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Not Stopping for Shopping

December 5th, 2006 at 09:52 pm

My wild spending this month is $400 rent, a $5 burrito, $7.82 on groceries, and $79 for my car registration. I am not sure how people spend so often. A large part of my ability to live on a small income has got to be to be my lack of desire to shop, to run errands that require expense. The burrito My Guy picked up, and the car registration I paid online, so only the $7.82 was spent ďoutside.Ē

How do people get coffee and soda and an item here and there all the time? Forget the cost; even if I had a gift card, Iím just not into going and buying. On a Saturday I can enjoy garage sales, but other than that, shopping is more of a chore. Being at airports lately has reduced me to the ďbuy a single beverageĒ state; my norm is to have club soda in my car, at work, and in my purse. A large part is the cost, but there is also the convenience...I donít want to be bothered stopping by the store or vending machine if Iím thirsty. Beverages are a big part, but not all of it. A run to Walgreenís for just nail polish? I use the stuff (toes) but I would not use my work break to run to the store for only that item.

Why am I riled up? Dunno. Just saw a lot of single purchase store runs going on today. If you stopped and got a coffee today, relax, Iím not against it, I just really donít understand it. You are a more patient and less lazy person than I.

My Average is Low!

December 4th, 2006 at 06:48 pm

Iím spending an average of $979 a month! Whoo hoo!

$3,541.57 for my $20 Challenge-see below!

November figures are here, and Iím alive. You can see why I havenít posted in a week...deep shame at my entertainment spending in November. $36.76! What was I thinking! Well, I kid, itís not why I was gone a week and itís not that bad a total. What is upsetting is not that I spent on entertainment, but that I spent a lot of it on takeout that did not give me pleasure. If Iíd spent that money on seeing a show or something, Iíd be perfectly happy to reduce spending in other areas to give myself pleasure.

Other areas did happen to be low. I spent so much on groceries in October that I needed little this month; the total even includes $25 in treats from Trader Joeís (fancy soda, veggie booty, etc.) Health co-pays were much lower too-I get a lot of prescriptions by mail for three months at a time, so my expenses fluctuate.

The miscellaneous is postage. Long story. Well, no, just an uninteresting story.

I expect electric to jump in December; it has been cold enough in the house to see our breaths with ease, so we are doing some heater usage.

I donít expect gifts to be too high in December; I have $26.25 going in, and I bumped my December gift budget to $40, so I have $66.25 to finish Christmas shopping. I am mostly done but I do have a couple big people left. Weíll see how it goes.

I spent $1592 a month last year. My savings are the difference, $1592-$1026 (see below) = $566 times 9 months = $5,094.

Add to that $233 in ďsavingsĒ and $24.21 in my emergency fund, Iíve saved $5,351.21. If I take out what I spend in Europe, $1809.64, which is not part of my Challenge, Iíve saved $3,541.57 living on CA Minimum Wage for 9 months.

* My income is calculated as follows: CA minimum wage of $6.75 for 40 hours a week, at 4.33 weeks in a month, $1178 total. Iíve taken FICA and SDI (CA State Disability Insurance) out for a total of $1073. I had no extra income this month (no recycling) and no overspent categories from last month.
** When I originally began the Challenge March 2006 I assumed no federal or state tax liability. Wrong! Iíd actually owe $47 a month, so I have to budget $95 a month to catch up. So my actual spendable income averaged over each month is my original calculation of $1073 less $47 for $1026.

***$757.87 is the sum of the positive numbers; thatís the amount I have banked and unspent for non-monthly expenses; this does NOT include my savings and emergency funds. It is obviously not what was budgeted less what was spent. Each month I budget for non-monthly purchases; for example, I budget $13 for AAA and car registration every month, but have yet to spend it because it has yet to be due. Thatís why the balance is up to $117. I pay registration in December-so Iíve been preparing for my once a year $79 expense all year long.

Wrapper's Delight

November 28th, 2006 at 08:38 pm

There is a little something about the excess of the season that is sometimes overwhelming. Iím getting flyers in my mailbox offering good deals on things that I just canít see anyone ever needing or even wanting. Some are items Iíd be hard pressed to pick up at a garage sale. Iím a minimalist, but even so, some of these items Iíd have a hard time buying as a gift for people for $1. I donít want to single out any particular item, because one, there are so very many, and two, it may be something you bought today.

Oddly enough, the part of Christmas I like best is the gift giving. I was raised secularly. I am not from a large or close family, so the holidays are not a reunion time for me. I am not into entertaining, or cooking, or decorating. I find a lot of Christmas decorations tacky. I just love the excuse to buy people gifts!

Iím perfectly aware that my preference is just that. I know people who are absolutely giddy with the joy of decorating, but think the gift giving is commercial and best avoided. I know others who find the cooking the most fun, producing cookie after cheese ball after cookie. Others I know focus sincerely on the spiritual aspects of the holiday, and gifts may be tolerated and understated, and certainly secondary.

As long as someone is enjoying the holiday, I support it. It bums me out when someone is getting overtired or expects herself to produce The Perfect Christmas or tries to cook a seven course meal for ten people without the ability or desire. If there is a part of Christmas getting someone down, I think they should let it go! Get Chinese takeout! Make the kids do all the decorations! I think things that should be optional and not forced include gift giving, and that a person should be free to not do it, or scale it down to a place that feels right. Iím glad that I get to buy gifts for fun, and Iím glad donít have a bunch of forced expectations and a list of people I have to buy a gift for. Iím perfectly happy giving gifts to people I want to give to, and that includes folks I know are not gift givers.

A benefit of being thrifty, and being so very open about it, is that I donít believe I am generating the forced reciprocity deal that sometimes happens when a gift is given and the gifted didnít see it coming. If a co-worker finds a little something on their desk, since they know it probably cost me less than a couple bucks or maybe even just some time, Iím not worried about them having to run home and come up with something to give me in return. I know a lot of people who arenít into the co-worker gift thing. But they seem able to see my jar of jam or good condition used book or little trinket as a nice gesture, without strings attached. Itís an odd but very pleasant side effect of frugal giving.

This year Iíve been even more frugal, and that has opened my eyes to being on the lookout all year long...I was Christmas shopping at garage sales in May, at thrift stores, in Europe in September. That was another benefit of My Challenge-by thinking of people all year long, I was able to get some very nice gifts, some exceptionally well suited gifts, for very low prices.

People also know I get a kick out of getting frugal gifts. Last year, a buddy was having a financial rough patch (bought second home and first home didnít sell for a while). She mentioned all the purging she had done moving from a big house to a little house. Well it turned out she mentioned having too many pizza roller/cutters, and I told her that I would love to get a pizza cutter and that I had been having a hard time spotting one at a thrift store. I got a roller, used but awesome, wrapped for a Christmas present and I loved it. I got the perfect gift and she saved money and all was well with the world.

