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Archive for October, 2006

Water with Gas, as Europeans Say

October 31st, 2006 at 04:57 am

I was going to try and reduce my club soda/seltzer consumption. When I quit boozing a while back I gave myself permission to drink anything I wanted. Iím not interested in drinking calories-I get plenty in my food-but I loves my bubbles. Then I decided during this Challenge that I should make bubbly water a treat. Well, flexibility is a good thing. The bubbles are back, Iím much more hydrated, and I am fine with cutting down on other treats in order to keep my seltzer. I get the cheap store brand cans for travel and two liter bottles for home. I just really love the stuff. It makes for a $10 to $15 a month hit on my Grocery budget, but I am at peace with that.

Two wrenches in my books this month:

One: a friend of mine picked me up some stuff at Trader Joeís in Oregon (grapefruit soda, Pirate Booty, something for my dad, shhhhh!) and I donít know how much it was. I had limited time with them and had to run to work and gave them a blank check. (Yeah, I know, blank check, Iím naÔve. Iíd really rather be naÔve and believe in people, though. I would be beyond shocked if anything went wrong.) Anyway, itís been a week or so and hasnít cleared, so I need to wait or consider it a November expense. Waiting is better but I am sometimes not patient.

Two: The $2.25 I spent on coffee was covered by a friend. I really donít carry cash. So I went to pay her back, and she wouldnít take it, really wouldnít. I tried to intimidate her: ďitís already been put in my challenge budget!Ē She was unmoved-said I needed to buy another one. Well, Iím stuck. I donít want to get another coffee! So that $2.25 will be spent on this friendÖ.just need to work out on what.

This Will Change My Life

October 29th, 2006 at 01:04 am

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!

Random This and That

October 29th, 2006 at 12:29 am

Small changes I make sometimes make my life so much simpler. I used to put all sorts of frozen food in plastic tubs in the freezer. My Guy couldnít effectively decipher which tubs held concoctions, which tubs were leftover meals, and which tubs were prepared, seasoned meat/chicken for tortillas, etc. Frankly, I couldnít tell sometimes either. Well, I bought a bunch of small freezer bags; Iím putting my cooked meats in these bags, frozen and laid flat. (I got the idea from how I pack my cooked down plums for jam.) Now itís simple; if itís in a flat bag, itís an ingredient, if itís in a tub itís a meal for one. An added benefit is the bags take up much less space.

I notice that changes can be so little but so helpful. My tea stash was overwhelming and unattractive. Now I have three canisters: herb, black, and caffeine-free black. Iím not saying this would work for everyone, but it has really pleased me. Another: having a shelf in the fridge that holds lunch or snack items, like hard boiled eggs or slices of cheese wrapped in plastic wrap or pickles or fruit or sandwiches or whatever. Now I can grab 3 or 4 items and Iím good to go.

There are areas in my life where I still need to find a system that worksÖpaperwork flow isnít streamlined. Magazines in/magazines out system is in progress. How/where to store stuff for Goodwill where itís accessible but not obviously ugly is a tough one so far (we donít have much in the way of closets).

I organized our Presents Stash; I had two overflowing unorganized boxes-now I have three boxes, for co-worker gifts, friends and family gifts, and unspecified gifts, plus a list of all these items. This way I know which people I need to keep looking out for, and which folks I have great presents for. Shopping ahead has really been effective; not only have I gotten some very nice items at very low prices, I donít have the pressure of last minute shopping to dread.

I spent some survey points at a couple different sites; My Points for a larger gift certificate for a present, and another target $5 certificate with my Harris Poll Online points; that will give me $20 total for either presents or personal needs. I have only recently started to track these; a few minutes of organizing a few weeks ago have paid off.

I completed an online survey for five bucks; when I get the check Iíll count it as income, which will probably be December.

Darn Busy Day Off

October 28th, 2006 at 03:27 am

I did get all my errands done. I spent a lot of money and am a little exhausted, so it could have been better.

