Monday, March 31, 2014

Month in Review- March 2014

Over the course of month one we have had some growing pains and great learning experiences. Here is a snapshot of where we stand after one month:

Unexpected Costs: 

  • Oil Change and new headlight for the Car
  • Medicine
  • Laundry
  • Extra week of Food...oops :( A new post to come on how to eat for 2 weeks on $41.20 and what's in the cupboards. I will post an update next week. 
Unexpected Income:
  • Sold our Billy Joel tickets for NYC to Nick's Mom- don't feel too bad for us, we are still keeping our tickets to see him at Nat's park in DC. 
  • Nick got overtime this month :) Go NICK!!
  • $25 Cash from our Credit Card points
March Splurges:
We spent our entertainment fund on a nice lunch at Mount Vernon's Tavern and also signed up for the Boilermaker 15K in Utica, NY. This will be our fourth year participating in the race! Both purchases were well worth our play money for the month.

Funniest Moment: 
One of our line items in our monthly budget is personal money. Being able to place a little income in our personal accounts helps to alleviate a little pressure on a tight shared budget. We can spend money on something we individually want, versus a group purchase. This could be a fun beer, in Nick's case, or going out for coffee in my case.

When budgeting, I offered to pay my gym membership out of my personal money; however, after watching Nick make a bunch of small purchases, I've got to say I got a bit jealous at the fact that more then half of my personal income was tied up in my gym membership. I decided to brings this up to Nick and make the case that my physical and mental health is a group benefit; therefore I should be able to consider my gym membership, aka myself, a group expense :) Let me just say, I did not expect to win this argument, and my LOVING husband saw through my crap but still agreed that my fitness was a group benefit. At the end of the day, we agreed that I would decrease my personal money slightly and the rest of my membership would be supplemented by our budget! Let's just say this "argument" lead to plenty of laughs :)

Lessons Learned/Tweaks to April 2014
I think the biggest tweaks deal with adjustments in our budget. We need to breakout our costs out a little more to help us better manage where we spend our money. For example, in weekly expenses we had "Weekly Expenses," it has now been broken down into groceries, laundry, and short-term savings.

We upped our short-term savings money to include "unexpected" costs that are not so unexpected. For example, we need to get a oil change every three months, our monthly medicine expenses, an upcoming summer weekend away, and holiday expenses. None of these items are truly unexpected, so we tweaked the budget to put money aside for these foreseeable items. Saving 10 bucks a month for an oil change will allow us to be sure we have $30 every 3 months without sacrificing on groceries or our entertainment budget line.

Total Payment to Debt: $745. 75, on top of our minimum payments

Current Debt: $172,738.81
* This number will look lower then the $745.75 payment from our first debt amount of $180,000. Over the course of the month, we decided to use a portion of our savings to pay off our credit cards immediately and focus solely on the student loans. Though this does put us at greater risk if something happens, we determined this is the best option for us at this time. Therefore, after we complete our debt elimination, a new counter will be started for our savings. At this point, our savings has enough to cover expenses for about a month... Scary, but also motivation to get moving on our debt so that we can get moving back to savings. 

I think that about does it for the month. We are SUPER excited to have put $745 on-top of our minimum payments toward our student loan debt!

We have a total of 36 Student Loans. They range from a principal balance of $928.85 to $13,754.66.
So to help Nick and I stay motivated, we will also be listing our countdown by remaining Student Loans. Some will take 2 months others 8-10 months, but in the end they will ALL be paid off :)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Foodie Friday: Roasted Chicken

I realized today that I write an awful lot about food on a blog about being frugal. But, food is a HUGE part of my life. First off, I love to eat and secondly a realistic approach to not spending excess money is to prepare your own food. In looking at our budget, groceries are 20% of our single income budget, only surpassed by our rent which accounts for 50%. Which means, in order to write a blog on the joys of saving money to use toward debt, I have to capture the largest component of entertainment in my life- cooking!

Yesterday, I was "lucky" enough to have a early start at work, but that also meant that I was able to get home by 3:30pm. So why not cook a time consuming whole chicken??

Nick is slightly obsessed with making the PERFECT roasted chicken. I believe we have gone through 10 different recipes at this point. He has done his research on techniques to making the perfect bird. I can't complain since I benefit from this amazing meal each time.

