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Archive for November, 2006

Soup and Salad La Madeline style

December 1st, 2006 at 02:06 am

When I lived in the city, (aka: when I spent a lot of money) one of my favorite quick places to eat was
La Madeline . In particular, I enjoyed the Tomato Basil SoupÖ

(photo from La Madeline web site) least until I saw that a serving was 290 kcal and 28g fat (not to mention it a bowl costs something like $6).

Tonight I made a pretty good copy cat of the soup. Although I donít know the exact nutritional breakdown of my recipe, the only fat I added was 2 tsp olive oil to the bottom of the pot. I canít imagine the cost of this home made version tops $3.00, and it probably contains ~ 5 cups soup.

Here's the recipe:
2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
2 TBS flour
1 26-oz can tomatoes in puree
8 oz vegetable broth
Ĺ cup fat free half & half
fresh basil, chopped
sprinkle dried thyme
splash balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in deep pot, add chopped onion and garlic. Sautť until onions translucent. Add in flour, cook ~ 1 minute. Add remainder of ingredients expect half & half. Bring to boil, simmer 15 minutes. Puree with immersion blender or traditional blender. Add in half & half, stir and eat!

On the financial front: Today was a no spend day plus I earned $10 on an ING referral. Love the free $$!!

Question on Budgets

November 30th, 2006 at 01:46 pm

Do you budget on a monthly basis and add in irregular expenses as needed, or do you try to account for the irregular expenses every month?

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: I am a runner. I buy about 3 pairs of running shoes / year at ~$270 for the year. However, I don't buy them like clockwork every 4 months-- it depends on how much I'm running and how quickly the shoes are breaking down. I categorize this as "recreation" in Quicken rather than clothing since I only wear the shoes for running. I'm curious if people would recommend putting in $22.50 / month (22.5 *12months = 270), or, just put in the $90 / month when I anticipate having to buy new shoes? I'm sure it can be done either way, but I'm just curious what works well for people.

I imagine most people have a slush fund in their budget for unexpected but unnecessary things. I suppose the running shoes could be drawn from that.... any thoughts?

What's my time worth?

November 30th, 2006 at 12:45 am

After setting up a budget for December and analyzing November's expenses, I determined that I really need to increase my income. Because I'm a grad student, negotiating a raise is out of the question, and finding ways to supplement my income is the way to go.

So, the timing was perfect when I received an email this morning from our departmental secretary saying that the YMCA is looking for qualified individuals to teach a nutrition / wellness course developed by a prominent HMO in the area. I sent off a letter of interest and resume this afternoon and quickly received an email back asking a few more questions about my availability, but no mention of the pay. I don't anticipate the pay to be anything fantastic, but since the sessions are taught in the middle of the afternoon, it will be disruptive to my schedule. I probably have the flexibility to teach an afternoon class, but I'm trying to determine what the job is worth to me BEFORE I know what the pay rate is in effort to make the most rationale decision.

I always bike / walk to campus but would need to drive to the classes. Since the classes are in the middle of the day, this will require me to bike home and get the car (hence losing time, approximately 30 minutes round trip) or drive to campus and pay to park in a garage (hence losing moneyóIíve never used the garage so I donít know how much it costs, but will check into this!). You can probably guess I'm more inclined to do the first. So, what's my time worth? Sadly, I think my skills and expertise are worth a lot more than what I'd agree to do it for (I'm too shy to share my final number), but when income is low and opportunities are limited, it may be time to settle for less.

November Expenses and my First Budget

November 29th, 2006 at 01:51 am

I just examined November's expenses-- I think I did OK considering I stayed out of the red there were some irregular expenses, mainly:

** $85 for a cleaning lady to visit my mother's house (mom lives 250 miles from me and recently broke her arm).
** $331 for interest on undergrad school loans (currently in deference since I'm in school)

The extra money from hearing testing helped cover me this month. Due to Thanksgiving, I lost some income from my personal chef client who needed fewer meals.

I was particularly proud of the grocery expenses: $154.84 for the entire month for 2 adults (includes only taxable items). However, we did spent $76.99 eating out (again, for 2 people). The eating out expense seems to fluctuate. We've actually had some months with zero eating out expenses, but it's rare.

