Sorry for the lack of posting lately – because I know I have so many people ON THE EDGE OF THEIR SEATS – I have been busy finishing up at work for the past couple weeks.  Today is my last day as an administrative assistant… perhaps FOR EVER!  In a month I’m starting a new job teaching reading to kids.  Teaching!  Kids!  And READING!  All of my favorite things.

I can’t really express in writing my excitement that I’m going to have a month off AND get to start a new, fun job.  I’m also excited to start some budgeting and cooking projects.  Until then, this illustration sums up my feelings about all this:



Are You A Scrimper or an Earner?

I’m a fan of a website called Get Rich Slowly:  Personal Finance That Makes Cents.  It’s full of good tips about managing money wisely, and the tips are refreshingly down to earth.  No extreme couponing (woe!), and no crazy money making schemes.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’m already implementing some of the tips recommended on the website.  Go me!  I already:

1.  Don’t own a car.  Save paying for insurance, registration, repairs, gas, etc. 

2.  Learn to cook.  Chee-yeck!  Although I still need to learn how to stop buying $4 gluten free cookies.  Hmm.

I was also reminded of some money-saving strategies I am not using, like:

1.  Don’t have recurring expenses.  This includes cable, Netflix, cell phones (get a landline or pay-as-you-go-phone), gym membership and more. 

Case in point –>Over the weekend I got a call from Comcast, offering me a promotional rate for better cable.  It ends up being $5 more than we’re paying currently, so we went for it.  I guess that decision doesn’t really make Cents, but it sure is nice to have some decent channels again!

2.  Get a second job, or start a business.  When I work part-time, I tend to glory in my time off, rather than look for more work.  I don’t really like this tip too much!

I also read a very telling article by Rya Hristova titled: “ Are You Afraid to Earn More?”  The author proposes the idea that people raised in a very frugal environment tend to be frugal themselves.  These frugal people prefer to stop spending when they want to save money, rather than get a job that pays more.  I thought that was so fascinating, because I definitely fall into the save rather than earn category.  The article also suggests that very frugal people won’t choose expensive items, even if they are free.  For example, present a frugal person with a coupon for a free item from the department store, and they will probably choose something inexpensive.  This rings true for me, too, since I do that very thing.  When I lived in Boston I used to go to my favorite coffee place, Espresso Royale, with work friends during breaks.  I would always get a small coffee with cream, and every ten drinks would earn a free drink.  My friend Megan would laugh at me when I would get a small coffee with cream as my free drink, since I could have ordered any fancy, expensive drink as a treat. 

How about you?  Is frugality engrained in your system, or is it a challenge to “just say no” to fancy lattes?

Extreme Budgeting and Simple Living: Living Beneath Your Means

Above:  A tiny house in Portland, Oregon.  Though I don’t think I’d like to live in one permanently, the simplicity inherent in living in a tiny space appeals to me.  Photo by Steve Walling.

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I just discovered a blog called Not Buying Anything.  It’s written by  a couple who is trying to live simply and reduce all unnecessary spending.  There are certainly budgetary reasons for doing so, but they emphasize simplicity as the primary goal.  Wealth does not buy happiness, they reiterate; after a certain point of having enough money to be comfortable and secure, wealth does not really increase happiness.  It’s a relief to remember this, especially since living in Boulder can easily make a person (moi?) feel like a failure, money-wise.  It is too easy to look at the people with the nice car, fancy designer clothes, expensive gadgets and overflowing shopping carts at Whole Foods and think:  They are so lucky.  They must be so happy.

Except they probably aren’t so happy all the time – they’re just normal, like all of us.

One post at Not Buying Anything stood out to me.  They asked the question:  What do you need?   and answered by putting expenses into two categories.  Category one is what you need to survive, and category two is everything else.  I’m going to do some thinking this weekend about what we need to survive, since my primary goal with living frugally is to throw as much money as possible at my student loans.  I won’t sacrifice our health by buying substandard food, and I won’t sacrifice our happiness by overly stressing about money, but I do think a life of simplicity is a very worthy (and, conveniently, frugal!) goal.

