Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012: The Plan

Generic image, couldn't think of anything clever--sorry.
As I mentioned before, with new job starting, I have no idea how much my take-home pay is going to be.  I claimed zero dependents on my tax form, which means that the maximum amount of taxes are going to be taken out of my check, and I also have health, dental, union dues and 401k.  Wow, that's a lot of deductions when you write it all down.  In an effort to not lose my mind in the coming months, I'm going to just live as frugally as I can, and start re-tracking expenses and income to come up with a whole new budget.  Obviously, since I went over in all categories last year, I need to make a change.

Also, I'm going to do something a little fun (nerdy fun).  My car is almost at the 100,000 mile mark.  When I was commuting 28 days a month, I was also putting on about 3000 miles every three months--I know this because of that little oil change sticker on my car window--MATH!  So now that I'm going to be commuting by bike or foot (I walked to new job yesterday and it was lovely!!), I'm going to see how many miles I put on that car each month.  I'm going to take it in for repairs, which I've been putting off for a year and a half, and then hopefully it will spend most of its time in the driveway.

Also, obviously, I would like to reign in my clothes spending, which I hope having a normal schedule will help me do.  Presently, I'm in the mindset that my new job will right all the wrongs in my life and turn me into one of those shiny happy people who eat right, dress well, get an appropriate amount of exercise and never complain about anything. I anticipate that this feeling will last about two months.  But seriously, folks, this is a truly fresh start, which is pretty awesome.  So instead of trying to plan EVERYTHING, I'm going to try to take it as it comes.

The plan--minimal plan:
  1. Track spending and expenses to come up with a new budget.
  2. Drive as little as possible.
  3. Take car in for repair.
  4. Take new bike in for repair and learn how to ride it.
  5. Do more cooking at home.
  6. Spend more time with friends doing fun things.
  7. Take in some culture--man, I miss culture.
  8. Do fun things on the weekend.  I've heard of these "weekends" that people are always excited about, perhaps if I manage to stay on top of household tasks during the week, I can spend these weekends doing fun things?  Is that how it works?
  9. Explore hobbies--I should have hobbies, but not expensive ones like big game hunting or sailing, except I do plan to take sailing lessons...
  10. Write more!  More blogging, and for god's sake get to work on that damn novel!
So, my minimal plans resulted in a list of ten items, which is not minimal.  BUT, I have some fun thrown in there too.  It's a mix, a healthy mix.  I feel good.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

It's time to start my new budget for 2012, which is surreal, to say the least.  I'm still not sure how much I'm actually going to be making at my new job though, so I can't really set up my monthly goals, and (nerdy confession time) it's bothering me more than I thought it would.  Since new job comes with health and dental plans as well as union dues, I'm not sure how much I'm going to actually be taking home.  Plus, my expenses will be changing based on re-upping my social life and driving less.  CHANGES!!!  ACK!

Couldn't resist
It's all good.

Rather than get hung up on the future, let's take a look back at the financial year that was--2011.

The Good:
--I saved a lot this year.  My savings account was very depleted from three months of unemployment in 2009 and from one year of only working 19 hours a week.  Once I got the second job, I became a mad saver.  *pat on back for that*

--I started my Roth IRA and contributed $2750.00, which is pretty alright for having it for only like seven months.  Naturally, the market took a dump as soon as I opened this account, so I'm actually down right now, but I have faith in capitalism!!  My retirement is going to be so sexy.

--We didn't turn the heat on until mid-December!  I have no idea how much that saves, but it's still awesome.

--I managed to still have a few mini-vacations this year, despite my ridiculous schedule--New Orleans, New Brunswick, Philadelphia. Plus, that conference I went to in New Orleans included tons of free food and drink, which I like very much.

--As far as personal, non-financial goals this year, I made goals to run 750 miles and read 150 books.  As of today, I've read 154 books (and I still have two days left!), and run 918 miles.  Not to bad for a girl with only two days off a month.

The Bad:
--I went over in most budget categories.  I was going over when I was doing most of the grocery shopping, and now that we've got the shared household card, we're still over.  Obviously, I need to reassess where the money is going, and hopefully, do more cooking for both of us in the new year, which should be easier since we'll both be home at the same time.

--I spent a LOT of money on running gear and races.  The good news about that is that now I have all this running gear, I should be set.  The bad news is that I ran 10 races this past year, and that is not cheap.  I have a plan for the coming year, and I'm sticking to it.

The Ugly:
--I spent so much money on clothes this past year.  I've been like a crazy person and even though I keep saying I'll stop, I do not stop!

--This past year, I have spent $1477 on gas.  That figure makes me physically ill, but it's actually less than I had budgeted for since gas prices have gone down.

Now I need to make a plan for 2012, or at least as much of a plan as I can.  Stay tuned!!

How did you do this past year, financewise?

Monday, December 19, 2011

2012 a.k.a. The Year Everything Changes

Those loyal, longtime readers will (hopefully) realize that I am not often given to grand pronouncements like the one above, that's why, after officially signing the paperwork today, I get to say that I start 2012 with.....


That's right, gentle reader.  At the tender age of 32, I have finally acquired my first full-time job.  Along with the professional satisfaction of advancing in my chosen career, this job also brings:
  • A liveable wage 
  • Health Insurance for the first time in nearly three years
  • A retirement plan with employer matching
  • A civilized schedule of 37.5 hours per week and TWO WHOLE DAYS OFF EVERY WEEK!!  What the hell am I going to do with all that downtime?  I need some hobbies...
  • Dental insurance
  • Vacation Days
  • Sick pay
  • No more commuting!!
New job, which will henceforth referred to as Perfect Library Job (PLJ) is two miles from my house.  It's actually my turnaround point when I run my four mile loop, so not only can I walk to work, I can also bike to work on my swanky new bike!

Bike is currently nameless, suggestions welcome
I bought my new-to-me bike yesterday from a very nice girl who is moving to Oregon, and who threw in two bike locks at no extra cost!  I found out very quickly, however, that while one never forgets how to ride a bike, one's skills do atrophy.  I haven't ridden a bike since high school, and I was a bit shaky, but with a few practice rides, I should be just fine.  I'm a little scared, but I'll persevere!

Fear not, those who were fearful, now that I have gainful employment I promise I won't go all Hollywood and forget my frugal roots.  Even though I'm making a little more money, and saving a TON on gas, I still have student loans to pay, and have no excuse to go nuts and become an extravagant person.  I now have the privilege of saving more, is how I'm looking at it.

Posting may be a bit spotty in the coming week since I'll have company, but I'll certainly be back with a year end post, and probably some other bits and bobs too--who knows!!  Frugality is everywhere!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Blinky Link Love

This will certainly speak to many of the bloggers out there: Why your readers hate it when you make money.  I've been on both sides of this--hell I am currently on both sides of this, but as a wise person once said If you think you're going to make a living blogging, you need to think again.  Unless you live in a cardboard box completely off the grid and grow all your own food, it's just not going to happen.  Plus, if you're living off the grid, how are you blogging?

