Update on budget revision/musings on food frugality

April 11, 2012 at 8:58 am (Being Frugal, groceries, paying debt) (, )

This is the first month with my revised split payment budget plan in effect, and I have to say, so far I love it! Previously I had to pay rent, bills, save money in my mini-funds (car maintenance, EF contributions, etc), and had precious little left over. I then wasn’t able to pay debt until the end of the month. It was always a big “Hmm, I wonder how much is left over to pay down debt” and, because it was the last thing I did, it felt like the least supported and least likely to happen item in my budget!

I get paid twice, on the 5th and 20th of each month. Because I work for a small company, we don’t have full direct deposit – instead we are allowed to direct deposit $300 automatically each paycheck maximum – I then have to physically deposit the rest of my paycheck at a BECU ATM.  

Well now, I’ve restructed my budget to pay rent early, on the second half of the previous month. This has had the ripple effect of letting me pay things I am most serious about spending money quickly, at once, at the beginning of every month’s budget. Once the first paycheck is deposited, I now top up my mini-funds (pay yourself first, right?) at the beginning of every month’s budget, and I make an immediate payment to my SBA loan (which comes out of the $300 direct deposit). I then allow enough time to deposit my paycheck before making a smaller second debt payment. I repeat this process for the second paycheck of the month, but instead of paying towards savings, I pay rent instead. I’ve actually automated my debt payments, so it’s scheduled regularly in 4 smaller chunks, I don’t have to plan for it, but rather around it! I’ve set up $750 in payments over 4 dates each month. Here’s what I’ve set up to occur each month:

6th: $200 (comes out of my $300 direct deposit)
10th: $150 (sufficient time to allow 1st paycheck to be deposited)
20st: $100 (comes out of my $300 direct deposit)
24th: $300 (sufficient time to allow 2nd paycheck to be deposited)

So far, so great! I love automated payments. Right now I have $249 left in my checking account until I get paid on April 20th. That’s enough for food, restaurant spending, and gas. And that’s it! I am constantly checking my checking balance, and being vigilant and thinking about every penny I’m spending. Having such a small mount available, and being really strict about not letting myself use my credit card is forcing me to really think about my spending. Which brings me to some musings on my biggest spending area: FOOD.

I recently decided to not buy a ton of food at once – I’ve been having issues with not using food and having it spoil and be wasted (very financially unwise). Instead, I’m shopping for a few specific meals at a time. This means that I’ve been spending a little bit quite frequently. I keep updating my budget with $18 here, and $20 there. It adds up fast! I previously had this idea that I needed to limit my food psending to $75/month, give or take. but that was never enough. Now, I am quickly surpassing that! However, I have had a shift in my thinking about spending. I’ve revised my food budget to be $350/month (not including restaurant/eating out). That breaks down to about $11.67/day. I’m trying to keep that perspective in mind. If I spend $20 every time I shop and I shop every 2 out of 3 days, that’s too much. If I spend $20 every other day, then that’s awesome, I’m under budget! It’s a hard shift to make, and I’m still getting used to it. This month will be the month I figure it out and see how I’m doing.

I’ve also been paying very strict attention to my “extra” spending category (anything not regularly accounted for), which includes entertainment, bike/hiking purchases, art, clothes, photography expenses, you name it. With my recent road bike purchase, I have to pay about $175/month for 6 months to pay it off, which leaves me precious little extra in my “extra” budget category (currently it is $200/month). So anything that’s not budgetted for is on the chopping block.

I have had offers to go to a spa ($35), which I sadly turned down – no room in the budget! I got an email invite to go along with friends for an acrobatic/dance performance ($22), decided not to do it (I’m sure dinner would also be involved before or after). Had to buy a $30 Discovery Pass for access to Washington State Parks (annual pass) this past weekend on my first hike, so I am having to be extremely tight fisted about every single future April purchase, even $5!!! I don’t think this is realistic to maintain for the 6 months it will take me to pay off the bike, but I’ll definitely not be spending like I have been the last 3 months, that’s for sure! I will probably decrease my debt payments by $50-$100/month occassionally, but I’m going to try really hard not to let that be the first option, but the last (and to not let it happen every month).

