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My summer month

July 23rd, 2022 at 09:19 pm

Sometimes things at work calm down for both July and August, but this year, August is getting pretty booked, so it looks as though July is basically my summer "down" time, and I'm really only realizing this as it is drawing to a close.  

I do have several more PTO days I can take this year; just need to figure out a reasonable way to schedule them.  Generally taking a 3-day weekend (or expanding a 3-day weekend into 4 days) works best for R&R.  *Nothing* really seems to work for decluttering, other than my friend coming to visit once a year.  Tomorrow and next weekend will thus be busy preparing to make my home less cluttered before her visit the first weekend of August.  I DO intend to make decluttering a major focus for next year.  I don't seem to be able to take on more than one major non-work goal at a time at the moment given limitations both of my work schedule and my energy levels, which are impacted by Hashimoto's even though my TSH levels are normal (even improved, all while the thyroid antibodies have worsened).  

So "summer" means actually making more of an effort to see and do things with friends, seeing people maybe once a week rather than maybe once every six weeks.  Now and the holidays are the only times most of my friends hear from me.  I did call one of my friends today whom I haven't spoken to in a year or so; she told me that she turns 75 this fall and her husband turns 80, which is sort of startling since when we met, she was in her 40s and he was in his early 50s.  Makes you realize how time flies.

As a single person and  one of the few people in my local friend group who is not already retired, it means that I have to make an effort to reach out and arrange things--and these days, I generally don't have the energy that I did in my 40s and early 50s.  Since most of my friends are retired, they usually get together for lunch or to see a matinee when I'm working.  I'll have to make efforts to expand my friend group, but one thing at a time.  Last year, CFP exam; this year, focus on health, next year, decluttering so I have a place I feel good about inviting people over to, and THEN a focus on the social.

I've had a few dinners with friends, including last night and tomorrow night.  One of my friends owns my favorite local restaurant, so tomorrow night, I am going over to her restaurant (which is closed on Sundays) for a private dinner with her and her husband, and then we are going to see Where the Crawdads Sing at a nearby movie theatre--my first visit to a movie theatre since COVID began.

I also uses the summer time to catch up on doctor's visits.  I still need to get glasses following my eye doctor visit back in May.  And I had my annual primary care visit last week, generally all good news except mildly elevated LDL cholestorol, and then those TPO antibody numbers (which were based on a test that *I* ordered; he just ordered TSH and free T4).  A couple of friends had suggested that I might try going on Levothyroxine at a low level to see if it would reduce the fatigue and brain fog, but my primary care doctor didn't want to do that since my TSH numbers are normal and even improved.  I DID decide to change endocrinologists and will be seeing the Head of Endocrinology at the local hospital, who a friend recommended, but I'll have to wait until Oct. 25 to see him.

In the meantime, I realized that my increase in thyroid antibodies directly tracks with an increase in dairy consumption.  I've decreased my carbs and increased protein to lose weight, and a lot of the increased protein has been one or two servings of Greek yogurt each day.  So I decided to eliminate dairy and retest my antibodies in another 6 weeks.

Another summer experiment is that I just purchased a "Slack Block," a device for balance training.  This is a purchase I have been toying with for a couple of years, and, after hearing my friend today talk about the balance problems that both she and her husband have, and having had 3 of my colleagues who still have living parents had a parent hospitalized this year after a fall, I've decided that it is better to start being proactive about this before I develop any problems.  (I don't have any balance problems, but neither do I currently have the strength to stand up from the floor without using any hands best, I can stand without putting a hand on the floor but I do need to brace a hand on my knee to stand up--and I can only do this on one side.)

The last 4 months

July 18th, 2020 at 04:54 pm

The last time I blogged here, we had just been put on shut-down orders.

I've now been back at the office for a month, although I'm working around the person whose desk is nearest mine. That's still 10' away, so not too scary. Her son works at a grocery store, though, so I worry that she is the likeliest person in our office to have an asymptomatic exposure. Over the summer she is part-time, so she works at the office 1 day a week and I'm in the other 4. Once school starts in another 5 weeks, I'll have to work with her there. Hopefully the case numbers will be going down again by then.

We're just beginning to do client meetings in person, but so far I am able to participate in those by Zoom, and as a business centered around client meetings, I imagine that we will see some of our clients who prefer to meet that way all or most of the time going forward.

The stay-at-home orders did lead to a bit of weight gain after about 2 months, so I went back to intermittent fasting as of 5/28 and lost the weight I had gained and then some. I'm hoping to make IF a permanent lifestyle. We'll see how I feel about that in the fall when the weather cools. I first tried IF in 2016 and again in 2017 and in 2018, each time falling off the wagon in the winter. My appetite seems to roar back in the mornings in cold weather. So we'll see what happens this year. I really do want to make it long term and continue to lose weight. I turn 60 next month and have a certain goal weight I want to make it to by then. I've plateaued the past week, which is frustrating since I was making steady progress until then. Anyways, if I can keep this going as a permanent lifestyle change, I would get to my ideal weight next year and then just focus on keeping it there.

Speaking of weight, the pandemic has certainly led to a change in my eating habits. I've long gone out for meals 2-4 times a week, and out to the grocery store weekly. Now the last time I set foot in a restaurant was March 8th and into a grocery store March 19th. I've had a couple of months where I didn't do take-out; now I do it occasionally but not more than once a week. And instead of the grocery store, I'm mostly relying on one of the meal delivery services, Hungryroot, for my shopping. I like this service more than most meal deliveries because they are delivering to you *prepared ingredients* (pre-cooked meats, pre-chopped veggies, prepared sauces) that you then mix and heat for a meal. The "recipes" (if you can call them that) take about 5 minutes, and the cooked meats don't seem to have a lot of chemicals and the sauces often have a chickpea based since the company started out as vegetarian only. Then I supplement this with extra veggies from farmers I know who usually sell to NYC restaurants; they started an online store when the NYC restaurants shut down and so far have maintained it. There's also a home milk delivery service that I use about once a month to get cheese, yogurt, cream, and some additional meats. So I've avoided stepping inside anywhere except home and the office since 3/19. I haven't even driven more than a mile from my house since then!

One thing that's been hurt by the pandemic is my exercise routine. I had joined a gym that I really like with a one-year commitment for over $100 a month. The gym has been very good about providing online classes even after they were allowed to re-open. I, however, just am not at all good at participating in online classes. I need the weight of social expectations in order to complete a full workout The few times I've tried the online workouts, I get 15 or 20 minutes into it and quit--which is what I'd do at the gym, too, except for the eyes of others upon me. Still working this one out. Right now the thing that works best is finding audiobooks and reserving certain books to listen to only when I walk. I'm currently "reading" Mary Trump's book this way. So that helps with keeping generally active but doesn't build strength, endurance, or flexibility.

In other news, some successes: my Net Worth hit 600k this month, 3 years after first hitting 500k; my debt is down 10.8k from year-end; and, after 4.5 years, I finally completed the CFP coursework. I still have the exam to do. I'm probably waiting until next July to take it since otherwise I would have to get into study mode right away for the September exam (which is the July 2020 exam deferred for COVID--first they deferred it and then finally this week they allowed for remote proctoring rather than having to go into a Prometric Center. If they had had the Remote Proctoring option back at the end of June when I made this decision, I might have opted to dive right into studying for the September exam, but now I'd be behind the 8-ball. I'm going to take a practice exam this weekend and decide--if it's just a few pockets of things that I really need to work on (the investment calculations and the rules, costs, and benefits of all the various retirement plans being known areas of weakness), then I might decide to go for the September exam, but if I just need improvement all around, I'll wait until next year.

Budgeting: YNAB vs; Debt paydown vs Sinking Funds

January 6th, 2018 at 11:39 pm

So one of my plans for the year is to get back to tracking my expenses--something I did assiduously when I first started on this site in 2006, but which I stopped doing during all the life craziness that started at the end of 2009 (leaving my job/career, Henry Hound's cancer diagnosis, my mom's terminal diagnosis). After a "wild & crazy ride," things at long last feel more stable, so it's time to get back to tracking and trying to rein in spending reasonably. I don't feel the need to go all austere--after all, who knows how long any of us has? Financial independence is an important goal, but I also want to enjoy the ride along the way. So I'll leave in some money for books, movies, dining out, and vacation, but I'll also try to cut the money spent in those categories compared to the last couple of years.

