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Who buys food because it’s cute? March 12, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Finances.
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Apparently, that would be me. Tell me, could you resist these adorable, petite beans?

AdzukiAdzuki Beans look like miniature Kidney Beans. They are about the same color and shape, just half or less the size. Here they are next to some Small White Beans (honest, that’s what the bag says “Small White Beans”).

Adzuki 2I was out with my son enjoying some Indian food and we decided to visit the grocery next door. The store was both wonderful and overwhelming. So many things on the shelves that I had no idea how to use. The smells. The colors. The crowds. The store was pretty busy for a Saturday night, full of families with full carts. I was trying my best not to look like a gawking tourist but I don’t think I succeeded. I was tempted to buy lots of things but used restraint. I came out with a bag of these cute, little Adzuki beans, a box of Cardamom Chai (heavenly!), a jar of Tikka Masala simmering sauce, and some fresh cashew/pistachio candy (meh – I just can’t get used to rose flavoring in food). I want to go back but before I go, I’ll do my homework so I can 1) not look like such a dumb tourist and 2) know that I’ll actually use whatever I buy.

When I got home I went searching for recipes for Adzuki beans and found this recipe for Butternut Adzuki Soup. The soup has been simmering delightfully this afternoon and smells delicious. My plan was to make a half batch since I’ll be the only one eating it but I ended up making a full pot. The Adzuki beans grew much more than I expected when cooked — a scant two cups of dry beans expanded to well over six cups cooked — so I went for a full recipe. Hopefully this will freeze well (a test container going in the freezer tonight and will go to work with me tomorrow) or I’ll be eating nothing but soup for a few days.

I love shopping in ethnic groceries even though I invariably look like a tourist. Prices are generally lower (only $2.49 for two pounds of Adzuki beans) and the variety can’t be beat. Sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out how to fit the new food into my menu. I’m very pleased to have found at least one recipe to use the Adzuki beans. Next time I plan to buy some Fenugreek, but first I need to figure out how I’ll use it. Anyone have a good recipe to share?


Containing my coffee February 27, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Consumerism, Finances, My No Spendy Year.
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Do you know what this might be?


Well, yes it’s a rather used cutting board from Ikea but I mean that black smiley thing. Do you know what that is?

Does this help?Travel Mug

It’s the thread to the lid of my favorite travel mug. The one I take on the train every day. The one that doesn’t leak unless the lid is on wrong and keeps my coffee nice and hot. The one my sister gave me even though she doesn’t drink coffee because she knows how much I like it. That travel mug. With the thread gone, the lid doesn’t seal. I suppose I could still use it but I’d end up with coffee down my shirt every single day. Once is enough to learn that lesson.

My normal morning routine is to make a half pot of coffee, enough for two travel mugs, and then load up this one and my second favorite, the one my daughter brought home for me when she worked a summer in Colorado. I like that one quite a bit but the lid isn’t leak-proof and it doesn’t hold the heat quite as well. I drink the coffee from the number two mug on the way to the train station, then drink from the number one mug on the train. (I first typed “drink number one on the train” and had to go back and edit that line so it didn’t make me giggle.) The coffee in the number one mug is still so hot I can only sip it for the first few minutes.

Now I have a decision to make. Do I buy a new travel mug that doesn’t leak and keeps my coffee steaming hot for a long time, or do I just use what I have? I do have other travel mugs but they aren’t leak-proof.  Also, I think they all have handles and I prefer a travel mug without.

CuppowI also have a few of these great lids that turn a canning jar into a travel mug. I think of them as sippy cups for adults. I used one earlier this week on the day I discovered my favorite mug was broken, but even with the improvised cozy made from my glove the coffee still cooled off too fast. Personally I prefer the Cuppow lids for cold drinks rather than hot but it’s possible I just need better insulation. Maybe I’ll knit up a thick, felted jar cozy this weekend and see if that helps.

At the beginning of the year I said I wasn’t going to buy things that weren’t a real need. Is a leak-proof travel mug a need? As much as I’d like to say yes (so I can buy a new one) I have to say no. I can get along just fine using the mugs I have on hand. If I decide I just can’t live without it, I’ll use my ‘allowance’ and get one in a month or so.