So, basically, frugality is still my BFF (we’ve been tied at the hip for about 3 weeks now – maybe we should celebrate our 6 week, 2 month, and 6 month anniversaries? :) ).  Oh, and in the next few days I’m going to update my budget and post it on the sidebar.

Stay strong everyone!
debtmaven out.

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I love ham…but my budget doesn’t

April 6, 2012 at 9:42 am (Being Frugal, food) (, )

Remember yesterday when I posted about frugality being my new BFF? Here is an example of life in action. I was resolute in sticking closely to my budget this month. I went home, flush with cash (having just gotten paid), and I needed to do a bunch of shopping to fill the larders so to speak. I went to 2 super markets (one was only to deposit my check, since I don’t typically like shopping there due to their lower-quality stock) and the liquor store. I splurged and bought a bottle of apple jack brandy (yum! $21). When I went to my favorite market they had yet another sample of kurabota ham. It’s Easter weekend, after all!

Unfortunately, I ate a bite. I asked questions on how to cook it! (This is a meat I am unfamiliar with). I was shown the display of where they were and told (in a whisper) that this brand was better than that brand. My taste buds were aroused after my little amuse bouche (ie, a bite sized sample) of ham. I actually snuck 2 samples, one of the outer crusty area, another of the yummy meat with bits of fat attached (2 separate sections of ham). Mmmmm. I was hooked.

My intense hunger (yes, I was quite famished at that point, always a bad thing in a food store) coupled with my salivating taste buds had me looking at the options. A half ham for $35-$45 (bone in), or a mini piece for $25 ( bone out, more per pound). OR I could go for the tiny portion for just $15 (it was very mini, and bone free). I agonized. I picked up. I caressed and felt the proportions and contemplated how much meat on the bone. I thought about how yummyit would be for dinner. What I would make with it (polenta, roasted veggies, scalloped potatoes from scratch, baked potatoes). I thought of my lunches for all of next week completely covered (ham sandwiches EVERY DAY). I thought about being a single person cooking for 1. I looked back at the price tag, give or take $25-$35 for a cut I’d want to take home.

I decided to leave it in the store. I felt sad. It’s the next day and I’m still salivating about it now. I may go back and pick it up. I may wait until the week after Easter to see if prices come down. But as sad as my hind brain is at missing out on all the yummy haminess I gave up, my resolve and my budget are pleased and quite smug. I escaped with my resolve intact.

I will see what happens in the next week, but for now, I’m in good shape. I made a delicious meal of steak, roasted veggies, and polenta as a splurge last night, sans wine, but had a few shots of brandy, and had a great night. I have wonderful leftovers today for lunch, and I have a bunch of yummy things still at home for when I next feel like spending an hour or two cooking. Plus I still have a ton of cheap dinner options for a few days.

Ham – 0
Frugality – 1

debtmaven out

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Picking up Mr. Maven’s share, and a status update

October 4, 2011 at 6:59 pm (Being Frugal, mr. maven)

What’s up with debtmaven? Not much. Same ol’ same ol’. Still chugging away paying off debt. I have slowed down some. The lack of employment (since March ’10) caught up with mr. maven and I’m now covering his portion of the rent fully (he had been paying $400 towards our $900 rent). Now I’m down $400/month on rent, which I now have to cover. That has certainly put a dent in  my debt payoff efforts, but I’m trying to at least put $500/month towards my SBA loan debt, both the principal and interest (interest is down to about $70/month now, so $430 is pure principal, which becomes more every month, yeah!). I pay the minimum on my car loan, $253, and will continue to do so until my SBA loan is gone. Why? The SBA loan is at 5% interest, and the car loan is at 3.99% interest. Not only is it a higher rate, but I detest big banks, and want to destroy my relationship with Wells Fargo – it’s a bad relationship that must end. They don’t deserve any more of my money!!! My car loan is with my local credit union, by the way.

