Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dinner Improv

I know I have a few Improv actors and "Who's Line is it Anyway?" fans on this reading list, but I am hear to talk about frugal improvisation. My favorite frugal vacation memory took place while we were staying with a good friend in Plattsburgh. Let's call him Jake for simplicity sake.

Jake has just moved into a new apartment the day before we arrived and started a new job roughly 8 hours before we arrived in town. Needless to say, he had not fully "unpacked," while it was more like he hadn't bought anything for his apartment :)

So after a night of going out to eat and drink like old college students, we decided that we should cook dinner at home on the second night. We were all tired and trying to keep costs down, so eating at home is cheaper then eating out.

What could we do with very little kitchen items? We decided on a fest of picnic food: hot dogs, french fries, mac-n-cheese, beans, and a salad :)

Key kitchen items needed: A knife, a sauce pan, a frying pan, a baking sheet, a large bowl.

It wasn't until we got home from the store that I actually inspected what was available, and we started to improvise!!

French Fries: We had a baking sheet and spray olive oil... now if only we had something other then a butter knife to cut potatoes. Nick managed and the fries were in the oven cooking before we knew it :)  
Salad: No Large Bowl Available...

Paper towel with cleaned lettuce, and a small bowl with grapes (the only thing the butter knife could cut easily). Just to make it a little more commical, we bought the seeded grapes...

Mac-n-Cheese: We made it easy on ourselves and bought two boxes, rather then do anything fancy. I realized when we got back to the apartment that when Jake says he has a sauce pan, he meant a sauce pan the size of my hand! So, we made mac and cheese in batches and heated both batches in the oven in a casserole dish once they were ready. PERFECT :)

I think as soon as we were done with the pan for Mac-n-Cheese we threw the beans to warm up as well. So this small little sauce pan got a work-out!!

All in all, dinner was an adventure and we got to sit on the porch drinking out of our improvised beer mugs and discussing politics over a 6 year old's dream dinner :)

Thanks for the fun memory Jake!!

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past 2 weeks. With vacation and our AirBnB rentals, I am still a little off schedule and trying to get back into a routine. Bare with me for a few more weeks :) 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Month in Review- June

Sorry for the Month in Review Delay :) More to come on our vacation tomorrow and next week!

Month Four was a whirlwind. I was looking back at my Month In Review- May and it made me smile! All the fun activities we did and all the time we spent with friends and family. June seemed to have buzzed by without a second thought. Financially, I think Nick and I are starting to get the hang of our discretionary funding, or at least how to track it, we still need to learn how to spend less.

Unexpected Costs: 

Car had to go in for repairs. This ate into our "extra" income, but we were fortunate to have the wiggle room to cover repairs when needed. Otherwise, it was a pretty straight forward month! By adding the Alcohol and Family/Friend lines to our budget, unexpected costs didn't occur, they were budgeted for :)

Unexpected Income: $ 1, 928
We signed a new lease on our apartment last month, and so this month we didn't need to pay rent, meaning it all went toward student loans! This was a very exciting and took a huge dent out of the 12.5% loan we are trying to tackle!

We also sold our old AC on Craigslist and did our weekend modeling gig.

June Splurges:
Nothing really extra this month. We did buy pizza twice, which has been uncommon for us lately, so I guess it has kinda become a treat :)

Funniest Moment: 
This is a bit of a May/June funny moment, but it all began with me trying to stay in budget. We were having a lot of people in and out of the house, so I tried to be frugal when picking up a case of beer and bought Miller High Life. Now I understand that some people love Miller High Life, but I am just not one of those people. We get home, I have one beer and I was done. I was not interested in drinking 23 more of those, that was for sure!!

So as the saying goes, "turn lemons into lemonade," I just decided to ADD lemonade. I knew it wasn't going to HURT the beer : ) The next thing I know we were having Summer Shandy's with our homemade Cran-Lemonade :) Carbonated Lemonade with Miller High Life became my new favorite beer on a hot day. I do believe we ended up buying at least 2 more 6-packs of Miller!!

Lessons Learned
I finally figured out why we don't have money for groceries at the end of the month... COSTCO. I never budget for Costco but typically take it out of the grocery line! We are saving money from buying in bulk at Costco, but on a week to week basis we still have to buy staples at the grocery store.

I have been paying attention to how much we were spending at the grocery store, roughly $75 a week. When making our monthly budget, I was simply taking $75 and multiplying it by how many weeks in the month. By the last two weeks of the month, for the past 3 months, we are down to pinching pennies and trying to use everything in the freezer and cupboards because we don't have money in the grocery line.

I finally asked myself WHY does this keep happening. When I looked through all three months I realized that we may spend $75 weekly, but that is not possible without a $100 Costco trip for staples. For July, I have adjusted the budget to read $100 for Costco and the $75/week in Groceries. We had to move other money around to make this work, but now we should actually be able to stay in budget or hopefully duck in a little below budget!

Total Payment to Debt: $1,868.08, on top of our minimum payments for June

TOTALLY AWESOME MONTH :) I think it is our best yet! Yay to no RENT :)  

Current Debt: $170,382.01

We started with a total of 35 Student Loans.
We are currently at 34 Student Loans and we need to pay $2,535.20 more in order to reach #33 :)

Student loan #34 has our highest interest rate at 12.5% ! We are ready to get rid of this one as soon as possible!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Art of Spices

I love those racks with glass jars for your spices. I like how they make a wall statement. To me, they become a piece of spicy artwork :)

I thought it was a little impractical to buy a few jars and racks for storage knowing that I would still need to buy a jar of the spice from the grocery store and go home to place it in the storage jar. It is just a wee bit impractical, but for art- eventually I took the leap!

A few days after buying my jar and rack supplies at IKEA I wondered into a cute market right around our apartment, the Broad Branch Market. This Market is set-up as a deli, organic store, classy 7.11, candy shop, and ice cream parlor all in one. This place is beautiful, but most of their products are either too nice for a frugal budget, or cheaper at Safeway...except their bulk goods.

They bring jar spices to a whole new level, and sell their spices by the pound in little ziplock baggies. They also do this for a few dry goods, but thats for another post. We have been buying spices from this location for the past two years, but my inquisitive nature got the best of me last weekend, when I wondered if we were just buying less then a jar so the price of our bill was lower, or if by unit costs we were actually saving money.

So I took down a few of their prices and I have compared them to our grocery store below:

Broad Branch  Safeway 
Cinammon 9.99 lb 0.88oc x 16 = 14.08 lb 

Garlic Salt

12.99 lb

0.49oc x 16= 

7.84 lb
Curry Powder 17.89 lb 3.75oc x 16 = 
60.00 lb
Parsley 16.59 lb 3.85 oc x 16=  61.60 lb

Crushed Red Peppers
21.99 lb 2.46oc x 16 =  39.36 lb

Except for Garlic Salt, Broad Branch takes the win :) Buying where they sell in bulk, even in lower quantities, seems to be the way to go!