Looking Ahead to February

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January is coming along well. As you know I try to count my weeks by weekends. I do this because I tend to spend the majority of my money on groceries, entertaining and gas which are often purchased on the weekend.

So for me the last week of January bleeds into the first week of February. This is really good news! February is a bit scary. At the beginning of the year I had an idea of some costs that I would incur in each month. Even then it looked like there were some big ticket possibilities in that month.

One of ML’s childhood friends invited us to his birthday party. We haven’t seen this person in 2 years due to the craziness of all our lives so a birthday is always a great excuse to visit and celebrate. He’s hosting his birthday at a buffet restaurant near his home. To prepare for the bill I called ahead and found out that it’ll be $30/person, with tax and tip we’re looking at roughly $80. That’s a pretty big unanticipated cost right at the beginning of the month!

Realizing that I need to be even more cautious than I thought I created my weekly budget tonight. Here’s how it’s currently breaking down:

Week 1 34%
Week 2 19%
Week 3 13%
Week 4 16%
Week 5 14%
Unassigned 3%

I know for many people the aim is to assign each dollar a job, and though I’ve included some miscellaneous spending each week that unassigned 3% gives me peace of mind. It’s my reminder that I’ve got some extra money if I go over. If I don’t it’s a small amount that can be put into my lovely leftover budget account.

What are your plans in February?

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

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The Marathon Begins

I’ve currently got one of those awful colds that makes your eyes and ears itch, appetite disappear, and head fuzzy. As you’ve probably guessed I’m miserable. I tend to be a positive person and search for the silver lining.

Here it is: Dr. Who is coming off Netflix. I started watching it because a lot of the smart folk I know seem to have a fascination with it. I thought I’d watch and see if I would enjoy it.

I love it! Small problem: I’m only on season 3 of 8. That’s about 70 hours of TV. So my silver lining is that since I’m sick as a dog I can binge watch to my heart’s content.

The other plus is I won’t be tempted to pop out for a meal or quick visit with anyone.

Do you have any happy memories of Dr. Who? What do you do when you’re sick?

Fix What?

I can hem pants, sew buttons and darn socks. The problem is that I often don’t do these things because I don’t do them well. In the case of buttons, not only don’t I excel at button adjusting but I often have to go seek out buttons. Hence it’s easier to put them in a mending pile and after a long wait get rid of the item.

Not very frugal. Then something comes along that I refuse to do without and I go the extra mile to extend it’s life. For me it’s this pair of interesting grey herringbone pants. They’ve got some rather cool design features that make dressing up a bit more fun. One of the design features are 6 black snaps that serve no real function.

The snaps were painted and after a few times in the laundry the paint chipped away leaving them looking sad and not in the least bit professional.

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There’s no way I’m giving up these pants but there’s also no way I can wear them to work and be taken seriously as someone with an eye for detail.

Luckily I have a bottle of black nail polish leftover from Halloween. It turned out to be just the ticket to make the wear and tear a bit less visible. This sort of mending is right up my alley! I can do it in less than a minute and errors don’t matter.

 

Do you have any easy mending or care taking tips to extend the  life of your wardrobe?

 

 

Debt Lessons from a Romance Novel

I love Nora Roberts. I grab her books the first chance I get as she tends to write the type of romance I want to read – a strong heroine whose life is enhanced by love. I recently picked up The Liar.

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This could be a story about how Shelby returned home and tried to rebuild her life, the debt could be treated like a bit of worrying thing but something we aren’t reminded of every chapter. Instead the debt is a secondary character.

At the start of the novel Shelby is living in a mansion and has discovered that everything she thought they owned (cars, house, furniture)  is actually owned by lenders with payments in arrears to the tune of $3M. The way Shelby works on getting herself out of debt reads like a how to guide and it’s pretty darn detailed.

To give you an idea of what we’re dealing with she’s got 12 credit cards, a mortgage, back taxes and now untold bills from accountants & lawyers. There’s mention of her setting up payment plans with the credit card companies and the IRS. As for the house, she’s made a deal with the mortgage company for a quick sale.

