Friday, April 29, 2011

Avoiding a Food Waste Friday

Food Waste Friday is something that a lot of bloggers participate in.  Basically, you take a picture of any food waste you've had over the course of the week, and post it on your blog.  The idea is that forcing yourself to be more aware of food that you've wasted by taking a picture of it, and the shame of publicly announcing "I'm throwing away money in the form of wasted food" will make you waste less food.  It makes sense.

I rarely participate in Food Waste Friday not because I never waste food, but because I had a lousy camera.  Also, most of the food wasted in this house is not my food, but bf's.  I harp on him to eat his leftovers (or at least if he's not going to, to throw them away so I don't have to), but nothing changes except his level of annoyance and my frustration with sounding like an angry fishwife.

This week, I'm not participating in Food Waste Friday because I've saved some food that may have otherwise gone to waste!  I had half a container of grape tomatoes that were starting to get a bit wrinkly and sad-looking.  I did throw away four that looked beyond saving, but the others I roasted in the oven with a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and now I have delicious roasted tomatoes that are marvelously sweet and that I will add to bf's leftover pasta for tomorrow's dinner!
Look at those happy little fellows roasting away!  They are delicious, and I'm very excited about eating them. Also, in the future, I may use this technique before my tomatoes start to go bad, and make a delicious oven-roasted tomato hummus or pesto.  Stay tuned for that.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gas: Tank One

This tank of gas cost $44 at $3.71/gallon. That was a horrible feeling, for sure. I decided that in this little experiment, to be more accurate, I'm going to calculate the miles driven on this tank, and then once I adjust my driving habits, see if I can squeak out a few extra miles.

Monday: Bought gas, and drove 20 miles, mostly highway, average speed 75 MPH.

Tuesday: Drove to work and home again for a total of 29.3 miles--average speed 75 MPH

Wednesday: Drove to work and ran errands afterward for a total of 30 miles 1/2 highway 1/2 in town. Average highway speed 75 MPH, Average town speed 40 MPH.

Gas gauge Thursday morning

Thursday: Drove to work and back 30 miles, average speed 75 MPH

Friday: Drove to work and back 30 miles, average speed 75 MPH

Gas gauge Saturday morning

Saturday: Drove to Wakefield, RI for my first race of the season! 63 miles, average speed 65MPH--it was dry on the way down, but pouring on the way back.

Sunday: Drove to Bristol and back to drop off bf for Easter hoopla, then drove to and from work for a grand total of 60 miles. Average speed to Bristol, 50 MPH, average sped to work, 75 MPH. Gas gauge is dropping like a stone.

Monday: Drove to work and back--30 miles.

Tuesday: Drove almost to work, filled up my tank along the way-- 9 miles.

I did a bit more driving than usual this past week, which is why my tank only lasted eight days. I managed to eke out 302 miles on almost one whole tank of gas--12 gallons, so that's about $.16 per gallon. With this new tank, I'm going to drive slower, and put some more air in my tires. I also need an oil change, but I'm not sure I'll have time for that this week. Let's see if these suggested changes make a big difference in gas consumption, or if I just spend more time in the car on the way to work.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What to do with Quinoa

I have long had issue with quinoa. It's cheap, it's good for you, but I just don't know what to do with it. I've tried a few recipes here and there, but have never been bowled over so I finally just made up a medium-sized batch and told myself that I had to find a way to use it.

Initially my plan was to just eat vegetables and quinoa the way I would eat vegetables and rice. Only problem there, I don't really eat vegetables and rice, so I didn't really eat vegetables and quinoa. What I've discovered, however, when coming up with new ways to use grains is that equating them with rice is the least helpful thing I could have done. When I think of quinoa and barley as rice, I also think of them as starchy, empty calories, which they aren't.

Since quinoa is really light and almost springy to eat, you can just insert it wherever and it works. Case in point, quinoa wraps.

Whole wheat or preferred tortilla
Refried beans
Flavored mayo
Cooked quinoa

I had all this stuff lying around, wrapped it in a tortilla, and turns out it's pretty fab, and super good for you. My initial plan was to use black beans, but I'm out of those. Refried beans actually work better because you can stick the quinoa to the beans and make less mess!

