Redykle

Just a little blog about me and mine.

End of Month Budget Update September 30, 2009

Filed under: family,finances — Katie @ 3:34 pm

Well we’re at the end of our first month sticking to our new budget. As I shared at the mid-month update, things were going well so far as I monitored our expenses. I was embarrassingly excited for the end of the month to be here so that I could tally up everything and look at some receipts and split expense categories. At the very least I knew we stuck to our restaurant/eating out budget thanks to the cash system.


Here’s the full report:

$108 over budget, but still $683 under our income for the month. I wish we had come in under the budget but certainly happy with how we did. The budget still might need some adjusting (and our spending might too), but I think we’re on the right track. It is a nice sense of accomplishment to know we spent less than we earned (what a novel and shocking idea!). The cash system for restaurants has been the best part for me–I know we would stick to the budgeted amount and that made our eating out adventures even more fun–they were planned for and intentional rather than just the spontaneous, ‘oh crap we forgot to figure out something to eat tonight.’

We were over budget in some categories but that was mostly balanced by being under in others. I also know exactly where most of our extra spending came from–$20 for a tarp to sit on at a very wet concert, $60 in emergency new raincoats thanks to Atlanta’s torrential rain to keep us dry at the concert, and $20 of extra groceries(over and above what we normally buy and nicer stuff too) for fun picnic at the wet concert. We had a really hard time finding raincoats at the last minute and couldn’t shop around, but we actually found nice ones that will last. So even though that $60 was a lot to spend on 2 new coats, to me it’s better to spend more money for good things rather than having wasted $10 or so on cheap plastic ponchos that we would throw away.

Sadly, we were over our budget in a few categories:

Groceries-$43 (fancy picnic food plus buying some large packages of meat on sale this weekend probably put us over, the real test is if we manage to be under next month thanks to some of our bulk shopping)
Gas-$25 (but remember we drove 12 hours on a weekend trip)
Personal Care/Health-$44 (that $44 deficit came from buying a large package of toothpaste at Sam’s plus 2 large bottles of Fish Oil tablets that will last a long time)
Pet Food-$26 (we technically had to buy dog food 3 times this month, but will probably need it just once next month since when we buy it is usually lasts 2 weeks–hopefully it evens out.)
Clothes-$33 (including $60 for above mentioned emergency but nice raincoats)
Gifts-$51 (a birthday present plus a wedding/wedding shower present put us over the category for the month–most of our gift buying for the whole year is located September-December each year so I’ll watch this budget category but I’m not concerned for now)


We did succeed in coming in under budget in several categories:


Electricity +$15 (that’s based on this month last year, so that’s very exciting)
Prescription Medicine + $15 (this is a relief since we were worried about PL’s new insurance, but her new doctor has done a good job shifting to cheaper alternatives and even changing dosage size of the same drugs to make the same amount she takes cheaper to buy)
Entertainment +$25 (we’re cheap dates, what can I say)
Car Maintenance/Emissions +$15 (I had to get an oil change and emissions done, but PL seems to have taken my car for me when they were running a special and to a place that offers cheaper emissions that most-nice job! I’d much rather have that $15 to spend on something more exciting.)

 

Recipes and Notes September 29, 2009

Filed under: family,food — Katie @ 3:48 pm

If you happen to be one of the 8 people who have looked at my recipe blog recently, you might have noticed that I just added a ton of stuff. We haven’t been eating that much, I promise. While I hadn’t really gotten behind on posting new recipes to What’s for Dinner, I did have a large stack of recipes that I had yet to make and then post to the blog. You see, I had a large stack of Cooking Light and a few other magazines with some recipes in them I wanted to try. Then I decided I needed to clean out the magazines (I can’t remember if this was before or after I watched my first episode of Hoarders ever and then had to organize everything I own that night and the next day), so I tore out the recipes I wanted to try. A stack of paper is less clutter than a stack of magazines, right? Then, they sat in a stack on our kitchen island for a few weeks. Finally, this past weekend while it was raining, again, I sat down and entered all of these new recipes into the blog, even though we hadn’t tried them yet. While I had used the blog to enter recipes we tried, I created it just to organize and store our recipes, and spent a lot of time thinking about how I could search by tags and categories. So for instance, I can type in dijon mustard or black beans and it pulls up several recipes with that as a main ingredient, or I could scan by categories like soup or dessert. Clever I know.

