Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Monthly Pay Budget

I remember once hearing a friend tell me that she only got paid once a month and feeling incredibly sorry for her.  That must have been some kind of life foreshadowing because now I am squarely in that boat is it is so hard!  It makes no sense that it's this difficult because I'm still getting paid--more than before, but somehow I started off with a deficit and I'm having a hard time catching up.

I've also had an expensive couple months.  I decided to treat myself to some new work clothes and shoes.  I also had to buy a box spring for my bed and pay for delivery.  Though, in the case of the box spring, I realized after the fact that there is a mattress store a block away from my house.  I could have just bought it there and carried it home.  But, that mattress store looks like a mob front, so I've always been mildly scared of it.

What I can't decide is if I feel broke because my credit card balance is higher than I would like it to be, or because I spent/saved/reallocated my entire paycheck in one day and there's nothing else coming in until tomorrow.  Honestly, maybe what I really miss is playing around with my money--parceling it out into different accounts, etc.  I'm not sure, and it's still early days (I've only gotten two paychecks), but I feel like I'm holding my breath.

Anyone out there get paid monthly and know how do deal with it?  Any suggestions welcome.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Eat All The Food: Week Five

Has it really been five weeks already?  I really am making progress, but I'm still shocked how much food I still have left.  As I mentioned before, I still have 16 veggie burgers left.  I also have several more bags of frozen vegetables and frozen pasta/veg things.  I have five cans of tomato paste (suggestions welcome-- I think I bought it because sometimes I make chili, but that's not really good enough).

This was an interesting week in that I found/acquired a lot of free food.  That's pretty much the best thing ever even if it doesn't help me clean out the pantry.

Nice big salad along with some Birdseye wild rice and Trader Joe's soycuttash.  Yes, I felt a little weird eating a salad with a side of vegetables, but it was still tasty!

The rest of the soycuttash and with rice and another veggie burger.

Ramen noodles with an egg on them.  I had an off-campus meeting in the late afternoon and scored a whole bunch of free leftovers as well as going out to dinner (with a groupon) and scoring some more mediocre leftovers there.  I don't know if I'll actually eat those.... we'll see.

Half a leftover sandwich from last night with leftover salad from my meeting.  They were both pretty soggy but still good.  The sandwich, I should mention, was a deep fried grilled cheese.  It was the only vegetarian sandwich on the menu at the restaurant we went to, and it was... odd.  I think they deep fried it to justify it costing $8?  Either way, it was really too much sandwich for me, and I'm glad it's gone (avoid deep fried sandwiches in the future, self).  Went to a play with a friend after work, so dinner was half a popcorn and then cheese and crackers leftover from Wednesday's meeting.  Gouda!  So good!

Pizza Friday with BF--a semi-regular tradition.

Had to work at job #3, so lunch was the standard soup and half sandwich. There was some kind of event going on early in the day and I managed to score a free apple cider donut and some fruit--not too shabby.  Dinner was salad and a veggie burger.

English muffin for breakfast; out for lunch, and dinner was snacks provided by book club friends (I hosted).  Now I had leftover chips and salsa!

Purchases: 1 Cucumber

Used up: Soycuttash that I've had for at least a year, two veggie burgers.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Free Fit Fun

A while back, I bought BF at fitbit flex.  Fitbit flex is a pedometer type device that you wear on your wrist. I got it for him because I had read a bunch of reviews saying that it was waterproof.  He used to swim and always wondered how effective a workout it was, and so I thought this little gadget would help.  Turns out, it's actually water resistant, not water proof, so he ended up wearing it for a while and then giving it to me.

It's kind of ugly, but I also kind of like it.  It records all my steps for the day, alerts me when I've hit my daily goal (10,000), and I can enter in everything I eat. It's kind of funny though that the calorie tracker only seems to have data for fast and junk foods.  When I try to add fresh produce, it takes forever, but that's a minor complaint.
Since starting my now job, thanks to the fitbit, I have become incredibly aware of how my activity level has gone down.  When I was working at the public library, I was up and down stairs and getting up frequently to help people locate books, etc.  Even though it wasn't a large building, I still always got to 10,000 steps easily before the end of the work day.  Now, I'm lucky if I get 2,000, and that's really only if I park kind of far away.