Random Notes

November 25th, 2006 at 09:45 pm

The library alternates the Buck-a-bag sales with regular sales, where the paperbacks are all a quarter and the hardbacks are all fifty cents. I spent a whopping $4.50. It strikes my funny bone that some of the books seemed overpriced at those prices. I understand that for convenience itís much, much easier to have one price, instead of individually pricing, but Iíd grab a hardback and think, ďfor a quarter, Iíd think about it.Ē

I did eat a traditional turkey dinner, but it was not at my house so I donít have any leftovers. For me thatís a good thing: I can overeat if it is in front of me. However I did grab the turkey carcass, which was in pieces, and a bunch of the juices. I boiled the carcass and juices with some water, and have three quarts of incredibly rich broth, and two pints of shredded turkey with broth, in the freezer.

I made an odd concoction again. I took chicken thighs and split peas, and added some last bits of leftover pesto, and some mustard. The spicy brown mustard was almost out, and I wanted to clear out the fridge, so I put hot water in, shook, and put it in crockpot. I decided to finally get rid of a Ĺ gallon of pickle juice Iíve been saving for a year, because for me itís not frugal if I donít use it. However I did put a couple cups into the crock pot. Surprisingly, the chicken-split pea-pesto-mustard-pickle juice thing is quite tasty.

Sometimes I get frustrated that I donít post enough, or that I donít post enough of the details of my daily finances. Frankly, part of that is so very often I am not spending any money. But anyway, what I have to tell myself is that itís not posting that is as important to me on My Challenge as actually living the Challenge. Rest assured that I'm living on less than $1026, with all purchases recorded and no fibbing. November is looking really good, except for the bloated Entertainment budget. The huge shopping tip in October really stocked me up, and other discretionary areas like gifts, household, toiletries, and clothing are low. For gifts, thatís good, because it would really help me to carry some gift money over to December.

I have a conundrum with a budget item. In late October a friend near a Trader Joeís picked up some items for me. I gave her a blank check due to time constraints, which I later found out she tossed. I closed the October books reluctantly without know the exact amount, and expected to be able to post it in November. I saw her tonight and she would not accept any money at all. Not at all. So, what I am going to do is use my guesstimate of $25, and hold that money in a jar, and use it to take her or her aunt out to lunch at some point. I just donít feel good about not having it as an expense.

When Itís Over

November 24th, 2006 at 11:58 pm

Iím thinking about whatís going to happen post-Challenge (March 2007), and though Iíve got a couple of wants, I think that I really want to keep a lot of the habits Iíve developed or strengthened.

I want to continue to go to garage sales and thrift stores more often; I have been re-reminded how much good stuff is out there. Along with that, I want to continue to be on the look out for great gifts all year long. Some of the best presents I have for this year were super cheap at garage sales, and normally I wouldnít have been thinking of Christmas in July.

I want to continue to go out to eat less. I am really intrigued by enjoying it more when I do it less. Thatís actually dining outÖ.Iím not happy with take out, and am not feeling like I get value there. For dining out, I want to make sure I do it because Iím spending real quality time with friends or co-workers over lunch or dinner, and that if Iím the one who instigates it, I want to go because I want that special food, not because Iím lazy. I may spend more than now, but nowhere near what I was spending ($100 a month). Iím thinking $50 a month average will work. (Now note that Iím debt free and putting a pretty fair chunk in savings; Iím not advocating that $50 would work for everyone!)

I want to continue to be more creative in the kitchen, so that I can make tasty, simple, low cost meals that are good for me. Discovering that chicken thighs that have been put in the crock pot de-bone like a dream was a life changing experience for me. Buying and using a freezer has been awesome, and Iíve been able to be very consistent about packing a lunch and eating breakfast, partially due to new tricks (freezing oatmeal being one).

I want to remain ever vigilant in the face of lattťs and manicures Costco runs and window shopping. I like that I donít spend out of habit. I like that I know where I get a big bang for my buck. Iím not anti-lattť; Iím anti lattť for me. If I am going to treat myself, even treat myself super frequently, itís going to be on the gas for a hot bath, and bubble bath and bath salts.

I want to continue to avoid clutter; appliance clutter, knick knack clutter, any unused item clutter. The less stuff I have the more I like the way my house looks.

Things I may spend money on in March, or sometime after the challengeÖ.

Iím thinking about a laptop. As itís a big purchase, Iíd want to think on it a long time before buying, Challenge or no. I think Iíd use it travelling for work a lot-and the airports seem to have free wi-fi. March happens to be a three paycheck for me, so it is tempting.

Iíd like a nice jewelry stand (earrings and necklaces) and jewelry box. I have a fair collection (semi-precious stones and silver, mostly-no big money, but souvenirs from my travels and gifts, that I wear daily.) I know what Iím thinking of, and I think that I may have to spend a fair amount. Iíll be on the look out.

Iíd like to be able to spend a little more on My Guy for the holidays. This year will be fine; Iím not thinking it will be bad. And what Iíd be looking at spending post-Challenge, maybe $150 total for all gifts large and small, isnít too extravagant. Itís just that a lot of things he would like are not apt to be found used or at garage sales: such as 1 gig flash drives, or original art by certain local artists, or other computer related items.

Iíd like to do more weekend trips. Iíd like to every couple months go up to Oregon or down to Fort Bragg and stay in a cheap hotel for a night or two.

Iíd like something I can put pod casts on. Maybe an iPod, maybe not. I love certain radio shows like Wait, Wait, Donít Tell Me and This American Life and others, and Iíd like to be able to listen ďon demandĒ as I walk to work and back.

Iíd like to get a bra-fitting, and buy one nice high quality bra. It may sound silly, it may even be silly. However Iíve been thinking about this a long time, and come March, itís happening.

What I wonít be changing is my lifestyle. I may have a laptop, but Iíll be hanging laundry and washing dishes by hand and making crazy blender soups. I might have a super supportive brassiere but Iíll still be buying used tops, bottoms, and shoes, and getting buck-a-bag books.

Iíll Say it Again

November 24th, 2006 at 08:05 pm

Iíll say it again, I Love the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Not for the food. Turkey and potatoes and stuffing and pie are all very good, but I have mixed feelings about my ability to overeat, and I always wonder why we donít eat turkey and stuffing and yams more often, since they are good. Maybe I wouldnít gorge (along with others) if we got the good stuff more often.

No, what I love about the holiday is the reminder to be grateful. My Rain on Me post on 11/15 was focused on gratitude, but I thought Iíd also like to list for myself what Iím thankful for. I began this list in a forum post in early November.

I am grateful for:

Having more than sufficient food, shelter, safety, and warmth

Having no debt

My Guy, and for him finding the perfect part time job to give him enough money and free time

My dad's health and his being able to retire

My Folks being able to travel the world!

Having the introspection and patience to identify areas to improve

Having a job where I make a difference

Having a job that challenges me

Having a job where Iím paid to think!

Getting a fair wage and benefits

Being sober

Baths. Clawfoot bathtubs and bubble baths as a bonus!

Having my vision and being able to read

Being able to travel

Being able to vote

Coffee (with milk)

Cheese, fruit, sushi, and all the other foods that give me great joy

The weather in Humboldt

My warm bed and comforter and all the parts of my house that are cozy

Having a car that's paid off and runs well

Having co-workers who support bettering the agency and are a team with me

Having the right and desire to exercise my freedom of speech and dissent


My Challenge Blog and the SavingAdvice forums as ways to embrace, reinforce, and champion frugality.

