Updated on 02.10.10

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Endless Winter Edition

Trent Hamm

This has been the worst winter I have seen in my adult life. We have had several snowfalls of more than six inches over the last two months and the snow has always been at least several inches deep on the ground constantly since early December (starting with the amazing December 8 blizzard).

This winter has finally pushed my wife and I to purchase a snowblower, something we’d managed to avoid for the past two winters in our home. I had been able to keep up with a shovel (and occasional generosity from a very kind neighbor), but after the third or fourth significant snowfall, it didn’t cut the mustard any more. I researched the snow blowers available near here, purchased one, and have used it seven times already to blow snow from our driveway and sidewalks.

Even worse: the long term forecasts have at least five (!) more significant snowfalls by the end of the month.

It’s deep enough that I’m going to clear off my deck today (by hand) because I’m worried about the sheer weight of the snow sitting on it.

I am really looking forward to spring at this point.

The world’s easiest first step into growing your own local food This actually works really well. It’s one of those things you can do in your own kitchen and it’s easy enough that kids can really get into it and learn something about where food comes from as well. (@ no impact man)

The World Belongs to Those Who Hustle Not hustle in the “rip people off” sense, but in the “strive harder” sense. The person who goes home from work and pushes themselves to improve will always eventually come out on top. (@ art of manliness)

Who’s In Charge of Your Life? We all like to think that we are, but if we find ourselves saying “How high?” when someone else tells us to jump, who’s really in charge? Who’s in charge of your life? Who would you like to not have in charge of your life? (@ dumb little man)

Reader Story: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Moved in with Mom Moving back in with mom and dad doesn’t have to be a sign of failure if you come at it with the right plan and the right attitude. It can be the boost you need to move forward from where you are right now. (@ get rich slowly)

How to enlist Gmail to sell your Craigslist items for you I have an item (or maybe two) that I’m seriously considering putting up on Craigslist, but I was worried about how to handle another deluge of questions. This seems like a brilliant idea, one I’m going to use. (@ mighty bargain hunter)

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  1. J says:

    1) Shoveling snow is good for you! :)

    2) I found out my first snowblower (purchased used) was 38 years old when it finally died. I replaced it with a 10 HP model from the same manufacturer, Ariens. Other people I work with and live next to also select Ariens versus other brands.

    3) At the end of the season, make sure to “summerize” your snowblower. You can drain the gas/run it dry (or use stabilizer), and change the oil. That way come next winter you will be good to go. If you let old gas sit in there, it’ll clog up and you’ll be back to the shovel.

  2. A.M.B.A. says:

    Trent – the correct saying is “cut the muster”, not “mustard”. It is derived from military usage.

  3. J says:

    @A.M.B.A. – the origins of the phrase are unclear and ambiguous. Trent’s use is not incorrect. Google “cut the mustard origins” for a variety of possible origins, only one of which is the one you mention.

  4. Cyde Weys says:

    Hey Trent, just wondering where you live? That would be useful context for interpreting your snowfall amounts. I live in Maryland and the snow we have received this winter has been unreal, over 50 inches so far for the season. That’s at least ten times what we got for all of last winter.

  5. sandycheeks says:

    Trent, given the insane amounts of snowfall this year many people have been talking about investing in a snowblower. And from what I hear, it is an investment around $500-800. Could you share the research you did when deciding which snowblower to eventually purchase?

  6. guinness416 says:

    Interesting. We have had so LITTLE snow in Toronto this year that we’ve seen snowblowers stacked up in the hardware stores and on sale. If we can get a great enough deal we might buy one for next year. Sadly, the guy who used to share his with the rest of the street sold his house before xmas so if we pull the trigger it’ll be a communal item too.

  7. Tammy says:

    I feel your pain on the snowblower issue. We always said we didn’t need one. We only get a few serious (ie: 6″+ in one day) snowfalls in central Ohio, but this year we’ve had 2 storms in one week with over 18 inches of snow. I’m pregnant and my husband has developed a heart condition, so heavy shoveling is out of the question for now. Normally our trusty cars can plow through the snow in the driveway…but it’s a lot of snow right now. We might have to break down and get the snowblower. We probably would only use it once or twice a year, but it may be worth it.

  8. KC says:

    Concerning looking forward to spring – YOU AND ME BOTH BUDDY! I’m in western NC (not the mountains or foothills) and we’ve measured a total of 17 inches of snow in my yard. Snowfalls of 7, 7, and 3 inches. The first snowfall was mostly melted by the time of the second one, the third one was just on top of the second one. Today we have 50mph winds and very saturated soils (not good for the trees).