On recycling, I got $4.74 cash. I took some books in for trade; only two of many were accepted, so I added $4 to my ďcreditĒ at the bookstore. (I have over $39 in credit; I can get folks books as presents!) On the flip side, I spent over $87.18 in Grocery money at two grocery stores and the bread outlet doing a huge restock, after we emptied out cupboards and fridge. I spent $28.69 in Household Money (tp, detergents, etc.) at those stores, an office supply store, and the thrift store. (I was able to get gift jewelry boxes for the jewelry I bought in Europe for some folks for a dime a boxÖsome nice velvet ones!)

At the bank I deposited some checks Iíd been holding onto too long (September internet survey and a couple work reimbursements) as well as a bunch of rolled coins. I also went out to lunch and spent $6.25 on lunch with My GuyÖI suppose part of me wanted errand day to be pleasant, at the expense of my Entertainment budget.

Thatís over $122 spent in one day; over 10% of my monthly budget. Nine places. Four hours. I donít regret my purchases-all items were on the list or within the budget. I just am not built for errands and shopping. (Hence the undeposited checks I had stockpiled.) I am glad I still have two weekend days.

I was also able to make a batch of crockpot beans and chicken for future meals (two thighs and a breast made tortilla filling for nine meal servings, so I figure that's a pretty good use of meat). I prepped a bunch of plums to make jam. I did a lot of laundry and dishes.

My true treat? I did buy a bunch of club soda with my grocery money...I havenít been drinking enough water lately, and even though Iíve been making a lot of iced tea for home, I have admitted to myself that I love having cans of club soda in my car and at work and in my purse. Iíll be taking a hot bath and drinking my bubblies!

I Really Hate This Ad

October 27th, 2006 at 06:07 pm

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.

Mother Hubbard

October 26th, 2006 at 03:28 am

Iím really cleaning out the cupboards. Last month I spent $77 on grocery, not much.* This month, so far only $32! That wasnít the original plan, but I got into a ďclean out the cupboardsĒ mode. Some combinations have been goodÖ.much used oatmeal cooked with sitting on the shelf cream of wheat. That had an unused can of apricots blended and stirred into it, for a batch of ďinstantĒ breakfasts. A can of beets and a can of corn with dressing: it made me wonder why they had been siting on the shelf! I love beets! Stockpiles of shelf stable tofu and sugar free gelatin back in rotation and being put to good use. The cupboards and fridge are empty in a good wayÖI feel like I really have a handle on what I have, what I need, and how creativity can turn ďthereís nothing in the house to eatĒ into three weeks plus of meals. Weíll do a big run in the next few days, but we donít have unused dusty food now.

*I didnít spend a low amount due to the trip; I used $45, half my ďnormalĒ grocery money, towards meals on my trip.

Didn't Have It, Can't Forget It

October 25th, 2006 at 04:22 am

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.....

I Did Something Last Week

October 24th, 2006 at 02:00 am

Admission: I spent $2 on a coffee last week; $2.25 including tip. Nothing really fancy, just a medium sized coffee with cream. Itís coming off my entertainment budget, and isnít too much, but somehow not ďadmittingĒ the purchase has been weighing on me. How weird is that?

On my ruminations: I thank you all for your encouragement, both to be kind to myself and to not let up up my goals (if reasonable). I took concrete steps today; that always makes me feel better. I canít say that I did Day One of Twenty One days to build a habit; tomorrow I leave the house at 4:30 in the morning to fly to Sacramento and arrive back at 10:30 at night. Thatís definitely not a normal day for me.

Ruminations on Another Year

October 22nd, 2006 at 11:21 pm

I feel good about growing older in general. I was very glad to leave my twenties. The way I look at it, the older one is the less they freak out.

Thatís what made me bummed that this was not my favorite Birthday. Now, I almost didnít want to mention it because it seemed like a pretty cheap way to get people to give me birthday greetings. Hence the lack of posts.

Most folks probably have a general idea of what they are doing in their lives that works for them, and a general idea of whatís not working for them. If they donít, well, I think these things are worth articulating for ourselves. One of my biggest pet peeves is people complaining about the same thing year after year without doing something to change it. It is just a sad thingÖif someone keeps complaining about the same job every time you see them, itís just funky. They either need to change their head or work environment so that work is better, or leave the job. It may not be a quick thing to fix, but after realizing they feel the way they do, they should start taking concrete steps to change. If the job is fine and they need to just stop complaining so much, thatís a step taken as well.