Having so many choices


Being able to learn and use my head

The health I do have, and the insurance for other areas


Mystery novels

Friends, and their well-being

Being kind (it may sound like an odd thing to be grateful for, but every year it becomes more dear to me)

I have so much, so many I know have so much. I believe that the more grateful I am the more compassionate I am. One day a year we are reminded, again, to give thanks. I do.

I Have a Thing

November 23rd, 2006 at 12:09 am

I have a thing about containers, I think. I was tipped off recently when I bought a pump bottle of hand soap, even though I didnít need it. The deal was: the container was a perfect ball, clear, and had no label. Essentially I bought the container to use to put in my soap bits, and the soap inside is a bonus. I love the idea of my miscellaneous soap bits being in this cute little label-less ball. The soap was ninety nine cents, no splurge, but since I didnít need soap I had questioned why I had bought it.

I hadnít really fully thought out how much I love reusable containers. My shampoo and conditioner are in nice thick plastic well shaped pump bottlesÖI periodically refill them. Itís not at all about looking like I have a certain brand that I donít, though I suppose that some people may think I actually buy fancy shampoo. (I got it in a gift basket last February.)

My favorite, cheapest dish soap comes in a screw top bottle. I pour it into a nice old squeeze top bottle.

Most of my dry bulk foods are in Red Vine licorice tubs, big peanut butter jars, or canning jars-depends on size. I like this for consistency-a nice simple look. I prefer bulk buying for these items (flour, milk, nuts, so forth) not only because they are usually cheaper, for less packaging. If itís not packaging Iím gonna cherish, I donít want it.

If Iím looking at getting salsa or ice cream or something, I actually take the packaging into account-not whether itís eye-catching, but whether it comes in a nice reusable plastic tub with a lid that seals well. And lately, clear is also a bonus-cottage cheese tubs can make things harder to see in the freezer, so Iím always on the look out for clear. Best is when the label on the clear tub is one that will peel off easily.

I spent an extra nickel on a bunch of yogurts just to get the cup with a lid, so I could reuse for gelatin and other lunch snacks.

I got really excited about a free sample of hairsprayÖbecause it meant a free small pump bottle to put Fabreeze in for travelling. Another free sample hair spray actual contains hair spray that I refill periodically.

At work a lot of people know I like Red Vine tubs, the big ice cream plastic tubs, and other large tubs. I don't stock pile tons of them, but it's nice to be able to grab a new one when an odl one wears out.

(There were some mini-ťclairs at Costco for a while that came in a tall, square white tub. I loved them for potlucksÖ.a nice deep container that held plenty of food, used fridge space well, since they were square not round, and could be left at someoneís house with no worry of how to get it back.) I accept them all to keep them coming-some things I do just recycle right away, so the only benefit is to the landfill, and thatís fine with me.

There were some envelopes at work that came in ďgoodĒ lidded boxes, then we started getting ďbadĒ flimsy tear open boxes. It really threw me for a loop. The nice black boxes with white and black lids were so handy, for gifts and other things. Iím not sure anyone else noticed the change.

A small bottle of conditioner caught my eye recently...fifty cents wasnít a great deal on the conditioner, but along with the perfectly sized travel bottle (larger than sample, much smaller than regular) that seals perfectly I felt good about it.

This container fetish has clearly been building over time. My plan is for this to be good resource use, and not a weird creepy habit, as I grow older.

In Sacramento Monday and Tuesday

November 19th, 2006 at 04:13 pm

I am a little stunned by how lacking in energy Iíve been over the last four days. Iíve done essentially nothing productive, or fun, or anything. Read a lot, had a crazy headache Thursday, a pretty bad one Wednesday and Friday, slept a lot, watched television, slept some more.

I didnít achieve all my goals this week. The best I can do is not regret too much that I became a hibernating bear. Regret can eat more time than being lazy.

It cracks me up that the theme song for the latest eBay commercials is ďNon, je ne regrette rienĒ, the song that is about regretting nothing. I am positive that at one point, someone has ordered something from eBay then sat staring at it, thinking, "I sure regret this purchase.Ē Being glad that Wonder Woman lunch boxes are still out there doesnít necessarily equate to joy at having five of them sitting on the kitchen counter.

Not Very Productive

November 17th, 2006 at 04:47 pm

I am off work today, but I didnít really get anything done. I admit to feeling completely lazy. I went to the bread thrift store and picked up a bunch of heavy dense whole wheat loaves at 75 cents each. I picked up a couple used books in excellent condition for a friend, for her to give as a gift to one of her family members; for me being frugal means sharing frugality, and doing frugal favors. My friend now has a nice gift to give someone for a total of 75 cents-the books were on an actual wish list! I have also spread the idea of used items, in excellent condition, as gifts. My plan to get everyone in my life idly interested in frugality is working.

The library is having a book sale tonight; itís not a buck-a-bag sale, so I will have to select judiciously. There may be nice books for gifts, so Iíll keep a look out. Iíll have to renew my Friends of the Library subscription but thatís fine with me.

Not In My Vocabulary

November 15th, 2006 at 05:49 pm

Yesterday Iím driving in my car, listening to the radio, and I flip to an ad for people with money problems. It was taking about credit cards, bill collectorsÖthen mentioned that a person could call to get help from a dead professional. I stopped the scan button to listen more; dead professional? Huh?

It has been so long since Iíve owed money that evidently I canít recognize the word debt anymore.

Rain On Me

November 15th, 2006 at 05:46 pm

I love the sound of rain, and how it gets dark and clouds look almost purple, and how it rushes in the streets and makes puddles. I enjoy it when itís crazy raining, at least when Iím not driving; when the rain just falls in sheets and windows have a constant solid stream on them instead of drops. Mostly, I love the rain because it reminds me to be grateful.

I have a house to come home to, where I can have a hot shower or bath, or get into flannel jammies. The house may be chilly-those 12 foot ceilings-but I have lots of warm blankets and sweaters. I have tea and cocoa and popcorn and soup and grilled cheese makings. I have lots of books and I have a television and DVDs. I can come to home my refuge, and I can be reminded how those very small things can be so big Ė for someone homeless, my cocoa and comforter may seem very, very far away.

If I think about these things Iím grateful for, I realize that during not one second of My Challenge have I had to forego the things I love most. Most of my flannel jammies have been a buck or two at thrift stores. (The best were $1.25, thick dark blue, on me right now.) I got a bunch of tea in a free box at a garage sale, but even my purchased teas are pretty cheap-the fancy stuff I spring for is nine cents a bag. My comforters and blankets are years old, my cocoa is homemade from powdered milk, sugar, and baking chocolate, my popcorn is microwaved in a brown paper bag. My hot showers and baths do take some gas, but my utility bill has been reasonable because I scrimp elsewhere. The DVDs are a luxury, but $9.65 for my half of the monthly bill is an acceptable entertainment expense to me-again, I scrimp in other areas. Books? Buck-a-bag book sales! Or the library, or garage sales or thrift stores or hand-me downs. Television? Non-cable channels 2-13 only, and a VCR to tape good stuff for when the networks have a bad night.

