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Archive for January, 2008

My February Challenge

January 31st, 2008 at 02:04 am

My challenge to myself for February is a minimal-spend month. All the bills will get paid, of course, and I'll eat and buy gasoline to get to work as usual, and if I run out of household supplies like paper towels or light bulbs, I will replace them, and if I or the furkids needs any medical attention, that will be taken care of. Also, February is Valentines Day and I'll buy my sweetie a valentine and some chocolate, but that's to be the limit of my discretionary spending. No books or DVDs or clothing or tools or gadgets or garden supplies or new supplements at the health food store or restaurant meals (though grabbing a salad or sandwich at the convenience store when I forget to bring my lunch, as I occasionally do, is allowed), and (as usual) no going out to the movies or other entertainment (though I'm not cancelling the Netflix account). I'm also hoping that it will be a low pet-bill month, too--I *think* I have enough food in stock to keep Henry the Hungry Hound fed for the month, though the cats are almost out of food. Without these additional expenditures, I'm hoping to bring the monthly total in under $2000, which would be a real achievement (haven't done it since August 2006). If successful, that will compensate for January's extra expenses and allow me to make progress towards my savings goal for the year.

First Month Assessment

January 28th, 2008 at 03:14 am

I'll do this now, since I get busy during the week. Also, I started my fitness and diet plan on Dec 27, so it really IS a month.

So far: 7 pounds down (about 3% of my weight). I've exercised all but 5 days since starting. Food spending was about 10% lower than last year's monthly average; I should do even better in February, when I won't have out-of-town company coming to buy for. I ended up buying food [bagels & cream cheese, tortilla chips] that the visitor didn't eat and which I just gave away to my boyfriend because it's not on my health plan right now.

In terms of savings goals, I haven't saved *anything* so far--in fact, I overspent in January--$220 on exercise DVDs and equipment and new walking shoes, an unexpeced $500 vet bill (well, not totally unexpected, as Henry ends up with about 4 of these per year; just not expected this month); over $200 in textbooks for the school term, and $116 for a new 3 handset phone system when my old cordless phone died. Some months are like that. Everything was put on the credit card, which I pay off in full each month. My goal for the next month, however, is to limit expenditures to basic bills, food, gasoline, and any emergency medical/vet bills that arise--in other words, I'll eliminate discretionary spending other than that which I routinely get billed for (the $19/month gym fee; the minimum $5.23 most basic Netflix subscription) and see if I can thereby catch up on my planned savings.

The other big goal for the month is working towards the career change. I've got a big hurdle in the next 2.5 weeks: I finished last semester with an incomplete in a critical course, and now have just 2.5 weeks left to complete two exams and the papers. I wasn't able to focus on working on this last month when I found my job unexpectedly up in the air, and the past week, I've been feeling on the verge of a cold and end up going to bed early each night rather than studying. I'm going to be pretty frantic until my Feb 16th deadline.

Celebratory Weekend

January 21st, 2008 at 04:17 am

Knowing that I have a job in hand through summr of '09 (the point at which I finish my accounting studies and am ready to move on to the new career), I felt like celebrating this weekend. It worked out well that I already had an out-of-town visitor scheduled, a trip rescheduled from before-Christmas. I spent Saturday morning doing some grocery shopping and tidying up, and Donna arrived around 2. After hanging out at home for an hour, we went to a nearby town having a "SnowBlast festival" to look at the ice sculptures. I drove her home past my workplace and with a stop at the Farmer's Market. Our Farmer's market is open Thurs, Fri, & Sat. If I go, it's usually Thurs or Fri since I work nearby. I hadn't realized that on Saturday the hour or so before closing, the merchants steeply discount their wares, since they don't want to have to pack them up again. It might be worth the occasional Saturday trip in the future.

In the evening, DBF came over to join us for dinner, which I cooked (salmon with Asian stirfry veggies in a citrus-soy sauce over brown rice). Donna and I split a bottle of wine (DBF abstained). I got quite the buzz on and paid for it later that night. A drinker I am not.

Today we puttered around home until 10:30, then went to Granny's Tearoom for brunch, and to the local bookstore and a couple of giftstores, all along Main St, to browse. The tearoom had a special whereby they were selling Windsor teapots for $10 if you bought some tea; so I picked up a package of white tea with blackcurrent and a cobalt blue teapot, as I have recently switched from coffee to tea as my default drink of choice. I also bought a book on Green Housecleaning at the bookstore since it seemed to have some very useful tips when I browsed through it.