I have three things that I have been complaining about for a couple years now, and I havenít managed to change my life in these areas. The particular topics arenít important, especially in that they are not money or Challenge related. Iím just really disappointed in myself that in these areas I havenít either made peace or changed things or a combination.

Birthdays are a time of taking stock and right now Iím not so thrilled with what I see. Some things I do in my life Iím proud of. But most of these things are things that have been around a while, such as frugality or sobriety. Iíd like to have something newer to be proud of myself for and Iíd like to not be having the same baggage I had before; I want new baggage.

(A plain banana split at an ice cream place in town was $8.75. Isnít that crazy? No, I didnít have it.)

Habits, My Habits

October 19th, 2006 at 03:54 am

Habits are very hard for me to change. I have a lot of good habits. I have some habits that Iím not so fond of. Changing habits is almost more difficult that what the new task isÖ.and thatís frustrating. Persistence is the keyÖbut if persistence was freakiní easy, Iíd have new habits already. So is it patience thatís the key?

Tighten Up

October 15th, 2006 at 07:55 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 15th, 2006 at 06:33 am

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 14th, 2006 at 01:34 am

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 13th, 2006 at 02:43 am

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.

Only a Year

October 12th, 2006 at 12:26 am

I got the funniest reaction to My Challenge today. When I said it would end at the end of February, he said, ďYouíre only doing it for a year?Ē

Wow. Heís a man who can put some perspective on things, huh? When Iím done with the year, it will be 365 days. Perhaps one percent of my life if Iím lucky.

Stopped me cold, it did.

Do What You Need to Do

October 11th, 2006 at 02:34 am

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 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 07:10 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!

Bosnian Clothes Pins: Frugal Souvenir Extraordinaire

October 8th, 2006 at 11:13 pm

I got home on Sunday, felt great Sunday and Monday, and then woke up Tuesday with a bad cold. It makes me mad. I had that good coming back from vacation feelingÖfeeling like my life was good, feeling encouraged to do fun things at home, feeling wanted at work. I went to the doctor ThursdayÖI donít have strep, which is why I went, just the usual cold.

Today Iím feeling a bit better, so Iím actually hanging laundry and trying to get through all the dishes in the house. I used the dryer more than I should, so I tried to get excited about my new Bosnian clothes pins. Well, I was already excited about the clothes pins, I just wasnít excited about the cloudy weather, but itís bright (and cold) today.

I guess I am just blue that I was so ďgo get íemĒ when I came back and now feel so blech, plus I missed four days at work after being gone 2-1/2 weeks, so of course I feel very guilty, almost shameful, about that. I get every cold there is, itís pretty ridiculous. I donít drink or smoke, I eat pretty nutritious food, and Iím overweight but not that overweight, and I get every sneeze, sniffle, and cough. Yes, I take multi vitamins. No., I donít exercise enough. Grrrr.

Itís a nice switch not spending; on vacation I handled so much cash, which is unusual for me, and spent so often, also unusual. Itís nice to be back in the land of perhaps one or two online transactions a week, for bills, and one or two in person, shopping. I havenít shopped for groceries yet, but we are due for a big re-stock.

Financially I still need to close the September books, but I know I dodged a bullet. I spent over a hundred dollars on gifts while travelling, and I am very lucky that my expenses in outer categories were low so I could ďstealĒ from my virtual envelopes to cover the gifts. I plan to really tighten the belt this and next month in most categories; after vacation, with all the included eating out, I feel like a little Spartan living will do my head and waist some good. Most of my Christmas shopping is done, actually, and thatís pretty cool.

On the Road: Grocery Shopping

October 8th, 2006 at 10:57 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 10:14 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.

Note to Self

October 4th, 2006 at 10:51 pm

Next time you decide to track all of your vacation expenses, make it for a trip that is one week or less, and that had no more than two currencies. And donít try to reconcile it when you are ill.

Getting Back into the Groove

October 3rd, 2006 at 02:44 am

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 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.

