Thursday, February 18, 2010

How Much is in Your E-Fund?

Today I went to the bank to deposit some cash to cover the cost of the yearbook t-shirts I ordered for the kiddos today. While I was there I set up a direct deposit into my "summer saver" account. This savings account is designed for teachers who only get paid on a ten month cycle, so you can save enough to cover a month without pay. It has a higher interest rate (3.57%) than a regular savings account, however it automatically dumps into your checking every August. Then I can transfer it into my regular savings, which has a lower interest rate.

I've never put money in this account, because you have to do it through direct deposit and I hadn't figured it out. Plus, I get paid on a twelve month cycle, so I don't have a dire need to save for August. Also, since I am focused on paying off my credit cards, I haven't been doing much (any) saving. But, I thought it made sense to at least start saving a small amount each month, so that I'm not totally dependent on my credit cards if something goes wrong.

So, starting with my March paycheck, I will be saving $100 per month. It feels good to start saving, and this will be the beginning of my emergency fund. Which leads me to the question: how much do you have in your emergency fund? Or perhaps even better, how much do you want to have in your emergency fund?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Unexpected Generosity=Meatloaf

My super awesome friend Juliet just gave me a $25 gift card to Trader Joe's because I have been hanging out with her kids lately. I guess it's babysitting, but I have fun with them and enjoy going to her place to play... must be the kid in me. :) Anyway, she thoughtfully gave me the gift card as a thank you, which is perfect because I was wanting to try to make turkey meat loaf and mashed potatoes sometime this week, but was also wanting to keep my grocery budget in check. So, after the kids went to bed and I finished watching Lost (seriously, easiest babysitting gig ever!) I busted out Juliet's laptop and looked for some recipes on epicurious.

I was stoked to see that I had a bunch of the meat loaf ingredients leftover from other meals I've been making. I was wondering how I was going to use them up (carrots, an extra onion, fresh parsley) and this is perfect. The cooking stars have aligned.

So, my goal is to hit up TJ's for the majority of my ingredients without going over $25. I am also going to get the TJ's exclusive stuff to make tortellini soup again, since it's pretty cheap and I have leftover chicken stock from when I roasted my own chicken and then used the carcass to make my own stock. Even better, the chicken was free-range and organic. I am thinking I can get nine or so meals and spend less than $5...but we'll see if I can do it. If the recipes go well, I will post them on the blog...which has become combination personal finance/cooking blog, but for me the two have gone together. I eat out WAY less when I have delicious meals at my disposal.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

No New Clothes for a Year?

I think I've mentioned this on my blog, but I have declared a moratorium on clothes shopping until my credit cards are paid off.

I haven't spent money on clothing, shoes, or jewelry since August. (I did get to shop after Christmas, since my grandma gave me a gift card to Marshall's for Christmas.)

Some days, it's difficult. Just yesterday I was wishing that I had a purple cardigan sweater. I would also love a new purse, since my was stolen in September. A few more pairs of work pants would be nice, as would a new pair of jeans. But the truth is, these are all wants. I want all of those things, but I don't need them.

Today I reorganized my closet and, like always, found stuff I don't wear that I got rid of. Mind you, I cleaned out my closet in August and got rid of stuff, but still found more items that I don't wear, even with no new clothes coming into my life.

Now, I couldn't do this no clothes spending thing if I didn't do so much excessive shopping in the past. I really do have a lot of clothing, and I have my less-frugal self to thank for it. But, I think I have decided to make my no new clothes rule last until August, so I can make it a full year project. I should definitely be out of credit card debt by then, but I think I am going to plan on making it a whole year without spending money on clothes. I've gone six months so far. The last six will definitely be a challenge, but I think I can do it.

And, this will give me some time to work on my post credit card debt budget without clothes shopping. This will give me a cushion, since I am planning on working some sort of shopping budget into the new plan, but am not totally sure what all of that will look like.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'm officially that person...

Yesterday after school there was a teacher's union rally at Fremont High School. If you recall, yesterday afternoon it was raining quite steadily. So, my friend Kim and I decided that a stop at Starbucks on the way there to get a warm beverage was in order. I haven't been to Starbucks since...I don't actually know. Maybe November? My grande non-fat caramel macchiato was delicious, but my jaw dropped when I saw the price: $3.95! Are you kidding me?

Part of me hates that I am that lady ranting about how ridiculous it is to pay $3.95 for coffee. But, I also can't believe that there are people who stop at Starbucks every day! I used to go about once a week or so, and even that seems like a bad call. I even have a few friends who complain about their financial state and how they're broke who are totally addicted to Starbucks...lay off the coffee people.

Unless it's raining and you have to go to a rally. Then, by all means, treat yourself. :)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cooking is a marathon, not a least for me.

One part of saving money for me has been doing more cooking at home. If I have food I actually like in my house, I am way less likely to eat out. However, I have also realized that I have zero desire to cook anything after work, so I like to do marathon cooking every other weekend or so. Yesterday, I cooked four different meals at the same time, portioned them out, and refrigerated/froze them so I will have meals for the next two weeks or so (maybe even longer). So, if you like recipes, read on.

All four burners on my stove going at once. And the egg bake was in the oven too!

The total I spent on these four entrees was $41.24, and I would estimate that I am going to get around 25 meals out of them. (I ran out of individual tupperware, so some of the soups are in bigger containers. I am guessing on how many portions they will give me.) Also, you could probably do it cheaper, but I bought some of the items organic, when it wasn't too unreasonable.

Recipe 1: Krista's Egg Bake
This one is super simple and delicious! I usually make it Christmas morning for my family, but decided it doesn't need to be a special occasion dish.