Lesson 1: Figure out the mess and approach the companies to arrange payment options

The mansion of course has had staff but we learn that she’s let them go. Instead she spends hours cleaning and sprucing for the open house. She also closes up rooms in the mansion and tries to not use the luxuries available.

Lesson 2: Give up extra services and utilities

It seems they were living quite a glamorous lifestyle and had the stuff to prove it. Shelby finds areas to sell clothing, accessories, jewelry, art, wine, etc. She checks out consignment shops, jewelers, pawn shops, online auction houses, and the list goes on. For items she needs, such as dishes, she buys cheap replacements and sells the extravagant sets. She finds a gift that still has the tags on it and returns it for a full refund.

Lesson 3: Sell your extras. 

At this point, she’s gotten quite a chunk of change from all her sales. While a lot of it will go toward her debt load she’s aware of her own needs. She needs a computer to track her financial situation, find work and do research. She needs a vehicle to return home, get to work and be mobile. She purchases a laptop and used vehicle.

Lesson 4: Spend wisely to achieve your goals

When purchasing the vehicle she pays cash and asks for a discount. She saves $1,000 off the sticker price.

Lesson 5: Know your bargaining power and don’t be afraid to ask for a deal

As she needs to move from the mansion she debates renting a U Haul or using a moving company. In spite of the price she opts for the moving company as she won’t be able to move all the furniture on her own.

Lesson 6: Sometimes you need to spend money.

This is a romance novel so money is spent on a few meals out and clothing. These expenses are treated as necessary for mental health but aren’t excessive. So far in my reading I think she’s made a total of 3 McDonald’s trips and purchased a dress. There’s also strong focus on home cooking.

Lesson 7: Treat yourself, wisely.

Of course, leaving an dazzling life behind to return home can set tongues wagging. Shelby tries to focus on all the positives in her life and the benefits of returning home.

Lesson 8: Know what matters to you

She’s fortunate to have a great network filled with people who are willing to help her. One of the things she struggles with is accepting help as she refuses to take handout e.g. someone paying her debt. She is determined to not abuse her relationships.

Lesson 9: Recognize the difference between a hand up and a hand out.

Shelby’s overwhelmed by the staggering amount of debt she finds herself in. She beats herself up every so often for her position but she doesn’t wallow. There are constant references to her updating her spreadsheet.

Lesson 10: Keep plugging away.

There are loads of others scattered throughout but the above stood out to me. It was a surprising place to find these and it was a bit wonderful to read a novel where the main character is struggling with debt.

Have you read anything lately that had surprising lessons?

 

 

Shopping my pantry

One of my favorite kids has been asking to have a sleepover at our home. This weekend happened to work for him and me. Unfortunately ML is working some crazy hours so I was flying completely solo.

The hope was that he’d have dinner at his home before coming over as I was planning on just doing a movie/game night with snacks until bedtime. Part of the reason this week is good for his parents is that they’re redecorating the kitchen. They got an early start so asked if I could provide dinner.

My response was, “Of course!”

Small problem: I had 40 minutes to make a meal, no car and the closest store is a 15 minute walk. I headed to the pantry where I found a tin Vienna sausages, spaghetti and a jar tomato sauce.

A quick Google search brought this recipe up. You may notice a difference in ingredient portions. When the jar of sauce wouldn’t open I got very creative!

Ingredients:

1/4 onion chopped large so can be picked out

1/2 red pepper same as above

2 tbsp oil, divided

1 tin Vienna sausages, cut in thirds

Large handful of spaghetti broken into small pieces

1 can tomato juice

Generous shakes of granulated garlic, dried oregano, dried basil, red pepper flakes

Method:

Saute the onion, pepper and sausages in 1 tbsp oil until onions are tender. Transfer to bowl

Saute spaghetti pieces and granulated garlic in 1 tbsp oil until brown. Stir constantly.

Pour in tin of tomato juice and 1/4 tin water. Add generous shakes if the other seasonings. Bring to a bowl on medium heatheat. Keep stirring.

As the juice begins to reduce add the items in the bowl. Stir intermittently.

When the noodles are soft and it starts to look like a sauce rather than a soup remove from heat.

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This was surprisingly tasty! He didn’t pick out the onions and tried the sweet peppers.