What else has me fully paying for rent done? Well, I have become much more stringent about buying less. I pull out the “I can’t afford x until I get paid next week” card all the time. We eat out even less than before. I think my eat out budget is less than $100/month now. Also, any extraneous expenses fall on him and I no longer offer to pay half after the fact (when he brings it up to gripe at the expense). If we are out of something, he has often been going to the store and buying the $20 of groceries, which I consider budget busters to the nth degree! Also, we recently had a big vet scare with one of our kittens. He got a case of struvite crystals in his urine (making it hard to urinate, possibly life threatening), requiring 2 vet visits, IV, brand new food (and a total diet change for the rest of his life). Plus both cats were due for 2 vaccines – mr. maven ended up picking up the tab, to the tune of $400+. I didn’t pay any of that. I think that’s far, as he owes me a lot more for utilities/bills that he pays no share of, and the lack of rent. I have become much more resistant to picking up any groceries on my own, as I never get reimbursed afterwards. If I want it for me, I get it (often if it’s for lunch at work only though). If I want to buy groceries, he has to come with me. I refuse to go on my own. Lesson learned from the last 2 years of his unemployment. I’ve gotten over having my heart set on a certain food item for dinner; now I put up with whatever is at home. I just do without or scrounge out of the fridge. It’s odd, but I feel like I’m really being more careful with my food purchases now, because of that, almost as if I’m living hand to mouth, while I get paid $53K a year!

Money is still a big issue in our household. I basically gave up discussing it and trying to be fair and equitable (with my large paycheck with which I am trying to pay off debt, and his lack of funds and his refusal to pay anything beyond half of the big food groceries). It causes stress, and while I’m in my relationship with him, that’s how it’s turned out to be. Some days it’s intensely more frustrating than others, but I”m dealing with it. I try to keep front and center what it means to him to support him, but other days it’s a lot more of a challenge for me to keep a good attitude about it. Am I bitter? Yes. Is it going to change? Probably not. At least not until he gets a job, and that is becoming more of an issue as time goes on – as he approaches the 2nd anniversary of his unemployment, he is going to have to get some kindo f employment, even if it’s only $12/hr!! I can either be frustrated and fight, or accept that this is the status quo and move beyond it to appreciate the other reasons I enjoy being in a relationship with him.

I’ve been having some issues with going to the gym and soreness in abused muscles, and have been seeing a physical therapist. That’s a whole bunch of $20/visit copays. So far I’ve done 4, and am trying to minimize the expense. This shouldn’t last for more than 2-3 months, I hope. I haven’t done any trips anywhere, and have no plans except for a drive out to North Dakota during thanksgiving, to visit his family (and he really wants me to go). He’ll need to pay at least 50% if not more of the expense.  Other than that, I’ve been in high frugal mode. No new clothes, only steeply discounted clothes from the department store, or all from the thrift store. I’ve been trying to drive less, and consume less gas. I question every purchase, making sure I want it for several days before I give in (and that has saved me from several purchases!).

So I’m putting up with my situation, even while I’m not totally happy with it. I’m paying a little less towards debt than I otherwise would, but I’m trying to buy less, be more careful with my spending, and just be consistent and plan, plan, plan. It will get better. It has to. If it doesn’t? Well, I have a good job, it pays well, and I will just pay off my debts as much as I can. It might take a little longer, but I’m making good headway – see my stats on the right. I’m now up to 49% paid off, almost on the other side!

Take care all…debtmaven out.

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The mother of all clothes sales

January 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm (Being Frugal, things I bought) ()

Went to buy some unmentionables at Macy’s today after work and they were having the mother of all sales. I decided to ONLY go look at the steeply discounted rack and only that rack, for tops, tried them on, and found (2). I decided I would only get them if they were under $11 each. $5.50 and $7.50 each. Wowza. Then, when I was paying for my 2 unmentionables that I absolutely had to have since my last (and only) 2 pair broke on me, and the 2 shirts that were department-store brand new but selling at thrift-store prices, I spied The Sweater.

