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Frugal living: Educational Coaching for Kids

August 4th, 2007 at 01:37 am

Many parents give their kids education highest priority, and a lot will resort to expensive out-of-school coaching to help them get better marks and/or pass selective school tests. Things were different when I was in primary school - you just sat for the selective ("Opportunity Class") school tests in Year 4, and if you did well on the test you were offered a place. These days many parents spend a lot of money on professional "coaching" classes or computerised study assistance programs. But there isn't much evidence that this is money well spent - in fact some recent reports suggest that having kids spend too much time on repetitive "coaching" sessions after school can get them burned out and perform worse on selective school tests than they would have without any coaching at all!

I think a small amount of preparation for selective tests is probably worthwhile - knowing what sort of questions to expect in the test, practicing the exam format and getting used to the time allowed and exam technique can only help the child relax and do as well as possible "on the day". So, rather than spend a small fortune of coaching classes I've just bought a book of practice material and some sample tests which I'll work through with DS1 over the next couple of years (the exam is in year 4, but DS1 is only in year 2 at the moment).

Another fun activity which will help DS1 academically is spelling bee practice. Although spelling bees aren't nearly as big a deal in Australia as they are in the US, there has been a state-wide "Premier's" Spelling Bee running in NSW for the past couple of years. Entries for this year's competition closed last month - the school DS1 attends wasn't aware of the Spelling Bee until we told them, and was quite pleased to learn about it. DS1 was keen to compete in the yr 3-4 group, so the school decided that he will be able to compete against the kids in years 3-4 for selection to represent his school. The spelling lists used for the early rounds of the competition are available online, so DS1 will be able to practice learning them. A good, cheap, fun activity that will help him academically.

Copyright Enough Wealth 2007

Frugal Liing: Children's Books

July 21st, 2007 at 01:10 am

DS1 is an avid reader - so much so that it would be uneconomical to buy him novels to read. I have bought some encyclopaedia's, dictionaries and reference books, but for novels we tend to just borrow books from the local library. He has enjoyed the Enid Blyton series "Secret Seven" and "Famous Five", even though they are very old fashioned. I remember reading a "Tom Swift" novel when I was around his age (7), so I did a search on the Gutenberg.org site to see if these books were now out of copyright. Sure enough, you can download the series for free. One thing I did notice was that the language in some of the Tom Swift stories seems very *ist by modern standards, so you might want to either edit the text or use the books as a starting point for discussing how racial and cultural stereotypes are inaccuate and offensive...

Copyright Enough Wealth 2007

Frugal Living: Harry Potter

July 20th, 2007 at 11:53 pm

I admit to being a big kid when it comes to taste in entertainment* - I enjoy TV shows like Dr Who, Hyperdrive, Torchwood, Lost, Stargate, Star Wars... in fact anything with little green men and some flashing blinking lights (which reminds me of Flying High 2). I also enjoy reading SF and fantasy novels, so I've enjoyed reading the Harry Potter series so far, but I'm too stingy to pay for a hardcover copy when they are first released. The latest book in the HP series went on sale this morning, so I did my usual trick of standing around the book section of the local department store and read the first 88 pages of Deathly Hallows while DW took DS1 to the clothing section to buy him some school socks. I'll probably take about a week to get through the whole book, reading it for half an hour in various book shops and department stores during lunch hour and on the weekend. I don't feel too guilty about not buying the books - I have bought the DVDs of the movies as they have gone ex-rental, as the whole family enjoys watching them several times. I'll probably buy a boxed set of the entire series in paperback in a couple of years - by which time DS1 will be old enough to enjoy reading them.

The different approaches to selling the Potter book taken by various booksellers is quite interesting too. The Dymocks book store always takes pre-orders, sells the new release at full RRP (around A$44) and ran out of stock by lunchtime (there's a note in the window saying that more stock will arrive next week). I'm amazed that anyone buys the book from them - the Big W department store has lots of copies in stock, as does the Myer department store, and both are selling the same book for under $30. I'm also amazed that Dymocks ran out of stock this morning - the same thing happened when the sixth HP novel was released. I can only imagine that head office controls how many copies they can get hold of.

* I also like medieval wind ensembles and illuminated manuscripts, so I can pretend to have posh tastes if needs be.

Copyright Enough Wealth 2007

Frugal Living: Warranties

June 23rd, 2007 at 11:07 pm

A lot of people are careful to hold onto their receipts in case they decide to return or exchange an item. But once you have your impulse shopping under control, you still need to retain your receipts in case an item breaks while under warranty and needs to be repaired or replaced. Yesterday our toaster gave up the ghost - despite being set for a light golden brown finish, the second slice of toast came out blackened. And when DW tried a third time, flames shot out of the toaster before it shorted out. Luckily I keep all the receipts for our electrical items with the user manuals in one drawer in the kitchen, so it was easy to take the loaster back to the store we bought it from last November. I got a credit note for the full purchase price and used this (plus an extra 75c) to buy a brand new toaster with a two year warranty. If all our future toasters decide to self-destruct while they're still covered by the warranty we may never have to pay for another toaster ever again.