Of course after dinner he asked for dessert. This is no surprise as he often comes to my home just for dessert. This time there was no dessert. He asked if we could make cookies. So that’s exactly what we did. Cake mix cookies came to the rescue. When he decided they needed to be frosted the pantry came to the rescue!

Ingredients*:

1 chocolate pudding mix

1 1/3 cup milk

1 envelope dessert topping

Method

Mix slowly for 1 minute, then increase speed until stiff peaks form.

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Dinner and dessert were a success and items from the pantry were used. It was a great way to spend a Friday night!

*This recipe is from the box of the dessert topping

 

January: Week 3 or the week I overspent

It was going well. My grocery bill was just pennies under budget, I had dipped into my miscellaneous fund for a few dollars and I was tracking to come in under budget. Then it happened.

I’m part of a committee raising funds for a local organization and at our most recent meeting we decided we should all wear themed items so we’ll be easily recognizable in the crowd. I was all for it as I saw the benefit of this idea. The downside is that I’d already budgeted for the event and had used the budget.

I asked ML to go shopping with me as I knew he’d help me stick to my new budget and get something fashionable.

“No more than $20,”I declared, ” all the things should be discounted now that Christmas is over.”

The first store I went to was sold out as the item I wanted was part of their Christmas stock, in fact all but one store was sold out. That store was charging $60! I knew I was blowing my budget but I still wanted to control the rate at which I did it.

One of the stores mentioned that a location one city over would have what I want. Desperate, and quickly realizing that in spite of not being able to walk into a clothing store in December without being faced with the item January was not so kind, I decided to make the drive.

Boy am I glad we did! The item was marked down by 70% and they only had one small left.

So I am over budget by 4% but I’ve adjusted the rest of the month in the hope that this hiccup will not throw off my careful planning.

 

Challenge Accepted! But…

I love those time challenges that make their way around the world. Spending challenges, saving challenges, push up challenges. You name it I want to try it. So when I came across a list of pre-existing challenges that I could explore I was in seventh heaven. I may have lost a few hours delving into the nuances of each of them.

Here’s the downside of challenges: I try them as stated and feel awful if I don’t do them exactly.

The fix is simple: I need to adjust the challenge to better suit my lifestyle while achieving the purpose of the challenge. I did this when I used the KonMari method and I got the benefits of the system without feeling awful about myself.

One of the things I had loved when I originally did the KonMari method on my clothing was the fact that I adored every piece in I owned. When I brought out my winter wear I did a mini version of the exercise but thought I’d do it after I had a chance to wear the pieces and see what suited me.

After reading all the challenges I opted to attempt Project333. I emptied my closets and drawers and started counting pieces. I was miserable. I was stressing because I couldn’t get my clothing down to 33 pieces forget having the total number of clothing, accessories, jewelry and outerwear.

“This was so much easier when I was basing it on joy!” I told the very patient ML who was forced to bear witness to this insanity. After griping a bit more about the stress of this I decided to base it on joy. I emptied all the clothing on the floor and started picking things up that I would wear in the next three months that filled me with joy.

No stress! Even better I filled 2 bags with clothing to be donated. I filled a tub with clothing that I couldn’t reasonably see myself wearing in the next three months. These items still made me happy but I couldn’t see myself have an opportunity to wear them in the next 3 months.

With this technique I came down to 35 pieces of clothing for the next three months. I continued the paring down exercise with my shoes and outwear bringing my total to 46 items. The nice thing about the project 33 challenge is that every person who has blogged about it has mentioned that it’s about paring down, you can figure out what number actually works for you.

Here’s how it currently breaks down:

  • 35 pieces of clothing
    • 7 sweaters
    • 9 tops
    • 4 dress pants
    • 4 pairs of jeans
    • 7 camisoles
    • 5  dresses
      • 9 of these pieces can’t be worn at work as they’re too casual
  • 7 pairs of shoes
    • black pumps, silver flats, gold flats, brown heels, 2 winter boots, red heels (for charity event)
  • 3 jackets
    • long winter coat, short winter jacket, Polar Vortex winter coat
  • 1 pair of mitts and a hat
  • I haven’t counted my shawls (which I use almost daily) or my jewelry. Though I’m trying to be more mindful of using a select few.