This is fascinating--there was almost a second, fake Paris.  "Located just a few miles north of the actual city, the twin was being built as a decoy. Fear of German bombers destroying the city prompted a massive-scale replica to fool the enemy into destroying the wrong Paris."

Another adorable dessert I will never make!  Gentle reader, if you live locally, please consider us non-bakers in your charitable acts this year.
Santa Hat Brownies!!
This musical number totally makes me want to sit on Santa's lap.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Food Waste Friday: A Horrifying Cucumber

I've had a little half cucumber knocking around in my crisper.  Every time I moved the salad, I'd see it and think I wonder if that cucumber is still good?  Wednesday morning, I discovered that it was decidedly not good as it was displaying white spots and squishing in the middle.  I didn't even want to grab it for fear that it would rupture when touched, but I got a paper towel and tossed it.

Instead of a picture of the icky cucumber in my crisper, I give you a picture of a sea cucumber that is (probably) perfectly healthy--I mean, I hope it is, but how do you really tell?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Angry Birds Can Teach Us About Personal Finance

I'm sure that most people, even if they haven't personally played Angry Birds, at least have heard of it.  I learned about it watching an interview with Jon Hamm on Conan.  A quick rundown for those who may not be familiar: The pigs have stolen the birds' eggs.  The birds are angry.  The pigs create various fortresses to protect themselves, and the angry birds launch themselves at those fortresses to destroy the pigs and reclaim their eggs.

It's a total time suck, and I'm really, really good at it.

As I was wasting away an evening recently, I realized that these angry birds actually do have a lot going for them that can actually be applied to the world of personal finance. Skeptical? Read on!

Be persistent:
The birds do not quit, and likewise, when I'm playing Angry Birds, I keep saying "just one more game..."  Persistence is obviously key in the world of personal finance because oftentimes paying off debt or saving for retirement seems like an insurmountable goal.  But once you start chipping away at the goal ever so slightly, you start noticing progress--debt is shrinking, balance is growing, and then it finally sinks in that what you're doing is paying off!
That little yellow bird is determined!
Know your strengths:
Each of the birds in Angry Birds has a unique talent.  Once you figure out what that talent is, you do better at the game.  Everyone has different talents that can be applied to personal finance as well.  If you're really organized, you can create and maintain a rock-solid budget; creative types have a knack for investing (I have found this to be true).  You may figure out that you're really good and cooking and re-purposing leftovers.  There are really any number of ways that we can each tap into our strengths to save and grow money, but we just have to figure it out.

I like the yellow and blue birds best, but sometimes you need the others!
If one strategy doesn't work, find one that does:
Maybe you make out your budget and think I'm only going to spend $100 a month on food!  Then you go to the grocery store and find that it's impossible to spend that little and not wind up with scurvy or some other 18th century malnutrition disease.  Always re-evaluate.  That's why monthly roundups are so important.  Take a look at your spending for the month, examine where the money went and determine whether it was just an expensive month for a particular need, or if you need to change some numbers around.

Get help from your friends:
The Angry Birds don't work alone and neither should anyone else!  That's why I love the blogosphere so much.  Maybe I haven't met a lot of the people who read my blog or whose blogs I read, but I feel like I know them, and I've learned so much over the years.  Sometimes all it takes to figure something out is just asking the right person, or having a conversation.

Examine the angles:
In order to beat most of the levels of Angry Birds, you have to hit your target just so.  We've all seen financial advisors who advise people to start saving even while they're paying down debt.  At first that seems crazy and counterproductive, but when you think about it from another perspective, you realize that if you focus solely on paying down your debt and then have a crisis of some kind--medical, car accident, house fire etc., you're completely wiped out again and all your hard work was for nothing.

Don't be afraid to try new things:
I certainly never thought I'd be eating as much barley as I have in the last year, but I tried it, I like it, and it's totally frugal!  Experiment with new foods, new budgeting tools, new ways to get around.  Just be open and look at personal finance as an adventure!
I'm not advocating you try to make an Angry Birds dress, like
the wife of a Rovio executive did, but it is a little awesome...
The Angry Birds know that it usually takes a number of them to take down a piggies' fortress, likewise, it takes a number of people working together to understand the ins and outs of personal finance.  For instance, your financial view of the world is significantly different when you are a 19-year-old vs. after age 30.  What you need to know changes.  As I advance in levels in Angry Birds, I often get stuck and can't figure out the trick to beat the level and move forward.  I know that nerdier people than me have created youtube videos explaining every way to beat every level.  As an individual forging your way through the world of personal finance, it helps to remember that there are nerdier people than you out there who know exactly what you need to know--find them.
The little blue birds break glass and ice!
If you decide that you want to waste hours and hours or your life playing Angry Birds, you can do it for free through google chrome.  But you've been warned.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trader Joe's vs. The Grocery Store

I went to Trader Joe's the other day for a quick trip, and once again was amazed at how cheap it is.  You would think, since I go to Trader Joe's quite regularly, I would actually remember that, but since it's a bit out of my way, I go there infrequently on stock up trips. That results in me spending a lot of money (usually on five months worth of coffee), and thinking that it's a really expensive place to shop.

Not so.

Today, I'm going to do an item by item comparison between things purchased on my recent trip to the regular grocery store--Stop & Shop, and my even more recent trip to Trader Joe's.

Exhibit A:  Hummus

I bought hummus on both of my trips to the grocery store, and do you want to know why?  Because I love hummus, that's why.  Despite frugal attempts to make my own, I've stopped wasting my time and just get store bought.  I don't know how they do it, but my homemade version just sucks, and even the generic brand at the store is delicious.

This most recent trip, I bought Sabra Hummus, which is my hummus of choice, but I only bought it because it was on sale--naturally my favorite is the most expensive, sigh.  I got 17 oz for $5.99.  Trader Joe's, I got 16oz of hummus for $3.99

Current Standings: Grocery store trip $5.99, Trader Joe's $3.99

Exhibit B: Pita Bread

The pita bread is to enjoy with my hummus, of course.  Grocery Store pita bread retails for $2.79, Trader Joe's $1.29.

That brings our standings to Grocery Store:  $8.78, Trader Joe's $5.28

Exhibit C: Tempeh

The Trader Joe's tempeh is both delicious and dirt cheap.  Whole Foods also has a store brand of tempeh, which is really affordable, but I think it's icky.  The Trader Joe's stuff compares to the high end stuff, but is about half the price.

Grocery Store Lightlife Three Grain Organic Tempeh: $3.29, Trader Joe's Organic Three Grain Tempeh: $1.69.

Current Standings:  Grocery Store: $12.07,  Trader Joe's $6.97

Exhibit D: Snacky Popcorn

The Grocery Store retails Smart Food Popcorn for $3.99 for a 9 oz bag, Trader Joe's retails their popcorn for $1.59 for a 7oz bag, but the Trader Joe's stuff is low sodium and low fat and it is incredibly bland.  I'll tack on an extra $1 penalty since I'll have to add my own flavor agents, so that brings the Trader Joe's total to $2.59 for 7 oz.