Back in my earlier days on this site, I learned about and used YNAB for at least a couple of years--back in the days when it was an Excel-based spreadsheet. I liked it back then. I've gone and enrolled in the free trial for the current web-based version, and I must say that I don't find it at all intuitive, so I found another Excel-based spreadsheet that I'd used before, at, and I'm going back to that. I love the *idea* of YNAB, but not the current incarnation. Jesse Mecham just came out with a book and I'm reading that, but I think I will part ways with his software and stay with good old familiar Excel (where I spend about half my working life).

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got a 20% bonus at the end of last year. I did use some of it to bring down my debt, but even though part of me felt a strong urge to put it ALL towards debt reduction and cut another 6K off the debt, I decided--at least for the moment--to keep 6K in sinking funds for larger expenses that will (long-term care insurance premiums, dental for one of my cats) or might (car repair, home repair, etc) occur. Most of the debt is pretty low cost--0% to 4%. When one of the 0% terms expires in May, I might consider paying that chunk off in full, but I figure I'm ok not deciding right now. At some point, maybe I'll give in and get that debt down to the 86K total that I'd listed as a goal, but for the moment, I'm enjoying enough money in my savings accounts to cover the big expenses that tend to accrue for me in the summer.

The idea of "slowing down to speed up" by "funding true expenses first" is something that Jesse Mecham talks about in his "You Need a Budget" book. So what I'm doing is consistent with that--trying to get off the treadmill.

As part of my cost-cutting attempts, today's big grocery shop of the week was at Aldi's, where I got out for $85. They didn't have celery or sweet potatoes at the store I was in, so I'm stopping at the Price Rite on my way home to pick those up. Then home to make beef stew. (Not all of the day was cost-cutting--I went to my favorite diner for breakfast and treated a friend to lunch, but the rest of the week it's back to home cooked meals--the beef stew, a chicken dish--maybe a paleo sesame chicken recipe I saw online if I feel ambitious tomorrow, the vegetable soup that I'm still eating from last weekend's cooking, and another batch of ground beef tomato sauce, which I am eating over shirataki noodles, along with a side of kale.

No real progress on goals yet this week--I did one before-work exercise session. I'm recovering from an Achilles tendon injury anyway, so I'll push on the exercise once that is healed. It's too cold in my downstairs to spend time decluttering--when I'm at home, I make and eat dinner and then scurry up to bed. Upstairs is quite cozy and it's only when the weather is below 20 outside that I really feel cold downstairs. I didn't do any CFP exam studying yet, but I've drafted most of three blog posts for work that I am supposed to write this year, so getting that out of the way is good and cuts pressure from those expectations for the rest of the year. I promised at least 3 for the year and those are mostly done!

Whole 30

May 5th, 2016 at 10:16 pm

I am trying a new way of eating this month. It's a Paleo variation on a vegan diet called the Whole 30, and it's basically a whole foods diet that eliminates, for 30 days, added sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, and processed foods. I already eat very little dairy, so that's not a problem, and I'm not too much of a sweets eater (other than fruit, which IS allowed on this) so that's pretty manageable too.

The big changes are eliminating grains and legumes, as well as processed foods. It's only for a month; then one adds the eliminated food categories back one at a time to see if one has reactions to them--and ideally one breaks any "addiction" to sugar during this time, so that will be lower aftwards too.

So far the biggest challenge is breakfast, since I've long been a cereal eater. For now, I'm doing a couple of eggs most mornings, along with some veggies and fruit, and the occasional smoothie or chia pudding. (Chia pudding is also something I am keeping on hand for desserts too--it's chia seeds and almond milk and I sweeten it with chopped up dates and some other fruit.) Then for lunch and dinner I have some kind of meat (a turkey burger, piece of chicken, or some fish) and a couple of vegetables--usually at least one sweet potato or piece of winter squash each day to help with satiety. And a couple of times I've had a package of almonds for a snack (along with an apple).

Hopefully this will be good for the budget too--my food spending always nicks upwards during tax season as I end up eating out a lot, so reining it back in will be good for the pocketbook as well as the waistline. The main intent is to get me to eat more healthy, home-cooked meals. Not that I eat all that badly, but I've been indulging in commercial thousand island dressing on the salads I buy for lunch at the deli across the street and other, or getting a taco salad at the Mexican restaurant and eating part of the fried shell...foods that have an excess amount of unhealthy fat.

There's another bit of incentive: in a month, I will be seeing my college boyfriend for the first time in 28 years. He will be out east on a business trip and we will get together. He's happily married, so this is not a romantic prospect, just me wanting to look better than I currently do in front of a man I've known since I was 18 (with long hair and 60 fewer pounds on my frame).

Functional Medicine and Making a big Change to my Diet

October 12th, 2014 at 09:55 pm

The other thing I have been obsessed with this summer, besides long term care insurance and job hunting (expecting more interviews after the 10/15 tax extenstion deadline....things have been a little quiet on that front for the past couple of weeks, as prospective employers are busy) is learning about functional/integrative medicine.

My interest is the result of serendipity. Earlier this summer, I started attending the twice-monthly networking events offered by a local small business marketing professional, since I am hoping to work for a small business servicing other small businesses. The very first meeting I attended included the business director for a chiropracter who was offering a free talk that night on thyroid issues.

My thyroid tests have always come back as normal, but both my sister and mother are (were) on Synthroid, and I've long known that loss of the outer third of one's eyebrows is a signal of thyroid issues, and I have that, so I decided to go to the talk, where I learned that the thyroid affects everything else in your body since every cell has thyroid hormone receptors. At the end of the talk, the doctor offered a two-visit assessment for $100 that he normally charged $450 for, so I decided to see what my results would be.

The blood tests that he ordered were different than the thyroid test ordered by my doctor, which I learned is typical. Most doctors just assess TSH and T3/T4 levels, but ignore the thyroid antibodies. My results came back indicating normal (but relatively low) thyroid levels, but an elevation in one of the antibodies, suggestive of Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder where your immune system destroys your thyoid.

When I talked about the results with my sister, she said that her doctor said that it wasn't worth testing her for Hashi's, since her thyroid levels were low anyways, and the treatment would be the same. I have since learned that this is the conventional medical approach: wait until a disorder becomes severe enough that the patient develops symptoms, then give them drugs. If the drugs cause other symptoms, then use other drugs to combat those new symptoms.

While I can't currently afford the chiropracter's program (he suggested a six-month program of additional testing, dietary changes, supplements, etc), I got enough information from him to begin reading and making changes on my own.

The most important thing I learned is that Hashi's is reversible, if caught before the thyroid has been destroyed by the autoimmune reaction. The conventional medicine approach completely ignores this possibility--very distressing! Most patients never learn that their thyroid is in danger until it is too late and the thyroid has been destroyed, because conventional medicine focuses so much on symtoms and not causes, and considers things "normal" until they are acutely out of whack.

I learned from the chiropracter that most people with Hashi's have "leaky gut" syndrome and should go on a gluten-free diet, so I put myself on that immediately. I also am gradually working to greatly reduce all grains, and am considering, at least temporarily, eliminating grains and legumes, following the suggestions of the Autoimmune Paleo diet. I also learned that low stomach acid tends to be associated with these conditions and to make the problem worse, so I started taking betaine pills with high-protein meals.

I also learned that a vegan diet generally does not work well for people trying to reverse autoimmune disease.

This is distressing because I have been basically vegan (vegan at home, vegetarian away from home) for over two years now.

But I became vegan in order to address some annoying health problems (a big increase in my seasonal allergies and asthma starting three years ago), and the vegan diet has not resolved those problems.

