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Archive for August, 2006

cheap dinners

August 30th, 2006 at 11:37 pm

A lot of times I hear people use the excuse that they don't know how to cook their own meals, so they end up with convenience food or ordering out. Listen up, y'all - here are two super simple meals (and fairly cheap too).

Here's what we had for dinner tonight: (1 hour prep time total - very little hands-on time)
3-5 pieces of beef, pork, chicken, whatever - brown in oil on both sides.
Combine one small can of tomato paste with a can of liquid (water, broth, etc.) and pour over the meat in the pan/electric skillet/whatever you cook in. Simmer - check to see that the liquid does not get too low - add more if needed.
When you have about a half hour before dinner, throw in some potatoes, carrots, peppers, onion, whatever (cut in chunks).
When you have 15 minutes left, throw in some chopped zucchini, squash, shredded cabbage, etc.
Tonight I used 3 pork chops, one potato, one carrot, 1/4 green pepper, 1/2 onion, 1/2 yellow squash, 1/2 zucchini, shredded cabbage. I used tomato paste, water, and liquid smoke (just a drop) for the sauce. I also threw in some "gourmet Italian seasoning" that was given to us in a gift box. It was delicious Smile The squashes, peppers, and cabbage were grown by us, so no cost. The price of one potato and one carrot is neglible. It fed two adults and two children (who admittedly both ate like birds), with one serving leftover.

Second recipe - from Recipezaar #89204 "Crockpot Chicken W/ Blackbeans and Cream Cheese...yum!" (I'm not just saying that - it's the name of the recipe!)
Put 4-5 frozen chicken breasts in the bottom of a crockpot (finally - a recipe I don't have to defrost for!). Add 1 can black beans (drained), 1 can corn, 1 jar salsa. Cook on high 4-5 hours (until chicken is done). Throw a block of cream cheese on top in the last half hour of cooking. Stir to combine and serve (over rice or noodles, if you want).
We used homemade salsa from the garden and home grown frozen corn. We buy canned beans for about $.50/can. I also cut the cream cheese in half because an entire block sounded like a lot. This fed three adults and three kids for dinner with one serving leftover.

Ok, just wanted to share those culinary experiences. I realize not everyone has the luxury of being able to have a garden, so costs might be a little more than I have quoted. But I just wanted to give a share these two recipes that I thought were outstanding, very easy to make, and economical to boot. The first recipe is very versatile and can be altered to use up whatever you have in your fridge.

Ask, ask, ask!

August 30th, 2006 at 07:19 pm

Now, maybe I was just in the dark all these years...or maybe there are a number of people out there who might not have thought of this. Whenever I took my car in for repairs, I just agreed to the total, sighed, and signed over my first-born. Last year, I was given a very high price to get my car in line for inspection - so high, that I told the repairman that I would need to check out a few things before authorizing the repairs. I started to call around to check out prices - lo and behold, within ten minutes the original mechanic called me back and took $70 off the repair bill. Just like that. He "said" he happened to call around and find a part cheaper, but I wonder if they quote to maximum just to see who will pay it before lowering their estimates.
So...inspection time again. I just got the call about when needs to be repaired (wiper blades, wheel cylinders, rotors) to the tune of $345. I had already told the guy that I would probably get the wipers myself, so when he called me with the total, he had discounted the wiper blades already ($45 to $22 for three - about as good as I can get in an auto parts store). I told him I would need to check around and get back to him before authorizing anything. I called another chain store just down the road and got a price quote of $30 less. I then called the first place back and (screwing up my courage because this is never easy!) asked them to match it. He said yes without hesitation (makes me wonder if I could have gotten away with more???). Anyway, I am happy because I am going to get out of an inspection for $300ish (not so bad - I do not take good care of my cars and, I admit, drive quite hard). And I saved myself $53 ($30 + $23 on the blades), just by asking. Never hurts to try Smile

