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Archive for March, 2007

$1 Spring Wardrobe Makeover

March 29th, 2007 at 02:57 pm

My new socks cost $1.



I kept looking at them all day thinking that spring is ALMOST here.

Secret Shopping

March 28th, 2007 at 07:48 pm

A friend of ours is enrolled in a Secret Shopper program. His most frequent assignment is local Mexican Restaurant. Unfortunately for our friend (but lucky for us) his daughter got sick and they asked us to fulfill the assignment in his place.

We get re-imbursed up to $40 for the meal in return for filling out a 9 page online questionnaire about the experience. Not too bad of a deal! We ended up spending $52 at the restaurant, but we could have kept it under $40 if we wanted to (we got an appetizer, drinks, entree, and dessert).

I'm going to have to look into how to sign up for this myself!

Kitchen Staple Creation

March 27th, 2007 at 05:31 pm

We returned from our weekend away to a refrigerator that looks like this:



[At least there's some good beer to drink whilst we feast on Country Crock and cat food.]

Iím having an especially busy week at school and donít have a lot of time to go shopping. Plus, I need some time to think through my grocery shopping plan of attack since I will be in the vicinity of an Aldi next week.

Sounds like itís time for another Kitchen Staple Creation!

We all know pasta is a great solution for meals in a hurry. Some nights a bowl of pasta topped with marinara from a jar and a handful of frozen veggies hits the spot. But other times, Iím really in the mood for something more imaginative.

Penne with Spinach and Raisins is definitely one of my favorite ďGo ToĒ pasta meals for when sauce from a jar won't do the trick. The bite of the red pepper combined with the sweetness of the golden raisins is almost enough to make you think youíre in Sicily (almost). Golden raisins were not a typical staple in our house, but now I always keep a box on hand specifically for making this dish.



Penne with Spinach and Raisins

Olive Oil or Cooking Spray
4 gloves garlic, crushed
10-12 ounces spinach (I use frozen)
1 14.5 oz can Garbanzo Beans, rinsed and drained
Ĺ cup golden raisins
Ĺ tsp salt
ľ - Ĺ tsp crushed red pepper (depending on taste)
Ĺ cup chicken or vegetable broth
12 ounces cooked whole wheat penne

1. In large sautť pan, sautť garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Cook until golden. Add spinach, beans and spices. Cook ~ 5 minutes, stir in broth. Heat through.
2. Add cooked penne to spinach mixtures. Toss and enjoy!

eBay for Cosmetics?

March 22nd, 2007 at 04:50 pm

I use Clinique Super Defense Moisturizer for my face. Iíve tried a few other types of moisturizers, but for me, none work quite as well. The only drawback is the price: $39.50 + tax for 1.7 ounces.

Since my current supply is running low, Iíve been contemplating if I really need to be paying so much for moisturizer. I thought about switching to something cheaperólike a drugstore variety moisturizer.

So, off I went to CVS (coupons in hand) to seek out a substitute. But alas, even at the drugstore most facial moisturizers with SPF (my one requirement is a SPF of at least 25) were in the $15-$20 range. Thatís a lot of money to spend on something I might not be happy with.

I decided that Iíd just stick with the Cliniqueóat the very least I know that Iím buying a product I like.

Luckily, before I re-stocked at the department store, I decided to look on eBay. Good gollyóeBay is a hot bed for cosmetics! My particular moisturizer was being sold by dozens of wholesalers. I ended up being the sole bidder on a brand new jar for $19.50 + $6.50 S&H. So, my total cost was $26 compared to the $41.87 I would have spent at the department store after tax. Total savings: $15.87 and I didnít even need to leave my house. I know this is the still a chunk of change for cosmetics, but this is a product I consider to be very high quality and itís the only expensive cosmetic I use. Gosh darn it- if I'm going to fully fund my retirement savings I need to make sure I have fabulous looking skin in the golden years, too!

I looked for an eBay vendor with a lengthy sales history and positive feedback since I know counterfeit cosmetics exist. I plan on inspecting my purchase carefully with my current container to look for any difference in the packaging or other indication that itís not authentic.

Anyone else shop eBay for cosmetics?

Challenge Total Surpasses $1000

March 22nd, 2007 at 06:37 am

Old Total: $974.71
+ $40 babysitting
------------------------
New Total: $1014.51

I babysat last night and made $40. It feels good to pass the 1K mark since I haven't been able to add as much to the Challenge this month. This money represents new earned income from new income streams since the New Year. The bulk of it has come from babysitting and selling on eBay.

