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Archive for April, 2007

Checking in...

April 27th, 2007 at 06:46 pm

Qurbs (Get it? Quickies + blurbs!)
-DH and I went to Spamalot last night! Those of you who know what I am talking about will LOVE it. Those who have no clue, well, it's probably not your thing Smile To explain - it's the Monty Python musical. Absolutely hilarious. We had a nice dinner at some really pretentious restaurant/bar before the show because it was the only quick place we could find (since we were late as usual). I would have had to faint at the prices, except we had a $25 gift certificate. We still paid nearly $40 for a modest size portion without even getting salad, drinks, or dessert (salads not included with meals is a pet peeve of mine). The food was really good though.
- Financially, we broke the $10k net worth two days ago (yeah Apple stock!). This is amazing for us since we were negative two months ago. We owe it to a very large tax refund ($6k), DH working steadily, and some good growth in our stocks. I am looking forward to seeing it rise even more Smile
- DH has a two week job subbing at one school where he has been receiving some very positive attention. It's the school that he hopes to get a job at in September, so this is encouraging.
- CC debt is down to $2500 on our 0% cc. We still have 4 more months to pay it off - shouldn't be a problem. I don't even think we'll need to use the EF for it.
- A buyer I am working with signed an offer on a house today. My first sale in way too long - hopefully the end of my longest dry spell ever. Seems like every deal I've done lately has fallen apart due to home inspections, nervous buyers, etc. I hope this one works out.
- We have that great lead on a free bathroom vanity and tub. I have to get the measurements of our bathroom to the person from Freecycle so she can tell me if they will fit.

A lot of good things have been happening lately. Tomorrow, I'm going to see if there are any garage sales around. I've been itching to get out...DH is heading down to the city tomorrow to watch the Yankees game with his brother, so I am going to spend the day puttering around. It sounds like a good idea after this week Smile

an example of my last post...

April 24th, 2007 at 06:48 pm

on how to get things as cheaply as possible...
Last night I wrote a post to freecycle and to our local bulletin board to ask for bathroom fixtures (I even offered to pay a reasonable price on the bulletin board). Today I came home to an e-mail offering a vanity with double sink, mirror, and tub/shower, all in very good shape, from a lady who's mother is remodeling her bathroom next month. I can't wait to see them to see if they would work in our bathroom. Imagine, all of that for free. The single vanity I priced at Lowes was nearly $300 alone, without the sink and faucet. Then we have to add at least a few hundred more for either a tub or shower stall. I'm very excited. If this pans out, it could save us some major moolah. It never hurts to ask!

How to...get what you need the cheapest way

April 22nd, 2007 at 08:44 pm

So your last good pair of socks got a hole, you want that latest bestseller, or you just want to upgrade your electronics. How do you know you are getting things as cheaply as possible? Follow these few easy steps!

1. Decide if you want to own or borrow. If the item is something you just want for a short amount of time, then borrow it. Ask friends, family, neighbors if they have one. Rent it. Borrow it from the library or see if you have a chapter of "Borrow Me" near you (similar to Freecycle - I think it got off the ground last year). Then give it back - you don't need the cluuter anyway, do you?

2. If the items is something you really need and will use over an extended period of time, then you need to find a way to get it as cheaply as possible. And nothing is cheaper than free, right? Ask for it on Freecyle or Craig's List. Put out the word to acquaintances that you are looking - you never know when someone might have one or know someone who does. Check the fre section of the newspaper. If you can't find it anywhere for free, then...

3. But it used. Check out local thrift stores and garage sales. If nothing pans out, try E-bay or Craig's List. Advertise in the Wanted section of your local newspaper or Pennysaver. And, of course, if you cannot find it used, then...

4. Buy new. But first, check out prices in catalogs and online (be sure to figure in shipping costs). Do as much research as possible from your house to minimize costs of driving all over town. When you find it, consider negotiating a lower price, depending on the type of store you are at (especially if there is a noticeable defect). You can also minimize the cost of buying new by sharing the item, and cost, with someone else who also needs one (such as with tools that aren't used frequently) or by bartering if you have something worth trading.