Getting the recipe blog updated was a labor intensive process, but was helped mightily by GT football winning their game in the background. It was also helped by the fact that since most of the recipes I had to enter were from Cooking Light, all of their recipes are online (mostly at myrecipes.com so you can search for the dish name and cooking light and pull it up), so I had to do the post naming, categorizing and tagging, but I could copy and paste the recipe into the blog and then just clean it up a little. I probably spent 2-3 hours entering all of the recipes though. You’re welcome.

So far we can’t guarantee that all of these recipes are good, but looking through all of those recipes in order to post them made me eager to try some new things this week so I can already give a few comments.

Sunday morning I made these pumpkin ginger waffles as a surprise for PL. While she was getting ready for bed Saturday night I was sneaky and went back to the front of the house and pulled our pureed pumpkin out of the freezer so it would be ready for waffle batter Sunday morning. I thought I had ground ginger, but didn’t so I added pumpkin pie spice instead. We still remember some gingerbread pancakes we had a few years ago, so this recipe was appealing since it seemed to pick up some of those flavors that were so good. The waffles were awesome! I bought some ginger later that day at the Farmer’s market so these will be even better next time.

Yesterday after a really hectic day at work, I came home and made Dijon Mustard Chicken Fricassee and Lemon Chive Roasted Vegetables (I used purple fingerling potatoes, red new potatoes, carrots, parsnip and onion). I had to spend 5-10 minutes in the morning getting the chicken marinating in the mustard-herb sauce, but it was worth the time. This dinner was incredibly good, and not terribly hard for how fancy looking it was. The carrots were especially good with the lemon and chives–who knew? PL washed all of the dishes and even swept the kitchen, so it must have been good.

 

Trials and Tribulations of a Yuppie September 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Katie @ 8:38 pm

PL and I are admittedly crunchier than many people–we’re lesbians with 2 dogs living in Decatur for cryin’ out loud, but often we’re probably more yuppie than crunchy at the end of the day if we’re honest. Our tight budget and inability to be current on pop culture make us more crunchy daily, so there’s hope for us yet.

We still experience regular moments of yuppie shame though, the latest of which happened this past weekend at our neighborhood Kroger. We were shopping for picnic food for an Indigo Girls concert (crunchy) at Chastain Park Amphitheater (yuppie). It was raining so hard while we were shopping that we just decided to go to the Kroger right near our house instead of the one we normally shop at or at the Farmer’s Market, both of which are a few minutes further away. (We don’t go to Whole Foods–no boycott or anything, just cheap–so that keeps us from being total yuppies). To our great horror, we found out that they only sell one kind of goat cheese, and their “fancy cheese aisle” was 3 packages of different kinds of cheese of the same brand in a wooden basket over near the deli. (A deli which sells fried chicken livers.) Then we went to the wine and beer section. I’ve found a red wine I really like (Cellar No. 8 cabernet) and often buy it now anytime I need a bottle of wine to take somewhere, and of course they didn’t have it–it sometimes costs upwards of $12. They also didn’t have PL’s favorite wine-Ecco Doman which has been known to go over $10 per bottle. Strawberry Hill anyone? Also, they only had white bread pita, not whole grain or multigrain. And yes, we did realize it’s us with the problem.

While we force ourselves to make do with Parmesan cheese in green cans and not imported blocks, there is at least usually something out of the ordinary and entertaining going on in our neighborhood shops. Luckily our neighborhood isn’t generally unsafe, just unsavory and uncool. Though there was that one time I got interviewed by a detective, we sometimes make a mental note of the time of day we hear “fireworks,” and then there was something Robert and Julia overheard at the grocery store about a getaway car…

Maybe us yuppies living in bad neighborhoods should start an “overheard in…” blog. An old favorite blog from my DC days was Eavesdrop DC. DC is a great city for overhearing conversation on the streets and subway–it’s a good mixture of smart people saying weird things, airhead college students, tourists, grifters and other assorted street characters.

