Monday, January 31, 2011

Beginning to Feel Like Home...

Yesterday I went to my friend Shelby's house to pick up an old dresser of hers, which is bigger than the one I had in my room. So, I put my old dresser in the dining room, where it totally works. I put some serving dishes, table cloths, and other dining room related items in the drawers, so it's functional and cute. Then I took my overflow drawers, which were those rolling tupperware ones and put them in my large hall closet. 

After that, I was on a roll. I hung up a bunch of pictures, rearranged some lamps, and did a little cleaning. I still have more to do, but just hanging up a few things on the walls really makes it feel like home.

I also wrote my rent check last night...ouch. I am SO over January. My E-fund is pretty much empty and I am broke until payday. Payday, however, is going to be a big one, so that helps. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Keeping Your Move Cheap

I know I had a simple move, and that these strategies won't work for everyone, but I did several things that I know saved me money on my move. Some are a little more effort than their more expensive counterpart, but I think they're worth it in the end. Obviously this worked because I only moved a few miles from my old place, so take what you can and apply it to your local move. Here's what I did to move on the cheap...

1. Beg boxes off the supermarket. I didn't buy any boxes for the move. I went to Ralph's and got several for free. Yes, they were banana boxes with a hole in the bottom, but they worked. They were more than happy to give them to me, and that definitely saved me some dough.

2. Why just use boxes? I took my biggest suitcase on wheels and moved books on one trip, and clothes and two more trips.  I also used reusable grocery bags for books and other items. Since I moved close by, I took them over (I had about ten of them since I borrowed some from my mom), emptied them, and refilled them again. I filled up laundry baskets with shoes, put dirty clothes in trash bags, and got creative in how I moved just about everything.

3. Goodwill, don't trash. This one was hard. It's so tempting to just toss things in the garbage when you're moving, but that's not only bad for the environment, it's bad for your taxes. I took a few loads to Goodwill and got receipts for what I donated. I had to write items on the back so I can remember come next year, since they just gave me blank receipts. Which is weird. I'm going to write "yacht" on one of them. Just kidding. But, it felt good to know my unwanted stuff didn't go in a landfill and that I will benefit from it later.

4. Avoid renting a truck. I folded down the seats in my RAV4 and got a TON of stuff in there. Bookshelves, dresser, coffee table, they all fit no problem (not in the same trip, mind you, but they fit). i did luck out because the boyfriend was moving the same weekend (to live close to me. Awwww.) and he rented a truck. And had his brother and best friend help him. So when the truck was empty they moved my bed, couch, and TV hutch in the truck he rented. But, since my move was so close if I really had to, I think I could have gotten away with just my car if I had to.

5. Move little things. I took cleaning supplies, spices, condiments, tupperware, plastic utensils, my dish drainer, trash cans,...anything and everything. I think in my less frugal days I would have just bought a lot of these things new, thinking it wasn't worth it to move my $3 bathroom trash can. But this time I emptied it out, lined it with a grocery bag, filled it with cleaning supplies and took it over to the new place. There are plenty of unavoidable new purchases, might as well cut down on some of them. 

6. Say yes when friends offer to help. I hate moving and I hate to ask people to help me, because they hate it too. But, I had some generous friends and family offer to help me, which made everything more bearable. I did some googling of  how to move on the cheap and came up with articles about how to find movers for a good price and how to pack for the movers. I've never used movers, and have depended on muscle and the kindness of my friends to make my moves happen. Obviously I return the favor and offer to help when they move. Again, I know this only works for a local move, but I am thankful to have such lovely friends who help me out. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Just Did My Taxes!

Our W2's were in our sign-in sheets this morning, which means I did my taxes as soon as I got home tonight! I love doing my taxes, because I always get a refund! This year it's about $2,500, more than any other year I can remember! YES! I have big plans for that money...E-fund, car loan. Wow, I'm boring. But I'm SO excited to get my car loan paid down! I feel like I could be back on track to get my car paid off by the end of June if all goes well.

I know that setting it up to get a refund is like giving the government an interest-free loan. And I have thought about changing my deduction...I just don't know how much I'd need to save each month to make sure my taxes could be paid. Anyone have any advice on this area?