I really do think about gratitude in November, because I actually hold Thanksgiving dear; not for the turkeys and pilgrims, but for the reminder that I have much to be grateful for. One thing Iím grateful for this year is My Challenge, which has had, as a happy byproduct, the effect of making me more grateful. So, Iím grateful for increased gratitude. Man, thatís a little mushy touchy-feely silly, but when Iím grateful I am also looking to be a better person. The more grateful I am the more kind I am, and as the years have gone by I am less and less inclined to revere intelligence and more and more inclined to hold kindness in high regard.

IĎm a fan of the 1950 movie Harvey, with Jimmy Stewart. At one point the main character Elwood, says, "Years ago my mother used to say to meÖ'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me." I know a fair number of very smart unhappy people; I canít think of any really kind person I know who is unhappy. They may have sad events in their lives or challenges to face, but at heart, they are certainly not unhappy.

So ends my rainy Day Fourteen of Month Nine.

Double Posting

November 14th, 2006 at 09:19 pm

Got back from Sacramento a little earlier, by asking very nicely to take an earlier flight.

Re-discovered for the billionth time that I just adore freeway driving with the radio cranked crazy loud. I walk to work or drive about 4 minutes; thatís good for me and the environment. But I just love listening to the radio (no satellite, no XM, no Sirius, no CD player, no tape player) and discovering old songs I love and finding new ones, blues and country and rock and a little of this and that thanks to the scan button. I just love it. I have so little traffic, that I can look at the redwoods and rock out.

And speaking of wish lists, I wrote mine down during idle moments in trainingÖdoes anyone else have things like silicon rubber scrapers on their long term wish list? Or am I just a tad nutty?

No Remorse

November 14th, 2006 at 04:16 am

On Monday, I bought a travel alarm clock. I thought and thought about that $3.97 purchase out of my Household fund. A travel clock had been on my wish list for a few months. I hadnít expected to see it in a grocery outlet store, but there it was. I am very grateful that since I keep items on my mental wish list for a long time, and buy items as cheaply as possible, that I rarely have buyerís remorse. I think itís an under-looked bonus of being frugal. I am not a fan of regret, so the more I can avoid the better. When I finally buy the bookcase and shelving Iíve been wanting and looking for, I know Iíll be happy with it, partially because I didnít run out to the furniture store, point, buy, and run home. When the right bookcase at the right price appears, Iíll buy it with confidence.

When I decided to post every day, I had forgotten that I was leaving the house at 4:30 am and getting back at 10:30 at night. Iím flying to Sacramento for work. I wonít be able to bring my own water, which does chap my hide. The truth is I wrote this Tuesday post Monday night. I can live with it, same as I can live with my purchases!


November 13th, 2006 at 07:12 pm

I never really thought about how invisible frugality can be. Iím usually so open and unapologetic about it that lots of people that I know are aware Iím frugal. Today I was at a meeting with a lot of people in the community, from three counties. I was looking around and it struck me funny that there was no way to tell who had bucks, who spent bucks, or who owed bucks.

I was in a pair of Freecycle dark Leviís, with a fifty cent pure wool menís sweater, a $3.97 clearance top, and some thrift store shoes. I felt my outfit was nice, if in my usual more boyish, more casual style (itís a good thing I live in Humboldt.) I knew I was going to this meeting and I felt good about these clothes. (Later on in the day someone said, ďNew shoes? Cute!Ē They were surprised I had bought new (looking) shoesÖ.but less surprised when I admitted they came from a thrift store.) Looking around, I was trying to spot any fancier or funky clothes, and was stumpedÖthe nice Oxford shirts could have been $40 or $2 clearance/thrift store and I wouldnít be able to tell. The flattering womenís suits could have been a few years old and well kept, or brand new, or a hand me down.

In the parking lot, looking at all the sedans and hatchbacks, again, I couldnít tell anything? Some of the nicer cars may have had a lot owed on them. Or maybe not. Iím not in an area that runs to Jaguars and BMWs; and the economical cars could easily have been bought by the more affluent as an ecological purchase (again, I live in Humboldt).

Does this matter? Well, no. If someone asked me, ďDo you hang clothes on the line?Ē or, ďdo you shop at thrift stores?Ē I wouldnít have any objection to admitting it. Iím proud that I use resources wisely and reduce unnecessary spending; Iím proud of My Challenge, as odd as it is. I know, though, that other folks may be tightening the belt out of necessity, or may be new visitors to The Land of the Thrifty, and may feel a little out of the mainstream; some might rather that the newly acquired thrifty habits werenít immediately visible.

Some people I know this year are giving home made gifts because they are excellent bakers, or avid crafts hobbyists, and some folks who are giving homemade gifts because itís easier on the pocketbook-I only know because they felt like sharing the information. (My Challenge brings this out in people.)

Wrapping it up, I couldnít tell who had cable today, who had low utility bills, who had cell phones or used furniture or mortgages or rent. So use coupons, hang the laundry, shop the thrift stores, give home made gifts, watch broadcast network TV...no one can tell. Unless you do.


November 12th, 2006 at 11:19 am

I canít blame bad spending on my lack of posts. However, I did spend $2.13 twice out of my Entertainment budget. Doesnít sound bad, except it was fast food both times. In some ways I suppose getting two items off the value or dollar or whatnot menu is a good thing, but I really donít want to eat any fast food ever. There are a slew of socio-economic-political reasons I could cite, but Iím not going to, because 1) no one is interested and 2) the fact that Iím chubby and get migraines is reason enough to stop eating fast food right there. Fast food places donít specialize in whole food, no nitrate, no MSG, low bad-fat, high fiber, lower calorie foods.

(Yes I know MSG and nitrates donít trigger all folks to get migraines, and that only 40% or so of folks are food sensitive. Well, my little calendar Iím keeping of food/sleep/headaches/exercise/etc. seems to show that there is something in fast food that doesnít agree with me.)

Iíd just rather spend that $4.26 on something better, thatís what it comes down to.

In other news: small changes, small things can be so great. I sometimes buy the little yogurts, non-fat and low sugar, at the Canned Foods outlet when they are three for a dollar. (I also get large tubs of non-fat plain.) I like them for lunch, or as a snack or dessert. Well, I splurged and spend an extra nickel, 38 cents each, for a brand that has lids instead of just the peel off metal lid. I did this to have baby storage containers that Iím now using for sugar free gelatin. Good for lunches, and cheaper too because the 33 cent gelatin packs make it 17 cents a cup. And I can put my plain large tub yogurt in there, with fruit and home-made granola. Actually, I was surprised to realize that the gelatin wasnít that cheap; I plan to use some Knox gelatin I have to play with homemade gelatin soon.

In further news, this weekís goal is going to be to post every day. Itís not lack of material; every day I think of something related to my habits or the Challenge or frugality or building skills, I just get sloppy and donít sit down and write it. Eat breakfast daily, bike/walk to work 5 times from Monday through Sunday, keep up Calendar, develop a strategy for having more fun outside the house, and post daily. Thatís five goals, but two of them Iím doing pretty good at making habits, and a third is on its way towards being a habit, so I donít think thatís too much.

