Monday, November 23, 2009

The fence that makes good neighbors needs a gate to make good friends

I've never really had friendly neighbors before.

The house where I grew up was in a small neighborhood of mostly elderly people who rarely left their houses. The couple next door was friendly. My father and they would exchange garden produce and they'd invite my sisters and I to swim in their pool. But most of my exchanges with the other neighbors were limited to waves and hellos.

In my adult life I've lived in four cities: St. Louis, New Orleans, London, and Boston. In none of them did I even know my neighbors. I couldn't have told you their names. No one came by to introduce themselves when I moved in, and few even had a smile to offer when passing.

What ever happened to the days when new neighbors showed up on your doorstep with a casserole or invited each other for dinner or just to chat on the front porch? I wondered. Didn't I see that on Leave It to Beaver or Little House on the Prairie?

I don't want to slag on Americans in general (There are plenty of other people to do that, right?), but what's the deal? I made attempts to get to know and befriend the people in my neighborhood in every place I lived, but without luck. Nobody was interested. And look, I'm a pretty damn interesting person. I don't smell. I'm not insane, annoying, or pushy. I don't have any weird tics or a third eyeball or anything. So what gives? I don't have trouble meeting people or making friends elsewhere, but I'll be damned if I can make friends with the people who live 50 feet away from me and whom I see nearly every day.

Until now, that is. Since MDT and I have been in Costa Rica (a little over a month), not only have we met all our immediate neighbors (and their extended families), but we even consider them our friends.

The couple across the street is awesome. They have been incredibly helpful. The guy is a contractor, and has come over to help us fix several things around the house that had us stumped (the frighteningly named "suicide shower" that is endemic to Central America, for one), and given us lifts to town, etc. His girlfriend made us rice pudding, her parents brought us Guanabana shakes, and her daughter stops by almost daily to practice her English and play with the cats and often brings us oranges or bananas that she's picked. They're like our adoptive family. It's pretty cool.

Plantains brought to us (and wrapped with birthday paper) by Angelica, age 7.

An entire branch of bananas from our friend Pablo.

Our landlady and her daughter live next door and two doors down, respectively. They've also brought us fruit and given us rides, and her seven-year-old granddaughter is always running around playing and bringing me flowers.

Flowers, picked and delivered by Angelica. Yes, that's a giant tin of tomatoes. We didn't have a vase.

Another neighbor, a guy MDT plays fútbol with, has invited us for drinks at the bar next door and to his upcoming birthday bash, and others routinely give us a lift to or from town if they're passing by. We know everyone's names (and their dogs', cats', and horses').

It's always difficult when you're new in town, but this time we're new in the country, and the language is new, too. I can't even believe how much at home they've made us feel here, in so little time. When our time comes to move on, we'll be very sad to leave them.

Um. . . so where are you going with this?
I know this post isn't exactly about personal finances or being thrifty, unless of course you count my passing mention of us walking everywhere (not owning a car) or the fact that we've saved money on food because people keep bringing us stuff. But the whole point of being frugal and minding your financial situation is, ultimately, to be more comfortable, right? I'm not saying having money makes you happy. But I am saying that life's a hell of a lot easier when you don't have a huge debt hanging over your head or when you don't have to worry about how you're going to pay your bills at the end of the month or how you'll ever be able to afford your own home (seriously, can someone fill me in on how the hell people do this?).

I've talked a lot about sharing garden produce, tools, rides, etc., in other posts. And I hate to take things back to the kindergarten level, but you know what? It's nice to share. And to be friendly. It's makes everyone more happy.

So go make a casserole, already. Pick a neighbor you don't know very well, knock on their door, and make their day. Go ahead. You'll feel good afterward, and you just might make a new friend.

Thanks to One Mint for including this post in the Economy and Your Finances Carnival.

The fence that makes good neighbors needs a gate to make good friendsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

And the winner is....

Congratulations to Marina, the winner of the rolled canvas poster print. I hope your daughter likes her new wall decoration!

Thanks to everyone who entered. More giveaways to come.


And the winner is....SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, November 16, 2009

Another Easy-to-Win Giveaway: 16”x20” Rolled Canvas from

Just in time for the Holidays, our sponsor is rolling out another giveaway: a 16¨ x 20¨ rolled canvas print (with free UPS shipping to the US, of course). Rolled canvas prints are perfect for home decor, photo prints, and signage. And they make fantastic, thoughtful gifts.

Ready to enter?
All you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling us what photo gifts you want to have printed for their family and loved ones.

Really want the print? For additional entries, you can do any or all of the following and leave a comment here telling us you've done it:
  1. Blog about this giveaway and link to this post and (2 entries)
  2. Tweet this: ¨Win a 16¨ x 20¨ rolled canvas print + free shipping! Perfect for home decor, photo gifts, and signage. #giveaway¨ (2 entries)
  3. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and/or MySpace. (1 entry each)
Giveaway ends at noon on November 23rd, so get your entries in quick!

We'll announce the winner on the blog and a coupon code will be sent to the winner’s registered email on November 27, 2009, so if your blogger profile doesn't display your email address, be sure to leave it in your comment.