I also found out from the tests that the chiropracter ordered that my ferritin (iron store) levels were quite low, at the bottom of the normal spectrum, and, distressingly, significantly lower than the last time they were tested. I have noticed for the past couple of years that my late-afternoon fatigue has been more severe, and that I don't feel as well-rested upon waking as I used to, and low ferritin levels are the likely cause of this.

I've also read enough now in the functional/integrative medicine literature to see that issues like leaky gut, ferritin levels, vitamin D levels, stomach acid levels, and symptoms, including asthma symptoms, can all be tied together, and the root cause starts with getting your gut in order, since the majority of your immune system is actually housed in your gut.

So deciding to abandon my vegan diet (especially after having been at least somewhat vocal in support of it on facebook) is causing me a great deal of cognitive dissonance, but is something I've decided to do at least temporarily. I've started by beginning to eat fish for the past month, and am contemplating whether or not to add in other meat sources as well. I also have been taking increased iron supplements, and before I decide whether or not to make further dietary changes, I'm having myself tested again for the thyroid antibodies and iron levels. I'm hoping that 6-8 weeks of being gluten free and taking increased supplements will be enough to show some positive changes on those indicators. If not, I'll consider making more "meaty" changes--though the idea of "bone broths" and particularly the organ meats that are suggested in some of these protocols turn my stomach. I don't think I'll ever go as far as to eat organ meat or make my own bone broth. But a weekly grass-fed steak I am willing to consider. In the meantime, I have fingers crossed that the changes I've made to date will show some beneficial effect.

Expense or Investment?

October 9th, 2011 at 09:29 pm

Question for you: Are there expenditures you make that you consider more as an "investment" than an expense?

I'm not talking traditional investments here, but things that you purchase that you believe will have the effect of saving you money in the long term.

I've made three such purchases in the past six months, and two other purchases from the past 3 years come to mind as well:

1. A new wool comforter. If I can stay warm at night, I can keep the house temperature cooler and save money on heating bills. My old down comforter actually kept me warm, but about 6 years ago, I was first diagnosed with asthma, and last year, I landed in the ER because of it, to the tune of $1500, currently the deductible on my health insurance. I had previously poo-pooed the idea that the down was making my allergies worse, but this year, the effect when I put the down comforter on my bed was striking and notable, requiring the use of my inhaler several nights in a row (normally, only exercise induces an attack). So the comforter went into storage and I researched replacements online. Wool appears warm, breathable, and dust-mite resistant, as well as natural, so I purchased a comforter made out of wool.

2. A Vita-Mix: If you haven't heard of these, these are basically blenders on steroids, and highly touted by many in the raw foods community. While I'm not raw, I do try to eat minimally processed whole foods as much as possible to cut down my grocery bills in the short term and my doctor's bills in the long term. I haven't owned this long enough to calculate the monthly grocery savings yet, but I am using it multiple times a day and eating more fruits and veggies than ever, which can only be good for my health. Today I ran out of soy milk and at first was tempted to go to the grocery store....then realized I still had a cup of raw almonds, so instead, using the Vita-Mix and a "nut-mylk bag," I made myself a quart of almond milk that will do for cereal and coffee for a few days...saving me a grocery store trip, which means saving money because I *know* I wouldn't just buy soy milk while I was there! Plus now instead of buying pre-minced garlic and prechopped onions, I'm buying them whole and chopping my own.

3. A Nu-Wave counter-top oven. Yes, I'm a kitchen-gadget queen. But I've never had good luck making meats in the traditional oven. Baked veggies and the yearly turkey, yes, but until now, I've only had good luck making chicken on the stove top in some kind of sauce, usually marsala or cacciatore...and most of the chicken I've bought has been in the form of boneless skinless chicken breasts. Now every week I'm buying a whole frying chicken (better size for one person thann a roasting bird) and making it in this baby....then using the drippings and carcass to make my own broth. This machine will also cook meat straight from frozen, and chicken breasts are done fast--15 minutes if thawed, 25 i frozen--so there goes one of my excuses for buying something out. I buy a big bag of turkey burgers from BJ's and keep those in the freezer for quick meals that save me from going to BK's!

4. Not a new purchase, but an old one that I hadn't used for a couple of years that I recently put into action again: my Food Saver. The bags are a bit pricey, but Ball Mason jars are reusable, and if you spend a few bucks extra for a jar sealer attachment, you can buy in bulk and have the food last longer--a good solution for someone who is single like me who cannot take advantage of buy-in-bulk deals without a long-lasting storage solution.

5. My rice cooker--this was the first kitchen gadget I bought with the intent of using it to cook more, and it definitely has helped. A "fuzzy logic" cooker with multiple functions can be used for much beyond basic grains! Mine has a soup and a slow cook function and will even bake bread! I love being able to dump my ingredients, press a button, go out for a walk and come home to a cooked meal! This is faster than a slow cooker but can act similarly, plus because it vents moisture, things will brown in it that won't brown in a slow cooker. Right now the teflon on the inner pan has begun to wear out, and I'm going to have to replace this....I'm considering a gadget by Fagor that has a pressure cooking function as well (unfortunately Panasonic does not seem to sell replacement liner pans).

So what purchases have you made recently with the intent of saving yourself money in the long term?

November Catch-Up

November 20th, 2010 at 02:30 pm

I post rarely these days, so this is a catch-up post since July.

Life is calmer these days than it was early in the year, thank goodness. 2010 has definitely been a personal crisis year with Henry's dying and my mother's illness, but things have settled down for the moment.

I'm still on unemployment and still working part-time. I got cut way back on hours at the CPA firm for 4th quarter but found a temp job working as office manager in a doctor's office to fill in the gap until tax season. I've had some interviews at firms I'd really like to work for but haven't yet landed the salaried job with benefits that I crave. There are so many people with more experience than me out on the market that I lose out on the experience front. But at least this year I'm getting interviews--I wasn't last year. I'm crossing my fingers that if worst comes to worst I'll be back at the CPA firm that I've been at since April 1, and working more on corporate taxes this year, which is *exactly* the kind of experience that I'll need to get the kind of job I want. It's not a sure thing since office space is tight and the boss has another part-timer who he hired on after me who has nine years of experience...but if they can make the office space work I have a pretty good shot at having the job I need this tax season to get the job I want in a year or so, so I'm being optimistic.

The biggest thing since July is that I've actually made some progress for once on my weight loss goal. The last time I made any progress here was in 2008, when I joined Weight Watchers and lost 25 pounds in 3 months...and then slowly gained back nearly 20 of it during the intervening time. I turned 50 in August and that lit a fire under me to make a serious effort to lose the weight before menopause hits and makes it harder.

I had read Joel Fuhrman's "Eat for Life" about 5 years ago and thought it too extreme, but that's the plan I've ended up using. His advice is to have a pound of raw greens, a pound of cooked greens, any other assorted veggies you want, 3 or 4 pieces of fruit, a cup of beans, and a cup of whole grains a day--and that's 90% of what you eat. I doubt I get quite that many greens, but I have increased my intake of them significantly, mostly by becoming a fan of the "green smoothie." I have one or two of those a day. I ate a lot of salads in the summer, and now with winter it's more veggie-bean soups--and by upping my intake of vegetables and fruit significantly and limiting my grain intake to a cup a day, I've lost 14 pounds since mid-September, bringing me to my lowest weight in about 5 years. There's still a lot to lose (about another 50 pounds) but I'm finally making progress.

Where I'm not making progress is on cutting the debt. My income is currently about 50% of what it was when I had a full-time professional job, and that combined with this years' health crises with Henry and my mom put me into credit card debt for the first time in 15 years. Then in September I had a water pipe burst (about a $3000 repair), and various assorted larger expenses--this month it's going to be tires (on Subarus you have to replace all four at once so that's about $400 to get tires that will last the remaining life of the car--I hope to eek another 5 years out of it and get it to 200K miles), plus I need new eyeglasses before tax season again, and that will be another $200 to $400. As Gilda Radner playing Roseann Rosanadanna said, "It's always something."