This upcoming weekend Mr. Bean and I are taking a much anticipated weekend trip to the Lodge / Hotel where we had our wedding reception. I'm really looking forward to it, especially now that I hear they have an outdoor heated hot tub! I splurged and bought a new dress at Ann Taylor Loft (my favorite store). I LOVE the dress, the price was right, and I know I'll get a lot of use out of it.

After our night at the Lodge, we're going to visit our family. While Mr. Bean was lying low and recovering from his wisdom teeth, I was cleaning out my closet. I have about 15 items I'm going to take to a higher end consignment shop near my parentsí house. They are picky about what they'll take, but I imagine I've got to have some winners in my bunch. I donít know how profit I stand to make, but since it requires no investment on my end I figured it was worth a try. I would have expected that my town (being a College town) to have consignment shop, but all we have is a Plato's Closet. Plato's Closet is for great teen wear, but not for more professional looking clothes. They snubbed some nice Ann Taylor pieces that no longer fit me, but I expect they will be perfect for the other consignment shop. If nothing else, my clothes will be going on a 500 mile sightseeing trip this weekend!

Why Quitting my Job has Helped My Finances

March 18th, 2007 at 04:21 pm

My previous post elicited more of a response than I expected. Thanks to all who provided their thoughts.

My intention of the previous post was to shed some light on why living on a graduate student stipend (~15 - 18k / year, depending on a number of factors) is easier than living off a the same amount of money earned through a lower-paying job. I get annoyed when students compare their circumstances to those of low-wage earners. The situations are completely different, with the latter being a much more challenging financial feat.

With that said, aside from increased earning potential after I graduate (assuming all goes as planned), the biggest financial benefit of being a full time graduate student has been learning how to survive and prosper on this income.

By no means am I trying to infer that our student stipends are a pittance. I know there are many readers and participants on the message boards who do quite well with less, but for me this has been a quite a journey. Iím embarrassed to admit that pre-grad school I didnít even balance my check book or have a rough idea of how much money was in my account. If I was out shopping and saw a dress I liked- I bought it. Dinner and drinks out were the norm.

It was fun, but it wasnít thrifty.

The only reason I avoided consumer debt was that I have inherited my motherís gene for bargain shopping but lived in a small enough space that I couldnít accumulate a lot of stuff. In retrospect, I wonder how much I could have saved if I had been more responsible? I wonder if we had continued on working and earning more would I ever have stopped to think about long-term goals, like buying a house?

Now, itís a moot point because I had the good fortune of learning financial responsibility when I quit my job and returned to school full time. I now keep exacting records of expenses. Iím also investing. Iím savingóand all on a fraction of what I used to make. The biggest difference is that Iím no longer passive about money. I feel really empowered.

I feel empowered because I feel like we have a good life on this salary. Sure, as an undergraduate, I made even less money, but my student apartment wasnít my home, nor was I truly independent from my parents.

However, I think that if you ever came to our home, you wouldnít say, ďOh, this is a student apartmentĒó or ďThis is just some oneís temporary homeĒ. But this is a home. A real life Mr. Bean and I began together as graduate students. Iím proud of it.

The challenge will be continuing to keep our current frugal and mindful practices once we are earning more and released back into a consumer society.

Grad School- How bad is the financial burden?

March 17th, 2007 at 07:06 am

Mr. Bean had his wisdom teeth our yesterday. They should have come out, oh- say 15 years ago, but for various reasons they didn't. One reason for delaying extraction was that when he was employed full-time (before returning to graduate school), his dental insurance did not cover a major portion of the extraction fees and the out-of-pocket expense was ~ $600. Under our new insurance from the University, our only expense will be a $75 co-pay plus whatever the prescription co-pays work out to be.

So, in between making milkshakes and dosing out pain medication, I've been thinking about the financial benefits we've experienced from returning to school full time.

It is typical that doctoral students are given full tuition remission plus a monthly stipend for 9 months of the year. Summer funding (for the remaining 3 months) is contingent on academic unit and student performance.

I've stated before that by returning to graduate school, we cut our household income by ~70%, but this doesn't give a complete picture of the situation. Iíve listed some of the financial benefits / drawbacks that come to mind. This list is financial only- I canít even begin to comprehend on how to quantify the psychological problems challenges grad school can bring! Also, it might not apply to graduate students who donít receive tuition remission, and the health benefits also vary by university.