Final Standings: Grocery Store: $16.06, Trader Joe's $9.56  

Overall, I got the same food, albeit slightly fewer ounces, for significant savings at Trader Joe's, which makes it totally worth driving a little further.  If there's one that's a lot further from where you live--get a carpool together!  Make a day of it!  It was just so nice to leave the grocery with two full bags of groceries and not feel like I'd been robbed in an alleyway.  I've started to loathe grocery shopping, but this perked me right up.    Also, I got four of these:
Best. Candy Bar. Ever.
For the low/low price of $1.99 apiece.  Then I hid the in the back of the cupboard.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Food Waste Friday: Too Much Comfort Food

I made this recipe last week: Gnocchi Mac and Cheese, which sounds phenomenal.  I'm all about any excuse to eat cheese as a main component of my meal, and over the years I've perfected my baked mac and cheese recipe, so I figured this one would come our amazing as well.  In the interest of not having a super-heavy meal, I added some baked broccoli, and kind of made it up as I went along.

It was good, but very, very heavy.  BF and I each ate some (I had two servings), but then it languished in the fridge for more than a week.  I wanted to want to eat it, but then the weather got really warm, and the thought of that much heavy food was just not appealing.

So, I trashed my creation, but I can't say that I wouldn't ever not make it again.  I think next time, I'd add some squash to the cheese sauce, and think of some other way to lighten it up a little.  That gnocchi was heavy!

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I know it may seem like an odd time of the year to talk about taxes since April is five months away, but the end of December is the end of the 2011 tax season, and I'm thinking a lot these days about what loose ends I need to tie up before the 31st.

  1. Maximize Deductions.  I want to make a big push at the end of the year to send a large payment to my student loans.  Why?  Because I owe them so much money that every payment I make goes solely toward interest, which is tax-deductible up to $2,500.  So basically, the more I pay in student loan interest this year (which I'm paying anyway somehow or another), goes toward reducing the amount of income I'm taxed on this year.  I've had an increase in pay since getting my second job, so I'm not sure if that will bump me up into a higher income tax bracket--I'll take any deductions I can get.
  2. Charitable Deductions.  Even when I moved cross-country and donated most of my furniture to the Salvation Army, I still couldn't get to the $250 threshold where I could start writing off charitable contributions. But if you're some one who regularly donates goods or money over the course of the year, or someone who donates a lot during the holiday season (make sure it's to a qualified organization)--save your records!  In order to deduct charitable contributions, you need to itemize your tax return using form 1040 Schedule A, and you need to send in your charitable contribution records for verification.  Charitable tax deductions may be going away in the future (though I really, really hope not). If you have some time post-holiday or post-holiday shopping, get your records in order so you can file and get your return that much faster.
  3. Roth IRA Contributions.  A Roth IRA only allows a person to contribute $5000 per year, so in addition to trying to send a lot of money this month to the student loan people, I'm also going to try to sock a large amount in my IRA.  I'm nowhere near $5000 and won't be by the end of the year (since I started my IRA only six months ago), but I would like to get as close as I can to maximize that lovely compound interest (my retirement is going to be so exotic!).  In this case though, I'm determined to earn $100 in savings interest for this year, so I'm going to make a big contribution to my IRA and student loans right at the end of the month so I'll earn the most interest on my savings account.
One thing I remember my accounting professor in high school drilling into our heads is that we should never, ever claim any dependents on our W-2 forms but should instead claim status Exempt.  That way, we wouldn't be taxed over the course of the year (but Social Security would still be taken out), and we would just make a payment in April to the IRS for what we owed.  His logic was that we could invest the money that we would have gotten as a refund, and therefore make more money.  I tried it one year, and found that I absolutely hate owing at the end of the year, and that I wasn't disciplined enough at the time to invest my money into any kind of account that had a decent rate of return--I was only 16 after all.

I'm curious, how do people decide what to claim?  I don't think I'm eligible at this age to claim Exempt even if I wanted to, so I claim 1 dependent at one of my jobs and 0 at the other.  That way, I figure I'll just about break even with state and federal, and if I do have to pay in something, that something will be less.  That way I'm not really losing any potential interest (and hearing Mr. Wicker's voice in my head), but I'm also not stuck with a huge payment that ruins my spring.  

Hopefully, most of my readers don't have more than one job (unless you want more than one), so don't have that option, but I'm curious what the most common choice is.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I Need an Intervention

Just stop shopping, Dumbass
I have let the spirit of gift-buying punch a huge hole in my wallet.  I should have seen this coming, seriously.  Here is one thing I've noticed about my self and the way I relate to money: When my savings account is looking healthy and I'm contributing to it regularly, I start taking the same kind of pleasure in adding to savings that I do buying stuff.  When I have large, necessary (but not fun) purchases, I get pouty, throw up my hands (metaphorically), and say "what's the use!?!"  I've noticed this before, but continue to get blindsided, especially now when stores are tempting me with deals too good to pass up!  But, as I know that I don't need more things, I've been buying things for other people, which is very nice of me, but not nice to my savings plan.

Coming right on the heels of my car insurance payment, I had to get BF an x-mas gift.  After that, I realized that since my brother is coming out to visit, I should get him one too.  Then I found another something awesome for one of my best friends, then because I was being so virtuous and giving, I bought myself a dress.  It's like I need a sponsor to call when I feel like I'm going to spend!  Also, I bought running shoes, but I honestly did need those and saved about 100 dollars.

So that's why things have been a bit quiet on the old blogfront--I've been too busy ordering things.  In the back of my mind, I'm honestly hoping that the dress I ordered doesn't look good so I can return it, so I guess that's positive?

Starting December 20th, I'm off for six weeks from job number 2, so I need to keep that in the back of my mind.  With only one job, that means no extra income, just breaking even. I have a car tax bill looming--mustn't forget.  And I made a decision that will give me a goal to focus on so I (hopefully) won't be distracted by other shiny things in the meantime.

All of the cool runners have started getting these Garmin GPS running watches.  Initially I scoffed because it's clunky and expensive and seems like a laughable luxury item.
It's huge! But friends tell me it's not cumbersome
Now I'm in a position where I painstakingly google map out running routines, but sometimes alter them while I'm out and have no idea how far I've run.  The other day, I set out on my 9 mile loop, but still felt good at the end and took a spin through the park winding up with 9.5 miles for the day.  If I had known I was already at 9.5, I certainly would have pushed for 10.  So you see, the only way I can properly train is by having a giant computer on my wrist that tells me how far I've gone at any given time.

Yeah, that's a stretch, but I'm just going to save up the points I earn on my Amazon Visa card, and also the change that I save to bring to the Coinstar machine, which gives me an Amazon Gift Certificate (or just gives me cash, but then the machine takes a percentage).  Hopefully, this savings goal will occupy my fickle brain enough that I'll stop yearning for other things.  Hopefully.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December? Really?

