Tuesday, June 22, 2010

True Trick to Save Money on Appliances

And the trick is...CLEAN THEM.  Yeah, I was shocked too, lol.

After reading this post on Yahoo, I realized that we are way behind on appliance maintenance.  Here's their list of appliances and how they need to be cleaned occasionally:

Dishwasher: Take out the racks. Check the corners and the rubber lining around the door for cracks and food residue. Clean out both with a sponge and plastic-bristled brush (don’t use metal as it can damage the machine). Consult the owner’s manual and remove the spray arms and wash them with soap and water. If you’ve got a filter basket at the base of your dishwasher, carefully remove the filter itself and give it a rinse as well. Slide your hand in the filter hole and check for debris. Put the pieces back together and run the machine empty with a bit of detergent.

Refrigerator: The coils underneath the machine tend to get clogged with dust, which can make it hard for the compressor fan to circulate fresh air. To make sure they’re all clear, unplug the machine, get down on the floor, and pull out the vent plate that covers the coils. Then use a vacuum hose to clean the coils. It’s also good to wipe down the door gasket as with a warm damp cloth to make sure there’s no sticky build-up there, which can cause the gasket to tear (and inhibit your fridge’s ability to refrigerate).

Air conditioner: Similar to refrigerators, air conditioner coils need to be cleaned every once in a while—now, a.ka. the beginning of the season, is a particularly good time to do this. Remove the filter cover and run a vacuum brush over the coils. While you’re at it, pull out the filter and clean or replace it, depending on what kind of model you have.

Vacuum: This is one of the most oft-neglected household gadgets. Filters and bags need to be swapped out at least annually. If you have a bagless model, wipe out the canister with a sponge. Test it’s suction power: try to vacuum up a bit of sand, and see if your vac sucks up the majority of it (if so, it’s in good shape—if not, take it to a local repair shop to see if it’s just a question of changing out a part. If you’ve got motor issues, it’s probably more cost effective to buy a new vacuum).

Ceiling fan: If you notice the blades on yours are wobbling, you’re in for trouble—this wears out the motor a lot faster. Dust off the tops of the blades and tighten the screws to make sure everything is locked into place.

Stove and oven: Gas stoves in particular need to be kept clean to ensure burners and igniters will keep on for years. A warm cloth and a bit of dish soap is all you need to get them spic and span. Mr. Fleshman from Fleshman Appliance Repair tells The New York Times that the self-cleaning feature should be avoided, since the super-high-temperature can be hard on your oven’s wiring and electrical components. Instead, after you’ve used your oven, wait until it’s cool enough to touch but still warm, and wipe it down with a moist cloth. Fleshman also says not to worry about stains, “always tell my customers, if people are looking in your oven and complaining about it being dirty, you shouldn’t have those people in your home.”

Here's how we stack up after living in our house for 3 years:

Dishwasher:  I've never done anything with it except add soap and Jet Dry (which seems to be useless).

Refrigerator:  I've been meaning to do this since last year.  We have two dogs and the sheddy Pug stays in the kitchen at night (he snores too loud to come upstairs)...I'm surprised our fridge hasn't died yet.

Air conditioner:  My husband's grandfather occasionally checks our A/C since he used to work in that field.  I should pay attention to what he's checking...

Vacuum:  We change the bags pretty often but I hadn't thought of the filter for a while.  I know we changed it about two years ago, but since we got wood laminate floors downstairs, we barely use the thing.  Yes, I know I only said "downstairs", but just don't go upstairs, okay?

Ceiling fan:  I only dust the blades every year or so, but none of our fans are wobbly.

Stove and oven:  We have an electric oven/stove combo and our housekeeper cleans the outside every two weeks.  I don't see any problems on the inside...

How do you add up?  Anybody have any ideas on motivating me to take care of the things on the list that I obviously need to get to?  I hope that by the time this post pops up in 3 weeks that I have some better news about the refrigerator at least...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cost of the First Year of Home Ownership

Amanda at Frugal Confessions mentioned her costs of the first year of home ownership in this post and my reply made me realize how lucky my husband and I really got.