This method won't work for all items. For example, in shopping for car seats and other safety devices, you should skip to step 4 since used car seats can have defects not visible to your eyes. This process can take a few hours, or it can take months (or longer) depending on your level of need. Here's an example from my life:

About two years ago, I decided that my boys needed stepstools for our two bathrooms. I started by posting on Freecycle, but received no responses. I kept my eyes open for one while in thrift stores and garage sales for a few weeks to no avail. Eventually I came across a good price at Wal-Mart and bought one for the downstairs bathroom. About a month later, I found a used one at a garage sale for $.50. By not running out to purchase two new stools as soon as I identified the need, I was able to save significantly off the price of a second stool. Also, because it was not an immediate need, I had the luxury of time.

I use similar approaches when my kids outgrow their pajamas. First I check Freecyle and my stockpile (hand-me-downs from a friend who now gives me everything her son outgrows), then garage sales (I rarely find any at thrift stores). Since these are items I need regularly, I also put them on gift lists for my boys, since I am regularly asked what they need. As a result, I have only bought one new pair of pjs for either boy in nearly 4 years.
Next time you need something, ask if you need it NOW or can you wait for a good deal to come along? For most things, a little bit of waiting, and researching, can be quite profitable Smile

How to...clean out the fridge (AKA use up leftovers)

April 18th, 2007 at 07:14 pm

So many of my posts revolve around food and recipe creations that this seems like a natural topic for me to talk about Smile Oh yeah, and I love to eat too!

1. Take stock of what you have to work with. Check out the veggie drawers, the Tupperware containers that got pushed to the back, the near empty bottles of dressings and sauces. Discard anything that already has green fuzzies (unless, in true frugal style, cutting the fuzzies off cheese doesn't disgust you), anything that is too far past the expiration date, or anything that just smells gross. If thee's anything that can't be used in time, throw it in the freezer for a later recipe. Keep a pantry stocked with staples such as rice, pasta, beans, canned cream soups, spices, flour, sugar, etc.

2. Of the items left in the fridge, identify one or two that you really need to use up pronto, such as some wilting veggies or leftover meats. These will be your starting points.

3. Decide a basic form for your recipe, i.e. soup, salad, casserole, etc. From this point, you have several options. I use both of these interchangeably.

3a. Search for a recipe that uses the 1 or 2 ingredients you have identified. You might have a cookbook, a collection of clippings, or a trusted site like my favorite, Recipezaar.com. Whenever I need ideas, I will do a seach on Recipezaar cross-referencing the ingredients I have with the course, type of dish, or preparation method.

3b. Wing it. Once you have the basic methods of cooking under you belt, you can easily adjust any basic recipe to use up what you have on hand. Here are some very basic "formulas":
Soups: Broth or water, meat, veggies, starch (potatoes, pasta, or rice). Either a can of diced tomatoes for a tomato based soup, or cream/milk for a cream soup or chowder. Add ins: cheese, salsa, sour cream, spices.
Chili: ground meat (hamburger or turkey) or chunked meat (chicken or steak), canned beans, tomato sauce, veggies (peppers, onions, celery), spices.
Casseroles: meat, veggies, cream soup or basic white sauce. Add ins: cheese, cracker topping, fried onions.
Skillet dinners: meat, potatoes, onions. Add ins: green beans, zucchini, tomato or spaghetti sauce, cabbage.
Pasta: any type of cooked pasta, canned sauces or canned tomatoes, meat. Add ins: veggies, cheese.

4. Make it. It doesn't matter if you don't have everything the recipe calls for. You can substitute milk for cream, rice for potatoes, spinach for swiss chard, etc. Your substitutions might make the recipe just a little bit better.

This sounds a little too general, so let's give a specific example. I have a pound of Italian sausage to use by tonight. In the fridge I also have a zucchini that is going soft and a half jar of pizza sauce. How do I combine these to make a meal?

1. Grill the Italian sausage with peppers and onions (both staples in my house, both of which I also keep in the freezer just in case). Grill the zucchini too. Serve the sausage with heated sauce.

2. Make Italian sausage soup with the browned sausage, canned tomatoes, diced zucchini, broth, spices, and potatoes or pasta. Add the leftover sauce to the soup.

3. Make sausage and zucchini pasta with canned tomatoes, pizza sauce, and cream (a little vodka in the sauce wouldn't hurt either).

