How to Choose a Hobby

Written by Emily on July 19, 2007 – 10:47 am -

Having a hobby can be good for you. Bill Malone (MSW) explains that hobbies can help battle stress and depression, have been shown to prevent or reduce memory loss, and can even help with arthritis. If you don’t already have a hobby you enjoy, here are some tips in finding one:

1. Choose Social or Solitary. Do you spend your days dealing with people, in a crowded work environment, or do you just find that you want some time by yourself? Choose a hobby that is solitary–woodworking, photography, fixing cars, or gardening. On the other hand, if you are stuck in a cubicle on a computer all day, or long for adult conversation after taking care of children, you will probably want a hobby that gives you a chance to be with other people–playing games or cards, a dinner group or a book club. Even if you have a solitary hobby, it’s easy to find a way to make it social. Perhaps you enjoy painting–you can take a class. Or you can volunteer to teach others.

2. Choose an interest. It makes sense to choose a hobby that you are naturally interested in or have a passion for. You may also consider trying something that others are interested in. I found that when I quit my job to stay home with our son, my hobbies didn’t match my new social circle. Not many of my friends who are stay-at-home moms enjoy managing web sites or building databases. I’ve tried my hand at new hobbies to create common ground–some are not for me (scrapbooking). But others I’ve really come to enjoy (gardening).

3. Don’t just spend money, make money. Almost all hobbies will cost money. Memberships, materials, equipment, classes, lessons–it can be expensive. The best way to defray hobby expenses is to find a way to turn your hobby into a money-maker. Sell your fresh fruits and veggies at a farmer’s market, teach your skill (art, music, etc.), post photos on, or become expert enough to be a judge and get paid to give your opinion! With a little creativity, most hobbies can bring in a little money.
Right now, I have a bunch of hobbies that I switch between. I run a book club, enjoy square-foot gardening, am part of a dinner group, sew, and sell MaryKay. My book club and dinner group cost me money, but I’m saving on fresh produce by having a garden, I sell tote bags that I sew, and I make a little money as I deliver little pink packages.

What is your hobby, and have you found a way to make money with it?


Candice Z Watters The Benefits of Family Hobbies

Gabryal Benefits of Digital Photography as a Hobby

Elizabeth Scott Great Hobbies for Stress Relief

Find My Hobby

Posted in General | 4 Comments »

The Price of Drinking Diet Coke

Written by Emily on July 17, 2007 – 6:59 pm -

In our house: FIFTY DOLLARS!

Sam and I agreed that we should quit drinking Diet Coke. I always limited myself to only one per day, usually about 12 ounces. For me, Diet Coke helps me through that 2 o’clock slump–the same time Adam is getting up from his nap and is ready to go. Also, it’s a social thing–it’s the drink of choice at my in-laws, and after years of drinking it at family gatherings, I was hooked.

Sam, on the other hand, had at least a 44 ounce drink per day, sometimes two, and maybe a can or two.  For him, it’s a habit of refreshment; you get in the car on a hot sunny day, crank up the air conditioning, and stop for a Diet Coke. So he might drink one if he goes out to lunch and he almost always gets one on the drive home.

We’ve both tried to quit in the past, but with little success. Finally we have found something that works–MONEY! We made an agreement that whoever drinks a soda first owes the other person fifty dollars. And we’ve been soda-free for three weeks!

Ironically, neither of us are willing to pay the other $50, yet this is probably the amount we were spending each month on Diet Coke. A fountain drink at the gas station costs about a dollar. Sam had at least 20-25 a month, plus 10 or so for me. Then we’d buy a couple of 12- or 24-packs to have at home. I’ve found more savings: getting a giant popcorn at the movies is not nearly as good with water, and a nice greasy cheeseburger and fries does not satisfy without an ice-cold Diet Coke. I’ve found myself eating out less, and cutting back on a lot of foods that I associate with soda–most of them unhealthy and expensive.

I did a little research, and it turns out that Diet Coke is pretty bad for you. People quickly develop a tolerance for caffeine, and experience withdrawal symptoms such as headache and nausea when they stop consuming it. I can personally verify this–I had a headache for five days! High levels of caffeine has been linked to problems getting pregnant, miscarriage, and low birth weight babies. Caffeine and the high levels of phosphates in soda drinks seem to pull calcium out of bones and into the blood stream, increasing the risk of osteoporosis (Source: Nutrition and Well Being A-Z: Caffeine). The acids can also effect digestion–increasing stomach acid and causing indigestion.