Benefits:
ē Increased earning power after degree attainment
ē Lower cost health insurance (medical, dental, and vision)
ē On campus access to pharmacy and basic health care (except dental and vision)
ē Access to University Facilities (ie, I can join the University gym: including aerobic classes, weights, and pool for $41 / semester)
ē Student ticket prices for cultural and sporting events, both on and off campus
ē Lower clothing costs (ie fewer instances for the need to dress professionally)
ē Undergraduate student loans can be deferred while in graduate school
ē Fewer transportation costs (We live close enough to campus that we can walk or bike. I usually bikeósomething I probably wouldnít do if I needed to dress professionally)
ē Lower housing cost (our former jobs were in an urban high COLA city)
ē Societal expectations are lessened (ie pressure to buy a house, go on vacations, etc are lessened but not absent)
ē Ease in finding odd jobs. A few years from now when I have my PhD, people might find it odd if I were working as a personal chef or babysitter. However, because Iím currently a student, this is perfectly within societal norms and people are willing to hire me.

Drawbacks:
ē Lost income while attending school (most doctoral programs take ~5 years)
ē Lost income while in post doc ( as if 5 years wasnít long enough, PhDs in the sciences are often need a post doc to have a good chance at the best jobs)
ē No guarantee that earning power is better after achieving PhD than if you did fabulous work for the 5 years and had various promotions. However, the type of job is likely to be different as a doctoral program teaches very different skills that cannot always be learned on the job.
ē No employer sponsored retirement savings program while in PhD program, unlikely as a post doc
ē No Medical savings plan
ē Uncertainty over funding, especially summer funding
ē Delay in being able to purchase our first home
ē For married or partnered students, if both partners are not able to graduate at the same time, one partner may need to move ahead- thus adding in additional housing costs, or stay with partner still in school and employment search

What else? Iím sure Iím missing things.

Get a Free Starbucks Coffee Today

March 15th, 2007 at 06:07 am

Thursday, March 15th, Starbucks is holding their 2nd annual Coffee Break.



Stop by your local Starbucks between 10am and 12 noon for a free tall brewed coffee.

I walk past Starbucks on the way to my office, but unfortuabtely, it will be before 10am. Luckily, I'll have my trusty thermos to get me through the morning.

Getting imaginative with kitchen staples

March 14th, 2007 at 05:34 pm

For us, cooking and eating at home is one of the best ways to keep our monthly expenses down. Back in my bachelorette days, I thought nothing of having a salad and a microwaved veggie burger in front of the TV for dinner. But now that Iím married, I feel much more compelled to prepare a real meal AND eat it sitting down at the table with Mr. Bean. Research indicates there are many health and social benefits of family meals for families with children- surely some of these benefits apply to those of us without kids, too! My desire for a sit down meal isnít completely altruistic, I love being able to have a nice hot lunch (microwaved leftovers) without having to leave my office the next day.

In order to cook at home most days of the month, you need to have a repertoire of go-to meals. But what to do when your go-toís are all gone? Or for when you havenít been to the store recently? Such situations are when we fell victims to ordering pizza- (mmm, pizza).

In effort to avoid such quandaries, Iím trying to expand my repertoire of go-toís meals that can be prepared with staples- things that we have in the refrigerator or cupboard on most days of the week even if the last trip to the store was some time ago. For, us this typically mean meatless since I only buy meat when I have a special recipe in mind. When I find a new a winner, Iíll share it here. I realize the staples in my household might not be the same as yours, but hopefully this will still be interesting.

I made the following recipe Sunday night. We were hungry and need of something hearty. All of my typical meals seemed unappealing for various reasons. This recipe was quick, filling, spicy (a problem with a lot of my go-to meals is that they have a similar flavor profile). I love that the dish uses things we almost always have on hand. The recipe was originally published in Vegetarian Times.

Indian Lentil Pilaf
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cups chopped carrots (next time I might try peas for variation)
1 cup basmati rice (I used brown basmati)
3 gloves minced garlic
1 TBS fresh minced ginger
1.5 tsp garam masala* (I used 2 tsp)
1 14.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes**
1 cup low sodium vegetable broth
Cilantro for garnish

*Garam masala is a blend of spices frequently used in Indian cooking. You can buy it at large grocery stores or ethnic stores. Also, you can Google a recipe and make your own- the ingredients are all common.
** I used fire roasted, but plain diced tomatoes would work well

1. Cook lentils is ~ 4 cups water until tender firm. Drain, reserving water.
2. Wipe out pot. Heat oil over medium heat and sautť onion until golden. Add carrots and rice and cook three minutes until rice is toasted and fragrant, stirring constantly. Add ginger, garlic, garam masala and cook 1 minute more.
3. Stir in tomatoes, broth reserved lentil water (you may need more than whatís called for is using brown rice), bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Remove from heat. Let stand five minutes, fluff with work and serve. Garnish with cilantro (If you have cilantro-use it! The flavor contrast is great!)

