Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Austerity Measures Are Working!

Since instituting my Austerity Measures at the beginning of the month, I've actually been really successful!  It surprises me a little, but I've managed to slip into that zen place where instead of thinking I can buy clothes, my Amex is almost paid off, I think instead, I can pay off my Amex and then save!  I love it when this happens, but it's elusive and unreliable.  It's unfortunate that it takes job uncertainty to make me stop being a money dumbass, but whatever works, I'm not going to knock it.

Let's re-visit the rules I set for myself and see how I'm doing:

  1. No more races. Haven't registered for any more, and have no plans to!
  2. No more clothes. Success!  I even have a $30 Old Navy voucher that I haven't spent yet, and I'm enjoying shopping my closet.
  3. No more overpaying on student loans. Stupid Direct Loans somehow screwed up my request for income-based repayment, and were telling me that I would owe them $900+ a month.  Ummm, no, that's half my income.  So I called them, and a bored-sounding guy said that I'll have to resubmit my income statement and wait (again), so my loans are back in forebearance.  This jacks up my interest rate and makes me angry, but there's really nothing I can do about it.
  4. Reign in grocery spending. Doing good with this one too!  We did one big shop for about $230, and I made one more small trip where I spent about $15.  Considering that our grocery bills have topped $350 lately, this is a great improvement.  Plus, I've had all my farmshare veg to keep me filled up.
  5. No restaurants unless we have a Gift Certificate or Groupon.  Haven't really gone out to eat at all, but I'm fine with that.
  6. No more thinking--I need that!  I've been avoiding stores, and other temptations so this is going ok too.
  7. Cut Back on Booze.  I'm doing ok here--not cutting it out, but certainly cutting down ;)
  8. No more Gym Membership.  I mailed in my 'I want to quit the gym' letter June 7, and I know they received it last week because I got notification, now I'm just waiting for Bally to quit dragging their heels and give me my damn money!  I've been doing CrossFit with that groupon that I bought and I love it!  Just what I need, another expensive hobby.  However, it's a really small, independently-owned place, and I plan to just say, "hey, I want to do this once a week, but I'm poor." Then I'll see what they say. A friend of mine worked out a deal with the yoga place we go to where she gets unlimited free yoga in exchange for doing light cleaning work.  I may even suggest something like that to the CrossFit guys--we'll see.
One thing that I noticed when I was looking over my budget the other day is even with my austerity measures in place--and actually sticking to them-- I've still spent $300 more this month than I've made.  Sure, I get paid tomorrow, but that's kind of scary.  When I do the math, I should be making more than my expenses, but in practice, I may be cutting it closer than I thought, which would explain why putting money in savings has been such a challenge.

So that's a negative, but I have an awesome positive.  I needed to buy gas the other day, and realized that I had not bought gas for the entire month of June!  BF filled the tank halfway a few weeks ago, but my total gas bill for June is $39!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The City of Free Samples

Growing up in the Midwest, I spent a lot of time in Chicago.  It was in Chicago, particularly at the Museum of Science and Industry, where I first learned that one's feet can hurt in a way that is both alarming and hard to get rid of (I was 12).  My dad and brother loved Chicago, and managed to squeeze in a visit to the Windy City on seemingly every family vacation (we always did driving vacations) even if it was like five hours out of the way and all they wanted to do was visit the Hard Rock Cafe (why!?!?).  Being the snarky teen that I was, this made me hate Chicago, roll my eyes at the City by the Lake, and I haven't been there in probably eleven or so years.

But I realize that people like Chicago, often people who I respect the opinions of and therefore I shouldn't let some hurt feet keep me from the city with far too many nicknames.  Also, BF told me that his beloved Red Sox were playing the Chicago Cubs in historic Wrigley Field (I don't really care about that, but I do like drinking beer outside without fear of judgement) AND Stephen Merchant was doing standup as part of TBS's Just for Laughs Festival.  We weren't able to catch SM when he was in New York, and certainly didn't want to go to LA for it (no offense to people who live there, but I really hate LA--except the nice parts), so Chicago it was!

Some people, mostly him, say this man is not attractive-that's a lie

While I certainly do amend my previous opinion that Chicago is a jerk that I do not want to spend time with, the thing I was most surprised by (aside from the heat--my god!) was the fact that there were constantly people standing on street corners handing me free food!  I've mentioned extensively how I love a free meal, and I have come to Chicago with Larabars in tow to keep BF from insisting on breakfast every day, but people just kept giving me more and more free things!

First day, we went to get deep dish pizza, which was amazing and killed my interest in eating for nearly 12 hours, which must be some kind of record.  There were friendly people handing out Sabra hummus and pita chips!  Also coupons!  BF thought I was deranged, but I went and grabbed one, and then just shoved it in my purse for later.  It was sealed, didn't matter that I carried it around for the rest of the day, and then I had a lovely little snack later (two days later, our room had a fridge). Also, I later found a coupon on the ground that I also kept--$1 off!

Next day, two very friendly ladies were handing out Kind bars.  I've never bought these before, but now I know that I like them and BF's nut allergy meant that I got two without appearing to be greedy!
These varieties are more exotic than the one I got, but who cares.
 The day after that, we were leaving the Planetarium, and I had a hankering for some kind of frozen treat.  There were many options from little kiosks and such, but they were all ice cream which just sounded too heavy.  Lo and behold, a Whole Foods van pulled up, and some lady started handing out frozen fruit bars for free!  Exactly what I wanted, and something I would have willingly paid for (but I was happy to not have to)!