That's not me, this guy is crazy
Guys, it's totally December today.  I'm flabbergasted, and I suspect I will be writing November 31st on a lot of things at work today, but that's beside the point.  With a new month, comes new financial goals, and precisely because it is the season of giving, I need to reign in my personal spending more than ever.  My goals for November kind of fell flat--not a total FAIL, but I wasn't as successful as I wanted to be.

Here's what I had planned for November:

1. One in/ One out i.e. getting rid of something when I buy something new.  Ok, I did get rid of some things, but I don't think it's equal to the number of things that I bought--gah!  BUT, one good thing that I did, the other day, I had the morning off, and I spent it hemming and mending whist watching 500 Days of Summer.  So I reclaimed three shirts/dresses that I wasn't wearing before!  Basically, as I've discussed before, dresses from Modcloth tend to be a bit short for my modest self.  So I shortened them further and made them into tunics!  I was wearing pants under them anyway, now I won't look quite so weird.

2. Save up enough for six months of car insurance.  Also, didn't quite make this, but I'm close, so that's something.  I always put my car insurance on my visa cause it nets me some sweet points that I can use for things that are more fun than buying car insurance.  So, to save up, I've been sending payments in to that credit card, even though I don't owe them anything.  So I have a nice credit balance to put toward the stupid car insurance; I'll also get a bit of cash from BF since he does use the car occasionally; and then I'll pay the rest promptly.  It's a plan!

3. Put any and all extra cash toward my student loans and Roth IRA.  I did ok here too.  Sadly, I didn't have a ton of extra cash, but I got a Thanksgiving gift check from my parents (they feel sorry for me, they know I'm broke), and I put that promptly in my IRA.  I also, finally, set up my bank account to debit twice the monthly required payment for those damn student loans.  So now, I won't even have to to think about making payments, and I can kick in a little extra every now and then.

Looking to December:
My brother is coming out for a visit over Christmas, so that will ease up on my spending considerably.  Why, you may ask?  Because my brother makes a ridiculous amount of money and has very few expenses.  The most frugal thing you can do--encourage your only sibling to choose a profession where he makes a lot of money!  Ok, maybe not, but it is nice when he comes to town because I love him, and because we get to have adventures without me worrying about how to pay for them.  With him around, I'll also be distracted from online shopping, like for those boots I've been coveting.

This is that last-minute kick to sock as much away in my IRA as I can--so I'm going to focus on that.  This is also the start of the winter break at my university, which means I finally get some time off, but also don't earn much money--once again, I challenge myself to enjoy my time without breaking the bank.

Wish me luck!!  What are your goals for this month?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Remix Round Six: Shorty

This dress was my first-ever purchase from Modcloth:
Sci-Fi Heroine Dress
Totally cute, totally interesting to look at, totally too short. I wore it a couple time with leggings, but it was just so, so short that I never felt comfortable in it; plus, I have the kind of legs that just don't look good in leggings, so I still want to conceal them.  I finally reached the conclusion that this dress is just not a dress for me, but it is a shirt.  The only problem with that conclusion, is that this shirt has an elastic band really, really high.  It doesn't look like it in the picture, but it's right below the boobs.

I've contemplated for a while trying to shorten the skirt to make some kind of tunic, but the fabric is slippery nylon and hard to sew, so I fretted that I'd make this already unwearable dress even more unwearable.  I've come up with two potential solutions to this issue, and I now put it to the group for some feedback.

Exhibit A:

Sci-Fi Heroine Dress with high-waist interlock skirt from American Apparel
Disregard the tights--and the wrinkles
Exhibit B:

Sci-Fi Heroine Dress with High-Waist Grey Flannel Shorts
I'm not sure how I feel about the second outfit.  Could be cute, but also could be construed as "wacky" and that really drives me nuts.

Thoughts?  Or should I just give up and try to hem it?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Free Art! Link Love

Oh Canada!  What will they think of next?  Canada is phasing out paper money in favor of a polymer that is harder to counterfeit, more durable, recyclable and has a groovy maple leaf window on it.  The instructional video shows it off in all its glory, and the guy doing the narration seems to have run out of things to say because by the end he's just saying "Look at it."
It's clear!

Something pretty amazing happened to me this week, which resulted in me getting free, one-of-a-kind art used in a major Hollywood film.  Intrigued?  I would be.  I blogged about it on my other blog, since, aside from free art, it has nothing to do with frugality.

People can be really, really stupid about their money.  Obviously, I'm a budgeting nerd and know exactly where every penny goes, but there are a lot of people who are the complete opposite of that. Andrea at So Over Debt, takes on a couple of them,

Do you tip a lot for the holidays?  I never really have because I don't have people that I get regular services from i.e. trainer, cleaning person, but I admit I don't really know the rules.  Michelle at Making Sense of Cents tackled the subject and got some good comments too.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Food Waste Friday: I'm Throwing Out the Coleslaw

In between eating up leftovers to clear out fridgespace for more leftovers, and then eating a feast so decadent I never want to eat again, I have decided to pull the plug on the coleslaw.  It's just cold enough out that I do not want to eat it, and it's been in the fridge for like a month.  Plus, I double-checked with, and they tell me that coleslaw only lasts five days refrigerated, so, yeah.

Thanks to everyone who gave slaw-related advice--next time, I'll do better.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tips For Frugal Gift Giving

Note:  I'm not  hater, but I'm not much of a gift-giver.  Thankfully, my friend Melissa is!  I called upon her to lend some frugal advice about the upcoming holiday season.

The holiday season is approaching, and it’s that time of year to get ready for get-togethers and gift giving. Even if you’re trying to be frugal, that doesn’t mean gift giving has to be a drag, nor do you have to be “cheap” (after all, there is a difference!). As a lover of all things Christmas, and especially gift giving, here are some tips I find handy to avoid going broke during the holidays.

1.  Handmade gifts: There are endless tutorials on blogs and other websites that have thousands of ideas for gifts that can be handmade and thoughtful. One favorite of mine is this tutorial on making bookmarks out of paint chips. This is especially great for young children to give to parents. One handmade gift that I made this year is something for my mom and sister. My grandfather was musician and I found some old brass tuning slides in a box that I took while cleaning out the home he lived in with my grandmother. I almost pitched the slides, but it dawned on me that these would make great necklaces. All I had to do was purchase chain and bails to match, and I made one for myself as well. He passed away last year, and I know these necklaces will be loved.

2.  Make a list: Having a list of people that you give gifts to, which should include all friends, family, and service people (the mailman, dog sitter, and so on), will help to eliminate unnecessary spending. Another good idea is to set a price point for each person, and to not stray from it. A physical list with set price points eliminates the urge to go broke on a last minute gadget or commercial “must have” item.