There's nothing worse than having something break that you know is still covered by the warranty, but not being able to find the store receipt.

Enough Wealth

Frugal Living: Clothes Dryer

June 4th, 2007 at 04:48 am

Although we have a clothes dryer, DW still prefers to dry clothes on the line when the weather is fine. When we bought our house it came with an extending clothes line attached to the remaining upright post of an old broken "Hills Hoist". The extending line has not been very easy to use as the bar attached to the old clothes hoist wobbles and makes the clothes lines sag. So DW finally took a trip to the local hardware superstore to check on new clothes hoists. The traditional Hills Hoist costs around $250 and is made in China, so she's decided to go with a cheaper brand that costs $150 (and probably also comes from China). It comes with a ten year warranty, so it should last ten years and pay for itself via the electricity saved by not using the clothes dryer very often. It also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as our electricity mostly comes from coal-fired power stations.

[url=http://enoughwealth.com]Enough Wealth[url]

Frugal Living: Lunch and Exercise at Work

June 2nd, 2007 at 05:39 am

It was a perfect day in Sydney for the start of Winter - clear, blue skies, a light breeze and a temperature around 25C. I enjoyed a 20 minute brisk walk around the nearby landscaped gardens of a luxury apartment complex, in the process avoiding gym fees such as the $25 a week fee charged by the "boutique" gym conveniently located opposite where I work.

For lunch I had one turkey fillet and one lean ham bread roll. The turkey and ham cost around $12/kg on special, and the bread rolls were a steal at 12 for 99c! Plus an apple from a 1.5kg bag that cost $4.98. All up, lunch cost around $1.70 and was moderately healthy.

I still haven't entirely eliminated drinking diet coke uring the day at work - but at least the 2L bottle was on special for $1.90 instead of the regular price of $3.10. I've managed to cut down from 2 bottles/day to 1, substituting one bottle of coke with a 1.5L bottle of filtered tap water, which costs almost nothing.

I tend to get the urge to snack around 4 o'clock in the afternoon, so next week I'll start bringing a banana to work each day to have as an afternoon snack. At $4.98 per kg they're not cheap at the moment, but it's still cheaper (and lots healthier) than a mars bar or other junk food.

Enough Wealth

Frugal living: Running Your Car on Air.

May 31st, 2007 at 12:13 am

The Air Car runs on compressed air, managing speeds of 68 mph (109 kph) and has a range of 125 miles on one tank of air. A duel-fuel version that can use petrol-powered compressor in the country would have a range of up to 2,000 miles between refills.

The tank can be filled for around $2.00 (but only at specially equipped gas stations), or can be plugged into your home power socket to fill the tank in around 4 hours.

I'd love to see an off-road version developed based on the old Haflinger AWD vehicle (I have an old haflinger that is patiently waiting restoration). Combined with a removable air tank (so you could recharge one tank using solar power while driving with the other), I think this would be the perfect "post apocalypse" transportation. And while waiting for WWIII you could drive it around town Wink

Frugal living: Computer Games

May 26th, 2007 at 07:44 am

Yesterday I discussed saving money by buying good quality, used computer hardware. Computer software is another area where there is a huge saving to be made by not buying the latest and best. Today I bought three computer games for my new PC - Doom III, European Air War and Lords of the Realm III. As these originally came out several years ago, they were available brand new from the store for prices of $5, $10 and $20. Two of them work just fine under Vista, although European Air War had a glitch with the mouse when running, so I'll have to check if there's a patch available. Overall, these are still great fun, and I can't see the point of buying the latest releases that are on sale for $70 or more.

Enough Wealth

Frugal Living: Computers

May 25th, 2007 at 06:29 am

After yesterday's fiasco trying to get a clearance sale 17" LCD monitor from DSE, today I decided to check the yellow pages for suppliers of used computer equipment. There was one located close to our home, so I called them to check on prices for 2nd hand monitors. They quoted $20 for a 17" CRT, $50 for a 15" LCD and $90 for a 17" LCD. They only had a CRT in stock, so I decided to pick that one up at lunch time and drop it off home for DS1 to be able to use his old PC again over the weekend, while he's still very enthusiastic working through the Kid's programming tutorial in QBasic.

Although the CRT was ex-lease, it was in excellent condition and the picture quality is superb. As his PC is located on a PC workstation unit there is plenty of room for the CRT on top of the computer, so an LCD really wouldn't have been any advantage. I asked the supplier to contact me when an LCD screen does become available, as I'd still like to add a second screen to my Dell PC in my loungeroom, so I can track CFD trading on the small screen while playing games or browsing the pf blogs on the main screen.