Lest you think that all I did in Chicago was eat free food, I do have to confess that we weren't super smart about being thrifty while we were there.  We did buy beer to consume back at the hotel, and we were so damned exhausted every day that we just went back to the room to watch tv rather than going out for drinks, but we spent gobs of money on the Shedd Aquarium and the Sears Tower, and we could have been a bit smarter about that. But, for those gobs of money, I got to hang out with some sea otters and whales and be terrified by those plexiglass boxes they have on the Sears Tower now.
These are strangers--reckless strangers
I kept seeing people with these Chicago City Passes, which let you into five attractions (that you would actually want to go to) for a deeply discounted price of $84/person.  Considering we paid $35 for two for the Sears Tower (I know it's the 'Willis" tower now, but I don't like that) and $69 for two for the aquarium, this city pass seems like a hella good deal.  If you plan to visit Chicago and hit up at least three of the five attractions--get one.  Next time I go to Chicago, however, I'm just going to focus on cramming as much pizza down my throat as I possibly can, or I'll just move there and spend my days walking around in search of free food.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Farm Share: Week 2

Look at all that stuff!
Now you're probably saying to yourself: it's been three weeks since she started this farm share!  Why is she saying it's only week two?  First off, I'd like to thank you for being so observant--don't let me think I can get away with anything.  Secondly, last week was the week of the non-working fridge/ mini-vacation, so I gave all my veg to my farm sharing partner.  Let me say though, this week certainly made up for the shortfall, and now I'm really, really glad I'm sharing all this bounty with someone else.

This week's offerings are:

garlic scapes
red mustard buds and leaves
rainbow lacinata kale
english shelling peas
broadleaf endive
bunched french sorrel
prize choy asian 
cooking greeneaster egg radishes
lettuce mix with some claytonia (the small white flowered plant)
fava shoots
tall top beets

I totally traipsed up to the pickup place with my single grocery bag expecting it to be half full like the last two weeks--not so.  I didn't even take everything, and I still was panicking about how to get it all back to the car.  Also, last week, they were out of radishes by the time I got to the pickup, so I this week, I took two!  Brazen, I know, but pickup is from 4-7pm and I can't make it til 6:15!  All the best veg is gone by then!
My radishes are currently pickling away in the fridge--I'm really, really excited about this.  

I've also pushed past my fear of the bok choy, or prize choy as it's called in that list up top.  A little internetting and asking google the question "What do you do with bok choy?" "and how to you cut bok choy?" Made me realize that I've eaten this scary vegetable many, many time in Asian and Pan-Asian (same thing, different thing?  I don't know, but I want to be inclusive) cuisine.  It's that onion-looking thing that doesn't taste like an onion, but has a satisfying crunch!

I stir-fried my bok choy with some olive oil, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, barley and sriracha and damn if I don't just feel like the smartest girl ever.  Therefore this is the week where I learned:

Scary vegetables can be stir-fried and they will become familiar--and tasty!

This is similar to the day when I realized that everything tastes good oven roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper.

What a relief, I tell you.  Next adventure--what the hell to do with the fava shoots.  They're pretty, they smell good, but they have flowers and I've been trained not to eat flowers (by eating flowers as a child and finding them bitter--you did it too, admit it).

Flowers!  Are flowers food?
Maybe I'll just stir fry them and hope for the best?  Suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Google Calendar Meal Planning Part 2

Note: If you haven't read Part 1, this may make no sense.  This is part 2 of a guest post by the super-frugal Kara.

Now, instead of just slapping meals together on random days, I integrate meal planning with my grocery shopping system.  I may not always be able to find a matching pair of socks, but my grocery shopping system runs like a Japanese train. First of all, grocery shopping is very lame (and illegal) without money, so this plan cycles around payday. I get paid twice a month. Most of you probably do too. If you're on some other schedule, this might take an adjustment. Our entire monthly family budget is divided into two sets of line items. Some of those items are paid on/just after the 15th, the rest are on/just after the 30th. Our monthly grocery budget is divided between the two paychecks, with each paycheck covering half. Now, how can I make sure my grocery money lasts the whole 2 weeks and I haven't overspent? Should I withdraw cash, put it in an envelope and pay from there every time I buy groceries? Or should I just keep all the receipts and keep a running tally? Maybe just guesstimate in my head? Nope. There is one surefire way to make sure you don't go over. You take that grocery money, and you blow it all immediately. Then it's simple. You're done. How do you not spend extra a few days later? DON'T GO BACK TO THE GROCERY STORE. 

This may sound draconian, but it is elegant in its simplicity. See, your present self always thinks your future self is going to be a good guy. So present self says, "Well, I'll buy the Doritos now, but next week I'll stick to the list." But future self will sabotage present self's plans every time. Future self will also buy the Doritos. The only way to get around this is by sabotaging your future self's opportunity. Spend all future self's money now, and then don't let her back into the store! I always buy 2 weeks worth of groceries at a time. We are a family of 4 with one vehicle, and because my partner often drives to work, I don't have a vehicle most days. This would make it extremely inconvenient to make a grocery run 2 or 3 times a week, so going once per pay period is easier. My grocery stock up habit also stems partly from my rural upbringing when "running to the store for a gallon of milk" would have required a 12 mile trip. You didn't do that. If you were too dumb to calculate the proper amount of milk to bring home the first time, then you could go without until the next trip to town. Now I live in a city of 280,000. There are many nearby stores that would be happy to sell me a gallon of milk. But of course, if I walk in there for milk, I'm likely to walk out with a few impulse purchases that neither my wallet nor my waistline will appreciate. 