I had tried The Sweater on 2 months ago and had wanted it desperately then, but could not justify the $85 price tag. I regretfully put it back “until it went on sale.” But I hadn’t seen it since, even looking around xmas time at another location. But they had it here today and it said 60% off. Hmm, not bad! I tried it on to make sure and it was beyond fabulous (still). I checked the price and it was more like 75% off – only $21!!!!! Score. Total damage came to abourt $80. That’s more than my $50 budget, but I also returned something from last month for $35, so I guess technically I’m under my budget. Also, J gave me rent (for December) a few days ago and I haven’t yet put it in the bank, so I paid cash for everything, and it’s not technically going to hit my budget – I have some fudge factors.

I promptly called my girlfriend to go shopping there – they are having an inventory sale to clear out the old to make room for the new and half the store racks are sporting 40%, 50%, 60% or more discount signs. I could not believe my eyes. I honestly had to stop looking, turn my eyes to the pathway and literally march myself oughta there.

I came home and told J and he’s thinking of going tomorrow. I swear, you could buy an entire outfit for $15-$20 if you were careful, an entire new wardrobe for $100-$150!!! Unbelievable.

I’m actually thinking about whether or not I should go back and shop again tomorrow and really go through all the racks. Clothes are never this cheap there. Second opinions?

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Debtmaven’s austerity measures

January 5, 2011 at 7:02 pm (Being Frugal, bringing lunch)

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I am trying to recover from a $1200 financial setback and have decided to follow my own austerity measures. What I’ve decided to do/not do:

No alcohol purchases. So far so good. J has bought 2 bottles of wine so far this year and I have declined both times to pay for it, and to drink it (I’m also trying to lose weight. alcohol = empty calories). I still want my irish whisky (NOT Bailey’s – they are hideously expensive) in coffee, so I will still buy that, but nothing else. I may try and give that up in my coffee, but I’m not quite ready for that. This is my biggest indulgence and my most difficult high-calorie item to give up.

No luxury coffee. Check! Haven’t been to Starbucks once. I still have $15 or so on a coffee card for a local place a block from work and only went there once last week. I’ll probably use this up, but it should still last a while.

No lunches out. 2 weeks in and still going strong! Have been making my lunches every day, even going so far as making a sandwich complete except for the filling part, and getting enough deli meat for it (and nothing else) at Safeway on the way to work  yesterday – $1.32! I’m trying really hard to prep in the morning, and I’m doing pretty well. I will probably start making a batch of soup every week sometime soon, to help supplement the routine menu I’ve been eating so far (1 apple, handful of nuts, hunk of cheese, baguette with avocado, lettuce, and sandwich meat and a bar for an afternoon snack). Last week was lentil soup 4 out of 5 days.

Minimizing eating out. It’s been over a week since eating out anything at all! Well, I did get a cheap Subway sandwich for $4 after snowshoeing on New Year’s day, but that was both  healthy and economical. And I drank water with it! We almost had lunch out on Sunday, but both J and I stayed hungry and waited until we were home. We’ve been planning our healthful dinners in advance. Hope we can maintain it – planning and cooking takes a lot of time and effort, especially adding in a few hours at the gym for us both (and with me working!) each day.

Buying more frugally at the grocery store. Spent a bunch of money at Costco, but avoided the big packages of red meat (yeah!). Went to the asian market for lots of asian style food (rice vermicelli for fresh summer rolls and bun  – that’s vietnamese vermicelli bowls (dinner tonight!!!). At metropolitan, the more expensive market that we shop for their high quality meats, we bought the basics. I spent a lot on expensive apples ($8 for 4 apples!!), but they are lovely and huge and one of the few I don’t mind eating (apples are not my favorite food). I didn’t get any big chunks of expensive cheese, we didn’t get much expensive dairy (no more half and half!). I haven’t bought any bad snack food items or desserts, you know, the $4 cupcakes, the $6 tin of amazing 2-bite brownies? Doing ok so far. I hope it continues.