Camping trip

August 30th, 2006 at 01:18 am

Well, I survived my first full week of camping. Actually, it was wonderful. I even entertained a brief thought of how wonderful it would be to leave the rat race for a cabin in the woods...but that delusion was apparently brought on by a lack of cleanliness, as a hot shower brought me back to reality Smile
We spent about $220 on groceries getting ready for the trip (almost my monthly budget!), but we also brought home a ton of stuff (probably $50 worth), such as two jars of jam with only one serving gone, four boxes of nearly full cereal, etc, so it's not as bad as it sounds. Plus, we fed a crowd most nights (DH's family), as well as ate every little think that appealed to us for a week (chips, cookies, ice cream, cheese, etc - all stuff we normally do not even buy). Ugh. We both agreed that it was time to get back to the "South Beach" when we got home. I'm hesitant to step on the scale.
The only other money we spent was $8 on renting a rowboat ($5/hr) and paddleboat ($3/half hour). Dh spent about $50 to go golfing twice. So that's...$323 for the cabin, $170 for food, $58 on entertainment for a grand total of $551 for a week's vacation for four. I can live with that. This will definitely be an annual event for us.
We saved money by: gathering and sawing our own firewood (well, actually, we had DH's nephew do a lot of it!), staying in all nights for a campfire/game night (cards, Yahtzee, poker, Scattergories, and many, many others), and making use of the (free) playground and beach for the kids. The only outing we did all week was to take the kids to my MIL's school as she teaches pre-k and they have a blast playing in her room.
It was great!

The learning curve

August 29th, 2006 at 09:43 pm

A thought occurred to me today as I was playing with my youngest son (I don't want to make it sound like I rarely get thoughts - I just rarely remember to share them!). Anyway, I watched him complete a puzzle that he was unable to do by himself a few weeks ago. Each time I saw him struggle with the pieces, I would take the pieces from his hand to show him the right way to do it. But no matter how many times I did that, he still would try to put them in the wrong way each time. A few weeks pass...and now with this particular puzzle, he is getting the pieces in right, everytime, by himself. Trial and error, combined with a little guidance, and he's got it.
Rings true for finances, too. How many of us have been frustrated by watching family and friends make finanicial mistakes, and tried to give them advice? And how many of us have been ignored? If someone is not a point where they are ready to make a change, we can talk ourselves blue in the face - and nothing will change. However, by being there and leading by example, down the road that same person might compare their path to yours and decide to make that change.
For me, I decided to live below my means after college, when DH and I were living paycheck to paycheck. First, we decided to keep a $500 cushion. That grew to $2000. Now we have 6 months of expenses tucked away. Other people may not have decided to make the change until they were facing a mountain of credit card debt and were at rock bottom. Whenever the concious decision is made, it's nice to have the support of people here.
I guess all I am saying is that we can share our ideas and lead by example, but we can't help others change until they are ready (no matter how much we hate to stand by and watch!). Just like I can't force my son to get that piece in right until he sees how to do it for himself, no matter how much I try to help him Smile

A $40 mistake

August 19th, 2006 at 02:37 am

Let me try this picture thing again...

Hey! I think it worked! I wanted to post the picture I took last weekend. It happened as DH and I were getting ready to leave for my brother's wedding. My brother had borrowed the car seat, then brought it back and left it on the passenger side of my car (where I obviously couldn't see it!). I ran it over. But, oh no, I didn't break it. Instead, I wrapped it around the wheel. It got wedged into the wheel itself. It's hard to explain - I would love to share the picture. So, I had to go buy a new car seat today as, even though it didn't break, I don't dare use a damaged car seat for my son. $40 mistake.
DH and I spent $200 today getting ready for the camping trip. Granted, a large chunk of that was not for camping specifically. i.e. two packages of diapers, when only half a package (or less) will be used this week. Some of our purchases:
$40 car booster seat
$12 Pink Floyd pajama pants (DH needed a new pair for this week - loved the Pink Floyd ones!)
$21 two packages of diapers
$10 laundry detergent picked up for my SIL
$14 dog food
That's $97 there in non-grocery expenses. I'm sure there was a little more too. So we really only spent about $100 on groceries, which I can live with. The stuff we bought will last us long after this week. Plus we filled two large boxes of home-grown produce to take with us on the trip, so all of that is free food.
I think we are mostly packed and ready. I did get a call today from a client who wanted to look at a house, but couldn't do it today - so tomorrow I will have to show this house, 45 minutes away, while Dh packs the car and the kids. Ugh. But if it turns into a sale, it will definitely be worth it...to the tune of about $2k.
Have a great week, everyone! I know I will have a ton of catching up to do when I get back, but I will be looking forward to hear about everyone's successes, large and small, when I return Smile

The good and the bad...

August 17th, 2006 at 01:10 am

I have a lot of catching up to do, since I haven't really written an entry in a week. Here's the recap of the week:
The good -
-Tonight I will be making more muffins for the freezer with some past-ripe bananas. If I am really ambitious, I will use up some zucchini too.
-DH went shopping and since they were all out of the larger value pack of meat, he took two smaller sizes to the butcher and had them rewrap them with the lower price! I was so proud of him. He would have NEVER done that a year ago.
-I finished my brother and new-SIL's wedding gift in time (just barely) and they really seemed to love it. I wrote a poem giving them advice for their marriage, including to get out, have fun, and spend time together. For each stanza, I directed them to open an envelope with contained a gift card that related to the poem. I think they really enjoyed it and it will provide them with dates in the coming year, ending with a night out at the restaurant where they had their first date.
-I got my first commission check from the recent house sales and the other is waiting at the office for me. I have already paid down $1500 on the cc (Dh's tuition last semester) and will use the next check to pay it off.