Time on my mind, on my hands

November 7th, 2006 at 08:29 pm

I have a fair amount of time available to me. Iím childfree. I donít have family that lives nearby. My commute is 10 minutes roundtrip driving, or 40 minutes walking roundtrip. I work a 40 hour week. Sometimes I have longer days or weeks, especially due to travel, but I also get a fair amount of holidays, personal days, vacation days. I keep the house simple and tidy, and while I keep it uncluttered Iím not a big cleaner. I have five bills to pay a month, and I like to shop no more than once a month. No dry cleaning, no manicuresÖnot a lot of errands. I have time.

Iím grateful for the time, because Iím not stressed out. Because I can putter around and drink tea and read. I like it because I donít need time saving gadgets, and because I donít ever need to spend money to buy time: I can do it the long way, cook whatever I want from scratch, wash the dishes in a wash tub, use actual dishes. I always have time for a bath or a book; Iím not deprived of me time. Iím not going out to lunch or coffee and spending money; Iím not spending much on fuel, I. Many people I know seem to complain about the lack of time; some of them sound perfectly happy, but to me they sound uncomfortably busy. (Some parents seem to spend an awful lot of time on child related things, fun or obligation. ).

I should be 100% grateful that my life is not crammed full. What can throw me off is that sometimes I do wish I had more structure, or obligations. Not necessarily chores, but I can be a mighty hermit, and it wouldnít be a bad idea for me to have a monthly book club, or museum trip, or hiking trip. I have all this beautiful time, and I donít always use it as well as Iíd like. Even in a perfect world Iíd still want plenty of ďnothing going on but my slippersĒ time; take away my baths and Iíd be much less mellow.

Boy, sometimes I really have to mull things over before I can articulate what it is I want, and even then itís still a process to work towards it. So now that Iíve put some of my antsiness in words, I know what a goal is: time management. Not the time management of people trying to do it all, or balance work, romance, kids, hobbies, housekeeping, and gardening. Iím just looking to feel more like Iím taking a bite out of life.

So whatís a concrete step I can take? Iím not good at telling myself broad things, like ďbe healthy.Ē I need concrete, like drink a lot of water and walk to work three times a week. The concrete step might not be the final answer, but it will take me there. Iíll further mull. Iím thinking along the lines of: host one game night this month, make social plans one day this month, and make a commitment to see a site once this month (could be a gallery or a hiking trail-but drive or walk to a place for fun).

This may not have been about finances. But I think of it this way: by being debt free and living simply, my biggest problem is needing to have more fun.

(And to be less chubby.)

$20 and Minimum Wage Challenge Update

November 5th, 2006 at 03:54 pm

I'm two-thirds through the Minimum Wage Challenge.

I spent $1592 a month last year. My savings are the difference, $1592-$1026 (see below) = $566 times 8 months = $4,528.

Add to that $190 in ďsavingsĒ and $14.21 in my emergency fund, Iíve saved $4,732.21. If I take out what I spend in Europe, $1809.64, which is not part of my Challenge, Iíve saved $2,922.57 living on CA Minimum Wage for 8 months.

* My income is calculated as follows: CA minimum wage of $6.75 for 40 hours a week, at 4.33 weeks in a month, $1178 total. Iíve taken FICA and SDI (CA State Disability Insurance) out for a total of $1073. I made $4.74 in recycling this month. That gives me $1077.74 in income; however I ďoverspentĒ $15.14 last month (in the gifts category) and under the ďYouNeedaBudgetĒ system (an Excel-based budget Iím using to track my Challenge Budget) if a category is overspent the money is taken straight out of the next month. Therefore I had $1062.70 to spend.

** When I originally began the Challenge March 2006 I assumed no federal or state tax liability. Wrong! Iíd actually owe $47 a month, so I have to budget $95 a month to catch up. So my actual spendable income averaged over each month is my original calculation of $1073 less $47 for $1026.

***$584.64 is the sum of the positive numbers; thatís the amount I have banked and unspent for non-monthly expenses. It is obviously not what was budgeted less what was spent. Each month I budget for non-monthly purchases; for example, I budget $13 for AAA and car registration every month, but have yet to spend it because it has yet to be due. Thatís why the balance is up to $104.

Day 247 Cocoon Time

November 2nd, 2006 at 06:13 pm

This is Day Two of Month Nine of my Minimum Wage Challenge. I havenít closed the October Books but I know I came out fine. The extra ninety-five dollars I have to budget each month for taxes I hadnít accounted for hasnít been as bad as I thought. At this point I am so very used to spending little, that it has become a habit. I got a raise last check, about $125 extra net per month, and itís comical to me that I donít actually get the $125 to spend. Well, my savings and retirement does, but not my Challenge Budget.

I believe the rest of the Challenge should be okay; Iím not foreseeing any big bumps. I have enough of a cushion that even if I take a knock or two I can weather it. For me Christmas has never been a budget buster; the only thing I really do is gifts. No decorations, no big travel, no cooking for a dozen guests. My shopping is mostly done for Christmas, because Iíve been shopping all year long and got a few good deals in Croatia and Bosnia.

I love winter and the rain. The north coast is a rainy place, and we just got out first of the season. Itís getting cold, and it gets da5k early. Even though I love it, or maybe itís the reason I love it, I start to cocoon in winter. I know Iím not particularly unique that way. I grab my tea and books, and get out of the hot bath and into bed./ That happens to always be one of my favorite things; I think I feel less guilty doing it when it is cold and dark outside.

Part of me is mildly fantasizing about what I might spend money on post-Challenge. It probably wonít be much; I sometimes enjoy the fantasy of thinking about it enough to not need to do it.

This Will Change My Life

October 28th, 2006 at 06:04 pm

Oh my goodness Iím excited. When I made a big batch of combo oatmeal-cream of wheat-apricots the other day, I froze it in a large muffin tin. Now I have a large bag full of single serving breakfasts! I plan to steal the idea for stews and casseroles too, since I often run out of cottage cheese and salsa tubs. This way I know what the item is without marking a bunch of containers. Iíve done a variation of this with ice cubes trays for pasta sauce and apple sauce, but the size of an ice cube ice cube doesnít lend itself to as easy a meal-Iíd need multiple cubes. Also, my 12 cup muffin tin will hold a heck of a lot more than an ice cube tray.

Being a simple gal creates so many opportunities for happiness!

I Really Hate This Ad

October 27th, 2006 at 11:07 am

I saw an ad on television that I hated with the white hot passion of a thousand suns. The commercial was for Home Depot; we see a woman putting her glass into a fridge door and commenting to her husband that the water dispenser is broken, and that the ice cube maker is broken too. The angle changes and then we see that it is a regular refrigerator with no dispensersÖ.sheís hinting to her husband that they need a new fridge.

Why do they need a new fridge when the old isnít broken? What is acceptable about rude sarcasm to hint to your spouse to buy something? Do they have all financial business taken care of, such as all debt paid and retirement planning, that they can make this a financial priority? Is using the tap and making ice cubes so very time consuming that an absolute luxury is perceived as a need? If people in other countries could see what we Americans have as priorities, as evidenced by this commercial, theyíd rightly think we were nutty.