Avoiding big purchases. I need some new winter clothes for snowshoeing. I could use a winterized, waterproof pair of pants, ones you can fall in the snow and they won’t get wet, but all I have is my summer pants that convert to shorts that I wear over long johns. I think it will have to stay that way for a little while. I think I need a new pair of sun glasses. The pair I have now fog up as soon as I breathe, so they are probably designed poorly. Not sure what I’ll do about this… I just spent $12 on the new pair and they suck. I have a ton of workout clothes and my sneakers are relatively new, so no new gym equipment needed for a while. I have debated about getting the personal training, but I think I should wait and keep at it on my own. I can probably look and find advice for some of the deficient areas I could use help on (pre-workout stretching routines, flexibility training, and a weight lifting regiment) without paying the $149 for 3 sessions.

Also, the idea of a flat screen tv keeps beckoning every so often, such as last week. I decided screw it, no tv, don’t spend the money, I don’t need to watch more tv. Whew! Clothes: I may have to go buy a few necessary items this week (the only 2 comfortable daily bras that I have both broke! The wire snapped in half, and let me tell  you, a sharp edged bit of metal digging into your tender parts is pure agony! and they both broke 2 weeks apart!! That’ll be $40-$50!!!). I don’t need any clothes, shoes, or anything so I won’t even shop for it, even if it’s on sale and cheap.

Vehicle. I still need 2 new tires, but to be honest, I think I can wait a month or two. Provided I don’t drive up to the mountains for snowshoeing/hiking, and just commute the 12 miles to work, I should be ok for a little while. I may need to get new tires in Feb. or March however. I’ll wait until I’ve saved up enough in my vehicle fund though first, and by February I’ll have $200 in it.

So how am I doing, 1-2 weeks into my austerity measure decision? Pretty darn good!!! I hope to continue to be tight fisted for at least through February. I’d gotten a little too lose and free with spending in the last half of 2010.

I’m hoping this year I can break the $10,000 mark paid towards debt.

Best,
debtmaven

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Brand loyalty & buying a car or truck

February 18, 2010 at 10:48 am (Being Frugal, spending habits, truck) ()

I’ve been thinking a lot about brand loyalty and cars lately. You can’t escape the issues with the Toyota recalls right now and the tarnish to their reputation. NPR had a recent story in which they interviewed some Toyota retailers to see how it was affecting them (if you guessed “badly”, you win a gold star!). One thing they discussed was that first time Toyota purchasers were the ones most upset. Repeat buyers were ok with the hit to the car manufacturer’s image. They were still loyal, and able to overlook this little “bump in the road.” It seemed to me as though their critical thinking was clouded by brand loyalty.

I’ve also been reading a bit of The Millionaire Next Door. There was a whole section (way too long and involved in my opinion, but still educational) about the habits of people that were considered millionaires and their car buying habits. It was broken into those that bought new cars vs. those that bought used cars. The question of loyalty came up a bit there as well. Some were loyal to a particular dealership (in part due to networking and returning business to their own clients that were dealers, or family members that owned dealerships). This held true for both the new car buyers and the used car buyers.

Then we come to me. I have very little brand loyalty. I would never ever purchase a new car. To prove my point, here is a list of all the vehicles I have driven:

  • 1989: Nissan Sentra (my only new car, but it was a gift from my parents, and I didn’t own it; this lasted for 18 months when my parents sold it).
  • 1991: Toyota Tercel hatchback (bought used at a dealership – this was before craigslist)
  • 1995: 1995 new Toyota Camry (leased; the tercel was traded in; I didn’t want it, but my husband of the time wanted me to have one, and I didn’t know any better).
  • 1996: 1986 Saab turbo hatchback (I had an accident and totaled the Camry – the Saab quickly became my favorite car ever, I still miss it).
  • 2002: 1997 Subaru outback (my beloved Saab was stolen, I upgraded to a more rugged off-road vehicle since I was doing a lot of wilderness hiking down long, unpaved sketchy roads)
  • 2007: 1998 Nissan Frontier truck (yet another accident, not my fault, and the Subaru  was totaled)

As you can see, I’ve run the gamut of vehicles. Other than leased vehicle, every car/truck I’ve purchased I have bought outright, with cash, and with no accompanying car payments. I can’t see dropping $20K+ on a vehicle, only to have it drop in value right away. I also hold the belief that all the new-fangled electronics on cars make it more challenging and expensive to repair, and less reliable when it comes to needing mechanical attention.

