Tuesday, January 31, 2012

February 2012: The Plan

Now that I've worked one full month at new job, I know how much money I'm going to be making, so I can start to reevaluate my budget.  January was a month of a lot of expenses: Yoga class, gym membership, bike repair, snow boots, etc.  I have a Visa bill that I don't like the look of, and I barely saved anything this month.  January was a mad month of fancy dinners and fitness resolutions, so February is going to be more tame and sensible, which could sound boring, but I think sounds delightful.

Agenda Item One:  Car Repair.  
My turn signal has worked only intermittently for the past year and a half, but since I needed the car every single day to get to work, I wasn't ever able to get it fixed.  Now, I don't have that excuse, and I have a car repair place that is equidistant from work as my house is.  So one of these days, I just need to bite the bullet and get the damn thing fixed.

Agenda Item Two: Visa Bill.
I need to pay off that stupid Visa bill ASAP.  I rarely use that card except for purchases from Amazon, but lately, in my frenzy to eat out as much as possible, I kept winding up at restaurants that don't take America Express!  Since I rarely use the Visa, I don't monitor it as much as the Amex, and it got a bit unwieldy.  I also used it to buy my beautiful cowboy boots and my practical snow boots--boots add up quickly, it seems.

Agenda Item Three: Laptop.
I have an old laptop that a friend spruced up, that I need to sell.  But I've been dragging my feet, and haven't listed it on Craigslist.  Hopefully, I can get a decent amount of money for it, and put that toward the Visa bill.

Agenda Item Four: Gym Schedule.
Now that I've got these gym and yoga memberships, I need to figure out when to use them.  Despite what the trainer may have in mind, I'm most likely only going to the gym 2-3 days a week (unless it's too cold to run outside), but those days will probably be days when I need to get there early, so I need to get used to getting up early.  I used to be able to do it, or maybe I'll try going in the evening--it's a good way to wake up on a cold night.

Agenda Item Five: Salary Overconfidence
A friend used this term the other day, and I dig it in a big way.  Every time I start a new job, I totally get the salary overconfidence, and then when I get my first paycheck, I'm totally disappointed (but grateful that they're paying me!)  I'm slightly guilty of this for January, but I think my mania for buying things was more of a just-got-out-of-prison type feeling than the feeling that I'm now raking in the big bucks (cause I'm totally not).

Five goals is a reasonable number, so I'm going to stick with those for now.  What are your goals for the lively (short!) month of February?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Solving One Mystery

Unlike Nancy, I did not look super stylish
while solving this mystery--I was in my PJs
I spent a delightful part of my Friday morning on the phone with the Direct Loans folk trying once again to figure out why the hell I keep telling them to take my money and they just won't.  The girl I spoke to, Amanda, seemed more engaged than the guy I had talked to previously, and she took another look at all of the payments I had made, and told me that they had been reversed, which is why they never actually cleared my bank.

"Well, I didn't do that." I told her.

"No," she said, "but it's possible your bank did.

Intrigue.  Why would my bank do this?  This is my money, and I can use it how I see fit, no?  Also, I've always paid my loans out of that account (my savings account, where all my money is so I don't have to worry about overdrawing), and the payments used to process just fine.

So I got on the phone to ING and had a lovely conversation with Jerome.

*Note* You may think it's weird that I remember the names of each of the people I spoke to, but I can tell you, as someone who worked nearly two years in a call center, you get much better service if you not only remember that person's name and use it over the course of the call.  Call center operators thrive on anonymity, and if you have one person who said he or she was going to solve a problem for you and didn't, and then you call back and say something like "It was a girl, kind of deep voice..." You get nowhere.  As a formerly lazy call center worker who did not believe in the products I was selling, I would count on making lavish promises and then fading into the ether dumping the extra work on my co-workers.  Is that fair?  Hell no, but that's reality.  Always remember names, or if you can't remember, write it down.

Jerome was swell--understood my problem, took charge of the call in a way that was reassuring and told me that the reason the bank was likely reversing the payments is because you're really not supposed to pay bills from your savings account.  This is somewhat annoying because seriously, these are my accounts, let me do what I want with them, but whatever, it's a quick fix.

Jerome opened a checking account for me right there on the phone, and told me that I will receive a debit card for free in the mail, and if I use that debit card three times in the next 45 days, ING will give me a $50 bonus.  That quelled my annoyance considerably.  Since I never use a debit card, I will most likely make teeny tiny purchases and then think I'm so smart when I get free money for doing so,

So if anyone else is in a similar predicament, it may be that you're using a savings account, which is not allowed.  Or it may be that Direct Loans new website sucks, and I can't help you with that.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I feel like I'm too scatterbrained for a real post these days, so here are some random thoughts I've been having lately--mostly about food.