But all things considered, I'm on an upswing emotionally relative to the beginning of the year and I hope to savor this period of relative calm for quite a while until the next crisis.

(That's Henry in the picture. His six-month yahrzeit is Nov 30)

Learning to Coupon

July 8th, 2008 at 04:38 am

I've spent some time the past couple of days looking at some of the coupon sites and trying to learn how to use coupons intelligently and without an extensive waste of time. Here's a brief summary of what I've learned. Lots more detail available at and, the primary sites I've been learning from.

1. General goal in couponing: buy when the price is at its lowest, and stockpile anything that you regularly use that's nonperishable. To know when prices are low, keep a price book where you track prices by date, store, and price per quantity.

2. To make it easy, don't clip coupons right away. Just save and date the inserts and file them.

3. There are two separate types of coupons: manufacturer and store. While you can't use two manufacturer or two store coupons on the same item, you *can* combine a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon for increased discount.

4. Some store will double the value of coupons. Know your store's doubling policy. If you can combine a double coupon with a sale, you might even get an item for free!

5. You generally get the best deals by combining a coupon or coupons with a store sale. To match up sales with coupons, there are a couple of options. Both start with pulling the weekly grocery circulars from those stores you frequent (usually published in the Sunday paper) and browsing through them for sales on items you buy. Then either (a)search though CouponMom's grocery database to find if there are current coupons for those items; or (b) look at the Grocery Game section of Hot Coupon World, which is organized by store and shows the week's sales. On the right is a "find coupon" button that will tell you if there's a coupon to be had in a recent weekly circular. On both sites, the coupons are listed by source (SmartSource, RedPlum, or PG&E) and date, so if you've saved the inserts and dated them, it will be easy to pull the coupons you'll need right before you go shopping.

6. If a coupon + sale leads to a good deal, that's the time to stock up--which means you'll need to get multiple coupons. You can subscribe to the Sunday edition of many newspapers for $1/week (there's a link to subscription savings on the coupon mom site), or ask friends and relatives who don't coupon to save them for you. There are also lots of coupons you can print from your computer; check your store's policy about accepting these.

There's lots more to learn on these sites and I'll explore them more eventually, but I've learned enough for a start. I'll be documenting my savings and putting them towards my $20 Challenge and seeing if I can break the back of the Grocery Monster!

Day 1 Efforts:
Grocery store sale: Buy 4 boxes of GM cereal, get $4 off, + two coupons for same cereals, each offering $1 off of two boxes --> $6 off cereals whose full price would be $15.56. That's a 38.6% savings, and $6 to my $20 Challenge (which I've not been pursuing so far this year).

A good start--we'll see if I can do better the next time!

March roundup

March 29th, 2008 at 09:08 pm

Well, March was a spendy month; I spent about double what I spent in February (gulp). Much of the addtional spending was justified but still I hate to see so much variability--and I *really* hate it when my spending for the month surpasses my income for the month, even with the tax refund.

Extra spending was as follows:

$600 another expensive vet trip for Henry and his allergies
$165 getting a broken tooth fixed at the dentist
$500 buying the beginnings of a new professional wardrobe as I prepare to transition from academia into the corporate world
$200 in professional expenses (books, software)
$100 stocking up on wine, beer, sodas and extra food for a party
another $200 in extra food expenses--not that the food was wasted, but that it was eaten out or bought prepared, thus unnecessarily expensive
$82 to buy 200 "forever" stamps before the price increases on May 12
$132 prepaying an extra month early on my home gas bill--they changed the date the bill was due and refused to change it back, and I really like to pay my bill immediately after my monthly paycheck arrives and not a week before it arrives, so I decided to get a month ahead to avoid any late fees.
$90 extra prepayment on the mortgage to get it down to 89K.

As so often happens, financial and weight control go together--I slacked off a lot on exercise during March, and gained back 2 pounds. Still down about 7 from the end of last year, but I can feel those two pounds.

So the goal for April is another personal "challenge" month to see how close I can keep my monthly total spending to about $2000. No "extras" this month (unless I get a job interview, in which case I still need a professional pair of shoes), and I need to start back shopping more at Aldi's and Giant, much as I hate them, rather than at my beloved Wegmans. And I pulled out the pricebook I put together two years ago--time to update it since the last time I used it was in 2006. Should be interesting to see how food prices have changed in that time.

And it's a challenge month for health, too--I've joined an online "April Boot Camp" challenge on Leslie Sansone's walk club board, the goal of which is to lose 8 pounds during April. So I'll tighten up and refocus on fitness, too. I just started another round of "First Strides," the local women's walking/running program (that was another $40 out the door); those two workouts a week with other people (in addition to the two mornings a week I walk with my friend Anne) should help keep me from slacking off).

Grocery & other weekly spending

February 16th, 2008 at 08:01 pm

After spending $130 at the grocery store last week, I was going to try not to spend anything there this week.

No go on that. All the things that I use the most--soymilk, sliced turkey breast, cereal, fruit, salad fixings, frozen burritos--were used up, so I did replace those. That "basic grocery shop" used to cost me about $35/week if that was all I bought. Now the same basket of goods costs $40/week. Inflation.

Only 1 no-spend-day during the week, but 2 more this weekend, for 8 days out of 17 so far this month total. The kitties ran out of litter and I ran out of feminine protection. Both are items that I order in bulk online, saving money over the long term but requiring an inital outlay, so that was about $100 out the door, but now I'm stocked up on both for 6 months.

I also ordered tickets to a play on-campus for my sweetie & I to attend as a late Valentine's celebration. That wasn't too bad--community members pay $15 per ticket, but as a member of the campus community, I can go for $5/person, so that was $10 out the door.

Total spending so far this month $732, still on track to bring the month in at about $2000 total, barring any household/car repair or medical emergencies. I *thought* I was going to have a big vet bill for Henry, but we managed to avoid it. He has a wart on his nose and scratched it so that it began bleeding intensely--I look up and there's blood EVERYWHERE and it's still pouring down his face. Fortunately applying pressure (and hydrogen peroxide) to the spot managed to stem the bleed. Darn wart's still there, though.

My February Challenge Update 3

February 10th, 2008 at 01:15 am

My February Challenge is doing a "fiscal fast," minimizing extras and sticking to spending on monthly bills, food, fuel, and medical emergencies.

This week was so-so. I *did* have two more no-spend days (and I expect tomorrow to be another, as I'm planning not to leave the house and to spend minimal time on the internet), so that's 4 so far. If tomorrow is indeed another NSD, I'll be batting .500 as far as NSDs go, which is pretty good for me.

I *did* buy a couple of unplanned extras. Both were not really unplanned, but not planned for this month. I was called up on Monday and asked by the Dean of the Evening College to supervise an independent study class for a student (which will bring in over $600 more income this term). The class I am supervising for her is one that I am not otherwise teaching this term. I taught it last term. A new video very relevant to the class appeared in January, and I decided at that time to buy it the next time I taught the course; but until this week, I thought that wouldn't be until next January. In addition, I replaced a copy of another videotape I use which was wearing out with a DVD of the same, since both purchases were from ABC video. So that was an unplanned $65 in unreimbursed business expenses.

Then today at the grocery store, I fell prey to the sale bug and bought two pretty glass carafes and a new coffee mug, for $13. These had been on the "to buy" list so were not totally impulse expenses, just taking advantage of the sale.

I did end up spending $130 at the grocery store, so I'm going to do my best to have that last two weeks if I can and skip my regular grocery shopping trip next weekend.