When making my most recent vehicle purchase, I will admit that I tried getting a replacement Subaru outback. However, the value that the insurance company gave me did not quite equal the value of what it cost to get a similar Subaru (they are the de rigueur in the Pacific Northwest). Rather than pay more out of pocket, which I couldn’t afford to do (please note that this was before I discovered living within my means, frugality, budgeting, and the importance of having an emergency fund), I began searching for a slightly less expensive option. Based on my needs (cargo space, camping, rural driving expeditions, plus sleeping in the vehicle on occasion), I ended up looking for a pickup truck with a cab. I was open to a Toyota, Nissan or other similar reputable option that had good safety and repair records. I will also admit I’m still a little biased against American vehicles.

I’m happy with my Nissan Frontier. It’s a good basic vehicle. It doesn’t have the most amazing power (I drive in the right lane up hills and little old ladies pass me), it doesn’t get nearly the gas mileage that J’s Honda does, but it’s reliable for its age, it does what I need it to, and best of all, it’s Paid in Full.

What kind of vehicle will I get next? Who knows. I might go for gas mileage, or maybe go for a vintage cool car with a rebuilt engine (J wants to get an old 50s GMC/Chevy/Ford truck and refurb it, which is still way cheaper than a new inexpensive car). We’ll see, but either way, I’ll still research safety & repair costs, troll for deals on prices, and make sure I have enough to pay for it all up front in cash.

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Update on Restaurant.com

February 10, 2010 at 6:37 pm (Being Frugal) ()

A year ago I bought a year’s worth of monthly coupons from Restaurant.com. Major deal, get a $25 gift certificate every month, for use at a selection of local restaurants, and I bought them at 80% off (I think it was less than $30 for them all). Well, I’m finally getting around to using them up and I have some words of wisdom for anyone that is thinking about buying them next time there’s a big offer. 

First, check out what restaurants are on the included list of participating restaurants. You may find the list a little limited. If you live in a smaller urban area, that could be a problem. It’s not a huge deal for me, there’s enough there in the Seattle area to choose from to make it worthwhile.

I did find quite a few issues with the searching algorithm on the website, so realize that you’ll have to try it a few different methods to find every location that you can visit. What I consider “downtown” seattle comprises the big urban area, with the museums and major businesses, and runs into 4 main zipcodes. However, of the restaurants that show up on the complete list of “downtown”, there is a single restaurant! In other words, quite a few are missing on the neighborhood list. I have found significant inconsistencies from the list of “all” restaurants in Seattle vs. the view by neighborhood. You can search for restaurants within 1 mile, 5 miles, 15 miles, etc, but there are some serious issues and problems with that as well. I tried searching for “5 miles” and ones that are a mile away are missing, yet others that are a 30-45 minute drive away (at highway speeds) are included. There is no map of included restaurants. That would be incredible if it existed, and probably not all that difficult to code, but it is not an option, unfortunately. I’ve found the best method is to browse the list of ALL restaurants, then write down the name and zipcode. If you search by letter, they will still be missing. Searching by a particular zipcode seems to be the best method of finding all included restaurants, but even them, some may be included in the zipcode list but missing from the “all” list. I really don’t get it. They must have gerbils coding their website. Very hungry gerbils that re fantasizing about their shredded lettuce mid-afternoon snack instead of working!

Whew, did you follow all of that? Me neither. But either way, it is still a good deal, regardless of how difficult it can be to navigate and then finally “check out” and get your coupon. I’ve printed a few up for some local neighborhood places that I can just go to when I don’t feel like cooking and don’t want to go through a huge bother to travel anywhere. The coupons are good for a full year from the date you purchase, and be careful to NOT lose them. Once it’s printed, it’s gone forever. I just printed a few up and have stashed them in my truck’s glove compartment. That way, if I’m in my vehicle, I know I have them. I did make a backup copy that I left at home, just in case.