Armed with this knowledge, I used Quicken to create my first budget. I'm curious to see how it goes. December might not be the best month to start budgeting due to the Holidays and irregular expenditures, but if nothing else, it should help to keep my expenditures in check. I'm making an extra $200 /month this semester in return for doing extra grading, but come January that will be gone and I'll be back to $1350 / month. The time is ripe to tighten the purse strings!

I did budget in a monthly contribution to an IRA, but I still need to get something set up with Vanguard. Hopefully I can accomplish this by Friday.

Fool Proof Method to Reduce Heating Costs

November 28th, 2006 at 02:17 am

Sleep with a cat!

Actually, aside from helping to reduce heating costs by acting as a living space heater, our cat Madrigal was a bargain. She is a pure-bred Burmese, which typically sell for over $400.

Previously, Madrigal was owned by a breeder and used to bred kittens for sale. After 4 years of hard work, the breeder wanted her to go to a loving home with no other pets where she could relax and lavish in the attention of her humans. Hence, she found her way to Bean household. We re-imbursed the breeder for the cost of her neutering, but otherwise was free.

Prior to this kitty, I was unfamiliar with Burmese cats or any pure-bred cat. I most say I'm a Burmese convert and can't say enough great things about the breed. They are extremely affectionate and love people. Burmese are often called the "dog" of the cat world for their allegiance to their owners. She's never far from us and hates to be alone.

Eating well on the cheap

November 22nd, 2006 at 01:05 am

Eating well on the cheap-- or at least trying to.

As I wrote earlier, on a whim last week I decided to stay out of the store and cook only with what we had on hand.

I did fairly well, but by Friday night I was hungry, tired, and creatively zapped. I was thinking about ordering pizza, but after taking another look at the pantry, I decided to make pumpkin soup. I used this recipe for Cream of Pumpkin Soup for inspiration. I substituted evaporated skim milk for the cream (less fat), added fresh grated ginger, and increased all the spices for extra flavor. I also used an immersion blender so I only needed to clean one pot. Iím sure the soup would be delicious with cream, but I didnít have any plus it would really make the soup fattening. I did make the whole wheat croutons, and they added a nice extra crunch to the mealóalthough Iíd say 4 slices of bread is too much (we ended up just eating the croutons like crackers after the meal. For dessert, I whipped together an apple crisp with apples, oatmeal, flour, brown sugar and butter. Total time in the kitchen was less than 40 minutes, and the results were tasty, pretty healthy, and definitely cheaper than ordering out.

Needless to say, when I did go to the store, I was happy to buy fresh produce again. Tonight I made a Tofu Pad Thai with an entire container of bean sprouts and an entire bunch of cilantro.

Other people have mentioned this before, but if there is an Asian grocery in you town, shop there for things like sauces, stir-fry sauces, noodles, tofu, etc. Itís cheaper than the conventional grocery store and a better selection. (The cost of Taste of Thai brand in the grocery store will seem like highway robbery after you visit an Asian grocer!)

I think there will be enough pad thai to freeze-- even after we have it for lunch tomorrow. I usually spoon a 1-serving portion into a small containers and pop them in the freezer. After microwaving, it doesn't look as good as when it was fresh, but the taste is still great and it's perfect for days when I don't have anything to bring to campus for lunch.

Have wheels, will drive!

November 21st, 2006 at 05:38 pm

If you travel solo or as a couple for the holidays, check to see if your community has a ride board. Many communities have ride boards, especially those near college campuses, but they often go under-utilized.

I posted a free ads offering a ride from our locality to the city where Mr. Bean and I are spending Thanksgiving. The good news is I've already received two inquiries. We can only fit two passengers, so this is perfect.

I find itís best to state upfront how much you expect for gas and expenses. I also find it's best to state an exact amount, rather than "you pay gas and tolls", to avoid any awkward conversations. This week, weíre traveling about 250 miles each way (500 RT) and I request $50 per rider for the round trip. Many drivers mention splitting expenses, but I feel that Iím providing the vehicle, paying the insurance, and driving, so the riders can pay for the gas. Given that there are limited buses and planes in and out of my area, Iím sure that my price is still much cheaper than the alternatives óand I provide door to door service!

Opened an ING account!

November 21st, 2006 at 04:09 am

Thanks to Peg L. for referring me to ING, I now have a savings account with a decent interest rate! Yea! The reason I chose ING was for the $25 bonus. The bonus enticed me over slightly higher interest rates offered by competitors. Mr. Bean and I have a joint savings account, so maybe I'll refer him and reap the $10 referral bonus as well as the $25 new account bonus (he can be primary account holder, the $$ is still the same). I love getting free money!