Finally, this week my local public library decided to charge me full price for a book I'd borrowed, as they said it was "too damaged" to go into circulation. I got a lecture from Miss Priss the librarian on the phone and was relieved not to have another one when I went in to pay the fine. I was thinking that I must have written in the book more than I thought, but no. Yes, I KNOW one is not supposed to write in library books--I'm a librarian's daughter. My mother and I used to fight about my habit of writing in books. I do minimize this for library books. (And I frankly I cannot understand people who can read nonfiction books and get involved with them *without* writing in them. Reading a book is like having a conversation with the author, and one has to record one's own side, is my view. Just like "an empty desk is a sign of an empty mind," an unmarked page of a nonfiction book is a sign that the reader was not involved in the reading, IMHO. But really, I DO limit my extensive conversations to books I own.) The "writing all over the book" turned out to be approximately 8 pen dots, lines, and exclamation points marking key passages, and one 6-word annotation pointing to another book on the same issue which also appeared last month (the book in question was Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food," which I am just as happy to own, and the book I referred to was Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories," which Pollan eventually mentions, about 25 pages after the point at which I first found it relevant. Personally, I am happy when a link to a related reference is posted.) Anyways, that ended up costing me $30.50, for the book, the processing fee, and late fees for a couple of other books I was not allowed to renew earlier this week because of the charge.

Despite the couple of extra expenses, it's still looking as though I'll come in under $2000 in total expenses easily (current projection is for $1825 total), just so long as the pets stay well and no other crisis emerges.

I also got another $25 reward certificate from if the spending bug really hits.

As far as my other major goal for the year, I've lost 9 pounds so far. I've been keeping track of my miles walked, both for exercise and otherwise, via a pedometer. To date, I've walked 170 miles so far this year, 74 aerobic miles and 96 other. Much better than I was doing in 2007!

Weekend/ My Feb Challenge so far

February 3rd, 2008 at 12:30 am

Quiet weekend here. I went grocery shopping in the morning, then the rest of the day has been chores, exercise (in-home walking), having DBF over for a pizza & salad dinner, and, for the rest of the evening, studying. I'll end by watching an episode online of Extreme Home Makeover. I'm actually considering canceling my cable ($15/month) since 90% of the time, I end up watching shows online rather than via cable. That 10%, however, seems to be key news events, and $15 is relatively cheap, so so far I've kept it.

Tomorrow will be all studying--trying to do the final exam for my intermediate accounting course from last term, or as much of it as I can manage--there's still one chapter I haven't even looked at yet. And even when I finish the final, I'm not done with the course--I still have exam 2 to do, too--I just started with the final since that material is freshest--but after 6 weeks, *nothing* is really fresh.

I'll be at home all day tomorrow, so it should be a no-spender. Other than studying, I'll probably make up some food for the week--I'll cook up an entree of beans & greens and have that for lunch, and put a pot of split pea soup on to cook all day and have that for dinner. Plus I'll do an exercise video--I still haven't tried all of the 15 that I bought last month in my fitness frenzy. I've been doing good with the weight loss and exercise--8 pounds down since Christmas, and I've walked more than 10,000 steps per day for all but 2 days out of the last two weeks. Three more pounds and I'll be back to my Jan 1, 2007 weight; 10 more gets me back to October 2006 and Henry's surgery, which marks the time that I started putting the extra weight on. There's still another 50 pounds to go after that, but I'm taking it a step at a time. February is a busy month, so as long as I lose at least that 3 pounds, I'm happy.

Spending so far in Feb:

Fri: forgot my snack & lunch, so bought those at the convenience store for $7.41

Saturday: grocery store: $81.81, includes about 68 in groceries, 7 in pet food, and the rest in toiletries. Late addendum: responded to an urgent appeal from my favorite charity, my local Basset Hound Rescue, $40. Total spending: $129.22, which is 6.5% of my $2000 limit for the month.

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.

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.

Fitness and Food Preparation

December 31st, 2007 at 01:21 am

Today was the first day of a three day "detox" I am doing. This is the first step in trying to get myself in better shape this coming year. I've been so busy with my career change that I've let my health go over the past year. While for the past several years, I've religously exercised 3-4 times a week, this past year, I let exercise become sporadic--in part because of busyness and in part because a series of injuries foiled my attempts at maintaining my walking program (my main form of exercise). During 2007, I had a strained Achilles tendon that gave me problems for 6 months until a physical therapist gave me some stretching exercises that finally relieved the problem. Then I started walking again over the summer, only to be foiled by first a sprained ankle and then, when that was healed, a broken toe. I probably walked only 50 aerobic miles this entire year, about a tenth of my usual walking.

As a result of not doing much exercise, I gained 15 pounds (since I didn't cut down my food intake at all). I also pretty much wasted $228 on my gym membership--I have a pretty good deal at just $19/month and it will cost me double that if I quit and rejoin. But I hit the gym less than once a month this year, so that's about $20 a visit. I'll resume going at least once a week in 2008.

In addition to/as a result of the weight gain, I once again begain experiencing joint pain in my hips and GERD, and I've been feeling quite low about my physical appearance. And of course, some clothes don't fit and others don't look as good. So I've got to get the weight off.

I'm starting with a short "detox" diet to test for food intolerances. I spent the past week getting off of coffee--I usually drink about 4-6 cups/day, so that was a challenge, and I pretty much slept through last week because of it. There was only one bad headachey day, though, and now I feel alert with just a few cups of green tea. For the detox diet, I'm removing gluten and dairy from my diet for a few days, and eating mostly fruits, veggies, rice, beans, and fish. Then I'll start adding back in dairy and gluten-based items one per day to see if those make any difference in how I feel.

I did my last grocery shop for the year to enable this detox. I bought lots of veggies, and hummus, and a bag of tilapia filets (which are bottom feeders so low in toxins compared to other farmed fish). Then at home today, I steamed up several artichokes (which are supposed to be good for taming ghrelin, the hormone that makes you hungry); some carrots and beets for a carrot/beet/cucumber/pea salad; and I made a pot of "beans and greens" soup with cannellini beans and escarole. I also made a quinoa pilaf. I still have a 5# bag of apples to peel and quarter and stick in the crockpot to make homemeade applesauce.

And I'm back to walking again. For 6 mornings in a row, I've managed to get up and do *something* physical. The past two mornings this has meant jaunts around the neighborhood in the dark at 6 am. I'll enjoy these just a bit more once there's a hint of dawn at 6. Tomorrow I might go to the gym then for a change of pace (and to use my membership one last time this year).

Dido's Year End Recap of Income, Expenses, and Changes in Net Worth

December 26th, 2007 at 08:19 pm

Income after deductions for taxes, health insurance contribution, & retirement contribution: $44,473 (38,210 from my full-time job, 3718 from part-time work, 1244 income tax return, 1000 gifts from Mom, 301 in survey income and rebates. I need to do better planning to get less of an income tax return; I’m a relatively new home owner, so I’m still having to adjust my tax planning for the extra deduction I get for mortgage interest payments.


Mortgage & PITI (property insurance & property taxes):
$9240. This includes $575 in mortgage prepayments.

Food (Groceries & Eating Out): The books say 7616 (5963+1653), but it’s surely less—as much as 1500 less (2006 food expenses were 6152). The problem in my record-keeping this year is that my detailed records were lost when my last computer died in mid-July. I had to reconstruct my file from bank statements rather than receipts, and since I did a lot of buying at a warehouse store, toiletries, household supplies, clothing and even books got lumped in here—since I had no way to estimate actual expenses, I just categorized everything as groceries, the biggest expense at the warehouse store. Also, when I do ATM withdrawals, I also tend to list those as dining out expenses initially and go back and recategorize as I spend money, but all of those recategorizations got listed as food for January through July. All of that said, my food expenses are way too high.

Pets: $4032, most of that on Henry the Pricey & Priceless Hound, who suffers from several chronic illnesses and is on prescription food and several prescription meds for life, plus who requires about half a dozen vet visits per year. The two cats, Phoebe and Teddy, cost little in comparison—one vet visit per year, and food, kitty litter, and the occasional toy or treat. Between the two of them, there’s only ever been one vet visit for illness—knock on wood, as I hope it remains so. I also include money for bird food in here—I maintain two feeders by the windows for the amusement of myself and the kitties, and that costs about $5/week during the months when the plants are dormant.

Utilities: 3915 (gas heat 1841, electricity 462, phone, internet service, (basic) cable TV (package deal at 76/month for the three), water/sewer 315, trash 385)

Car: 2684 (about 600 on insurance and a thousand each on gasoline and maintenance & repairs, plus my first moving violation ticket ever, for running a stop sign I didn’t see.)