After we got home, Donna left, and I ended up puttering around the rest of the day--went out to Lowe's and bought a new trash can since one of my two finally split completely down the middle last week, and otherwise hung around and drank tea (plus I did one of my in-home walking tapes so I'd get some exercise).

Tomorrow I have off from teaching, but it will be a work-at-home, preparation for the workweek day. Now that I know that my plans are in place for the next 1.5 year's it's time to stop worrying and blast full-speed ahead!


January 17th, 2008 at 07:47 pm

I mentioned about 3 weeks ago that my job (which runs on yearly contracts) was iffy for next fall (teaching, so starting in September). I just found out that I indeed have one more year! This is great not only for next year, but because it makes my planned career transition so much easier. I've been taking classes in accounting in the evenings/summers, and I'm getting close to being done with requirements, but there are still three key classes to take. This gives me the opportunity to take the classes before I move into the accounting world. Since I teach at a college, I can take the classes here for free, so that saves on tuition, too. Also, most of the job searches for beginning accounting jobs are currently done in the fall for jobs that start the following summer. I should be able to do an accounting internship over the summer, then interview for jobs in the fall, and walk out of next years' teaching contract into my new career! I am so relieved I can't even begin to say!

School Term starts tomorrow

January 14th, 2008 at 02:13 am

Today's the end of my vacation--the only time all year that I have time to do more than catch up on sleep and laundry (given that my schedule is that I work a full time job, a part time job, and I go to school part time--I used to have more "fun" on my vacations when I "just" worked full-time; now it's just recovering from exhaustion). During my month off, I didn't manage to do anything like go to a movie or take a daytrip to Philly, but I did browse at the bookstore half a dozen times, and, more productively, I did a lot of cleaning and reorganizing at home, and I got myself started exercising regularly again and lost about 5 pounds. Those things feel good.

When I manage to get myself to the point where I "just" have one full-time job (ideally as of June 2009), I'll have to start planning for a "real" vacation--maybe in December of 2009. The last time I took a week off and traveled anywhere was my obligatory trip home two years ago. I can't even remember the last time I went anywhere for more than a weekend just for fun--it's been about 10 years.

Good thing I've only got a year and a half more on the "work full time and part time and go to school" plan. I'm beginning to get burned out.

As for my last day of vacation--well, I spent the morning finishing the kitchen reorganization project, and making applesauce and braised cabbage (yesterday I made Chicken Cacciatore, so I have some food laid away for the week ahead) and the afternoon doing syllabi for one course. Tonight I really should finish the other syllabus, but I think I'm going to bed early, since we're expecting some amount of snow (2" to 5") and I'll have to dig out before the morning commute.

My, but it's been a spendy month!

January 13th, 2008 at 12:44 am

My almost month-long vacation (college school break) ends on Monday. Something I've found as I've been tracking my expenses for the past few years is that I typically end up spending a lot more on my time off. It's the only time I have to devote to thinking about household purchases, so that's always a big category when I'm on break.

Here are the "extras" I've been buying:

Replacements for broken items where the cost of replacement beats the cost of repair

-new phone system (3 handset Dect 6.0)
-new shop-vac (which I use for my general purpose vacuum cleaner)

New items to make life more organized
-shoe rack for where I end up tossing my shoes in a corner of the living room. Now they take up less space.
-kitchen trash can--old one was too small and I'd have to empty it too frequently so I converted it to hold my birdseed supply outside since the lid has a nice tight fit. For the past year & a half, I've been putting trash in a bag in half of the kitchen sink--it needs to be kept out of the dog's reach (he's a basset and can't reach that high). But I got tired of having the trash be the first thing I see walking into the kitchen. Now I have a nice shiny stainless steel can that the dog won't knock over or be able to get into.
-a few plastic storage boxes for the accumulation of books and notes from the past semester.
-breadbox--to put in bread and my dog's assortment of treats and meds which have been scattered out on top of the counter or on top of the refrigerator. Hiding the mess.

