Tuesday, April 14, 2009

And So The Real Adventure Begins!

I'm upping my rent next week, by a lot, actually, because I'm moving into my own house for the first time in almost a year and a half.
This means sticking to a serious budget. I've been accumulating tips.
Kim puts all her appliances etc on power strips and unplugs them when not in use. As a result, her electric bill for her studio apartment is never over 15 bucks/month. Genius! I'll be hitting up IKEA for cheap power strips on my next trip to Phoenix.
Meal planning! I've been trying to teach myself how to do this in a reasonable manner. It's hard, living alone, to make yourself nutritious and tasty meals that vary enough throughout the week; at least, it's hard for me. I think I'm going to devote Sundays to shopping and then cooking at least two "big" meals so as to be able to freeze the leftovers and have lunches etc. I suppose this means I will also need to buy a microwave? And some new tupperware on that trip to IKEA?
I need internet and I am rethinking my need for Netflix. It's kind of wasted on me now, and will be even more wasted when I'm alone, I suspect.

Do you have any tips for me? Turning my cooler off is out, as I am the proud cat mama of one exceedingly fluffy orange fellow.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What If It All Came In Ones?

I still haven't hit the grocery store. I have coffee enough for tomorrow morning, but food for days still. I still have two packages of mushrooms, two green peppers, a pound of jalapenos, a package of extra firm tofu, a bunch of scallions and cilantro, and of course- more bulk food than you can shake a stick at. My goal is to eat all of my bulk before I buy any more.

Cheapskate deliciousness:
Slice two yellow peppers, one cucumber, a bunch of cilantro, and three scallions (white and green bits, please). Seed and mince a jalapeno. Mix all that together with some black beans (canned from the pantry- I used a whole can), the juice of one lime, and salt and cumin. It's delicious! It's also dinner tonight, plus lunch tomorrow, for less than two bucks for the whole shebang.

I do wish that a gym membership wasn't necessary, as it would save me another thirty bucks a month, but Tucson is hot. And sunny. And I am pale. And prone to skin cancer. And trying desperately to stay in shape is rough under the heat of the southwest sun!

A colleague gave me the following cheapskate/budget advice: figure out to the cent what gets taken out of your checking account each month and when- car payment, mortgage or rent, credit cards, utilities. Now factor in what gets transferred to savings. Out of the rest: get it in cash, divvy it up for the days, put it in envelopes, and THROW YOUR DEBIT CARD AWAY. I think I'm going to try it! Her point was that it's hard to spend cash the way you spend money on plastic, as it feels more like you're spending, and you can see how it decimates your stash. Now, I refuse to spend change- it all goes into my change jar- so I don't know if I would be great at this, but certainly it's worth a go. And then all my leftover cash every pay period could go in my savings!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tiny Piles of Money!

I'm on week two of eating off of 26 buck bill at the grocery store. Tonight's dinner/tomorrow's lunch is eggplant baked until soft in an Italian seasoning thingie with just a tetch of olive oil, then marinated in a mic of red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar. I'll eat it with some white beans (smooshed into a paste with some garlic and olive oil) on some pita. It'll be delicious. I hope.

Kim and I were talking (as is our wont to do) about the delight of saving money- being thrifty makes me feel clever for no real reason. All it takes is not spending your money on total crap. The thing is, since I started restricting my spending, I don't even miss thrifting as much; the money I'd spend in a day of thrifting, maybe 40 bucks tops, is almost 2 weeks worth of groceries. When I look at it that way, it doesn't seem very attractive. She told me about some woman who scrimped and saved on her husband's wee salary and they bought, cash, a farmhouse in New England within like ten years. I want to scrimp and save so as to be able to buy some land and put up my straw bale dream house (all 600 square feet of it) before I am 40. I think this is reasonable.

I'm even thinking of having a yard sale. I know! I have a lot of clothing, and a lot of shoes, and I like them, but it's possible that my life here in Xanadorm is going to change for the even-smaller soon (cross your fingers for me) and paring down will both fatten up my wallet, and make any future move that much easier.

I won't get rid of books, though.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What You Need In Your Pantry, Cheapskate!

I'm also posting what I keep on stock at all times in my pantry- having this well-stocked a pantry (and restocking it whenever an item is on sale) certainly helps me cut down on whimsy buys. 