3.  Shop after the season and in advance: This is one of my favorite ways to Christmas shop, because it makes everything affordable. Everything in stores is priced and set out according to seasons. Most people won’t be wearing shorts in February, so that’s why shorts end up $5 on the clearance rack at the end of August. This works especially well if you are shopping for people with specific hobbies. My husband loves to golf, and this year he expressed interest in building his golf wardrobe. At the end of the season, I bought him a nice pair of golf khakis that were originally $30, but paid only $7, because it was the end of the season.

4.  Make donations: Making donations to a cause that the gift-recipient supports is not only thoughtful, it also helps with staying on a budget. For example, if a sibling if really passionate about helping the homeless, donating $25 in their name, or even donating needed edibles to a food bank, is a wonderful gift that is not only thoughtful, but helps out other people as well.

5.  Give services: This is a great idea for loved ones, especially children. Most parents would love to receive the gift of a house cleaned top to bottom, or the give of having their garden weeded for a month. Services can be gifted creatively by making a book of services for the recipient to use, or even producing a framed image of the service. Last year, “the kids” pitched in for my in-laws to have their carpet cleaned, and they loved it.

6.  Be creative with free samples: Many companies rely on getting their products purchased by handing out free samples. While the immediate thought might be, “Free samples? How tacky!”, consider their usefulness. Last year, I made a creative gift for my husband by collecting samples of colognes, shaving gels, bath gels, and other manly cosmetics, and putting them inside of a gift basket. He used the samples at home and during short weekend or overnight trips, and liked trying out the new products!

When it comes down to it, gift giving should be fun, not stressful! If gifts just aren’t in the budget, don’t be afraid to say so if there is someone in the family seriously wondering why all of your gifts are handmade, or even free. After all, it really is the thought that counts when it comes to giving a gift that is meaningful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Addicted to Esty

Why does it seem like these things always come in waves?  A friend of mine, posted on facebook that she and her mother were going to start selling headscarves on Etsy.  I checked out her page, and it turns out her stuff is AWESOME, so I totally bought one, then another one.

Then, my beautiful and stylish friend Melissa posted a picture of herself wearing the most fabulous Steampunk Houndstooth scarf I've ever seen.
So yeah.  The Etsy shop where she got this: Flutter, was having a 70% off sale and I'm not made of stone!  So I bought two (I told you, I always buy two of things), but they're totally cheap and unique, and, as Melissa pointed out--Made in the USA!  In fact, when I ordered my headscarf from my friend Rayna, she even sent me a personal message on facebook.  I mention all this because it reminds me a bit of when I was in San Diego at the zoo.

The San Diego Zoo is world famous (they put that on all the signs, so it must be true), and it is wildly overpriced.  It was $40 to get in.  That's $40 for everyone--very young, very old, students, doesn't matter.  That $40 gets you a whole day's worth of animal viewing including pandas that were actually awake, and the chance to have a chat with knowledgeable zoo keepers (I asked if the pandas actually have sex, or if they have to artificially inseminate them, which seems like a weird question until you learn that the pandas at San Diego Zoo are the ONLY pandas in zoos anywhere in the world who actually have sex with each other.  Pandas are so weird--adorable, but weird).  Plus, on everything in the zoo that was for sale, they included the line "More than 85 percent of every dollar you give will go toward the San Diego Zoo's wildlife conservation efforts."  So those wildly overpriced socks that I bought will help conserve wild spaces and save endangered species!  Worth it!

I think Etsy appeals to a person's charitable side, albeit in a less overt way.  If I buy another headscarf, I'm not only getting a gorgeous, hand-made product that will make me look good, I'm supporting Rayna and her  mom instead of some greedy corporate machine like Wal-Mart or something.  It's like the new push for Small-Business Saturday, which now follows Black Friday.

The trick is, to not let this line of thinking lure me into spending more money on stuff I don't need just because buying it makes me feel good.  It's still shopping, after all.  For my xmas shopping this year, I'm going to do what I normally do, and that is start at Craftland. Craftland is a treasure trove of home-made crafty goods that are actually awesome (not like the home-made ceramics statuettes my Aunt Betty used to make and give as gifts), like this t-shirt I bought last year:

Everything is made by local artists, there's an incredible variety of stuff and it's just fun to go there.  Plus, I always secretly hope that I'll be walking around in a fabulous scarf or accessory of some kind, and someone will come up to me and say, "that scarf you're wearing, I made it, I'm glad you like it". That never happens at Old Navy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Really?!?!? Link Love

This is very cool.  Instead of building a bridge over a body of water--build a trench through it! Obviously this wouldn't work on a tidal river or a body of water that changes depth frequently--but I still think it's pretty cool.

No doubt everyone has heard that the US Congress this week declared that the tomato paste on pizza counts as a vegetable.  I'm glad that I'm technically a grownup, because I feel like kids today don't have a chance anymore.  If you can't count on your school to provide a balanced, healthy meal according to what's actually healthy, then what are you supposed to do?  What kid is going to seek out broccoli because he feels like he's not getting enough fiber?  Anyway, Seth Meyers and Kermit The Frog say it better than I could.

I'm finally using Pintrest.  Right now, I'm mostly posting pics of vintage fashion and animals doing cool things, but I may expand my repertoire some day... Maybe...

Bunny Dressage!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bad Habits

This was an interesting little exercise that Michelle over at Making Sense of Cents did the other day: Bad Habits you Need to Kick in your 20's.  Since I'm a sucker for anything tht looks like a quiz, I decided to try it out as well.

1. Tanning.

--I have been tanning twice in my life. Once upon a time, my mother went tanning before we went on a cruise (to get a nice base--is that really a thing?  Does that actually work?) and she roasted her butt so badly that she couldn't wear underwear and had to sit on an ice pack for a couple of days.  When she was at her worst, she made me promise that I would never, ever go tanning.  I've broken a number of promises to my mother, so that's not why I don't go tanning, it's because I don't change color really when exposed to sun.  Plus it's expensive and boring.

The two times I went, I did so because I was living in Fargo, ND, where winter starts in October and doesn't let up until May (though there have been blizzards in May).  A co-worker told me that she often went tanning in the winter because it was just so nice to be warmed completely through, and that being somewhat tan actually makes you feel warmer overall. I agree, it did help, but it was just too boring to me.

2. Having credit cards with high limits (and maxing out these limits).

--Nope!  Used to have this problem, but not anymore.

3. Smoking.

--I smoked in college--I was an English major, afterall, but when cigarettes doubled in price, I took up runnning instead.  Running probably costs me much more than smoking, but it will make me live longer and I actually enjoy it (I never really liked smoking that much, I just liked having something in my hand).  Plus, as I've never been considered a traditional beauty, I've always been quite concerned with ageing well, and cigarettes certainly don't help you do that.

Best anti-smoking ad for women that I can think of, comes unintentionally from a book of poetry I found one day while working at B&N:
Anne Sexton-- Young, hot and smoking like a chimney

Anne Sexton a few years later.
4. Shopping. Shopping purely for labels and not quality or what you need.