I spooned individual portions of the leftovers into 2 cup Rubbermaid containers and froze. In fact, I had one for lunch today!

Aldi vs. Weekly Loss Leaders: The Iron Chef Moms Challenge

March 13th, 2007 at 05:06 am

Join me in following a friendly competition involving Amy from The Aldi Queen and Meredith from Like Merchant Ships.



For the course of the week-long competition, Amy will prepare dinner meals with food purchased exclusively at Aldi and Meredith will prepare dinner meals with food purchased exclusively with grocery store loss leaders.

To quote Meredith:

We'll each post our dinner menu, including shopping tips and a breakdown of its cost. At the end of the week, we'll total up and see which method came out ahead. Here are the rules we've agreed to play by:

Amy will purchase everything from Aldi. My groceries will come exclusively from next week's sale flyers. No freezer or pantry stockpile allowed! I'll also be keeping a log of how much time/gas store-hopping costs me.

Each night's menu will serve four people and include the main dish and sides. We'll calculate the cost per unit for each ingredient, except for "negligible" amounts of staples--less than 1/2 cup.

There will be a wrap-up at the end of the week and you, as readers, can feel free to critique our strategies, or offer up some of your own strategies.


Sounds like fun! Monday night results are already up. Be sure to check it out!

Back From Boston

March 11th, 2007 at 08:38 pm

I was in Boston for a short time early this week for a meeting. I've been to Boston a number of times, but this trip seemed especially thrilling since we currently leave in such a small town. I packed my suitcase with goodies from Trader Joe's. I love that place!

My babysitting job is on hiatus this week (the kids are on vacation) and my personal chef client also informed me that they won't need me for an indefinite period of time. She's having a scheduled C-section this week and expecting a lot of help and visitors. I sort of anticipated something like this. I'm looking forward to the break from all the cooking, but I'll miss the money.


Challenge Addition

March 8th, 2007 at 05:44 am

Old Total: $ $939.71
+ $35 babysitting
---------------------
New Total: $974.71

I made $35 babysitting last night. I won't be babysitting for~ 2 weeks since the family is going on vacation. It will be nice to have a little break. I have a lot going on in my graduate program right now and I can focus exclusively on that.

February Spending Round Up

March 5th, 2007 at 03:34 pm

After taxes, my February stipend was $1343.

The February expenses looked something like this:

$800 joint expenses *
$35.00 Education
$16.44 Clothing
$82.43 Entertainment
$ 38.22 Groceries **
$81.60 Medical
$150 Roth IRA contribution
--------------------------
January Expenses $1203.69

* Mr. Bean and I make the same amount of $$, so we transfer equal amounts into our joint checking account to pay joint expenses. Joint expenses include rent, groceries, car payment and car insurance, cable, meals out together, etc. If our joint expenses are under $1600, the remainder just sits in the bank account. He tracks the specifics of these expenses in Quicken.

** Typically this is a joint expense, but for various reasons I made some purchases with my own cash or credit card.


Entertainment was abnormally high this month because I went down hill skiing and paid a $41 fee that will cover my membership at the University Fitness Center for the entire semester.

I expect to be re-imbursed by my insurance for a portion of the Medical expenses, but I can never figure out exactly how much that will be until it happens.

Iím happy about not spending any money buying lunch or other snacks this month.

The clothing purchases all came from my newly discovered favorite store- The Good Will! They were offering a 25% sale for students this month so I visited it a couple more times than necessary. Iím really happy with my purchases, (including a brand new BCBG Max Aria sweater for $5), but now that Iíve had my fun I think I need to stay out of there for a while- or at least until the weather warms up and I need to quell an urge to buy something to update my Spring look!

So, I have succeeded another month living entirely off my stipend while making a Roth contribution. In fact, I even ended up $139.31 to spare.

Not included in this is $554.31 I made this month in odd jobs, selling things Iím not using, rebates, etc.

I canít believe I spent so long in the dark about my finances and money. Saving and spending wisely is fun!

Challenge Addition

March 4th, 2007 at 09:51 am

Old Total: $ 894.71
+ $45 babysitting
---------------------
New Total: $939.71

I haven't posted much this week. The lack of posts is due to being busy and not really spending much money.

I made $20 Friday doing hearing testing, but since that isn't a new income stream for 2007 I'm not going to count it towards the Challenge. It was my first time testing for 2007, though. The last time I tested was in December. I was sick at the time the with a head cold and think I gave bad results and got "black listed" (if you provide variant results they black list for a while). I don't know if I hope to be back in good graces again- I like the money but the actual testing is tedious and annoying.