Business Expenses: 2616 (a new laptop computer and software for it (Office 2007, etc), lots of money trying to repair the last laptop, plus the usual array of books and videotapes I use in teaching, and some office supplies and postage.

Personal Care Expenses:2270 (clothing 1304, gym 445, toiletries, vitamins & supplements,521). I spent more than usual on clothing this year, as the only clothing I bought last year was a single pair of athletic shoes, and clothes were beginning to look raggedy and shoes to wear out, plus I gained 15 pounds (which I hope soon to lose) and some items did not fit.

Household: 1691. This includes handyman repairs, items for DIY repairs (that the boyfriend handles), small home appliances, furniture, gardening items, and supplies such as paper towels, light bulbs, and salt for the walks.

Entertainment (385), Gifts (266) & Charity (296): 947.

Health co-pays and disability insurance: 919 (there’s also 104/month health insurance contribution that gets taken out of my pay each month that I haven’t included here.)

Total Spending: $36,430 (compared to $38,653 in 2006. Biggest changes compared to last year are more in savings, less in taxes, more on food, less on pets (no major veterinary emergencies this year, thank god!), a bit more on utilities, clothing, and household; and this year, I didn’t have education expenses because those were picked up by the college.

Change in Net Worth in 2007: +8261 in short-term savings, +8739 in retirement accounts, -1796 decrease in home mortgage principal balance, -1000 loan from mom settled = +19,796 (plus the estimate of my home valuation on is up about 15,912, which I know is not a great estimate, but it’s what I have.)

My goal for next year is to cut down food expenses down to 5800. This is always a “spendy” category for me, as I buy a lot of food that is either pre-made or has a high labor margin—e.g., I buy a lot of pre-chopped veggies, and this past year, I bought a lot of pre-cooked chicken breasts—since that seems to make the difference between my cooking at home or not. Working a full-time job, a part-time job, AND going to school part-time, I do not have the time, energy, or inclination to cook, but I’m going to try to do a bit more so in 2008. I also expect business expenses to be lower, since the big one was buying a new computer this year. Ideally these two cuts will give me an additional 5% to put towards savings.

Coupons from Kashi

September 25th, 2006 at 10:51 pm

Kashi was kind enough to send me several coupons for Silk soy milk after I made a comment in response to one of her posts. They arrived last week and I've used two so far. There are still 4 or 5 more that expire on the 30th. I'll buy as many as my refrigerator will hold at that point, since I go through a half-gallon about once every 3-4 days, and will get through all of what I buy by the expiration date in November.

I wonder how soy milk freezes? I could use all the coupons if I knew that it would freeze well. I'll have to do some research on that. If not, I anticipate that I'll be able to make room in the fridge for at least 3 additional half-gallons by that point.

Cooking, Cleaning, Grading

September 25th, 2006 at 02:17 am

I did a bit of grocery shopping this morning (plus 23 minutes on the elliptical at the gym), then cooked in the afternoon while grading (I gave three exams last week). For the week, I made a Portuguese potato-kale soup with sausage, roasted squash/carrots/brussels sprouts, and baked apples, and a big salad. Groceries also included a nice crusty Italian bread, a loaf of pumpernickel, deli-sliced turkey and cheese for sandwiches. I also have a couple of pieces of salmon in the freezer that I'll probably cook up over the week.

Unfortunately the plastic container that I transferred the soup to started to leak and I lost about 1/3 of the broth and made a big mess in the fridge before this was discovered.

I also cleaned the floors, did the laundry, and cleared the tabletops of their clutter accumulation, plus left the kitchen cleaned up for the week ahead.

I've finished grading one exam and am now pretty wiped, so I'll go to bed shortly. The term really gets busy once grading kicks in.

To my disappointment, I didn't get to go to Rosh Hashanah services (although I did make a R.H. dinner at a friend's house on Friday night) at all because I made the grading a priority; nor did I get to go at all to the "Celtic Classic" festival going on half a mile from my house.

One of these years my life will find more balance. Until then, I muddle through as best I can. I do feel that I've been giving the social and especially the spiritual short shrift of late.

Free trial at BJ's Warehouse

September 23rd, 2006 at 08:43 pm

About a month ago, BJ's had a "free week visitor pass" in the paper and I went and looked around. Had to register at the desk, and could have bought things except at a 15% non-member premium, or else joined. I didn't opt to join this week they sent me a pass for a 2-month free membership. Of course, as soon as I registered to get this, they tried to get me to join at a reduced ($30 as opposed to regular $45) fee. I asked how long that promotion was good for, and it's good until December, so I'll use my two free months and see if it's worth my while to join.

Between the full-time job and the part-time job, I've been a bit too busy to blog here much. Oh well, I'll continue to drop by, read others' blogs and put a short entry here occasionally.

Making it to the paycheck

September 3rd, 2006 at 05:25 am

Now that September's here and the prospect of a paycheck is in sight, some of the tension over mounting debt is loosening--maybe a bit too much. After all, I don't want the credit card bill getting too much bigger before I pay it off! I *did* find a great deal on 8 o'clock coffee and bought $10 pounds for just under $30 today. I already have about 3 pounds at home from an earlier (not quite as good sale). Coffee addict though I am, I think I'm good on coffee at least through the end of the year.

The first paycheck from my part-time job arrives Sept. 15; then a full-fledged infusion of cash comes with the first regular paycheck on Sept. 20.

I've done a little grocery shopping the past couple of days; I'm hoping I can pretty much make it to Sept. 15 without too much additional grocery spending (I know that I *will* need about $30 more for soymilk, sliced turkey, and yogurt, my basic staples.

But I've got about 6 frozen chicken breasts, 6 frozen turkey meatballs, 2 veggie burgers, 3 salmon patties--there's 10 meals right there. Just bought a big box of oatmeal so that takes care of breakfasts; also bought a loaf of bread and will bake one next week. I froze half a batch of split pea soup (about 3 meals worth) 10 days ago, and there's still 2 pounds of spaghetti and half a pound each of red lentils, brown lentils, and split peas, so it looks as though more pasta and more bean soup will tide me through the last of this really lean patch.

I know that there will be some "rebound" spending once the paycheck comes--hopefully not too much. One thing I know I'll buy once money is in the bank again is a bit of clothing--I'm in need of some new lingerie and the walking shoes I've been using since January are absolutely without spring. I'll try to let those be my "rebound splurge."

A tasty birthday gift

August 26th, 2006 at 02:45 am

One of my favorite grocery stores--one that I grew up with in L.A.--is Trader Joe's. But TJ's has yet to arrive in my hometown, although there are 3 stores in and around Philadelphia (55 miles south). For the past year I've been making a TJ's run once every 3-4 months--*that* was the reason I finally plugged in and started using my basement freezer. A friend who lives near TJ's offered to do a grocery run for me and bring the groceries up, since she had yet to see my new house and meet my new dog. I gave her a limited grocery order (4 packages of burritos, 4 of enchilladas, and 2 of the Two Hearts Bruschetta) and she picked up items and drove them up. I was all prepared to write her a check for them but she insisted on giving them to me as a birthday gift (since yesterday was my birthday).

DBF came over in the evening and his gift to me was edible as well: a Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate bar.

Nice to have gifts that I'll use with pleasure that don't require storage space (other than temporarily). I think that consumables make great gifts, and often (but not always) give some sort of consumbale as well--ideally something a person would like but wouldn't buy for themselves.

Even though I've grown to hate my birthdays (now that I'm middle-aged), yesterday was a pleasant one.

Pantry Challenge Check-In

August 12th, 2006 at 11:15 pm

Almost a month ago, I gave myself a pantry challenge--trying to live as much as possible off what was already in the pantry.

It was only modestly successful; one thing I learned is how much I prefer "fresh" foods to foods that are dried, canned, or frozen. During the month, I bought a lot of the following: soymilk, yogurt, deli-turkey, "lite" cheese, hummus, fruit, carrots, celery, and lettuce. Oh, and sherbet (so much for the diet).