I have a scheduled day off work, and if I do what I plan Iíll get a lot done. A trip to take books to the bookstore for exchange value, a grocery run, a bread thrift store run, some recycling, preparing frozen whole plums for making jam, laundry, housecleaning. I love days that feel productive like that.

Didn't Have It, Can't Forget It

October 24th, 2006 at 09:22 pm

The more I think about that $8.75 banana split I saw the other day, the more amazed I am. I suffer from sticker shock continually-a benefit of being an infrequent shopper who does frequent garage sales and thrift stores- but my goodness. I would have guessed maybe $4.95 for a banana split tops. Perhaps $6 or $7 in NYC or a fancy restaurant. Iíd have to work an hour and a half at minimum wage for the banana split. That seems wrong. It seems like a once or twice a year banana split should be a reasonable treat in the scheme of things. Sometimes I am surprised by how many people are in debt or not managing money too well. Well, part of it is that we arenít all equally skilled; Iím sure slimmer folks sometimes marvel at how chubbier folk can not eat right and exercise. But beyond the ďwhy donít we all have common senseĒ argument, so much out there to buy is so unnecessary or overpriced, and it surrounds folks. Made from scratch that banana split would be maybe seventy five cents. Iím almost curious to ask them how many they sell a year. Itís not a particularly fancy place; just a local ice cream shop.

Y'all can be thankful I'm back to yacking about frugality. However, on the rumination side of things, tonight tv has crud so I actually didn't watch the crud, and I listened to some music. So simple, but habits habits habits.....

Tighten Up

October 15th, 2006 at 12:55 pm

Okay, things in general I want to tighten up and/or focus on:

Use the excercise bike and walk to work. This saves money and also helps with my health; I could stand to use 30 pounds (I lost 20 then gained four on vacation so Iím at 180). Concrete steps to do this: Offer use of my car to My Guy-he benefits, and I am forced to walk. Also, if I want to play a computer game, ďearnĒ it by using the exercise bike.

Continue to eat breakfast everyday and pack a good lunch and snacks. Iím mostly doing this; I could just get back in the pre-vacation habit of preparing more stuff, like hard boiling eggs or making more muffins and such.

Continue to de-clutter and organize. Iíve need the furniture I already mentioned, eventually. Weíve got the pantry under control and are using some stuff up. I need to take a bag of books to the bookstore for exchange credit, and just start some boxes for the thrift store.

I used to have a routine that worked for me kinda; I got home around 4:15, and between 4:15 and 5 Iíd putter, and from 5-6 Iíd watch Oprah and do the exercise bike and putter, then Iíd be ďoff the clockĒ at 6, still plenty early to enjoy the evening. Not only did going on vacation and then getting sick blow my developed habit, but they moved Oprah to a different time. Itís on two times a day instead of oneÖbut they are the wrong times! Believe me, I can see how sad it is to have a routine built around the Oprah show; I donít defend it and am not proud. However it was a routine that was productive for me. Itís a matter of developing a new one.

To Sleep I Go

October 14th, 2006 at 11:33 pm

Today I went to a couple of garage sales. A couple meaning two. Ended up spending $1.25; a quarter on a nice Rubbermaid pitcher, for chilled water or iced tea or whatnot; a gift for fifty cents; and, a tortilla press for My Guy to try tortillas again (hopefully successfully this time).

What I was really looking for was furniture; we have a couple needs in the house. They are actual needs instead of wants, but nothing critical that has to be bought right away. Iíd like a chest/shelves/armoire type thing to hold our gifts for others - right now they are in two boxes behind the couch; disorganized, overflowing, hard to get into. I have one bookcase about to die (it was a cheap pine thing when I bought it 20 years ago and itís listing to the side) as well as other bookcases that are overflowing. In our computer room, some shelving/coffee table/sideboard type thing might help with the piles of crud on the floor.

Iíve been postponing some of this, thinking that instead of getting stuff to put things on and in, I should just get rid of the stuff. Iím at the point that even with all the clutter control I do I have to admit I canít toss everything. Having the box of gifts is such a tension tamer; I have a lot of gifts bought for people specifically, as well as nice general gifts, and this prevents last minute worry and shopping and spending. No need to ruin a good thing by using an unworkable system for it, right?

Itíll take a while to get the right thing. With things like this I can be pretty patient.

I feel the need to re-energize myself and get cracking on being better with my body and taking on tasks, and also have more fun. Iíve been inspired by another blogger who did away with his computer games; I have one I play pretty often, and Iím making it a earned treat-doing the exercise bike earns me a game. Only for that day, though; I canít bank the games I earn. Iíll likely modify the rules, to make it work for me. Tomorrow Iím going to spell out for myself some specifics on how Iíd like to re-focus.

Unchained Medley

October 13th, 2006 at 06:34 pm

I have concocted again.

A can of condensed cream of chicken soup, a couple pounds of chicken thighs, a half jar of tandoori paste, and a couple cups of pureed canned peaches. All in the crock pot. And it was really good. Not just edible, not ďokayĒ, but great - second helpings great! And you canít make out any cream base soup or fruit at allÖ.it tastes a little Indian, with the curry tandoori going on.

Now what was I thinking?? Well, itís hard to say sometimes. Not much could top my Freak Soup. I donít worry too much, because no one else has to eat what I concoct-but I usually like it so I forge ahead. So letís try to decipher the code.

ďOkay, I have lots of jars of marinades and pastes and sauces, so Iíll use some up. Less clutter, less spending, all that good stuff. What can I put sauce on? Iíll try the chicken thighs I bought, because they are a lot cheaper, and Iíll see if I can get over my fear of cooking meat. Okay, chicken thighs and ...what jar do I use? How about this tandoori thing, itís in front. There we go; thighs and paste in a pot. Looks dryÖsome water, good. Now itís too thin and runny looking, how to handle thisÖ.. What cans need to be used up? Beets? No, not beetsÖ.cream of chicken sounds better. Itíll add creaminess, smoothness. Good. Anything else? Well, chutney is sometimes used with curryÖshould I stick some fruit in here? Banana? No, not banana. I know, Iíll puree some canned peaches and dump that in. And the rest of the peaches Iíll throw in cream of wheat. Okay, lid is on, and Iím crossing my fingers.Ē

Now, with my oddball meals, what I do is, if all the ingredients separately are ones My Guy will eat, I make the concoction, taste it, if it tastes good ask him to taste it, and then if he likes it admit the ingredients. Last night he said, ďSmells like barbecue.Ē I said, ďOh, no, not even close. After you taste it tomorrow Iíll tell ya.Ē Today he pulled the meat off the bone and made rice. Then he tasted, liked, learned the ingredients, shrugged, and ate up. And had seconds. And said it was really good.

So not only did we have a great meal out of the pantry from odds and ends, we made progress on the fear of meat front. After the meat cooked, My Guy easily pulled the meat of the bones and stuck the meat back into he-knew-not-what; we hadnít been sure how that would work. Now I can stop using chicken breast and use thighs for any crockpot dish from now on. The meat was more flavorful, the fat was easy to skim, and thighs are so much cheaper than breasts.

Whoo hoo!

