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Posts Tagged ‘money-saving’

Despite my the impending dermatology study windfall, I’ve recently been a little fixated on the idea of saving more money.

I am flat-out neurotic about money. Even when watching TV or reading a book in which a fictional character wastes money, I feel anxious. For example: in the episode of “Friends” where Ross buys a ticket for a flight he won’t be taking, so he can follow Rachel to her gate and try to win her back, I feel ten thousand times more upset about the money that Ross wasted on that airline ticket than the fact that Rachel rejected him. In a fifth season episode of The X-Files, a bad guy goes to a movie theater to commit horrific acts on innocent people. To get in the door of the theater, he buys a ticket to a movie that’s already half-way through. When I watched that episode, I felt much more flustered by the money he wasted on the movie ticket than the innocent people that he murdered.

Given this deeply-held fixation, it should come as no surprise that the ability to save money represents a lot of things to me. Like good grades, it is one thing that I have actually done well my entire life. It represents security and safety and my ability to be independent. It means good judgement and possibilities for the future.

My problem is that of anyone who fluctuates between extremes. When I’m in money-saving mode, I go into ascetic lock-down. It becomes a challenge. HOW MUCH MONEY CAN I SAVE?! HOW MANY CORNERS CAN I CUT?! When I allow myself a little more spending freedom (think: the holiday season), I make all sorts of purchases that I wouldn’t ordinarily buy. DVDs that I never watch, and shirts and shoes that I never wear. (Although, my spending free-for-all is what some people might think of as “normal.”)

I had put myself into an extreme money-saving mode prior to the dermatology study coming along, and now I can’t seem to snap out of it. Every wasteful dollar that I spend is a dollar that doesn’t go toward my adoption fund or a down payment on a house in my ideal neighborhood or a car that doesn’t need $1000 of work every single damn year or the complete series of LOST on DVD.

One of the easiest ways for me to cut costs is on food. That means that for the past couple of weeks, I have been eating a LOT of beans and rice, cereal, kale, and green beans. I have forgone trying new recipes in favor of a low grocery bill. Treats like my favorite coconut milk ice cream sandwiches have had no place in my money-saving mission. The food, while somewhat uninteresting, is SUSTAINING and that’s all I need to know.

On Friday night, I celebrated a friend’s birthday. That meant french fries and a panini and chocolate peanut butter cupcakes. As with money saving, with food, when I slip, I go from one extreme to another. As a result, all day on Saturday, I somehow wound up eating an insane amount of junk food. More cupcakes. Cheesecake. Popcorn. Candy. And then I got a stomach ache.

Moderation. Damn. Has anyone figured out that son of a bitch?

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The past two months have been expensive for me. I had a fence put in my backyard, so that the new puppy would have a place to run around. I had been wanting a fence for a while, but I hadn’t been planning on doing it quite so soon. My car also had to be in the shop twice. TWICE!

The result of this was that I was considerably lower on funds than I like to be at any given time. But, I resolved, it would be okay. I made a new budget, and tightened things up where I could. I started planning out my menus weeks in advance, so that I would minimize grocery expenses. I told myself that I would go without all luxuries for as long as it took to restore the appropriate balance to my bank account.

It felt good to have a plan, but I knew it would be well into 2011 before I would be able to relax my budget. It made me anxious, and angry, to think of doing without simple things until March or April or however long it took.

And then a miracle fell out of the sky.

I got a call from my dermatologist’s office. They told me that they were conducting a rosacea study. And that participants in the study would make exactly the amount of money that it cost me to have my car repaired twice and to put a fence up in my backyard.

There were a number of variables that would determine whether I could participate. I had to be approved to take three days off work, to start. And then I had to go be screened to determine whether or not I actually had rosacea. I had never been diagnosed as such, although I have always felt like I had a very red face.

My boss thought it sounded great. And then I went to be screened by the dermatologist, and he told me that I had just a moderate enough case of rosacea to qualify. I have never in my life been so happy to have something wrong with my skin.

So, tomorrow, I will arrive at a dermatologist’s office at 6:00 a.m. and stay there for 12 hours while they conduct the first part of the study. They need to see how the topical prescription works after application in a controlled environment, which is why I can’t leave for 12 hours. But I get to bring books and my laptop and pretty much anything else I want to entertain myself. 12 hours of sitting in a room enjoying leisure activities and getting paid A LOT OF MONEY FOR IT?

I will confess that I am so excited about the prospect of 12 hours of leisure time, and it just seems too good to be true, that I’m worried that it is actually a secret psychological experiment. I’m concerned that they’re going to make me spend 12 hours in a room with a crazy person or something, and that will be the TRUE study.