I did use up all the frozen chicken breasts and ground beef from my store, and had a couple of times where I cooked beans from my dried stores. The frozen burritos and veggie enchiladas from Trader Joe's got used up pretty early, too, as did the veggie chicken patties. But I guess I don't like the Indian meals as much as I *think* I do--a month later, I've only used one from my "stash." And I ate hardly any pasta at all, other than half a pound of egg noodles for making tuna noodle casserole.

Here's what's left from the original pantry list I started almost a month ago (July 14):
3 4 oz frozen salmon patties
3 various bags of frozen
1 frozen pad thai entree from Trader Joe's
3 ready-made Indian meals from TJ's
two small boxes butternut squash soup from TJ's
can of cranberry sauce
can of turkey gravy
one can of chili w/meat & beans
6 oz canned crab meat
1 6 oz cans tuna
1 can mandarin oranges
1/4th a box of dried felafel mix
3 #s pound of pasta (2 spaghetti, 1 macaroni, 1 # egg noodles)
1.5 pounds of brown rice
3/4 pound of red lentils
3/4 pound of brown lentils
a pound of split peas
1.5 boxes of cereal
.75 packages whole wheat pitas
4 apples

Since this is a no-spend month, I'll see what I can do to work away at these stores. I really should use those apples right away--maybe a baked apple crisp or something. They're in Evert-fresh bags so they're still good, but I guess apples are just more appealing to me in the fall (same for butternut squash soup and cranberry sauce!)

Pantry Challenge Week 2 Summary & Week 3 Plans

July 29th, 2006 at 01:27 pm

First there's my list of what's gone/what I added, then some comments if you scroll to the bottom of this entry.

4 4 oz frozen salmon patties-NOW 2
5 frozen chicken breasts--3 left cooking them today
2 boxes of veggie burgers (4/box)-NOW 1.5
5 various bags of frozen veggies-NOW 3
6 frozen burritos-NOW 2
1 frozen pad thai entree from Trader Joe's
1 chinese citrus ch*icken entree from TJ's
3 ready-made Indian meals from TJ's
one jar of hot & sour soup from TJs-GONE
one can ready-made Campbell's tomato soup
1 can Campbell's cream of celery soup
two small boxes butternut squash soup from TJ's
one can of chili w/meat & beans
6 oz canned crab meat
3 6 oz cans tuna-NOW 2
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 can mandarin oranges
1 can pineapple
half a box of dried felafel mix
4 #s pound of pasta (2 spaghetti, 1 macaroni, 1 # egg noodles)
two pounds of brown rice-USED .5 #
a pound of red lentils-USED .5 #
a pound of brown lentils
a pound of split peas
3 boxes of cereal-NOW 1.5
1.5 packages whole wheat pitas-NOW 1
1/2 jar pizza sauce
13 oz mozzerella-NOW ~8 oz
2 #s sliced deli turkey-gone, bought another #
1 cup frozen strawberries--3 left for the next smoothie
1 cup frozen peaches--half gone
1 pint lime sherbet-GONE
2 popsicles-GONE
4 apples
1 plum-GONE
3 small heads romaine lettuce-NOW 1
3 tomatoes-NOW 1
2 #s carrots-NOW 1.5
1 bunch celery -NOW ~.5
2 cucumbers
1 quart soymilk-GONE
2 quarts kefir-NOW 1
tomato juice (2 big cans V8)-NOW 1 CAN
orange juice (1/2 gallon)
1 cup plain yogurt-GONE
5 4-oz cups fruit flavored yogurt (Initial ones gone, as are the 8 I bought week 1; bought more week 2)
2/3 loaf of 12-grain bread-ALMOST GONE
4 slices rye bread-GONE
5 hamburger buns-NOW 4

another half gallon of soy milk (GONE)
yogurt (mentioned above)
carton of eggs (8 left)
bananas (2 left, frozen for smoothies)
bought nectarines (GONE ALREADY)
can of turnip greens (GONE)
sweet potato fries (GONE)
half gallon sherbet (GONE)

2 half gallons soy milk
20 yogurt cups (16 left)
2 pkgs Laughing Cow cheese
2 more packages of sliced turkey breast
popsicles (2/3s GONE)
4 plums (3 GONE)
4 red potatoes to cook with chicken & onion today
16 nectarines (bought in sets of 8, 8 left)
bag of carrots (GONE)
1 vidalia onion
2 cans black beans (GONE)
2 cans mushrooms
loaf of rye bread (2/3 GONE)
loaf of French bread (GONE)
12 each: club soda, diet peach soda, diet coke (store brand) (2/3 GONE)
pkg of pretzels (1/3 GONE)
Stockpile at the Entemann's outlet: 2 packages Thomas's English muffins; bag of hamburger buns; bag of Thomas's mini-bagels; loaf of rye bread; 6 bags of low-fat New York Bagel party-mix; 2 packages Pizzelle wafers.

EATING OUT DURING WEEK: 5 meals. Saturday breakfast at new diner (10% off grand opening special); two mornings where I grabbed an egg & cheese on an English muffin sandwich on my way to class; early bird special at Chinese restaurantWed after taking two exams; lunch Thurs (retirement party for co-worker; so didn't cost me except the gift contribution). Stopped at Rita's Italian Ices and treated myself to one on Friday. Total Dining Out Cost: 22.41 (would have been about $38 if the department hadn't picked up the retirement party tab).

NO SPENDING WEEK THIS COMING WEEK PLANS. See if I can get past the dining out scourge. One weakness is grabbing breakfast out on my way to my 3 hour morning class. Make the time to make eggs those mornings and bring a snack. I'll be making a crockpot chicken meal today which will last 3 meals (2 if my boyfriend dines with me tonight), and I also need to make tuna noodle casserole probably tomorrow since I bought the ingredients and haven't used them yet. Also I should make felafels one day to add variety since I have the mix just sitting there--the new toaster oven will be good for that. Also on the menu for today: gazpacho to use up the summer veggies. Fortunately the cherry tomatoes I planted have started ripening so I have lots of those coming in!

Hitting the Thrift Stores & Outlets

July 26th, 2006 at 09:56 pm

I took a detour on my way home and stopped by a couple of bargain places. I've decided that I really need a small desk for my living room before the academic year begins. Since the new dog is not allowed upstairs, when I work at home, I've been sitting either on the sofa or at the dining room table and have not made any use of my more comfortable office chair since he arrived. I think I found a desk for $25--I left it there to think about overnight and so I can measure and clear out the area where I will put it. But I did walk away with two used Breuer chairs in good condition for $30 apiece. . Replacing the 4 that I once had that were destroyed by my last dog has been a long-term intention. I can't believe I threw out the frames for the old ones eight years ago since I didn't know then they can be recaned. I'll definitely recane these when worn as long as the frames are still good.

Across the street from the thrift store is an Entemann's bread outlet. I've never gone in before because I'm not a pastry eater. But it turned out that they had not only Entemann's baked goods, but also Thomas's bagels and English Muffins and Arnold's breads and lots of other familiar brands. Most but not all of the goods are near their expiration dates and sell for 50% off. Plus the store has a "freezer special" of 10% off if you purchased $20 or more worth of goods. I ended up spending $27 after the 10% reduction for eight packages of bread, buns, bagels, and English muffins (mostly near expiration date so I put them in the freezer), six packages of New York Bagels low-fat party mix (expiration date 9 months from now), two packages of Pizzelle wafers, and two packs of fruit snacks to take for lunch. *And* they threw in a free box of Entemann's donuts, which I'll take to work.

I *should* put another $27 in my $20 savings account for the savings, but I have no income this month so that will have to wait until paychecks resume.