New things generally related to self-improvement or self-care
-New walking shoes. I buy expensive ones because I've had foot problems in the past and it's worth it to me to pay for the quality & support. I'm re-inaugurating my walking program that I was lax on last year.
-Two textbooks for classes I'm auditing this term.
-A portable CD-player. I've had bad luck with MP3 players and wanted something to play podcasts and audiobooks on, so I got a CD player that plays MP3 format to entertain me while I walk.
-Half a dozen fitness DVDs/videos--bought used or as overstock so I didn't pay full price.
-I also got a heart rate monitor & blood pressure measuring device but those were paid for by my credit card rewards, so didn't take any additional cash out of my wallet.

other large expense
A $140 vet bill for Henry's skin infection, and another $150 for a 6-month supply for one of his meds

On the positive side, my gas (heat) bill was actually really LOW this month because I pay on the budget plan and January is when they rebalance and set it to zero. I'd previously overpaid so this month's bill was only 20% of the usual bill. Also I've mostly been avoiding eating out and am focusing on healthy eating, so the food bill will come in (as planned) lower than it has been.

Once I go back to work, the "extras" spending will stop, and I think I'll make February a no-extras spending month and limit expenditures to food, fuel for the car, and the usually monthly mortgage and utility bills.

Food, Then & Now

January 8th, 2008 at 12:26 am

I thought I'd write up what my typical eating patterns have been like the past few months compared to now, after making a conscious effort to "detox" my diet both for health and financial purposes. I'm listing two days worth of eating since that gives a better picture than one.

In both cases you'll note that I eat 5-6 times a day--that's the only way my hunger stays in control. Once I've done this for a month, I'll compare the financial savings--right now there's a little financial data but mostly calories:

Then: Typical Fall semester eating days

Get up at 6, have a bowl of cold cereal & soymilk and coffee
Go in to work at 8, hungry & buy an egg & cheese on bagel sandwich & a cup of coffee for ~$3.50
Teach. Lunch at desk--Easy Mac.
Go home. Afternoon snack--fruit & yogurt.
Dinner. chicken soup reheated from crockpot cooking, bread, salad.
Evening snack: bread & cheese

Breakfast: pb&j sandwich, soymilk
Lunch: at home, Amy's roasted veggie wrap, salad.
Snack: energy bar & coffee on way in to office; ~$2.50
Dinner: Taco Bell or Burger King or turkey & mashed potatoes from the convenience store ~$6
Snack: fruit & yogurt

Eating out average $6/day
# bought meals/snacks: 1.5/day
# prepared food meals: 1/day
# meals from home ingredients: 3/day
average calories/day: 2300

Now: Current eating
6:30 oatmeal & hardboiled egg
9:30 whey shake, fruit
11:30 lunch; beans & greens soup, quinoa, salad, fruit
5:30 dinner: tilapia, asparagus, kale & onions; grapes; acai sorbet
9: rice cake & soymilk

6:30 oatmeal
9 egg, whey shake
11:30 arugala salad, baked tofu, fruit & nuts
2 hummus, carrots & celery
4 apple
7 1/2 spaghetti squash, 1/2 cup tomatoe sauce, asparagus, berries
9 whey shake

Eating out average: once in 10 days so $1/day
only prepared meals I'm having are the whey shakes and the baked tofu
more veggies, fewer grains
average calories/day: 1800

Cutting food costs while building health

January 3rd, 2008 at 01:47 am

In line with my joint emphasis on saving, especially on food, while also trying to lose weight, I've started the year off with a detox diet--based mostly on Cathy Wong's "Inside Out Diet" (I also read Mark Hyman's "Ultrasimple Diet" and Roizen & Oz's "You Getting Younger" in preparation for this. )

The goal is to eat both more healthily AND to eat less. (Also to exercise more--but that's a lot easier for me than cutting down on the calories.)

I spent a week before starting my food plan getting mostly off of caffeine--which meant feeling sleepy for a week (headachey for one day). I'm not completely off of caffeine, as it does have some health benefits, but I did switch from 5-6 cups of coffee to day to drinking a variety of teas (white, green, red, herbal, and yerba maté for when I need a bit of a caffeine kick). I'm sure that I'm drinking only a quarter of the caffeine that I was.

I started following the plan I worked out for myself on the 30th, so I've just about completed 4 days now. Weight loss as of this morning was 4.2 pounds. I know that's mostly water weight, but the best thing is that so far I've managed to consistently eat about 700 calories/day less than I have been eating without feeling hungry. And that's what I need to be able to do over the long haul in order to lose the weight.

