Wednesday, February 9, 2011

All is not lost

Sorry to be such a Debbie Downer yesterday. Yes, car repair and scrambling for alternate means of transportation sucks, but I could be far, far worse off. Some good things have happened recently, mostly as a result of this setback reminding me, yet again, that I have nothing real to complain about.

1. Due my frustration after getting the phone call from the mechanic telling me that I wouldn't have my car back for a few days and he would be taking nearly $600 in the process, I slipped into that eerie "Circumstances are beyond my control, I need to take charge of something now!" mode, which means I finally called Direct Loans to ask about my repayment options. I've been putting this off for about six weeks because I was convinced that they wouldn't tell me anything I wanted to hear, but actually the opposite happened.
It turns out that I qualify for the Income-Based Repayment Plan, which is designed to reduce the hardship of educational loans for people who opt to work in low-paying fields. Because I am so, so poor, my monthly required payment is miniscule AND the girl I spoke to told me that if I regularly send in the amount of money I told her that I could afford, I would actually be able to reduce the principal amount owed rather than just throwing my money towards the interest for the next 25 years! I could potentially pay these loans off!

2. I was reminded, yet again, that I have some wonderful friends who are willing to lend me their cars and pick me up at my job at 10pm.

3. Since I had to take the bus in early and was basically trapped on campus, my boss let me punch in two hours early. That's a little bit of extra money, and in between teaching and then officially beginning work, I sat down and read for about an hour and a half and treated myself to a coffee and a bagel, which was lovely.

4. I actually made a dollar by riding the bus because a girl only had a five and I only had four singles to trade with her. Of course, then I paid two dollars for the bus, so net loss of $1, but seriously, if we factor in the cost of gas.... nope, not going there.

5. I was reminded that I like taking the bus (even if I get a little bus-sick), and now if my schedule allows it ever, I might actually remember that.

6. I got a small scholarship to help defray the cost of attending this conference I'm going to in June. It won't cover all of it, but every extra penny helps.

Hopefully my car will be finished this morning--fingers crossed, and I can pick it up and make it to the theatre tonight. If not, I have a ride arranged, and the theatre tickets were free, so no huge loss.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Frugal and Carless

Karma has bitten me squarely in the ass. Last week a couple got their car stuck right outside my apartment. I heard their wheels spinning and spinning on the ice, but I did nothing to help them because I hate it when people park where they parked (on the street, almost in the cross street, blocking the sidewalk), and I thought it served them right to get stuck.

Fast-forward to four days later when my car got stuck in the unplowed parking lot at work. Normally, the lot is plowed, but with the recent deluge of snow we've had in the northeast, two of the sweepers that my work uses to clear lots and sidewalks have broken leaving just one for the entire campus. I think they've been struggling to keep the main roads clear and had neglected the rest. Regardless, I got stuck, a kindly student who had been at the grocery store buying his sick girlfriend chicken soup and medicine spent forty-five minutes digging and pushing out my car (seriously, what a great human being), but then my car started acting weird.

The power steering stopped working, possibly as a result of having my undercarriage knocked about by ice and shovels--or maybe it was ready to go anyway-- no idea how that works. So now, I am a girl with two jobs in two different towns, odd hours and a $600 repair bill looming just as soon as they get that part I need (Wednesday). That means I have to figure out how to get around Monday, Tuesday and possibly Wednesday, and do it hopefully without having to rent a car.

Easier said than done.

I live in a city with a public transit system, and thankfully, the bus goes directly to one of my jobs (college campus). Unfortunately, the bus stops running at 8pm and I'm not done with work until 10pm, and for the job I have to go to on Wednesday, I would have to take the bus to the airport, and then walk about two miles on roads with no sidewalk. I honestly do not understand how people with no car get by. I hate driving, I wish I didn't have to have a car. The year I worked in the same town where I live and could walk in every morning was fantastic--but most of the jobs I've had in this state were a 20 minute commute at least. If I didn't have a car, I wouldn't have been able to take either of the jobs I have, I'd probably still be unemployed--ridiculous.

So today, I will take the bus to campus around 1:30 because I have to teach a class at 2pm. Then I have the option of either taking the bus back home at 3 and taking it back for my regular shift at 6pm (my work is not usually this weird), or staying on campus like a hobo and holing up with a book somewhere.

It is so tempting to just rent a car, but an economy vehicle is approximately $44/day plus taxes, gas and surcharges. That works out to about the same as I'll make at work today.

It is amazing how much thinking and strategizing I've done in the past two days. Granted, if I was a regular bus-taker, this would likely be automatic, but right now, I'm completely overwhelmed, restless and frazzled.

Monday, February 7, 2011

No Buy Month: Week 1

So far, so good.