--Sometimes I fear that my ability to write legibly longhand is completely gone.  Then I started new job where it seems I spend a lot more time jotting things down.  Since then, either my handwriting has improved, or I'm just able to read it better.

--I made mashed potatoes the other day, and am still convinced that I make the best mashed potatoes in the world.  I've been eating mashed potatoes, magical elusive vegetables and Tofurky sausage every day for three days and I don't want to stop!  It kind of makes me feel like a 1950's farmer, and I like it.  Simple foods, you know, except that Tofurky, that's just a mystery.

--Speaking of Tofurky, do vegetarians really believe that these fake meat products taste like real meat?  It's been so long since I've had real meat, I don't actually remember the taste, but I don't think this stuff would pass muster.  I want my spicy black bean burger to taste like black beans, not beef, man.

--I had a doctor's appointment this week for Wednesday, and I went on Tuesday.  The girl at reception was completely baffled and then just said, "Sorry, you're here a day early."  I've never done that before, but what vexes me the most is that I could have walked to work!

--I have been wearing brightly colored tights at least two days a week, and I love it!  I'm going to be sad when it's all warm and I can't do that anymore.

--I have a 401k through new job, and I got to flip through a big book and decide where I want that money to be invested.  I found shopping for stocks, bonds and mutual funds much more fascinating than I thought I would (once I got over the initial terror), and I have a healthy mix of stocks, bonds and foreign currency markets.  Wish me luck!

--I want to get a tarp to cover my bike so I don't have to keep lugging it down to the basement, but I'm worried that that will be just as bad for it as leaving it in the rain.  What to do!?!  Any advice is appreciated.

--I picked up a four-hour per week shift at my old job while my boss (former? current? what do I call her now?) is on maternity leave, and I reassured another library where I fill in that I will still be able to work Sundays despite having a full-time job now.  Is it greed that makes me do this?  Hating to disappoint people?  Despite my now full time job, I'm still on the payroll of four libraries in Rhode Island.  I guess I'll just chalk it up to being loveable.

--I made a delicious lentil and barley soup in the crockpot the other day--just lentils, barley, spinach, one medium russet potato diced, vegetable bullion and spices (pepper flakes, salt, pepper, cumin, basil)  crockpotted on low for eight hours.  I've found that with lentil soup, it's good fresh, but even better after sitting in the fridge overnight.  Damn, it was tastey.
Not mine, just a picture from the internet--yummy!
--My boss gifted me a bottle of wine for xmas, and I am completely obsessed with it now.  I found a store close by that sells it for $12, and this is totally my new favorite wine.
Highly recommended, plus it has a cool label.

Anyone else have any recommendations, musings et al?  Let's share!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Am I Gaming The Gym?

I look so hot when I work out, just like this chick.
A co-worker opened my eyes to the fact that there is a nearby Bally Total Fitness.  She goes to it, loves it, and then started doing the hard sell on me to the point where I wanted to leave the room (she really, really likes the gym).  I looked online afterward, however, and realized that this place may actually be the best deal in town.  Despite the initial "card fee" of $29 (is it gold plated, seriously?), it's only $18/month.  That's half as much as the YMCA, and these guys have better hours.

For $18/month, I don't have to feel totally bad if I don't use it that much.  Yes, I would like to have a gym that's closer to my house, but the price is sounding right so far. Plus, I get $150 back from my health insurance if I belong to a gym for three months in a row. That means it's actually only $5 a month, plus the joining fee.  That $5 will get me a treadmill on days when it's pouring, or snowing or just too damn cold/hot.  Plus, this place has that zumba nonsense that might make my ass look good, if I do it.

I requested a free week pass, and made an appointment for a tour on Monday morning.  Then I blew off the tour because I just wasn't in the mood to ogle a thigh press and pretend that I care about the state-of-the-art swimsuit water sucker or somesuchthing.  When I'm not in the mood to be given the hard sell, as I know the gym will give me, I just avoid the situation.  Yes, it's rude to make an appointment and not show up, but it's better than joining a gym just because I want to stop talking to someone, which is what would happen.

Since I made that initial appointment, however, I have gotten no fewer than four emails from this place.  One was from the sales manager and basically it sounded like I could call him at home at 2am and he would personally open the gym for me.  The next were a series of emails saying things like "join now!"  What's interesting about this, is that the price goes down with every email.  The monthly rate is the same, but they've reduced the joining fee, and now they're going to throw in a fitness assessment. All I've done for them so far is waste their time and prove myself unreliable, why so desperate, Bally?