Apparently, the average first year spending on a house built after 2004 is $12,332.  I could totally see that based on what our house contained in that first year, but most of what we had were hand-me-downs, gifts, or things we brought from our apartment.
Thanks to all of that and patience (it's still patience, even if it because you feel broke...), we only spent a total of $735 on our house in that first year.
We bought:
  • Garage Door Opener and Installation - $225
  • Lightbulbs - $50
  • Ceiling Fans - $175
  • New locks - $60
  • Miscellaneous little stuff like handles for the cabinets and whatnot - $125
  • A/C compressor that busted - $100
We were gifted or given:
  • All appliances were house-warming gifts from my parents (and cost $2300...I was there).
  • Sealy Posturpedic bed for our wedding was a gift from my parents ($700...I was there too).
  • Leather couches are/were hand-me-downs from my parents.
  • Our two recliners are/were hand-me-downs from my husband's grandparents.
  • Kitchen supplies are/were wedding gifts from almost everybody...I love my 4 slice toaster and our primo stainless steal pots set and Chicago Cutlery knives!
  • Patio furniture was a hand-me-down from his grandparents too.
  • Office desk is/was a wedding gift from my aunt, uncle, and cousins.
  • Office chair is/was a hand-me-down from his parents.
  • Office couch is/was a hand-me-down from his grandparents as well.
  • Guest bedroom bed was my husband's college bed that his parents bought from Ikea.
  • Throw rugs were the same ones we had in our apartment.
  • Kitchen table was a hand-me-down from his aunt and uncle.
  • Blinds were a housewarming gift from the in-laws.
We had everything else that we needed and waited a year or two before we added wood laminate flooring ($2200 a year later), paint and new fixtures ($430 a year later), lawn scaping ($150 a year and a half later), and a new Tempurpedic bed and wooden bedroom set ($6000 last year).
Wow...put like this, I really need to thank our family some more!  All of that would have easily have cost us at least an extra $6000 and that is only if I found great deals on the used stuff from Craigslist.  Thanks again to our generous family and friends!

Do you remember how much you spent the first year you owned your home?  Do you know how much you spend each year now?  Do you have any suggestions on how to keep costs down for the current and future-homeowners in our group? 

If I get enough tips together, I'll make it into another post and link to you too...bribery works, right?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Hope everyone has a terrific day!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Crappy Fedex Experience

I mentioned a while back that Fedex was on my Crappy Company list and that I'd explain why later.  Now that the whole situation is resolved and I'm not as angry as I was before, I thought it would be fun to fill you in.

In early April my in-laws asked if I could find a specific porcelain statue for them on Ebay.  They do not have their own Ebay account and I had done this for them before a few times, so I found the statue they requested and made our bid.  We won the statue and I paid $848 on April 13.

On April 20, we received a Fedex door tag that said that we weren't home and they would try again tomorrow.  I called to explain that we work until 5pm.  The rep said that since it was Fedex Ground, we couldn't schedule a delivery time but we could have the package re-routed.  I agreed and gave them my work address.  After typing all of that into the ticket, the rep paused and then simply said that my address wouldn't work since my name wasn't the one on the package - my husband was the listed recipient.  I asked if I could provide my driver's license to verify the same address, but she said no.  I had to call back with my husband's work address. 

The next day, April 21, we had another door tag on our house.  I called and asked why the package wasn't re-routed to my husband and they said that a signature-required package couldn't be re-routed at all.  I asked why I had spent 45 minutes on the phone the day before if it wasn't possible.  I was then placed on hold.  When the guy finally came back, he apologized that I was misinformed and said they'd stick to their word and re-route the package to my husband.

My husband received the statue the next day, April 22, and dropped it off at his parent's house on his way home.  When his parents opened it, the statue was missing part of its head and hand...they were shattered.  I emailed the Ebay seller and he responded that he'd get the claim number from Fedex since it was insured and I'd need that number to have it shipped back.

I finally received that claim number on April 26 and called Fedex to have the package picked up.  The guy on the other end of the phone walked me through all the info they needed including my in-laws address and then asked me how we were going to pay for the pickup!  I asked why we'd need to pay since the package was insured and they told the seller that they'd pick it up.  He responded that all pickups required payment.  I asked what our free option would be and he gave me an address close to my in-laws home.

On April 27 my in-laws took the package to the address we were given and were told that the Fedex Express office could not take a Fedex Ground package.  My mother in-law asked why the rep gave us this address and she responded that she didn't know.  She then pointed to a phone on the wall and told my MIL to call and ask.  After talking to another guy, my MIL was told that the package would have been picked up for free and asked why we didn't do that!!!  She told them what I was told and they apologized and arranged a pick up time.

The package was finally picked up on April 28 and Fedex still had not refunded the seller's money when I inquired about it on April 29, May 3, and May 4.  Ebay refunded my $848 on May 18 after the seller refused for several weeks - he wanted to wait for his reimbursement even though he still had my cash in his Paypal account.