But with him at work it was up to me to not mess this one up. I received a full tutorial by phone before I began. Nick had prepared the bird in a brined the night before, so the foundation was set for the perfect meal.

If you have never put your bird in a brined 24 hrs before the meal, I highly suggest you do. It provides the bird with a plump moist taste that a lot of birds lack after sitting in a roasting pan. Now if you have a rotisserie, you may be okay :) Also, may I come over to your place to use this so called rotisserie??

Once the bird is out of the brined, it is rinsed and then thrown into the roasting pan. I placed a quartered lemon inside the bird and then basted it with a butter and spice combo (Salt, Pepper, Chili Powder, Paprika, Oregano, Rosemary, and Basil). Today is the first time I realized that a stick of butter goes into this basting process. Oh well, I guess I won't be making Cooking Light with this recipe.

For the next 1.5 hrs, the timer is set to go off every 15-20 minutes for basting, and at 45 minutes the bird is flipped.

Once the bird is cooked it is pulled out and stood up on it's head to rest. This is suppose to allow the juices to flow into the breast meat. It reminds me of someone stuck upside down and wiggling their legs yelling, "get me out of here," but that's just me!

After all of this pomp and circumstance, dinner is served!

Buying a whole chicken is a great way to have a home cooked meal last at least two meals, depending on the size maybe two meals and a lunch leftover. We were able to get our chicken on sale this week for $.99 lb. so it was a very inexpensive meal. Add a little carb and some veggies and you have a tasty dinner :)

Have a great weekend and I hope a roasted chicken is in your future.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Interest vs. Principal

As we get closer to the end of the month, Nick and I also get closer to making our first extra payment towards our debt. I think that we have a good game plan, but I have been reading up on debt elimination to make sure that I cover any "blind spots." If you watch House of Cards you will get this reference :)

I am not looking for a brand new system, but to figure out the best practices to eliminate our debt in the least amount of time. For example, I already learned about adding in short-term costs that should be accounted for in our budget monthly to help us take care of planned life expenses. Example: put $10 aside each month for an oil change so every three months you don't have to find $30 in your budget to take care of this necessity.

About three weeks ago, I went to the library and borrowed Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. It was perfect timing to get through Chapter 7 on Snowballing your debt the week we were going to make our first extra payment to debt. I will be sure to do additional write-ups on his book as we get further in the process.

Taken from
The general idea behind Snowballing your debt is to pay off your debts by the principal balance, low to high. This will allow you to accumulate additional funds as you pay off your debt to put towards the next highest amount. Dave uses an analogy of a snowball rolling down the hill collecting snow, just like your money will roll down the debt list collecting minimum payments as it goes. The motivation behind paying by principal is to allow you to have some quick wins on your smaller debts and to keep you motivated in your payment plan.

However, I struggle with the idea that in the mean time our higher interest rate loans will keep going up and we will owe more money on these loans in the long-run.

In looking through a list of our student loans, I organized them by principal and then by interest. I think we may be able to achieve some quick wins to keep us motivated and some high interest payments by working with a hybrid plan. In order to pay off the higher interest rate loans, we can pull a few of them higher in our payment plan list. I believe this will help us stay motivated, but also stop us from paying more interest then necessary on some of our loans. A compromise is in the works!

Question of the Day: How do you prioritize repayment of your debt, by interest rate or by principal? 

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Free Weekend

Happy Monday! For the first half of your day, if your work environment is anything like mine, you'll be going around asking or answering the same Monday question- How was your weekend? Thanks to good friends and family we kept it low key and still accomplished a lot. Not all weekends can be free, but here was ours in a nutshell.

Friday Night
Nick met me after work for a run around the Potomac to Teddy Roosevelt Island. You could say it was a run over the bridge and through the woods!

We came home to a fun Belgium beer and then a game night with friends :)
It was a beautiful day of sunshine. I decided to spend the day in the sun and 74 degree whether reading. A day of relaxation was exactly what I needed.

We got started early cleaning up the house, doing laundry, updating our budget with weekly expenses, and then I started the grocery list. We seem to follow the same dreaded Sunday routine each week. I have found that by sitting down with the Safeway App while creating meals for the week, we tend to buy whats on sale and in season.