4. Slice the sausage and cook with sliced potatoes and peppers. Layer the zucchini with pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese - bake until done.
Four simple meals - and infinitely more combinations out there. This post does oversimplify things for the sake of brevity, but the best way to get creative is to just get your feet wet. I used to only follow established recipes, but eventually I became comfortable enough to start making my own dishes. The only way to get to that point is to start experimenting. Leftover sauces go great in soup. Leftover dressings can marinate veggies or meat. Sour cream is great for baking or stirring into soups, esp. chili. If you absolutely cannot use something up in time, throw it in the freezer. Leftover veggies freeze well to be used in soup later. I have also frozen leftover tomato sauce to throw in a soup or casserole later. You can always throw it away from the freezer, but if you leave it in the fridge too long, it's going to end up green and fuzzy Smile

fun weekend

April 14th, 2007 at 07:01 pm

Just a quick tally of how we spent the weekend. Last night was BUNCO night! We now have an established Bunco night, the second Friday of each month. I host every other month. Last night I had 15 dice-tossing, wine-drinking, chocolate-dessert-eating ladies in my house and it was a BLAST! I am so glad I took the time to pull this thing together. We started in January, so this was our fourth month together. Everyone has fun and can't wait for the next month. It costs $10 to play, and I have won $20 for the past three months, so I am way ahead Smile
My MIL comes into town to play with us, so she stayed overnight last night. Today we decided to drop my older son off next door and go shopping/out to dinner with DH, MIL, and my younger son. We stopped at a teacher store (for MIL and DH), and thrift store (for me and MIL), and the Christmas Tree Shops (for all of us), then had a great casual dinner. We spent about $50 shopping and another $30 on dinner - well worth it. It was so nice to just SHOP (not advocating recreational shopping here - anyone who knows me can attest that I rarely do this!). It has been so long since DH and I had extra cash that we just bought what we wanted tonight (a cookbook, some picture albums, dog toys, really good baking chocolate, etc) without having to worry about what we were taking that money away from. And, it's nice to know that I can have a really good time, and buy everything I want, for $50 Smile
Tomorrow - I have to do an Open House, then go bowling. And then, back to the Monday grind (and back to the eye doctor to have my pinkeye looked at!).

the continued cost of pinkeye

April 14th, 2007 at 06:33 pm

$86.95 and counting...
Add in the $30 co-pay I spent to get my eye drops (yes, I had pink eye too), plus the $75 I spent to update the lenses in my glasses since I now have to wear them for 7-10 days (I haven't had them updated in 7 years - my eyes have changed a lot since then. I have been putting this off for too long). I don't even know what the cost of the eye doctor's appt. will be yet, since he's not going to charge me until after my return visit Monday. It will probaby be another $30-50.
And then we have to figure in the cost of another MD visit for ds2 ($18) plus another prescription for antibiotics ($15) since he now has a double ear infection (which the pediatrician told us to be on the watch for - since he had a sleepless night, we took him in today). There was also $2.60 for children's acetaminophen for the fever, and the $10 DH spent since he was at the grocery store anyway waiting for the script...plus the additional gas and parking costs for another trip to the MD and pharmacy. Ugh. I don't even want to add this one up. It's amazing how catching one little illness multiplied by five people (the total number in our household, out of six people, to get pinkeye) really adds up.

flip flop

April 13th, 2007 at 10:27 am

I just updated my stats on my profile and found that my investments topped my debt!!! WOOHOO! My net worth has been positive for a while, and is about $9k now, due to my EF and savings/checking, but it's nice to know that I have more in investments finally than I do in debt Smile

the cost of pinkeye

April 11th, 2007 at 11:57 am

(in two children)
$18 co-pay x2 = $36
parking for doctor's office = $.50
three prescription co-pays (two eye drops and one antibiotic for the kid who also has an ear infection, possibly secondary to the pinkeye) = $45
lunch while waiting for the scripts (too far to go home in between) = $5.45

Total: $86.95
Wow. Just for two little pink eyes! And that's with insurance. I shudder to think how families without insurance can get side-tracked by such a little, but necessary, thing.

loose ends

April 6th, 2007 at 07:38 pm

I've spent some time wrapping up some loose ends - I have two e-mail accounts, and one has started to be bombarded with spam, about 50-100 every day. I spent quite a bit of time changing all my contact information to my other account in preparation to close that account. It will be simpler in the long run to go back to one account. In doing this, I decided to close my mypoints account as well. I have just ordered a Wal-Mart gift card and have only a few points left in my account, so it's done.
I got my first pinecone survey under my belt and $5 in my paypal account. They were very, very fast. I will definitely do more as they send them to me.
I also had two sales on E-bay - although not for as much as I would have liked, but it did clear a little bit of clutter out of my house and put a little more into my paypal.
We are off tomorrow to visit DH's family for the holiday weekend. We always have a blast. Hope everyone has a great weekend Smile

