Monthly Archives: April 2008

Daily Accounting: 4/30 + Carnival

Earned: $2806.27   Spent: $1511.51    Saved: $212

April snowflakes: $226.51

Finally, payday was today.  The last few days seemed to take a really long time.  I was hoping to get roughly $600 in travel reimbursement from work, but it seems to be held up in paperwork.  So, I’ll start calling on that tomorrow.  

I was able to send a total of $1116.51 to the credit cards.  Now, evil Card #3 has a zero balance.  Yay!  If you’ve been paying close attention to the debt tab, you’ll see that my total credit card debt only dropped about $30.00. That’s because of my lack of travel reimbursement and charges for my upcoming trip to San Francisco.  However, my stimulus check and the travel check will total $1200 to throw at my debt.  That will more than pay off Card #1.  By the end of May, I should be down to $5,000 on my final, low-interest card.  Hopefully, I’ll ramp up my snowflaking streams too.  This waiting around for money is a real drag.  I can’t wait until June 1.  That should be a milestone day!

If you’re looking for a good read, go to the Carnival of Money Stories today.  My post, “It’s Only Money,” was an editor’s pick.  Hooray!  I ended up with four editor’s picks in April — that was really fun.  Speaking of carnivals, don’t forget to read the Carnival of Snowflaking right here tomorrow morning!

 

Save $$ on Chips and Salsa

For our cookout this weekend, I’ll set out chips and salsa along with margaritas to get things going. A quick check of prices for salsa and tortilla chips reminded me why I love to make my own. I could easily spend $10 to $15 on bags of tortilla chips and prepared salsa. I’ll be able to serve up this tasty starter for a crowd for $3. Once tomato season arrives, I can make salsa for pennies. I’m growing my own tomatoes and hot peppers this year. But, this weekend, I’ll use canned organic tomatoes thanks to this coupon Money Saving Mom found. I spent $2 on tomatoes and $1 for corn tortillas. Here’s my quick recipe for chips and salsa (adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday).

Ingredients:

1 16 oz can of fire-roasted organic tomatoes
1/4 c. chopped white onion
one to two canned chipolte peppers (depending on how spicy you like things) + a spoonful of the sauce the peppers come in
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. hot pepper
splash of lime juice
pinch of salt
2 TBS fresh, chopped mint or cilantro

1 package of corn tortillas

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the tortillas out on several baking sheets. Lightly brush each side with canola oil and sprinkle with salt. When the oven’s ready, toast tortillas until crisp, usually 7 to 10 minutes. Let the tortillas cool and break them into pieces.

Finely chop the onion and rinse in water. Put the onion in your serving bowl. In a food processor, combine the peppers (seed them if you don’t want your salsa too spicy) and garlic. Add the drained tomatoes and chipotle sauce. Pulse several times. Stir the tomatoes into the onions, add the lime juice, hot pepper, salt, and herbs. Taste and adjust the seasonings. That’s all!

This is another recipe that is really flexible. Up until last month, I used my own canned tomatoes. In the summer, I chop up fresh tomatoes and use fresh hot peppers. I’ve tried cilantro or mint and basil for the herbs. I’ve actually spoiled us when it comes to salsa. The future husband and I can really tell a difference now. The salsa in jars just doesn’t taste nearly as fresh! I did try making my own tortillas last summer, but couldn’t get them thin enough. If I can perfect them this summer, that will save us even more!

Daily Accounting: 4/28 + 4/29

Earned: $0 Spent: $155 Saved: $0

Today was a great day at the grocery store. I bought our case of wine for $90 and spent $60 on groceries for the week! That ole Grocery Game seems to finally be kicking in. I am planning on buying some turkey from a local farm for $10 and fresh produce this weekend for our cookout, but I still should come in about $20 under budget. The $60 included a splurge: crab meat for our asparagus soup tonight. I’m also going to bake fresh bread. It should be a yummy meal; I’ll let you know if it turns out. One good thing about doing the Grocery Game is that I buy most of our tolietries and pharmacy stuff at Krogers now with the coupons. For May, I only have three things on my Target list. The big challenge will be to see if I stick to that list! The other $5 in the total was for a bagel yesterday and a snack today. Now, I’m out of cash for the rest of the week. Fortunately, I’ll be home Thursday and Friday, so it’ll be easier to avoid spending money.