--P'shaw! I've always been too poor to shop for labels.

5. Expensive drinking.

--I do drink, but usually at home and usually cheap stuff.  I do enjoy the occasional martini at the bar, but do that maybe every two months.  Thankfully, our local cheap beer is actually tasty, and I enjoy the occasional box of wine (not all in one sitting--see above about ageing well).

6. Depending on your significant other. Both of you should have equal say about your finances.

--We split utilities and groceries and buy our own other stuff.

7. Not having a budget.

--I've had my spreadsheet budget for going on four years now, and now I have a backup.  I'm addicted to budgeting!

How about you?  Do you have any bad habits you need to cut?  Can you think of any other bad habits that got you into trouble in your 20's?  I was a bit of a dumbass, overall, but have reigned it in considerably. I think my biggest expense back then, was actually books.  I worked at a large corporate bookstore, and spent more on books than my paycheck could comfortably handle. That's why librarianship is my chosen profession--no chance of that here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Food Waste Friday: How Long Does Coleslaw Last?

I don't think I actually tried coleslaw for the first time until I was at least 25.  I received a lot of coleslaw at various restaurants, but, like that piece of parsley served as garnish, I never actually thought people ate it.  This headline from The Onion confirmed my suspicions: 85 percent of US Coleslaw Remains Uneaten.

Funnily enough, when I was in New Orleans in June, I was served coleslaw, ate it, and really enjoyed it.  I suspect it was for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. In addition to coleslaw, I was served Macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach and bread pudding i.e. the coleslaw was refreshingly light.
  2. It's so flinging-flanging hot in New Orleans in June that I was thrilled to eat something cold.
  3. I am now a grownup and grownups eat things like coleslaw.
A couple weeks ago, Poor Girl Eats Well posted a recipe for Coleslaw that got the gears in my head churning, and started making me crave the stuff to the point of distraction.  I was convinced that if I became the kind of girl who eats a lot of coleslaw, I'd both lose girth and save money.  Cabbage is dirt cheap, yo.  What ended up happening instead, is that I panicked at the thought of shredding cabbage (how!?!) and bought the bagged coleslaw, which is just bagged, shredded cabbage, and then I didn't know what to add to it to make it taste like the slaw I'd had in New Orleans.  So I guessed.  I guessed poorly.

I added too much mustard and it just tasted like mustardy cabbage-- not good. I was going to try to rinse the whole mess in my fine mesh sieve, but what can I say, I am lazy.  So I've had disappointing cabbage hogging my fridge real estate for going on three weeks now.  I opened the contained the other day, convinced I'd find a science experiment, but it looks and smells totally fine.  I put it to the group: Do I have food waste, or just disappointing coleslaw that I should find a way to salvage?  Sub-question: How does one salvage disappointing coleslaw?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cost Per Use

I often want to buy sweater dresses, but when I try them on,
they look like they're wearing me instead of the other way around...
Cost per use is something I try to think about, but often fail to think about despite my trying (which I usually do after the fact).  It's a good idea, in theory, but I don't really know exactly how it works.  It seems like, if we 're looking at something like clothes (my biggest budget FAIL) you'd have to assign values to wearings before shopping--possibly be creating some sort of spreadsheet, and that starts to sound like that hateful meal planning I'm always dissing.

For example, let's say that I decide I'd pay $2 to wear a sweater.  That means I'd have to wear a $25 sweater 12.5 times in order to make it a worthwhile purchase.  That makes sense, but it fails to factor in other unknowns at the time of purchase.

  1. Will this sweater wear well?  I've bought this brand before, and I've examined the weave, but what if it shrinks or pills?  Is it my fault if I didn't consider that?  
  2. Do I have to feel guilty if I fail to reach my allotted useages due to shoddy craftsmanship?
  3. Can I change my mind later and say that this sweater was worth $5/ wear just because I'm sick of putting it on?
  4. Do I have to record somewhere, possibly in another spreadsheet, how many times I've worn this sweater, or am I expected to just remember it?
  5. How can you expect me to remember something like that?
This is what I struggle with when debating the cost per use issue.  

When I was in high school, a friend of mine had a similar technique.  As we were both working menial jobs for meager wages, she would look at a price tag and factor in how many hours of work she would have to do in order to get the sweater.  Is this sweater worth five hours of my time?  This seems much more concrete to me, but harder to do on a professional salary.  Since I make more than minimum wage, I tend to look at items and think--that's only a half hour's work!  I can't pass up a deal like that!  Then I get that red line in that reminds me my budget doesn't care about how few hours I'd have to work to get something, and I wind up with a closet full of clothes I feel lukewarm about.

Some things that do resonate with me as being poor cost per use include:

Online Coupons.  The amount of money your're saving by using coupons is often probably equivalent to what you're spending on ink and paper.  Sure, paper is cheap, but printer ink is decidedly not, and often if you're printing a single coupon from a manufacturer's site, they fill the rest of the page with an advertisement that uses up even more of your ink. When I was using my home printer to do this, I had a hard time getting the black and white setting to stick as well and wound up with a full-color coupon for trail mix, which I don't think I ever actually used. I print most of my online coupons from sites like redplum or because you can fit three on a page and it seems slightly less wasteful.  I also print them off at work--shh!

Driving further to get cheaper gas.  As beautifully and hilariously as this cartoon details, driving further for cheaper gas is often a silly use of your time, BUT it's certainly something I've done and will do in the future.  My thoughts on the matter--I'm not that busy, and it's my choice.  Sometimes it's just a good feeling to fill up the gastank for less than $40.  When I do seek out those cheaper gas stations, I'm often bundling that trip with a visit to the grocery store or Target or something, so I'm not just driving to get gas--I'm running important errands. I also frequently fill out online surveys that take 15 minutes and only pay $3.  Is that a huge waste of my time-- maybe, but I wasn't making any money farting around on facebook either, so I still come out ahead.

Going to five different grocery stores to get all of the deals.  We get two grocery store flyers shoved through the mail slot weekly, and there are many times that I've been super-tempted to do a 2x weekly shop, but thankfully my laziness and hatred of shopping have saved me more than once once.  Unless the deal is AMAZING and the store is near where I'm going to be anyway, I just don't do this.  Unless you're a much stronger person than me, you will most likely see other deals that you want to take advantage of, especially if you're in a store with an unfamiliar layout.  Sure, most grocery stores are pretty similar, but there's always subtle differences that send me down an unfamiliar aisle and then I'm confronted with strange foreign chocolates not available at my usual store that I must take advantage of!  For example: My store of choice is Stop and Shop, BF prefers Shaw's.  Both are pretty much the same except my store shelves P&G Tips tea with the rest of the tea and Shaw's puts it in the British section.  The British section is also where the ultra-expensive imported candies like Aero bar and Digestive Biscuits and Jaffa Cakes are, and I need to avoid remembering how much I would like to eat more Digestive Biscuits--especially at $6 for 15 cookies.