Pair that with the fact that I've been worn out from the stress of starting a new job and the fact that I'm still adjusting to my new works schedule, and I am losing fitness at a rapid pace.

So, I made a resolution to do more exploring.

Usually, on my lunch break, I sit and read.  Usually, at the end of an hour of doing that, I am starting to nod off.  Plus, as I said before, the staff room at my new job is just awful.  So, I've been going for walks and I totally love it!  I always feel a little self-conscious walking by myself, but I'm starting to get used to that.

When I worked a shift at job #2 a couple weeks ago, I discovered that there is a gorgeous new bike path right behind the library.  And there is a scenic pond.  And the foliage was kick ass.  I came back from my break feeling rejuvenated, relaxed and slightly sunburned.  Considering the fact that I've worked at that library for nearly five years and had no idea there was a pond behind it, I felt like a bit of a failure as someone who likes to be called curious.

When I picked up a shift at job #3, I did the same thing.  I've heard that there are cross country trails somewhere, so I consulted a map.  I am not very good with maps, so I decided that I would try to head in the general direction of the trails, but also not be so focused as to not see the other potentially interesting things around me.  And you know what?  I realized that I've worked at that job for nearly four years and have rarely left the library except to go to two other buildings.  I found out where all the dorms are!
I found this dumpster full of old mattresses!
I found this quiet, tree-lined lane!

I also found that I was wandering pretty close to where the cross country trails are, so when I have another shift at that library in two weeks, I'll actually find them right away.

Free adventures + exercise = good stuff.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Eat All The Food: Week Four

Monday was Columbus Day, but since I work at an academic library, we were open and I agreed to work 2-10pm (brownie points for the new girl!).  For lunch I had a veggie burger (down to just four boxes now--16 patties), and sweet potato fries that I forgot I had.  They were at the bottom of the freezer, but were surprisingly not freezer burned.  And they were delicious.  Dinner was sandwich and yogurt.

I'm a little proud of Tuesday's dinner.  I had a pack of Trader Joes lentils in the fridge that had been there for a very long time, and I was determined to eat them.  I took a piece of the lavosh I bought last week, cut it in half, warmed up the lentils and made a lentil lavosh burrito with the blue cheese crumbles and a fried egg on top.  It was freaking delicious and loaded with protein.  Plus, the lentils weren't even expired yet!  They must have a long use-by date.

Late night at work so I had a veggie burger for lunch and the last of the sweet potato fries.

Oven roasted tomatoes with pasta T'was delicious!  You know how sometimes tomatoes just aren't good?  Well, oven roasting them (like with any vegetable) makes them awesome.  I had a couple boxes of pasta chilling out in my cupboard from forever ago, so I added the tomatoes to that with some parmesan.

Out to dinner for more fish and chips.  I just can't help it.

Tuna melt for lunch and toad in a hole with baked beans for dinner.

Out for brunch, and another toad in a hole for dinner.  Crockpotted a soup to bring to work for the week.

I made a slightly larger grocery trip this week.  Yogurt was on sale, so I stocked up (I eat it every day at work).  I also got salad. cucumber, tomatoes, butternut squash, eggs, half and half and some ramen noodles.  I realize that ramen noodles are not fresh produce, but I can add some of the frozen veg to them!  I also want to have a couple convenience foods around because I'm trying to increase my exercise.  If I work out and then go to yoga, I'm going to come home starving--it's just nice to have a carby backup.  Plus, not really breaking the bank buying ramen.

Used up: Sweet Potato fries, lentils, blue cheese crumbles, 1 can baked beans, 1 can (of 3) of tomatoes.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Eat All the Food: Week Three


Had a bit of leftover pizza and then went out for a free Yelp elite event which included stuffed mushrooms, calamari, pizza and drinks.  No complaints.