My friends tease me that I'll pick up just about any odd job, but the teasing is deserved! By far, the best paying and most convenient side job is my personal chef stint. Another odd job is testing hearing protection at a local hearing protection testing firm. Sounds weird, but basically, you sit in a sound proof booth wearing hearing protection and press a little hand held buzzer when you hear a sound. This allows the firm to evaluate the effectiveness of the hearing protection. The firm is only 3 miles from my house, each session take s 45-60 minutes and typically make $20-$40 / session depending on how many items I test. They offer appointments in the evening, so I can do it without interfering with the normal working hours I'm expected to be on campus. Last month I made just over $100, paid completely in cash. Not big bucks, but seeing as how I basically make minimum wage on my stipend, it's enough make encourage me to do it. Earlier this week I also responded to an ad in the University daily paper from looking to hire an individual for 3 hours at $20 / hr to rake leaves. I responed and said Mr. Bean and I would both come and rake for 1.5 hours for $60 (I'm frugal but not stupid-- no way I'm going to a strangers house by myself!, but I'm still waiting for a response back. Mr. Bean only agreed to it if we used the money to do something fun, but that sounds good to me, too.

I hope to keep my eyes peeled for more jobs. Having a paid job outside of your studies is seriously frowned upon in my academic department since the department pays students a stipend (it's a bit like indentured servitude). I try to keep these little jobs on the hush-hush :-)


November 20th, 2006 at 03:16 pm

I've been BUSY, both with work and with personal finance reading. I feel guilty for not being on top of the finance business earlier, especially when I had a higher income. Oh well, I can only look forward at this point.

Mr. Bean and I did get free credit reports over the weekend. Luckily, there were no surprises or red flags for either of us.

By December 1st, I will:

1. Open a Roth IRA (I'm leaning towards going through Vanguard, but welcome any opinions on this)
2. Open ING Savings

By December 15th;
1.Figure out what to do with my 401(k) from old job
2. Meet with insurance agent to review auto coverage (we only have 1 car, we picked coverage in a bit of a hurry, may be over covered in some areas).

By January 15th:
1. Compare rates at other car insurance companies to ensure we want to stay with current provider.
2. Analyze savings to see if some could be used for a low-medium risk investment

Getting creative in the pantry

November 17th, 2006 at 03:42 am

I'm trying to delay a "real" grocery trip and work with what I have in the pantry. When I made this goal, I should have taken a better look at what was available, because it's proven to be very challenging!

Last night I attempted to make Spanish Style Tortilla. I enjoyed this dish for the first time in a cafe in Madrid. All you really need are eggs and potatoes, both of which I had available. Having never made this before, I looked online and decided to go with this recipe.

Unfortunately, when it came time to flip the tortilla I spilled it all over the pan. I ended up scrambling the eggs and throwing in some grape tomatoes and parsley for color. Maybe I'll just have to wait to return to Madrid for another authentic tortilla!

The Spanish-style scrambled eggs :-)

Pizza-- healthy and on the cheap!

November 15th, 2006 at 01:43 am

Mr. Bean and I had some homemade pizza for dinner tonight. I make the dough in the bread machine. I often see bread machines of Freecycle, so if you're intrigued, keep your eyes open for one! It took me a while to get it right, but my most consistently good crust comes from the following recipe:
3/4 cup water
1.5 tsp olive oil
2 1/4 cup bread flour (very important to use bread flour!)
3/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp yeast

From time to time I make pizza with a blend of white and whole wheat flour, but the end result can be variable. Need to experiment with whole wheat crusts some more!

I pre-heat the oven to 450, and bake the naked crust for about 7 minutes
(the naked crust!)

Add toppings (canned tomato sauce, whatever herbs and veggies I have on hand, a handful of cheese), and bake another 10 minutes or so. Add in a salad and vino, and viola! You're done!

This works well for casual dinners with friends. Since most poeple don't make their own pizza, people are typically unduly impressed. Furthermore, since you control the cheese, the end result is relatively healthy, very tasty and very cheap!

I checked out "Smart Couples Finish Rich" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in your 20's and 30's" from the library. I plan to settle back and do some reading!

