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It's So Cheesy

November 21st, 2006 at 02:02 am

Sometimes I think people think I am depriving myself. However, the times I am most unhappy about the Challenge is when I spendon Entertainment.

I budget $20 to $25 a month on entertainment; thatís mostly eating out. (I do have a separate line item for Netflix, for some reason, and my 12 channel cable too). Well, when I go out to eat, I usually feel good about it. But when I spend that money on take out, itís rarely a feeling of relief or luxury or a treat; itís usually a sign that Iíve just gotten sloppy. Besides the Challenge, I happen to be chubby, out of shape, and prone to migraines, which may partially be triggered by a number of foods more likely to be found at a restaurant than in my fridge (nitrates). So what the heck am I doing ordering pizza last night?!?! Iím spending out of my overspent category, and Iím not getting joy. Iím getting crankiness and bloat and a feeling of letting myself down.

I would have been so much happier having an omelet or bulgur or spinach. Spending money resulted in less happiness, not more.

In month nine, Iíd have thought Iíd have figured it out. But no, I had to give up money and self-esteem for fifteen minutes of pizza love.


Here I go trying to catch the flight to Sacramento that was cancelled this morning.

Rain On Me

November 16th, 2006 at 01:46 am

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 15th, 2006 at 05:19 am

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 12:16 pm

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 14th, 2006 at 03:12 am

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 one can tell. Unless you do.


November 12th, 2006 at 07:19 pm

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 8th, 2006 at 04:29 am

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.)

Darn My Head

November 7th, 2006 at 04:59 am

I did do the exercise bike. I really didnít want to tonight, so Iím even more proud. Considering I decided not to budget any money for working out, since I have an exercise bike and live walking distance from work, I had freakiní better get my exercise. Otherwise, Iíd have that whole regret thing going on.

Thereís a phenomenon that confuses me: Iíll plan to do something, then dread it, then when I do it itís fine. Now, youíd think the next time, I wouldnít dread it, because I know it turns out fine, right? Not right.

This happens to me when I make social plans. I really look forward to them, then as it approaches I balk at the idea of going out, then I go out and have a great time. With exercising: the idea sounds great. Then the time to work out or walk to work approaches and I get all angsty. Then I do it and it feels great.

How come I canít tell my brain, ďHey, you donít need to worry about this. When you do it, you like it?Ē

The only spending this month ahs been on rent, filling the tank (which didnít need filling in October!) and going out to eat once. Iím planning on a low spend month; however, faced with holidays on the march, I can easily see my gifts budget, entertainment budget, household budget, and grocery budget having demands placed upon them. Of course my wild spending equal $75 total; thereís only so nutty I can get on the Challenge.

$20 and Minimum Wage Challenge Update

November 5th, 2006 at 11:54 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 3rd, 2006 at 02:13 am

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I Have a Case of Zombie Debt.

September 12th, 2006 at 03:55 am

I have a really old debt from the early nineties that I paid off in 1997. I just got a bill from a collection agency for the same bill. I can see from my incomplete notes that in 1999 a new company tried to collect that debt and I had to get proof of wire transfers to get them to stop. This is a new company.

Fellow blogger Princess Perky pointed me to an article by Jeffrey,, and Iíll take the correct next steps, which may be no action. Itís not very much, but it is already paid.

What gets me is how absolutely deflated I felt when I got that bill. Here I am, Month 7 of My Challenge, and getting ready to go to Croatia and Bosnia. Bopping around, feeling good. I even decided to finally use a spa gift certificate I got as a gift last October to get a manicure and pedicure, and I scheduled my appointment for Wednesday, the day I depart for vacation. (It will be my first time for both!) Work is in order, the house is in order, Iím feeling pretty good overall. A little worried about too many migraines and headaches, but overall enjoying my life and being productive and all that.

And the ooooomphÖ.like a punch in the stomach, I opened the letter. ďWe are your new creditor.Ē I had worked so hard to clean up all the messes I made whenh I was not frugal and not responsible with bills. I already had another old debt glitch that I havenít tackled yetÖI had paid off $4000 in fines, and my credit report says I still owe $4. (Why would I pay almost $4000, and not the $4? Long story...the County admits they picked a new collection agency because the old one had really screwed up records, but canít fix the $4. Iíd even pay the $4; I just donít want it on my blankety-blank credit record. )

So after diligently paying everyone I ever owed, years and years and years later debts and fines shadow me. My reaction for now is that being good didnít pay off, which bums me out because in general I believe that what comes around goes around. Maybe itís because I was bad and then good, if I had been good all along I wouldnít be in this situation. I thought that realizing I had made a mess then cleaning up my mess would count for something.

I donít plan on continuing to pout, but I am a little tonight. And I admit Iím gorging on junk food (donít drink or smoke). Iím drunk on cookies. Tomorrow Iíll realize that my life is good and that I just have these tasks (battles) to face, and that since Iím a grown up thatís part of what I have to do. Tonight I get sugar in my tea instead of Splenda.