Basically, you take your tortilla of choice--I've been buying whole wheat lately. I get the tortillas from Trader Joes, which means that they're actually somewhat low in preservatives and go moldy far faster than I can eat them. I keep them in the freezer, take them out as needed, rinse the tortilla in lukewarm water and then microwave for 30-45 seconds. Presto--steamed tortilla! Plus the steaming makes the tortilla a bit sticky so once you've rolled your wrap, it actually stays together.

Depending on the size of your tortilla, cut a couple pieces of cheese and break in half. I never thought I'd say it, but there is such a thing as too much cheese in this recipe. The flavored mayo gives it the creaminess that cheese otherwise might have, and you really don't need much. If you opt to leave out the mayo, then use more cheese. Hell, do what you want, I just made this up anyway.

Layer cheese on the bottom, then nuke refried beans and layer on top of cheese. Heap on cooked quinoa--when I cook quinoa, I usually add a couple cubes of veg bullion for flavor. Add a stripe of flavored mayo, I used the kraft chipotle stuff because I had bought it with a coupon--it's tastey.

Finally, add something green. I've used both spinach and pea greens, but throwing something green on there gives it a very satisfying crunch, and makes this actually a balanced meal! Can you believe that I invented a low-calorie balanced meal? Plus, this is very filling. I had one last night with a cup of soup and I was stuffed.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Big Spring Clean

Even though I make an effort to not buy more than I need, I still wind up with a lot of crap that I never use, that just takes up space. Thankfully, it's less than I would have had otherwise. For the past few weeks, I've been rooting through my stuff and doing a medium-sized purge. There is something so satisfying about taking a bag full of stuff you haven't used in forever out of the house. It's like the moment when I finally bought an iPod and got rid of all my CDs--my apartment was airy and seemed huge. I dig it in a big way.

So far I've gotten rid of:
Clothes--I mentioned this before, but so far I've got two big bags of clothes and shoes I either haven't worn in a year, or never liked in the first place. I have a pair of shoes I love looking at, but once I put them on I hate them. I finally put them in the bag to take to the Salvation Army and I've never felt so alive! The clothes purge is ongoing because I'm trying to try on all items that I haven't worn in a long time to see if they still fit/look good, and I don't really feel like trying on more than 20 outfits a day. This way I can make my peace with anything I'm on the fence about too.

DVDs-- The local library put out a call for DVD donations recently, and it got me realizing that DVDs that I own that I'll never watch again, or may watch one more time, could just as easily be donated and then re-borrowed from the library or netflix, should I ever want them. So I went through my collection and found about 20 DVDs that I either haven't watched, or will not watch again. My shelves already look better.

Topsy Turvy-- Last year I bought a Topsy Turvy, that upside down tomato grower thing. I have a lot of gardening guilt i.e. I want to garden, but I'm intimidated by it, but I also don't have a space to do it and am not ambitious enough to seek one out. Every spring, my friends start talking about seeds, and I think I should grow stuff too, but I just won't, I know this now. Maybe if I ever have a yard I will. So I bought the Tospy Turvy precisely because I don't have a yard, but I also don't have anywhere to hang it that actually gets sunlight. So I'm giving it to a gardening co-worker, and he's going to give me the tomatoes. That's a total win-win.

I'm feeling pretty darn good right now--maybe even good enough to tackle that storage space... though probably not.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Weekend Reading: Debt Free U

Debt Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships or Mooching off my Parents. by Zac Bisonette. Portfolio Trade, August 2010.

So, I read this one about ten years too late, but assuming I can ever pay off my loans and have kids (or I ever decide I want kids), I'll have some solid knowledge to pass along! This book is an interesting read, if somewhat unbelievable at times. He cites a lot of studies, and presents what may be for some, an attainable goal of graduating from college with no debt. If nothing else, even if what he says wouldn't be possible for many people, at least it gets people thinking.

In my case, as a person with a huge amount of student loan debt, it made me feel a little angry that I wasn't more sensible back when I was borrowing heavily, but I don't think in my case I could have or really would have (just knowing myself and the experiences I wouldn't give up to save a few dollars) done much differently, and I'm not a big fan of regret, so I'll just keep making loan payments without (much) complaint.