Good luck!

Thank you to for providing us here at TAiMH with our own free print. It´s awesome. And thanks to UPrinting for hooking us up with them. See their review at YouTheDesigner.

Another Easy-to-Win Giveaway: 16”x20” Rolled Canvas from DigitalRoom.comSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Couchsurfing to Save Money and Make Friends While Traveling: Our Experiences.

Reminded by the mention of couchsurfing in Man vs Debt's recent post that I compiled for the Money Hacks Carnival I hosted last week, I've decided to write a review, of sorts, of couchsurfing based on my and MDT's experiences as couchsurfers. We have not as yet had the pleasure of hosting any surfers as we've been in the process of moving first across the U.S. and then to Central America and setting up shop here. But, as we've been here in Costa Rica a whole month now (!!!) and just purchased an air mattress, perhaps we'll receive guests soon and I'll be able to update this article with our experiences hosting.

What is CouchSurfing?

I heard about a year or two ago, but didn't try it out until this fall. MDT and I had decided to move to Costa Rica, but needed a place to stay during our two-week house-hunting visit. describes itself and its purpose thusly: "CouchSurfing offers you, via our website and regional events and activities, the opportunity to intimately encounter the world. Through meaningful connections with locals, Couchsurfing seeks to promote self-awareness and understanding of others. Being a CouchSurfer means you are part of an international community of travelers who recognize similarities and appreciate differences in all peoples."1 It's a travel community with a (supposed) purpose and with a general attitude of acceptance that can come off sounding a bit peace-and-lovish. Not that I have anything against peace and love, of course. But I've had enough random experiences with, let's say, "the less down-to-earth" sort to be slightly wary of people one might encounter via couchsurfing. However, my concerns have so far been unfounded.

As an aside, I have had a close encounter of the hippie kind here (an aging—and braless—Californian woman who invited me to her monthly New Moon women's group where they dance and "summon [their] ancestors and [their] progeny," but it had nothing to do with couchsurfing.

I will say, however, that on the couchsurfing site it's best to carefully read the profile of anyone you're considering staying with. Personally if I see phrases like "sacred space," "auras," "star-child of the universe," (yep, that one's real) in a profile, I just move on. Depending on where you're traveling to, the type of people you'll see on couchsurfing vary widely.

To sign up for, you simply fill out a basic profile (10-15 minutes, depending on how in-depth you want to be) and then you're free to start searching for available couches. The search feature is easy to use and includes information about each registered couchsurfer (and/or host—you can choose to be one, the other, or both). Select the area you're planning to travel to and start browsing profiles. You can do more in-depth searches if you're traveling to populous areas with a larger selection of profiles.

Our Experience

We e-mailed (via's interface) eight or nine people. A few didn't respond, and a few who did weren't available at the times we needed, but we ended up finding three available hosts in different areas.

Our first night in Costa Rica, we stayed with a young Tico man in what turned out to be his mother's house (though she was out of town). This first couchsurfing experience was the worst: the house was filthy, I mean disgusting. It looked like nothing had been cleaned or so much as dusted for five years. The young man and his friend, who was also staying the night, were mostly friendly and we chatted, somewhat uncomfortably for me at least, for an hour or two before we were shown our room. It was during the chatting that MDT spotted and discreetly pointed out to me the biggest roach I've ever seen in my entire life—and I've lived in New Orleans. This thing was big enough to have facial features I'd probably recognize if I saw it again. I behaved very well, however, and no one noticed my horror. The bathroom was horrible, so much that we couldn't even shower for fear of coming out dirtier than before, and the bedding was so repulsive that we slept (or attempted to sleep), fully clothed, on top of our jackets laid on top of the bedding. It was an experience I hope never to repeat.

At this point, I was pretty terrified of what to expect of our next "couch," but thankfully, our second host, another young Tico, just our age, was a ray of sunshine—and has since become our good friend, whom we hang out with often. He, too, lives with his parents (or rather they live with him), but his house is very clean and he and his family are very hospitable. We only planned on staying with him for a day or two, but he offered for us to stay as long as we like, and he even devoted several days of his time to driving us around town and helping us house-hunt. He showed us how to make traditional Tico-style food and introduced us to his friends. We felt very much at home, even though he is the only one in his family who speaks English and our Spanish at the time wasn't fantastic. After a few days, we were already friends, hanging out, going to the bar, etc. He even took us to the beach for the day where we all swam, ate home-grown oranges, and picked coconuts. You couldn't ask for someone more generous and friendly.

We stayed at a hostel in another town for a few nights, and then for our last night in Costa Rica we stayed just outside the capital with an Italian girl a few years younger than us (and her mother), who own a nearby gelato establishment. The girl picked us up in a taxi and brought us back to her home, which was pristine, huge, and magnificent. I'm not sure if I've even been in such a fancy house. The girl was very hospitable, but left soon after we arrived to go to a friend's party. She invited us along, but we'd been traveling for two weeks and just needed to shower and rest that night. She very trustingly left us alone at her house, telling us to make ourselves at home, and after briefly showing us around disappeared for the rest of the night. We had showers and a snack and settled down to watch one of the movies she'd pointed out to us before she left. Her couch was magnificently comfortable, but we were given the guest room to sleep in, whose bed was also immensely comfortable. I commented to MDT that we might as well have been in a hotel. The girl returned around 3 am with a friend, partied a bit more (which woke up MDT but not me), and was still sleeping when we left in the morning. We had a bit of trouble maneuvering around her two very large (but deceptively friendly) dogs whilst attempting to unlock and get through the front gate without letting them loose, but otherwise it was a relaxing and good experience.