Anyway, today is a good day! I'm off to plan my February budget and salivate at the thought of my tax return. :)

Delicious Vegan Recipe #1: Avocado Spring Rolls

Last week I decided to give being vegan the ol' college try. I am committing to a solid month of veganism to see how it affects me. This recipe is from a cookbook called 500 Vegan Recipes. I'm not a huge fan of everything in there, but this one was a hit for me, my sister, and my non-vegan boyfriend, who requested I make them for him over the weekend. You should try it!

Baby spinach
1 cucumber, seeded and cut into matchsticks (that's what the recipe says. I didn't have much luck created matchsticks, but just go for skinny slices).
Shredded carrots
2-3 avocados, sliced
Chinese rice noodles (I used Thai style noodles, and the whole package was WAY too much. Half would be plenty)
Dry rice paper/spring roll wrappers (I had to hunt for these, but I found them at an Asian market. It was 40 for 99 cents. If that's not frugal, I don't know what is.)

Cook the noodles according to the package. When you strain them run cold water through them and keep them moist. This also cools them, which you want since they are fresh and not fried spring rolls.

Set up a work station with your ingredients, a damp dishtowel to build the rolls on (they stick to everything), a pan of warm but not boiling water, and a plate with a bed of lettuce on it, so they won't stick to the plate.

Start by placing one of the wrappers in the warm water for about ten seconds. It will curl up, so you have to hold it down in the water. Place the wrapper on the dish towel and layer 3-4 spinach leaves, the cucumber, avocado, carrots, and then noodles. Keep everything smallish, if it's too big they're hard to roll. Wrap it up like a burrito. This took some work and some of mine are really ugly. But they still taste awesome! I had enough to make about 12 rolls. I shared them and both times had about four leftover, which I ate for lunch the next day.

The process is a little tedious, but it's sort of fun to make them, and they're REALLY good. I bought some sweet chili dipping sauce at the Asian Market too, which made them even more amazing. These won't disappoint, vegan or not! And they're pretty frugal too. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

This is my Confession...

I haven't really been tracking my spending this month. I started out doing it, but a few factors led to my downfall:

1. The move. I didn't have internet for a week or so, and I usually do my tracking by using a combination of receipts and my online banking system. No online system, and with things in boxes and between the two apartments, I just lost track, to be honest.
2. Excel. See, up until this month I've used the old fashioned pen and paper method to keep track of my spending. I divide the paper into categories and add up my totals in each category by hand. I  decided to switch methods because I'm a pretty computer savvy person, and it seemed silly to use paper when Excel will do the math for me. BUT, here's the downside. On paper, I can look at see if I already added a purchase, since I have to write down each one individually. On Excel, I just have the running total, so I found myself asking, "Did I record the $4.79 I spent at Taco Bell on moving day?" and having no idea of the answer.
3. I'm overspending in certain categories and I don't know how to fix it. I overspent on groceries, and I'm going to have to buy more food again before payday. I don't know about the fun/eating out category, though I suspect if I'm not over it's pretty damn close. I've just sort of given up. I still have a cushion in my checking account, and I'm looking my statement up online everyday to make sure I don't go over.

Basically, I'm over January. I'm ready for a fresh start, my budget on paper, and my yearbook stipend, which will be in this check. I'll also (hopefully) be getting at least part of my deposit back from my old apartment, so I can replenish the E-fund. And I am salivating at the thought of getting my W2 so I can do taxes and get my return. I want a fully-funded E-fund again and to be able to make an extra payment on my car! And a dining room table. Oh February, February, wherefore art though February?

Okay, I'll stop. And yes, I know I could have been better and more organized...this is me admitting that I'm human. Blech.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Maybe There's Something to being Reasonable...

I have a tendency to be a little extreme. This has demonstrated itself in my life in many ways over the years. I was extremely Christian in high school and the point of being judgmental and dogmatic. I was extreme in my spending habits-shopped all the time and wanted lots of "stuff" to make me feel good and successful. I was (and still am) sort of extreme about achieving academically. I didn't get straight A's in undergrad, but I never got below a B, and graduated with high honors from my grad program. I went straight from undergrad to grad school, literally only taking one weekend off after graduation. And now my extremeness extremity tendency to be extreme manifests itself in my attitudes toward finance.

This isn't always a bad thing. I am proud of my academic accomplishments and they have put me where I am in my career. I have gotten out of credit card debt and worked hard at being more responsible and paying down my car loan.