Another carnival is up today: the Festival of Frugality at Sound Money Matters. You’ll find my frugal recipe for homemade crackers and lots of other excellent frugal tips. I really liked Cheap Healthy Good’s post on the problems with “diet” foods. I couldn’t agree more!

Finally, fellow snowflakers, don’t forget that I’ll be hosting the new “Carnival of Snowflakes” this week. Be sure to submit your great snowflaking posts tomorrow!

5 Frugal Foodie Tips

Last night, I went to a book group at our local library about Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  In the book, Kingsolver and her family try to eat from their own garden and local farms for a year.  I loved the book, and now we eat locally, probably 80% of the time.  In our discussion, several people said they liked the book but didn’t think they had the time or money to cook like that.  I, too, used to think it took too much time to cook, but now it actually takes me LESS time to cook than to go through a drive-thru or order a pizza.  For example, after the book club, I made homemade crackers and a spinach, turkey, and black bean salad with a homemade mustard vinaigrette. I also put out the last of my canned sweet cucumbers, all in about twenty minutes.  Our local pizza guy can never make it to our house that fast, even though the pizza place is only three blocks away.  

However, it took me about two years of cooking most nights from recipes to get comfortable enough to venture out on my own.  While I love fresh food and get a thrill out of cooking a fancy meal copied from Martha Stewart Living or Gourmet magazine, I’ve finally learned how to cook quickly and simply from day to day.  To do so, I have five shortcuts that might make a true foodie cringe.  These aren’t necessarily the cheapest options, but they save me valuable time in the kitchen.  In the long run, having the confidence to whip up dinner at home rather than order a pizza or go through the drive-thru keeps our family healthy and saves us a lot of money!

1.  Minced Garlic

I buy those jars of minced garlic rather than fresh.  Yes, fresh garlic would be cheaper, and I do buy it once in a while for a roasted garlic dish.  However, many of the meals I make start out with olive oil, onions, and garlic.  The thought of getting my hands all garlicky and mincing up the stuff is enough to keep me from cooking, especially when I’m tired.  But it’s great to grab the jar, measure out a half-teaspoon (the equivalent of one clove) and toss it in the pan.

2.  Bottled Lemon and Lime Juice

Again, a foodie would say, “oh no, you must use fresh lemons and limes.”  True, a real food snob could taste the difference, but I usually can’t.  I used to throw out lemons and limes all the time, or not have any in the house, or be unable to squeeze enough juice out of one lemon for whatever I wanted to cook.  Now, I always know that I have enough on hand.  I also keep citrus peel in the spice cabinet to toss in when the recipe calls for lemon zest.

3.  Chicken Bouillon Cubes

Almost every major cookbook has you boiling down your own chicken stock.  I may try that this summer, but it’s not in my repertoire yet.  Buying stock in those cardboard cartons drives me nuts, again because I won’t have enough or it’s past the expiration date.  With cubes, I put on a kettle of water when I first start cooking.  When the water boils, I measure out however many cups I need, plop in a cube for each cup, and I’m in business.  This means I always have stock on hand, so I can make soups any night I want.  Yes, the cubes are a bit higher in sodium, but it’s still way less salt than the typical fast food meal.

4.  Canned Beans

I keep red beans, great northern beans, and black beans in the pantry.  The purist has you buy dried beans, soak them overnight, and then cook them.  With canned beans, I can whip up chili, make tostadas or tacos, or toss them in salads any night of the week.  At 50 cents a can, it’s a great way to add protein to a meal.  Now, I buy one organic cut of meat and one bag of frozen tilapia, salmon, or shrimp each week.  On the other nights, we eat vegetarian, so I’ve come to rely on those beans.  I also make 50 cent “humous” by mixing a can of great northern beans with salt, pepper, cumin, and a little sesame oil.  It’s a very tasty version of the stuff that sells for $3 or $4 in the deli section.