My spreadsheet budget is full of little stars--I give myself a star * when I don't spend anything for a day--it makes me very happy. I got paid on Friday, and half of it went toward paying off the balance on my Amex, and the other half into savings.

  • Went out to dinner with a friend, but used a Groupon that was set to expire next month. Tiny portions of pretentious food for free for me!

  • Going to the theatre for free on Wednesday this week because a dear friend is the theatre's PR person--it's good to have friends with kick-ass jobs.

  • Eating my way through the pantry. I bought groceries about a week and a half ago, but we're steadily eating our way through the hoarded food. I'm going to try to underspend on groceries this month as well and eat mostly what we have in staples.


  • I got a Groupon for mail-order wine, so I spent $18 on shipping and tax, but soon I will have a wine stockpile that will last a long time.

  • I got stuck in the unplowed parking lot at work, and in order to get out, a kind student and I had to chip away at an iceblock under my car. I don't know what exactly happened, but now my power steering doesn't work, which is incredibly unsafe and makes driving in town nearly impossible. To the mechanic I go first thing this morning, and I'm hoping it's something that a quick patch and fluid refill can solve. Fingers crossed.

I'm feeling fine, which is the most important thing. I'm not having a crazy urge to go out and buy things, I'm mostly just looking forward to filling up that savings account. Plus I'm busy enough this month that I should be plenty distracted from temptation.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

But are the deals worth it?

I get a lot of email and blog updates on various deals floating around the internet. I used to get Shop it to Me alerts sent directly to my email, I get Groupon, Target daily deals and now Buy With Me which is kind of like Groupon. I'm certainly thrilled to have the option of getting great deals and discounts, but I'm also starting to wonder if knowing about these deals makes me spend more than I otherwise would-- I wonder if I'm buying more just for the savings.

If that is the case, it wouldn't be the first time I've been suckered by a good deal, but if it is a genuinely good deal on something I'd buy anyway--is it really a bad thing to spend?

Recently, I stumbled across a deal with where you get a travel cosmetics case that includes a Burts Bees lip gloss and small lotion, a sleep mask, a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, plus a couple other small items all for $5. The lip gloss alone costs over a dollar and then case was a good, small size perfect for overnight trips where you don't want to pack too much. Plus, I've been wanting a travel toothbrush as well. All told, it was a very good value for the items, so I bought two.

By the time it arrived and I actually looked at it, I was kind of baffled as to why I thought I needed it in the first place--especially why I thought I needed two. Cost breakdownwise, it was good value, but does that make it actually worth it?

This is what I struggle with the most. I don't really need anything, but occasionally there are things that I...need, and I'd like to get a good deal on them. When I was in the throes of my summer of underemployment, I got some great deals on contact lens solution, food, shampoo etc., but did I really need to spend so much money when I had next-to-no income?

I'm aware of this issue, and just being aware is step one, but it's just so hard to decide which is the best deal in terms of what price I'm paying and what I actually do need. I could unsubscribe to these lists and remove the temptation completely the same way I avoid stores when I'm trying not to spend money, or I could exercise more restraint. Usually my strategy is to sleep on things, and if I still want the item later, then I go buy it, but I can't really do that with Groupon since you only have 24 hours to get the deal.

That's how they get you.

I don't have the answer for this one, and I think the only thing I can do is be more discerning, which is a challenge. It never gets easier because there's always a new way to spend, but at least I'm trying.

Friday, February 4, 2011

What to do with a Clever T-shirt

Admit it, you've bought t-shirts because they were clever before, only to find out that they're not particularly flattering or comfortable once you put them on. Or you've thrilled at getting a free t-shirt only to get it home and realize that it's five sizes too big, and would work better as a chair cover than as something a person wears.

I've realized over the years that clever t-shirts just never fit me. I have a freakishly long torso, and these shirts are always too short. I've experimented with the tank top under t-shirt look, which works ok, but I'm still always tugging it down to cover my waist (no desire to be Gwen Stefani), and it's just uncomfortable. Now, instead of struggling to wear what should be the most comfortable shirt, I've re-purposed my clever t-shirts and now have a clever lunch bag that is the envy of many.

Exhibit A: My Hawthorne is a Hottie t-shirt. It was free, it's funny because it's true, but I have no occasion to
wear this shirt. Also, my friend took the last small size, so this is a unisex medium, which means men's medium. That means that it is both too wide and too long, but also too narrow in the hips so I won't even be able to wear it while working out. Plus, it's too clever to be a work-out shirt.

So while I was in the throes of indecision, I found this blog "Make a bag from a shirt". It's simple to do, even if you're not such a whiz with a sewing machine.

