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cooking and no spend days

July 11th, 2008 at 03:20 am

Generally, my biggest expense is food. This is because before I started cooking, I'd eat out all the time. But since I moved, I've been doing a lot more cooking, and I find I don't want to eat out at all.

I've been making a habit of making an extra serving of something, so I can have it for dinner the next night. Since it's summer, breakfast is cold cereal and fruit. I haven't done so well with lunch, and end up skipping it. But I used to go so far as to buy desserts, like bakery cookies and cake. Now, I'm doing more baking on my own, and might have cookies. Actually, since it's been so hot and muggy, I've just been eating a lot of fruit.

So I'm finding that my day to day expenses have really dropped. But, I'm spending a little more on groceries. Some of it's not a bad thing, because I let myself buy fresh fruit in season, even if it's a little high. So I've been eating tons of cherries and blueberries, even though apples and bananas are cheaper. But I can't get fresh cherries in December, so I'll save the apples for wintertime.

I think I could drop my meat consumption and save more money. Or at least change it. I just found out my fishmonger will clean/scale and behead a whole fish, and these tend to be less $/pound than buying the fillets. I hardly ever buy red meat, and when I do, it's hamburger, but I do buy a lot of chicken and then just boneless, skinless breast. I should switch to whole chickens, and joint them, but I'm squeamish. I eat a lot of egg (whites) which are cheap. But I should eat more beans instead. I don't really like them though, so I'm going to have to sneak them into food.

I can't handle a ton of dairy, so I have milk, soymilk and yogurt as my dairy servings. Soymilk is $$, which is aggravating. But I can make my own yogurt, which can really cut costs.

But I haven't really kept to the grocery budget, because I went on a carnivorous rampage over the 4th of July, and that just really got pricey.

I've decided to set aside the grocery money and put it into a holding account that I was using as a potential space to hold my pocket money. Currently, this account has about $50.00, just to keep it open, and I give myself the pocket money when I need it. But since I don't eat out, I only use a dollar or two, and I can just keep that in my wallet.

Since the holding account has a check card, I can put the grocery money there, and that way the month's allotment is isolated from the rest of my operating expenses. So I won't blindly go over (I'm good about checking my overall balance) and if I underspend, I'll just put in less the following month and pay extra on my debt.

Reassessing the situation: the income

June 28th, 2008 at 03:31 am

I figured that one reason why the money details seem so overwhelming is that I didn't have a clear picture of my spending. Especially for the past few months, when things got crazy everywhere.

So this morning, I made a cup of strong coffee and crunched the numbers for the next 14 months. I tried to be realistic with my budget and it looks like my previous guesses were a little optimistic: it will be about 30 months to clear it all.

However, I think I've come to some compromise with working extra hours: I'm going to try to do some side-gigging in a field that's related to my job at the Forum (I don't think I can freelance directly in my own educational field.)

The Forum asked me to take some new responsibilities, and in lieu of a higher salary, they've offered to pay for the relevant training. This training will teach me some marketable skills that I can use at the lemonade stand.

I was occupied with some of their other projects, and haven't really used the opportunity. But if I do, and can pick up an additional couple hundred $/month, then I can make a solid dent in the debt. This is less than what I made Wenching, but it has the added bonus of being more of a long term option. Plus, it's much less conspicuous than the Souk (the Forum found that work slightly distasteful.)

I'll spend the next two months really throwing myself into this training, and try to get at least one gig by September. If I can't, I won't have wasted my time (it will make me more useful in the Forum) but I'll reassess my relationship with the Souk. One day a week there would definitely help, if I could balance it (and if they'd even take me, as I've been gone so long.)

Things get messy...

June 26th, 2008 at 02:35 am

I took down an earlier post as a result: too much information in too public a manner.

I'm having a Neo-in-the-Matrix moment, where I'm suddenly aware of problems that had previously flown under the radar. There are a few family responsibilities that are causing (have caused, will be causing) some major financial damage.

I recently did an assessment of some personal goals, and right now, my money commitments are at cross purposes: I want to be there for my family, but by being there for some, I can't easily be there for others. And by involving myself at all at this point, I'm jeopardizing not only my own situation, but my ability to be there for anyone in the future.

So it's been really confusing. Right now, I have 15k in debt, with 7k deferred for a little while. At my current income, I can definitely pay it off within 25 months. But at the same time, that's if I don't increase my spending from this point forward and leave myself with a tiny emergency fund.

However, there's a wedding this year, a recent family trip, and another relative who is swimming with alligators. I seem to be the person that's supposed to be taking care of this, and realistically, I don't think I can shirk these duties.

In addition, I don't think I can do any more moonlighting, not if I want to further my education. Rather, my moonlighting will be school-related training (unpaid in a non-negotiable manner.)

So I'm trying to balance my options with my responsibilities, and it's not helping me sleep at night, that's for sure.

I'm frustrated, because I can't talk to my family, and my friends aren't in a position to "get it" yet. Some friends have the money issues down, but don't have the same family situation. Others understand the family drama, but have their own leaky financial boats.