How Do You Make Coffee Without a Coffee Maker? Broke My French Press Again…

You know how certain words start to look strange after you stare at them for a long time?  I just looked at the word “coffee” for a while… COFFEE… COFF-EE, CO-FF-EE… argh.  Weird!

Do any of you use a French press to make coffee?  I use the Bodum 32 oz press, and it’s awesome!  I specifically decided to buy a French press because I was sick of relying on the electrical wiring of an automatic coffee maker, ever since that one traumatic time when Justin and I were really looking forward to our morning coffee and… zap!  Broken.  What I didn’t predict, however, was the frequency with which I would knock my  Bodum to the floor and smash the inner glass lining.  So far I’ve broken THREE inner linings, and since they’re about $14 each to replace, that’s $28 for two replacements plus whatever the original cost.

Out of a combination of thriftiness and laziness, I’ve been brewing coffee for the past few weeks in a big Mason jar.  Does it work?  Well… you tell me.  Does this setup look like a winner to you?

You’re right, it’s a pretty awful method.  This is what happens when I try to pour it:

And this is on a good day!

Despite the mess, I’m determined to prevail without buying a new glass liner. The pioneers couldn’t go out and buy new liners willy-nilly, and neither will I. The only thing I really need to make my low-tech coffee pot work pretty well is a piece of mesh from the hardware store. I can lay that over the top of the jar and screw it on in place of the lid.  That would make it easier to handle, anyway, but it might still be messy.  My REALLY great idea is to produce some screw-on rings for Mason jars that have SPOUTS!  Imagine that the lid is a solid circle with a mesh portion (maybe 1/2 mesh, 1/2 solid), and the screw-on ring is exactly the same as usual except with a small spout – more like an extension of the ring than a spout, really.  You’d have a nearly unbreakable, super cheap, recyclable coffee maker!  Justin says this is a good idea, but wonders if it would appeal to the general public.  I wonder if the frugal/hippie/canning community is large enough for this one to be a winner?  Anyone else have a good method for making coffee sans pot?

I see a trip to Home Depot in my future!  My only regret is that the hot dog man in the parking lot doesn’t offer gluten-free buns 😦

Weekend Adventures in Budget Cooking

It was in the mid-70’s all weekend and I couldn’t bear heating up the apartment any more than absolutely necessary, so yet again I skipped cooking a batch of pinto beans like I’ve been planning for two weeks!  Where’s the March-y weather, March?  For a girl who used to hate beans, I’m sure missing them now.  They’re just so… delicious!  And healthy!  And cheap!  Anyone who claims you can’t eat hearty and healthy meals should try experimenting with beans.  I’m not one to judge though – it took me a full five years of having my own kitchen before I got up the courage to soak and cook beans for myself.  Instead of beans on Saturday, though, I cooked up those tomatoes I picked up last week.  I don’t do much in the way of fancy tomato sauce, because I am an impatient cook.  (That’s also why I’m such a miserable baker.) I just chop, add garlic and herbs, and simmer till they’re a good consistency.  The whole process only takes about 20 minutes.  5 to chop, 15 to simmer.

I have about ten glass jars that used to have peanut butter in them, so I used two of them to store the sauce.  One is already gone because we had pasta for dinner that night.  It’s not pasta night without a little cheese, but the Parmagiano Reggiano blocks at the store were $21.99/lb, and the grated Romano was $5.99/lb.  Guess which one I chose?