Shredded hash browns
10-12 eggs
Package of sausage (you can also use bacon)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
shredded cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Brown sausage as directed on package. While that's cooking, spread a layer of hash brown potatoes on the bottom of a 9x12 pan.
3. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs, milk, sour cream, and salt and pepper. Pour this mixture over the hash browns.
4. When the sausage is done, slice it and spread it out on top of the eggs. Then sprinkle as much cheese as you like over the top.
5. Bake for approximately 1 hour (check at 45 minutes).
I cut this into 12 squares and put it in tupperware to have for breakfast before work. 

Recipe 2: Shelley's Chicken & White Bean Chili
For the next two recipes, I buy a whole, pre-cooked chicken from the deli department of Ralph's. This runs me about $6.99, but the convenience is worth it, and you can get a lot of chicken if you really tear it apart. :) I pulled all the meat off and then split the chicken between the two recipes. If you would rather, each recipe can also use two chicken breasts, which is how I wrote them below.

2 large chicken breasts
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium white onion
3-5 cloves of garlic
2 cans chicken broth
1 can diced green chiles
1 packet chili seasoning
1 can pinto beans
1 can great northern beans (or white beans if you can't find them)

1. Cut chicken into cubes (or shred if you are using pre-cooked chicken like I did)
2. In a stock pot, heat olive oil. Add garlic and diced onion. Saute until your whole kitchen smells delicious. Then add the chicken.
3. When chicken is fully-cooked, add green chiles, seasoning, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and cook on low for 30 minutes, covered.
4. Strain and rinse beans. Add beans to soup and cook 15-30 minutes on low.

I like to serve with sour cream, some shredded cheese, and tortilla chips. Super easy and super good!

Recipe 3: Becca's Chicken Tortellini Soup

2-3 tbs. olive oil
1 medium white onion
2 cloves garlic
2 large chicken breasts (optional. It's also great vegetarian style).
1 can stewed tomatoes (Italian style)
2 cans chicken broth
1 package tortellini (I got the 3 Cheese Tortellini from the refrigerated section of Trader Joe's for $1.99)
1 can artichoke hearts (again, Trader Joe's has a good one. It's the can, not the glass jar. Also $1.99)

1. Heat olive oil in pan. Add garlic and diced onion in large stock pot. Add chicken and cook completely. (sound familiar? I did the chili and this soup at the same time. Just don't mix up the pans.)
2. Add chicken broth, stewed tomatoes (break up into bite sized pieces), and the tortellini.
3. Cook just until tortellini is tender.
4. Remove from heat and add artichokes with juice from can. I like to break up the artichoke hearts first to make it easier to eat.
Tastes great with fresh parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

Recipe 4: Lana's Smoked Gouda and Beer Mac & Cheese

I got this recipe from Lana's blog, but have reytped it here as well.


16 oz. pasta (I used wheat penne, but any type works)
8 oz. smoked gouda (you can use anywhere from 4-12 ounces)
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup beer (I used Simple Times from Trader Joe's because it was $2.99 for a six pack and isn't half bad. Also, if you drink some of the beers while you cook, this whole process is a lot more fun.)
salt & pepper
Optional: bread crumbs and fresh parmesan (not from the can. Cheese you don't have to refrigerate must be from the devil.)

1. Start cooking the pasta as directed on package.
2. In a separate sauce pan, melt butter with moderate flame. Add flour and stir continually with a whisk for 2 minutes or so to make a rue. Slowly pour in milk and beer as you stir. Continue stirring as you simmer and sauce thickens. It should coat your spoon in about 8 minutes. (The first time I made this I thought it would get really thick, but it's just enough to coat the spoon). Then remove from heat and add the grated gouda. Stir until it all melts in.
3. Drain your pasta, but back in the pot, add cheese sauce and stir.
4. If you like, put it in a baking dish, add some bread crumbs and fresh parmesan to the top, and put in the oven at 375 for 10-12 minutes.

Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of this one. But I promise it's DELICIOUS. I was eating the leftover sauce from the pan with a spoon. It's AMAZING!

Then I divided everything up into portions.
This is what my counter looked like.

The End.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Good Day for Me!

Today was a good financial day.

1. It's payday!
2. I got my tax refund!!
3. I also got my yearbook stipend!

I haven't seen my balance that high in my checking account in quite a of course I immediately moved most of it into my credit card debt! I will update my tool bars after the interest for the month is added, but it will definitely put a dent in my debt, which feels really good. In the past I've usually splurged on something when I get my taxes back (My Wii or a Disneyland pass have been two examples). But I am actually really satisfied in knowing that I am paying down my debt faster.

Paying off my debt feels like the slowest process in the world! I know it hasn't been that long, but it really is amazing how quickly I can rack it up and how long it takes to pay it off. But, I am just going to keep on keeping on and get that debt paid off!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Things I got for free in January!

I skipped the December edition of this post, partly because I didn't keep track and partly because some of the free stuff was used as stocking stuffers, and I felt weird announcing that the items were free. Anyway, the vast majority of these items are samples I requested that came in the mail. I hear about these samples from The Freebie Blogger, which lists samples and such everyday. It's certainly hit and miss, and probably most people wouldn't bother with requesting two free dryer sheets or tampons, but I figure free is free. I am saving pennies somewhere by not having to buy this stuff, and it's fun to get things in the mail. So check it out. :)

1. Sample of 7th Generation all natural dryer sheets (2)
2. All natural dish washing soap sample (7th Generation)
3. Strawberry chocolate tea bag
4. Four free items from Kotex
5. Oatmeal from Starbucks (they mailed me a coupon with no strings attached!)
6. Slim Fast 100 Calories snack bar
7. Milk Shake at Ruby's (eclub coupon. My friend bought an entree, we split the free shake).
8. Aveda shampoo and conditioner trial kit. And it's sulfate free, which is rare for free samples of shampoo. :)
9. Five free items from Tampax