We made our trip out to Costco for a few long-term necessities. We decided to go cart-less this week and bring in just two reusable bags. This allowed us to get in and out of the store quickly, but also mitigated the amount of items we could add to our Costco list. We ended up getting out of there with only one item not on our overall list, and two items (brussel sprouts and salsa) in a larger quantity then required for the week! Then off to Safeway for the rest of our weekly items.

I made our granola for the week and Nick made up two fun pizzas, BBQ Chicken and Buffalo Chicken.

 It was a productive weekend, and besides groceries and a fun 6-pack we were able to get through the weekend in our usual frugal way :)

So, how was your weekend? 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Money Motivation

I guess this post serves more as a mid-Month One update on our money saving/debt payment plan.

Staying Optimistic while being frugal is hard. The day The Game Plan was posted everything was great and my motivation to succeed was high. The blog was started, a new budget to live on one income laid out, Nick was ready to join the cause, I was reading a new book and other financial blogs on personal finance to gain different perspectives, and was learning how to use social media as a tool. Everything was looking up and I was ready to go.

Week one is easy! You are motivated and ready to take on the world. But then it dawned on me, I had committed to making our debt disappear to a public audience. I had posted it on Facebook and Tweeted about this "great" plan. I started hearing from friends, family, and others wishing us luck on this feat. It was a little too much at once and let's just say I was overwhelmed and a bit nervous. I had a mini freak out moment about mid-way through week two and my reservations about committing to this project started to creep through.

What was I thinking?                                 What if I fail?      
How can anyone get out from under all of this debt?          Why could I not be content on just paying off our student loans month to month for 18 more years?               Maybe we should just focus on the credit cards and savings, and leave the student loans alone?

So, I did the only thing you can do in the middle of a work-day and when your not spending money...

I was lucky to have my work-out clothes with me and I decided to go for a run. I headed outside and turned on my Pandora 80's Cardio Station and jogged out my frustration down the national mall and around the Potomac. After doing the inevitable stair climb to the Rocky theme song, including air punches of course, I went back to work with a more optimistic attitude and brighter outlook of the future.

In order to truly be successful and rid ourselves of debt I had to realize that this was not going to be a "project" this was going to be a lifestyle change. This is a long-term change and I was going to need to find motivation daily to be successful.

So, since I hear list are fun to read on blogs, here is this weeks list.

Things that keep me Optimistic and Motivated:

1. BodyPump Classes- Making me physically and mentally stronger. I love them :)

2. Roar by Katy Perry- This has been on my motivation list for awhile, but makes me want to take on the world whenever I hear it :)

3. Hanging out and Talking with Family and Friend -  I have made a greater effort to connect with everyone in my life a little more often these past few weeks. Being able to hang out or chat by phone with new and old friends has been really positive for me and makes me feel all around happier!

4. The Sunshine- We may be getting snow again, but everyday it is nice out I have been getting myself outside for a walk or run. Nice weather is just a great motivation to do anything.

5. Writing this Blog- The blog is keeping me busy in the evenings and is motivating me to find new things to write about, and new ways to save money! Sorry for the lack of personal photos on this post. As a new blogger, I am learning that I need to start taking photos of everything :)

What motivates you to conquer your goals? 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Homemade Granola

I LOVE my breakfast. Most days, I finish my breakfast and wish that I had packed the same thing for lunch. I have been eating the same breakfast for over a year and not a single day has gone by that I grumble "ugh, this again?!"

The parameters to my breakfast are simple; I need something that I can throw together, have it in my bag, and be out the door in a max of 5 minutes. So over the course of my working career breakfasts has consisted of:
  • Fruit with some kind of bar
  • Cereal/Granola and a container of milk (usually half the milk is spilt in my bag before I get to work :/) 
  • Instant Oatmeal with some frozen berries, adding hot water at work
  • Steel Cut Oats, made the night before- too much prep to withstand everyday use
I have not been very adventurous with my breakfast choices, but after awhile they all just tasted bland and spilled milk, no matter what container I used, became too frustrating to carry. I had this magical idea of throwing my granola on top of yogurt, instead of milk, and adding a few frozen berries- making my own little breakfast parfait. My breakfast love and I met on that wonderful day! 