Everybody impulse buys. But if you're going to the store 2 times a month instead of 12 times a month, you are likely making 1/6 the number of impulse purchases that a 12x a month shopper is. At $3.29 per bag of Doritos, that's a $32.90 savings, not including tax...or calories. The savings on gas and time are also very real. It takes me about 8 minutes to drive to the grocery store. At 16 minutes a round trip, that's 32 minutes a month in transit instead of  1 hr 42 minutes. That doesn't even count all the time walking through the store and standing in line, or the gas required to drive the 20 or so extra miles. I have better things to do with my time than stand in a checkout line, so I love only having to do it twice a month. Some people are intimidated by this because it involves actual planning. You have to pay attention to how much milk your family drinks in a week, instead of just hitting the store on autopilot every time you run out, and coming home with one (yes, people really do get one at a time) one gallon of milk. Which will last 3 days. And then repeat. You're standing there in front of the cooler. Just grab three instead of one, my dear.  

Some people try to buy the bare minimum at a time because they're trying to save money. But in the end, I guarantee the disorganization and $ spent on gas will cost you more. Some people balk at this idea because they want to go to the store every few days for "fresh" milk, bread and produce. If you are not yet aware of how long it takes supermarket food to reach your shelves, there are several documentaries I can recommend. Do you really think the food stays fresher sitting in the store cooler for a few days than it would sitting in your fridge? Just buy that ginormous bag of potatoes and be done with it. What's that you say? Lettuce doesn't last two weeks in the fridge?  You are correct. That is where grocery shopping and meal planning come together.

Do not put lettuce salad in your meal plan on the 28th of the month. That would be gross. Put it on the 16th, 17th, or 18th. Or the 2nd, 3rd or 4th. Or all of the above, if you really like lettuce. Those dates are right after you went grocery shopping. Pick all the quick-spoiling veggies and dairy items that you like to eat, and put them in your meal plans for the first week of your pay cycle. The second week, you will be eating things like potatoes, carrots, squash, frozen green beans, etc. Those things can handle a couple weeks in the fridge/freezer. They're cheaper too. As you make your meal plan in GC, write out your grocery list at the same time. Some people want to type their grocery list into their phone. I can still write faster than I can text. This is true for most people over 25. Just write out the list; you'll save yourself time. Look at each recipe, and look in your cupboard/fridge to see which ingredients you already have.

When your present self finally comes to grips with the fact that future self is not allowed into the grocery store, you will find yourself being VERY observant about what needs to go on that list. You, present self, are the only thing standing between future self and an empty toothpaste tube. Are you running kind of low on hand soap? How low? Retrain yourself to think of "low = 2 weeks worth" instead of "low = 2 days worth". You will also become aware of just how much your family eats of certain items. It's easy to miss when you're buying them one at a time. But when you're putting 8 boxes of fruit flavored snacks into the're doing it intentionally. It's that much easier to spot dietary changes that need to be made. Some items will be inadvertently forgotten at first. That's just part of switching gears. You may have to survive without roasted red pepper hummus for  6 entire days  until payday. You'll live. You'll be a stronger person for it. And you'll appreciate the hummus much more when you do get it. You will be able to smile at those neurotic shoppers who "just had to have" a certain item right now. You will be the gladiator of grocery shoppers. And you will rock your grocery budget every. single. month. 

So, in review, here are my guidelines for meal planning and grocery shopping:
1. Make a 2 week meal plan in GC, taking into account the fact that all the groceries will be bought at once.
2. Shop on payday or the day after.
3. Buy 2 weeks worth of groceries (don't forget breakfasts!).
4. Do not go back to the grocery store. I don't care if it's 9 pm and you feel like having ice cream. Don't go back. (You don't have any money anyway, remember?)  Ran out of juice for breakfast? Suck it up. Your ancestors didn't always have juice for breakfast either. Heck, they might not even have had breakfast.
5. Enjoy getting a daily reminder in your inbox telling you what to make for supper...and the fact that all the ingredients are already sitting in your kitchen. Meanwhile, YOU get a two week vacation from standing in the check out line. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Google Calendar Meal Planning Part 1

I've said over and over that I do not really meal plan.  Since I'm only cooking for one, I can usually go on autopilot and it works out ok.  Those of you who are cooking for multiple people and really do need a meal plan, take heart!  I recruited my frugal friend Kara to lay it all out for you.

You know those days when the planets align to give you a long and terrible day at work, and then when you get home your partner/kid/hamster/alter ego meets you at the door whining for dinner, but there's nothing decent in the cupboard or the freezer so you just order take-out? Yeah, me neither. But if I had you until "take-out", you're my kind of person. I can't imagine dropping $30 on dinner unless it's somebody's birthday or another major celebration. Around here, bad days or busy days equal sandwiches or scrambled eggs for supper. My kitchen doesn't have a Michelin star, so there's no need to build up my gourmet cred. We just need food to be healthy, inexpensive, and usually tasty, but most importantly, it needs to be ON THE SHELF WHEN I OPEN THAT CUPBOARD DOOR AT 5:30. That's right, all my great plans for cheap and delicious brown rice with veggies instead of expensive drive through deep fried salt are meaningless if the food isn't in the house when I need it to be.  