All these reasons should be enough to deter me,  but in the end I quit because I don’t want to pay the fifty dollars!

Posted in General | 8 Comments »

How to Save Money While Saving the Environment

Written by Emily on July 16, 2007 – 7:14 pm -

Michelle Singletary offers an idea and a challenge in her article The Color of Money. The idea is that when we make environmentally friendly choices, we not only save the planet, we can save money too. The challenge is to submit your earth-friendly penny pinching ideas to by August 20th for a chance to win up to $100.

My number one planet- and money-saving practice is using In fact, I am such a fan that I volunteer as a local moderator. This is how it works–go to the website and join the group nearest you. What you are joining is a Yahoo group (a separate web site is in the works right now!). Then, you clean out your basement/garage/closet and offer your items to others for free. A bunch of people will reply, and you pick the big winner (or winners). After you’ve become a contributor, you can ask for things (a WANTED post), and watch for others to post items that you can use. Just today I picked up a children’s kitchen playset–for FREE!

Although it is fantastic to get something for free, even better is when you can give things away. My favorite feature is the curbside pickup–by this I mean somebody else comes to my house and takes the junk I was going to get rid of anyway. I don’t even have to make the effort (or pay the gas) to drive to the local thrift store. I have given away kitchen utensils and gadgets, chairs, couches, lamps, decorations, curtains, clothing, shoes, tackle boxes, two tons of gravel, a broken lawn mower. . . the list goes on. It’s a great place to get rid of moving boxes, used carpet, extra building materials, large furniture, etc.

Freecycle (TM) is organized locally, so that the benefit of reducing landfill waste is not outweighed by the pollution of driving to get something. When choosing a recipient, I always pick someone who lives closeby, and who has offered several items in the last few months. It’s my way of rewarding those who contribute to the community.

I’d love to hear your favorite enviro-penny-pinching ideas!

Posted in General | 4 Comments »

How to Run a Successful Book Club

Written by Emily on July 13, 2007 – 11:28 am -

I quit my job when we adopted our son Adam three years ago, and I swear my brain went to mush. After recovering from two months of sleep deprivation, it was clear to me that motherhood used different “brain muscles” than I was accustomed to: I track and multitask in a way I never thought possible. But my linear, analytical thinking skills are rarely challenged in the same way, and I missed it. So, I decided to start a book club.

Now, many of us have probably been in silly book clubs before–with little emphasis on books, it’s mostly a club for socializing. And then one annoying member (usually self-invited) manages to make the dynamics unpleasant so that the people you do enjoy seeing and talking to stop coming. There are some resources that tell you the basics of how to start a book club. In addition to these, I have found there are several ingredients to a happy, healthy, successful book club:

1. Leadership. Somebody needs to be in charge–this is particularly true if the book club is only women. The leader will run the meeting (although not necessarily the discussion), call or email members to remind them of meetings or changes, and provide all the books (see #5 below). This should be someone who is kind, but bold. This person should not be afraid to make an executive decision, while still balancing the needs and opinions of the other members. If one member starts sabotaging the experience for everyone else, it is the leader’s job to confront them, and if necessary, ask them to leave the group. This doesn’t have to be as mean or scary as it sounds: “Listen, you tend to do ___________ and it’s not really working in this group. We’d love to have you attend, but if this doesn’t change then maybe this isn’t the best group for you.”

2. Membership. In my experience, a book group won’t be successful if there are too many or too few members. Six to eight is ideal. You need enough that if one or two, even three members can’t attend, you still have enough people for a discussion. You need a small enough group so that when everyone does come, there is still a chance for each member to participate. I am opposed to “open” membership, mostly because by choosing members carefully you will avoid a world of problems later. If you must include anyone who wants to attend (it’s a neighborhood/church/group based club), you will need really strong leadership. Another disadvantage to open membership is that, unless you live in a diverse city, you are likely to have a very homogeneous group–I love having members of various ages, backgrounds, family status (single, married, married with children), etc. The common ground each member shares is the literature and a love of reading.