On Sunday, I experimented with a new recipe for gluten free waffles.  I was contemplating the “high cost, low preparation” factor of our frozen waffle addiction, I remembered that I actually OWN a waffle iron!  I use it every few months and then put it away and forget about it, which is a shame because it’s a very special waffle iron.  It’s at least 20 years old, and probably older – I hope that means it’s still okay to use!  When my grandparents passed away a few years ago, I chose two items from their house:  the little brass rocking horse that now stands on a bookcase in our apartment, and the waffle iron.  I have vivid memories of breakfasts at my grandparents’ house, and of my grandmother placing a HUGE waffle in front of me.  It was as big as the whole plate!  (There was also always cantaloupe at breakfast… isn’t cantaloupe a quintessentially grandparent food?)  Imagine my surprise when I saw the waffle iron again for the first time in years and I finally realized that it’s really small!   The plate in the picture is a little bit smaller than a typical dinner plate.  Don’t you love the heart shapes?

Unfortunately, Justin’s saying of “low cost, low flavor” was true with this recipe.   The waffles look delicious and have a good texture, but they’re pretty bland.  In the end, though, I didn’t care about the taste or the price at all – the fact that they were cooked on my grandmother’s waffle iron made them perfect.

A story, a cat, a bento and mini Odwalla bars

There’s a huge bowl of candy in the reception area of the office where I work.  Unfortunately for me, I’m the receptionist so the candy is a constant temptation.  It hasn’t been too hard to resist until today, when the boring mini Hersheys were replaced with Almond Joys, peanut m&ms, Twix, Dove chocolates, peppermint patties and mini Snickers.  EVERY TIME someone walks by the bowl, they take a candy.  Since most of the employees walk by a million times a day, that equals a crap ton of candy.  It’s almost as bad as watching all the women walk past my desk to get to the bathroom.  Hmmm, I think to myself, EVERY TIME.  Maybe I have to pee too!  No, I can’t possibly have to go again.  It’s all in my mind.  Better just go so I can stop thinking about it.  ETC.

The candy bowl makes for some funny conversations though.  Today I handed a man his tax return and, as he went to leave, he stopped by the candy bowl like everyone does.  He stood there for a moment gazing into its depths.  He seemed… peeved.

“Hmm,” he said.  “You don’t have any Mr. Goodbars?”

My mind flashed back to a few days ago, and I suddenly remembered that he had been in a few days ago and asked about Mr. Goodbars then, too!  I remembered it specifically because I thought Mr. Goodbar was an unusual thing to identify as missing from a bowl of candy.  I mean, I like Mr. Goodbar and all but I don’t think I would notice if there weren’t Mr. Goodbars in the mix, you know?  I decided to get to the bottom of it.

“Are Mr. Goodbars your favorite candy?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “I just like them.”

“Well, how about a Twix?” I suggested.

“Nah, I don’t like Twix,” he said.  (Who doesn’t like Twix?  I became suspicious.)

“Have you ever had a Twix?” I asked.

“No,” he said. (AHA!) “But I don’t think I’d like them.”

“Maybe you’d like them if you tried them!” I replied obnoxiously.

“Maybe… but I’m 59 years old and I’m not about to go trying Twix now!” he said, turned away, and left.

How is Maggie these days?  She’s lost a little weight and is bursting with cattitude.

It’s so budgety around here these days.  I finally took a picture of Justin’s bento and lo, it’s exactly the same as EVERY SINGLE OTHER ONE I’VE EVER MADE.  That weird thing is a rolled-up taco left over from last night, and that other thing is a cherry pie Larabar!  I persist in buying them “for the fiber” and trying to get Justin to like them, when secretly I’m the only one around here who likes them and I know that I only want Justin to eat them because they fit so perfectly into the box.

I made up a batch of cookie-like things the other night, loosely based on this recipe.  I basically threw in everything I could think of that might taste good in a cookie.  “Are these healthy, or are they cookies?” asked Justin.  “Well, they’re both,” I replied.  “That means they’re NOT cookies,” he said.  Well, he wasn’t wrong, that’s for sure.  I took a good look at them and realized that I had actually cooked up a batch of mini Odwalla bars!  The have almost the exact same taste as an oatmeal Odwalla bar, but are slightly less hard and chewy.