They also have ex-lease computer systems available from time to time, so I'll eventually pick up a "new" 2nd-hand PC for DS1 to use when he's getting towards high school age. Although I've been guilty in the past of buying bleeding-edge technology and paying top dollar for the latest computer gear, it's really much more sensible to buy ex-lease equipment in good condition that is only a couple of years old.

Enough Wealth

Frugal living: Kids education - programming

May 22nd, 2007 at 04:52 am

DS1 has a keen interest in computers and is a good reader for his age (7), so I thought I'd have a go at teaching him computer programming. I quite like QBasic as a programming tool as its very quick and easy to type in a few lines of code and immediately run it to see what happens. There wasn't QBasic installed on my laptop (running Windows XP) so I downloaded QBasic.zip off the internet. Microsoft made QBasic public domain last century, so there are plenty of places to download it, here for example. Next step was to find a suitable programming tutorial for a seven year old. One that seems quite good is QBASIC Programming for Kids by Ted Felix. I helped DS1 work through the first six chapters last night, and he was so keen that he then sat down and read through the remainder of the 55-pages of the book on his own before he went to bed! Tonight he worked through Chapter 7 and I then gave him a simple programming assignment based on the first 6 chapters to help reinforce yesterday's lessons. Here's his first "very own" computer program:

CLS
INPUT "Enter your name: ", Name1$
INPUT "Enter your mothers name: ", Name2$
DO
PRINT Name1$, "loves ", Name2$
LOOP

DS1 seems to love computer programming - kids are empowered when they can do something "grown ups" do, and the computer has infinite patience while he slowly picks out the commands on the keyboard and fixes his typos. DS1 also loves to play the game LUDO with his grandparents, so I've told him we'll work together on a project to create his own computerised version "QUDO" once he's worked his way through all the exercises in the QBasic tutorial. QBasic has sufficient ability to handles graphics and sound to make such a project feasible, and the way Ted Felix has organised the tutorials provides an "object oriented" and structured approach to programming. (He doesn't even mention the dreaded "GOTO" command except in reference to error handling!).

All in all, provided you already have a computer, you can provide your kid with a good entry-level course in computer programming for $0. Ted recommends kids start off with LOGO first, and then progress to QBasic when they're around ten. DS1 had no trouble leaping straight into QBasic, but his reading is a couple of grades ahead of his class average, so most kids would probably enjoy this course when they're 8-10 years old.

Later on there are plenty of more advanced tutorials available on line that can be used to learn game design, 3D graphics, animation etc. When the limits of QBasic are reached it is easy to migrate to Visual Basic.

Enough Wealth

Frugal living: Diet Cola

April 22nd, 2007 at 12:50 am

I don't drink much alcohol (just the odd glass of wine at Christmas or when dining at a restaurant) but I do drink copious quantities of diet coke. Ever since my Uni days I've consumed several litres a day. Aside from wanting to cut down or eliminate this completely for my health, it also isn't very good for my wallet. Until recently diet coke typically cost around $2.40 for a 2L bottle, and I could stock up when it was on "special" for $1.69. However, it seems that Coca-cola has increased the wholesale price of their range (their excuse was increased sugar prices - which doesn't really make sense for "diet" coke!). All the major supermarket chains in Sydney have raised the regular price to around $3.30 for a 2L bottle, with the price on "special" only dropping to $2.49 these days. Even buying only on special this means that the cost has gone up by 50%, which will cost me around $600 extra each year. Time I tried to quit drinking diet coke "cold turkey" and switch to just drinking filtered tap water and the occasional cup of tea.

Enough Wealth

RIP PC

April 17th, 2007 at 05:28 am

I'm currently using a 3 yr-old Toshiba Satellite notebook as my main PC at home. I'd bought it after my previous Gateway PC died (OK, I was an idiot and plugged in a USB device upside down without looking and totally shorted out the motherboard. D'Oh!). The one I had before that was a "clone" Pentium-100 that I'd had for ages - it has been serving quite well as DS1's PC - he's only 6 so most of the software he runs works quite happily on a P-100. Unfortunately when I got home tonight I was informed that they'd had to turn it off when there was a "bang" and smell of smoke. I inspected the PC and all appeared OK, but the old VDU was smelling of smoke, so I think it's the monitor that has broken. I can probably pick up a replacement monitor for free as lots of people seem to put out old/broken PCs for collection when the bi-monthly council cleanup is on.

One of these days I'll buy a new desktop PC (probably a Dell) as I'd like to be able to edit and burn our home videos onto DVD and run some of the games I have. The notebook doesn't run most of my games as it doesn't have a suitable graphics card, and it only has a DVD player and CD-burner. I keep putting off buying the new PC though as each year they get cheaper and have better features. I've bought quite a few PCs since my first one (a Sinclair ZX80) and got a bit sick of spending a couple of thousand dollars every couple of years on a new PC.

Enough Wealth