Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Stuffed Pumpkin

Tis the season to cooked gourds :)

Nick will tell you that I am simply obsessed with all things squash at this time of the year. By the time we get through the Fall, if I even bring up an acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, or spaghetti squash I am banned from the kitchen :)

I finally found a recipe that fills my need for a dinner gourd and Nick's need to not feel gourd overload... The Stuffed Pumpkin!

1 3lb Pumpkin
1/4 lb of sourdough bread, cut in 1/2 in' blocks
1/4 lb of cheese (we use half cheddar and gruyere), cut into small 1/4 in' blocks
4 pieces of crispy bacon broken into small pieces
4 cloves of minced garlic
1/4 c of minced shallots
1 T of thyme
1/3 c Heavy Cream
Pinch of Nutmeg

Super simple recipe from Around my French Table by Dori Greenspan call a Stuffed Pumpkin with Everything Good 

I love how Dori writes her recipes in a story telling- Julia Child format, so it is worth clicking on the link above for her full recipe, but the quick run through is below:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cut lid of pumpkin and clean out- like a jack-o-lantern
Mix all other items, except cream and nutmeg, in a bowl
STUFF your pumpkin!! Keep squishing it in :)
Mix nutmeg and cream together and pour inside the pumpkin

Attempt to place your lid on the pumpkin!

Cook 2 hours, you can remove the cap with 20 mins left to help liquid evaporate

It is AMAZING :) Though it does take two hours to cook, it is a great plan ahead meal and can be served when ready. I am thinking pre-dinner party with friends or a lazy Saturday :)

Financially, depending on the cheese you choose to use, this can be a cheap or a treat meal! We did a bit of a more expensive cheese so this meal cost us around $14. It provided us 4 portions, so one dinner and one round of lunches- appx $3.50 a meal. Not too shabby for an amazing dinner :)

Happy Fall and enjoy your gourds :)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

AirBnB- The Good and Bad

I hope anyone reading this blog who is traveling somewhere looks into using AirBnB for accommodations. The AirBnB model is something I enjoyed when Nick and I were traveling in Belgium and now, as a host, I truly see the hard work many people put into providing these accommodations at a low rate. If you missed last week's post, check out our Financial AirBnB Breakdown.

When breaking down our AirBnB experience, Nick and I came up with the good, the bad, and- because this is the frugal optimist and not some negative Nancy blog- the fabulous.


·         Hearing about our visitors experiences. We got some really nice thank you letters, and one family even left us a picture of them at the Washington Monument. Nick and I took a hand's off approach with the AirBnB and gave people their space, but you could tell that some guests would have preferred to meet us, so in the future perhaps when we are in town we will try to swing by and say hello. 
·         New sheets, towels, and a lamp shade. In order to host we needed to get a few new things to spruce up the place. It was nice to come home to a few new towels and an extra set of bed sheets. These items even come in handy when we have family visiting. It was a great excuse to add a few new pieces to our linen closet and get a much needed lamp shade.
·         AirBnB offers a free photography service to hosts. They hire a local photographer to come to your apartment or home and take photos. These photos are then added to your host page and make your space look incredible. Nick and I are pretty sure this service was one of the main reasons we had success booking so many reservations!  

·         On Vacation, you're not fully on vacation. Nick and I had to keep our phones with us just in case there was a problem. We got called twice by the front desk to go pick-up delivered food from the lobby. We quickly realized that we needed to add a note in the welcome letter indicating the food delivery policy for our building :) 
·         Cleaning the Apartment. This makes having a BnB a job!! By the end of the process, Nick and I were not interested in having any one-night guest, and two nights was pushing it. Our favorite guests were those with 4-5 nights :) Cleaning an apartment you are not using gets to be tedious and frustrating.
·         Use of items, not met for Guest use. Nick and I unfortunately left out some wine and expensive beers during our most recent AirBnB stay and our guests decided that met it was for them. So, we did lose a few good beers, so that sucked, but it is only stuff.  This experience has put us on high alert to make sure anything we don't want touched is put away. 