March recap and April budget

April 6th, 2007 at 07:34 pm

March budget and spending:
Groceries: 250 -> 242.08
Household/Cell: 160 -> 154.85
Car: 190 -> 141.01 for gas, 143.89 for an unexpected repair, total 248.90
Medical: 15 -> 3
Clothes: 0 -> 0
Loans: 300.36 -> 300.36
Entertainment: 120 -> 218.15 (paid an extra $100 to pay off the rest of our bowling fees for the season)
Gifts: 50 -> 64.59
Miscellaneous: 100 -> 345.36
Real estate: 100 -> 175.60
School/Day care: 200 (certification fee for DH's teaching) -> 0
Investment: 4000 -> 2000
Cash withdrawals: 100 with no fees -> 195 with 4 in fees
Total income: 7567.08 ($6k tax refund)
Total expenses: 5585.36 -> 3988.61
We've got some extra cash left, which has already been put into DH's Roth ($3500, we're almost to the limit for 2006!).

Budget for April:
Groceries: 225
Household/Cell: 45
Car: 175
Medical: 200
Clothes: 0
Loans: 300.36
Entertainment: 100
Gifts: 50
Miscellaneous: 100
Real estate: 75
School/Day care: 200 (certification fee for DH's teaching)
Investment: 3500 from March surplus, 500 from April
Cash withdrawals: 100 with no fees
Total income: 3600
Total expenses: 1920.36
Another great month! I've already put $200 on the cc and will definitely be able to do some more later this month.


Kicking off the South Beach diet

April 4th, 2007 at 04:29 pm

About a year and a half ago, I lost my pregnancy weight - nearly 20 pounds. I kept all of it off for about a year, but then the sweets crept back in, little by little, until my sugar consumption was back to the level it was before I lost the weight. Ah, evil sugar! Anyway, I'm just 5 pounds above where I want to be, but it is all in the middle and my pants are tight *pout*. Back to the tried and true, South Beach it is! Relatively easy to follow...I can do it! I should lose the weight in a week or two, at most, then I can switch to the next phase to maintain.
A few weeks ago I started an exercise routine too - treadmilling while I caught up on some tv shows that I like (kudos to the people who invented DVR and Netflix). It's been going well - I started at 20 minutes at a fast walk, which was just over a mile. Today I did almost a mile and a half in just over 20 minutes. I have found it much easier to stick to this since I have something to occupy my time (despite the inherent contradiction in watching television while you exercise). I think I can keep doing this Smile
My parents returned from their vacation early this morning - not a good trip. In fact, they said it was probably the worst they had ever taken because my dad was sick the entire time. What a bummer. It's good to have them back, although I don't think I will be rocking it out to Meatloaf anytime soon (if you are confused, read back a few posts!).
Spent $100 over the past two days stocking up for the South Beach diet, and for my parents' return. I got a lot of fresh veggies, some cheeses and canned goods, and beef and pork. I also spent $157 at the dentist today for myself and ds1 - should get about $80-100 back from my insurance. I could pay less, but I really like our dentist and that is VERY important to me! I did tell her that I wanted my x-rays every two years instead of 1, which cuts down the bill a little.
Today, I moved $3500 into DH's IRA for 2006. We might be able to put the last $500 in by next week, but if not, I am not going to sweat it. I really only thought that we would be able to do $2000, so I am still very pleased. Sigh - now we have to start coming up with the money for 2007!

A day off

April 2nd, 2007 at 06:58 am

Since my babysitters are out of town and DH already agreed to sub today...I took a vacation day. Ahhh, a Monday off. I love it. I get harassed all the time I work (teasingly) because I only work half-time, so when I take a day off, I usually end up with 3-4 days off in a row. I have to remind everyone that I also only get paid half of what they do Smile
I listed two new pairs of pjs on Ebay a few days back - bought as a gift for ds2, but he had so many pairs handed down from ds1, that he would never use them. I feel bad for selling them, but I don't know where they were purchased (so I can't return them) and if I kept them, they would hardly ever have been used. I guess at least this way, someone can get some use from them (and I get a little cash in the pocket). Anyway, they are currently selling at $4.76 with four days left. I have two Little People videos up too - no bids, but two watchers.
The kids just sat down to watch Blues Clues - got to sneak my time in on the treadmill - quick!