However, I am remaining optimistic. So far, I have compiled the following list of things to bring with me:

  • Pillow
  • Blanket
  • Laptop
  • Earplugs
  • Ipod
  • Snacks
  • 3-4 YA novels
  • Girl With Curious Hair (if not finished by then)
  • You’ve Got Mail

When I say that this feels heaven-sent, I mean that literally. As in, thank you, sweet baby Jesus, for this.

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In Bulk

I’m trying to get better about the mindset that I can save money by buying more. Take for instance, the pomegranate juice I like to drink. Normally priced, it is $8 a bottle, which is a lot of money for a beverage. Every 6 months or so, my grocery store will have the juice on sale for buy one get one free for a month. Which means that each bottle of juice then costs $4, which is a completely reasonable amount. This most recent time that it was on sale, I bought a lot of juice. I bought 6-8 bottles every time I went to the grocery store for a month.

In the moment, it hurt to spend that much money. But I reassured myself that I was saving money in the long run.

On the positive side, the bottles from the juice also make superb storage containers for the dry goods that I have started buying in bulk. I have been trying to get away from buying things like canned beans and focus more on using dried goods. It does take more planning and effort to use dried goods, but there is less packaging (better for the environment), the food often does genuinely taste better, and–most importantly–it’s less expensive.

For a while, I had a problem, though. I so loved how nice my juice jars looked all filled up with dried goods that I didn’t actually want to eat my dried beans. But currently, I am in a bit of a budget lock-down situation, thanks to some unexpected recent expenses, so I have resolved to do better about eating what I’ve already got at home. And not buying extra at the grocery store just so I can have a pretty jar.


From left to right, white beans, green lentils, red lentils, black beans, steel cut oats, brown rice, brown rice, chickpeas, and more white beans.

This week, to use up both beans and rice, I made one of my more favorite recipes. It comes from The New York Times, and is a soup that consists basically of beans, rice, and leafy greens. In other words, it’s perfect for me. I already had everything on hand, except for the swiss chard, so it made this a particularly cheap recipe, as well.

White Beans with Swiss Chard and Rice
3/4 pound Swiss chard (I used two bunches)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped (I use onion powder)
2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced (I use 6 to 8 cloves)
1/2 pound (1 1/8 cups) white beans, washed and picked over
1 bay leaf
1 Parmesan rind (Or, just a chunk from a wedge of parmesan cheese)
Salt
1 cup rice
Freshly ground pepper
A few drops of fresh lemon juice

1. Stem the Swiss chard, and wash both the stems and the leaves in at least two changes of water until thoroughly clean. Dice the stems if they’re wide, and set aside. Stack the leaves and cut in wide ribbons or chop coarsely. Set aside separately from the stems.

2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the onion and diced chard stems. Cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about five minutes. Add half the garlic, and stir together for 30 seconds to a minute until fragrant. Add the beans, bay leaf, Parmesan rind (tie the bay leaf and rind together with a kitchen string to make retrieval easier) and 2 quarts water. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat and simmer one hour. Add the remaining garlic and salt to taste, and simmer for another 30 minutes to an hour until the beans are tender.

3. Add the rice and pepper, and simmer 15 minutes until the rice is tender. Stir in the chard leaves, and simmer another five to 10 minutes until the chard is tender but still bright. The mixture should be soupy but thick. Season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper. (Make sure you remove the bay leaf.) Squeeze on some fresh lemon juice — 2 to 3 teaspoons — if desired, and serve. (Or divide it up into bowls with for your week’s lunches!)

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A few months ago, I babysat for a friend’s kids, and while I was there, I ate some fantastic chili. It wasn’t like any other chili I had had before, but I was IN LOVE and immediately asked for the recipe. I made a few modifications to make it more Melody-friendly, and it has become just about my favorite damn thing to make for myself.

To qualify as a truly excellent recipe in my world, it must possess the following qualities:

– It must be inexpensive
– It must be vegetarian
– It must be healthy
– It must reheat well
– It can be modified to suit all of my picky food preferences
– It must be delicious

This recipe is ALL OF THOSE THINGS, plus, as an added bonus, it is vegan, too!

To give you an idea of how much I enjoy this, I will say that I ate it for dinner on Sunday and will be eating it for lunch every single day this week, and I actually feel excited about eating it. Like, I can’t wait until lunch. I wish I could eat it right now.

I actually went out and spent $20 on a coffee bean grinder so I could use it to grind spices, solely for this recipe. If you have any idea how reluctant I am to part with $20 under any circumstances, you should have a good idea of how great this is when you use freshly ground chilis and cumin.

My notes and modifications are in italics.