Now, the internet (and especially Pinterest) is full of meal plan organizing ideas. Unfortunately, they generally require you to buy a bunch of items like binders, wipe-off calendars, color coded tags or magnets or some such madness. So... I've got to spend money to save money? And bringing more stuff into my house is somehow going to make me more organized? This is where my eyes glaze over.  Also, most of these systems are heavy on the meal planning, and say nothing about grocery shopping. For me, this is a deal breaker. Meal planning and grocery shopping belong together. Some people try to separate them, but they are like an atom of hydrogen and that is a bad, bad thing to do.  Right now I'm going to separate them into different paragraphs, but this is only theoretical and not in real life. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. 

For most of us, meal planning has to be quick and dirty or it isn't going to get done at all. I used to just write it on the calendar (yes, an actual paper one. I'm so 1992). But then you have to look at the calendar to find out what's for dinner. A can of tomatoes isn't just going to smack you on the head and say, "Cook me for dinner!" And if you don't know what you were *supposed* to make, so you just make some other random thing, you may have used up crucial ingredients that you needed for when your neighbors are coming over on Friday, or for that work event you signed up to bring cupcakes for next week. Then you'll have to run back to the store, which will imbalance your incredibly awesome grocery shopping zen which I shall explain tomorrow. And what if you can't find the calendar because your kid cut it up so she could use the 7s, or your hamster chewed it up because they do that, or your alter ego sabotaged you on purpose? What you really need is a meal plan calendar that 1) can't get lost and 2) will stalk you with reminders and 3) can be taken everywhere even though it is 4) weightless and takes up no space in your pocket while being 5) awesomely free. 

If you're thinking, "Toto, we're not in 1992 anymore", you are right. And forget those stupid Android apps. They are one hit wonders. You want something a lot more versatile. Enter Google Calendar. With a gmail address, I can access all Google's other apps and features. Like Google Calendar. Lovely little Google Calendar, so proper, yet so flexible... Brace yourself, because I'm about to sing its praises like Whitney Houston performing I Will Always Love You, but without the crazy. Actually I will probably get a little crazy about this. If you don't use Google Calendar (hereafter referred to as GC), you need to start right now. If you have an outlook calender at work, there is an app that can synchronize the two. After having a gmail address and GC for about a week, you will be like the people in prescription drug commercials, running through a field of daisies with the wind blowing in your hair while you shout to the universe, "Why did I wait so long?!" 

Now, about GC. She is not a summer fling. She is a long term relationship even though you don't deserve her. First of all, you set her up for a day, week or month at a glance, just as you'd expect. Then you click on a date/time and add an event, again just as you'd expect from, you know, a calendar. Here's where the awesomeness begins. You can set up multiple calenders, and the event items from each calendar will be listed in their own color. So looking at your month-at-a-glance, you know that blue is your work events, yellow is social events, green is for kids' events, and purple is for meals (or whatever). The different calenders that you have set up are listed in the left sidebar, so you can click to view them all at once, or only one at a time, or only a certain two, etc. And if your partner also has gmail, you and s/he can share your calenders with each other. This way I also see what my partner is doing on certain days, so I don't need to call him when I'm planning meals or inviting people over, I can just look at the calender to see what he has going on. This way it's also easier to plan a crock pot meal for a busy day, or a more time-consuming recipe for your day off.  You also know which days you won't be home for dinner, so you don't have to buy for those days, and you are reminded of any food-related obligations you need to buy for. I strongly suggest creating a separate meal plan calendar instead of throwing meals into your work one. That way you can hide the meal plan one when you're trying to concentrate on planning your work tasks for the next couple weeks, so you don't keep getting distracted by the rockstar minestrone that is coming up on Wednesday.

Awesomeness 2.0: GC will notify you via gmail about an upcoming event in one of your calendars (pay attention though; you have to check a box when setting up/modifying said calendar). So when it's 3 pm and you're sitting at work wondering what's for supper, just check your gmail. Or even better, when you make entries in your meal plan calendar, don't assign them a time (e.g. 6 pm, chicken caesar salad). Just make it an all day event (e.g. Monday June 18, chicken caesar salad). Then you'll get the reminder the night before, so you can take meat out of the freezer to defrost, get the crock pot set up, soak the beans, or whatever else you need to do in advance to avoid a rush the next morning. Let me point out that this increases your frugality by allowing you to use those cheaper ingredients that require an extra know, the step you always forget and then you end up eating sandwiches for supper. Again.

Awesomeness 3.0: This is the moment where you look into her eyes and know that she's the one. You know how it becomes a pain to re-enter your weekly work meeting or tae kwon do class in GC, so you just set it as a repeating event that repeats every Tues/Thurs 7 pm? (When you create the event, click on it again and go to edit event. It's like hacking into the mainframe of the Matrix and changing the fabric of the universe, except easy). Okay, so we like to have pizza on Fridays. Livin' on the edge, I know. So in my meal plan calendar, I can set "pepperoni mushroom pizza" as an event which repeats the first Friday of every month. "Chicago style deep dish" repeats the second Friday of every month. "Four cheese spinach pizza" repeats the third Friday of every month, and so on. You can set up your menu plan to repeat monthly, weekly, bimonthly, or for only certain days to repeat. I only have Fridays repeat, and each Friday repeats monthly. (Side note: I do make the pizzas myself. They are tasty and healthy, yet way cheaper than any store bought frozen pizza available here that could actually manage to be tasty and healthy. And now that I've done it a lot, it doesn't take very long either.) 