But I think sometimes I need to be a little more reasonable with myself and others. I've been mulling over this for the past few weeks, since I read this from the website of the Episcopal Church the bf and I have been attending:

"We are biblical in the best sense of the word. We are not fundamentalist Christians who believe in the literal infallibility of the Scriptures. Rather, we believe the bible is the story of how the people of faith understood and responded to a God who acts in history. Each book of the Bible is a record of what people at a particular time wanted to say about their experience with God.

We are a historical church in the sense that we are conscious that our beliefs and practices are deeply rooted in the past. We are also historical in the sense that history involves the passage of time and that the passage of time involves change."

I thought to myself, "How reasonable!" This is exactly how I want to believe. I value the Bible and Christianity deeply, but I've been struggling with my faith because I felt that I had to believe EXACTLY what my conservative college and church taught. Frankly, I don't. And this was keeping me away from church and from God. When I read this, something clicked for me. 

These thoughts that it's okay to be reasonable and maybe it's good not to be so extreme were still in my head when I was reading Get A Financial Life by Beth Kobliner last night. I picked it up at Book Swap a few weeks ago, and read a chapter before I went to bed. Her guideline for debt is that it should be no more than 20% of your annual take home salary. 

Not, "Never go into debt EVER." Just a guideline to go by. 

How reasonable. 

I'm not advocating for debt. I still want to pay off my car early and hope to avoid credit card debt for good. But, I think what Ms. Kobliner suggests is very reasonable. It would be good to keep in mind when buying a car or financing another large purchase. I'm sure she'd say that NO debt is best, and obviously that's what I'll shoot for. But it was refreshing to read financial advice that didn't make me feel like ordering a pizza is a sin if I still have a car loan. 

Do you ever think you're too extreme in certain areas of your life? Or do you value that passion as it helps you succeed?

Freebie Beyond My Expectations

A few months ago on The Freebie Blogger they had an offer to sign up to be a special member at Bath & Body Works. They mailed me a little pink card with spots for January through May. The deal is that you go in on a Thursday anytime during a given month and you get some sort of freebie. I figured it would be one of the mini lotions or something, but I'm a sucker for free, so I stopped in last Thursday to check it out.

To my happy surprise, I got to take home a full-size hand soap, a mini hand sanitizer and one of their holsters for the hand sanitizer. (Why do people need those holster things anyway? I don't get it.) SCORE. I'll definitely be there each month. As of now, the freebies are in my closet with a few other Bath & Body Works items that I haven't used. They'll either be little gifts or I'll get a decent collection and then sell them as a group on Ebay. I was stoked about getting that stuff for free.

Basically, I'm just bragging since it's too late to sign up for the program. Oh wait, the moral is: take advantage of freebies, no matter how small they seem. You may be pleasantly surprised. That sounds like a weird fortune cookie or something. I haven't blogged in a while, leave me alone!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Weekly Money Check Up

I'm back! And I've got a list of about ten posts I want to write, so hopefully there won't be as many days off now that I am officially moved and have internet at my new apartment. I'll ease back into posting with MPP's Weekly Money Check Up:

1. The most I’ve spent this last week was on an Ikea trip...$77. It is impossible to get out of there without spending a ton of money. But I got lots of necessities, so that was good.
2. Today I feel out of control about money. I'm over-budget on a few categories, have tapped into my savings, and am going to have to buy more food before payday. Yuck! I just want February to get here so I can start fresh with a new month.
3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free/inexpensive thing I did last week that made me happy was two things.  One, I went on a beach bike ride with the bf on a beautiful sunny day (Saturday). It's so nice having him live five minutes away instead of an hour away! That night we went to a free improv event at a local coffee shop. It was really funny and we walked there from my apartment. :)
4. I will consider this week a success if I can stick with my newfound vegan ways at a friend's birthday party. She's a foodie and I know there will be good cheese and yummy cake that I'll need to resist. Eek!
5. My favorite way to relax is with a cold beer and a good dinner (ideally sushi) in front of the TV (preferably watching an entire season of a TV show) while wearing elastic wasted pants. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday This & That

Well, I still don't have internet at my new place...I will on Monday though! So, I should be back to normal blogging next week. The good news is that I'm all moved in and mostly unpacked. I still have some organizing to do and need to hang pictures on the walls. My goal is to have the pictures hung by the 1st and to have everythning out of boxes by that date as well. I'm partially waiting because I have some friends moving who I think are going to sell me their dresser. If I get that, my old dresser is going in the hall closet, and I'll use it to store cleaning supplies and linens inside of. But, I need to wait until their move to see if that's going to happen.