No Spendy Week 5 February 4, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Consumerism, Finances, My No Spendy Year.
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Something happens to me when my checkbook balance gets low — I start wanting to buy stuff. For most of January I was feeling really good about this challenge. I was staying within the rules and seeing a nice little cushion in my bank account. Then I had a week with unexpected expenses, plus bills that had to paid NOW and that cushion vanished. I was back to living paycheck to paycheck and all I could think was “I’d really like a comfortable, overstuffed chair to curl up in and read. Maybe even two — one for the living room and one for my bedroom.”

I’m not about to run out and buy a chair but this hasn’t even been on my radar. I had no idea I wanted a reading chair, much less two. I’m certainly not at a point in my life where I am totally satisfied with what I own and have no desire to add anything new. There are some things I’d like to get someday, both expensive and not so expensive. I also know there isn’t anything that I don’t have that I honestly need. Things I want? Yup, lots of things I want, but nothing I really need.

So why is it, when my bank balance started dipping, that I started making lists of things I want? (To give myself a little credit, I also thought “I wonder how much longer until garage sale season and could I maybe find some nice chairs at a garage sale?”)

I didn’t run out and blow money I don’t have, but I sure wanted to. I really wanted to get carnitas tacos from the local Mexican restaurant and I wanted a dressform and I wanted hot wings and I wanted an Ott light. All of those are things that would add some level of happiness to my life. I love carnitas tacos and crave hot wings. Those two items are the main reason I added Number Nine to my Rules for this year. I also know there is no reason I must indulge in either on a whim. I’m not forbidden from eating either of those, it just needs to fit into my spending plan. I can either make them at home, or go out to eat with friends. (Anyone want to guess what’s going on my grocery list this week?) Someday I will get a dressform but I know that purchase needs to wait.

It is possible however, that I will buy an Ott light this month. Joann Fabrics is having an awesome sale — buy a table lamp and get a floor lamp free. Two lamps for $109.99. Plus, I have a coupon for 15% off my entire purchase, including sale items. I have wanted an Ott light for literally years. As much as I hate to admit it, my eyes are getting older and sometimes close work is a bit challenging. I can use my Free Spending Money so this purchase would fit within my plan, but I’m very on the fence about it. The sale goes through most of this month so I have time to decide.

And I still don’t know why I really want to spend money when I don’t really have any to spend.

No Spendy Week 4 January 28, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Finances, My No Spendy Year.
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This week brought some unexpected expenses. The weather was exceptionally cold and I was able to work from home Tuesday and Wednesday. I didn’t venture outside from Monday afternoon until Wednesday afternoon when I planned to pop over to the library and pick up a book on hold. The key phrase here is “planned to” as my car wouldn’t start. I posted an urgent plea on Facebook to see if anyone could stop by and give me a jump and a friend’s son came to the rescue. Unfortunately, the battery wouldn’t hold a charge and I ended up buying a new battery on Friday. Since I had the car at the shop, I asked them to take a look at one of my tires. The past few months I’ve been in denial that the tire needed attention. Every three weeks or so I needed to add air to the tire and then pretended that was normal tire behavior. I have a lot of experience with denial.

My financial Achilles Heel (one of them at least) is my children. They don’t ask for money except for true emergencies (and it’s been so long since the last one I can’t even tell you when that might have been) and I don’t think they expect me to get them things. The main problem is my own expectations. I want to be generous and helpful in ways I think parents should — buying groceries, meals out, picking up things they might need or small surprises. My youngest is in his Senior year of High School and unexpected expenses come with the territory. This week there was a registration fee for music school. It’s a great music school, well worth the money, with an added benefit of no monthly fees, but I wasn’t expecting to put out the money this week.

Rent is due out of this paycheck and I paid some bills and that’s pretty much it until next payday. Emergencies and unexpected expenses are simply not allowed for the next few weeks.

I came this close to ordering a stack of books from Amazon, decided I should sleep on it before ordering and came to my senses before clicking the Pay button. I know that moving the books to the “save for later” section is the right thing to do and that buying them does not fit in my no spending plan, but I am very tempted to order them anyway.