3. Identity and Purpose. Establish the goals and purpose of your book group from the beginning. What types of books do you want to read? Classics, poetry, science fiction?  Do you gather mostly for social reasons or do you really want to challenge each other and have focused discussions? This also helps limit your membership. Not everybody wants to join my book group because we read classics and discuss them at length. We talk about character development, symbols, and what the book says about mankind. It works great for us, but I know it’s not for everybody.

4. Democracy. Another pet peeve of mine when it comes to book clubs is what I call literary dictatorship: when the entire group is subject to read what one person thinks is a good book. Don’t get me wrong–I often take recommendations of friends and family for my personal reading enjoyment. But the fact that one person liked a book does not mean it’s good book club material. Instead, make/find a list that matches your purpose. Also, this list can be edited by length (it’s hard to get through 1200 pages in a month) or content. I have compiled a huge list of over 500 books that we choose from. Each person prints out the list and identifies three to five books or authors they would like to read. Then, we all get together, discuss it, and vote on our favorites. Each person also gets several “veto votes” so that we never read a book someone hates or will not read. Usually we agree on a small list (up to 10 books) and then everyone ranks them. The books with the highest combined rankings are chosen. By choosing books together, more people are likely to actually read the book and come prepared to discuss it.

5. Time and Location. Although some people enjoy a travelling book club, I prefer to have it at the same place and time every month. That way, if someone misses a meeting, they won’t miss again because they weren’t sure where and when to go. I chose a day and time before we began, so it was another factor that thinned our membership. If you choose to have refreshments, you can still rotate who brings them.

6. Money. I charge everyone $5.00 per month, and I purchase all the books and distribute them the month before. For example, if we are reading The Grapes of Wrath and will discuss it in August, I hand out copies of the book in July. I am consistently able to purchase books at or for $5 each, including shipping. Usually when one book costs a little more, another will cost less. Overall, it averages out. Then the members get to keep the books, and build a nice reading library. You can collect money each week with cash, or request PayPal funds. At first I thought charging money would be a problem, but nobody minds. On the other hand, they LOVE not having to find a copy of the book every month.

When I told a friend I was writing this post she said “But what do book clubs have to do with personal finance?” The answer is simple–wherever we spend our money, that is where we also invest our time and energy. I could probably find a way to run my book club for free, but when people get something for free, they don’t value it as much. Because they pay for it, my members are more likely to come, to read, and that leads to a very successful book club.

The same is true in personal finance–do you want to know what you truly value? Take a look at your spending. That’s probably also where your spend your time and attention. One of the goals we have is to spend consciously; we talk about what we value, and then plan to spend based on our values. It is a natural result that we are more invested in those areas.

Happy reading everyone!

Posted in General | 6 Comments »

Extreme Money Makeover

Written by Sam on February 28, 2007 – 1:43 am -

February was crazy. It started with my whole family getting the flu. I was out of work for a full week. I usually only miss 2 days maximum for a typical cold. Next, we went to Disney World for a week on vacation. A few days after that, my wife was scheduled for an outpatient surgery and her recovery has been more difficult than we thought. It’s not surprising that I haven’t been able to post for a while.

Having my wife go through surgery again actually takes my thoughts back to when she had surgery two years ago. That unexpected event is what compelled us to take control of our finances. It was either that or we would be forced to move. What a contrast between then and now. Back then we really had no grip on our spending. We knew how much we were spending overall but had no mechanism in place for controlling the money before it left. We didn’t know how we were going to pay for the surgery and had no emergency fund in place. We were living within our means but didn’t have a budget in place.

Two years later we were easily able to budget in enough money to pay for her surgery and a week-long vacation (including airfare) without undue stress. And that’s without any significant changes in income. It truly amazes me how much money we were wasting before because we didn’t have a system in place to direct our spending. I don’t even notice a difference in lifestyle even though we spend less. In fact, there are ways our lifestyle has improved. Now, rather than having a constant gnawing feeling that I might be overspending, I feel liberated knowing exactly how much I have left to spend. We can direct our spending to the things we really want rather than impulse purchases that we won’t value much. It really feels like a before and after makeover. It’s a night and day difference.

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