I’ve used two so far (yes, I’m a bit behind! I’ve got 10 more to go) and have had a wonderful experience both times in redeeming them. It’s super easy, the restaurants don’t give any problems or caveats to using them, provided you follow their rules. They are pretty basic, 18% gratuity is supposed to be incluced (it hasn’t been so far, and I usually tip better than that anyway), it is often for a minimum $35, and it often doesn’t extend to holidays, special occasions, or happy hour. Some higher-end restaurants may require that you have a higher bill (say $45 instead of $35) for a $25 coupon, and may require or exclude alcohol and may require dinner only (and most of them are for dine-in only, no takeout!). Read the semi-fine print before you print the coupon (they make it very visible and clear, fyi) and you’ll be all set.

Even with the search issues, I still think it’s a great way to try a few restaurants without a major investment. In fact, I wrote this post because I’m going out tonight since I’m tired of scrounging for food at home!

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Responsibility, frugality, and saying no

February 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm (Being Frugal, mr. maven, truck) (, )

Being the responsible one in the relationship has the potential to cost me money. I’ll give you a prime example. I have a ’98 Nissan Frontier truck, which I got to transport art (most artists I know own a truck or vanagon-type vehicle for that very same reason), or to go camping/sleep in on long trips. It’s also my primary commuting vehicle. Not the most fabulous gas mileage, I think it gets between 19-22 average. But it’s the only vehicle I’ve got, so I have to use it. I can’t afford to own two vehicles, nor would I want to.

J has a very inexpensive, very old Honda. The thing is perpetually on the edge of falling apart/needing to be retired. The latest issue is the battery – it has outlived its usefulness and needs the occasional jump. But it’s a great frugal gas-sipping machine. And until it actually does break, J can’t afford to buy a new vehicle (nor is he beginning to save up for one, though I have repeatedly recommended he do so).

This weekend J wants to go to Portland (2.5-3 hr drive) for an event. We’re going to keep it to 1 day, and avoid a hotel (and having to bring our cats, which for the record, you should consider them as dogs – they cannot be left alone, they need daily walks, yes I am serious, and they are major attention hogs. Their feelings will be hurt if we leave them beyond 7 pm alone and bereft without company or heat until we return; an overnighter is simply out of the question). With my gas mileage, that’s a tank and a half of gas, about $60. That’s almost double what J’s car would cost. But since my vehicle is much more reliable, in good working order, and is up to date on any repair issues, we’re taking the truck. I mean, who wants to get stranded hours from home??

J knows that I make more money, and while I can afford it, that I am being very frugal in my spending habits (outside of food, liquor, and restaurants that is). This is something that he wants to do, with me accompanying him. So he has offered to pay for it. I’ll probably pay some of it of course, since I am attending.

I get asked all the time if I want to do certain activities. My answer is always “how much does it cost?” or “if it costs money, no.” I’m not always the most fun, but those activities (a day at the firing range, taking a boat ride, gas to Portland for a quick jaunt) can really add up. I’d rather save up and do something unusual every few months, like rent a cheap cabin on a deserted Oregon beach for 3-4 days or splurge on a big underground dinner at $125 a pop (our splurge kitty is at $120 and still unused!), or buy a high-end ice cream maker just before summer ($240, I’ve priced them out!).

I want to buy some household items for our new rental house, and now that the xmas recovery period has ended (ie, all of January), and now that the new rental deposits are done hemorrhaging my checking account, I can get back to spending limited amounts on necessities that I’ve been putting off (IKEA curtains here I come!)

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Weekend frugality & homemade vodka

January 24, 2010 at 9:14 am (Being Frugal, cooking) (, )

I always find it hardest to not spend on weekends. That’s when I have more time, when I’m not working, and when I’m planning either big activities, errands, or things to do. It can be hard for me to stay on budget when out and about buying things that I don’t have time to get during the week, due to a full-time job.