The other big news for the week is that I've decided to go vegan. I've toyed with the idea for a while, and I finally decided to just take the plunge and try it out. My reasons are primarily health based, though I'm also not a fan of how the meat and dairy industry treat animals and the environment. I am committing to give it six solid weeks of commitment. After that, I'm going to see how I feel and what differences I notice in my health and wellness and go from there. So far I've made vegan spring rolls, paninis, a soup that I hated but my sister liked, and a few different types of salads. Tonight I'm making pad thai for my old roommate who's coming to dinner. So far I feel good and the temptation hasn't been as bad as I thought. We shall see though.

Spending...ugh. I haven't been tracking it as well as I normally do, and I've done a lot of grocery shopping since I pretty much had to start fresh with the move, plus I'm trying all sorts of new recipes. I'm over budget on my groceries already, and payday isn't for another two weeks. I need to sit down and do some meal planning based on what I have in my fridge right now. I am waiting until next month when I get my taxes back and my yearbook stipend to buy a dining room table and some other odds and ends for my apartment. Plus I need to replenish my e-fund, which I've pretty much drained in the last two weeks. I know it's what it's there for, but I hate using it!

That's about it for now. Next week when I have internet at home and I'm not typing this out super fast at work I'll do some more complete updates, including the adventure of getting my couch into my apartment (the moral is: buy insurance for the moving truck!)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Moving Week, This and That

I've been MIA because I'm in the throws of moving and it was a busy week at work. Here are some random updates, to tide you over. :)

-->I called Verizon to switch my internet service to my new place and they said it won't activate until February 4th! What??!! The guy blamed it on the rain (Milli Vanilli reference!), but the boyfriend, who is moving 4 blocks away from me is getting his this week. Suspicious! I need to call again and ask about it.

-->Also, the gas company is making me sit at home to wait for them for four hours, so I'm taking Tuesday off. Which will be nice after I spend my three day weekend moving.

-->I spent the most boring $50 last night. Trash bags, paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, some feminine products, and salt. I hate spending money on that stuff, but it's all necessary.

-->The eating out less challenge is going okay. I have made more of an effort than I normally would have during this busy of a week, but I did go out to sushi the other night. It was delicious though.

-->Posts to come: spending update for this week, list of stuff I need for the apartment, eventually a moving costs breakdown, and really eventually pictures of my new place once it's not a disaster with boxes everywhere.

Now, I'm off to load my car with some boxes and meet my awesome mom who is going to come over and put the shelf liner in my cupboards and drawers for me. She's the best. :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Weekly Money Check Up

From MPP
1. The most I’ve spent this last week was on gas. And man, it's so expensive right now!
2. Today I feel meticulous about money. I sold more books that I found in my mom's garage on Amazon today. I'll have to wait til I ship, but I believe that will bring me another $30. I'm keeping a close eye on all my money because of the move this month.
3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free/inexpensive thing I did last week that made me happy was play Trivial Pursuit! I love that game!
4. I will consider this week a success if I get all but my last few big items and everything I need for next week moved. I'd like to have everything else moved by the end of the weekend. We shall see...
5. I am trying to reconcile my relationship with the gym. I feel great after I go, but the thought of going is always SO unappealing. I've been going with my carpool buddy, but I need some motivation of my own too.

Does this make me legit?

So, I am featured as one of the Top 100 Finance Blogs for college students HERE. I am pretty far down on the page and they describe the blog in this way, "This blog exhorts readers to “join me as I share the strategies, trials, and tribulations of getting out of debt and saving for a down payment on a home by the end of my 30th year!” Posts discuss life as a teacher, personal savings goals, personal efforts towards debt reduction, and ideas for saving money (even low-cost recipe ideas)."

Sounds about right. The cool kids have a banner with their logo and such on it. I'm not that cool though, sicne I don't know how to make my own header. :( Anyway, it's a good list if you're looking for some new PF blogs to read. Check it out.

Crock Pot Stroganoff

I made this on Saturday, when I had my marathon day of work stuff. It was really good and super easy. I like recipes that don't have a lot of ingredients.