To summarize, I ordered this stupid statue on April 13 and didn't receive my refund until May 18.  I spent at least 2 hours on the phone with Fedex and another hour on the phone with Ebay.  All of this could have been avoided if Fedex had paid attention to the box that said "This Side Up" or even if they had given a refund faster.  They "misinformed" me about package re-routing policy, the package pickup policy, and even the address for the location they wanted us to go to instead!  I'll never use that Ebay seller again since he took my money hostage, but I also won't be using Fedex voluntarily after all this.  Argh!!!

Have you had any super fun dealings with Fedex?  Would you like to vent too?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unemployment is Closing the Bank of Mom and Dad

This article, Bank of Mom and Dad Shuts Amid White-Collar Struggle, explains that unemployment is affecting the upper-middle class as well:

Indeed, the bank of Mom and Dad is closing at a time when young people are having trouble borrowing from traditional lenders. Some 22% of young people between the ages of 18 and 34 said they've been turned down for a mortgage, loan or credit card in the past year, according to a February survey from FindLaw.com, a legal marketing and information site. That's double the percentage of any other age group in its survey.

As a result, many young people are now moving home to save on rent. About 21% of young adults say they've either moved in with a friend or relative, or had a friend or relative move in with them because of the economy, according to a study from the Pew Research Center.

...Many parents who were set to retire are now delaying it to compensate for battered retirement accounts, leaving even fewer openings for younger workers to fill. There are an additional 500,000 workers over the age of 65 in the work force now compared with 2007.

In short, unemployment is forcing parents to cut their kids off and push back their own retirement.  Those kids are having to cut expenses to get by without parental financial support.  Although this seems like an obvious result, it is worth repeating as a reminder. 

As I've said before, if you are planning to help your kids, please make sure to cover your own bases first.  I feel much sorrier for the parents that are pushing back their retirement than the young adults being turned down for mortgages and credit cards.

What do you think?  Should retirement be a higher priority than aiding your kids in college?  Are you having similar problems right now...am I misjudging the situation?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Practice Makes Permanent

For the last three months, I haven't been keeping up with our budget every day like usual.  I got enamoured with this blog and started blowing off all the little, detail-oriented tasks I used to do like updating out budget every day or two.  In fact, I've simply been entering all of our numbers at the end of our monthly budgeting cycle and looking at the results.  So far, so good. 

It seems that practice makes permanent.

We used to look at our food budget at least once a week so we'd know if we needed to cut back the following week.  Now it seems we have found our happy spot without needing to keep an eye on it all the time.  We have successfully stayed within our food budget three months in a row without having a "come to Jesus" moment halfway through.  I am so proud.

Even though large, unexpected expenses like vet bills, car problems, and dental work keep popping up, we are doing fine.  Our many excess accounts are taking the slack as expected and we're still staying on track.  I'm hoping that a few unexciting months will help us build up more padding again, but all in all, we're feeling pretty good about our situation.

I think this may be a permanent change to our budgeting habits.  I'll still enter all the numbers once a month.  I'll still make sure we're not going hog wild in any specific area.  I'll also make sure we keep hitting our savings goals without fail.  BUT, we seem to have reached the point that we no longer need constant monitoring in order to pull all of that off.  WOOT!

How are your budgeting situations working out?  Do you have a written budget?  If so, is it updated weekly, monthly, or annually?  If not, what works for you?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Three Levels of Budgeting

These last couple of months have been filled with all sorts of unexpected monetary hurdles, so I thought this would be a good time to bring up the three levels of budgeting we use to keep ourselves on track.  Our monthly, annual, and random expenses are all taken into account on our monthly budget.

Our Monthly Budget

I use three columns of an Excel spreadsheet to list all our budgeted categories, the target amount for each category, and how much we actually spent.  This makes it easy to do spot checks.  It also has helped me to have detailed records of our expenses. 

It's amazing how often I want to know how much we spent on food, vacations, or grad school in any given month.  I used to simply be curious and anal, now I have a blog to think about.  Having those records makes blogging so much more fun for me since I don't have to estimate my numbers.  It's hard to have full disclosure without having the actual data, right?

For non-bloggers, long-term budgeting data is useful in order to see how you are looking overall.  It also can be used to track spending differentiations that may lead to budget changes in the future.

Annual Expenses

Like everyone, we have several annual expenses.  We used to pay for these out of our emergency fund, but it always hurt to watch that fund get hit for easily remembered events like homeowners insurance.  Now we have a spot on our monthly budget for these annual charges. 

