all I can say is if you haven't been there yet, tick-tock.

My request to the lovely fellow that waited on me was please sell me something that I can walk all over Europe pain-free in that's not too ugly. He sold me these:

And they were $215. Which about gave me a heart attack. I have owned $200 shoes before but only because I got a 75% off deal somewhere. I love a luxury item but I want it to look luxurious. But I trusted the nice man and he did not steer me wrong. I wore these to Europe and they saw the markets and cathedrals of Oxford, the rainy streets of Paris and the dusty villages of Provence. They were the only shoe I wore for the entire trip. That was in June 2006. I'm still wearing them. So I figure that over time they are more than worth the money I paid for them. When I put them on my feet want to cry because they are so happy. And that brings me to the true bottom of vanity. Sometimes it's winter and I can't wear my happy sandals and then my feet hurt. I finally returned to the comfort shoe store begging for a work/casual shoe that my heels would feel ok in. And he sold me these:

Yes, dear readers, this is the end of vanity. I knew the day would come. I've been wearing these Danskos for over a year now. At first I wore them to work and made jokes about them. Then I started wearing them out in real public places. Now I really have no urge to ever wear another pair of shoes again, except for these and my beloved sandals. These were $120 and worth every penny. If they ever fall apart I will happily go right back and get another pair just like them. My back doesn't hurt, my feet don't hurt, nothing hurts when I wear these. And that is worth a fortune. In the land of frugality, these expensive ugly shoes were a pittance. They've changed my life. And now you know how I got over my shoe fetish.

Monday, February 23, 2009

10 Household Items You Should Never Buy For Full Price

All of us have items that we buy that kill us pricewise. I have a penchant for French wine that occasionally needs to be indulged. I love the little fluffy lamb in all its' grilled up glory and they are always pricey. There are purses out there that need to live in my closet. We are on purse moratorium at the Basilica but it can't last forever. Then there are the mortgages, insurance, and light bills, blah, blah, blah. So, as you know, squeezing old Lincoln until he screams is the plan. Below are 10 items that are always on the must-buy list so here's some ideas for lessening the pain.

  1. Laundry detergent. You all know how I feel about this. Since the advent of the detergent factory at our kitchen sink, I don't think we'll ever have to visit the laundry aisle again. But if you are still purchasing yours, there are many ways to save a buck. For instance, besides the coupons in the Sunday paper for almost any brand, right now Target is offering Cheer and Gain on sale along with a $5 gift card for purchase of two. The key is to stack your deals. If you can combine a manufacturer's coupon, plus a sale price plus a gift card you're going to be further ahead than just picking it up off of the shelf and throwing it in the cart.

  2. Batteries. Batteries are always on sale somewhere. Right now CVS has them buy one get one free plus there were coupons last week in the paper. Bargain!

  3. Any sort of air freshener like a Glade or Air-Wick product. I don't use these but if you do they are the basis of a couponer's system. Not only are there always coupons available but cash registers regularly spit out catalinas which are extra coupons that are given out after your receipt prints. People that I know who use these rarely pay anything for them and often come out ahead on the purchase.

  4. Anything made by Lysol. Most cleaning products have hefty coupon campaigns but Lysol seems to be the king. Recently Walgreens offered buy two Lysol products for $3.79. I had two coupons for $1.00 each making my wipes and spray cleaner $2.79 for both.

  5. Photo prints. If you will be needing to print several copies of a photo check for deals at Walgreen's. They regularly offer 20 copies free about once a month.

  6. Paper towels. These are always on sale somewhere. Recently CVS had a 6 pack for $5.00 plus another $1 off coupon.

  7. Ziploc bags and containers. These are often on sale. Use the common .55 coupon at any grocery that doubles for $1 off the sale price.

  8. Anything you might need at a craft store or fabric store. Operations like Jo-Ann Fabrics and Michael's are in a death battle for your money. Both routinely offer coupons in their circulars every week for 10% off an entire purchase and my favorite, 40% off any one regular price item. These are great for odd things that may be a regular on your list. For instance, Travis McGee is a painter so I keep these coupons handy and when I'm near a Michael's I pop in and pick up an acrylic color for 40% off. If used properly you could put together a kid's gift for next to nothing with art supplies, a floral arrangement that would have been out of reach price-wise with a couple of splurge items in it, etc. At Christmas, if you need a new wreath and aren't the home-ecky Becky type, use that 40% coupon to purchase a new one that some other more crafty type put together. That's what I did.

  9. Dishwashing liquid, also known as hand soap at the Basilica. Dishwashing liquid is always on sale. Ajax makes a grapefruit product that is usually on sale for .79 cents in drugstores. It makes the best hand soap and smells great. Get off the Softsoap bandwagon and just refill your container.

  10. Toilet Paper. I cannot stress this enough. Do not pass up your free toilet paper! Cottonelle always has .50 coupons around. Doubled at the grocery on a four-pack makes it free. Why would anyone not do this? It's free, people. Enjoy.