Some bad-
-$132 spent on the tuxes for the wedding. I had forgotten to budget this, so it took a chunk out of the checking account. $35 spent to get my hair done too.
-In general, a lot of money spent over the weekend with all the festivities. Would I change any of it? Nope!
-$14 spent on chicken BBQ dinners tonight. My cousin and his girlfriend were performing at our local farmer's market. I typically would have eaten after we got back, but my parents wanted to eat there, so I agreed.

Back to normal life...until Saturday, when we leave for a week of camping! The cabin is already paid for, so all we will need to do is a big grocery shop for the week on Friday or Saturday.

I'm baaack!

August 16th, 2006 at 03:07 pm

Wow, what a week. It started last Thursday with a get-together. My future SIL (now my SIL!) had a little party for the members of her bridal party while the guys were having their bachelor party. Friday, we spent the day getting ready for the rehearsal dinner (held on our lawn). Then we went to rehearsal, came back and ate ourselves silly. The weeks spent baking cookies for the party were a complete waste as my brother hired an ICE CREAM TRUCK to come to the party - it was so cool! What a great idea. I shudder to think of how much it cost them. Anyway, our cookies were ignored, but I can't blame anyone. The ice cream was so good.
Saturday was the big day - my brother's wedding. We got our hair done, went to the ceremony, then partied away the night until the DJ stopped playing and the restaurant closed us down. What a blast!
Sunday was the family reunion. After, the newlyweds came over to open their gifts. Monday, we spent the day cleaning up, taking down the tent, returning the tuxes, etc. Yesterday, I went back to work.
Whew. What a blast. I haven't even had time to visit, much less post here. It's good to be back!

pleasant evening with friends

August 8th, 2006 at 01:27 am

Some friends called us yesterday and wanted to get together tonight. We invited them over here since we have the pool Smile They brought the meat and beer and we made the sides and dessert. It was a good time. I also sent them away with two bags of veggies (sweet corn, cukes, zucchini and squash, swiss chard, and beets). It was nice to be able to share the extra food we have. They are going to use some of it to make baby food for their daughter.
No money spent today. In fact, we never left the house. I do have to pay my mom for some groceries she picked up for us. I will add it to her monthly check for household expenses. Other than that, I have no immediate bills to pay and still have some money in the bank. Feels nice Smile
Tomorrow I have to pick my car up from the shop. I took it in because it is out of freon again, after we filled it last year ($400 total for freon and recharge) and they assured it there were no leaks. Well, there is a leak somewhere, but they can't find it. They told me that they would look at it for free. I told them I was not going to pay to have it refilled until they found the leak. Anyway, they ended up putting more freon in. They want me to drive it for a week, then take it back in so they can hopefully see where the leak is. I really hope they do not try to charge me for the freon that they put in, as I told them I would not pay. They will have a fight on their hands if they do Smile Sorry, just an inherent distrust of mechanics. I would just as soon live without AC in my car then pay $300-400 each summer. We can always drive DH's car. But I do have to pay for the oil change they did when I pick it up tomorrow, so that will be $15-20.
I also am going to pick up a few things for my brother's wedding gift. I looked over his registry, but everything seemed so impersonal (towels from your sister? Or maybe a toaster??). I wanted to get him something thoughtful. DH and I decided to get a variety of gift certificates to places they enjoy (restaurants, ice cream parlors, coffee shops, mini golf, etc). I have a picture holder that would display the cards nicely. It will be a gift they can really use throughout the coming year. I hope they like it. And the best part is that I can cash in some of my cashback bonus points to get them for free Smile
So tomorrow will be a spendy day. But that's okay. It will probably be a spendy week, with the wedding on Saturday.

August household goals

August 6th, 2006 at 02:02 am

Real estate
-Look into joining women's professional organization in nearby town for networking opportunities -ACK! Still not done. Keeps slipping my mind.
-Make an effort to pick up one new client - DONE. I did connect with a couple who looked at one of my listings. I have been e-mailing them houses, so it might turn into a sale.

Money:
-Pay second summer semester's tuition without loans, using commission checks I should be receiving in June - DONE. Checks should be received next week and cc will be paid.
-Make an additional $200 through various means (garage sale, farmer's market, E-Bay, etc) - I only made about $130 through the farmer's market and garage sale. I ran out of steam towards the end of the month.