On the Road: Gelatos

October 3rd, 2006 at 02:42 am

I had nine gelatos in my two weeks abroad. I had a pattern at first, two in every town, but in the last place I only had one. Stratiacella (a vanilla with chocolate) and Rum Punch in Crikvenica, northern Croatia. Hazelnut and black currant on the island of Hvar. Kiwi and chocolate in Korcula Town. Punch and cantaloupe in the walled city of Dubrovnik. Red Bull (yup, really) in Sarajevo.

There is a lot of eating for pleasure, eating outdoors, and excellent food in these countries, Bosnia and Croatia, and gelato represents all three. The numerous side walks, on lanes that arenít even large enough for one carriage, let alone cars, are dotted with cafes and gelato stores. The gelato is very prettily mounded, in waves, and decoratedÖ.sliced lemon on top of the lemon, cantaloupe on the melonÖ.beautiful and enticing. I found a picture; unfortunately I wonít be able to get my travelling partnersí pictures for a few days at least.

It was creamy, and delicious, and very satisfying. And what made it even better is that it was usually under a dollar, as low as 32 cents, usually 69 to 86 cents, maximum $1.20 in the very expensive place (Dubrovnik). So this indulgence was not a costly one.

The cantaloupe and rum punch (pretty much like rum raisin without raisins) were my favorite flavors. Red Bull was really not-so-hot. I am told it tastes just like Red Bull, but as I had never had Red Bull, I canít vouch for that. I had heard Red Bull tasted like cough syrup, and as I love the taste of cough syrup, and canít have it (the tasty kind has alcohol in it), I went for the Red Bull. Sadly, it was the last flavor I had...but it was the only one I had in Bosnia, so I have decided to only remember Croatian Gelato.

It is hard to beat strolling in a place where every sight is new, every sense is heightened, and you can have a little bit of heaven on a cone, to go. Gelato at sunset, in the warm afternoon, after dinner in the late evening. It was nice.

So much of the food was of such high quality: very honest food, with a minimum of ingredients. Flavors are enhanced by the simplicity. There is no low-fat, low-sugar as such. There is also not a lot of excess. For example, if I wanted lower fat items, I ordered items that were grilled; itís not a very Molly McButter continent. I enjoyed the single scoops of gelato; thatís what was offered, not sundaes or multi-scoop concoctions. Fresh fill was grilled and presented as is...tasted the fish itself, the very sea. Itís a lovely idea of having reasonable amounts of full flavored, honest food.

Oh, I am getting swoony thinking of the gelato and the other foods I savoured...

Back from Bosnia and Croatia

October 2nd, 2006 at 12:21 am

Itís absolutely lovely to be back home. Itís nice to know that even after an incredible vacation, my life is one I want to come back to.

Updates on my vacation spending and the September closing of the books will have to waitÖIím more interested in a hot bath and doing laundry than crunching numbers. Overall, I think I did fine with vacation spending. I went on a jewelry binge-a whole different story. I got 16 pieces I am madly in love with. I will post picturesÖbut I did lose My Guyís camera, so thereíll be a wait while I reimburse him and he buys a new one. (Yeah, I know, itís a bum deal, but really, if I had to have something bad happen, Iíd rather it be losing a material item, instead of injuries or flight troubles or lost passports. And my friends took many pictures.)

I bought a lot more gifts than I expected, and that does come out of my regular gift budget, so that may be a tough hit. On the plus side, I do have a lot of Christmas shopping done.

I loved both Croatia and Bosnia. Highlights included the Plitvice Lakes, a Biker Convention (reallyÖ.dancing in the rain to rockabilly in the early morning hours), Mostar in Bosnia, the best squid I ever had, swimming in the Adriatic, dinner at St. Johnís in London, bureks (meat and vegetable pastriesÖ.fifty cents for greasy love).

I plan to post more on my experiences in two magnificent countries, as well as details of how travel can be affordable. (In many places I paid less than $15 a night for lodging.) This is just a quick ďIím home.Ē The travel can get tiringÖtwenty six plane, ferry, bus, taxi, tube, and car rides since I left. I got to fly business class for both return legs (in exchange for being willing to arrive in San Francisco an hour later) and that peek at the luxurious life was both enticing and amusing.

My bath is ready.