As a bonus, if things get crazy one day and you just end up having sandwiches, next time you go to GC you can just drag and drop that meal entry to a later date. Drag and drop, people! You can put that dry erase marker away. In case repeating meal entries gets boring and you need, if you are using GC, you are connected to the internet. Go nuts. You don't need recipe books. Just google a couple ingredient words + "recipe", or hit up a recipe site. By doing this online, you are taking all those color coded binders and the big dry erase calendar and letting them live in the computer screen that you already use anyway. Now, in order to keep track of your new recipe ideas or your go-to meals, GC has an ace in her garter belt... I mean, she has a Tasks function. Hit that and you get a tasks checklist in the right hand column. You can have multiple task lists that you flip between, like tabs in your browser. I keep one called "meal ideas". I just pull that one up when I'm entering meals into the meal plan calendar, and use ideas from there. It sits on the screen right beside the month-at-a-glance meal calendar. If I come across a new recipe when I'm not meal planning, I just enter the title into the list. Fabulous. 

Tomorrow--Part 2!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My Long List of Grievances

I've been noticing small things lately that just seem stupid, wasteful and designed to irk me.  Sometimes I fell like the internet actually does have the power to influence change, so instead of just clenching my teeth and complaining inside my head, I'm actually going to list out a few things I've noticed recently.  i'm sure nothing will change, but I'll probably feel better--and I encourage you to vent your grievances as well!

Grievance #1
Car insurance is due June 6th.  I know this.  I've had the same car insurance company for nearly seven years, and my insurance is due the 6th of June and the 6th of December.  The lovely people at Progressive send me a reminder bill about a month before it is due, which includes my new insurance card, details of my policy, and the payment coupon in case I want to mail in my bill.  I mentally note this, put something in m calendar, and pay it on the day it's due.  After all, there's no bonus points for paying it early, and I usually put it on my credit card so I can get points and then just pay it off right away.


After that first bill, Progressive then sends me about five more reminders--all multiple sheets of paper, reminding me that my bill is due soon.  They also seems to send me half a dozen of the little laminated cards, and I wind up tucking them in my purse, car, coat pocket, etc.  I know it's good to have more than one, but how many do I really need?  This is all wasteful and unnecessary, and they also send me email reminders, so all total, they tell me about fifteen times that my car insurance needs to be renewed.  I don't mind the emails, but knock it off with the paper.

My other beef with Progressive is that when I want to login to their online system to pay my bill, I'm expected to remember a completely ludicrous username comprised of numbers, letters and dashes.  I never remember this username, so I need to reset my password, which allows me to sign in with my account number (like I should be able to just do anyway).  It's just dumbassery at it's finest, and it wastes a lot of my time.

Grievance #2
I've had a contract with Sprint for my cell phone for about eight years.  I don't really like them, but I also don't pay a huge amount of money, don't care about my phone and don't have the mental fortitude to shop around.  I have the bill set to autopay through my American Express card, and I just scratch the headache of dealing with phone stuff off my list.


I want them to email me my bill instead of sending me the monthly packet of stuff that they like to send out, but every time I change my preferences to email only, they send me a series of frantic text messages saying my email doesn't work.  It's the same address I've had for forever, and I know it works because it's my primary mode of communication.  I don't know why sprint thinks they're getting blocked, I get the confirmation email from them saying I'm enrolled in e-bill, but whenever they get that message, they change me back to paper bill delivery (I hate paper), and it's such a waste!.

Grievance #3
I don't get the new obsession that the internet seems to have with macaroons and whoopie pies.   Sure, they photograph well, but they just don't look very appetizing to me.  I tried a whoopie pie a while back--a home-made one, because I'd heard people go on and on about them, and it left me decidedly underwhelmed and sticky of finger.  Explain this obsession, please, because I just do not get it.

I prefer cupcakes.

Grievance #4
Facebook scrabble re-did its board and it sucks!  It takes forever to load, there are not youtube-type ads where you have to watch for a while before you can click out, the board doesn't fit properly on my computer screen and when you first log in, you get this notice saying '89 of your friends are not playing scrabble, invite them!' But you can't click away from it!  You either have to refresh the page, or wait like a full minute for it to go away. Anyone want to play Words With Friends with me?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

From Out Of The Ashes

I created a dramatic image to go with my title
My fridge died this week, so I decided to write a blog post with a really dramatic title.

Our fridge has been acting funny for a while.  I'd noticed that it didn't feel as cold as it used to, and I noticed increased rates of food spoilage.  Yes, that is something I notice because I'm the coolest person out there!  Anyway, I chalked it up to the warmer weather outside, and bumped up the temperature in the fridge, which promptly made some things freeze, while others stayed warm.

A couple days ago, BF announced, proudly, that he had fixed the fridge.  "The fridge is broken?" I asked.  Apparently, it had seemed that the fridge was shutting itself off, and he had somehow figured out how to fix that.  But, naturally, the problem was bigger than that, and the fridge continued to not be cold and started to make alarming 'I'm working too hard!' noises.