Here's some of the things he said that I don't think are possible/likely for many college students:
  • Do the first two years of college at Community College and live with your parents
  • Work an average of 30/hours per week with the intent of putting that money toward tuition
Both very good ideas, but not something that can work for everyone. For example, I grew up in a town of 1500 people, so we had no community college, in fact, K-12 was in the same building. I managed to take one very inexpensive college psychology class while in high school by driving 30 minutes to the nearby air force base, but they certainly didn't offer enough classes for me to have finished two years worth of credits, unless I took five years to do it.
I had to move to a bigger city to attend college, which meant the added expense of housing. I picked an inexpensive state school and worked throughout college and grad school, but made nowhere near enough to pay tuition. He says he's not living on ramen, but I'm a bit skeptical.
Best Takeaways:
  • You don't need to go to an Ivy League school to get an excellent education. I am thoroughly state-school educated, and I can go toe-to-toe with my Ivy League buddies any day. The name on your degree doesn't matter as long as you're smart and capable. My bf went to Dartmouth and insists that the networking opportunities you get from attending an Ivy League school make the exhorbitant tuition worth it, but in my field, it would have been a waste. Plus, I don't like or want to work with snobs, which many Ivy Leagers are.
  • Parents should not take out a home equity line of credit, extra mortgage, whatever to help their kids pay for college. If they can't make the payments later, for whatever reason, their home can be taken away. As Bisonnette pointed out over and over, you can't reposess a college education. If you secure the borrowed money with something tangible, it can be taken away from you. Likewise, parents should not take money out of their retirement accounts to pay tuition. It seems nice, but then how are they supposed to feed themselves once they've retired? They will most likely rely on the kids that they helped through college, so it's really no help at all.
  • Pick a major that you enjoy and will do well at, but also find something with flexibility. There's no point working toward a single goal for four years and then finding out that you either don't want the one job you've been preparing for, or that the industry has changed.
  • We don't yet know the impact that students graduating heavily in debt will do for the future economy. Unfortunately, people in my age bracket are pioneers in this, but 15% of borrowers already default on their loans, and that number is only going to increase. If you can reduce the amount you borrow, you should.
Overall, it's a good read. The author gets a bit strident at times--he has a thesis and he is defending it to the death, so I would caution any reader to take his advice with a grain of salt. For example: He thinks that everyone should go to a large state school. His rationale is that there are more professors and more students, therefore, more opportunities. I personally would not have been happy at a large school, and it would have been a waste of my money to go to one. I have another friend who went to Texas A&M, who said that she had a nearly impossible task of getting grad school recommendations because her school was so large and her advisor had 100 other students. The author claims that there are ways to make a large school seem small, and that's valid, but my small undergrad school was just right for me.

He also says that campus tours are a waste of time and that students get too hung up on the notion of "fit." While I agree that finding an institution that fits seems to be more important than getting a quality education for some, it is still somewhat important. Likewise he poo poohed study abroad saying that it's a waste of money and often sets students behind so they can't graduate in four years. That may be true, but my study abroad experience was invaluable, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Bottom line: This is a book that will give you instructions on how to graduate college with little-to-no debt, and also little-to-no fun. If saving money and getting out into the working world is your ultimate goal--then go forth with these instructions and achieve. If savoring your college years and enjoying yourself are more important to you, make sure you start saving a lot in high school.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Financial Literacy Month

Apparently, April is Financial Literacy Month--who knew? I got my daily email from, which sounds like an educational clothing company, but is actually a pretty awesome resource for tips on frugal living, investing etc. I'm a fan.

For financial literacy month, the LV staffers went through their financial goals for 2011. It's funny because some of their goals were sensible--start to track spending, save more, etc., and then I stumbled across the five-year-plan.

The notion of trying to figure out where I'm even going to be in five years is daunting and actually impossible, but I remember that this is actually something I used to think about--in an abstract way.

It seems like the five-year plan, at least to me, is a bit of a relic of the past. I used to hear about it, and haven't for years. This may have something to do with the current economy--it's hard to plan when you're not sure what's going to happen next; but maybe people just don't make five-year plans anymore, or they don't talk about them as much.

The most I've ever done is a two-year plan, and even that was very loosely-formed. Maybe this is something I need to think about more, or maybe, like menu planning, this is just not for me. It's interesting to ponder.

Does anyone out there have a five-year plan? How does it work for you? Is it just a financial plan, or a life plan? It seems like it would have to be a life plan, but it's possible I'm waaaaaaaaay overthinking it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Full Disclosure

It's April 15th, and I'm already over $100 over my clothing allowance for the month. I actually doubled my budget because I knew I wouldn't be able to resist new spring clothes, but I've still blown that to hell. I'm alternating between feeling guilty, and being dismissive, but mostly leaning toward guilt.