ING and Emigrant Direct

November 14th, 2006 at 04:56 am

My money is sitting around in a savings account and checking account at a brick and mortar and making squat. I have a very modest 401(k) from my first year of in a 'real' job, but I haven't done any specific retirement savings since 2003 when I switched to a better paying position that didn't offer a 401(k). Had I been smarter, I would have sought out retirement savings through a bank. Be ye not so stupid.

After reading the forums, I'm a little confused, but it seems like a good way to start is to open an ING account through Jeffery's link and get the $25 bonus (yes, I realize I need to open with $250), and then open an EM account and send Jeffrey 2 ING refferals and get a $20 bonus. Do I understand it correctly that the only way to get the $20 ED (via Jeffrey) bonus is to have ING referrals to donate to Jeffrey?

Once my money is in these accounts, my next goal will be to look into an IRA or some other retirement savings.

More Spending

November 14th, 2006 at 02:56 am

After reviewing everything that's planned this week, I no longer think this is going to be a low spend week!

I already spent 16.64 today, here's the break down:

$8.50 on items for a Thanksgiving Basket for a family dealing with HIV/AIDS. The basket is being "sponsored" by a student organization I belong to. I have a feeling the other students might forget to donate, so I wanted to make sure to donate more than just one thing. However, I just found out about it today and the items need to be in by Wednesday, so I don't have a lot of time to strategize, (sounds weird, but I get a thrill out strategized shopping). Typically when donations are needed I can raid my surplus of stuff I get for free or nearly free with coupons. However, specific items were requested for this basket. I headed out to the Dollar Tree and the grocery store, and for $8.50 I got:

Thanksgiving themed paper plates and paper napkins
1 Can sliced pineapple
1 box quick bread mix
1 box stuffing
1 can gravy
1 envelope gravy
1 bottle cran-apple juice
Thanksgiving card

Again, for someone really trying to budget, themed paper plates and napkins aren't the best use of money, but they were on the request list, and for a family dealing with illness hopefully this will make the holiday cleanup a little easier. (Not to mention the themed plates looked really festive!)

I spent the remaining 8.14 at the store for us--mainly to pick up items I could get free with coupons, and fresh stuff. I'm going to try to make this the last food purchase until next week.

1 bag Lender's Sqaure bagels (free with coupon)
2 Dannon 6 oz yogurt (free with coupons)
Fresh Broccoli Crowns ($1.57)
1 pint grape tomatoes ($2.50)
3 tangerines ($2.00--these were an impulse buy... I've been eating apples for ~ 3 weeks since they are fresh at the Farmers Market but needed a break!)
2- 10 oz blocks of cheese (BOGO): $2.97
Loaf of Italian Bread: $1.17

I realize this doesn't add up.. I see now that the clerk doubled by free yogurt coupons-- which he shouldn't have.

Made some "homemade" soup from canned tomatoes and an array of frozen veggies and enjoyed with the Italian bread and a salad for dinner. I always make enough to have something for lunch the next day. Mr. Bean prefers to make a sandwich or have cheese and a salad.

Weekend Spending Round Up

November 13th, 2006 at 02:02 am

Spent a fair deal of cash this weekend on entertainment and optional things:

Friday: $3.50 at Farmer's Market for a 1/2 peck of apples. Money well spent.

Saturday evening: $10.50 on movie tickets for Mr. Bean and myself to see the Borat movie. I had high hopes, but was under impressed. Movie started off on a bad note when the guy sitting next to me kept saying "What a Dump!" about Kazakhstan. It made me sad.

$24.96 at JCPenney on 2 items of clothing. Both were priced well, but neither was a necessity. Feeling a little wasteful about this.

$3 at Big Lots for some household cleaners. Great prices here on detergents, soaps, etc. I will try to keep it mind to look there for laundry detergent next time we're low. I think the price cheaper than grocery store even with a coupon.

$3 for day pass to indoor swimming pool. I'm a runner, but feel an injury coming on, so decided to swim today instead and give my legs a rest. I was the only person in the pool for most of my workout. It was great!

Now that I'm tracking everything in Quicken, I find myself much more conscious about what I spend. However, I'm not using budgets. I've been concerned that it would seem too restrictive. Any thoughts?? Pro / con? Maybe I'll make a goal to set up some budgets and then test it out for a month or two.

The upcoming week should be fairly low-spend.

Any advice for saving herbs from frost?