Over the past year, my frugal ways have taken over and I have tweaked my breakfast to match my frugalness and also adjusted to my nutritional priorities. Making our own granola became cheaper then buying boxed/bagged granola, it is a bit healthier, and it is fun to make and adjust to our taste. 

So the Granola Breakdown:

7 Cups Old Fashion Rolled Oats ($9.17 for 10 lbs/19.17223 Cups) $3.35

1/2 Cup Shredded Coconut ($2.49 for 14 oz) $.71 

1/4 Cup Brown Sugar ($4.39 for 7lbs/13.42056 Cups) $.08

3/4 Cup Olive Oil ($9.98 for 102 oz)  $.59

1/2 Cup Pure Maple Syrup ($50.00 for 128 oz) $1.56

1/4 Cup Honey ($12.79 for 80 oz) $.32

1 Cups Walnuts, chopped ($23.32 for 3lbs/5.75167 Cups) $4.05

1/2 Cup  Dried Craisins or Raisins, rehydrate by soaking in water for an hour ($2.00 for 10oz) $.80

Directions: Combine Oats, Coconut and Brown Sugar. After they are mixed well, add the Oil, Maple Syrup, and Honey. You can choose to do more honey then Maple syrup, but I love the maple taste :) Put it in a large glass baking dish and roast at 200-250 degrees for about 1.5 hrs stirring every 15-20 minutes. Once it is lightly toasted add the walnuts and re-hydrated fruit for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking. Watch the oats carefully at the end so they don't burn. 

Once they are toasted to your liking, take them out of the oven and spread them on a flat surface to cool- this is when the granola clumps. Store away to eat all week long :) 

This recipe yields roughly 15 Cups or 120 Oz of granola for a total cost of  $ 11.46 per batch.  

In doing a quick review on Google Shopping , here is a comparison to 3 other granola brands:

Quaker Oats Granola $4.50 for 28.7 oz @ 120 oz this would cost $18.81
Special K Granola $2.98 for 11.3 oz @ 120 oz this would cost $31.65
Eating Right (Store brand) Granola $2.99 for 18oz @120 this would cost $19.93

Looks like homemade granola, though an investment in bulk ingredients at the front, ends up being a much better long term investment for our wallet!

With the added extras, my breakfast breakdown works out to be: 

1/2 c Granola $0.38
1/2 c Greek Yogurt ( $2.99 32 oz ) $0.37
1-2 T of Frozen Berries (7.99 14.4 Cups) $.07
1 T Chia Seeds (13.99 appx 90 T) $0.16

TOTAL Cost of Breakfast: $0.98

Nick has suggested that we start making our own Greek yogurt to cut down on costs further but I'm not sold yet! For now I will keep to my $.98 breakfast! 

Happy hUMp Day

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi Day


Hello People of Earth,

Well, its the day that everyone has been waiting for all year. The mass-hysteria that has plagued our cities can finally come to an end. No its not the long awaited end to the zombie apocalypse. Its much better! Its Pi day!!!!! March 14 is the one day a year where we come together as a nation to celebrate the achievements of Mathematics and the Science be eating pie in all its delicious, mouth-watering inducing forms (Savory, Sweet and Pizza).

Today as a guest contributor to the Frugal Optimist, I am going to break down the cost of baking an Apple Pie. Our Apple pie is a simple one, one part granny smith apples, one part dough and one part magic.

The dough used for this pie came from a 20 lb bag of high-gluten baking flour from Costco. It costs us $9.00 a bag. We used approximately 3 cups of flour for this double crust recipe: 1 Cup of flour = 4.25 oz. x 3 = 12.75oz ---> .79 lbs.   $0.35 

Crisco is approx. $5.00 for 48oz. We used 3/4 cup ---> 6oz = $0.63

Cinnamon is approx. $3.00 for a 2.37oz container. We used 1 1/2 teaspoons. ---> .25 oz = $0.33