Thankfully, my landlord is in Sweden and his subletters haven't moved in yet, so we stuck our food in his fridge and didn't lose much, but we're in an odd predicament right now.  The fridge will not be replaced until next week because we're going to be out of town all weekend, and the subletters move in on Saturday, so we need to get the food out of his fridge.  This spurred me into frantic eating to reduce food waste mode, and it's been a little fun.

For example:  Our milk and half and half spoiled right away.  I found this out after pouring some half & half into a cup, filling it with coffee, walking away briefly and coming back to find that all the half & half had separated into this gross looking film.  No thank you.   So I've been drinking my coffee black, which I haven't done in years, and I don't hate it!

Last night, I was sitting at work thinking about what I'd like to have for dinner, and I tried to recall what we have left that needs eating.  Conclusion: Polenta, pea greens and eggs.  Enter the wonderful world of Pinterest and boom--
Mine was not this pretty, but you get the idea
Delicious, healthy dinner!  I would really never have thought to put egg with polenta, mainly because I'm still learning what to do with polenta, but now I have one less egg to worry about, much less polenta and I may make this again for dinner.

To that end, I am reminded how much fun shopping the pantry is.  I've mentioned before that our grocery bills have been astronomical and that that makes me quite sad, but being forced to make meals out of odds and ends is an awesome adventure!  Sometimes you just need a little inconvenience to spark your imagination.

My plan for the rest of the month is to buy minimal groceries.  Instead, I'm going to pair my pantry items with my farm share items and hopefully come up with some fun new treats and save some damn money.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Things I Learned From Last Week's Farm Share

It's time for me to pick up farm share #2, and I actually did pretty ok with share #1, but there are some things I need to be careful of for the future.

  1. Apparently farm-fresh veggies don't last as long as store-bought?  I left my turnips and radishes sitting out for a couple days, and the radishes got all soft and squishy before I could use them.  I had also been hoping to use the turnip greens in a soup, but they were completely wilted and sad.  So that was a total bummer because I was really looking forward to pickled radishes and turnip soup!
  2. Garlic scapes have more scent than flavor.  I took four garlic scapes this week, and used the first one in a kale stir fry.  I sliced it lengthwise, then chopped it up, because that's what the internet told me to do, and even though I could smell garlic scape on my hands for days, I couldn't really taste in my stiry fry.  Second round, I made a white bean and kale soup using three garlic scapes.  Blandest soup ever.  I had some for dinner last night, and it just tastes like nothing--and I made a whole pot.  Guess what I'm having for lunch today!
  3. I'm as intimidated by joi choi as I am bok choi.  The newsletter said that this veggie is "great for braising." Well, that threw me into a panic as I have never braised anything!  Don't people usually braise meat?  Joi Choi is still sitting in the crisper.
Other than those issues, first week is a moderate success.  I just have to remember to pop everything in the fridge right away, which is a bit of an issue this week because our fridge is currently dying i.e. not making things cold.  But I'm going out of town this weekend, so my farm share partner will be taking most of the food.  If I do get more radishes though, I'm pickling them right away!

Any suggestions on the joi choi?

Monday, June 11, 2012

My Austerity Measures

I mentioned recently that my place of employment has taken a major funding cut, but I've also noticed that since I started working there, I just haven't been able to get ahead financially.  Yes, I am making less money that I was when I was working three jobs and more hours a week, but I also cut back on the amount of gas I was using and made other small changes that don't seem to have added up like they should have.  Put it this way, when I look at my monthly budgets, I should be able to save some money, and it seems like I never am.

Even though I am taking a couple vacations this summer (more on that later), I am going to enact some austerity measures that will hopefully allow me to sock away a bit more cash.

  1. No more races.  I have three 1/2 marathons coming up, and I am not allowing myself to register for any more.  Every summer I go through this need to register for as many races as possible, and I am bringing the hammer down!  I have plenty to look forward to, and I can choose to run 13.1 miles on my own for FREE.
  2. No more clothes.  Seriously, self, you have enough clothes.  Quit being a dumbass and thinking you have to have a new dress/capri pants/insert other article of summer clothing.  From now on, I'm shopping the closet and that is good enough for me.
  3. No more overpaying on student loans.  I have tremendous student loan guilt.  My number eats away at me, but I need to accept that there is no point in re-diverting all my disposable income toward loan that will be forgiven in less than ten years.  Yes, I hate the sight of the principle amount rising; yes I keep thinking that if I just sent another $100 it would make a difference, but I know that's not the case.  I need to put that money into my retirement fund because no one is going to take care of me when I start falling apart and can't work anymore.
  4. Reign in grocery spending.  I don't know why the hell our grocery bills have been so high, but it needs to stop.  I need to be more organized about packing a lunch for work (I haven't been going out for lunch, but I've gotten a bit lazy on this front i.e. same lunch every day), and I need to just spend and eat less and stop going to the fancy grocery store.  Plus, I've already paid for my farm share, I need to eat it!
  5. No restaurants unless we have a Gift Certificate or Groupon.  We have a ton of both of these things, and there have been a plethora of nearby restaurant Groupons lately.  Plus, we're going to be on vacation for a while, and we really don't eat out all that much.
  6. No more thinking--I need that!  This will be tough, mostly because it's so vague, but I need to re-remind myself that there is actually nothing that I need. Obviously, there are things that I want and things that would make my life more convenient, but very little I need.   I noticed these feeling ramp up because I've been a bit busy over the last couple weeks.  Getting busy means that I start feeling out of control and it makes me spend.  What I need, is to put money in savings, I do not need stuff.
  7. Cut Back on Booze.  This gives me the sads because I love beer, but we spent a lot of money on booze last month (we hosted a fancy cocktail hour), so this month is going to be cheap local beer and boxed sangria--less of both.  Thankfully, I prefer cheap stuff and that boxed sangria comes in a five liter container!  Value!
  8. No more Gym Membership.  I mailed in my 'I want to quit the gym' letter the other day, now I'm just waiting for Bally to start with the excuses as to why they don't want to give me my money back.  But I will fight!!  Oh, I will fight.  I also realized that there have been tons of Groupons lately for sporty endeavors, so many that I could just buy those instead of a traditional gym membership.  There was one a little while ago for spin class at fancy gym right near my house, but I skipped it because I already had spin class at gym  I'm currently paying for.  Recently though, I've been thinking I kind of want to try this Cross Fit thing that it seems everyone is talking about.  Lo and behold, I found a Groupon for 88% off.  New strategy + no contract.
We'll see if this works, but if I can stick to these rules, I should be on the road to savings.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sails Link Love