It's much less stressful to pay that $800 insurance bill when I can see we have the money waiting in our "Insurance and Tax Account" at ING.  Contributing $67 a month to that account is also much easier than watching our emergency fund take an $800 whack in the face.

Random Expenses

Some things just can't be budgeted for very easily.  You expect to buy new tires every two or three years, but you don't know exactly when.  You know your dog may require money for a big vet bill someday, but how do you know when it will get sick? 

We budget for these items by putting a set amount into extra ING accounts every month.  Spending $500 at Discount Tire can really hurt, but it stings a lot less if you know your "Home and Auto Account" will be able to cover it.

Does your budget take into account all your expenses?  If not, how do you cover annual and random bills?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Do You Hate Performance Reviews?

This article at Yahoo Finance provided by The Wall Street Journal, Yes, Everyone Really Does Hate Performance Reviews, seemed pretty one-sided to me.

The author argues that performance reviews are scheduled one-sided ways to place blame on employees and ignore their input.  That kind of performance review does indeed sound useless and mean.  What about performance reviews that actually review performance and open a line of communication?

Well, the author doesn't think that those kind of reviews exist, so I'm going to have to leave the article behind. 

I personally work for a company that pays way below average and doesn't care about their "human resources" at all.  BUT, they do give annual performance reviews.  Depending on which supervisor an employee has, these are actual reviews that allow us to ask questions and give opinions.

My two direct supervisors are great.  I seem to work in the only department within the company that treats their employees as people.  My annual performance reviews are thorough and allow me to make suggestions and ask questions that I would otherwise put aside.  It's also nice to get a pat on the back from the bosses even though their normal operating procedure is that you are doing well unless told otherwise.  I am the only woman in the department and I also seem to be the only one that thrives on praise.

Plus, our raises are given during performance reviews.  Before this two year salary freeze, I could always depend on a little extra.  Stupid economy...it is an employer's market and they know it.

In short, I am a fan of performance reviews.  Do you like your review at all?  Or do you agree with the original article's author?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Personal Goals Update

Jaime at Eventual Millionaire posted her update on the goals she made for 2010 in this post.  That reminded me of the goals I made at the beginning of the year.

2010 Goals

1. Eat out no more than 3 times a week.

As I mentioned in our food budget, in 2009, I was eating off of value menus every day for lunch and my husband and I ate fast food or at restaurants 3-5 evenings of the week. Since January 1, 2010, I have successfully started bringing my own lunch (have only eaten out 3 lunches all year) and we eat out about 2 times a week. It’s shaved our food budget from $600 a month to less than $400 a month.

2. Visit my remaining high school friends as I promised.

My two remaining friends from high school live 3 hours and 4 hours away from my home and I had been procrastinating on actually visiting (I dislike driving). My husband and I took off on Easter weekend Friday and visited one of my friends until Saturday and the other all day Sunday. It was great!

3. Lose 20 pounds by our annual vacation.

I am totally failing at this. Our vacation is in about a month and I’m still 30 pounds overweight. I know that I’ve lost a little weight since my pants fit better, but our scale broke, I’ve never replaced it, and I completely blew off any regular exercise routine. I lost interest in that goal and started a blog instead (which I wasn’t even thinking about in January, lol).  I like my choice but hope to add weight loss into my regular routine.

4. Learn a song well enough for karaoke.

I was going to make sure to get one song down well enough that I’d be good at it if I grew a pair and got up to sing on the cruise. I haven’t, although I’m getting to know some Pink songs pretty well. I have another month, so I’ll look into this again tonight…I should be able to learn one great song in a month and half…

5. Max-out two Roth IRA’s instead of just one.

That may not happen since we replaced that goal with “pay off car by the end of the year”. If we really avoid splurging and no big emergencies pop up, we may still be able to fund a 2nd Roth IRA for 2010, but it will probably be between January-April of 2011.

Long-Term Goals

1. Start taking two vacations a year or more to make some extra fun memories as soon as I get 15 days of vacation (2011).

2. Make long-lasting close friends (other than hubby). That sounds silly, but close friends are hard to come by…finding a great friend fit seems way harder than meeting and marrying my husband!

3. Retire by age 52. So far, so good.

What are your goals?  How are they coming?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Free Renovations Can Go Too Far

How would you like to have your house remodeled for free?  Whoo-hoo, right?  Not so fast...

According to this article, Extreme Makeover renovations were so intense that the homeowner's were left with way larger utility bills and property taxes than they had before.  In one case, it was more than the owner's could handle.  The first "Extreme Foreclosure" of a previously renovated home has prompted the show to scale back.