·         Making money on an apartment not in use. This was a great way to use a space that we were already paying for and make it work for us. We have also learned that the rent we paid for the apartment during the days it was used can be a tax deduction. I am not sure how this works yet, but I will let you know!
·         A Clean Apartment!! Even when we came back to the house, most guests left the apartment in great shape. We only had two guests that left it a bit of a mess, but at the end of a month and a half our apartment was still just as clean as we had left it and it felt great to come home to a clean clutter free environment. 
·         An opportunity to travel and usually close to free lodging. It has made weekend getaways not only doable now, but enjoyable. We have gone out of town a few times and been able to use the money made on AirBnB to cover our AirBnB stay.

That sums up our experience with AirBnB in a tiny nut shell. We have kept our apartment up on the market and added days of availability as opportunities to duck out of town come up. We have been very fortunate to book almost all of our available days!

To all those looking to travel check-out AirBnB for a more frugal accommodation option, to all the AirBnB hosts reading- happy cleaning :) 

**Sorry for the lack of photos **

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Month in Review- September

September has hit and the crisp air is starting to settle us into fall. Nick and I have had a great month and had an opportunity to really test our financial goals. We have had multiple opportunities to give up and a few moments of excitement when we realize we are making really good progress. 

We are now Seven months into this debt elimination quest and we had a fairly good month staying in budget and even pre-planning for our spending splurges. We are getting to see where we fall short when it comes to budgeting and how to help each other stay focused, while still not giving up living life :) 

Unexpected Costs: 
Gas :) We spent like double this month on gas. Oh well! The car adventures were worth the extra money. We just had to dip into our AirBnB money to help cover the extra trips.

Unexpected Income: 
We had signed up for the Dogfish Head Dash a few months back, and so we put our apartment up on AirBnB for the weekend of the race. We ended up getting renters and had extra income to use toward food and a place to stay for the race.
We also worked a beer fest and were paid for our time! Nick also got a tip, so yay for Nick :) 

September Splurges:
Nick's Birthday is in September, so his mom came down and joined us for a long birthday weekend. We planned a good number of our meals in, but we also went out to dinner and I would consider this our monthly splurge. A huge thanks to Olga for covering a fabulous meal at Le Diplomate :)  

Funniest Moment: 
Calling Nick at work and telling him that we could pay off loan #34. He was having a kinda crappy day and being able to tell him that we had made it 3 months early was really AWESOME :) Loan #35 was one of my loans and so this is Nick's first loan we've paid off.

Yay US :) 

Lessons Learned
We are doing well with our short-term savings! Each month we put a good chunk of change away in our short-term savings. These amounts are pre-determined based on when they will be needed, but saved in smaller chunks. 

For example, we need an oil change every three months and that cost $30, we save $10 a month and at the three month mark we have $30 ready to go and have no excuse not to get our oil changed. This has worked great for haircuts, "get away fund", holidays, and medicine. 

This month we had our race in Delaware and I was excited to see that we had been contributing to our "get away" category, so magically we had money to help cover a AirBnB and gas money! This also came in handy when Nick went to get his hair cut. Sometimes it is the little things, but it feels great to know that pre-planning comes through :) 

Total Payment to Debt: $366.04*
*This amount is in addition to our minimum payments

12.5 % Interest GONE!!

Current Debt: $173,746.44
This amount does not go down no matter how much we pay :( Nick's Federal loans are on a income-based repayment plan, so we continue to make monthly payments but they are not as high as the interest, so it just keeps going up, 'Tis our financial life! 

We started with a total of 35 Student Loans. This month we eliminated #34 and now we are on to our 33rd Student Loan.
#33 is currently at  $1,737.79 with an interest rate of 11.5% . 

We  anticipate this loan taking us  7 months to pay off- April 2015. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

AirBnB- Financial Breakdown

I've mentioned our successful summer with AirBnB enough times now that I think it is worth sharing with you the overall financial impact of our experience.

Nick and I moved out of our apartment on July 3rd and didn't move back-in until August 17th. In that time, Nick and I have hosted 11 groups through AirBnB.

We divided our income into four categories:
  • Set-Up/Management Expenses
  • Taxes
  • Summer Vacation
  • Student Loans 
Set-Up and Management of the AirBnB had various small expenses that I am glad we used income to help offset,; otherwise we would have been dipping into grocery money. These expenses ended up equalling 12% of our overall earnings. They included things like new bed sheets, cleaning supplies, and breakfast treats for our guests. We also set a little money aside for gas, as our commute to and from the apartment became a business expense.