Lentils- red and green
Pasta- tons and tons of different shapes, and please- wait for the good quality Italian stuff to go on sale and stock up. No one's life is long enough to waste part of it eating gummy pasta.
Canned tomatoes- I prefer whole, so you can make a lovely red sauce, but diced are great for soups
Canned beans (I just don't remember to cook beans, so I don't pretend that I will soak them then crockpot them then have them on hand)
Kidney beans and cannellini/great northern beans are great for salads. The cannellini can also be used in place of garbanzos in a hummus recipe. 
Black beans are great for taco salads and soups- not to mention punching up a scramble.
Pinto beans, because I am from the border, are what the baby Jesus cried out- refry them, use them to make bean soup, put them on taco salads, in burritos- they're the bestest.
Soy milk
Rice- I usually have brown basmati, basmati, jasmine, and arborio on hand.
Spreads/fancy little things you've found on sale. Olive paste, mixed with some olive oil, garlic, and chile flakes, makes a delicious fast pasta sauce- perfect, really, for angel hair. 

That's pretty much it, for bare bones stocking. A couple bits of fresh veg, tofu, or tempeh every week, and I am set for snacks.

Spices are my big splurge. I can't function without cumin, smoked paprika, and cayenne. I prefer to have lots of different curry powders and generic "Italian seasoning" around too- it takes all guesswork out of cooking when you're just hungry and you want something easy and fast.

Tacos And The Need To Love What You're Eating.

You know what's a cheap and delicious vegan beer? Session Lager. 9.99 for a 12-pack at the Holiday Mart.

So my confession is that I bought beer. I am going to sit in the yard and drink beer and give the world the finger tonight. I know. I effed up my budget but I still have almost 200 bucks to make it until next payday, and I have a pantry full of bulk goods.

I welcome cauliflower recipes, too- I suppose I can turn them into curry and caulihummus, but I do that ALL THE TIME and it waxes dull. My other thought was to steam them all and mash them and freeze bags of that- I can reheat them for sides throughout next week. Otherwise, I guess I could try to find an Italian dish that uses them, and serve it over pasta? I am exceedingly fond of broccoli cooked with garlic and chiles- maybe I will try that with the cauliflower (and add in that beautiful yellow squash I bought on Wednesday) and serve it over some of my Grocery Outlet De Cecco tri-colour penne.

I'm eating a half pound of ripe and perfect local tomatoes for dinner, as a side to my left over mac and cheeze and stuff.

Tonight's Cheap Bastard Recipe:
Soak some TVP in beer (or whatever else you want- tomato juice or veggie broth is always nice)
Fry up some onion and garlic and peppers, if you found them for cheap. A serrano chile is always nice, and cilantro, if it's on sale.
Add that tvp and its soaking liquid. Fry fry cook.
Serve this in corn tortillas with a little chopped something over the top- lettuce if you have it, or cabbage, if you're awesome. Just about any fresh veggie tastes delicious over this and it will feed an army. That army will have gas, most likely, later on- but. I think you know about vegans and gas and not giving a damn.

It's hard to be cheap and eat well when you work and you have animals and obligations and books to read and friends to gossip with. A lot of my cheap fixes take time, because what you're paying for when you buy prepared food is the time you're saving, more than the ingredients that went into it. I like sautes and stir fries and things like tacos and fajitas because they take virtually no time, and they feed your eye and your palate as well as your tummy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tomatoes and Aging.

I may have used up the last of the nutritional yeast and all the whole wheat pasta, but I now have dinner and lunch for the rest of the week!
This is good, as I recklessly spent five dollars on tomatoes and yellow squash at the farmers' market at lunch, and another five dollars at Subway so as to be able to eat lunch with Kim without going home. (Was it worth it? It is ALWAYS worth it to eat with Kim!)
But, tonight's dinner, courtesy of Things Laying Around The Kitchen, was mac and cheez with peas and mushrooms- and, believe me- it was scrumptious. Less than 1/4 cup of oil in the whole shebang, too, which makes me happy.
Into the blender I put:
1 can of beer
1 cup (or so- maybe more) of nutritional yeast
About 1/8 cup of canola oil
1/5 block firm tofu- that extra extra firm kind from Trader Joe's
1/4 cup soy sauce
Paprika, smoked paprika, pepper, touch of turmeric
I blended it, and then I chopped 8 oz of cremini mushrooms and added those and cooked the whole thing on the stove for 10-15 minutes. I folded in most of a package of whole wheat rotini and a pound of peas (I cooked those together to save pots) and then baked the whole thing at 350 for like 25 minutes. Such an easy go-to dinner- with tons of leftovers! And, even omnis love it.
Dirty omnis.
I also ate 4 locally grown organic tomatoes. There is nothing like a sliced fresh tomato with Malden salt sprinkled over the top. It tastes like summer in heaven. The tomatoes I buy are from Avra Valley, and they are 2 dollars/pound. Not a splurge, honestly, for organic and delicious tomatoes, and they reminded me that spring is around the corner.
So, my produce budget for this weekend is 15 bucks. I need to buy some nutritional yeast with that (because I am a fiend for it) but I have still 4 heads of cauliflower and six pounds of potatoes- not to mention a yellow squash, a pound of tomatoes, and a thingie of organic romaine hearts.
I welcome your suggestions- what should I do with the 20 bucks of mad money I am giving myself from next week's paycheck? I turn 29 the Sunday after I get paid- any budget ideas for a birthday bash?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Having Risen From My Death Bed....