November 12th, 2006 at 03:49 pm

This year was my first foray into gardening. What a joy it has been-- but I have a lot to learn.

We've had a few frosts here and most of my plants (ie impatients, sedum, begonia) have died. I have two large perrenial herbs-- (sage and oregano) that seem to still be doing OK. Any idea of how much longer I can expect the herbs (espcially the sage) to be OK outside? I'm in plant hardiness zone 6a if that helps. Maybe I should be pre-emptive and start drying some? Any advice on the best way to do this? I also have a small rosemary plant growing outdoors that I was thinking about transferring to a pot and bringing indoors. Do you think this will work? I love fresh herbs, but they can be pricey at the store.

Pork-- the other white meat

November 11th, 2006 at 09:32 pm

Thanks for all the comments! What a great way to start!

This morning I went shopping to buy food for my personal chef client as well as to pick up a few things for us. I spent $11.47 on us. I'll write more about that in another entry.

I highly recommend lean cuts of pork as a healthy, inexpensive alternative to chicken. Today I bought a boneless pork sirloin roast weighing ~ 3 pounds for $2.20 / pound for my clients... and it wasn't even on sale! A four oz. serving has just 2 grams of fat-- better than chicken and in my opinion, far more flavorful and moist.

Apples and sweet potatoes are also inexpensive this time of year (not to mention that they taste great now since they are actually fresh). Sweet potatoes, or more correctly yams, were just $0.44 / pound-- how can you beat that? Here's a recipe incorporating all three:

* 1 boneless pork sirloin loin roast, 3 to 4 pounds, fat trimmed
* 1/3 cup honey
* 1/4 cup orange juice
* 1/4 cup frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
* 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
* 3 large sweet potatoes, quartered
* 2 large apples, cored and quartered

Preheat the oven to 350į.

Coat a large ovenproof Dutch oven with cooking spray and place over medium-high heat. When very hot, add the pork roast. Cook, turning, until all sides are browned, about 6 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the honey, orange juice, apple juice concentrate, pepper, and brown sugar. Spoon over the pork roast. Place the sweet potatoes around the pork. Cover and bake for ~45 minutes. Add apples. Cook until meat thermometer registers 160 į.

Let the pork stand for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve pork roast sliced, with the sweet potatoes and apples.

If you're not using a meat thermometer I highly recommend starting!! You can buy a digital thermometer for under $10, and for ~$12 you can buy one that has a digital display that stays outside your oven. Aside from all the food safety reasons, your food will be saved from getting overcooked. I find that the cooking times listed in recipes are often inaccurate.

Greetings and Salutations!

November 11th, 2006 at 02:52 pm

Welcome! As a long time lurker among the Personal Finance blogs I decided to dive in and start one myself.

A little bit about my personal finance situation: After graduating college, I was lucky to find a good paying job (for my field, at least) and live a good life in one of larger US metropolitan cities. During this time, I met Mr. Bean. In Summer 2004, after 3 years of working FT and 2 years of dating, we were married, quit our jobs, and moved to another state where we are pursuing our doctoral degrees at a large land-grant state university.

We are fortunate that both of our doctoral programs pay all tuition and fees and pay a modest stipend (after taxes, ~$1300 / month each). I also moonlight as a Personal Chef (more on hat later) which brings in roughly $300-400 / month

Mr. Bean has always kept exact records of his spending. I have not. Iíve never been a BIG spender, so ever since Iíve had enough money to know Iím not in jeopardy of depleting the account, Iíve been a lax and disorganized record keeper. Since we started school in 2004, Iíve been a penny pincher and always looking for ways to make our money go farther, but I never tracked my spending (I should note: Mr. Bean and I each have our own accounts as well as a joint account. Mr. Bean has always kept exacting records of his own money as well as our joint money). However, I felt like it was silly of me to be clipping coupons, turning down the thermostat but not know, even within a $500 range, how much money was in my checking account.

Starting in Summer 2006 I started tracking all my money n Quicken. I now feel like Iím in control of my finances. I hope that in a few years when we are done with school, weíll have preserved enough of our pre-graduate school savings to buy a home. Iíd like to use this blog to get your help and support, as well as share some of my strategies for adjusting to slashing your household income by over 70% and still having a happy, fruitful life. (added 11/30: I should note taht while income was slashed, we also moved to a less expensive city adn get really affordable health insurance through the university.. so some expensives have been slashed, too!!)