    To put all this snow in perspective…we just bought some snow boots in December cause we didn’t own any before. We didn’t have a snow shovel either. I “inherited” one from my dad that used to belong to my grandfather (who has been dead over 15 years). It’s aluminum, not plastic. In other words…we don’t do so well in this kind of weather. Thank God for indoor tennis courts or I’d be going nuts right now not being able to play.

  9. Michelle says:

    Um… when you post on Craigslist, you don’t have to post your actual e-mail or phone number. You register with the site, and your e-mail is hidden to the buyers, Craigslist basically assigns a “dummy” address to your item, then forwards all responses to you. I have NEVER put my phone number on Craigslist, I have done everything using e-mail. You can try the vacation reply thing, but honestly, I think if you put up a good posting, with pictures and a good description, you’ll probably only get responses that are serious.

    I know you think Craigslist is a giant cesspool where the scum of the internet congregate, but I have sold over 100 items on the site, and I’ve found that it is very rare to get an e-mail from someone who is not serious about purchasing your item. Just take the time to make the listing as detailed as possible and post several good pictures. Or you can waste your time setting up phony g-mail accounts and flickr streams.

  10. MP says:

    I have to chime in here about the Craigslist dilemma. It has been my experience to have 4-5 scam emails for every serious one. I live in Iowa. I don’t know if this has anything to do with the area. We have had only one successful sale using Craigslist, so I can see where Trent is coming from.

  11. J says:

    I’ll agree with Michelle, I was wondering why someone would go through all the hoopla of setting up the account and the vacation auto-response.

    I could see setting up a “personal” account and a “craigslist” account, along the same lines as I do with keeping “work” and “personal” emails separate, but all the information put into the vacation auto-responder should just go into the body of the ad.

    We have bought and sold a number of items on CL and it’s generally been pretty scammer-free. When we listed our car the scams were very easy to detect, the scammers pretty much used the exact same email, offers and methodology that craislist very conspicuously tells you is a scam.

  12. A.M.B.A. says:

    @#3-J.-thanks for the info. I did look it up. But, “cut the mustard” still sounds strange to my ears.

  13. IASSOS says:

    Grammar observation: “I” is nominative case; “me” is objective. You wrote: “This winter has finally pushed my wife and I . . .”, but I suspect you would not write “This winter has finally pushed I”

  14. Leah says:

    I’ve sold plenty of Craiglist. I actually put my phone number on there because it helps get things sold faster (land line number online). It’s never been a problem.

    In terms of the snowblower, I’m glad you’re happy with your purchase, but I am surprised that you didn’t work out a snowblower sharing arrangement with your neighbors. I’m also surprised that you didn’t just view shoveling as part of your exercise in losing 40 pounds, or even work on making shoveling a family thing. My dad bought us little plastic shovels as kids, and we’d go outside and shovel alongside him. I’m not sure how much help we were, but it did me a lot of good — I don’t have an aversion to shoveling, and I’m pretty quick to go out and shovel before snow piles up worse or gets crusty.

  15. Leah says:

    okay, I just read that Craiglist link. Completely the wrong way to go about things. You will lose the interest of most people if you make them jump through hoops to get information. Very few people care that much.

    What you should do: Use the craiglist process to post pictures, because then you get a little “pic” icon next to your posting. This is key for getting more page views (I frequently only look for this when I’m perusing CL). Use flickr only if you want to add more photos than CL will let you. Definitely make sure you connect an email, and use a phone number if you feel comfortable doing so. Give copious amounts of information, including dimensions of what you’re selling — why bother selling a couch if you don’t tell people how big it is? Many people will pass it over because they don’t want to drive out there only to find it’s too big to fit in their car/space. Take the appropriate amount of time to describe the items, and you’ll find that you can get top dollar on CL.

    I’ve sold all sort of stuff on CL. Antique furniture, toys, instruments, and even custom made drapes (no joke). The drapes got bought by a lady in our development that had similar windows, and she specifically said the measurements are what sold her, because she knew they’d fit.

    People are on CL to look for bargains. Treat it like a virtual garage sale, and do all the things you’d end up doing at a garage sale (like having a measuring tape available). Don’t waste their time nor your time by not giving enough information in advance.

  16. IASSOS says:

    I like snow! Yesterday our schools were closed due to heavy accumulation overnight, so that now we have 20 to 30 inches with drifts going much deeper, of course. Streets are getting narrow due to snow banks being plowed to the sides.

    Anyway, yesterday we cleared the driveway, and then went up to shovel the *flat* roof. My teen girls took advantage of that to jump off into a snowbank. And then they went sledding.

    It’s interesting, exciting, beautiful, and a change of pace. What’s not to like?