5. Fresh Herbs

Now, the foodies of the world finally smile on me.  In order to cook quickly, having herbs on hand makes a real difference.  Last year, I  grew basil, mint, and oregano outside and brought them in through the winter.  This year, I’ve got a few more exotics, thanks to my biologist friend.  Having herbs at home keeps me from buying those little $2 packets in the produce section.  I never used those up in time, was always buying weird ones, and kept throwing them out.  Now, if I don’t grow something the recipe calls for, I just substitute.  For example, we substitute mint for cilantro in most Mexican dishes and love the result.

Bonus Tip: a Five-Year Supply of Hand Soap

The future husband came up with this one, so a big shout-out is in order.  A few weeks ago, we ran out of my favorite Method brand foaming hand soap.  I bought a big jug of the store-brand orange stuff and figured we could just put it in the container.  I’d have to sacrifice the foam in the name of frugality.  Well, the future husband figured out that if you fill the container with 1/3 soap and 2/3 water, it will foam!  Now, we’re set on foaming hand soap for many years to come.  And, we’ve figured out that companies are totally charging more for foam while giving us less soap!

So, there you have my five foodie shortcuts and a bonus.  They keep dinners around our house going smoothly.  What do you do to cut corners in the kitchen?

Daily Accounting: Weekend Update + Carnivals

Earned: $0   Spent: $29  Saved: $0

We had a busy weekend with the kids, including soccer games, a poetry reading, and arts and crafts.  Sunday, we all sat around the table making stage sets out of cardboard and cardstock for one soon-to-be-stepdaughter’s Littlest Pets.  I had seen the Sunday Best Buy circular with Wiis on sale and was talking with the future husband about trying to find one when that same soon-to-be-stepdaughter chimed in, “we don’t need a Wii.”  She was so happy playing with paper and glue that she didn’t see the need for an expensive video game system.  I thought my heart might burst.  🙂  On the spending front, I bought a few groceries to complement our fresh asparagus and chipped in the tip on Sunday’s lunch.  

Two carnivals are up today.  When you get a chance visit the “Carnival of Debt Reduction” at Broke Grad Student.  My post, “One Phone Call — $1000 Saved” is an editor’s pick.  I also liked the ideas for a cheap vacation at home at American Consumer News. Over at The Skilled Investor, you’ll find the “Carnival of Financial Planning” with my post about the Fools’ first step to debt reduction. If you’re visiting here for the first time from either carnival, I aim to keep accountable by blogging every dollar here in order to break my long-time affair with debt. If you like what you read, consider subscribing. Thanks!

Finally, a few of my favorite posts from the week for your Monday morning enjoyment:

Mrs. Micah has been posting a series about her Alien Abduction guide. I plan on doing one myself soon. Wonder why she’s worried about aliens? Be sure to read it here.

I’ve got vacation planning on the brain these days. I liked Plonkee’s “Resources for Budget Travel” and My Small Cents‘ post on her recent experience planning meals on vacation. Thanks to her advice, I might pack a little kit of seasonings for our honeymoon.

Finally, check out the “$100 a Day Rule” over at NCN. It kept us from going Wii-crazy this weekend after the sale Wiis sold out.

Enjoy your Monday! I’m off for a bike ride, house cleaning, a seminar on tenure, and a new book group at our local library.

5 Budget Busters

PaidTwice tagged me with this meme of your five budget busters. She decided that hers are not really categories, but behaviors and attitudes about money. I couldn’t agree with her more! I’ve been budgeting long enough to have the basics always covered. I’ve never been short on rent or missed a car payment, for example. However, my very biggest budget buster is the credit card, as I explain in “A Tale of Two Budgets.” So, my top five budget busters are the dreadful little justifications I use to charge things that I don’t have money to pay for.