Nutmeg price $3.00 for 2oz. We used 1/4 teaspoon ---> .004oz = $0.006

Brown Sugar $3.50 for pound. We used 1/4 cup ---> 2oz =  $0.43 

White Sugar $5.00 for 10 pounds. We used 1/4 cup ---> 1.34oz = $0.04

Corn Starch $2.00 for 16oz. We used 1 tablespoon ---> .5oz = $0.06

Lemon Juice $4.00 for 32oz. We used 1 tablespoon ---> .5oz = $0.06

Safeway brand Butter for $3.49 for 16oz. We used 1 tablespoon ---> .5oz =$0.10

Lastly, we bought a 12-pack of Granny Smith apples at COSTCO for 8.98. We used 4 for this recipe = $2.99

Total Pie Cost =  $5.03  for a HOMEMADE Apple Pie! 

If you're not into sweets, you can always go savory for dinner and order a Pizza Pie! 

Happy Pi Day :) 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

FreeTax Filing

This week I finished our taxes!!! With a little bit of motivation, Nick convinced me that I could indeed figure out how to do our taxes without spending $100 on an online program or a tax consultant. I was really nervous that if I screwed up we would end up owing more in taxes and therefore negating the idea of saving any money by doing it on my own.

NOTE: I am NOT a tax expert. This is my personal take on my first tax filing experience. Please do what you think is best given your current tax situation and don't cut corners or lie on your tax return! It is important to pay your taxes and keep our government chugging along :)

So quick basics on our tax return:
Federal Tax Return: I completed a 1040 Form and used the lengthy Instruction Booklet. The 1040 Form is only 2 pages with additional backup schedules to help calculate the individual line numbers for the 1040. Some schedules are mandatory, so be sure to read the instructions. You can file for free online or in hard-copy. I chose to complete ours online.

State Tax Return: Different for each state, but if you live in DC you can use the D-40 or a D-40EZ. Determine which is right for you here.

If you are thinking about doing your own taxes this year, I would encourage you to read through my 5 "Lessons Learned" on preparing your taxes for the first time:

1. Complete your Federal Tax Return before your State Tax Return. The two forms work together, to some degree, which was nice to learn. Their is not duplication in everything you submit to the government :) Your federal return walks you through turning your total income into your taxable income. Your total income is decreased by deductibles, such as student loan interest payments, to provide you with your total taxable income. By the way, I think the deductible for student loan interest payment should not have a cap of $2,500, especially for a joint return- give me at least $5,000!!!

2. Your previous tax returns can be a very useful tool. I sat with my 2012 paperwork for the full duration of both my federal and state returns. In terms of taxes, nothing new has changed in Nick and my life, so I knew that I could use my previous year's return as a template. Until we decide to have a kid or buy a house, I think I will be able to manage filing our own taxes using this system. But, if any life changes come our way I will probably use a consultant or online system to help complete our return to ensure that I have a new template to work from the following year.

3. Understand the different Schedules and when to use them. I went through what schedules I submitted last year and looked through each one to determine why they were used. While I was reading the instruction booklet, I made note of where I would need to use the different schedules. This helped me to get organized and not overwhelmed. The schedules seem intimidating but they really are just glorified worksheets. They help you layout how to came up with your number for line X on your 1040, so don't be scared of them.

Nick is an amateur investor and plays in the stock market. It is like his little pot of gold (note: St. Patty's Day is right around the corner!); however, when it comes to filing our taxes this is a HUGE headache. Each trade must be listed on Schedule D and includes the date of purchase, date of sale, gain/loss, a short or long term sale, and magically most of the tax forms we received did not have all of this information. This was really frustrating for me because I had to keep asking Nick to look up each transaction. In the end, I think it took about an hours worth of work for a minimal increase in our income.

4. Do not drink wine while doing your taxes :)  Surprisingly I quickly lost all ambition and focus to decipher the language in the 1040 Instruction Booklet. The booklet is pretty straight forward, but at times it still didn't make complete sense. I reread sections multiple times to figure out what they were asking me to add/subtract or if we qualified for a certain deduction. This was a great time to revert back to point 2, use of our 2012 tax return. It took me 3 sittings to complete our federal return: One for wine :), Two for frustration and missing forms, and the Third sitting took extra time due to a lack of information on our tax forms- see schedule D example above.