So one way to save money is to get very very sick. You cannot leave your house to buy things when you are confined to a sickbed.

However, staying in bed all weekend had one important side effect: I sucked it up and have paid:
cell phone
credit cards (bigger payments than ever)
student loans
car payment

This means that next paycheck will be good for savings. And for giving extra money to credit cards.
Unfortunately, it means that my food choices are ever weirder. Last night I ate a salad made out of a package of romaine hearts and a can of kidney beans. Tonight I ate yellow peppers and cremini mushrooms sauteed in olive oil with whole wheat rotini. None of this is very bad for me, it's just boring. And I live to cook fun things. I have a whole pantry of bulk food and more spices than I can throw a mortar and pestle at- but living without a lot of fresh produce is weird and more than a little frustrating. I have one pound of cremini mushrooms and four heads of cauliflower for the rest of the week. The mushrooms will make pasta sauce for the next few days, and the cauliflower will get steamed and mushed with earth balance- but that doesn't seem like it'll ward off the scurvy, now does it? No.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How To Skimp On Groceries Without Really Trying.

Things are still a-churning with dear old Wells Fargo. I will keep you posted. I will keep them on their toes, never fear. The truth is, I filed my taxes and I put that account number on for my direct deposit refund, and I don't want that to get lost. So, I have to wait to exit in a huff- at least until my tax dollars are in and I am ready to Start A Savings Account. (Before you get your panties in a knot about how I don't have a savings account- I save 10% of my pre-tax income for retirement, and have done so since I started working real jobs. So chill.)

Moving on to my cheapskate du jour behaviors...

When you view saving money as a competitive sport, getting bargains takes on a new glamour. I went to the 99 Cent Only store last night to pick up some produce, hoping they had some more of that delectable accidentally vegan split pea soup. I was disappointed on the soup front, but instead I spent thirty bucks on an amazing variety of produce and soy milks. I have eggplants, small sweet peppers, cauliflowers, romaine hearts, yellow peppers, asian pears, cremini mushrooms... all manner of luxurious big ticket items. I know they're big ticket because I went to Trader Joe's today for budget shampoo and shaving cream (and cereal and tea and other things that those thrift-stores-of-grocery-shopping don't really carry) and realized that my thirty bucks at 99 Cents would have been at least 120 at Trader Joe's.

I also almost ran over some poor ginger boy with a giant VEGAN tattoo, because, OH HAI. But that's not a story about money-saving. 

Tonight's dinner was a curried carrot soup- 99 cents for the two pounds of carrots, 1.99 for the tetra pack of broth I poured in (when I am out of broth, I will be switching to vegan bouillon- I have the jar and everything and it's like 1/10 of the cost), and a negligible amount for the spices, the canola oil, and the third of an onion. One of the wonderful things, I think, about being la povera is that la cucina povera is so vegan friendly and delicious. I like the challenge of cooking on an itsy-bitsy budget- it may well be the only challenge I like. This soup fed three of us pretty comfortably.

Curried Carrot Soup:
Heat 2 Tbsp canola oil in a big, heavy-bottomed pot. Add in some end of an onion, finely diced. If you want, put in some garlic. I forgot to. Add 1-2 Tbsp of your favorite curry powder and some salt. I assume you doctor your curry powder; I add extra cumin, and extra cayenne. Sautee. Let it all get good and dark. Deglaze with a little of the broth- then add the rest. Add the carrots- I had a two pound bag of shredded carrots from the 99 Cent store, so that's what I put in. Cover it, turn it down to a simmer, and cook it for like an hour. When it's close to done, toast like 1 Tbsp of cumin seeds in a very hot dry skillet. When they're dark, grind them up in a mortar and pestle. (They will smoke and smell amazing.) Stir that into the soup, put the whole mess into a blender and puree it, then put it back on to simmer for another 20 minutes or so. Taste. Serve with bread.