Here’s our version:

“I don’t know nothin’ about no other girlfriend. I’m not even gonna get in the middle of that.”-young man on cell phone, overheard Saturday in Kroger

“You’re not supposed to eat meat out of a bag.” One young woman to another carrying a package of beef jerky, overheard today in WalMart.

(That reminds me, have you seen the People of WalMart blog? Stunning.)

 

Project Nintento Rescue–Win!

Filed under: computer geeks,fun — Katie @ 10:47 am

I received an original Nintendo for Christmas many years ago, but after several years it stopped working. I think most people with a Nintendo were familiar with the blinking screen, and usually this could be fixed by blowing on the cartridge. Eventually even this failed to work to fix the blinking screen, so my Nintendo just sat around broken for the last 20 years.

On a recent trip to visit my parents, I cleaned out a lot of childhood things from their house, and I found my old Nintendo and a few games. I only had a few games total, but all that’s left is Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt, Super Mario 3 (my all time favorite) and Tetris. Rather than throwing everything away, I decided to bring it back to my house and see if it could be fixed. I figured I could search online for a solution, attempt to fix it, and if I couldn’t, I would finally get rid of it.

I found several useful You Tube videos and web postings on fixing the original Nintendo system and learned which parts need to be taken off to get to the actual piece of hardware that reads the games. The main problem with broken and blinking screen Nintendo is that the game cartridges are read by a connector with lots of metal pins, and over time they get worn down and also covered in grime. Sometimes the whole part–the 72 pin connector–needs to be taken off and replaced (less than $10 to buy a new one–so much cheaper than a Wii, and 1000% more awesome), but I decided to first try just to clean it really well.

I finally made time to work on this project this weekend, and start to finish I probably spent 45 minutes on it–and that includes taking it back apart again since the game slot wouldn’t click into place when I reassembled it all, so I had to loosen a few things to fix that. I also cleaned the cartridges themselves really well with rubbing alcohol and Q-tips.

Here are the steps I followed:

Take off the cover.

nin1

Take off the metal shield.

nin2

Remove the game cartridge holder.

nin3

Clean the metal pins with rubbing alcohol, a toothbrush and Q-tips. I didn’t remove the 72 pin connector, just cleaned it in place. If it does need to be removed for more cleaning or to replace it, it just slides off–but I did read it might be on there pretty tight.

nin4

Reassemble.

nin5

Test:

nin6

Success!

My Facebook friends got a sneak peek of this since I was so excited I had to take photos with my phone and post them immediately. But I wanted to turn it into a blog post since it wasn’t all that hard to fix, and it actually worked.

Guess what we’re doing for my 30th birthday party? On the same trip home, I found my New Kids on the Block, Vanilla Ice and Debbie Gibson cassette tapes—soundtrack? Check! Entertainment? Check!

 

Save the Towels! September 21, 2009

Filed under: home — Katie @ 10:09 am

This weekend I did a lot of picking up clutter in the house, organizing and even getting rid of some clothes and games. With the torrential rain in Atlanta and trying my best to stay inside, I found it a good weekend to work on some home projects. While it’s nice to sometimes get rid of things you no longer use, it’s even better to give your belongings new life and not need to buy replacements.


Problem:


One of our major household problems lately has been that our towels never seem to get clean anymore and begin to smell after the first time they are used. We have a lot of nice towels–some matching no less, and then also have some towels that I got for high school graduation, so I’d hate to have to buy more.

Lifehacker continues to be one of my favorite blogs to read, and on the weekends they often feature home, garden and kitchen hacks along with their usual work-week geek advice. This Saturday morning I woke up early to clean the house, and was taking a break and reading some articles when I found this post:

Use Vinegar and Baking Soda to Recharge Your Towels

I had been planning to get some color safe bleach to start using on our towels to kill the smell, but saw this article and decided to try this first. I learned that detergent and fabric softener can leave a residue on towels that over time builds up and makes the towel less absorbent. When the towel becomes less absorbent, it also doesn’t dry out as quickly as it should after you use it, and then gets smelly. By using more fabric softener on towels to try to make them soft and nice smelling, it seems we actually made the problem worse.