What is especially difficult is my habit of not making breakfast, having my morning coffee, then dragging myself out of the house to Do Something. Once I’m in the thick of it, I get really really hungry. That is one of my biggest budget busters of all – going out for lunch on the weekend. It chips away at my restaurant spending allocation, more than I’d like. It may only be $10-$14, but multiply that by several weekends per month and you begin to see the problem.

Yesterday, luckily, played out just fine. We made an effort to go food shopping early, in an effort to stock up on some staples that were very much on sale for this week. With some frozen food that would have melted had it remained in the car, we *had* to take groceries home, and that was an opportunity to have lunch (Mmmm, $2.99 safeway frozen pizza! Plus a little salad on the side for something healthy).

My will power has been good this month. I’m buying staples and necessaries. I stopped myself 3 times from buying that interesting bottle of eau de vie made with douglas fir tips (I’m so curious about it) from the liquor store. At $55/bottle, I’ll just have to stay curious about it. Maybe I can just get a sample at a local bar, next time I go out (which isn’t very often). Part of the problem is my interest in getting an ice cream maker later this year. (Trust me, this story will make sense soon). I’ve been listing to J talk about all the flavors of ice cream he used to make when he was a private chef for this couple many years ago. I’ve decided that we’re going to get one later this year. As part of the anticipation, I’ve been reading up on various recipes and such that people have been making. I came across this one recipe blog that was talking about the eau de vie in question. The blog mentioned several restaurants that use that as a flavoring agent in their home-made ice creams. You can see the problem, I hope? Not only am I curious about the eau de vie, but someone else corroborates that it makes fabulous ice cream. I want to make ice cream too. That doubles the strength of my desire for that $55 bottle. But I’ve been virtuous and have declined.

Well last night, an old neighbor (from the art studio) invited us over for dinner and movie night. The aperitif of the evening was his homemade vodka – he distills it himself. It was one of the things I missed about living in that building, tasting his yummy vodka. After talking to him about it, I’ve decided that I’m going to make my own as well. It’s basically a $600 investment. It involves a heater for $200 and a still, which is between $300-$400. Once you have that, all you need is 25 lbs of sugar, water, tomato paste (for the nitrogen), and yeast. It’s very inexpensive. Apparently, a bottle ends up costing $3. I figure that within 2 years it will pay for itself. If J goes in for half, and he is a much heavier drinker than I am, it won’t be so bad either.

We’ve been talking about making our own infused vodkas for a while now (Mmm, pineapple/habanero!). We’re already trying our first batch of vanilla extract (made with vodka of course). And I just came across a recipe for homemade limoncello (a very tasty and interesting digestif if you’ve never had it!). This would also be handy for making lots of homemade xmas gifts – who wouldn’t want a ginormous bottle of homemade distilled/infused vodka for xmas (and trust me, it tastes incredible!). 

So now it’s Sunday morning. I’m sitting down and enjoying my extra-large coffee (steaming hot inside an insulated mug, the only way to go!). I have a dose of irish cream liquor in it and I keep thinking about this recipe for making your own. I’m sure it is much cheaper and I’ve been meaning to try it. Maybe this is the month that I do.

So enjoy the rest of your weekend, get enough sleep, plan healthy and tasty food for the week (I’m making a big pot roast tonight with the sale roast and free potatoes and carrots I got on Friday). Get some projects done, and recharge your batteries for the rest of the week! I’ll leave you with some scrumptious alcohol-based recipes I’ve recently collected. Take care everyone!

Homemade limoncello
Homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream
Homemade vanilla extract

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I’m part of this week’s Festival of Frugality!

January 12, 2010 at 10:34 am (Being Frugal, blogs)

My posting on The Frugal Drinker is part of this week’s Carnival of Frugality. This is my very first contribution to a festival, so please enjoy!

Check out the other articles at YesIAmCheap. I haven’t had a chance to read any of them, but I hope to later tonight.

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