Pinto Bean Mole Chili

* 2 medium dried ancho chiles
* 1 dried chipotle chile
* 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (ground cumin also works fine)
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
* Rounded 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
* 2 medium onions, chopped (I use a generous shake of onion powder instead, because I have a weird problem with actual physical onions)
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
* 3 medium zucchini and/or yellow squash, quartered lengthwise and
cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I omit this, as I don’t care for zucchini or squash)
* 3/4 pound kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves
coarsely chopped (I use way more kale than this–usually three or four bunches, because I love it so)
* 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (I occasionally substitute lemon zest, but orange is better)
* 1/8 teaspoon sugar
* 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
* 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained, reserving
juice, and chopped (I can’t stand the texture of tomatoes, so I substitute a can of tomato sauce and vegetable stock)
* 1 1/4 cup water (more or less, depending on how thick you want the chili)
* 3 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans (I often substitute a pound of dry beans, soaked overnight and cooked ahead of time)

Possible accompaniments: rice; chopped cilantro; chopped scallions; sour cream. (I sometimes use rice, but really, this chili doesn’t need anything else!)

Slit chiles lengthwise, then stem and seed. Heat a dry heavy medium
skillet over medium heat until hot, then toast chiles, opened flat,
turning and pressing with tongs, until pliable and slightly changed in
color, about 30 seconds. Tear into small pieces.

Pulse cumin seeds and chiles in grinder until finely ground. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in oregano, cinnamon, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.

Cook onions in oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat,
stirring occasionally, until softened. Add garlic and cook, stirring,
1 minute, then add chile mixture and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Stir
in zucchini and kale and cook, covered, 5 minutes.

Add zest, sugar, chocolate, tomatoes with their juice, and water and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in beans and simmer 5 minutes.

And now I am hungry.

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I am really struggling to think of anything interesting to say today. I could talk about how I cleaned my house today (it’s clean!) or how I am being a hypochondriac again (I’m coughing and the right side of my chest is sore–probably pneumonia!) or how I am working on catching up on LOST before the sixth and final season airs (I’m in the third season, and that shit is crazy good!), but I don’t know what I have to say about any of those things beyond what I just wrote.

So, I am falling back on posting some more of my crazy money-saving tips. And these tips may be even slightly crazier than the last round!

Coast to a Stop
One of my favorite features about my car is that it has an instantaneous miles-per-gallon display. It has really impacted the way I drive, because I am always trying to increase my MPG number. As a result, I have started coasting a lot more than I used to. When I see a red light way off in the distance, I just let myself coast. I’ve realized there is no point in accelerating to a stopping point. It makes a tiny impact on how much gas I use, AND, given how I don’t need to break as much, it saves a minuscule amount on break pads as well!

Limit Dry-Cleaning
I don’t have very many pieces of clothing that have to be dry-cleaned, and for those I do have, I get them cleaned infrequently. Nothing I do during the day at work gets my pants all that dirty, so really, where is the need to get them cleaned all that often? They can wait a while. Like… a year or so. No one knows the difference until you write about it publicly on the internet!

Clean Everything with Vinegar
Vinegar is cheap and can be used to clean almost anything. I’ve used it to clean just about everything in my house at some point, including carpets that have been soiled by my dog. It also works as a weed-killer outside. Sure there is a little bit of a smell to it, but that is the glorious scent of MONEY SAVED.

Know Your Bills
If there are bills you can pay online without the company charging you a fee, then pay online, and save yourself a stamp and a check. If the company does charge a fee to pay online then put it in the mail, because a stamp is usually cheaper than the fee.

Use Electronics Forever
My Tivo is a refurbished one purchased online. My digital camera is over six years old. My ipod (a gift!) is over four years old. My cell phone is the one I got for free when I signed a new contract.

You Have a Coat, a Hat, and Gloves–Now Use Them
When it gets cold in winter, don’t turn the heat up! Wear warmer layers! I have a wonderful full-length down coat, thanks to one of my most-favorite babysitting clients, which is very comfortable to wear around the house. Pair it with a hat and gloves, and you can stay comfortable at home while limiting your utility bill! The same goes for in the car. You’re already dressed for the elements, so why turn up the heat?!

Live in the Dark
If you need to turn the lights on to do something, you should probably be sleeping anyway. After all, sleep is free!

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Indulgences

I have written a lot about borderline-obsessive steps I take in order to save money. It’s true that my day-to-day life can be pretty fixated on this. But, at the same time, there are a few little things that I don’t mind splurging on. I don’t indulge in any major luxury items, but I do treat myself. Occasionally.