Planning the Food Budget

July 23rd, 2006 at 05:41 pm

Browsing around on some personal finance blogs this morning, I came across this entry

Text is and Link is , which in turn led me to this site with comparison information from the government about recommended food budgets--see
Text is and Link is

The liberal plan suggests that a "moderate" food budget for a person of my age & sex (female, 20-50) would be 46/week, and a "liberal" food budget would be 60/week, with a 20% increase for being single, bringing the total to 55 to 72 a week. Since I'm having trouble bringing the food budget down anyways, I'll use the more moderate figure as my goal. With 4.3 weeks in the month, and $72/week, that leads to a budget of $310 per month for food. I'm setting that up as a goal for August, and I've also revised my budget files to keep track separately of food and household supplies (paper goods, toiletries, etc). I also need to separate out pet food (treats for the dog and food for the cats) that I buy at the grocery. *Including* the toiletries and pet food, my monthly average grocery bill this year has been $422; assuming $8/week ($32/month) for pets and $12/week for household items ($48/month), that's a "real" grocery bill of 362. So my first challenge is to get it down to $310, and then I'll see if it's reasonable to move down to the more "moderate" budget level, which would be $237/month.

It's interesting to note the "single surcharge" of 20%; I'm actually a little surprised that the loss due to no "efficiencies of scale" is that high. I know that, as a single, one definitely ends up paying a lot more for some things--my boyfriend and I often do talk about the inefficiency of havig two houses, two sets of utility bills, etc--but I would have though the inefficiences would be a little lower in the food category, since, after all, one doesn't eat any more as a single than as a married person.

One week on the Pantry Challenge

July 21st, 2006 at 04:04 pm

4 4 oz frozen salmon patties-NOW 3
3 frozen chicken breasts
2 boxes of veggie burgers (4/box)-NOW 1.5
5 various bags of frozen veggies-NOW 3
6 frozen burritos-NOW 4
1 frozen pad thai entree from Trader Joe's
1 chinese citrus ch*icken entree from TJ's
3 ready-made Indian meals from TJ's
one jar of hot & sour soup from TJs-GONE
one can ready-made Campbell's tomato soup
1 can Campbell's cream of celery soup
two small boxes butternut squash soup from TJ's
one can of chili w/meat & beans
6 oz canned crab meat
3 6 oz cans tuna-NOW 2
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 can mandarin oranges
1 can pineapple
half a box of dried felafel mix
4 #s pound of pasta (2 spaghetti, 1 macaroni, 1 # egg noodles)
two pounds of brown rice-USED .5 #
a pound of red lentils-USED .5 #
a pound of brown lentils
a pound of split peas
3 boxes of cereal-NOW 2
1.5 packages whole wheat pitas-NOW 1
1/2 jar pizza sauce
13 oz mozzerella-NOW ~8 oz
2 #s sliced deli turkey-NOW 1.5#S

1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen peaches
1 pint lime sherbet-GONE
2 popsicles-GONE

4 apples
1 plum-GONE
3 small heads romaine lettuce-NOW 2
3 tomatoes-NOW 2
2 #s carrots-NOW 1.5
1 bunch celery -NOW ~.5
2 cucumbers
1 quart soymilk-GONE
2 quarts kefir-NOW 1.5
tomato juice (2 big cans V8)-NOW 1 CAN
orange juice (1/2 gallon)
1 cup plain yogurt-GONE
2.5 cups fruit flavored yogurt-I EAT AT LEAST A CUP A DAY SO BOUGHT 4 MORE CUPS; STILL HAVE ABOUT 2.5 LEFT)
2/3 loaf of 12-grain bread-ALMOST GONE
4 slices rye bread-GONE
5 hamburger buns-NOW 4

more yogurt (mentioned above)
carton of eggs
bought nectarines (GONE ALREADY)
can of turnip greens (HALF GONE)

EATING "OUT" DURING WEEK: I bought one cup of coffee, two sodas, a fruit & yogurt cup, an energy bar, two italian ices, and a roast beef sandwich & baked potato from Arby's for a total of $16.48 in food bought away from home.

sodas (I've been buying one at the convenience store on the way to the 3-hour class I'm taking. It'll be cheaper to get this at the grocery).
soy milk
a pound of lean hamburger
summer fruit
some sort of icy dessert (I've actually been freezing some of the yogurt and eating it like that, which tastes really good...but am I killing the live active cultures I am buying the yogurt for? I'll have to research that). I need something to replace the italian ices I'm buying out at the stand.
some pretzels or goldfish--I find I'm really jonesing for something crunchy to munch on and there's only so many carrot and celery sticks I can eat.

Yeah, I know the additions somewhat violate the idea of a pantry challenge; but the goal is not so much to adhere to an arbitrary set of rules as it is to cut my food spending, so they'll help with that.

One Week Assessment of the Toaster Oven purchase

July 21st, 2006 at 03:38 pm

Maybe I'm still in the "honeymoon"/novelty period, but the toaster oven I agonized about buying last week

Text is and Link is has been getting a lot of use. The toaster is better for toast, but I've been using the toaster oven for doing a little bit of baking (baked two 6-muffin batches) and broiling (salmon, yum) that I wouldn't normally turn the oven on for this time of year. It's also good for a quick "pita pizza" lunch. So given that I'm finding my "pantry challenge"
Text is and Link is an unwelcome though self-imposed restriction, it's expanding the variety of foods that I'm eating and helping me better stick to that plan.

No spend day yesterday

July 19th, 2006 at 07:49 pm

and Monday all I spent was 1.50 for a soda to drink during my 3-hour class.

I'm trying to limit grocery shopping for my "pantry challenge," but I am allowing myself to replenish perishables...milk, yogurt, fresh fruit & veggies. I should add a 12-pack of soda to that, since that's far cheaper than getting the soda at the vending machine or convenience store. I stopped to get yogurt today and was pleased to find a grocery store that offers my preferred yogurt (Dannon's Activia) for significantly cheaper (17%) than the store I usually buy it at (which in turn is 8% cheaper than the store at which I do the bulk of my shopping). It means adding one more store to the list of places I shop, but this store isn't too far out of the way and I'll just have to stock up when I'm there.

Pantry Challenge

July 15th, 2006 at 01:55 am

Over on the Simple Living Net forums (which I also occasionally frequent, though not much of late), there's a monthly "pantry challenge" to live off what is in your pantry.

The food budget is tight for the rest of the summer, so I'm going to adhere as much as possible to that, though I'll buy weekly portions of milk, fresh fruits & veggies, & some sort of protein source.

A first step is taking an inventory of my existing refrigerator, freezer, and larder:

4 4 oz frozen salmon patties
3 frozen chicken breasts
2 boxes of veggie burgers (4/box)
5 various bags of frozen veggies
6 frozen burritos
1 frozen pad thai entree from Trader Joe's
1 chinese citrus chicken entree from TJ's
3 ready-made Indian meals from TJ's
one jar of hot & sour soup from TJs
one can ready-made Campbell's tomato soup
1 can Campbell's cream of celery soup
two small boxes butternut squash soup from TJ's
one can of chili w/meat & beans
6 oz canned crab meat
3 6 oz cans tuna
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 can mandarin oranges
1 can pineapple
half a box of dried felafel mix
4 #s pound of pasta (2 spaghetti, 1 macaroni, 1 # egg noodles)
two pounds of brown rice
a pound of red lentils
a pound of brown lentils
a pound of split peas
3 boxes of cereal
1.5 packages whole wheat pitas
1/2 jar pizza sauce
13 oz mozzerella
2 #s sliced deli turkey

1 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen peaches
1 pint lime sherbet
2 popsicles

4 apples
1 plum
3 small heads romaine lettuce
3 tomatoes
2 #s carrots
1 bunch celery
2 cucumbers
1 quart of soy milk
2 quarts kefir
tomato juice (2 big cans V8)
orange juice (1/2 gallon)
1 cup plain yogurt
2.5 cups fruit flavored yogurt
2/3 loaf of 12-grain bread
4 slices rye bread
5 hamburger buns

To buy during rest of month:
1 carton of eggs
soy milk
summer fruit (melon, nectarine)

In August, I'll need more of those frequently-used perishables mentioned above plus more dairy and bread.

But that's really about it for the rest of the summer.

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