Health:
-Maintain 140 weight - DONE

Sorting/simplification goal:
-Find a good, used desk for cheap - DONE. DH got one for free from my brother.
-Continue my "5 minutes per night" rule for getting my bedroom/upstairs in order - Oh, I haven't been so good on this one. I only did this about half the time.

I think I'll relax a bit for August - no formal goals. I have my brother's wedding and family reunion next weekend, then we will be going camping for a week. Time to just relax Smile

August goals

August 6th, 2006 at 01:58 am

Goals for August:
Groceries: 275
Household/Cell: 340
Car: 250 - should be able to meet this as DH's school ends next week for the summer
Medical: 15
Clothes: 20
Loans: 300.36
Entertainment: 100
Gifts: 125 (one wedding, one graduation)
Miscellaneous: 200
Real estate: 0
School: 0
Investment: 0
Cash withdrawals: 100 with no fees
Total expenses: 1725.36
Total income: (three paycheck month!!) 1920
Wow, in the black again. I should be getting two commission checks for about $3600 total, but they will be used to pay the cc ($3500), which has last semester's tuition on it, so I am not even going to count that money.

July totals

August 5th, 2006 at 07:26 pm

Late again...I have not been so anxious to do this since I started using Yodlee and can see net worth at a glance...but it's important to see how close to the budget I am sticking.

Goals for July were:
1. Cut out quick trips to the grocery store. I only made two or three trips this month, down from four last month. Slight improvement.
2. Cut back on gas consumption too. I managed a monthly expenditure of $224 - lowest in a while. A lot of this came from driving DH's car whenever possible instead of my minivan (although I must admit it had more to do with my broken AC). I cut out a few smaller trips like garage saling, running to the store when I really didn't need anything, etc. It also helped that DH's Monday night classes were cancelled, saving 60 miles per week.
3. No more ATM fees! Almost achieved - we only had one cash withdrawal for the entire month ($60 compared to the normal $200-300), but it was when DH was out of town to see his grandfather in the hospital - he had to go where he could to get cash.

July budget:
Groceries: 275 -> 337.19 (I put on several parties this month - accounts for the extra money spent)
Household/Cell: 409 -> 192.47 (still owe mom $240)
Car: 300 -> 224.84 YEAH!
Medical: 15 -> 30 (two co-pays)
Clothes: 20 -> 0
Loans: 300.36 -> 285.01 (paid the minimum on car loan instead of adding a little like usual)
Entertainment: 75 -> 364.54 ($342 reimbursed to me for bachelorette party - included in monthly income)
Gifts: 200 -> 132.40
Miscellaneous: 150 -> 327.84 (I forgot to include my future SIL's shower expense in this estimate)
Real estate: 0 -> 0
School: 2886 -> 2912.44 (tuition and books)
Investment: 0 -> 0
Cash withdrawals -> 160 -> 62
Total expenses: 1904.36 without tuition, (4790.36 with) -> 1982.73 (4868.73)
Estimated take-home income: 1893 -> 2134.01 (counting garage sale and farmer's market income)

Not too bad...considering I thought this month would be a lot worse. The extra time on my paycheck really helped out.

neglecting the blog

August 4th, 2006 at 02:26 am

Wow, four days without a post. I have been too caught up in the No Spend Challenge. Well, this was my first day off the challenge and I have already made an unecessary purchase - breakfast out at McDonald's. Shame on me. Tomorrow DH is going to take the boys for their haircuts and get one himself before my brother's wedding next weekend - I will meet him out on my lunch break to help keep the kids under control while he is under the razor. Then we might go out for lunch after, so altogether, it will probably cost us $40-50 (3 haircuts plus lunch).
Tonight I am paying off three bills (my mom for housing expenses, a medical co-pay, and car registration). I have also transferred $150 back into savings (had to take out $200 two weeks ago for the car payment). I will still have a good chunk of money left after all this as I got extra time in my paycheck ($250). Plus, August is a three paycheck month instead of two. Smile
The closings on my two real estate transactions have been scheduled for Monday. We had a slight snag today, which seems to have been worked out. Barring no issues, I will have enough money by next week to pay off the cc, which has DH's tuition from last month on it. Plus we signed contracts for another deal - just a small land deal - so in about three more weeks, I should have another closing. I also received a referral from an old client about someone else who wants to sell a home in a very desirable neighborhood, so I will follow up on that lead tomorrow.
No plans for this weekend except a card match at my house...might have to pick up a few snacks and soda, but shouldn't have to spend much at all.