Pomegranate juice
This habit can get expensive, because I buy an ultra-yuppie brand. But to be fair, pretty much all of the brands that don’t use high-fructose corn syrup are relatively expensive, and I prefer the taste of this brand (Pom) over the other brands I’ve tried. If I can’t regularly get myself to eat fruit, then I figure drinking a little bit of this every day is the next best thing. It’s too sweet to drink by itself, so I mix one part juice with two or three parts sparking water, and it is like having a delicious soda that, on the off chance that all that chatter about antioxidants is true, might actually be somewhat healthy.

Face wash
Burt’s Bees makes this incredible orange face wash, which goes for $8 a tube. That’s not cheap as far as face wash goes, but I have so many problems with my skin that any time I find something that actually works well, it is worth the cost. I hate oranges, so the fact that I’m willing to smear something orange-scented all over my face is also telling. It somehow magically leaves my skin feeling both clean AND moisturized.

Dental care
I went to the dentist this past week, and it was delightful. I spent an hour lying back in a comfortable chair while watching CNN on the ceiling-mounted television. Sure, people were scraping at my teeth while I was lying there, but I didn’t have to do any of the work! I go to the dentist every 6-9 months, despite the fact that I don’t have any sort of dental insurance. My mom has always been enthusiastic about dental hygiene, and that’s not an attitude I’ve been able to shake. I always think of Sam Seaborne in The West Wing when he says, “Your teeth are the best friends you’ve got.”

Travel
This is only half-true, because the reason I am able to travel so frequently is that I have wonderful friends spread out throughout the country who allow me to come stay with them. This means that the actual cost of traveling to any of these locations is a lot less than it would be without a friendly hostess. But because I have such great friends in so many different places, it’s worth it to me to spend the money on a plane ticket and the cost of food and attractions to get to see them. Of course, there are still more places I wish I could go than is realistic: in the near future, I want to go to California, Washington DC, North Carolina, Florida, New York, and of course, I always like going back to Boston. Unfortunately, I’m not quite prepared to splurge that much. Not yet.

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Crazy Money-Saving Tips #1

This post is the first in what could possibly become a series, because, frankly, I could go on for a pretty long while with weird stuff I do.

If there is one thing that I am really good at doing, it is saving money. It’s not really an actual skill so much as it is a neurosis. Compulsion would be another word that one could use.

Starting in January, my sister is going away for an internship, which means I’ll lose the rent she pays me, and I won’t have her to split the utility bills with me. This means my money-saving compulsion will be out in full force.

Here are a couple of ways I will attempt, no matter how feeble to save money. Everything below is something I have actually already done.

Today, I present…in the kitchen.

Re-Use Plastic Containers
Because I take my lunch every day, I am always in need of a variety of sizes of plastic re-usable containers. Fortunately, I have a diverse collection old hummus containers, take-out containers, and the like which I use every day. I never let an opportunity to save plastic tupperware-like or glass packaging pass me by, and I never have cause to purchase Gladware. Although, my insistence on saving every single plastic container ever is landing me with an excessively large collection of 32-ounce yogurt containers. Anyone need any?

Re-Use Plastic Cutlery
Somehow, much like the plastic containers, my sister and I have accumulated a collection of “disposable” plastic cutlery. But rather than throw it away, we use it until it is completely, utterly unusable. And by “unusable,” I mean that it has snapped in two pieces. A spoon that’s slightly warped does not count–it can still be used to stir coffee! A fork missing one tine can still probably be used! Depending on what you’re eating!

Kroger Brand Organic Food
Okay, this isn’t crazy. It is awesome. Kroger has an organic line of almost food type. Most things are barely more expensive than regular Kroger brand items, but they are considerably less expensive than they would be at Whole Foods. And then, while you’re eating your cheap organic food, you can pat yourself on the back and feel both thrifty AND uppity.

Drink Tap Water
Get a reusable water bottle, and fill it up at your sink. I favor my Wellesley nalgene bottles, despite the fact that the BPA is probably giving me cancer this very second. Bottled water is the craziest money-stealing scam ever.

Stop Buying Meat
Meat is way, way, way more expensive than lentils (bought in bulk), beans, tofu, and nuts (bought in bulk, on sale). Plus, you know, the environment, health reasons, cows are cute, etc. The real reason behind all of it was my fervent desire to spend less than $40 a week at the grocery!

Also, Don’t Go Out to Eat
Like, ever.

It’s a spartan existence, what can I say. But I’m sure when I’m on my deathbed, I will look back on my life and say, “I am so happy I saved that $5 I could have spent on non-disposable cutlery and re-used plastic cutlery that regularly broke in two while I was eating instead.”

Does anyone else have crazy things they do to try and save money?

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