We decided that it would be best to save 30% of our earnings for Taxes. Come March, I think we will both be happy to have this money on hand rather then be surprised by an impending amount owed. If we don't owe it all then we can put it toward a student loan payment, but we'd rather be safe and have it sit in our savings account until we complete our taxes.

One of the reasons we originally decided to put our apartment up on AirBnB was to earn money to stay a few nights in Vermont on our Vacation. We made that money, and then Nick and I did not stay on budget for our vacation at all :( It was a very Bad frugal vacation. So we used 28% of our income to offset the money we had saved to cover our expenses. We came back from vacation without anything on our credit cards- first time I can say that in like 7 years!!

We were also able to put 30% of our income toward our Student Loans. This allowed us to pay down our highest interest rate loan (12.5%) down in 5 months, versus the 8 months we thought it was going to take us. This was a huge accomplishment :)

Nick and I will be hosting our 12th group this upcoming weekend, who are helping us pay for our weekend in Delaware for the Dogfish Head Dash. AirBnB has been a great way for us to make money while we aren't at home and keep us off our credit cards.

This post would not be complete without a HUGE thank you to Rob and Sally for their over the top generosity. Over the summer, they allowed Nick and I to stay in the guest room, while making money on our own place. We truly appreciate the support :) 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Month in Review- August

Hey Everyone! This has been a crazy summer filled with some great opportunities to make extra income through AirBnB, but it has also been a summer filled with trips and the first crazy work season at my new job. Now that we get into Fall, I think it is about time I got back on this writing horse and get you some new posts. 

Month Six provided an opportunity to evaluate where we stand financially and determine if we are on the right path toward financial security. 

Unexpected Costs: 
Nothing unexpected. We were living in three different places for three weeks and stayed in budget, but as soon as we got home from the gypsy lifestyle we were living, we realized we needed to bulk up on staples, so we went a bit over budget on groceries. Thanks Costco :) 

Unexpected Income: 
I get paid bi-monthly and Nick gets paid every two weeks. We always budget for a 4 paycheck month, so when Nick (twice a year) gets a third paycheck in one month it is always a happy surprise!! August happened to be a three paycheck month, which helped us cover overspending in our grocery line and put a dent in our student loan payments. 

August Splurges:
We bought a membership to a program called Fill A Seat. It provides tickets to theater and art events around the DC Area. We found a Living Social coupon for 45% off and have already been to one event. 

Basically, they give away seats to productions on days that they aren't selling enough tickets. We go and "fill a seat" with our membership and don't need to pay anything extra. Nick and I give up a lot of opportunities to go out, for the sake of saving money, so this provides us a great chance to actually keep exploring the city we live in for the next year without paying anything more then our membership fee.

We already went to a Shakespeare play and we are headed to another play on Thursday :) Fun little date nights! 

Funniest Moment: 
We got to dog sit for TWO dogs in August, Beth and Chopper. Now we both can't stop talking about dogs :) Seriously people, we ended up calling my uncle a few weekends ago and asking if we could pick-up the dog and take it on a hike. We just missed her :) 

Yup, getting a dog would not be frugal of us and not really fit into our work schedules so it is probably not happening, but I do think that a dog walking volunteer gig is in our future. Or perhaps more of our friends should get dogs so that we can dog sit!! 

Lessons Learned
We have a breaking point!! As a couple, Nick and I have been pretty flexible for two months, but we both came to a point roughly two days before we got home that we knew we needed to just STOP. 

We have been out of a normal routine, normal commute, and normal cooking habits for 2 months. We were ready for home base. I had two work trips and Nick had been over the top fantastic about dog sitting alone for a few days and managing the AirBnB. 

When we finally got back to our apartment mid-August I think it took us a week just to run the dishwasher. We wanted to do nothing but SIT and watch TV, hence my lack of posts for the past month :) 

We both agree that our crazy summer  was worth a great vacation and the extra payments to our student loans, but we also learned how to work as a better team which was even more important. 

Total Payment to Debt: $1,386.65 , on top of our minimum payments for August

AWESOME month for us with an extra paycheck and AirBnB income :) 

Current Debt: $166,777.53 This amount is out of date, but I'll have an updated amount for you next week in the September run down! 