Anyone else have any other Cost Per Use hangups or tips?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Holy November Link Love

It's November. I don't really have strong feelings about November except that it's a gateway to the HOLIDAY SEASON, which actually began this year in late August, I believe.  No matter, November is a month of pumpkin flavored offerings, and I will not complain about that.  I love me a gourd.

This November, my friend Nicolette is trying out a No-Buy-Vember, which is very clever wordplay--and I wish her luck.  When I saw how clever that name is, I was tempted to try it myself, but let's be honest, I'm still reeling from No New Clothes in October, so I would fail at No-Buy-Vember just as I always have at other No-Buy Months.  I am a weak, weak girl.  Good luck, Nicolette!!

This is awesome: pre-made salad in a jar.  All you have to do is assemble, throw it in the fridge, and then shake before eating.  Brilliant!!  Eat your veggies, people!

Top 10 Style Essentials according to Tim Gunn, and broken down by my friend Melissa.  I love Tim Gunn.  I feel like he would look at my wardrobe, offer helpful critique and then I would just feel good about myself even if he said "replace everything--what were you thinking?!"

How to resuscitate stale crackers--brilliant!  I quit buying saltines because I could  never finish a packet without them going bad--maybe I'll try this next time.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Food Waste Friday: Nothing!

It's another No Waste Week for me! After that horrible trip to the grocery store, this is a particularly sweet little victory.  I've been putting off going to the store, and eating down the fridge and pantry  and it's paid off! I have some salad that needs eating, but I'll get to that today--huzzah!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Bought Groceries Last Night, and It Was Painful

Checking the cost per ounce
I have been putting off going to the store for a while now.  I've gotten a few drips and drabs here and there, but haven't really done a big shop for several weeks.  Mostly it's because my work schedule is too hectic, but also because I'm just dreading spending the money.  Finally, we ran out of bread, and I went shopping.

Despite the fact that I left the store with a full cart, it felt like one of those trips where I didn't really buy anything. I got a lot of ingredients and a lot of odds and ends, and it cost (brace yourself) $165.  About 2/3 of the items I bought were on sale or I had a coupon, and I still spent $165!  I feel ill.  I noticed a few things while at the store.

1. The cost of cheese has skyrocketed.  I usually buy the store brand of brick cheese, which, since I moved to RI five years ago, was frequently on sale for $4 for 2.  Now, it's always $3.49 and the package has gotten smaller.  It used to be ten ounces, now it's eight.  The manufacturer changed the design from a square to a rectangle, presumably to make it look bigger than it is, but it just looks tiny.

2. Eggs are way up too.  I've started buying the carton of 18, and it was $3.59

3. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why this shopping trip cost so much.  I did indulge in a slightly fancier variety of yogurt, but it was on sale so was hardly more expensive than my usual.  I feel like the price of everything I bought was just slightly higher.  The tomatoes I bought were $4 for four, even though they were on sale as well.  Asparagus was $4.67--so I am going to make damn sure I eat this produce before it goes bad. I also bought more meat than usual for bf--bratwurst, pepperoni.

Plans for the future?

  • Well, I'm going to stick with the barley--just keep adding it to everything.
  • Over the winter, I'm going to cut way back on fresh produce and stick with frozen--there's no price increase there so far.
  • I'm going to cut way down on my consumption of snacky foods like chips and crackers.  That's been something I've been working on anyway--for my waist and my budget--but have you seen the price of crackers lately!?!?  Unreal.
  • I'm going to keep on rekindling my love of the bean--up next, vegetarian chili!
  • I'm going to eat a lot of potatoes, which I also love.

Anyone else have any tips for how to save at the store without starving?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Could I Live on Minimum Wage?

I've mentioned before that the state where I live, Rhode Island, is consistently top ten for highest unemployment (go Little Rhody!), and I know from encountering a lot of unemployed people in the public library, that most of them are willing to do just about anything to get back to work.

Two years ago, I was in that same position--hustling for every last penny, doing everything I could to make just a little bit of money and applying for every job I came across.  At that time, my only thought was that I had to keep some money coming in, so my savings account wouldn't be gutted in six months. I looked at my income differently because instead of trying to get ahead, I was trying to stop myself from inevitably getting behind--if that makes sense.

The first real job I got after finishing grad school, was the 19-hour-a-week position I still have.  That earned me just enough money to break even each month.  But I also get paid a professional salary.  My job requires a masters degree, and since it's at one of the largest libraries in the state, they pay about $5 more per hour than my job at the smaller library did.  Even with that, it was a struggle, so, inspired by this post at So Over Debt, I decided to run the numbers and see if I could actually live working 40 hours per week on minimum wage.

As of 2007, the minimum wage in the state of Rhode Island is $7.40.  That works out to $1184 per month before taxes.  Rhode Island also has one of the highest rates of state income tax, so let's just estimate that the monthly take-home pay is $1000.

Presently my budget breaks down this way:
Rent:            $560
Utilities:        $100 (varies month-to-month, but this is a fair estimate)
Food:           $150 ($300 for the two of us, but I'm just looking at myself here)
Gas:             $150 (varies, but this is the average)
Household:  $50 (toilet paper and the like).

Total: $1010, which means that any kind of financial emergency completely wipes me out and I'm using savings just to get by (assuming the me in this scenario has savings).  Car dies?  Car stays dead, and I can't get to work anymore.  I also left off the $50/ month for my phone--if I was only earning $7.40/hour, I'd just get rid of it. I only really use it as an alarm clock anyway.  Let's do some tweaking.

Let's say that instead of working two jobs and commuting 28 days a month, I just have one job within walking distance from my house.  If I worked at the Dunkin Donuts five blocks away, I could sell my car and stop buying gas.  That would save me the $150 per month on gas, and also the $350 I'm getting charged this year in car tax from the city.  The downside to that is, I'd have to start shopping at the two markets closest to me, which are significantly more expensive than where I usually shop.

That would make my budget look about like this:

Rent:            $560
Utilities:        $100
Food:           $200
Gas:             $10 ($10/a month if I start using BF's scooter, but it scares me, or $10/month bus fare)
Household:  $100 (toilet paper and the like).

Total: $970.  At least I'm not over, but I could never make any student loan payments, or really save anything.  Potentially, I could save on household items if I took the bus out to Target or another store where items like that are cheaper than the places within walking distance.  This budget means no clothes, no eating out, no doctor or dentist visits, no retirement savings, no vacations ever.

This little experiment does make me grateful that I have pretty much everything I need within walking distance.  I have access to two grocery stores, plenty of corner stores, a library and even a farmer's market in the summer.  I could survive, but certainly couldn't thrive, and the thought of living one paycheck away from financial ruin certainly would impact my quality of life.

How about you?  Could you do it?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Addicted to Seltzer?