Right now I'm focusing more on the food side than the financial side of this, but I do believe that I'll ultimately save money on food if I can keep eating this way--mostly because I typically spend so much money on eating grab-and-go food from convenience stores and sub shops.

One thing that I've found that helps is that I've been snacking on dehydrated vegetables--a company called "Just Tomatoes" puts out containers of various sizes and they're easy to eat like popcorn. First I bought a 4 oz container, then when I finished that in 3 days, I bought a pound. Next time I'll buy in bulk to reduce the cost. I've also been looking at alternate companies that produce dehydrated food for storage (I remember reading a lot about this back in the days of Y2K fears). I'll probably order a sampler pack from Walton Feed to compare the quality, since their food is cheaper (but they emphasize using their food rehydrated, not using it to snack on in the dehydrated form, so I don't know if it'll be as good eating it dry.

Other than eating lots of veggies, I'm eating fruit, brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal, beans, tofu, eggs, and fish, and allowing myself the use of extra virgin olive oil as my primary fat (also raw nuts & seeds and avocado). I've allowed myself the use of an artificial sweetener, but minimally (just with morning oatmeal). I'll probably add kefir in in a few days since I typically drink it daily for its probiotic benefit.
I'm also taking fish oil capsules for the omega-3s.

So there have been some startup costs to switching to eating this way (eg the fish oil capsules, the variety of teas, etc) but that's still within my typical food budget costs since I haven't eaten out at all.

The general premise behind the diet I'm following (bringing together info from Hyman and Wong here) is that our livers are overtaxed by the increasing burden of pesticides as well as consuming too many refined carbs or not enough carbs and too much of the wrong kind of fat. When you start dieting, toxins stored in fat are released, taxing the liver further. So the idea is that you start a diet by eating to provide liver support. The liver plays a role in blood sugar control and in digestion of fats, so having it function optimally decreases your hunger even as you cut back on food. Then when you start adding foods back in, you test for food intolerances/allergies, since these increase inflammation, which in turn leads to increased propensity for obesity.

From my perspective, the most important thing is that I've not been feeling hungry, which is the reason why I've had such problems losing weight in the past. If I can continue not to feel hungry at a 500-700 calorie/day deficit, the weight will come off. And that will have all kinds of benefits, both physical and financial. I know that if I get even just 20 pounds off (I've stated 33 in my goal, but really, I could stand to lose 60), the arthritis pains and heartburn I've been experiencing will decrease, and my risk of all kinds of chronic illnesses will decrease.

Tea and a Mitzvah

January 2nd, 2008 at 02:39 am

Here's how I spent my New Years Day: in the morning, I went over to my friend Anne's for tea and a chat. We made a plan to walk on Tuesday & Thursday mornings at 6 from now on. This is great because one thing I have learned about myself is that I am most consistent with my exercise when I make it a social commitment. Also Anne lives only half a mile away, which makes it easy. I lost my last walking buddy when I moved from the next town over. We kept up our walks for the first year after I moved, but it was a lot easier to skip a walk when we each had to drive 5 miles to meet, and eventually things fell apart when our schedules changed. Now I'm going to approach my next-door neighbor about walking, too--we'd briefly discussed it over the holiday. It will be twice as good to have *two* nearby walking buddies--get me out there twice as often!

When I went home and checked my email, I learned from my rabbi that an elderly couple in our congregation were both in the hospital today, and eager for visitors. I decided to go, since I can remember how much I appreciated visitors the time that I was hospitalized for 7 weeks. I ended up spending three hours visiting with the wife and just talking to the husband (who's in a different wing) over the phone. She ended up taking a trip down memory lane, and told me many stories from her younger years, which was fun since she's a person whom I didn't meetuntil she was 65 (she's 80 now). I was taken by her love for life and its pleasures. This is a woman who, after falling and breaking 8 ribs, did not want to miss the cioppino dinner that a friend was bringing over, so she had herself helped into a chair, laughed and talked through dinner (she said she was fine as long as she didn't move), took two Tylenol PM to get through the night, and then went to the hospital the next morning! She says she's glad that she did it as it has given her a good memory to savor during her stay. I hope I have as much lust for life when I am her age.