-Pork for stewing (I bought about a pound)
-2 cans cream of mushroom soup
-Packet of french onion soup mix
-Sliced mushrooms (the originally recipe called for two cans. I bought fresh ones that were pre-sliced and used those instead)
-Egg noodles (make separate, just before you serve)

All you do is combine the first four ingredients in the crock pot and let it cook on low for 7-8 hours. I read a recipe that called for 1 can of soup, but that didn't seem liquidy enough, so I added a can of water and then at the end of the day put in some flour to thicken it. Next time I'll just go with the two cans of soup. Serve over egg noodles. Super easy and very good.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Moving To Do List: Week 1

I made myself a scheduled To-Do List for my move this week. I have a ton to do, but if I can break it into smaller pieces it will be much more manageable. So without further ado...

Monday: Go to Goodwill (and get a receipt!), ask for more boxes at grocery store, pack more dishes/kitchen stuff
Tuesday: Go through kitchen with roommate to figure out whose is whose. Make taco soup in crock pot so I'll have food for this week. Pack up hall closet completely
Wednesday: Night off, long day at work. Dinner with Lindsay (talk to her about borrowing truck)
Thursday: Hopefully get keys and move one carload of boxes to new place. Empty luggage and reusable shopping bags with books in them. Refill with the rest of books and some clothes when I get home.
Friday: take another car load of boxes. Load car for trip one with sister on Saturday AM
Saturday: Move DVDs, coffee table, small table, hopefully bookshelves, storage cube, nightstand
Sunday: Load of clothes, wall decorations, Wii, DVD player, lamps

Frugal Fun: Book Swap!

This week I had a book swap with a few friends. It actually only ended up being four of us, but we still had tons of books to share! I originally planned to have it at my place, but my friend Juliet had a childcare issue, so she hosted instead (which worked out beautifully because she's a great hostess). I meant to take pictures, but I was busy drinking wine socializing.

We each brought food to share as well as a bottle of wine. :) We talked and ate for a few hours before we even looked at the books. It was fun to "shop" for free and tell each other about the books we brought. I left with five books:

*Babylon Revisited by F. Scott Fitzgerald
*The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons
*The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
*Rosie by Anne Lammott
*Get a Financial Life by Beth Kobliner (review to follow, when I read it)

We still had about 15 books left, so we decided to hold on to them and do another swap in a few months, hopefully getting even more people to show up. It was so fun to hang out and talk books, and get to take home some new ones at the end of the night. I highly recommend throwing a book swap as a frugal get together!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Spend Less January Week 1

Note: I am trying to spend WAY less than usual on eating out and entertainment because of my move this month. When I say "total spent" I just mean within that category. It doesn't include groceries or gas or any other items that I spend money on.

January 1st: The bf paid for us to go to Magic Mountain, where I learned that I am officially too old for roller coasters because I got super sick! The Mountain is lame and won't let you bring in any food or beverages whatsoever. He paid for our lunch too, so I offered to get dinner on the way home. Then we came home and crashed immediately.
Total Spent: $39.42

January 2nd: Came home and had meeting for National Boards with some co-workers at my place. Someone brought Pumpkin bread and refused to take it back, so I got to have it for breakfast for a few days. Then I went to church in the evening with the bf and he bought me dinner after since he wasn't interested in what I had at home for dinner.
Total Spent: $0 :)

January 3rd: Started a free class for salary points. Pumpkin bread for breakfast. My friend in the class owed me a lunch, so she treated me to Rubio's. I told her that I wanted to bring lunch the rest of the week and she said she'd do that too. I came home and had some of my leftover tamales for dinner and watched Netflix.
Total Spent: $0 :)

January 4th: More pumpkin bread for breakfast. Last of my tamales for lunch. Kari and I went to the gym after class and then I went to the grocery store and packed my lunch for Wednesday. I also made the delicious pasta salad I posted the recipe to earlier in the week.
Total Spent: $0

January 5th: Pop tarts for breakfast (I know, I know). Pasta salad for lunch, an apple, and some rice cakes for a snack. Came home, watched the first disc of Breaking Bad before I went to Book Swap at my friend Juliet's house. I also stopped by the store because I forgot one of the dip ingredients and also picked up a bottle of wine to bring to Book Swap.
Total Spent: $0 :)

January 6th: Pop tarts again for breakfast. Pasta salad for lunch with my apple and rice cakes as a snack. Stopped at the library on the way home and picked up The Help, which I've been wanting to read. After class the BF come over. We walked to the store and he picked up some bread and soda to go with the last of the pasta salad for dinner. We just hung out, watched some Arrested Development and went to bed (I was up really late from Book Swap the night before).
Total Spent: $0 :)