Had the last of the leftover pizza with a side salad.  I am currently working on paring down the number of salad dressings I have starting with my least favorite: Wishbone guacamole ranch.  It is not good, don't buy it.  Thankfully, it's not terrible, so I can make myself eat it rather than just throwing it away.

Late night at work so lunch consisted of a giant salad (I just only want to eat salad these days).  I used up the last of the tempeh and more of that lame guacamole ranch.

Made a run to Trader Joes--but I only spent $30!  I don't think I've ever spent that little in that store before.  I also discovered that Trader Joes now carries lavosh, aka Armenian flatbread.  I bought a package and went home to make flatbread pizzas! Made a home made pizza with fresh sliced tomatoes, blue cheese crumbles and some leafy greens.  There's a pizza that this nearby restaurant/movie theatre makes that has those toppings, and I think about it frequently.  Since it's more economical to make that at home while watching Netflix than it is to go there and pay money for the pizza, movie and tip, I decided to see if I could replicate it, and it was delicious.

Made another flatbread pizza using up the last of my pizza cheese and the fresh tomatoes, which were starting to get a bit soft (I like them super ripe though).

Had a shift at job #2, so brought my usual sandwich and yogurt for lunch. Dinner was mall food at the food court before going to see Gravity in 3-D.  Man, that was intense.  My shoulders are a bit sore from clenching.  At one point my heart was pounding and I was sweating a bit.  Highly recommend!!

Giant salad for lunch and then dinner was provided for me in the form of hot dogs and beer at the annual Grog and Dog Jog.  What that is, is a relay race where you run 1.25 miles and then have to eat a hot dog and chug a beer before the next person on your team can run.  Then if you hang around after the race is over, you can eat more hotdogs and drink more beer.  It's a grand time.

Lavosh flatbread from Trader Joes, 2 chocolate bars, apple cider, pizza sauce, pesto, pizza dough--I think that's it.  So far this month I've spent ~$40 on groceries and the month is half over.  That's pretty good.

The last of the guacamole ranch.  It was down to a few ounces, and I just couldn't bring myself to eat it.  I feel very good about this decision.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Eat All The Food: Week Two

We're onto week two of me eating from the pantry!  So far, it's coming along nicely, but I am having to start getting creative.

My first foray into weird eating. I had leftover re-fried beans from last week, but no more tortillas.  So, what to do?  Well, I microwaved the beans in a bowl, added shredded cheese and black olives and had myself a burrito bowl.  It felt a little weird to eat a bowl of re-fried beans, but you know what?  Re-fried beans are really delicious.  I also ate another half bag of some frozen veg--this time Birdseye asparagus, corn and baby carrots, which I have at least two more bags of lurking around the freezer.  Yummy!

Ate up the rest of the asparagus corn and baby carrots from yesterday along with a Trader Joe's veggie burger and some oven roasted butternut squash.  I roasted half the squash, and made the other half into soup to bring to work.

Late night at work so lunch at home consisted of a box of Annie's Shells and White Cheddar and a can of French cut green beans that I've probably had for a year.  It just passed it's best by date at the end of September!  Guess what, tasted just fine.

Met a friend out after work.

Big ole salad with tempeh and a hard boiled egg.  Pro tip!  Adding protein to your salad makes it eat like a meal.  Bet you've never heard that one before. I have a tendency to buy a lot of tempeh at a time and then lose interest in it, so tonight I used up the last packet (it's kind of a packet, I guess) in my fridge!  Victory!  Also had two dinner rolls cause I love bread.  Since I had neither the patience nor the talent to bake bread, I buy the Pepperidge farm frozen rolls.  Ten minutes in the toaster over--yum.

Speaking of fridge, it's starting to look pretty bare:
But the real issue is the fridge door:
The fridge door is always jam packed, and I am doing my best to whittle it down.  So far, I'm down one jar of jam and one container of mayo--now I'm working on the Pumpkin and Fig Butter I bought at Trader Joes last fall.  I may just throw out the fig butter, but who knows.