How do you scale back when you're whole show is based on amazing your viewers?  They have begun renovating "smaller" homes (3000 square feet instead of 5000 plus square feet), installing low flow toilets, leaving out swimming pools some of the time, and landscaping to the home's specific environment.

I think it's awesome that an American TV show all about extravagance has decided that downsizing is "in".  The best part to me is that the show apparently started as an idea of helping "regular" people while entertaining an audience.  It took time and a housing boom to push the renovations into the OMG category. 

Maybe getting back to basics can help the owners of these renovated homes and the TV show too.

Do you watch Extreme Makeover?  Have you noticed a difference?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Letter to Myself 10 Years Down the Road

In March, Ninja at Punch Debt in the Face wrote a letter to himself 10 years later and challenged others to do the same.  I came across one of those letters in late March at Fiscal Geek and another mid-April at 151 Days Off.  The letters were amazing and made me want to participate.  Here's what I'd write to my 37 year old self:

Dear Red,

You've been with hubby for 19 years now...are we happily celebrating our 15th anniversary?  Do you still snuggle in the mornings before work or give each other head massages when you're stressed?  Do you still make each other laugh?  Does he still refuse to let you cook the main meals because he "fears death", oh, and does he still over-compliment your sandwiches in an attempt to get you to make them instead?  Most importantly, are you two still in love? 

If you answered no to any of these, you should work on that.  Laugh more.  Loosen up.  Unless of course he did something supremely crappy.  Then you should...never mind...leave no proof.  :-)

So, did we change our minds on the kid front?  If we didn't, do we have more dogs?  If we did, I hope he or she is healthy and not a pain-in-the-butt like you were.  I would hate for Mom to have been right.  You know any kid you have are going to be a smart-a$$, right?  I wouldn't have it any other way.  Is hubby a great dad?  I bet he surprised himself.

How is our money looking?  Did BFS take off?  Is the house paid off as planned?  Did hubby talk you into trading up yet?  I hope not.  Stick to your guns and keep his mind off it.  You know how...buy him some board games or something.  (Haha, you didn't think that was what I was going to say).

Anyway, are we still on track to retire in 15 more years?  If not, why?  I don't want to work into our 60's, do you?

Are you still a nice person?  Have you made someone random smile today?  I hope we still have a good sense of humor.  I also hope we still help others.  If you haven't volunteered for a while, schedule that for this weekend.  You know you want to and there are a ton of places that appreciate our time.

Okay, please make sure that you make the rest of our life fun.  Love hubby some more, you know he's crazy about you.  Make a silly joke or use that kid voice we always fall into.  If you haven't been silly lately, man up and try it out.  You know we love to laugh.

Red at 27...the one who hopes we had a great 10 years...

That was fun.  Do any of you have any comments or questions for your future selves?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

One Big Glitch

To all of my readers,

As you can see, BFS is now a proud Wordpress site!  There may be a few small bugs to work out, but the only one I know of right now is a biggie.  Due to a recent Blogger bug, only 45 comments made it through the migration.  That means that I can see all of your awesome comments at the old Blogger page, but they all did not make it to the new Wordpress site.  I am so sorry and am also upset since I loved seeing all the comments that peppered my posts!

But, feel free to graze over your favorite posts and leave your musings.  If a fix to the bug comes along in the future, I'll be all over it and rescue all our comments from the Blogger abyss.  I'm also looking into cutting and pasting the comments over one by one, but that may take a while.  Until then, I'll just keep churning out interesting posts and we can build a new history together.

Thanks so much for being a part of my online community!


PS  If you have any other problems, please shoot me an email at budgetingfunstuff *at* gmail *dot* com.  I am striving to make this blog as user friendly as possible.  Thanks!

Yakezie Alexa Ranking Update - 158,000

BFS is a member of the Yakezie Alexa Ranking Challenge!  My ranking last week was 169,795.  Now it is 158,000!  Not bad!

The ultimate goal was to be in the top 200,000 by July 4, 2010 and you helped me blow that out of the water!  Now we're shooting for 100,000 by July 4th instead.  Yep, we're aiming high!

I would like to sincerely thank all of my readers and the members of the Yakezie Challenge.  Obviously, this would be impossible without all of you.  I'll just come out and say it...you all kick butt!!!