A quick check of their website confirmed that I am in no way special, they're offering this deal to everyone. I got a good hour's worth of entertainment thinking that perhaps they were just totally desperate to woo me, but no such luck.  The world doesn't revolve around me after all. The plan is to go in Thursday morning, do the chitchat, hopefully get in a run, and who knows. Unless I see rat feces, I'll probably sign up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tiny Portions of Pretentious Food

We went to a new-to-us restaurant last night since it's restaurant week in Providence.  Since I'm a vegetarian, I always have to check the menu online beforehand, especially during restaurant week.  Of course, I could always order off the regular menu, but that defeats the specialness/fanciness of going out for restaurant week in the first place. I did that for this place, confirmed with bf that the menu represented foodstuffs that he would like to eat, and then we went out for a fancy date night.

Unfortunately, when we got to the restaurant, the menu was different than what we had seen online, and there was not a vegetarian entree.  No matter, there was a delightful sounding gnocchi on the regular menu, so I got that instead, along with a delicious winter vegetable salad and rice pudding with salted caramel for dessert.  All together, we had a lovely meal--three courses each, cocktails, and coffee.  Naturally the whole thing cost nearly $100.

Now that I'm working a normal schedule with normal people hours, I'm yearning to get out of the house and re-experience life in the worst way!  It's like I'm on vacation, hence, fancy date night.  I keep telling myself I need to reign it in, and I do, but maybe I focus on that a little harder starting in February...

Money disclosures from the past week:
I'm keeping the overpriced super warm running tights from Athleta, even though they are really, really silly looking.
Unflattering, but so warm!
We got our first snowfall this past week, and since no one in Providence shovels their sidewalks and I still want to be able to walk to work, I ordered my first pair of snow boots since elementary school.  Of course, they're predicting 46 degrees today, but no matter!  These boots will be an investment!

High fashion + non-slip sole
I bought a rearview mirror for my bike (safety first!) and some yaktrax for my running shoes.  I was on the fence about the yaktrax, but then I realized that I could wear them walking to work as well and not fear for my life!  Also, I've spent the last could days on the treadmill watching action films--like Transporter 3, or as I like to call it Gratuitious Jason Statham Shirtless movie (he uses his shirt as a fighting tool!).
I mean, my god.  I never before understood that phrase about grating cheese on abs.
But even with that to look at,  I still loathe the treadmill.
I need to get back to running outside--pronto.  There are only three Transporter movies, after all.  I guess for the next snowfall I can get that one where he runs around a lot?  Crank?

So yes, January is shaping up to be a rather indulgent month, but I'm also feeling quite zen because of all this yoga I'm doing (not really, but it sounds good, no?), so it'll be just fine,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

10 Things

This is an idea I stole from my friend Melissa.  It's basically a list of 10 things I'm loving right now.

  1. Weekends! I'm getting better at weekends, y'all!  This past week, I worked Monday-Thursday, had Friday off, then worked Saturday and had Sunday/Monday off (MLK day).  I actually got things done--errandwise, I spent time with friends, I went to a movie, I went to brunch, I tried Bikram Yoga for the first time.  I feel refreshed and ready to face the week, which I imagine, is how one is supposed to feel after a weekend.  Yay!
  2. Newly Repaired Bike!  Ok, I'm still scared to ride it, but I will get over that.  I'm going to take it out for a practice run soon, but right now it's slippery snowy and I don't want to take any chances.
  3. English Muffins.  I went through most of my life thinking I hated English Muffins.  I asked (demanded) my mother buy some for me when I was around five because I thought they looked pretty--like muffins, but also like bread, kind of--and I found them to be bitter and weird.  I remember spitting out my bite and vowing never again to eat an English Muffin.  Then a few weeks ago when my brother was visiting, we were at Target in the grocery section.  I saw some English Muffins and asked bf, "what's the deal with those?"  "English Muffins are awesome." he told me.  "I like the look of them, if I buy some and hate them, will you commit to eating the rest?"  He said he would, but he never got the chance and I gobbled up those muffins like someone was planning to take them away from me.  Who knew?  This week they're on sale buy one get one free at the grocery store--I'm so there, maybe twice...
  4. Expectations.  I have a love/hate with this one.  I've been at new job almost three weeks now, and I think I'm settling in pretty well.  I've had quite a few meetings in the past two weeks, and each time I tell a new person about my new job, he or she said "I've heard so much about you from your director!" This is incredibly flattering, but also terrifying as I now expect that I'm supposed to be amazing right out of the gate.  Do I know how to be amazing?  I'm trying not to overthink things.
  5. My walk to work.  Yup, still loving that one.
  6. Feline Companion  I always love my cat, but he's been extra cuddly in this cold weather, and that's pretty awesome.
  7. Restaurant Week!  It's restaurant week in Providence (actually it's two weeks long, but Restaurant Two Weeks doesn't sound very catchy).  This means that a huge list of restaurants in town create a special three-course menu that only costs $15 for lunch and $30 for dinner, and the cheaper restaurants usually do 2-for-1.  It's the best way to sample restaurants that are typically over your budget, or, in the case of the 2-for-1s, to get a whole lot of food for not a lot of money.  Fun fact: Even though Rhode Island has one of the worst economies in the country, when we were first slipping into recession, restaurant revenue went up.  Fun fact #2: Emeril Lagasse went to culinary school here and is from nearby Fall River, MA, not New Orleans as he would have you believe.
  8. Bikram Yoga.  I did Bikram Yoga for the first time this past week, and though I was terrified that I would faint or throw up, I did neither and got a compliment from the instructor!  I'm still sore three days later, but I got a new student special deal, so I'm going back this weekend.  Usually I think yoga is incredibly boring, but this one kept me engaged the whole time.  Plus, this time of year, it feels really nice to be in a hot room for 90 minutes.
  9. My elusive vegetables! The vegetables that I finally found at the nearby grocery store are just as good as I remember.  Huzzah!
  10. This bottle of Ranch Dressing.  I saw this bottle of ranch on this stone wall on my walk to work.  I posted it on facebook because it cracked me up, and now I have a whole saga!  I've been taking daily pictures of the ranch bottle in various positions (I'm not manipulating it, just recording it), and people are loving it!  This is another reason I love walking to work, you never know what you're going to find.
Where did it come from?  Why?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why I'm Happy With The Cost of My Bike