January ends this week and I’ve done great with my no groceries challenge. I’m still working through the produce I bought about ten days ago. The only groceries I’ve purchased in January has been that produce (oranges, grapefruit, apples, cauliflower, broccoli and carrots) and a couple of gallons of milk (that were mostly made into yogurt). I’ve started making a list of things I need and will go shopping sometime after February first. I still have a long way to go before having an empty freezer and pantry so after that one shopping trip, I may extend this challenge through February.

A day late but no dollars short January 22, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Finances, Monthly Challenge, Spending Diet.
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According to the schedule, I’m supposed to post a weekly update every Monday. I was out of town this weekend and took Monday off as well so it felt like it was still the weekend. Today felt like a Monday except that I worked from home like every other Tuesday. Work wise it was all catch-up so in that respect it felt like the day after a mini-vacation. Too bad work doesn’t take a vacation along with me. It would be nice to log back into work and not find fifty gajillion e-mails waiting for me. Ah well, I (mostly) like my job and it pays the bills so I will try not to complain.

This week was uneventful in the money department. I’ve taken my breakfast and lunch to work every day that I’ve gone into the office this month but I did buy a bit of supplementary cheese to add to my chili one day last week. Eighty-four cents worth of grated cheddar to liven up my leftover chili topped cauliflower.

I spent money this week but it was all planned. Tuesday I went in for a very overdue haircut and color. My bangs were so overgrown she cut off about two inches. I was surprised that no one commented on the change later in the week. I’m not sure if that was because the cut wasn’t as much of a change as I thought it was or if it didn’t look good and people were being polite. I’m going with it wasn’t that big of a change.

One of the big reasons I started this challenge was so I could get away from living paycheck to paycheck. It’s still early in the year, but already I’m starting to build a little bit of a cushion. It’s a good feeling to check my bank balance without inciting a panic, wondering if the little bit there will last until my next direct deposit paycheck.

My January Monthly Challenge has been to eat what I have on hand, only buying fresh produce or milk when needed. This week I didn’t buy any groceries at all. I definitely see the dent in my freezer and cupboards but there is still quite a bit there to test my creativity.

No Spendy Week Two January 14, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Finances, Groceries, Uncategorized.

I checked the calendar and this past week only had seven days, just like normal, but boy howdy, did it feel longer. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me there were a couple extra days crammed in there somehow. I think it felt so long because I was ambushed by a sinus infection. I wonder if my Adventures with Wheat compromised my sinuses enough to make me vulnerable to the abundant germs floating around this time of year. Thursday and Friday I was miserable and slept as much as possible. My days of soldiering through an illness and simply waiting to get well are long gone and I went to Urgent Care on Friday for antibiotics. I’m still dragging but I no longer wonder if I’m going to survive.

I have quite a bit to report about my money adventures this week…

Tuesday I made a great pot of Sausage Lentil Soup*, maybe my best ever. This soup is generally successful and this batch was better than most. After dinner I turned a burner on to heat water for tea. Or so I thought. What I really did was turn the burner under the soup on high instead of the one under the tea kettle. I didn’t realize my mistake until the soup was burnt long past saving. That will teach me to pay better attention!

Storage containers always seem to go on sale in January and I’ve been planning for months to buy some. My Christmas storage boxes are starting to fall apart, plus I want to better organize my yarn and fabric stash. When I went to Target to buy the containers, I found some on clearance! I paid $3.84 for the “Christmas” storage containers instead of $6.99 for the regular sale ones. The only thing really Christmassy about the ones I bought were the red lids on the clear tubs. Finding a bargain makes planned spending less painful.

I’m still working my way through my freezer and cupboards but I did buy some produce this week. I loaded up on oranges and grapefruit along with some cauliflower and broccoli. I wish I would have remembered to buy some jalapenos because I want to make some spicy black beans. Looks like I’ll have to find something spicy in my spice cabinet instead because I’m not going back to the store for at least a week.

Monday I picked up Downton Abbey Season 2 from the library. Downton Abbey is a great thing to watch when sick. I’ll admit, I’m tempted to buy the DVDs, but it would definitely fall under the Wants column. It is a much better decision financially to borrow the DVDs from the library… as long as I remember to return them on time to avoid the fine!