Grocery Budget?

May 21st, 2008 at 03:15 am

Ok, I am a ramen/tuna/cornflakes kind of person who, if peanut-butter and jelly were outlawed, would have to live in San Quentin. In the settlements near the Guild, it's microwaves and George Foreman grills. Not the stuff of haute cuisine.

But my apartment has a kitchen, eeek! And now I have to stock a pantry. I'm thinking that having one meatless meal a day will really cut costs. I'm not a vegetarian (I am a baconarian) but meat=expensive!

I know there are frugal cooking websites, but they seem to be family orientated. I am perennially single, and using Monday's meal for 4 to make leftovers for Tuesday and Wednesday's meals (also for 4) mean that I've got tons of food that's going to waste.

But what's a reasonable amount to spend? I'm organic for dairy, but I can make my own yogurt and cheese is incompatible with bikini season, so it's mainly a milk bill. Cutting down on meat is definitely going to help, but I could cook a chicken or something. There's a local farm cooperative not too far from me that's selling shares. For about 20/week** I can get fresh vegetables (not fruit). I could bake my own bread. Eliminating coffee is slightly less preferable than eliminating air.

So I'm guessing 20+6 for fruit, plus dairy and some meat...that's looking like 35/week? Say 40/week total. Is that crazy?

**this is a half-share. I expect to freeze a ton of stuff for casseroles. If I could find a buddy to pair up with, it'd be 10/week. This is the second peril of singledom. The first is that there's no one to kill the spiders for you.

Sorting, Sharing, Shopping

May 21st, 2008 at 02:46 am

I have too much stuff. And I can't take it all with me! The funny thing is that at the Guild, there are a ton of people that are saying the same thing. So this time of year is like musical chairs: the people change, but the furniture stays the same. In my new apartment: donated shelves. So in my old apartment, a cabinet will be left behind.

I've been scouring the coffeeshops and signboards for deals. One apprentice is selling a lamp for $2.00, no doubt purchased from another apprentice a few years ago. I don't need another lamp, but I can definitely use a fan, so I buy that, a coffee machine and a plastic storage caddy for $15.00. And I sell a chair for a few dollars and try to unload some old scrolls.

I've been purging a lot of stuff though, so my local Goodwill will be getting a few drop-and-run donations. My goal is to strip away the stuff that I don't use or absolutely love. The odd thing is that even with all this stuff, I didn't have the things I really needed, like a dresser. So it makes me think about the ways I've thoughtlessly spent money, and what it's really cost me.

I did pretty well with my thrifted deals: I've got a way to make breakfast and to keep my socks off the floor for less than the cost of dinner and a movie. But I look at all the stuff I forgot I even owned, and I realize how easy it is to be wasteful.

What's done is done

May 16th, 2008 at 03:21 am

I sign a lease this weekend. For the original price. So my total rent is about 10/mo more than what I'm paying, but it's less driving, and slightly better accomodations. And I'm alone. So the next step is (pack, whoo boy) and crunch the numbers: I really want to crush my debt.

Gazelle Intensity or Jack*** Decisionmaking?

May 15th, 2008 at 05:04 am

Trying to keep it clean and family-oriented. Smile

So, I am ending out my current apprenticeship at the Guild, and my Guildmaster has recommended that I spend my summer in the dungeons assisting the Potions Master, instead of in the Guildhall.

This is good, because lowly apprentices have to pay Guild fees, but lowly assistants just have to scrub cauldrons, and pay labor for trade. Also, it may put me line for a senior apprenticeship, which may mean that I have to cut my hours at the Forum.

Also, there's been some trouble back at home, and I think that sooner or later, I may need to start sending some $$ there.

So the concept of cutting costs is really in my mind lately. One option is to go back to the Souk for the summer, but I wanted to spend this time preparing for the

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Imperial Examinations and working will take away from that.

The second option...may be good or not. Currently, I live alone, and I pay base-bottom rent. But there are some other apprentices in my neighborhood who are looking for someone to share a home, and this would cut my costs by about 200.00/month. The downside: I don't know these people, I'd probably have to move again in a year and, parking is a total nightmare.

But, that extra 2400/year would be a nice buffer to send to the 'rents and/or a tidy way to pay off my debts sooner. Or it could be just enough for bail money for when I strangle the person who eats the last of my Frosted Sugar Squirrels.

I know, I rarely post anymore...but any thoughts? Take the plunge or keep my sanity?

How I save on textbooks

January 21st, 2008 at 12:52 am

Being an apprentice at the

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Guild is a really great experience for me, and I'm truly thankful that they've agreed to take me on. But the cost of materials can be super high -- I eat ramen and tuna for weeks after visiting the storerooms.