I bought my bike used, and because I'm not much of a haggler and know nothing about bikes, I just paid the asking price.  I had been shopping around for new bikes, and had settled on one that cost around $200, so when I found the used one for $100, it seemed like a no-brainer.  I then realized that one of the brakes doesn't really work, and I would have to bring it in to get repaired.

I ripped the band-aid off, and brought my bike to the hipster bike place around the corner, and they couldn't have been more lovely.  Here's the main reason I was dreading bringing my bike in there, aside from finding hipsters who love bikes to be often annoying.  I had a friend (more bf's friend) who brought his bike into this place years ago to get something fixed on it.  This was back when it was under different ownership, and they told him that his bike wasn't worth fixing, and that he should just buy a new one.  Nice business strategy, guys, no wonder they went out of business.

This new owner (or employee of the new owner) was perfectly delightful.  Professional, considerate, asked questions.   He asked me how much I paid for the bike and then said "I'm not trying to be nosy, I just want to get a sense of how much money you'll want to put into it."  I'm getting some new brake pads, a new... other thing, round thing that I don't know the name of but it is very important, and possibly something else.  The cost of those parts plus labor brings the grand total to $80, which brings the grand total of the bike to nearly retail price.  However, I am still thrilled with my new bike--even the cost--and let me tell you why.

  • The $100 I spent on the bike partially funded a young girl's dream of moving to Oregon.  Certainly I'll never see this girl again, but I support new adventures and she was quite nice--good luck, you!
  • The repair money is going to a local business and not to the Schwinn company (who I'm sure are nice guys), or to Target (who I love--we're both from Minnesota, after all) but Target gets plenty of my money over the course of a year.  They'll survive as will Schwinn.
  • I'm recycling.  With a few tweaks, this bike will be good as new, and will last me many years (with proper maintenance and care).
I was already pretty stoked about my bike, and now that I have the chance to actually ride it soon, I'm even more excited (and scared because now I have to re-learn how to ride a bike).

It's interesting because when thinking about frugality and saving money, we often (myself included) just think about not spending any money at all.  Certainly that's a big part of it, but I also feel really, really good about my new bike--better than I'd feel if I have just gone to Target and gotten the one I was thinking about.  So it is about saving and not spending, but it's also about spending well, and that feels pretty good.  After all, "happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have", at least I think so.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I Did The Math

I got my first paycheck from new job on Thursday, so today I actually figured out what my take-home pay is going to be (though I didn't factor in 401k deductions, cause I haven't set that up yet).  With dental, medical and union dues deducted, I am making $200 less per month than I was making with the two jobs.  Thank god I didn't go on a celebratory shopping binge (except for those beautiful boots).  But, I'm saving about $120/ week on gas, so I'm still coming out ahead.

Since starting this new job, we've been going more frequently to the nearby market, which is more expensive than my usual grocery store--at least it seems like it is.  I haven't done a receipt comparison, so I may just still be reeling from the increase in the cost of food, but I feel like we've been spending a TON on groceries lately.  The silver lining to this turn of events, is that they have the vegetables that I've been looking for for the past six months!

This is a rather silly story, but a while back, Steamfresh vegetables came out with a Chef's Favorite's line of frozen vegetables.  Since I consume a lot of frozen vegetables, I got very excited about this, and grabbed one of each.  I absolutely fell in love with the Lightly Seasoned Garlic Baby Peas and Mushrooms, but then I could never find it again.  They didn't have it at the Stop & Shop where I originally purchased it, and I looked all over Rhode Island and Massachusetts (the part of Massachusetts that's near Rhode Island), and could not find this stuff anywhere.

