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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.

A Successful First Week January 7, 2013

Posted by phoenixhopes in Finances, Spending Diet.
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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.
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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?