Cream of Wheat and a Wedding

October 12th, 2006 at 07:43 pm

I love being an adult; one of the very best things is being able to eat a bowl of cream of wheat for dinner because thatís what you want. Weíre cleaning out the pantry and tackling those little used items. Iíve got a mighty concoction going on in the crock pot; enough said until I determine itís edible. I made cream of wheat with canned peaches for future frozen breakfasts [edited to clarify: I make a big batch, freeze in cottage cheese tubs, and microwave for future instant breakfasts], and some sugar-free gelatin for snacks and lunches. The crock pot Unchained Medley will go on either cous cous or rice, both needing to re-enter the food rotation.

My spending is low key. My only expenditures other than recurring monthly bills (utilities, rent, etc.) this month have been $4.82 on dining out from entertainment budget and $20.43 from the grocery budget. Really; $25.25, Iím pretty much not a spender. Some of the reason I donít give mid month updates is because I forget, but other times itís because thereís not much to update.

I do have a wedding Saturday, the very first Iíve seen as a guest in my life. I was a flower girl once around ten years old at a sorta different wedding (bride in low cut red satin, bridesmaids in black). A couple years ago I performed a ceremony; despite me as clergy, all the other parts were quite traditional (and Iím proud of the ceremony). But this is the first Iíll actually watch. Iím 35. Weird, huh? I ordered personalized labels for the brideís favorite hooch, so Iíll be buying the hooch; other than that, I do have nice stuff in my gift boxes.

Man, I love cream of wheat. Itís just such comfort food. I am aware itís a pretty processed grain; thatís why Iíve been more of an oatmeal gal lately, but I just love the stuff. It used to be a ďspecialĒ food I got to eat only at Grandmaís, so I always thought of it as a treat. And oatmeal has always been groovy too. Iíve never understood the whole anti-hot-cereal vibe. Really, people, add brown sugar or fruit if you need to, but donít pass up that hot cheap good comfort.

Do What You Need to Do

October 10th, 2006 at 07:34 pm

Being gone for a couple weeks shed some light on some differences between me and My Guy.

When I came home, the pre-compost-tub held exactly what I had last tossed in it, and no more. The tin can recycling bag held one lone bottle.

Well, huh. Clearly my habits had not rubbed off on himÖ..in eight years.

And then I was told by this guy, My Guy, that he had thought my Challenge did have an impact on him, because perhaps he didnít go out enough.


Sometimes we might think that we are on the same wavelength, and surprise, surprise, we arenít. But hereís how Iím looking at it. There is nothing he does that prevents me from composting or recycling. Normally when Iím around heíll put recycling by the sink, and I rinse or swish or sort. Not a biggie. He sometimes composts when Iím around; sometimes I pull the coffee filter or some egg shells off the garbage, which is literally right next to the pre-compost tub. Again, no biggie.

On to going out. This means going out to eat; we donít go dancing or to clubs or movies or whatever; maybe a street fair now and then. Now, we are independent folk. I say: Go Out, young man. I do not have any problem with My Guy spending his money on whatever. Itís a benefit of having separate money. Sometimes this benefits him; when he took off work a few months, I was absolutely fine with it; it didnít affect my savings, and him living off his savings as an extended vacation by choice was absolutely what he wanted to do.

So Iíll encourage him to Go Out more, with friends, his sister, whatever. I still hold that many of the dinners we ate out were more out of laziness than a desire to eat Out. And Iíll look out for ways to make at home dinner feel more Out. (His hints about our ďpeasant foodĒ should have been more of an inspiration to cook it up.)

I donít really prevent him from Going Out, even though I affect it some. He doesnít help compost and recycle, but he doesnít make it difficult for me to do so. We could spend a lot of time trying to convert each other, but heck, Iím not interested. If I can go out to eat twice a month while on My Challenge, Iíll go ahead and pull egg shells out of the garbage.

(He didnít hang laundry on the line once. I havenít gotten the electric bill, so Iím still calm about that.)

You donít have to convert someone to do what you need to do. Nice.

Month Seven, Savings at $2,311.87

October 9th, 2006 at 12:10 pm

I spent $1592 a month last year. My savings are the difference, $1592-$1026= $566 times 7 months, $3962. Add to that my $150 in ďsavingsĒ and my whopping $9.51 in my emergency fund, Iíve saved $4121.51. If I take out what I spend on my vacation in Croatia and Bosnia, which is not part of my Challenge but is certainly spent money, itís $4121.51 less $1,809.64 for a total of $2,311.87. Saving an additional twenty-three hundred dollars in seven months while also taking a two week trip to Europe is pretty exciting.

* My income is calculated as follows: CA minimum wage of $6.75 for 40 hours a week, at 4.33 weeks in a month, $1178 total. Iíve taken FICA and SDI (CA State Disability Insurance) out for a total of $1073. This month I had two survey checks, one for $ and one for $10 (!!) and I also did 97 cents worth of recycling. $1073+$11+.97=1084.97.

** I originally assumed no federal or state tax liability; Iíd actually owe $47 a month, so I have to budget $95 a month to catch up. So my actual spendable income averaged over each month is my original calculation of $1073 less $47 for $1026.

***484.59 is the sum of the positive numbers; thatís the amount I have banked and unspent for non-monthly expenses. It is obviously not what was budgeted less what was spent. Each month I budget for non-monthly purchases; for example, I budget $13 for AAA and car registration every month, but have yet to spend it because it has yet to be due. Thatís why the balance is up to $91.

**** I have $9.51 set aside in by Emergency/Big Purchase Fund, and $150.00 set aside in ďSavings.Ē

I did re-arrange a few categories this month. I had $40 in my work out budget ďenvelopeĒ' I pulled some out and put back into the mix. I pulled some from almost every category to add to the gift category for this month; I certainly do not budget $75 a month for gifts, I just happened to find a lot of great ones in Croatia and Bosnia.

Note to anyone new: yes, a person on minimum wage generally couldnít travel to Europe for two weeks. One thing I said at the very beginning of my Challenge is that the one thing I would not give up is an opportunity to travel. So before I even planned this trip it was a ďcheatĒ I allowed myself. And I have to remember sometimes, that as much as I want to hold myself strictly to the rules, the reality is that Iím the one writing the rules for this Challenge!

On the Road: Grocery Shopping

October 8th, 2006 at 03:57 pm

When I travel, it seems likes itís the little differences that stick with me the most. The very first time I traveled, I felt almost dizzy with the little differences, now, a couple countries later, I can enjoy them.

Grocery shopping is a fun way of seeing a culture. From where the stores are and how many staff there are and what the hours are, to what is on the shelves. In Croatia and Bosnia, I only saw one store Iíd consider a large grocery store. Part of that is Iím sure due to being in the quaint old town areas, as opposed to the suburban areas that likely do have large stores.

Bread is usually better, and often is behind a counter. Surprisingly, Croatian bread seemed pretty mediocre, but the Bosnian stuff was good. The bread being behind the counter can be intimidating. The fruit, too, is intimidating: you have to use a little machine to weigh it and print a label. Ands you donít just put in the price per kilogramÖ.it spits out labels with the name of the fruit. I managed a couple times by saying "PleaseĒ in Bosna/Croat and holding the bag out to another customer. Once there seemed to be a staffer at the scale. It does make me realize how scary it must be to not know the language where you live. Imagine passing up fruit every day because you didnít know how to get it correctly.