Elusive Vegetables
Finally, in desperation, I sent an email to the Bird's Eye company to ask where I could find the magical blend of vegetables, and they gave me a list of stores (within an hour of me sending the email--that's good customer service!).  I visited two on the list, and neither had what I wanted.  So, imagine how happy I was to find them in fancy, nearby grocery store last night!  I seriously am so relieved, you have no idea, but now I'm scared that they won't be as good as I remember.  I bought four bags.  I'll let you know.

Switching gears.

Purchase disclosure: I am keeping that coat from Old Navy.  It makes me look awfully silly since it comes to mid-calf, but I'd rather look silly while warm than stylishly freeze to death.

I also placed an order with Athleta (again).  I don't know what the hell it is about that site!  It's not my style, but I think I'm subconsciously emulating a girl I went to elementary school with who is really sporty and wears sportyish casual clothes and looks totally cute and put together all the time.  Except I don't live the kind of life that requires sportyish casual clothes!  Anyway, I bought a pair of running tights where the model was skiing, and they promise to be quite warm (if overpriced).  I'll try them out, and return them if I don't like them (don't worry, Athleta lets you do that--and I'll wash them).
This model is clearly warm and toasty--and overpriced
tights are still cheaper than a gym membership
Other than that possibly ridiculous purchase, my biggest expenses of the past week have been groceries, household staples from Target and gas.  I'm keeping myself in line!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Student Loan Wha?

Direct Loans, which owns all of my student loans recently changed websites.  The new site is easier to use, and looks better, but I've been having a whole lot of issues with it that have nothing to do with appearance.

  1. I've tried to set up Kwikpay (I also have an issue with that spelling--what the hell is that all about?), which is the automatic debiting system about TEN times.  I tell kwikpay that I want $100 taken out of my savings account each month, but for the last three months, no money was taken out and I was behind.
  2. I then make manual payments using the same savings account that I have always used and that the system has verefied is correct, and I get a confirmation that the payment posted, but the money never leaves my account!
  3. Then, the payment that I made vanishes from the list of payments made (where it had been before), and I get an angry "past due" red line.
  4. I keep getting messages from Direct Loans in my "Secure Messages" folder, but when I try to open them, I get an error message saying that the message cannot be opened. I hope what they want to tell me isn't important, but I fear it is.
So basically, I'm trying to send these people money, and they won't take it, but are penalizing me for their not taking it.  I called them a while ago to say that this was happening, and the nice man that I spoke to said, "I see that you made a payment for $300 about five days ago."

"Yes," I told him, "But that money is still in my account."

I could practically hear him shrugging, and he said, "Everything looks ok to me."

I wanted to make a big payment before the end of the year, and did, but Direct Loans never took the money.  I then made a big payment at the beginning of January to catch up on how past due I was, and Direct Loans never took that one either.  I have confirmation emails from Direct Loans saying "we will happily take your money" but they never do!

This is honestly the strangest situation I've ever been in, moneywise, and I really don't know what to do to rectify it.  Anyone else having any issues?  Any of my readers work for Direct Loans?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Weekend Reading: Why Women Need Fat

Slightly off the topic of frugality, but firmly on the topic of health and wellness, I recently acquired a copy of Why Women Need Fat: How "Healthy" Food Makes Us Gain Excess Weight and the Surprisingly Solution to Keeping it Off Forever by Dr. William D. Lassek and Steven Gaulin.  It's a mouthful of a title, but a really fascinating read.  I've always been interested in diet and exercise--don't know if that's just a side-effect of being a girl, and this book is possibly the most comprehensive look at why women are built the way they are, why our weight shifts over time and why most women gain the same percentage of weight around the same age as they get older.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Am I Trying Too Much?

This is certainly not my closet, but man I wish it was
2012 is supposed to be the year everything changes for me, and so far (first two weeks) that's actually true.  Here's what has changed so far:

  1. I've been walking to work, which I love!
  2. I've been less petulant/ run down and therefore haven't been shopping to perk myself up.
  3. Since I've been leaving the car at home, BF has been going to the grocery store!  He's not the savvy shopper I am, but it's so, so nice to not have one more thing to check off my list.
  4. I had a weekend--two whole days off!
What that weekend taught me, however, is that I am no good at weekends.  I have been working several part-time jobs at once since I was 15, therefore, I don't really know what to do with my downtime.  I feel guilty when I'm not at work, even when I'm not supposed to be at work.  Sidenote: It's really strange to me to only have to go to one job.  I keep thinking Oh, second half of the week, I'll have to go somewhere else.  Nope, I go to the same building every day; see the same people.  It's an adjustment.

What I would like to focus on now--in addition to frugality, losing ten pounds and those ten goals I came up with before, is enjoying my downtime more.  I found last year when I had only two days off a month that I would get so worked up about using those days well, that I often made myself sick.  Likewise, this past weekend, I gave myself a headache thinking about all the crap I should be doing, but was too tired/lazy to do.  The new goal is to spend some time cleaning/ organizing my office so I can keep it clean with a minimum of effort (I know that's the dream, but I'm optimistic).