1. “It’s shoe destiny.”
I used to love to shop at DSW. Near my house in the Maryland suburbs, there was the loveliest DSW of all. You took an escalator up to the entire second floor of women’s shoes. Literally, my heart would beat a little faster as we were carried up to all those rows and rows of shoes spread out for the taking. Now, if you’re a shoe shopper, you know that at DSW, you’re not guaranteed to find your size in a shoe that you love. Often, I would spy something adorable only to scan the row of boxes and see all 5s and 7s (I’m one of the cursed size 10s). When the perfect shoe, price, and size all came together. . . that’s what a friend of mine called shoe destiny. After our 45 minutes to an hour of methodically trying on shoe after shoe, it didn’t mater if I didn’t really have the cash for shoes; it was a date with destiny!

2. “Since I saved $250 by passing on the Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, I can certainly buy this $125 dress.”
Many a time, I have fallen trap to the false saving calculation. I’d feel virtuous to pass by something really expensive, like beautiful shoes at Nordstrom or a really cool shirt at Neiman Marcus. Then, in course of our shopping day, by the time we got to Anthropologie, I felt like I’d saved all this money by not giving into temptation. Certainly, I could afford something less expensive. The problem with this math was that I didn’t even have the $125 for clothes, I just had the credit card or the student loan. So, no matter what I was “saving,” I was still going into debt!

3. “It’s Amy’s new thing!”
When it comes to hobbies, I am a true dilettante. Over the last few years, “Amy’s new thing,” as my friends affectionately call it, has gone from photography to backpacking to yoga to sewing to running to cooking to canning to scrapbooking to long-distance cycling to knitting to . . . well, you get the idea. I love, love, love to try new things. I have this odd ability to really BELIEVE that whatever new hobby I’m into will be the one to which I’ll become fanatically addicted. Of course, each and every hobby requires instructional books, supplies, and, sometimes, specialized equipment. Out comes the credit card, because, this hobby really IS the new one and will totally stick, says my irrational brain, despite all indications to the contrary.

4. “They can’t repossess travel.”
Here’s another phrase I used to toss around with friends. Graduate school creates a very odd economy. We all feel like we’re dirt broke because we’re still in school while old classmates are out earning “adult” salaries. We also have enough free time (or too much free time as one wise friend put it) to cook up all sorts of fun ideas for travel. Even more dangerously, we have enough free time to actually take those trips while our old classmates are toiling away with two weeks of vacation a year. We have this easy source of fairly inexpensive credit while most of us aren’t paying for tuition. We also love to analyze and theorize, so we can come up with any justification we want. It is a very dangerous combination of factors, one that led me to two-week road trips, week-long camping trips, even trips overseas. Without the loans or credit cards, I could have afforded maybe one trip a year. With all that credit, well, we cooked up justifications like “they can’t repossess travel” to dash off on our next fun adventure.

5. “But it’s not for me!”
My final budget buster was gifts. Here’s where credit can really ruin your brain. Since I was spending so much credit on myself, I felt really guilty about buying gifts that I actually could afford. If I could charge something wacky for myself, I could certainly buy something nice for my mother, the woman who gave me life! Then, once I started down that road, of course, everyone deserved a special gift. I might not have had the cash for it, but as long as I was far from my credit limit, one more little thing wouldn’t hurt.

So, whew! There you have it. Those were my five budget busters, really my five excuses to use my credit cards. Basically, shoes, clothes, travel, hobbies, and gifts put me in the hole. Now, I have that monthly “fun” budget to save up for those things. So hopefully, I can stick to spending money I actually have rather than using the credit cards. Now, I’m tagging:

Antishay Ventenne

MoneyTummy

Diary of One

What are the things that bust your budget? Have fun!

Daily Accounting: 4/25

Earned: $0 Spent:$45 Saved: $0

Well shucks, I discovered today that we don’t get paid on the last Friday of the month; we get paid on the last day of the month. And, the local farm doesn’t have any asparagus in — maybe tomorrow. So, I have to wait a few more days for my big bill paying update, and I have to wait until tomorrow for asparagus. That’s a drag. However, it is still Friday, and it was our last day of classes. Next week is a short week for me with finals. Then, the summer begins!

I spent the $45 on gas and a snack today. I’m counting the gas on Week One of May. Fortunately, there’s enough in the checking account to cover my spending money and groceries before we get paid on Wednesday. Have a nice weekend everyone!