But a buddy of mine attends Modernus Universitas, and told me the benefits today's scholar has over an apprentice of ancient Rome:

1. Information Management. I know, in your mind, you're like...wha?

But do this. Take a look at the back of your textbook, and find where the price is located. Try not to vomit at the cost of this book -- instead, focus on the 10 to 13 digit number sequence right above the barcode. This is the
Text is ISBN and Link is
ISBN number, and it is your key to unlocking the power of:

2. The internet. Yep, the internet. Ancient Guilds didn't use the internet: if we wanted to send messages to each other, we had to
Text is run 26 miles and Link is
run 26 miles and have a heart attack at the feet of the Senate. Luckily, students today live in a digital age.

So what to do? You plug in your ISBN into Google and see what comes up. There are tons of places where people are selling their old books for way less than the college bookstore. In some places (like Amazon), it'll even be a new book, at a lower price. There may even be hits for the international version of a book: same content, different cover, and these tend to be a lot cheaper.

Another place is from students who have taken the class before, and who want to sell their books. This is what we do at the Guild -- scrollwork is notoriously hard to find online. This requires a little more coordination to find someone more advanced in your field who is willing to sell, but it's cheaper.

One thing: getting the right books at the right price requires a little bit of planning. You don't want to buy a text and find out that you won't be using it. So a well-timed email (or a really fast runner) to your instructor can be a good way to find out what you'll really need for the class.

Final note: sometimes the best place to get your materials is from the school. In that case, take good care of your books, and if you think you won't need them, list them on Amazon at the end of the term.

Knowledge can be expensive, but a little bit of applied knowledge can maybe drop the cost a little bit.

Starting Small

January 16th, 2008 at 07:25 am

Ok, so here's the plan for the rest of the month: use the use the surplus $$ from the grocery money to get a crockpot. I was talking to a girl today who said she loveloveloves her crock pot. I figure if I just use it for stew, I'll be golden.

Second plan: make a list of my favorite cheap eats, and set a menu for the next few weeks. This will put me on target for one of my goals for 2008: lose weight. I'm a little too cuddly for long-term good health. So being more careful w/the meals is a good way to be both economical and healthful.

Sticker Shock

January 14th, 2008 at 02:08 am

So I'm getting ready to return to the

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Guild, which begins the new session at the end of this month. It's kind of a wierd schedule, but it gives a nice relaxing downtime for the long holidays. So I've been waiting to learn what I'll need to bring with me: they provide the raw materials, but we still have to purchase books and specialty equipment (eye of newt, dragon-hide gloves, a calculator, etc.) Plus spellbooks and scrolls.

Well, I got my letter in the mail today, and holy crap! The items they want me to get are really expensive. I've been looking online to find a better deal, but even the used scrolls are high. And the worst part is that we will only use them for part of the session, not the entire thing. So aggravating. Especially since the information hasn't changed much from the Dark Ages.

I put in a request to my former Guildhall, to see if I could borrow some things (I mean, you can use the same cauldron and scrolls for years, if you're careful with it.) But I don't think they'll be able to ship me the gear in time: apparently the guild intends to hit the ground running, and want us to concoct some potions before we actually meet. So I might have to make an early trip to the Guild's storerooms, which is the most reliable, but also the most expensive option.

I'm hoping there's a recipe for dyspepsia, because that's what I'm feeling right now.

Two steps back or h3ll in a handbasket?

January 13th, 2008 at 03:13 am

I mentioned before that over the holiday, I really overextended myself. I didn't use credit, so I don't owe anything, but travel expenses and gifts took a healthy bite out of my savings.

I knew I'd need to buckle down: I've got

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Guild fees that are due, and I'll still need to purchase materials. And I have a going-away present that I promised to get . I had a little cushion for these things.

But I got a call recently, from a relative, and he'd blown the bank: a few checks overdrawn. He owed me a check for some work I'd done for him, and called to say he wouldn't have it. This isn't the first time he's been short on cash. And it's not the first time I've given a hand. I'm also not really ready to not help him.

I know I should be angry: he's mismanaged the money so much he's not able to pay for even the basics right now. And I'm looking at tapping out my funds (not to mention my time) with the Guild, so I can't easily pick up hours at the Souk to bring in more cash.

But I realize how sloppy I've been in the last few months, and how easy it is to get so far off kilter that you can barely right yourself again. And I'm worried, for myself, and for this person.

I mentioned in an earlier post about my friend Rufus, and his friend Chris: Chris was going through some chronic unemployment, and is really struggling. Part of the struggle is that there was nothing saved for a rainy day. It's a total train wreck, and it makes me ill just thinking about his situation...maybe because it's a possible conclusion of my own actions?

I will, by the end of next week, have zipped down to zero in my emergency stash. And while I'm working now, I have been warned by the Guild that I won't be able to work full-time if I want to become a Senior Apprentice, which will be mandatory for my career. They'd prefer I don't work at all, but may concede me working part time.

So I'm looking at taking a huge financial shortfall, probably within the next year. And, this relative is very likely also looking at a reduction in income within that same time frame.

I am uneasy. I know the right answer: tighten the belt, boost the capital and the earning power...but I feel very anxious right now.