I'm also going to stop beating myself up about "wasting" downtime, and try to trick myself into just enjoying it.  I'm going to try to remember the things I did when I first moved to Providence, when I was unemployed but wasn't miserable.  I imagine this goal will include more matinees of independent films (frugal AND supports local businesses), and perhaps some fro-yo.

When you write it all down, it does sound like a lot, but it's also a lot of fun stuff, which is what I need to keep reminding myself.  Hopefully, I can establish better habits and then everything will just fall into place.  Getting better at life--what an adventure!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Feel Gross Even Admitting This

...but thanks to Michelle P over at Making Sense of Cents (I always want to call her blog Making Cents of Sense--I think it's because I secretly want people to pay me for practical advice), I have joined the *gulp* Newlyweds on a Budget 10 pound challenge.  Lest you freak out, gentle reader, I am NOT a newlywed.  I haven't gone and gotten hitched and kept it a secret from everyone.  What I am, is a gal who has been eating too much of late, and who knows that if I lose five pounds, I can shave two minutes off my 1/2 marathon time--FACT!

I had already decided, and secretly blogged that I want to lose 10 pounds before April, so now that this contest came along and I might actually make money for doing something I want to do anyway, well that's just a no-brainer.

So there it is--I'm on a diet ew ew ew ew ew.  No, I will not call it a diet, thankyouverymuch.  Instead, I shall say that I am trying to lose weight.  Now in addition to financial whatnot, I may occasionally mention health stuff, but only non-obnoxious health stuff.  Anyone else want to join the challenge?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Major Cash Injection

Doing a google image search for "cash injection" brings up
a surprising number of results.
That's kind of  filthy sounding title, no?  I like it!  As I've been strategizing how to not turn into a total money spaz while I'm not quite sure what my take-home pay is going to be, I got an email from former boss telling me that I can expect a payout of my accrued vacation hours!  Since it's been so long since I've had paid vacation, I completely forgot about all the hours I banked, and since I hardly used any (I was only part-time, remember), it ended up being quite a tidy sum of money.

This job also has a kick-ass online money management system where I can direct my paycheck into a number of different accounts.  That means that 5% of my net pay goes into my running account, 7% into my travel fund, 20% into my IRA, 30% into savings and the rest into checking.  So I've already kicked off the year with a healthy deposit to the IRA--huzzah!

In other news, I just learned about this new thing called Switch2Health, which is kind of like the swagbucks of fitness.  Leah Ingram (frugal guru extraordinaire) recommended it on a local news program that I then saw on her website.  The way it works is, you buy a pedometer or an activity tracking wristband, track your activity, upload that info to the website, and you can earn giftcards.  With my four-mile daily walk, I could certainly rack up the points, but the pedometer also costs $25, so it seems rather foolish to shell out the cash without knowing how quickly you actually earn rewards.  Still, I am intrigued, but not sure that a pedometer would go with all the cute dresses I like to wear...

Anyone thinking about trying this out?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Job: Week One

This was me last night--out for the count
It's a good thing my first week on the job was only four days because I am seriously pooped.  I went to bed at 11:30 last night and didn't crawl back out until 8:30 this morning--even the cat seemed to understand and let me sleep in.  So many names to remember!  So much learning!  So many slightly different policies!

So far this week, I walked to work three days out of four (I had a meeting one day and needed my car), and I love it!  Even though these have been some of the coldest days we've had recently and my first night of work I got home feeling completely frozen, I am still totally pumped.  It actually takes me a bit longer to get to work walking than it did driving, but who cares!  The walk wakes me up and makes me feel good for the rest of the day.

In the interest of full bloggy disclosure, after that super cold walk home, I promptly ordered this coat:

Old Navy, 60% off, and I do not currently have any hardcore outside winter gear, because I really don't spend much time outside.  So I figure, even if I don't wear it that often, it's still probably a good thing to have.  Of course, today it's 55 degrees, but still.

Expenses this week include:
That coat (if I keep it--that remains to be seen)
Dinner last night--I insisted we go to a place near new job that I had been to in the past and liked, but then completely forgot about.  It was excellent and not too pricey, then we came home and watched Roadhouse.
It's a classic of 80's cinema!
That's it!  My first day of work, I took myself out to lunch at a place where I had a giftcard, and I packed my lunch the rest of the time.  Double bonus--New job is having a cell phone drive for a battered women's shelter, so I even got to unload a couple I had had chilling out in a drawer for years.  De-cluttering for a cause!

This week my biggest goal is to get that bike fixed--I just dread dealing with hipsters who work in bike repair and have been putting it off.  I assume they'll be assholes, but they're probably lovely--I'll let you know.