5. Do your Taxes Early and Don't Stress! The whole process was fairly easy. By starting them two weeks ago , I was able to take my time and ensure that everything was correct. I had enough time to look through all of the information and ensure that I was comfortable with the final amount we owed. Yes, we did owe, but I could have told you that before I started. If at the end the numbers don't seem to be adding up, you can always take it to one of the tax companies to take a look and pay your fee, but at least give it a try! It is really empowering to understand exactly what deductions we can and cannot qualify for and what percentage of our income goes to taxes.

Good Luck and Happy Tax Filing!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Volunteering: The Brewer's Ball

This past Saturday, Nick and I went back to our roots. No not beer, volunteering :) Nick and I met while serving in a volunteer organization in college. We had to volunteer at least 10 hours a week and it was really a big part of our college years. After graduating, we moved into our adult lives and volunteering became a nice thing to do now and again, but definitely fell to the waste side as a priority.

For New Years, I resolved to participate in at least one volunteer activity a month. I reached out to a close friend, who seems to be volunteering at events or with the Red Cross everyday, and she suggested that I subscribe to Volunteer Match. Within minutes, I came across an event with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for The Brewer's Ball, held this past Saturday at the National Building Museum.

Nick is a home brewer, and by default I have learned quite a bit about beer, and have taken over a few batches of beer myself, so I believe I am a Sous-Brewer : ) Don't fret, we will have a breakdown, frugal optimist style, of our next brew :) Our hobby made this event a great fit to get our volunteer legs back! We spoke to the coordinator about the opportunity and she suggested, based on our knowledge of beer, that we work on their "Hopportunity" raffle. They had 35 beers to send home with one lucky winner.
Nick and I worked the room in our sparkly hats and Mardi Gras beads for 3 hours! As a team of 5, we raised over $2,300 from just the Hopportunity raffle. Within the last 20 minutes of the raffle, Nick and I were working the room and sold roughly a third of our sales. It felt amazing to see what a night working a room full of beer drinkers can equate to for a great cause!

Volunteering is a great way to engage in your community and to give of your time when a monetary contribution is not in the cards. But, it is also a great way to learn something new. Prior to last night, I didn't know much about Cystic Fibrosis or that most cases (roughly 1,000 a year) were diagnosed by the age of 2. So, for anyone who would like to learn more about the disease check out the FAQ's from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and if you're so inclined you can donate, or look at their upcoming events and sign up to volunteer, and perhaps Nick and I will see you there!

On a final Frugal note... When trying to save money, I think that it is important to find things to do that will keep you from dwelling on what you can't do. Last night, I was out till 3am raising money, laughing, and socializing without spending more than my metro fair :) So if nothing else, filling my calendar with volunteer activities is a great opportunity to stay busy and be part of my community from the other side of the table.

Note: If I can get 5 friends to help me raise that kind of money for our debt in 3 hours that would be a great volunteer activity too :) Anyone care to join ? he he he!!

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Lunch Edition: Is Making Cheaper Then Buying?

So you have heard it before, one way to quickly save money is by making your own lunch throughout the work week. With this in mind, and honestly a bank account that wouldn't let me eat out everyday, I have been planning my lunches since I started working.

Ahhh... the golden days of being able to walk into a campus dining hall and swipe a "wonderful" card with your schools logo, that magically takes invisible money out of some random account that I don't think about has now caught up with me. So, I guess making lunch is the least I can do to help pay back my student loans and work towards ridding myself of those freshman...sophomore, junior, and senior pounds gained :)

I have been on a salad marathon for 2-3 months. Last week, I hit a wall!! I couldn't stand the taste of spinach! So I decided to revamp my lunch routine. I went into Cooking Lights March 2014 Issue determined to come out with something I wanted to eat for 5 days in a row. I came across a two-page spread for rice bowls.