January 7th: Yes, Pop tarts again. Kari also surprised me with a travel mug of coffee when she picked me up for carpooling, which was nice. I had a snack of rice cakes and an apple during class. We got out early, so Kari and I went straight to the gym after class and then I came home and had a lean cuisine. I also mailed two items I sold on Amazon, did some dishes, and hung out for the afternoon. I had planned to meet my friend Lindsay at California Pizza Kitchen (using my gift card) but she had to cancel. So instead I made waffles (trying to use up food before the move) and started reading The Help.
Total Spent: $0 :)

Total spent on eating out for the week: $39.42
-This is less than I would have usually spent, but I would like to keep it even lower next week. I am proud of myself for eating at home and planning Book Swap, which was good, cheap fun. :)

Teacher Terms

I realized the other day when Jolie commented, that I do throw around a lot of educational terms and lingo on this blog. And when she said it was unfamiliar (but also fascinating...thanks!), I realized that even teachers outside of California might not know what I'm talking about, much less you non-education people. So, here's a glossary of terms I talk about most.

Salary Point: Basically I can get a raise when I take continuing education classes. Most of them are college classes where one unit=one point. But there are other classes through the district or other places that are not measured by units. Those are worth salary points as well. In LA you max out on units at 96, and you have ten years to get to the top of the salary table. Raises are given in increments of 14 points.

National Boards: This is something across the whole US for teachers. It's completely optional, but many districts do give a raise if you certify. LAUSD gives 7.5% automatically and another 7.5% if you complete hours mentoring other teachers, providing PD, etc. The process involves four portfolios (2 of which involve videotaping your lessons) and six assessments. Only 40% of people pass the first try. You have three years during which they bank you scores so you can keep trying. I'm in year three. Also, you are credentialed in any state in the US. It's a really reflective process, and as frustrating as it is not to pass the first (or second) time, I've really learned a lot from the process.

Furlough Days: California has no money. Therefore my giant school district (2nd biggest in the nation) also has no money. Basically, furlough days are a pay cut. We get extra days off throughout the year (eight of them), but don't get paid for those days off. They space out the pay cut throughout the year even when the days are clustered in one month (like the three days of Thanksgiving week). I have a love/hate with furlough days.

Stipends: Stipends are a semesterly token amount teachers may be given for various above and beyond type tasks. I get a stipend for being the yearbook adviser. It's taxed as a bonus, which means I lose about half of it.

Coverage: As a middle school teacher I get a conference period everyday. When for whatever reason another teacher needs a sub for just a few periods, they ask one of us to cover during our conference. We get an hourly rate for doing this, which works out to over $40 a pop for me. And since my conference is at the end of the day I get asked more than others, which is nice.

Any other edu-speak I use that people don't know? :)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Class This Week

I may or may not have mentioned that I took at class this week, my last week of vacation. It met everyday this week, earning me two salary points and it was FREE. It was a technology class and it was pretty awesome. One new resource was, where you can make free webpages that look awesome! I thought I would share mine and encourage my teacher readers to check this out. I'm really excited about my page. Check out the podcast/video tab to see what else I made this week. :) Enjoy!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kerri's Cottage Cheese Dip

I got this recipe from my roommate, and I LOVE it. It's actually a pretty healthy dip. I serve it with tortilla chips. I took a picture, but it does not accurately represent it's deliciousness, so you're just going to have to trust me on this one. Make it. I brought it to my book swap last night (pictures to follow) and it was a hit.

1 large container of low-fat cottage cheese
3 chopped roma tomatoes
2 bunches green onion, chopped
1 medium can of whole green chiles (but then chop them yourself. The diced ones are too juicy and small.)
pepper, to taste
garlic salt, to taste

Combine everything. It's a really easy recipe. Let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to get more flavorful and then dig in. It's addicting, and it's the healthiest dip I know how to make.

Change to my 2011 Goals...

Yes, already. An anonymous commenter made a suggestion that I track the amount I spend on gas for the year rather than miles. City driving uses more gas, but a long trip can be a worthwhile experience and gets better mileage since it's highway miles. I like that idea.

Also, I forgot to check my mileage on the 1st, so I'm already off. Whoops.