I've always wanted to go to Australia, and now I do even more!  They recently projected... I don't even know what you call it on the sails of the Sydney Opera House, and it's just about the awesomest thing ever.  I can't embed the video, so watch the whole thing here, but here's a screencap to whet your appetite.

The newest (on DVD) season of True Blood is whizzing through the USPS toward my house via netflix, and I am SO PUMPED!  Gone are the days when I could use a friend's online HBO account (frugal!), so now I have to one-disc-at-a-time it like the common people.  Either way, even though I'm technically behind, I still LOVE Serendipity's Guide to Saving's Financial Life Lessons-- True Blood Edition.  It's amazing how much financial wisdom you can extrapolate from a show about fairies, vampires and other odd creatures.
Those abs + financial advice = best thing EVER!

As someone who is given to hermit-like behavior on occasion, I love this post at So Over Debt: Five Reasons to Consider Becoming a Hermit.  I mean, think about it, aside from the cost of your hermitage, the overhead is incredibly low.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Austerity Measures

I mentioned before that my library where I work is in a bit of a budget crisis.  Recently, the city was contemplating cutting 10% from our budget, which is a reduction of $355,000.  For other city departments, that may not be as significant as it is for our library.  Our library is not technically a city department, therefore, we employees are not on the city pension plan, we can't buy discounted heating oil from the city and we don't get vehicles or any other items that would help reduce our overhead expenses.

My library has a rather interesting origin story in that it's only been around for three years.  Yes, the building I work in has been a library for over 100 years, but the Providence Community Library system was started three years ago when the Providence Public Library system said that they could no longer afford to support the smaller branch libraries in the poorest neighborhoods (and believe me, Providence is poor).  For the past year, our nine neighborhood libraries have been operated by a non-profit determined not to cut library services to the people who need it the most.

It's a long story, and if you want more background, it's on our website, but right now I'm just bummed out.  It's unlikely that we'll lose much staff, but we will likely have to reduce hours, staff will take a pay cut, and we will have to try to find  way to find the money somewhere else.  Thankfully, the city restored $100,000 of that $355,000 cut, but any cut right now hurts a lot.

It just saddens me that when things get lean, we seem to stop being a country that cares about its people.  I hear everyday "Now that we have the internet, we don't need libraries anymore."  That may be true for many people, but just in my libraries alone, we had 680,000 library visits last year.  This year, that number has increased.  Also, what if you don't have the internet? 30% of Americans lack basic computer skills--most of those people are elderly or low-income.  If people don't have access to computers and the internet, they can't apply for jobs, they can't start a small business, they can't break the cycle of poverty.

Personally, since I moved to Rhode Island five years ago, I have borrowed nearly 2000 items from the library.  If we average a $10 cost per item, I've saved myself $20,000. That's a down payment on a house.

I didn't go into this profession to get rich, that's for sure, but it depresses me to no end that those of us who choose a profession where the major reward is warm fuzzies rather than fat bonuses are seen as expendable.  I'm worried about my own future, but I'm more worried about the people who depend on the library just to get by.

Sorry to end the week on such a down note, I'm just a little low right now.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

First Farm Share!

I picked up my first farm share last night, and I am so pumped!  Here's the list of things that were available for pickup:
garlic scapes
swiss chard
french breakfast radishes
spicy, sweet, and sour salad or cooking mix
lettuce mix
large leaf spinach
joi choi
white turnips
oregano or parsley 
Thankfully, none of those things are terribly scary (though the joi choi is a mystery to me), I've never had turnips before, and I really like radishes but I never buy them because I'm not quite sure what to do with them.  I didn't take and salad because I didn't have any small bags, but I did buy a carton of farm-fresh eggs!

The plan right now is to pickle the radishes--I found this recipe and I like the sound of it, plus, I've been wanting to pickle something for a while now.