Now I know that I am probably a bit more nostalgic when it comes to rice bowls then most people. When I was working as a server at a Mexican restaurant it became a staple of my diet. Most nights I usually got a bowl of rice with black beans (yup I was frugal even working two jobs). I use to top it off with shredded carrots, cheddar cheese, pico de gallo, a nice spoonful of guacamole and a dollop of sour cream.  Mixed up it looked discussing, but tasted like heaven at 10pm :)

Okay back to the story, I can't seem to find an online link to this recipe, but I will check back and add a link later if they add it to their site. All of the rice bowls begin with 3/4 c of brown rice topped with roughly five ingredients: a protein, veggie, cheese, herb, and something extra. Looking through the many choices, I decided to go with a salmon based bowl. Nick is allergic to fish, so we made his with chicken instead.

The salmon was tricky. Since I normally don't cook fish, I did a bit of research in advance on the best method to cook a 3 oz  piece. I know that reheating fish isn't good, so I wanted to find an option that would let me cook it at work. I found a recipe that baked the salmon for 15-20 minutes at 350 degree- PERFECT I would use my office's toaster oven and eat a later lunch to avoid hogging the toaster oven :)

I took a 3 oz piece and topped it with salt and pepper some fresh dill and a slice of orange and wrapped it in a tin foil pouch. It tasted great, and I think the orange was imperative to the taste and moisture!

All of the other ingredients were packaged in separate containers on Monday to last us the week. Each day, once I cooked my salmon, I heated my rice, 1/2 c peas, and 1T of goat cheese.

Once heated, I added the salmon, parsley, dill, and 1/4 of an orange mixed with appx 1T of Greek yogurt. The citrus flavor mixed with the goat cheese gave this meal a very smooth taste.

So I think it is time to put the numbers to the test. How much is an average bought lunch, versus making a pretty decent home cooked lunch?

To buy lunch, a few options that I see around the office and being conservative with my cost estimates:
Lean Cuisine, at Costco I did see 5 for 10, so we will say:  $2.00
Subway Foot Long, lets assume you just get their deal: $5.00
Food by the Pound, popular in DC, I would say easy to spend $13, but to be conservative: $8-10

Okay, so this weeks lunch (Chicken or Salmon Rice Bowls):
Salmon, 11.99 for 8 servings =  $1.50 
Chicken, 8.99 for 5 servings  (Chicken was on sale this week!) = $1.80
Goat Cheese, 7.99 for 10 servings = $.80
Bag of Brown Rice (it does pay to buy by unit price, more on that in a future post) $5.99 and used 1/4 bag for 8 servings- so 1/4 bag cost $1.50 turn that into 8 servings and we have: $.19 
Dill and Parsley, 1.09 for each bunch and we used 1/2 for lunch, so .55 for 10 servings, $.055- since the parsley and dill are the same price dill will be $.05 and have parsley at $.06
Oranges, $1.20 each 4 servings = $.40 
Greek Yogurt, 32 oc container cost 2.99 or .09 per ounce, the serving size is 1T or .5 Ounces, rounding up= $.05

TOTAL COST for Monica's Salmon: $3.05     for Nick's Chicken: $3.35

So I may not have beat out Lean Cuisine in cost but maybe in taste :) At least now when I say it is cheaper to bring your lunch, and a complex lunch at that, I can be assured that it is not a lie.

What are you planning for lunch next week?  

I am thinking another round of rice bowls with a Mexican flair, can you say AVOCADO?! 

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Standing Desk

I had a co-worker, a few jobs back in 2010, who came in on his first day and started setting up boxes in his cube. I questioned what he was doing and he informed me that he was creating a standing desk. Curious as to why he would want to stand and work all day, I started to do my own research on the benefits of standing at your work station.

I found plenty of skeptics pointing out that not enough scientific studies had been completed to verify that standing all day was healthy or more healthy then sitting, and others questioning what standing for an extended period of time would do to your knees. I recently received this picture below as a PDF from my employer that really summed up why people should consider standing at their desk, The Health Hazards of Sitting. Standing at your desk does not need to be a 8 hour affair. Personally, I aim for 6 hours a day, but everyone is different and you definetly have to build your muscles and tolerance to standing for extended periods of time.

In short, I decided to stand at my workstation for a few days to see if I could/should/wanted to invest in this idea of a standing desk. I immediately noticed a difference in my attention span, a greater attention to detail , and I felt more awake throughout the day. In 2010, I stood for roughly six months and then moved to a different organization and enjoyed sitting on a ball chair. I recently was motivated to get back into the grove of standing though, once again, a new co-worker coming in and setting up boxes in his cube.