So, I am going to make a goal to spend no more than $1300 on gas this year. And I'll track it on my sidebar. Over and out!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cilantro Chicken Pasta Recipe

I got this recipe from The Frugal Girl's blog. She's somewhat of a domestic goddess, so I haven't tried too many of her recipes. This is an easy one, so I tried it. She adjusted the recipe, and then I adjusted it further. :) I just finished having it for dinner and it was great! It makes a ton as well, so there is plenty of leftovers.
Cilantro Chicken Pasta Salad
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (I used way half a bunch. Because I like cilantro)
1 tablespoon chopped thyme (FG used 1 teaspoon dried, I didn't have any, so I left it out)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon dry white wine (or a splash of the white wine that was in my fridge)
2 tablespoons white whine vinegar (I used red because it's what I had)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil plus 3 tablespoons (divided use)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
9 ounces dried pasta, such as penne (I used large shells that were sitting in my cupboard)
1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch strips (I used a whole red bell pepper)
1/2 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch strips (Used a whole one of these too)
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped (I skipped this)
5 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, cored, and diced (FG skipped these and added avocado too!)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (I used dried)
8 ounces cooked chicken breast, preferably smoked, diced (I used the last of my Thanksgiving turkey that I had frozen. However, I actually think this would be better as a vegetarian dish.)
1 cup oven dried tomatoes (can sub. sun-dried tomatoes, softened in hot water)
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed (I just threw in the whole 10oz bag)

Combine cilantro, thyme, 1 tablespoon of basil, minced garlic, and shallots in a bowl. Whisk in the wine, both vinegars, and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain, and place in large serving bowl. Toss with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and set aside to cool.
When the pasta is cool, add the black beans, vegetables, smoked chicken, and basil. Toss with the vinaigrette and season to taste.
Cover the salad and refrigerate to chill for at least twenty minutes. The longer it's in there the more flavorful it becomes.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Payday This and That

I got paid today, thanks to direct deposit. That's the good news. The not so good news is that I can tell they took at least one furlough day out of that check. Maybe two. I won't know for sure until I get my paystub tomorrow. I sort of hope it's two, because that means that in February I will actually get my whole check. How glorious!

I made my regular car payment today. Ho hum. I'm under $6,000 though, so that's an exciting development.

There is another $100 in my e-fund for now, though I'll be taking out at least $300 to cover my pro-rated rent.  Thank goodness for my emergency fund. For reals.

I'm not getting my hair did this month, in order to save money. I'm due for highlights in the next couple of weeks, but I'm going to push it to the first week of February.

That's all for now, dear readers. I'm having a Book Swap tomorrow night, so look forward to pictures of that frugal fun for all!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011 Goals

I'm actually a huge fan of New Year's Resolutions...I like lists and goals and feeling accomplished. So, here are my goals for 2011.

1. Pay off my car! Barring any crazy emergencies, this one should happen pretty easily. I. can't. wait.

2. Increase amount I am contributing to my retirement accounts to 10% of my income. I am starting my 403(b) in January at about 5%, so once my car is paid off I want to start increasing the amount I contribute.

3. Increase the amount I pay toward my student loans by $100 per month as soon as my car is paid off. My interest on my student loan is crazy low, so I'm okay letting this take a few more years to get completely paid off. I am thinking about leaving the official payment lower and then just contributing extra toward the balance so that none of the extra is going toward interest.

4. Finish and PASS National Boards. This is my last hurrah, and since I'm only six points away I'm going to make it happen!

5. Get a raise via salary points by the end of this school year. This will result in close to $200 extra per month, which would be awesome and would help me with other financial goals.

6. Start a travel fund so that I can begin to save up for a bigger trip in the next couple of years. Ideas include Europe (Germany, Amsterdam, Austria, Poland) or perhaps the Philippines with a friend from work who goes every summer. I've been on big trips before, but I've always at least in part financed them with my credit card, so I want to change my patterns in that way.

7. Put less than 8,000 miles on my car. I did not make my goal of 100 No Drive Days last year, so I am going to switch to making my goal about the miles I drive rather than full days of not driving. I actually don't know how many miles I put on my car last year, but I know I have 70,000 on my car from the last four and a half years. The first two years of that were when I lived 25 miles from work, so that put TONS of miles on my car. Anyway, I really don't know if 8,000 miles is realistic, but I figure it's a place to start.