Breakfast/Lunch English Muffin with Trader Joe's Pumpkin butter and cream cheese that is over a month past its use by date, but has no visible mold.  I believe in mold more than arbitrary dates, and it tasted fine. 
Crockpotted a Black bean soup with the last of the frozen, diced butternut squash to bring to work this week for lunches.
Out for fish and chips dinner, which is necessary when the weather turns to fall.

English Muffin with cream cheese and pumpkin butter for breakfast.  Out of cream cheese! Was too lazy to do any cooking, so BF and I ordered pizza--no regrets.

Purchases: Two tomatoes,  one cucumber, Blue cheese crumbles.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Budgeting For Broke

Today's post is a guest post by my good buddy Joel.  He and his wife have spent nearly their entire relationship struggling with un-and-under employment.  They are now both employed full-time and trying to crawl out of the financial hole created by lack of work.  They just started a blog called Bacon & Ice Cream, which I highly recommend.

So Becky and I are now finally crawling out of the pit of unemployment and survival-mode finances. Over the past couple years, I’ve learned one thing – that making a budget does not work if you don’t make enough to cover your basic bills. No amount of money saving tips making your own household cleaners, canning your own food, or getting clothes at consignment stores will help if just the rent and student loans are more than one of you makes in a month.

When I was first unemployed, I called a place that wife had worked with once to get out of credit card debt. It worked well for her and I was hoping for some good advice.

What he said was “yeah, you don’t make enough for us to help you. Stop paying your credit card bills, quit paying the mortgage on the house you don’t live in, put your student loans on hold, and get used to lots of phone calls.”

I thank Jebus that we live in an age of caller ID, or at the very least area code ID, so I could determine which calls were creditors and which were potential employers during the job search. (BTW, this was with the cheapest cell phone available, no fancy smart phones.) By the end of my job search, I was ignoring about 18 calls a day.

But now we are both bringing in some steady and predictable paychecks.

And now that we can actually pay bills on time, and start paying off past debts, we need a system.

One reason I hate typical monthly budgets is they don’t work for paycheck to paycheck and week to week survivors like us. It’s fine and dandy to know that you have so much income and so much in expenses in a month, but not knowing how they actually flow in and out is a problem. We might have enough for the month, but not at the right time when it is needed before a bill is overdue. It’s so easy to forget to leave aside enough for the phone bill or internet or whatnot.

To combat this I printed out some calendars and started filling the Fridays with our income and putting bills on the days they are due then keeping a running tally of how much we will have in our checking on each day if we stick to the budget. The benefit is I know that we have 140 bucks between now and next Friday for anything that is not a bill or outside the $200 we budget for gas and food per week. That’s helpful.

The problem was if there was any change to a bill or something comes up that needs attention (like out of contact cleaner or something) I had to go in and erase and re-add everything on the calendar. Math. Ugh.

I couldn’t be the only one with a need like this. And under that assumption, I figured someone must have created a template. I did not find an answer from Microsoft templates. I did not find one at the credit fixing agency I work with. But I did some searching and found this site:

There’s a demo video on the site about how it works, and so far it’s working just as advertised. I can even update it from my phone, like last night when I got a blizzard at DQ – I updated the calendar while waiting for my order. Boom. Done.

I can put in one time bills, recurring expenses, and categorize them appropriately so I can say to Becky what we have extra for the week, and look ahead to see where we will be at in a few months on regular checks and all of the sudden we can breathe again.  And we can check it from any computer so I don’t have to say “We’ll see when we get home and look at the calendar.”

Quick anecdote to show the power of this handy tool.

My car’s brakes started dying, and it’s not worth fixing at this point. We are making due with one car between us. When we went to see about getting a used car for $5,000, we were told we couldn’t get a loan for that because of our horrible credit history during unemployment, but they would be happy to set us up with a $20,000 car loan to pay off over several years. This boggles the mind, but I took the problem back to the budget calendar, and it turns out we can sock away $5,000 by April for a car to own free and clear, and we’ll still have some left over for savings.

Anyway, I just wanted to write this as a possible tip for trying to navigate the craziness of bills and income while living on a tight week-by-week budget. It isn’t a panacea – I don’t see it working well if your income is unreliable or variable. But it is a helpful tool in many cases.