Solution:


Wash the towels twice with hot water. On the first round add a cup of white vinegar (which we buy in large bottles anyway for cleaning). On the second wash add 1/2 cup of baking soda (ditto on the large container already in the house). Don’t use vinegar and baking soda in the same load, unless you like cleaning up a mess. Then dry them with no fabric softener sheet. I realized later that I should have put the vinegar in with the water first to dilute it, and then added the towels to keep them from being discolored. They all looked fine though, and we don’t really care anyway if some of our towels get discolored–see my earlier note about some towels dating back to being high school graduation presents.


The Science:


Vinegar is an acid, baking soda is a base. When either dissolves in water, the molecules dissociate and then the atoms can re-bind to minerals, salts and other chemicals that have built up on the towels. The recombined molecules can more easily rinse away. Yay science.

Final verdict:

Even without chemical fabric softeners, the towels were very soft when they came out of the dryer–vinegar is a natural fabric softener. I got out a new hand towel from this load of laundry, and used it last night and again this morning. It smelled fine both times, so that’s good news so far.

As I read more about this, I learned it might take some time washing them this way for them to truly become as soft and absorbent as they can be. As cleaners, baking soda will get your towels cleaner and whiter; vinegar will get rid of smells and stains. I have already discovered ways to use vinegar and baking soda for household cleaning, so now I want to explore how to best use it for laundry. I was also reminded that you can put a couple of tennis balls (clean ones!) in the dryer with towels to make them fluffier, so I need to finally try that folk remedy as well.

 

Harmony September 18, 2009

Filed under: family,finances,fitness — Katie @ 10:54 am

I’m not a very new-agey person, but I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that I find a certain harmony and wholeness in focusing on going to the gym, eating healthy, and managing my money wisely–all at the same time. I’ve always read that you should never try to break or start more than one habit at a time if you want to succeed, but I’ve noticed that the opposite is true for me. Each good habit fuels the others in a circular way. Lack of time and money (created by going to the gym and simultaneously cutting back on expenses) foster good habits and keep me away from bad habits.

Here are a few further thoughts on why this works for me:

  • When I go the gym I feel so good that afterward I want to eat healthy, light foods that will refuel my body. I also drink a lot more water during the day because when I don’t I can feel that my body doesn’t perform as well when I work out. So while it’s hard to get home late from the gym and then have to cook dinner, I don’t actually have the desire to just grab something quick and unhealthy on the way home.
  • Since I’m also trying to watch our finances more closely, we plan our meals a week at a time and have all needed groceries on hand. When I do get home late from the gym late and need to cook, I know what we’re cooking that night and know that everything we need is thawed out and ready to go. I have also been trying to plan easier meals on nights I’ll get home late, and even cook larger amounts on other nights and have leftovers.
  • Since we tightened our budget, I have less available funds to spend on going out to eat, going to movies or other entertainment, so I actually have more time to go to the gym even though it’s time consuming. I’ve been going Tuesdays and Thursdays when I get off of work, and don’t get home until close to 8pm.
  • When I eat better, I feel better and have more energy, so it’s easier to generate the energy and motivation to go to the gym–which makes me feel even better. When I eat poorly, I feel sluggish and even sort of sickly so I certainly won’t go to the gym even if it would make me feel better–instead I’ll get home, crash, snack, and sit around on the couch all night.
  • This new routine also affects how much alcohol I buy and drink. I really don’t drink very often, but when I do drink, it’s usually social and it’s not just usually one drink. But wine and beer is expensive, and full of calories, so by not wanting to spend an extra $10-$15 on a bottle of wine at the grocery store, and not wanting to consume an extra 500 calories or so when I’m trying to eat better, I don’t really buy or drink much alcohol.

It’s only been a few weeks since I’ve started this new routine of being all around healthy and awesome, so I can easily back slide (to use the lingo of my southern religious roots), but I keep reminding myself how good I feel when I go to the gym, how much better I will feel about myself if I get in better shape and lose weight, and now nice it will be to increase our savings and have more money for the future.