I’m feeling really good about this and I’m now tracking to see the variety of work outfits I can arrange.

Salsa

When I realized that our weekly grocery budget may go over I crossed salsa off the list because I knew we had tinned tomatoes. With the ingredients on hand I made this jar of goodness. I also filled a glass coffee jar as well but since all that’s already gone this is the only picture to share.

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What I had on hand:

  • 28 oz of tinned whole tomatoes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp pepper sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Here’s what I did:

  • Drain the juice from the can into the food processor, squeeze the tomatoes a bit so excess liquid goes into the food processor
  • put all ingredients except the tomatoes into the food processor and blend
  • Add the tomatoes and blend for a breath (10 seconds or so)
  • Pour into your glass jars (~ 3 cups)

Notes:

  • I found this to be fairly liquid rather than the chunky way I prefer my salsa. It was a great addition to the chili and will be going into the meatloaf. I’ll also be adding it to my scrambled eggs in the morning.
  • The tin of tomatoes is my  most expensive ingredient as I used the whole thing at $1.25

Cheap Eats: Meatloaf

I didn’t grow up with meatloaf, it’s frankly a bit of a strange dish to my mind. So I can’t put this one under my Going Old Fashioned in the Kitchen series but ML is right about meatloaf! It’s a cheap, tasty meal.

I ended up using 3 recipes and items in my pantry to create this:

  • 2lbs ground chicken
  • 1 can mixed vegetables
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cup salsa

Mix all ingredients well and empty into an oiled loaf pan or cupcake tin. Cook at 350 for 30-45 minutes.

I got one loaf and 4 mini cakes from this.

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Notes:

  • I would add a full cup of salsa next time.
  • When we thought of making this recipe we didn’t research more so I did end up purchasing ingredients I didn’t need e.g. saltines and cheese. I wish I had looked a bit harder at this because I could have saved about $10. Not the end of the world as cheese and saltines are good to have in the house.

P.S. I accidentally posted this before the salsa recipe which is coming tomorrow.

 

Planning Dinner for Two

Special thanks to Brantley for suggesting I share my meal planning.

ML and I are trying to eat healthier and it’s easy to say that it’s way too expensive on our limited budget. In fact I’ll admit that I was a bit doubtful as we’re trying to eat a minimum of 3 well rounded meals per day . Here’s how we planned it.

Step 1: Pull out the cookbooks

We’ve got a few cookbooks that are our go to. This week ML looked through 6 Ingredients or Less and Looneyspoons. We’ve yet to make a bad recipe even when we play with ingredients, which is often as we will adjust ingredients to suit our pantry and tastes.

Step 2: Select the Recipes

We’re pressed for time this week so it’s important that the recipes are easy to make and don’t take more than an hour from conception to completion.

Our rule of thumb is that we select 4-5 recipes. We often don’t make all but having options always makes us feel good.

Our selection for this week is coconut chicken, chili, garlic chicken, and southwest casserole.

Step 3: Ingredient list

Now that we know what we’re making we go through and make a note of all the ingredients we need that aren’t currently in the house.

Step 4: Assign pricing

This is just our best guess based on experience. Here’s what our grocery list looked like:

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As you can see that’s $85 we anticipated. Small problem: the budget for this week is $65. Does it matter greatly if we blow the budget? No, because we could tighten up in other areas since we’re only halfway through January but it’s the principle of the thing. Maintaining the budget is our goal and the grocery store is our playing field.

Step 5: Review the List

If we look like we’ll be over budget I put marks next to anything I don’t think we’d need. This time it was the sweet peppers as we have some and the salsa as I had ingredients to make my own.

Step 6: Shop

I shop with my list and a calculator. As things go in my cart I cross the item off my list and make a note of the price if it’s different. Before hitting checkout I calculate the total so I don’t have any surprises.

Here’s how I did:

Ground Chicken $10/ 4 lbs ( was cheaper than the beef)

Crackers $3.88

Cheese $4.99

24 pieces of chicken 21.15

TP $5.64

Milk: $8.99

8 tins veg: $10

Total:$64.66

How do you plan your meals for the week?