  17. dagny says:

    I live in northern Az at a 5300 foot elevation. It is snowing here at this moment. Nice big soft looking flakes. We need the moisture.

    Got to love this global _cooling_ !

  18. CDG says:

    Yeah, I don’t get the whole rigamarole with Craigslist either. I buy and sell a lot on CL, including selling my old car and buying my current one. I NEVER respond to listings without a picture or complete description – why waste time without knowing if it’s something I really want? Besides, it also seems like a marker for someone who will be a pain to deal with. An ad written as described there might even strike me as some kind of scam.

    When selling, I usually don’t use my phone number and people respond through the CL generated email. Although I can see this kind of thing varying widely from place to place, I haven’t had any bad experiences. The only weirdo-vibe responses I’ve gotten came from when I listed free items and I just picked from the good ones and ignored the rest. I think I have maybe seen one completely obvious Nigerian-scammer type response.

  19. Karen says:

    Our block is considering the communal purchase of a snowblower. Sure wish we had one now! We received 30″ of snow on Feb. 5-6, and are getting another 12-18″ of snow today.

    I’ve been enjoying the break from the routine, and the opportunity to do some sledding and using my snowshoes to trek around my neighborhood.

  20. matt says:

    For the sprouts the people in the comments there are right about the E-coli. I had a friend in bio science do a research project about alfalfa sprouts and would never eat at jimmy johns again after what she learned. I would advise against it if you are unhealthy, or have young children at home.

  21. Hey Trent!,

    We are in the midst of a blizzard here in Pennsylvania. I’ve decided to spend a lot of time planning my garden. :-)

  22. We’re currently getting pounded by the latest snowstorm, so yeah, I’m totally with you on hoping for spring. We’ve had a freaking ridiculous amount of snow this winter!

  23. partgypsy says:

    Snowblowers are for wimps : )

    Only part kidding. But I do have to say my mom is 65 in the midwest and still hasn’t broke down to get a snow blower. You just can’t wait until it’s all piled up to start to shovel it. Or maybe I’m just saying that because when we were kids were always on snow-shoveling duty and I just want to share the joy.

    I do have to say the recent weather has been crazy. I’m also in NC and had to buy proper boots and winter coat for my school aged daughter, which I hadn’t needed to do before.

  24. lostAnnfound says:

    Here in Western MA we have only gotten about 20 inches of snow this year. The average is 50 inches per winter season.

    We have had two snow-throwers over the years, both hand-me-downs. The first was big & heavy, too big for me, so DH got to use it exclusively. The second we received two years ago when our elderly neighbor passed away and his wife gave use his two year-old MTD. What a nice machine! We have used it to help out the neighbors without a snow-thrower because that’s what our neighbor did. He would do his own driveway and then come help us out or let us borrow the machine when he was done.

    Well, the snow is starting to come down now, supposedly we will be getting upwards of 12″. Time to break out the snow-thrower, first time this season!

  25. Robert says:

    The weather has been lousy here too (about 60 every day) but that’s probably paradise compared to the East. I actually had a shipment from Amazon DELAYED due to extreme weather…that’s a first.

  26. thisisbeth says:

    I live in Minnesota and survived with my snow shovel so far, but I’m really considering a snow blower right now. I was out of town this weekend, and just made it up my driveway into the garage when I got home Sunday night. I have a cold right now, so I can only shovel in short bits before the dry air is too much for my cough. I’m going to see if I can make it through the snow tonight so I can get to church!

  27. Matt says:

    I have never owned a snowblower in my life, living in Michigan. Just shoveled the snow 3 times yesterday. I even do the 1/2 acre pond behind our house sometimes for ice skating. So far so good :)

  28. Robert says:

    What happened to spring and autumn? It seems like we drag through 6 months of summer and then 6 months of winter.

  29. George says:

    Pacific Northwet has had the warmest to third warmest January (Seattle is warmest, Portland is third warmest). We’re so glad we didn’t repeat last winter’s snopocolypse!

  30. Kara White says:

    @29–Amen George! Here in Western WA its still a little like summer…we haven’t even had the heavy rains b/c California is getting it….

  31. Jackie says:

    Baltimore is currently having the snowiest winter we’ve had since they started keeping track in the late 1890s!

  32. Tammy says:

    We live in northern Iowa and hubby shovels after every substantial snowfall. A neighbor helped once with his blower, and it didn’t go low enough, left about half an inch of snow that turned to ice. Uck!

    Fwiw, my big concern is the spring thaw. Most winters it snows, it thaws, it snows, it thaws… so it doesn’t just pile up. This winter we’ve had virtually no thaws, only more and more snow. I think we’re going to have a LOT of flooding issues come spring.