The verdict:

If you're looking for a possibly wild and crazy experience and are the adventurous (and imperturbable) type, give a try. Don't expect to be waited on or fed—though it could happen. If possible, talk with the person on the phone before you stay with them, just to get an idea of who they are and if you'll get on well. Again, much of your experience will depend on the culture and general way of life of the area you're visiting. That said, we had three very different experiences in the same region of the same country. My advice, if you're interested in couchsurfing, is to try it out in your own country first and see what you think before you do it halfway across the globe.

If, however, you're not an extremely social person or are just looking for an easy, relaxing vacation and you're on a budget, you might want to skip couchsurfing and check out some hostels or budget hotels.

Even if you don't need a place to stay, I'd say that couchsurfing is a good way to meet people wherever you are traveling, or even in your hometown. There's even a search option to find people who are willing to just meet you for coffee or a drink and talk with you about their country, culture, travels, etc. It's a great way to get to know an area and to meet a variety of people.

Other Opinions?
Have you ever couchsurfed? If so, what do you think about it? If not, would you ever consider doing it?

1. From the homepage.

Thanks to The Financial Blogger for including this post in this week's Festival of Frugality, to Sadie for including it in the Carnival of Savings, and to One Mint for including it in the Economy and Your Finances Carnival.

Couchsurfing to Save Money and Make Friends While Traveling: Our Experiences.SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Money Hacks Carnival #90: Minimalist Edition

Without further ado, this week's best in financial blogging:

Editor's Picks

PT presents PocketSmith: A Calendar-Based Financial Planner posted at PT Money.

freefrombroke presents Its Official First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit Extended Now For Existing Owners Too posted at Free From Broke.

Miss M presents Lending Club Update: Some Interesting Developments posted at M is for Money.

DR presents Balance Transfer Credit Cards posted at The Dough Roller.

D4L presents 10 Stocks Taking Their Dividends Up A Notch posted at Dividends Value.

Credit Cards

Ray presents Best Credit Card posted at Financial Highway.

Manshu presents Disney Rewards Visa Credit Card posted at OneMint.

David presents Quicken Rewards Visa® Credit Card posted at Credit Card Offers IQ.

Mr Credit Card presents Bombshell Deal From Chase and British Airways posted at Ask Mr Credit Card's Blog.

Debt Management

oneadvice presents Debt Management Solution posted at One Advice. Looking for a debt management solution which is right for you? Be clear and concise about your debt management requirements before signing ANYTHING....

Real Estate

Paul Williams presents How Big of a Mortgage Can I Afford? posted at Provident Planning.

Tom presents Save Money By Selling Your House Without A Real Estate Agent posted at The Canadian Finance Blog. Selling your house without a real estate agent can be a great way to save money, but only if you do your research and are willing to put in more of your own time.

General Financial Planning

Miranda presents Elements of a Financial Checkup posted at Personal Dividends.

Hank presents Get Back To The Blocking And Tackling Basics of Personal Finance posted at Own The Dollar. A lot of people have forgotten the basics of money management. We need to get back to the basics to be successful.

Wojciech Kulicki presents X Marks the Spot: Navigating Financial Treasure Maps posted at Fiscal Fizzle.

J. Money presents Try working on finances when you're in the mood :) posted at Budgets are Sexy.

Studenomist presents Are You An Expert On Personal Money Management? posted at Studenomics.


Matt presents How To Start Your Own Personal Hedge Fund posted at The Online Investing AI Blog. presents Penny Stock Scams posted at Trading Stocks.

Praveen presents Just Bought Hyatt Hotels (H) posted at My Simple Trading System.

Jeff Rose presents 2010 Traditional and Roth 401k Contribution Limits posted at Jeff Rose.

Small Business

Christy Horgan presents Hip Hip Hooray! Permanent exemption from 404(b) for Small Business is Possible! posted at Gray Matters.


FMF presents How to Buy a New Furnace and Air Conditioner posted at Free Money Finance.

Kris presents Ask the Internet: Eating Healthy at Conferences? posted at Cheap Healthy Good.

Baker presents Travel Hacking for Noobs: How We Save Hundreds on Airfare, Get Free Accommodation, & Make Money while Overseas posted at Man Vs. Debt.

pkamp3 presents California… What…? posted at Don't Quit Your Day Job - Personal Finance, Economics and Investing.

The Financial Blogger presents Do You Cheat Sometimes? A Look at Fidelity posted at The Financial Blogger. A look at financial fidelity.

Thanks to everyone who submitted to the carnival and to all our lovely readers. I hope you enjoy this week's posts.

Money Hacks Carnival #90: Minimalist EditionSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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