I’ll close with a somewhat embarrassing and self-effacing story from last Friday. I had my gym back packed and in the car but felt tired and cranky and worn out after work–I even ended up staying almost an hour late to finish up some things. When I left I really didn’t want to go to the gym. I called PL and said, “I either need you to talk me into going to the gym or tell me it’s ok to come home. I want to go home and drink and eat pizza and sit on the couch.” She knew I was in a classic foul mood, and would be even worse all evening. While I was whining about going to the gym I still drove that way instead of towards home, I turned onto the road and even pulled into the parking deck while still on the phone with her being in a bad mood. I was so grouchy I even pulled back out of the parking lot and decided to head home instead–I didn’t want her to be right that I’d be in a better mood if I went to the gym, so I’ll go home and be a pill all evening–that will show her! But I didn’t want to be in a bad mood, and I didn’t want to be cranky with her all evening when she did nothing wrong. I also had just told a co-worker that I was going to the gym after work, so I exited the parking deck, drove back around the block, pulled back into the parking deck and walked to the gym. I didn’t have a great workout, I hadn’t had enough water that day so I felt sluggish, but I went and then felt a 100% better and less grumpy and managed to have a good Friday night instead of starting a fight.

 

Credit Card Rewards September 17, 2009

Filed under: finances — Katie @ 4:16 pm

Rachel asked me about my thoughts on Credit Card Rewards programs, and my comment in response got increasingly longer, so it made more sense to make it even longer still and turn it into an actual blog post.


Why I Use a Credit Card for Daily Expenses
I will never advocate that anyone carry credit card debt, and I can see that for some people the benefit of rewards from a credit card can justify or excuse excessive spending. Even the best rewards cards don’t pay much more than 2% back to you, so that’s the first perspective to start with. For me, it’s easier to pay with a credit card for most daily expenses (don’t you just get angry at those little old ladies who try to pay with checks at the grocery store?). I prefer an actual credit card to my debit card which are equally convenient but the balance has to be watched even more closely since sometimes deposits and withdrawals can easily cross paths and be poorly timed. That’s a nice way of saying I’ve had deposits not clear even though they should have, while payments cleared way sooner than they should have and bounced a virtual check and got hit with a fee, even though I wasn’t actually overspending. I know that cash based budgets or even keeping a closer eye on actual spending via a debit card can be very useful budgeting tools, but I just find it easier to use plastic at a store. I’m actually not a very wise spender of cash, I also lose it sometimes, and I don’t feel comfortable carrying lots of cash. I also don’t carry a purse, just a metal card case wallet which I then rubber band cash to when I have it (except for now, as PL noticed last night, my rubber band broke a few weeks ago and I can’t remember to find a new one, so cash is just hanging out loose in the non-closed up pocket of my work bag waiting to get pulled out and lost by accident), so those are more personal reasons why I like prefer credit cards for daily spending.

What Card(s) Do I Use?
For the past year or so we’ve used the Kroger Rewards Mastercard for most daily expenses. So probably $500-$600 a month spent on groceries, gas, random shopping etc… that we then pay off. That’s been my only experience with reward cards up to now.

This card has a $1500 limit so it’s great for daily expenses without worrying about reaching that limit, but if there is an occasion where we’d have to travel unexpectedly or otherwise need to quickly access more money than we have on hand in an emergency fund quickly, a credit card is the easiest thing to use in that case and we could easily go over the limit on this card. For situations like that, and for times where we had a big purchase like a freezer or washer and dryer, it was easier to use a credit card we have with a much higher limit at the store and pay the full amount later-knowing that we could afford the purchase we were making, of course. That high limit card has been nice for times like that, but it had no rewards at all.

For that reason, when I recently learned about the new Invest First Credit Card with Charles Schwab which rewards you with an unlimited 2% cash back deposited in your brokerage account, I signed up. I already had a Charles Schwab brokerage account, and find them great to work with. For instance, when I was 21 I inherited some money and needed to open an investment account to put it in. I had a great deal of trouble getting anyone at Fidelity to help me and explain things to me since I knew nothing about investing, but the very first person I talked to at Charles Schwab invited me to come in and talk through my options and get some good investing advice for the future (it didn’t matter to them how little or how much money I had, or how young or old I was). When we decided to buy a house, we went first to Charles Schwab, asked for a gay friendly staffer, and we sat down with him (in person!) and he was wonderful in walking us through applying for our first mortgage, and gave us some good general financial advice as well without any fees for doing so. I think the timing of the introduction of this new card is good since while Americans certainly don’t need any more credit cards, there is a renewed interest in savings and investing money and a brokerage account potentially gets you greater return that sticking the money in a savings account.