I tried to go the box building route again, but got discouraged when everything wiggled, so I started looking at buying a standing desk set-up. Depending on the sophistication of the set-up prices vary; for my needs I wanted something that would work within my current cubical setting. I found standing desks for $69.99 up to $851.05. But given that I am frugal, I wanted to find the best quality for the lowest price possible. So, I decided to make my own!

What I used:
  • Measuring Tape
  • Wood Glue
  • Nail Gun with 2" nails 
  • Pine Wood 
  • Sandpaper
  • Home Depot's Wood Cutting Personnel :) 
First off, I need to thank my dad for walking me through my design and my uncle for letting me use his nail gun and teaching me how to use the nail gun- that was a very important piece!! Nick also deserves a round of applause for agreeing to hold the boards while I nailed them together and he managed to come out of the experience without any holes in his hands. He is a brave man :)

Since this is not a woodworking blog, I will not bore you with the details of creating the boxes, but I will break out the cost analysis.

I made two boxes, one for my monitor and one for my keyboard/mouse. In total, I needed  11ft of 3/4in board 8 inches wide of wood. I went with pine because it is a cheaper wood, lightweight,and would look good in my gray office space.

So here is the cost breakdown:

11ft of 3/4in board 8 inches wides Pine: $25.58
Wood Glue, smallest bottle available: $3.83
Nail Gun and Nails : FREE- this was a huge cost and time saver for me
Sandpaper: $3.97
Cutting of the Wood : FREE- nice trick to know at Home Depot they will do basic cuts for you at no cost

Total Cost: $ 33.38

Total Cost Savings: $36.61 
My cost saving on this project is based on if I were to have bought the cheapest standing desk option I found at $69.99.

Total time for the project: 4 Hours and 25 Minutes
This includes measuring the needed height for the boxes at my work station (10 mins), laying out the design and getting feedback (30 mins), going to Home Depot for supplies (1.5 hrs), setting up and learning to use the nail gun (30 mins), assembling the box (45 mins), and sanding (1 hour).

At the end of the day, I believe this project was well worth the investment of time and money for the benefits of a healthier work environment. If you want to learn more about the specifics on putting together your own standing desk, shoot me an email or toss a comment on the bottom and I am happy to give you some more details.

Happy Standing!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Game Plan

After writing my first post, I was feeling excited to begin our "elimination of debt" journey. We took our first step forward this weekend by determining if we could take our financial planner’s advice and actually move to living on only one of our incomes and using the second income solely for debt. After a few varied budget mock ups, we have devised a plan.

We are able to cover our monthly bills: rent, groceries, entertainment, gas, cell phones, and savings under one income. The second income is covering our minimum monthly student loan payments, credit card payments, and the extra will be used toward decreasing our debt. We have looked at the flow of our income, as it relates to the preset bill payment days, and though March will be a little tight we have been able to adjust our spending pattern to adapt to our paycheck cycle.

Now it was time to finally look at the hard numbers...what a sobering moment:  

Overall Debt (Credit Card and Student Loans):  appx $180,000
Estimated Time to Payoff (based on current income): 7 Years, 6 Months

Adding up all of our debt to see the total balance has already made me question if we can actually become debt free or if we are just setting ourselves up for failure. I am trying to stay optimistic and I am hoping that once we get going it will become second nature and we will just keep pushing forward.

I have not been able to figure out how to add long-term interest to my calculation, so I know our debt amount will increase over the course of this process; however, I also have faith that our income will increase over the years (hopefully we will find a lost inheritance!) and we will be able to put more towards our debt- so hopefully, they will balance one another out.  

Nick and I have already started talking about second jobs, but having done that for three years I am hesitant to go back. However if you live in the DC area and need help with IKEA furniture, I am more than happy to help! For friends, I work for pizza and beer but given the current situation I think I may need to renegotiate :)

To end on a positive note, our new budget actually has us putting $50 in saving each month, as a direct deposit, so hopefully this will provided us an opportunity to celebrate our little victories along the way. Our first goal is to pay off my Credit Card. I will keep you posted on how we are doing and any fun new ways we learn to save money.