In case you didn't know, Alexa traffic rankings are determined by the numbers of hits a site gets by people with the Alexa toolbar.  If you want to be part of this ranking community, you can download the Alexa toolbar here.  I'd truly appreciate it if you haven't already since I'd like all my readers to be taken into account.  :-)

If you are a Yakezie member and don't see yourself on my member list, please send me an email or leave a comment here to be added.  I copied the list originally and forget to update it regularly.  Please help a girl out.  Thanks!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Weekly Favorites and Gratitude!

My Favorite Posts this Week
Blog Carnivals that Included BFS
Thanks! I appreciate all the time you spent on this process.  It's a great feeling to be chosen!

Carnival hosts, if BFS is in a blog carnival that you are running, please email me the link so it can be added to this weekly list. Thanks!

Guest Posts on BFS
Thanks for the great post and for giving me a day off!

If you would like to submit a guest post to BFS, please shoot me an idea or the actual post.  I'd also appreciate a one or two sentence introduction for the piece.  I'll get back to you quickly and will give you as much advance notice as possible on its posting date.

Other Info

Feel free to email me if you have any suggestions.  I'd love to add a few more blogs to my regular reading list or at least give a shout-out for great posts or contests.

As always, thanks to all the bloggers that teach me something new every day.  Thanks to all my commenters for making this blog the community I want it to be.  Thanks to all my lurkers too.  I hope everybody is enjoying this as much as I am!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fit in a Fun Friday - Volunteering

Volunteering is a lot of fun usually.  What other job can you think of that lets you pick exactly what you want to do and appreciates the simple fact that you showed up and helped out?  This is why I plan to spend a large part of my retirement on volunteering with animals and the elderly.  The animals are really cute and I could not think of a worse fate than being lonely in my golden years. 

Here's my volunteering history up to this point:

I started volunteering in 5th grade on a regular basis.  Back then I cleaned up Galveston beaches and the roads near my neighborhood.  In 6th grade I volunteered at the city library and had a great time.  In 7th grade I played card games and dominoes with the residents of the local senior citizen's home and should have stayed longer.  In 8th grade I stupidly picked to help out with the county's historical museum (can anybody say "use that kid for filing"...sheesh).  I really enjoyed helping out, but then we moved to Holland in 9th grade and I shut down.

Depression is a weird thing.  I knew I didn't feel right, but I didn't really want to feel better either.  I just wanted to sleep and listen to music and ignore everything around me.  It took me a couple of months to peek out from my room and try to enjoy Europe while we were there.  Within 7 months we were packing again and moved to Argentina for 2 1/2 years.

After a year or so, I befriended my little sister's English teacher who ran her own English learning center.  I started volunteering as an English instructor for 6 and 7 year-olds until we moved back home.  You never respect teachers more than when you decide to teach a second language to kids that barely just learned their first one!  I also realized that I was a lot less moody when I was involved with others.

After we got back to Texas, I once again fell off the volunteering wagon and went to college for 4 years.  I had 2 or 3 part-time jobs the whole time so I just couldn't bring myself to find enough time to fit in helping others long-term.  I volunteered for a few clean ups and that was about it. 

Then I was a graduate and started my first full-time job.  All of the sudden, I had extra time again.  I discovered the Houston SPCA and started volunteering in the big dog section...they seemed the most lonely since puppies get all the attention.  I never told my husband, but we came very close to owning about 20 dogs that first month...including a 120 pound Mastiff "puppy" that just might have fit in our 550 square foot apartment...

We lived close so I could work 20-25 hours a week pretty easily for that 6 months, but then we moved 45 minutes away to our new house.  Now I only help answer phones for their telethons. 

Since I still wanted to help and we were looking for a second dog, I became a foster parent for Pughearts: Houston Pug Rescue.  For another 6 months I fostered and helped find a home for 10 Pugs and adopted our own Pug early on.  When my husband started graduate school, we took a fostering break, but I hope to restart this fall.  It helps that my allergy-ridden Pug feels better and probably wouldn't mind some company at this point since our Dachshund-mutt actively ignores him whenever possible.  :-)

In short, volunteering is a necessary part of my life.  I feel blah whenever too much time passes...it's like a mild addiction.  My plans for the future are to get involved with Meals on Wheels since I do miss spending time with the elderly.  Those guys have the best stories and sincerely appreciate a good conversation.  I never made anybody happier than when I gave a 95 year old woman the first manicure she had been given in almost 25 years.

Do you have any volunteer stories to share?  What organizations tug at your heart strings?  If you haven't volunteered, I'd suggest trying it at least once...the people or animals or whatever that you help are not the only ones that feel better.  :-)