What’s the Reward?

From the Kroger rewards card, we seem to receive $20 off every quarter (in the form of check-like coupons that you just hand to the cashier and cash in easily). They claim you get $5 off for each 1000 points you earn, and you get a point for each dollar spent anywhere, 2 points for each dollar at Kroger and 3 points on Kroger brand products. That’s really only $80 a year cash back, which is nice but doesn’t drastically make a difference in our budget.

The real reason I like this reward credit card though is accumulating points for gasoline discounts (and the Kroger gas station is conveniently located not too far from home at the store we prefer). With a regular Kroger shopper card you get 3 cents off a gallon, and 10 cents off for every $100 you spend. With the credit card we get 15 cents off with that $100, and prescriptions also add to the benefit of getting the 15 cents. (I believe for every 2 prescriptions you fill there you get the 10 cent, or in our case 15 cent, gas discount…and PL has 3-4 prescriptions a month to fill). Because of this, we have found that we always end up with the 15 cents benefit which, if my very quick math is right, is probably about $150 saved per year on gas at the rate we fill up. If you’re Kroger isn’t nice, or if it’s not convenient, it’s certainly not worth going out of your way just for these rewards.

With the new Charles Schwab card, I expect that we’ll shift some expenses to that, while right now planning to keep Kroger-based spending on the Kroger card since the gas benefit does seem to help out. Confusing, no? This new card is also a Visa Signature card, which according to their commercials anyway, has some other perks that I need to check out. So, my best guess for now is that with regular spending we’ll get $100-$200 cash back this year just from daily spending deposited in the brokerage account, maybe more if we take any trips. That’s still not a ton of money (and again, not at all something you can justify spending more to get) but it’s a competitive credit card reward rate and it goes straight into an investment account where it can earn more over time through wise investing and compound interest.

How?

I own some shares of a mutual fund (SWPPX) that consists of the same stocks as the S&P 500, so I’ll use that as an example. That fund currently costs $16.76 a share (it used to cost more than that, but this has been a rough year), so with $200 (which I didn’t do anything to earn other than buy the things I was going to buy anyway), I can buy almost 12 shares of that mutual fund. So if I bought those 12 shares yesterday, today that fund went up .25 a share. That’s $3 I earned today while sitting on my butt blogging at work. Not bad. That fund also pays a .39 dividend (a way the company shares the profits) per share annually, so that would be another $4.68 I didn’t do anything to earn. I reinvest all of my stock/mutual fund dividends right now, so that’s even more shares that I can buy, and then when the prices goes up or dividends are calculated, I’m starting with more shares than before. This is off topic from reward credit cards, but does explain why I think the reward from the Invest First Charles Schwab card is worth it.

Other Reward Cards

While these are the only reward cards I’ve personally had experience with, reward cards with airlines or hotels are much more common. Many of these programs charge an annual fee to join, and I simply don’t spend enough money, and in particular, don’t spend enough money on plane tickets or hotels to recover that fee each year through the benefits received. We’ve probably all heard about the Capital One no hassle rewards,card, and I looked that card up and it has no annual fee, and gives you 1 frequent flyer mile for every $1 spent up to $1000 spent per month, and 2 miles $2 after that. It takes 25,000 or so Delta frequent flyer miles for a free ticket, so that doesn’t seem very rewarding to me…at least not at the rate I spend money. For cash back cards, I see 1-2% as the average at http://www.creditcards.com/ and some Discover cards pay up to 5% for certain types of purchases, but many places do not take Discover.

So I would conclude that it can be beneficial to use a rewards card, but to find one that will get you a reward you can actually obtain and use. The main thing though is remembering that you aren’t really making enough back to justify greater spending. The credit card companies wouldn’t offer reward cards if they didn’t earn more from it than they give to their customers.