Sewing machine

Step One: Cut off the arms and cut out the neck of the t-shirt. The blog that I read, didn't really deal with the neck of the t-shirt, but I found that once the bag is sewn together, the smaller neck (i.e. the untrimmed neck) makes it really hard to put things into the bag. Cut down the neck so that you have what almost looks like two straps of t-shirt on either side.

Step Two: turn the t-shirt inside out and sew the bottom together. Since this is the bottom of a bag I intend to put things in, I did about three passes for reinforcement.

Step Three: Turn the bag right side out, and use it! Depending on what you're planning to carry in the bag, you may want to reinforce the straps with something. You could sew a length of ribbon along the side and straps, or use some of the pieces you cut off-- follow your heart.

So there you go--it's cute, still clever, and I don't have to actually wear it. It also rolls up to a very handy size, so I can keep one in my purse just in case. Plus, since it's a t-shirt, just throw it in the wash when it gets dirty.

I also found the free ebook from All Free Sewing: Nine Ways to Transform old t-shirts. Since my bags needs are pretty much met right now, I may try some of their ideas in the future too.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Greek Frittata with Barley

Right now I'm so frittata-obsessed, I'm just making up recipes, but I totally hit on a winner with this one. Remember my barley stir-fry made in an effort to use up all the barley I got such a great deal on? Well, I made that again, and added it to a frittata, and it was fantastic (if a little messy).

Stir Fry:
Handful cherry tomatoes
2 cups cooked barley
2 cloves garlic
two handfuls fresh spinach
Olive Oil
Preferred spices I used a little basil plus salt and pepper, hot pepper flakes and parsely
8 large eggs
1 cup ricotta (this is not completely necessary, I'm just trying to use it up--skip it if you don't have it on hand already)
Feta cheese 1/2 cup to 1 cup (depending on how much you love feta

  • Dice garlic and throw in a skillet with a couple glugs of olive oil. Sautee until garlic is golden brown
  • While garlic is browning, dice tomatoes
  • Add barley to skillet and cook five minutes
  • Add spinach and cook until wilted
  • Add tomatoes and cook until warm
  • Add any spices
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Once the stir fry is finished, set it aside and crack eight eggs into a mixing bowl
  • whisk vigorously, and add the cup of ricotta, whisk again until completely mixed
  • Make sure to spray pie plate with non-stick spray like Pam (or the store brand) and scoop in stir fry
  • Push to the edges and smooth out so that it's about 1/2" thick and even
  • Pour egg mixture on top
  • Sprinkle feta onto that, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
Barley ~$.30, Eggs $1.50, Spinach $1.00, Feta $.50, Tomatoes $1.25, spices and olive oil $.50=
$5.05 or $.42/serving.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February Goals

I've already kind of laid this out with my No buy month decision, but I do have financial goals for the month that are more than just not buying extras.

  1. Keep refilling that savings account. Now that spring semester has started, my income is coming back to... well I guess I can't call it normal, since it fluctuates, but instead we'll call it... ummm, ok, let's just call it normal. My student loan payments are starting two months earlier that I thought--I always mix up March and May-- so I'd like to be almost to my savings goals when I have to start paying them back.
  2. Call student loan people. I have a sinking feeling that the amount they'll want me to pay back each month will be about 60% of my income. I knew when I borrowed the money that I'd have to pay it back, I just thought I'd have a full time job by the time that happened! I know how much I can comfortably afford to give them, so I will see if I can negotiate something.
  3. Retirement account. I have started a retirement account. I've been putting this off for years because I figured that someday I would have an employer who would match contributions to a 401k, or give me a pension or something. It's quickly becoming clear that that's not likely to happen anytime soon, and though I plan to live forever, I may not want to work forever. I'd rather not spend my old age like I spent my summer of underemployment i.e. not leaving the house and constantly freaking out about money. I opened a new ING account, labeled it Retirement, and put $10 in it. I then changed the direct deposit for job #2 so that I'll automatically contribute 3% every two weeks. It's not much (at all), but it's something. Once I have a little more saved, I'll open a Roth IRA.
  4. Taxes. I'm not sure what to do about my taxes this year. This is only the second time in my tax paying life where I am not a student. The first time this happened, I did my own taxes instead of using an accountant. My accountant usually gets me a decent refund, but she also charges me $155.00; when I did it, my refund was very small, and I actually miscalculated the state part and underpaid then by $30. Not being particularly tax-savvy, I don't know if my smaller refund was a result of fewer tax credits now that I'm not a student, or just the result of me not knowing what the hell I'm doing. I know that I can get my taxes done for less than $155.00, but I don't know if I'm confident in my abilities to do it myself. Any suggestions?