I'm going to make turnip soup with the turnips and the greens--very excited about this.  I may also add some of the garlic scapes to the soup.  The internet tells me that garlic scapes are quite versatile and can be eaten alone or added to things, so I'll try a little of both.
They're almost too pretty to eat!
One mystery right now is that I'm not sure of I grabbed a sour salad mix, or a bunch of flowers I wasn't entitled to:
Anyone know what this is?  It's certainly pretty, but I haven't tasted it yet...

One thing that continually cracks me up with I bring new leafy greens into the house, is the reaction Wee Watson (kitty) has to them.  Watson is a picky cat--does not care for wet food, won't eat treats, but he goes nuts for kale.
He comes running when I bring home kale.
Apparently, he's also pretty excited about turnip greens and swiss chard.  I had to put everything leafy out of cat reach, which seriously cracks me up.  Should be an exciting summer for both of us.

If anyone has any recommendations for the kale or swiss chard, let me know. I usually just pan fry the kale with olive oil and garlic (so good!), but I feel like I should mix it up a bit.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Money Smart Week 5.5

Just library stuff--
Brian Dennehy is very intense about his love of schooners

I fell off the blogathon wagon a mere two days from the end of May!  Things got hectic, as things will do, and I didn't want to end the month with two crappy filler posts--I like you guys too much to waste your time like that.  So, I will not be adding the "I did it" badge to my sidebar this year, but I'm still pretty damn proud of myself.  Since I missed my Money Smart Week post, I'm just going to make up for it now.

  • Thursday/Friday conference meant two days of free breakfast and lunch!  Plus, since I was presenting on Friday, my registration was free and work paid for Thursday.  I tried not to overeat this year because I have in years past, but I still had three cookies with lunch each day because, damnit, I like cookies!
  • Thursday/Friday conference carpooling!  The conference was about 20 minutes away, actually hosted by job #2, but I caught a ride with friends and didn't waste a drop of gas.
  • Post-conference BYOB dinner.  I'm actually a bit devastated because after the Friday conference day, a friend and I had plans to eat at my favorite restaurant in Providence, and we found the door locked with a sign that said 'gone fishin.'  Their facebook page confirmed that they have closed, but are planning on sharing their most popular recipes with their fans.  I had a hunch that they probably weren't raking it in, but I was bringing everyone I knew there for dinner in the hopes of keeping them alive.  Friday night, we went out for sushi instead, which is also BYOB.
  • Savings!  Thursday was my third paycheck of May, and I was very pleased to sock some money away in savings and my IRA.  I also opened a new bank account with a better interest rate--The Frugal Girl has a short writeup about them--because I want to get the most interest possible (duh), and I honestly think I need to hide my money away from my prying eyes if I want to stop dipping into savings.
  • Gym Membership.  I'm going to cancel my gym membership. I'm just not using it and according to my co-worker who goes there several times a week, it has been sold to a new company and it seems like everything is falling apart and the staff don't really care anymore.  The pool has been broken for weeks, and whenever she asks when it will be fixed, they give her a non-committal answer.  My plan now is to just work out outside for the summer, and possibly join a closer gym for the winter.
  • Speed!  This has nothing to do with frugality, but I finally ran my first sub 9-minute mile since being injured.  Monday morning was misty and cool, so I decided to push the pace and got back up to my old regular speed!  Problem is, I felt like I was going to puke, so there's still some training to be done there, but nonetheless--yay!

Overall, the month of May felt very long to me.  We ended up buying a mattress (more on that later), we spent a ton of money on food, we bought plane tickets and paid for a hotel--I'm sick of spending.

This week I have free cocktails on Tuesday, free theatre on Wednesday and a kick-ass wedding on Saturday.  Other than that, I'm laying low and getting with my library books.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Free Astronomical Phenomenon!

I don't think I've ever mentioned before, but BF is currently working on a Ph.D in Astrophysics.  That's right, I'm in love with a scientist, which is strange for me because I always dated 'creative types' before. But no matter, because I am dating a scientist, I know a hell of a lot about a super awesome even which is happening June 5-6 called The Transit of Venus.

Transits of Venus occur when the planet Venus actually passes in front of the the sun, making the whole planet look not like a blue dot, but like an orange ball.  These are particularly cool because they are the rarest astronomical event, occurring in a pattern that repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years.  The next Transit of Venus will be December 2117.
Venus--transiting in 2004.
What is also cool about this, as BF told me, is during the last major transit of Venus (not the 2004 one), scientists from all over the world tried to observe the phenomenon and take measurements, which can be used to determine the size of Venus and its distance from the Earth.  This was such a major event in my neighborhood in Providence that there are actually two streets named after it: Transit St. and Planet St.

Pretty much the whole world can see it--though it's supposed to be overcast here in Providence--damnit.  Since I've been regretting missing Halley's Comet when I was in 1st grade, I'm going to be front and center for this one.  Here's how to properly enjoy your Transit of Venus experience:
  • Check with your local observatory as they certainly will have an opportunity for you to view it.
  • Go to to find out what time you can witness the transit where you live, or, if it's cloudy, to watch streaming video
  • Do not burn out your eyeballs by staring directly into the sun!  Eclipse viewers are cheap and should be available at any kind of science store/museum (BF tells me).  If you cannot secure eclipse viewers before the event, you can use a welder's mask (surely you have one of those), telescope or any of the other materials listed on this page.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so get out there and enjoy the majesty and wonder of the universe.