I'm up a couple hundred bucks since I started being really anal about my cash. Turns out that I like to spend like crazy on dumb stuff. I FOOLISHLY bought beer tonight, but, I bought cheap beer and it'll last. 

I think tomorrow will be roasted cauliflower and garlic mash, with beery cheez sauce poured over it. Did I mention that I am also trying to lose weight? I suck at multi-tasking.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Don't "Hard Times" Me!

I screwed my courage to the sticking post, and I called my worst card: wells fargo.  I've had a checking account with them since I was 18. Never an overdraft. Never a minute late on paying my visa bill with them.
They told me that lowering my rate from 21% (I was high risk when I got this card, 4 years ago) was impossible. Haven't I heard that the economy is busily eating a fat one? 
Hell hath no fury like a litigious cheapskate scorned. I will be putting on my best suit and my best face and I will be coming for them.
The thing is- my credit means little to me.I have impeccable credit, but cannot buy a house. I already bought a car. I will default and pay the 10% APR mandated by law before I let the fuckers win. I said that, when I called them.  There was an awkward moment, and I apologized to the gal on the other end. It's not her fault she reads the script of bloodsuckers.
I'll keep you posted.

No one, but no one, makes me pay finance charges.

By the way, tonight's penny pinching dinner was a carrot salad with a toasted cumin/red wine vinegar dressing, and pan fried tofu with a spicy Thai rub.
Fuck you, fast food. The carrots were 99 cents for 2 lbs, shredded. The tofu was 1.19, and I ate half of the block.  The dollar menu has nothing on me.


I'm on the verge, the vertiginous verge, of turning 29, and I've decided to stop acting like money is a limitless resource to me. This, God willing, will chronicle my mad scramble out of debt. I hope to be mostly debt-free by my 30th birthday. I object to a consumer goods driven lifestyle on an ideological level, but I have a hard time saying no to trips, snacks, wine, scanties- little things, really.

It's shocking to me, honestly, that things have come to this. I had no credit cards through law school. I paid cash for my meager things. I didn't go to the bar unless someone else was buying. I didn't eat out. I had a bus pass. 
And then I finished school, and I kept living like a grad student, kept on paying cash, kept on only buying what I needed and could afford... until one day, I was told I would be a bridesmaid in a wedding in Boston. I thought- I can't afford that! Not for her, and not in Boston! Social pressures smacked me around- did I want to look cheap? Did I want to put the lie to her fairy tale that we were bestest girlfriends? Gee whiz, no! (I was once easily shamed.) I got a credit card! And I charged a plane ticket! It was so easy! Suddenly, without any effort on my part, I was taking place in an antiquated and unduly ostentatious ceremony, and my future self was only going to pay the price of admission plus 21% interest- annual rate.
And then I got another, and I charged some other shit, and once I charged a trip to London, and certainly at least 20 pounds around my hips are thanks to credit-card meals. And now here I am, three years later, 9k in the hole. If you don't think that's a lot- screw you. It is, and you should re-examine your own spending habits, maybe.
So I'm on a mission.
I will document how I saved money, how I paid down the debt, and how I looked pretty and ate well doing it. There is no earthly reason why a gal earning a solidly median income and living in a hovel with housemates and cats should be in debt for consumer goods.
A little more about me:
I'm a crabby law clerk. (Law school loans, thank sweet baby jesus, are manageable for me.) I don't like to feel cold. I sew clothes- and my goal is to sew more clothes. I cook my own food, generally- I'm not one for processed foods, and I'm an ethical vegan, which makes cooking at home hella cheap as well as compassionate. 
Habits I need to change:
Drinking. Seriously, I can't afford to go to bars. And picking up a six pack at the Circle K isn't cheap either.
Eating out. This is my downfall at work.... which leads to,
Driving to work. Parking is hella expensive, I own a lovely bike, and it's a 7 minute ride.
Thrifting. I know, right? Who can't afford to hit the thrift store? ME, THAT'S WHO. I am a clotheswhore, and I will drop 40 bucks like that.

Wish me luck.  My hope is to use this to keep track of money laid out and how I spent it... and to pass along any genius nuggets of thrift I come across.

Action Number One: Call credit card companies and demand lower interest rates. I quit using them some months ago, so let's hope they cotton to the threat in my voice!