  33. Maureen says:

    I just came in from shoveling the driveway and sidewalk. We’ve lived here (Canada)for over 20 years and I’ve done the majority of the shoveling (I actually enjoy it, up to point). I’ve never used a snow blower. The worst is when the snow plow leaves a heavy pile of snow and ice at the bottom of the driveway. Argg…It’s much easier if you shovel it periodically as it comes down. Don’t wait till the end.

    My 79 yr old mil will clear her driveway herself after a light snow, but will accept help for heavier accumulations.

  34. “Worst” winter? Depends on how you look at it I suppose…

  35. mbhunter says:

    Thanks for the link Trent! I’ll be interested to see if the vacation responder thing helped you. The other commenters bring up good points as well.

  36. Michele says:

    This is the first year that the snowblower has not been necessary…and we have a law in Klamath Falls that you must clear your sidewalks after snow for school days! We are having the warmest winter in 15 years here! We’re setting records with warm weather- and are only at 70% of the snowpack, so our summer irrigation will SUCK! ACK! We moved here because we WANT snow- and we’re getting a Southern California-type winter this year! Looks like an early spring- we’ve already planted our seed pods in the window!

  37. Mel says:

    I live in Prague, Czech Republic. This year the snow came in December and hasn’t left yet. This is my 3rd winter here, and it’s the first year I’ve seen snow stick around in the city for more than a day. Where I’m from originally, it possibly snowed – in 1930s. So I’m still just excited about it – and even about shovelling snow!

  38. deRuiter says:

    “This winter has finally pushed my wife and I to purchase” It’s “my wife and me to”. Time to fix the grammar, you’re a professional Trent. As to Craigslist, it’s a great way to sell, but not the torturous, troublesome, self defeating way you go about it. Craigslist has an anonymous email feature, use it. Include in listing: 1. Pictures (most important step), 2. put in the price and detailed description, be brutally blunt about conditon, 3. measurements are crucial. 4. Click the box alerting people you don’t want junk replies. When you finish the Craigslist ad, put the same ad in Upillar.com which is also free. You can sell like crazy on craigslist/Upillar. You’re dealing with the very young, and the tech savvy middle aged. They want to do things fast, accomplish them fast, and go on to the next project, not go through some elaborated scheme you’ve conconcted. I’ve sold tractors, tractor parts, fake plants for $2. each instead of pitching them in the landfill, furniture, antiques, baker’s rack, I’ve picked up stuff off the curb, put it cheap on Craigslist and had it sell in hours or a day. REMEMBER: PHOTO, PRICE, DESCRIPTION, CONDITON, SIZE. Why make this harder than it has to be and sabotage sales? If I got some auto reply I’d never answer again, and I’m an active buyer, the auto repsonse things makes the seller look like a con. SELL IN CASH, DON’T TAKE CHECKS OR MONEY ORDERS, FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE NIGERIAN BANK SCAM, AND YOU’LL SELL OUT.

  39. Sandy says:

    We have no snowblower, but we have 4 good shovels, and 4 healthy people in the family! My 16 and 11 yr olds seem to like shoveling, and I have always viewed it as my winter exercise program. Last Saturday, when the biggest storm hit, we all went out and shoveled as a family, and then came in to (homemade from cocoa powder and sugar and milk..cheap and easy!)hot chocolate.
    A great family activity!

  40. Evita says:

    I live in southwest Quebec where we experience in the winter snowfall after snowfall (except, strangely, for this winter!). Shoveling a 60-foot driveway is out of the question for us quasi-seniors. I never wanted to own, operate, maintain, fill-up and store a snowblower. The alternative is to hire in November a snow-removal service which does the job when needed in three minutes before I leave for work (and clean-up during the day). I can deal with the pathway to the house and the deck.
    It may not be considered frugal but the cost is reasonable, I save a LOT of time, I help a local business and don’t spend money for the chiropractor!!

  41. SLCCOM says:

    Laziness is not the reason most people get snow blowers. There can be very good reasons for not shoveling snow. If your heart is even slightly iffy, you can give yourself a heart attack because of the combination of exertion and cold air. Get your exercise safely, and save a whole bunch of money that way.

    Also, many people have exercise-induced asthma, which can be triggered especially in the cold, dry, air. People with arthritis generally should not go out and shovel in the cold.

    OTOH, shoveling snow is absolutely WONDERFUL if hot flashes are a problem… Of course, the neighbors wonder about you shoveling in shorts and T-shirt!

  42. KoryO says:

    Five more storms hitting Iowa? I hope that isn’t true.

    I just hope we don’t have a repeat of the floods from a couple years ago with all this snow buildup. I think we have even more snow already this year than we did then.

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