We started with a total of 35 Student Loans.
We are currently at 34 Student Loans and we need to pay $358.06 more in order to reach #33 :)

Student loan #34 has our highest interest rate at 12.5% ! We originally anticipated this taking us a total of 8 months, this being month 4, but I think we may be able to get rid of this one in 1 more months, cutting off 3 months from our initial plan!!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Guest Post- Colorado Bound

I had the opportunity to go out to Denver for a work trip. At the end of my trip, I took three personal days to go and visit my good friend Amanda. Amanda and I grew up together from basically my birth , since she is a year older. After spending a great frugal weekend with her in Colorado, I asked if she'd be willing to guest blog for me on her rendition of the weekend :) Thanks for a great weekend Amanda and for the great write-up! 

Being frugal isn't a choice, it is our life.  Paycheck to paycheck, being grateful the bills get paid on time and we have beer in the fridge. It's sharing and getting creative, being realistic and understanding the reality without letting it get you down.  It's also nice to know you're not alone in this struggle.  We all have our ups and downs, our unique relationship dynamics and issues. We are all taking it day by day, penny by penny as best we can. 
The anticipation of the weekend visit from Monica had hit it's peak on Thursday night after work.  It's been a little over a year since our last adventure and there was so much to do.  The reality of the situation also needed to be addressed- How were we going to feed three people and drive approximately 250 miles, while still having some money for groceries until the next payday?  I sat down and looked at the numbers. We would have to be extremely meticulous with our spending, but I knew if anyone could do it- Monica and I could!  

I arrived in Denver on Friday afternoon, parking in front of Pam's (a good friend from high school) adorable house.  We picked up Monica and decided it was time for a beer. Splitting a few sample flights of beer we each only paid $8 w/tip for the opportunity to try 15 beers. For dinner, why sit in a stuffy restaurant when we could hit up the local food trucks? We parked downtown and grabbed a quinoa wrap for dinner- $8.50 each.  

We reminisced over our individual money woes while window shopping down the 16th street mall.  It's encouraging to hear others frustrations that so closely resemble your own, yet we are all getting by.   After walking for a while, we decided to skip the crowded/expensive bar scene and buy a 12 pack of beer and head back to Pam's, saving us all at least $20 each by not going out for drinks.  We enjoyed the fresh air on the back deck, great conversation and local craft brews until 2am.

The next morning, Monica decided to take Pam up on he offer to do her dirty laundry at the house, rather then wait till we got to the mountain and use the coin operated machines. While the load washed, we took a stroll around the neighborhood, fueled by Luke's (Pam's Husband) pot of strong coffee and a banana.  

It happened to be the weekend of a neighborhood garage sale, so we took the opportunity to make someone else's trash our treasure.  The garage sales sunk me in a whole $2 for Cranium. Pam and Luke scored a pair of skis for a whopping $25! (If only that guy had thrown in the sex swing for another $5)  and Pam also found a $5 espresso machine, with all the parts!
Yes, that is a sex swing tastefully laid out at a garage sale, next to a slimy chemistry set, oh the irony :) 

We went back to Pam's and switched the laundry over before hopping in the car and heading to the farmer's market. Lunch of empanadas and coffee ice cream totaled $7.75.  We also picked up a bag of fresh fire roasted pablanos for $3, a great addition to our dinner ingredients. 

Stomachs satisfied and laundry complete we got on the road.

Two and a half hours of driving up the mountains later, Monica and I had arrived in time for happy hour.  We split a nacho and each had a couple drinks, our priciest venture so far. Thankfully we had pre-planned dinner, so we could keep costs down by heading home. We utilized the peppers from the farmers market and made a homemade dinner of spicy turkey burgers and hand cut french fries, sipping on left over beers from the night before.  We even pored a few into plastic cups and soaked in the hot tub before heading to bed.    

The next morning Monica made breakfast- Eggs and hash made of leftovers french fries and a broken down burger. Great fuel for a 6 mile hike! On our way to the hike, we grabbed a few snacks to keep us going, roughly $12- that would be $4 per person :)  We could not have asked for a better day to hike. The air was comfortable and the views were spectacular!  