Holiday Flavors!
I like to think that I'm impervious to advertising.  I'm not, but I still like to think that in the hopes that it will one day be true.  Overall, I do do pretty well in that area.  I've mentioned before that the thrill of gadgetry holds no appeal for me; I don't get excited about a lot of expensive snack foods and I pretty much never go into expensive clothing stores (though that might be a problem, but I'm still trying to figure that all out).  I take a lot of online surveys that usually deal with products I would never buy, and I scoff inwardly at the fact that people would waste their hard-earned cash on something so silly--but then I found myself in this odd predicament.

I just read the book Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Scoblic, which is a memoir about alcoholism, which contains no advertising of any kind.  Except when the author stops drinking and mentions how hard it is to get a seltzer at a party, I started craving seltzer.  I guess this isn't a bad thing--seltzer is pretty cheap--$1.65 for a six-pack, but that's not as cheap as the non-seltzer water that I typically drink, but I'm also kind of digging the carbonation.

Overall, I'm not displeased at this turn of events, just baffled.  Going the seltzer route may even save me money in the long run because possibly I'll drink less beer(?)  I did invent a frugal cocktail the other day-- the boxed wine spritzer.  One part boxed sangria (about $10 for a 5-liter box) to one part some kind of seltzer (I think I used cranberry lime)--fizzy delight in a cup!

So maybe I'm not as impervious to advertising or suggestion as I think, or maybe my body was just really craving carbonation--who knows, but I'll just go with it and see if the mania dies down, or if I become that girl who brings her own seltzer to parties.

Monday, October 31, 2011

October Wrap-up and November Goals

Sad but true
Remember last month when I said that I was going to run 100 miles in the month of October?  Well, it was a good month.  I smashed my goal of 100 miles and actually ran 114, which is an average of 28.5 per month--the most I've ever run!  Like a fine wine, I am getting better with age.

In addition to being awesome at sport, I was also pretty awesome about not buying clothes, despite encountering temptation seemingly every day.  I stuck it out (except for those pants)!  I feel good, either way.

I kind of failed at my weekly remixing, but I'll keep that up on a semi regular basis--I promise.  I feel like the remixing is making me a bit aware of how bland my wardrobe is, and it makes me anxious that I'm going to subliminally use that as an excuse to shop.  My life and the lives of those who have to look at me would all be greatly improved by the addition of new skirts and colorful tights to my wardrobe, no?  Then I remind myself that I'm running out of hangers, which brings me to a November and life goal.

Goal 1: One in/ one out.

I am not buying any more hangers.  I am not.  Presently, I don't actually know if I have enough for the clothes I own, because through the wearing/ washing rotation things get moved around.  So I'm putting my foot down to myself that I may not buy anything new unless I'm prepared to get rid of something else.  If I don't have anything I want to get rid of, then I must have all I need, right?  Note: I'm not going to count all the closet culling as an excuse to go buy new duds--promise!

I just got notice that my car insurance is due in December (why do I always forget!?!?!), so I have to spend more money than I would like on that.

Goal 2: Scrabble together enough money for six months of car insurance.

If you pay them twice a year instead of every month, you save money.  In my case, about $60.  That's enough for a cute dress from Modcloth, which makes the twice-a-year pain totally worth it.

Goal 3: Put any and all extra cash toward student loans and IRA.

I'm never going to pay off my student loans, because even if I gave them everything I could, the amount is just too high.  Plus, I have the added bonus that when I finally find a full time job, it will be at a qualified non-profit which entitles me to loan forgiveness after ten years.  What I would like, however, is to pay off as much of that stupid interest as I can.  Every dollar I pay toward interest is also a dollar that is tax-deductible, so this can be my end-of-year push for a nice-sized tax deduction.

For the IRA, since it's a Roth IRA, I can only put in $5000 per year at most.  I'm nowhere near that, but should get as close as I comfortably can so I can take advantage of that compound interest!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spooky Link Love

  • I'm craptastic at coming up with Halloween costume ideas, but the lovely Annabelle at Shopping Detox is a master!  She's clearly been thinking about this for a long time, while I hastily borrowed a nun costume from a friend simply because it was free, comfortable and warm.  That's all I care about, man.  But if you're not like me, then spend some time with Annabelle.
  • I think I found my new source for kick-ass recipes!  Peas and Thank You has scads of delicious recipes, and they're all vegetarian!!!!  This is terribly exciting for me, and I'll let you know how this turns out: 
Curried Sweet Tater Tot Casserole
OMG, I salivate just looking at that.

Here is a story about why I'm extra excited to eat this: Where I'm from, we call casserole Hotdish.  Scoff if you want, but no other word so perfectly sums up what you're eating than the word Hotdish.  Hotdish comes in a plethora of flavors--indeed it's among the most versatile foods, but one of my all time favorites has always been Tator Tot Hotdish.
Each family has a different version of this  dish,
and ours did not include french fried onions,
but you get the gist of it.
Trouble is, Tator Tot Hotdish, or Totdish as I prefer to call it, is made with ground beef, which I stopped eating when I was 15!  I tried, last year, to make a Totdish with the fake beef substitute, but it was just not quite right (though I did eat it all).  This curried sweet potato variety is just different enough and just delicious enough sounding, that I think my longing will all go away!  I'll let you know!

  • By now you're probably sick of hearing me ramble on about the American Midwest, so here's the perspective of a recent transplant on the blog Becoming Midwestern.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My New Obsession

I invented a recipe two days ago that I can't stop thinking about.

It's officially fall here in New England, which means that the foliage is off the chain, and all I want to do is eat soup, sip tea and gaze longingly out a window while reading a Gothic novel.
I took this when I was out for a run the other day--gorgeous!
Naturally, the window of my office overlooks a parking lot and the back of a sushi restaurant, so I haven't been indulging this longing--but I will!  I'll just find another window.  What I have been doing, however, is coming up with new ways to eat barley, as I often do, and I've hit upon a winner--big time.

I made up a batch of barley in the crock pot the other day (1c pearl barley, 2c water, heat on high for ~3 hours), and I needed something to do with it.  Enter: Frozen vegetables.  BF and I eat a lot of those pre-made frozen vegetable bags because 
  1. He can't cook and refuses to learn (he's a scientist, says he has to keep his mind uncluttered so he can focus on science).
  2. I work 50 hours a week plus commuting and want to spend my limited downtime squeezing my cat and/or watching Friday Night Lights instead of chopping vegetables.
  3. These bags allow you to get a variety of vegetables without having to buy like seven different kinds and then stress yourself out trying to figure out what to do with them.
What I did, was take the cooked barley and mixed it with Steamfresh Asian Vegetable Blend:
So good!
Add a wee bit of olive oil, a dash of salt and a few small squirts of sriracha sauce and you have a delicious lunch and dinner that I've been eating for the last two days and will be having again just as soon as I'm hungry.

It cost about $2 for a big bag of barley, so I guess I used about $.20 worth, and the bag of veg was $2.  This makes about three servings at $.75 each.  So awesome.