*Sausage Lentil Soup

Crumble some Italian Sausage in your soup pot and cook it up (I used a little over a half pound). When it’s done, scoop it out and set aside. Throw in some chopped onions, carrots and celery and let them ‘sweat’ a bit. You don’t need to really cook them through, just brown a little to let the flavor develop. If your sausage was very lean and your vegetables are sticking, add a little olive oil. (I used one large onion, 5 carrots and 4 stalks celery.) Add the sausage back to the pot, water (or broth) to cover generously (I used 6 cups water and 3 Knorr chicken bullion cubes) and a cup or so of dried lentils. Bring to a simmer, cover and turn the heat to low. Let it go until the lentils are soft, maybe 30 minutes, minimum. Taste to see if it needs any additional seasoning. Maybe salt and pepper. That’s it! Enjoy your soup!

A Successful First Week January 7, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Finances, Spending Diet.

I made it through the first week of my Spending Diet successfully. The week has been pretty uneventful —  I’ve been working my way through the food in the refrigerator and haven’t even been tempted to go grocery shopping. I’m getting low on milk and will need to make yogurt by the end of the week so will plan to go shopping Thursday evening or Friday.  I still have some vegetables in the fridge and freezer so it might be the only item I need to buy is milk. If it turns out I also need fresh produce, I’ll head to Garden Fresh Market as they have a great selection at a good price.

I’ve cooked more than normal this past week and came up with a great mushroom soup and a turkey shepherds pie. I work from home tomorrow and will make a pot of sausage lentil soup with lots of carrots and celery. That will taste great and help warm the apartment.

I did spend some of my “free” money this week. I returned something at Barnes and Noble and looked through their half-price calendars. I was hoping to find a Non Sequitur page-a-day calendar but those were all gone. Instead I found a lovely page-a-day from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The calendar definitely wasn’t a need, but since I used my “free” money the purchase was allowed.

I will need to venture into the stores by the end of the week. I’ll share how I’m preparing for my shopping trip later this week.

January Challenge January 1, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in cooking, Finances, Groceries, Monthly Challenge, Spending Diet.

Each month I want to challenge myself to save money in new and different ways. My challenge for January is to eat out of my pantry and freezer. The only groceries I’m allowed to buy in January are fresh fruits and vegetables and milk. Everything else must come from my pantry or freezer. In all honesty, I think I can extend this past January but for now the challenge will last one month.

I have more than enough protein foods to feed me for the month. On my last grocery shopping trip in 2012 I cruised by the discounted meat bin right after it was stocked and picked up some treasures. I had Italian Sausage on my list because I planned to make Sausage Lentil Soup sometime this month. I found some Organic Chicken Italian Sausage for only $2.99 a pound and picked up two pounds. I separated the links and froze them separately so they would be easier to access. Now I can pull out ‘just enough’ from my freezer to flavor a small batch of soup. I also found a family pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs for $6.33. Those were also frozen individually so there are 15 portions in a bag in my freezer. Add to that at least a pound each of at least six different dried beans and I’m more than set.

I think I have enough fruits and vegetables on hand to last a couple of weeks, possibly more. In the refrigerator vegetable bin there are about two pounds of carrots, two heads of cauliflower, some mini sweet peppers (that might need to be tossed as they’ve seen better days), a full head of celery and a few limes. I also have some sliced, sautéed mushrooms (that will be turned into soup today) and a bit of cooked cauliflower (seasoned with a bit of butter and lemon) from our big family dinner on Sunday. In the freezer there is a bag and a half of broccoli, maybe some frozen peas (or maybe not) and some frozen blueberries. Oh, and about a cup and a half of frozen Classico spaghetti sauce — I’ll probably use that as a soup base rather than for pasta. Add to that a few cans of assorted tomato products in my cupboard — crushed, sauce, diced, paste.

Milk is on the buy list because I need it for coffee (ok, do I really need it? probably not. I could learn to drink coffee without milk but I prefer it that way) and to make yogurt. My typical breakfast is a bowl of Greek yogurt with fruit and homemade granola. A couple of months ago I dug out my dusty yogurt maker and perfected a Greek yogurt recipe, saving a TON of money. Good Greek yogurt goes for $5-7 dollars a quart. I can make a bit more than a quart for the price of a half-gallon of milk. Well worth the (decidedly minimal) effort.