After descending through the forest and making our way back to the trail head we were feeling hungry.  Leadville had the perfect fix- meal deals of burritos/burgers and fries- $6.50 each.  Satisfied and content we headed along a winding road of cliffs and valleys to a neighboring ski resort, Vail .  The village was packed with artisans, farmers, bakers and more. The sun beat down as we wandered through the crowd.  

Tired and thirsty, we decided it best to run to the store for a few essentials and then head home.  We even scored a mix and match 6 pack of craft brews for $5.99.  Homemade pina-coladas, salmon, rice and spinach was the perfect end to a long day.  

The next day, since we'd gone to the store the night before, we were able to make breakfast, lunch and dinner at home. We decided a Monday evening get together was a great way to end a long-weekend and kick start the week. So we invited friends over and made five homemade pizza doughs, grabbed cheese and sauce and friends brought over libations and pizza toppings. Potluck style get together are a smart way to spend time with fiends and keep costs down. Homemade pizzas were a hit with our friends and we were also able to enjoy that $2 Cranium game.  

With my friend Kristen flying out of Denver Tuesday morning, Monica was able to save $30 by hitching a ride rather then purchasing a bus ticket. Overall, a very successful frugal weekend!! 

-Amanda P. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Month in Review- July

I am not doing well on posting this past month, but I am also sleeping in my 10th bed in the course of a month- so throw me some slack :)

Month Five has been amazing! We kicked off the month on a 10 day vacation and I finished the month in Denver on a work trip, and squeezed in a great visit with an old friend! 

Financially, Month #5 was pretty amazing.  Nick and I have spent this past month renting out our apartment on AirBnB and have had a total of 11 bookings! I will do a full write-up on our AirBnB experience in the coming week.

Unexpected Costs: 

Our vacation was a little more then anticipated. That whole "Travel Budget" is still something that Nick and I need to work on, or we just need to be more realistic about our travel costs when coming up with a budget. We ended up going over our budget by $607.90. Not our best frugal trip...

Unexpected Income: 
No unexpected income this month! We have a very well laid out budget with our AirBnB income and expenses. We tracked these along with our monthly expenditures letting us track the expenses related to our AirBnB business; hopefully, this will help us later when we are doing our taxes.

July Splurges:
Definitely our vacation, but we also went to a Billy Joel concert! We did pull back on a number of "wants" on the vacation, but all in all we went out to a few fantastic restaurants, drank some great craft beer and we even got to visit an awesome, though expensive, museum in Vermont.

If you are ever in the Burlington area you should check out the Shelburne Museum. I think it may be one of my favorite museums :) It comes with a full steam boat, a barn full of old sleighs, a steam engine, a collection of beautiful artwork and even a toy museum!

However we did choose alot of free activities as well, like hiking Mt. Mansfield in Vermont and hiking White Face Mountain in NY :)

 Funniest Moment: 
When we left our apartment on July 2nd for vacation, we left our apartment ready for our first renter. This meant that Nick and I had to take what we wanted to have/use during and after vacation. We quickly started to describe our car as the Gypsy mobile. We had a Costco size bag of rice, old fashion oats, and enough ground coffee to get us through a month.

As we've moved around over the past month, we have brought our three "must have" grocery items with us from location to location. I keep joking that our priorities must seem totally weird to others, but for Nick and I oats and fruit for breakfast, and rice with beans for lunch is something close to the only routine we've kept over the past month :)

Lessons Learned
My biggest lesson learned this month was to not be so hard on myself, or on Nick. Money is tricky and our emotional attachment to those numbers in our bank account can push me to make irrational emotional decisions.

Let's just say my husband had to "talk me down" after I freaked out that we "only" made a $700 payment to our student loans. Sometimes you need to be brought down to reality and that's when I thank goodness that I have my awesome husband. I needed to be reminded that I should be thankful and excited for any movement forward we make, and not to regret the great moments we have, even when they do cost money.

Any movement forward is better then staying exactly in the same place :)

Total Payment to Debt: $737.75 , on top of our minimum payments for July

Not too shabby for month 5! 

Current Debt: $166,777.53

We started with a total of 35 Student Loans.
We are currently at 34 Student Loans and we need to pay $1,744.71 more in order to reach #33 :)

Student loan #34 has our highest interest rate at 12.5% ! We originally anticipated this taking us a total of 8 months, this being month #2, but I think we may be able to get rid of this one in 4 more months, cutting off 2 months from our initial plan!!