Right now, I have two large bags of clothes that I'm going to donate to the Salvation Army, and I need to do another pass through my closet. How can I justify spending so much on clothes when I'm getting rid of so many too? Is it that the clothes I buy are poorly made? That my style keeps changing? I'm just fickle?

Maybe I was unrealistic when I set my clothing budget in the first place, but I just really feel like I either buy a lot of clothes, or I buy the wrong clothes, or something's just generally amiss. It's too perplexing.

Does anyone else have a budget category where you consistently overspend? Any suggestions on how to deal with it? The obvious one is to just stop buying so much stuff, but I can't seem to do that.

Most of the clothing that I'm getting rid of either doesn't fit properly, or is a bit worn, but I feel (like in the case of the brown pants) that I should have known better than to buy them in the first place.

Sigh, grumble.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I hate gas

The price of gas is on a lot of people's minds these days, which is understandable. As a commuter with two jobs, I think about it all the time and wonder why it is that I never get to buy anything fun anymore.

Yes, I'm becoming a bit petulant, but since it's not going to change any time soon, I've decided to try a little experiment.

We all know a few tips and tricks for using less gas on the road:
Keep tires properly inflated
Don't speed

I never understood the not speeding one and how that saves gas. I was thinking it was because when you speed, you typically slow down and speed up more, which uses more gas, but it turns out that for every mile over 60, it's like paying $.10-$.24 more per gallon. I've seen different figures floating around the internet, but no one disputes that driving 60 miles per hour will save a person on gas.

So I'm going to put that to the test.

In a typical week, I drive to work six out of seven days. My schedule is a bit goofy in that A week, I work 13 days in a row and B week, I have a day off (huzzah!), so that may factor in, but also really shouldn't since I probably won't be driving on my day off. The distance to job #1 is 17.1 miles, which usually takes me about 30 minutes (depending on traffic), and the distance to job #2 is 13.1 miles, which usually takes me about 25 minutes. In the month of March, I spent $167 on gas, and filled up about every ten days driving like I normally drive.

For this experiment, I'm going to fill up my tank on Monday, and then drive like I normally would taking a picture of the gas gauge at the end of each day. Then, once I need to fill up again, I will get my oil changed, top of my tires, and drive no more than 60. Since it's nice out and I rarely drive when I'm in town, I'm going to make sure for the duration of the experiment that I avoid driving in town whenever possible. The goal is to see if by following all the rules of saving gas, how long I can stretch a tank.

If anyone else has any tips on how to save gas, let me know and I'll incorporate those as well. Wish me luck!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Clean Slate

March is not a month I'm proud of, but it's officially over, and I can start over with a new attitude and a new budget sheet. I'm not going to beat myself up, I'm just going to do the best I can.

As far as my March goals, my big one was to eat from the pantry. That was actually pretty successful. Before I went to the grocery store yesterday, the fridge was down to 1/2 a carton of milk and condiments--I really should have cleaned it while it was so empty, but I totally didn't. So I now have a fridge full of delicious food, a new recipe to try, and a clear-headed optimism that spring is finally coming--despite the fact that it snowed again yesterday.

In the month of March, I completely overspent on clothes, but my other categories were pretty good. The misc category was high because I had to buy a plane ticket, but thankfully my scholarship covered that (conference attendance); food category is under budget by about $75, and since it has been milder outside, we're been using the space heater less= savings on the electric bill. Of course, I spent $167 in the past month on gas for my car, which makes me feel sick.

Also, when I was at the grocery store yesterday, I really noticed some price increases. Were Cheez-its always $3.69 a box? I don't think they were, I would have noticed that. Well, I've been meaning to cut down on my Cheez-it consumption anyway... grumble.

April goals:
  1. This is the last month before I have to start repaying my student loans and I would really like my savings account to be at what I've deemed "full" before that starts.
  2. I still need to do my state taxes.
  3. I'm going to call my credit cards and demand that they lower my interest rates. Somehow, through no fault of mine, the rate on my Visa crept from 9.9% to nearly 17%. I've never had a late payment with them, and my credit score is exemplary, so an interest rate of 17% is offensive to me. It doesn't really matter since I never carry a balance, but it's the principle!
  4. I need to do a thorough spring clean and organization. I've been doing this in stages because I'm lazy and it's an unpleasant task, but I need to just rip the band-aid off.
Whew! I feel good, honestly. I'm back on the wagon.