My son once told me “Mom, you don’t keep food in the house, you keep ingredients.” I’m looking forward to seeing just how true that may be. I like to cook and most of my experiments are at least edible and generally pretty tasty. My biggest downfall lately has been taking the easy way out (which is just a nice way of saying I’ve been lazy). It is easier to pick up something instead of cooking from scratch, or to treat myself to dinner out at my favorite Mexican place. I need to break those habits for good. Takeout and eating out need to be treats rather than habit.

Anyone want to join me? Adapt my challenge to meet your needs and let’s encourage each other!

Addendum to the 10 Rules January 1, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Finances, Spending Diet.
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I remembered a couple more items that should be in my “spend money here without guilt” list:

  • Cell phone
  • Hair Care – This expense is my one concession to being a girly girl. I don’t care about fashion or jewelry or getting manicures but I am willing to pay for a good cut and color. I used the box dye for a long time and colored my hair myself but, well, it didn’t last long and even worse, always looked like I colored my hair myself. One day I bit the bullet and paid what felt like an exorbitant amount and had my stylist color my hair. For the first time in a long time, it looked great. When I colored my hair myself, I was lucky if it lasted six weeks and my hair felt like straw unless I deep conditioned at least once a week. Now it looks great for close to three months and feels great. I buy the expensive shampoo, but a bottle lasts me close to a year. When my hair is gray all over, I’ll think about letting it go natural but for now I’m willing to pay to keep it blonde. This is one ‘indulgence’ that is worth the price in my book.

Wants vs Needs December 27, 2012

Posted by phoenixhopes in Finances, Spending Diet, Uncategorized.
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In a few days I’m starting a Spending Diet as explained on the blog AndThenWeSaved.com. I’m both excited with anticipation and nervous that I’ll fall flat on my face. Excited because I know I can do this and because I know I need to do this. Nervous because, well… I don’t have such a good track record when it comes to money. I feel a bit transparent about putting too much personal detail out in the impersonal internets. I don’t think it’s important to tell the world how much debt I have or the size of my paycheck. Suffice to say I have more debt that I want to have (I’d like to have none) and my paycheck generally lasts until the next one (sometimes barely lasts). My bills are paid but I’m not getting ahead. I’d like to get off the paycheck to paycheck cycle, build some savings and feel more secure about my finances in general.

The first exercise when starting a Spending Diet is to make a list of WANTS and NEEDS. Too often those two get intertwined and we (and by “we” I really mean “I”) can’t tell the difference. I WANT chocolate and so I think I NEED chocolate. The logical part of my brain knows I don’t really NEED it, but man, it sure feels that way sometimes. It was a challenge to draw the line between the two and commit my list to paper.

First there are the absolute essentials, without which I literally might not be able to survive.

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Healthcare

It is not necessary to have the biggest house, gourmet food or the latest fashion, but some sort of food, shelter, clothing and healthcare is necessary to live.

Next come those things that are not essential in the sense that I would literally die without them, but are essential in that they add meaning to my life. I need an artistic outlet of some sort. At times that has been writing, knitting, sewing, quilting, singing and various other crafts. I need meaningful relationships with others in my life. I need to give — to my church and other charities, gifts to my friends and family. I need to be stretched mentally, learning new skills, reading, challenging my opinions and philosophy of life. And last but not least, I need to feed my spiritual side. These needs require time and thought but, for the most part, do not require a financial commitment.

There are some things that could be considered wants or luxuries, but in this society fall more in the “essential” category. I may be able to think of ways to cut these expenses, but I don’t see that they can be eliminated from my spending plan.

  • Internet
  • Cell phone
  • Transportation (Car and related expenses)
  • Insurance

The tricky part are those expenses that could be considered luxuries but do add enjoyment to my life:

  • Cable TV
  • Netflix
  • Eating out (including lunch at work)
  • Sewing/Knitting/Crafting supplies
  • Books

I’ve decided I’m turning off cable and keeping Netflix. I watch Netflix much more than cable and it is so much cheaper. This will probably mean the internet part of my bill will go up a bit as it is currently bundled with cable, but the overall bill will be less. I have other plans for ways to cut expenses on the last three on the list and will share those in my next post.

To keep myself accountable, I’ll post something about my journey each Monday. My first post will be Ten Rules for this new journey.

Anyone want to join me?