I got plenty of yogurt that was plain, which is not so usual for the States. It seemed most was unflavored, while in the U.S. most is flavored. Iím not sure what the fat content was, or whether there were live cultures. Some was really runny and some was thick. It was all pretty good.

You can buy little pats of butter; that seemed odd to me. Perhaps one or two tablespoons worth. Many things seemed to be in smaller containers. I think that perhaps there is more of a culture of shopping daily or weekly, and not so much on stocking up. I never saw a laundry detergent that was anywhere near the size I usually grab.

Peanut butter is expensiveÖ.Nutella is cheap. What a world. Fruit syrup is by the fruit juice. This is think stuff that I would mix with club soda. Iím not sure whether it is intended to be mixed with tap water or not. The price is very low, especially compared to prices for fancy Torani syrups and the like. I missed out buying one because I was worried about the weight of my bag, what a shame.

Iíd love to be able to bring a bunch of grocery items home. Some I probably couldnít due to Customs; mostly it would just be a weight and packing issue. The soda is so much better outside the States, in my opinion. It is less sweet, more adult tasting. Since I donít drink alcohol, I appreciate beverages that are interesting and not just sugar water. Even the Fanta is different; it may be the same name, but there is more of a tang. Bitter Lemmon was often available; it seemed to be a combo of perhaps a less sweet Collins mix and tonic water. I could see children here spitting it out, but I thought it was fabulous. Something I could sip, like an aperitif.

How Much for Two Weeks in Europe?

October 6th, 2006 at 03:14 pm

My vacation cost me $1,809.64. That was for 17 days in Europe; 2 days in London, 4 in Bosnia, and 11 in Croatia, more or less. If I were to save $150 a month, I could have saved enough in a year for his trip. I am not trying to say that this is a super cheap amount; besides not being able to find much to compare it to, Iím aware that I was living pretty luxuriously on some days.

I could not find a good site that actually gives hard figures on how much a European vacation should, or does, cost. In my brief search, I couldnít find guidelines on what percentage of income could or should be budgeted, or how much any vacation should cost. I did find references to not charging vacations; that makes sense. I do suppose vacations are highly variable; one person may find a week at home perfect, and think air tickets are a waste of money, while another person wants to see every continent.

My total includes all airfare, all travel books, all lodging and food, incidentals. I started counting every expense the day I drove down to San Francisco to catch my flight, and stopped counting when I walked in the front door.

That cost does not include $108.56 in gifts, which will come out of my regular gift budget. (Yes, I spent a lot more on gifts than I anticipated. Yes, I am counting these gifts in my regular Minimum Wage Challenge, and yes, that will hit the budget hard.)

Also not included as vacation costs: I spent $3.43 in grocery money, for some divine smelling olive oil. I spent $33.26 in Household money (pepper grinder, hand hammered copper bowl, lavender oil, clothes pins, a music CD, and a small dish). I spent 98 cents on underwear; I bought underwear my first Europe trip and now itís just a habit.

The big cost that I didnít include as a vacation cost, and am not including in my Challenge: $274.26 for jewelry. I donít really consider it a necessary part of vacation expenses, obviously. On the other hand, it is my favorite form of souvenir. I got fifteen pieces total that I love and will wear often. When I said travel was the one thing I would not give up, in my mind I meant the accompanying parts of travel. As far as breaking rules go, the truth is that Iím the one writing the rules, so I only need to report to my own conscience.

I did absolutely splurge a couple of times on food, once in Hvar Town in Croatia, $50, and once in London, $160 for myself and a friend. I donít usually try to justify such a transient expense, but I will remember the St. Johnís dinner forever. The apple sorbet itself comes to mind a couple times a day. Letís just say that while Iím not advocating that sort of expenditure for others, I do not regret it for a second.

Travel: $855.75. $450 round trip tickets to London from San Francisco, gas to SF, flight from London to Croatia, flight from Croatia to London, all busses, ferries, trains, taxis. We rented a car one day, a huge luxury, to see the Plitvice Lakes.

Food: $510.47. I used $45 of my September grocery money, so additional costs were really only $465.47. We ate out around once a day, though we did go out to coffee more often. This includes groceries (I had a lot of yogurt for breakfast, and we ate a lot of bread and cheese) as well as dining out. As I said earlier, $200 of this was for two meals (one I treated a friend to). I wasnít trying to restrain my spending, but I wasnít trying to splurge either. (I do find it interesting that tap water isnít really available; you have to pay for still water or ďwater with gas.Ē)

Lodging: $285.04 total. I spent an average of $16.76 a day on lodging. Often we found places for 10 Euro, $12.86, a night; it helped that as four women we could get an apartment together. A couple nights we were en route, so the cost of sleep was absorbed by the cost of travel. The night ferry to Hvar was a lot of fun; the Night Bus to Zagreb not so much. (Sounds like a bad seventies movie, huh?) The most expensive lodging was the overnight stays we had in South San Francisco by the airport, due to leaving very early in the morning, and arriving late at night. However $35 a night, including being able to leave the car for 16 days, isnít such a bad deal. Itís due to my friend's amazing skills that we stayed in London cheaper; a very respectable Travelodge at Marylebone for $25 each!

Miscellaneous: $203.39. This includes entry fees, internet costs, postcards and stamps, toilet, tips, left luggage fees, and the like. It also includes the $43.78 that I either ďlostĒ when exchanging due to fees, couldnít exchange (coins), or did not write down. Thatís not too bad for over two weeks in five currencies.

I could have cut corners, and had a lower number; right off the bat I know I could shave $300 off the total. But my goal was not to have the cheapest vacation, my goal was to take a ďnormalĒ vacation, spending as I wished, and show that it doesnít need to be a huge cost. I myself think that $1,800 for over two weeks in Europe is pretty decent, and I hope others thinking of the trip decide to go for it, knowing that without staying in dorm room hostels and eating bread and cheese for every meal, one can have an excellent vacation that is worth the price paid.

Getting Back into the Groove

October 2nd, 2006 at 07:44 pm

Today was my first day back at work, and it went well. I felt missed, and useful, and that is an awfully nice feeling. I awoke early, due to my time zone zigzagging, and had a good start on the day.

Iím getting back into my frugal groove, packing lunch and not spending; boy oh boy, it sure is funny how often I spent money on vacation. It wasnít so much the high amounts, just a bus trip there, a cup of coffee, yogurt and fruit at the grocery store, an apartment, another cup of coffeeÖ..at least six ďtransactionsĒ a day to record. Also, I dealt in 5 currencies (U.S. dollars, Euros, Kunas, Konvertible Marks, and Pounds), and thatís a whole lotta extra number crunching. Thirdly, with four of us there was a lot of back and forthÖI owe you Kuna for the apartment, you owe me KMs for the carÖ..we couldnít always break our bills, or sometimes weíd be leaving one country so it wouldnít make sense for one person to withdraw from the ATM while the other person had too much money and faced exchanging at a cost. Those three factors are part of what makes doing my September reconciliation dauntingÖ.it may be next weekend before I crunch the numbers.

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