As far as my yearning to join a gym, the warmer weather helped alleviate that a little, though I did fill out a form asking the YCMA to contact me to show me around and assess my fitness (I do love assessment).  I also bought a rowing machine!  I've been wanting to try one for a long time since they're so good for a full-body workout, and I happened to find one on craigslist for $25!  I tried it for the first time this morning and I already feel fitter (by that I mean that my arms are sore).

How did you do with your spending this week?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Lull Between Paychecks

That was almost me
I don't know if I'm the only person this happens to, but I've found that when I'm not earning money, I seem to forget the value of a dollar.  This is yet another reason that I remain glad my mother never submitted my photo to that Punky Brewster Look-alike contest where you win a starring role on the show-- I would have burned through those earnings in less than a year and would likely be living in a gutter right now.

For example, when I first moved to Rhode Island, five years ago, it took me six weeks to find a job.  That was pretty awesome as it gave me six weeks to go exploring, make new friends and acclimate to my new home, but it also gave me time to burn through almost all of the money that I had spent a year and a half saving.

Without having a paycheck to look at weekly or bi-weekly (hopefully never monthly, that would be really hard), I allow myself to fantasize that I have larger sums of money than I do. I forget that take-home pay is significantly less because of all those pesky taxes, and I forget how long it takes to save up money.  When I have that number in front of me, I can just do the math and not go overboard with my spending.  It's much easier for me to color within the lines than to go all free-form, man.

So I am presently in that lull between paychecks again, and I'm not sure exactly when I'll have some more money coming in.  It could be as much as three weeks, so now more than ever, I need to be sensible.  Also, I'm flying without a budget for the first time in four years, so everything is chaos!

So, for the next few weeks, I'm operating on a system of full disclosure.  I will be documenting every extraneous penny, and I charge you, blogosphere, with keeping me in line and calling shenanigans, should I need it.

My first order of disclosure, is to show you the awesome new boots I bought myself as an "I got an awesome job and need proper footwear for walking to work" present.  And I'm done buying myself presents, that can get out of hand really quickly.
I never thought I'd be a cowboy boots gal, but these are gorgeous!  That's it though, no more extras, focus on the task at hand which is learning how to do my new job and not just buying new clothes for this new life I imagine that I have.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

OMG, That's Good

There's a restaurant down the street from me that I think I could easily call one of my top five restaurants in Providence.  They don't really have a particular style of cooking, except I once heard them described as serving "comfort food that your mom would make for you--if your mom was a really, really good cook."  My mom is not a really good cook (and she lives 1800 miles away), so I am adopting this restaurant instead.

Last time I was there, I was looking for something hearty but light, and warm because it is winter.  I'm also trying to eat more vegetables and do a bit of a detox from all of the heavy holiday foods and sweets.  Enter, The Warm Spinach Salad.  They made theirs with spinach, lentils, sweet potatoes, pumpkin seeds, shallots, cranberries and maybe something else.  As I was eating my leftovers, and scheming to get more of this salad, I realized that  I could totally make it myself! So here's what I made:

I ate a little divot in the front so you could see the layers...
No, that's a lie, I just wanted to eat it.
I didn't feel like cooking lentils (not sure why), so I subbed in some quinoa; and instead of using sweet potatoes (which I would have had to leave the house to buy), I used butternut squash (which I already had).

1/2 medium butternut squash (or just use a small one, obv.)
1 c, quinoa rinsed and cooked
About four handfuls of spinach, wilted
Vegetable Bullion
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
Other spices as desired--I'm not going to tell you who to be
Slivered almonds and Craisins (garnish)

  • Peel, seed and dice butternut squash into small pieces.  Arrange onto cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper and desired spices (I used rosemary--so good!).  Work the spices and oil through the squash with your hands and roast in oven for approximately 40 minutes at 400 degrees.
  • Cook quinoa according to directions adding 1-2 veg bullion cubes.  That can boil on a back burner while the squash roasts, and you get started on the spinach.
  • Add two glugs olive oil and 1 clove minced garlic to skillet (unless you want more garlic).  Heat and toast garlic until just brown.  Add four large handfuls of spinach (more if you want more spinach--it shrinks a lot), and cook over medium high until all spinach is wilted.
  • Hang out for a bit while the squash cooks, maybe do some dishes or play with your cat (but be sure to wash your hands), or maybe you should have started the squash a bit earlier than the spinach and quinoa--did you ever think of that?  Finish up the quinoa and layer it onto plate or bowl.
  • Layer spinach next.
  • Layer squash on top and sprinkle with Craisins and slivered almonds (if desired).
  • Pat self on the back because this is freaking fantastic.
I had  little extra quinoa, so I just piled it on top.  You can do whatever
you want with yours--follow your heart.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Top 10 for 2011

I wasn't planning on doing a list of the top ten posts for the year, but when I looked at what they were, I found it so bizarre that I had to share.