The Never Ending Soap Dispenser

September 10th, 2006 at 11:16 pm

Weíve lived in our rental for 4-1/2 years. When we moved it, the only non-fixture items in the house were a roll of TP and a soap bottle by the sink. That same soap bottle is overflowing today!

I put my soap bits in there, instead of piggy backing them. My Guy likes a bar of soap, so he uses that and I use the pump bottle. It mushes well by itself, with some hot water now and then. I did try to nuke it once but it slightly warped the bottle. I will sometimes float it in my super hot baths (an admitted luxury) to soften, and then I shake.

Yesterday I bought a nice soap/lotion pump bottle as a gift for a particular friend; it's perfect for her. I was going to empty out the soap and wash it, so that she could do lotion or soap of her choice. Well, that liquid wonít fit in that 4-1/2 year old bottle.

I wonder how many of the original molecules from the original liquid soap are still bubbling in there?

I Am Not a Good Shopper

September 9th, 2006 at 09:51 pm

I went to Target with my $10 worth of gift cards (Harris Poll Online Surveys) and shopped for an hour and a half and spent $9.37. I just donít have much of a shopping streak. I had originally been worried that I would spend too much splurging for my vacation, but I guess I was wrong.

I am not always sure how to count gift card purchases. I donít want to count them as income, because obviously I couldnít put it towards rent or utilities. However it seems as if that way I could ďspendĒ $10 on clothes or something and not have it show against my clothes budget. Then next year, my clothing total would be falsely low by $10. Well, since itís $10 Iím not gonna worry about it. If it was $25 or $100, I might need to look at a different method (not just for The Challenge, but for me on an ongoing basis. Iím into tracking my expenses).

I did end up getting Nair (will be on the beach), a journal (a must for travel memories), a tiny spray bottle (for Fabreeze) and a pack of disposable razors (vacation and getting pills of my sweaters). This was after looking at many items, and trying on eight bras. I have room left in my toiletries and clothes budgets, so I didnít need to be so restrained, but nothing seemed right. I almost got two pairs of shoes, but the more I looked at them, the more they seemed cheap. I just donít want to buy disposable clothing.

My reluctance to spend $10 on an item probably was enhanced by being at garage sales, where things are such great deals. My haul today totaled $4:

Two gifts - $1

Two wet/dry womenís battery powered razors, with batteries: $1

Necklace, I think itís a silver plated chain, $1.25

shorts, needed for vacation, seventy-five cents

Brush/mirror travel combo-free

Plastic hanger-free

With the shavers, Iím planning on being decadent and putting one in the bathroom and one in my travel bag. On the chain, it is heavier than non-silver, but isnít marked 925. I did a Google check and didnít find any good tip to tell if itís real silver. Thatís okay; I needed a longer chain for pendants and I couldnít return it anyway. Itís not like $1.25 for a chain is outlandish!

I did get my hair cut, though I didnít get it washed and wet in freshly showered instead. I brought in pictures of my hair for the hair stylist; dorky but it helped her. It was $18; no Challenge would ever get me to be a bad tipper, and I tipped $6, although $4 of $5 would probably have been just fine.

And the last bit of money news: a whopping ninety seven cents extra income from recycling. (I had a lot of non-money stuff to take in, so it was a full trip, just not the good stuff.)

I Love a Productive Headache Free Day

September 9th, 2006 at 02:50 am

Iím in countdown mode; 4 more full days before I leave town, on Wednesday the 13th!

Iíve got a fair amount to do to tomorrow, some to get ready. Tomorrow is garage saling, laundry, berry picking, Target, hair cut, recycling. (Why Target? I have not found a tiny spray bottle for Febreeze at garage sales, and have not found a bra at a thrift store, and have 2 $5 certificates from Surveys.) I need to finish any last minute planning on the internet and print out a good little personalized mini-guide.

I looked at my budget to see what is affected by my trip. I think I need to take out $45 from my Grocery budget, and put it towards vacation. Before you think of it as cheating, think of this: I wonít be buying grocery for 2 weeks, and if I only spend $45 this month it will falsely lower my average grocery bill, which is currently an average of $92. See what I mean? So Iíll take half my food money and use it towards food. Otherwise, no other expense should really go up or down, except gas (to drive 6 hours to airport) and I will post that in my Travel Totals.

Shopping ahead for gifts works well. A birthday snuck up on me, but since I had been tucking away items I had two gifts for her; her favorite lotion (unused, from college gals who sold tons of bath goodies) and a NASCAR Jeff Gordon poncho-not my thing, but definitely her thing. When I end my Challenge in February, one thing I really want to continue to do is be vigilant about looking for gifts year round. I think of my circle of family, friends, and co-workers when Iím at garage sales or any store, and as I see something, I grab it, for the next event, birthday or Christmas of ďthinking of youĒ or whatever. I can not only get items at a lower cost, but I can get items very suited to the person, as I have months to get the perfect item, not weeks or one trip to the mall.

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