  1. Blogathon Haiku-- This was a post that I did as part of last years' May Blogathon.  There were a few theme days, and I ignored most of them, but haiku is so short I couldn't pass this one up! Apparently, people really like it?  I feel like something is off here, but it has double the hits of the next-highest post, so go figure.
  2. The Awkward Side of Frugality-- This makes more sense to me as this is one of my favorite posts as well.  This one was suggested to me by a friend who had just been 'invited' to take a $3000 European vacation.  Umm, no.
  3. Could I Live on Minimum Wage-- My first-ever Blogher Featured Post!!  I wrote this less than two months ago, and it's number three for the year.  Not too shabby.
  4. I Hate Gas-- I do still hate buying gas, and it seems that I'm not alone.
  5. Tips for Frugal Gift Giving-- Solid advice penned by my friend Melissa, who is a much better gift-giver than me.  Thanks!!
  6.  Food Waste Friday: A Forest of Dill-- It seems I'm not the only one who struggles to use up dill.
  7. What to do With Quinoa-- I'm glad I've unpuzzled the mystery that is quinoa.  I think I might eat some more today.
  8. Food Waste Friday: Rotten Tomatoes-- It's hard to store tomatoes in a way that keeps them fresh and tasting good.  This is a constant struggle.
  9. Top Ten Reasons Not to Menu Plan--  This is another of my favorites and one of my most controversial posts.  I continue to not menu plan in the traditional way, and somehow life is still frugal and worth living.
  10. Food Waste Friday: Nothing-- Huzzah!
I guess for 2012, I'd better write more haiku--gotta give the people what they want.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I Want to Join a Gym

...even though I know that joining a gym in January is a total cliche, and will likely make me very angry when I have to wait 30 minutes for a treadmill.  Here's why I want to join a gym:

  1. It's freaking cold out and I am a wuss.  I have a treadmill in the basement, but it's a crappy treadmill and the belt is breaking.  When I go running outside in the really, really cold, I tend to get sick and my legs freeze, which makes me avoid going out at all.
  2. I would like to do exercises other than run.  I want to take some classes, maybe do some yoga (I think yoga is incredibly boring, but it might be good for me).  I keep seeing pictures of people with tight abs advertising that zumba nonsense, maybe that's for me.
  3. I want to run a marathon.  In order to run a marathon, I need to keep logging miles (see #1) and also do exercises with weights and stuff, or so running magazines tell me.
I was incredibly excited to find out that the health plan for new job includes a $150 credit if you go to a gym for more than three months in a row and fill out a form; and that you get a 20% discount on selected gyms.  I was then dismayed to find out that the only place locally where I would get that 20% discount is the super-fancy gym that's not within walking distance.  I secret-shopped super fancy gym last year, and it is NICE, but even though I can't remember exactly how much it cost per month, I remember that it was expensive.  

So I did what I always do in this situation, I looked at how much the YMCA costs, and then remembered that the YMCA is damn expensive.  It's $49/month plus a $49 start-up fee!  That is so much money!  I used to be a member at the Jewish Community Center (cause I had a coupon), but that place is even more expensive than the Y and you have to pay for a whole year up front.  Sigh.

BF keeps insisting that I can sneak into one of the Brown University gyms, but that makes me really uncomfortable (cause stealing makes me uncomfortable), and I'd also be working out next to annoying college girls who probably put on make up and don't sweat.  Hell no.

I also have the option, since I still technically work at academic library, to use the gym there.  But that's a 25 minute drive, would also make me feel a little like I was stealing, and I'd be working out next to super fit 19-year-olds (see above).

Then there's Planet Fitness, which is $10/month, but doesn't offer any classes.  It's also on the other side of town and a friend who goes there told me that she once found gum stuck to the track of a treadmill.  I'm not a snob (well, kind of), but that just doesn't do it for me.

*SOAPBOX* It's kind of interesting that we vilify people for being overweight, but then make it so expensive to join a fitness facility and limit the amount of public green space and sidewalks in cities.  Yes, there are plenty of things you can do without joining a gym (if you're lucky enough to life in a safe neighborhood with sidewalks, which many aren't), but then you're hamstrung by weather and other factors (like the fact that no one in RI shovels their sidewalks.  Seriously, last year several people died because they were forced to walk in the street and got hit by cars--kids and adults).  Sure the gym has to pay for the equipment, staff, etc., but man, $49/month is $600 a year!  That's walking around money.  That's one month's rent! *END SOAPBOX*

So what to do?  Is there a secret option #4 that I'm not thinking of?  Should I just suck it up and be grateful we've had a mild winter so far?  My dad runs outside year round and he lives in Minnesota, so I know that it is possible, but I'm also kind of a wuss... see above...