Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Speaking of eBay...

...has everyone seen this Groupon deal for an eBay gift certificate? I know I just griped about a Groupon deal that was a total rip off, but when buying gift certificates like this, you just can't go wrong. Sign up for Groupon and purchase a $15 gift certificate for just $7.

Spending Saturday & Monthly Reflection

Big things have happened in the past few days - although not so much for your reading pleasure, as you may have noticed. My Saturday Spending round up is being posted on a Tuesday. Whoops!

First, let's take care of the little details. Essentially, no spending to report in the past week. I did buy a bottle of red wine to take to dinner at my parent's house on Saturday in honor of my brother visiting. I included that in my general grocery budget, bringing my grand total on grocery expenses this month to $205.21.

I am very happy with that number.

As you know, other than bacon I didn't purchase any meat this month. We had enough in the deep freeze to last us the rest of our lives. Or...you know...a month, as it were. It might be a bit of a challenge in April to keep the spending that low. I am aiming for $225 and crossing my fingers.

I know the month is not technically over, but I feel confident that I won't be making any purchases in the next couple days, so that means my only miscellaneous spending this month was a $25 Groupon for an art class. Side note: that art class was a HUGE joke. Has anyone ever asked for a Groupon refund? Because I think this really might be deserving.

My 3 month miscellany purchase total now comes to $320.95 - only $20.95 over budget. If I hadn't bought that stupid Groupon, I would have totally made up for the February fling in Portland. Ah, well.

There were also some eBay related expenses (i.e. tape and the 9% fee that eBay charges on sales). I'm not counting these anywhere in the budget. I'm hoping that I can pay these fees and put my eBay earnings in savings. In other words, I'm having my cake and eating it too. As long as I can afford to pay my credit card bill in full and still put my designated amount into savings/Roth IRA, I'll have accomplished the impossible.

Perhaps that extra money I found lying around the house has a little something to do with it.

I also asked my husband to save an extra $200 every month. He currently contributes to his 401K and a Roth IRA, but I can see there's room for more. I reasoned that since I now make his lunch to take to work every day (and that food is included in our regular grocery budget) that he could afford to put the money he used to spend on eating out in a savings account. He agreed that made sense.

Then my husband's company sent out a notice with their pay stubs that the 401K match is discontinued until further notice. One step forward, one step back. At least he still has a job though, right?!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Food Waste Friday - Living On The Edge

I don't have any food waste to report this week, but I am quaking in fear (okay, mild exaggeration) about a couple of items. After my success with my first Italian loaf last weekend (gobbled up by family at my sister's birthday dinner) I decided to make focaccia bread. Although delicious, the recipe also turned out huge. We have been ever so slowly eating a slice here and a slice there, and I'm a little afraid it's going to end up moldy before we finish it.

Which would break my heart.

I'm also mildly nervous about my sprouts. But first, let me tell you how awesome they are. Every night, I pull a chunk of sprouts out of the mason jar and put them on my husband's lunch sandwich. I add a little water, swish it around, and pour the excess out to keep things moist, and the next morning the mason jar is full again. It's the coolest thing!

The other cool thing is that they are a million times greener than the kind you buy at the store. Since they're just sitting in my window, they get to soak up a lot more sun than the sprouts that are quickly loaded into the back of a truck and then left to languish anemically at the grocery store.

But, this never ending source of sprouts has me wondering if they're going to go bad at any point. I know technically they're growing and should be fine, but the ones at the bottom of the jar are packed in there so tightly that the little leaves are trapping water against the glass, even after I turn the jar upside down. Hopefully they are getting just enough moisture, and not too much.

This is my first experience growing sprouts at home (besides watching my mom do it as a kid) so I guess if they do go bad, it is just part of the learning curve. I've already gotten a week's worth of lunches out of this one jar, so I'll count it as a success either way. Next, I'm going to get some basil seeds started indoors.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bing Rewards

I haven't really caught on to the whole Swagbucks thing yet. I'm kind of embarrassed to say that since I'm such a sucker for free money, but I just don't like that it surprises you with rewards. I like structure. Guarantees. Nevertheless, I'm always jealous when some of my favorite bloggers - The Frugal Girl and The Non-Consumer Advocate - post about cashing out for Amazon gift cards. I could really use those!

(Clicking their names will take you to their referral links, if you want to show them love. Technically I have my own link, but since I barely use it your referral would be more useful for them than me. Plus, they are awesome bloggers who deserve it!)

But today I took advantage of a Fusion Cash offer, and discovered Bing Rewards. It's very similar - they even have Amazon gift cards - but it seems more structured to me. All you do is download the Bing Bar and click on the Rewards Button. Today it offered me 6 points for looking at college basketball videos and another 6 points for looking at Lumiere Brothers videos. I also earned 20 points for my own searches - 1 point for every 2 searches. 40 searches = 20 points. See? Structure!

The button tells me I can earn up to 20 points a day until April 2nd. We'll see what happens then, and in the meantime I'm going to max out my points every day!

Bing gives you 250 bonus points to sign up, and on top of that Fusion Cash is offering $3 for downloading the Bing Bar and signing up for rewards. So, if you sign up through Fusion Cash, not only can you get started on your way to free rewards, but you can get paid just for signing up. You'll be winning more than Charlie Sheen!

If you haven't yet signed up for Fusion Cash (I shamelessly begged for your referrals last week, and I'm only 5 away from meeting my goal!) you can do so HERE, confirm your e-mail, and then search the Offers page for "Bing" to get a $3 Fusion Cash bonus and get started with your Bing rewards. You'll also get a $5 sign up bonus with Fusion Cash and be on your way to your first $25 cash out.

I'm on my way to 1081 Bing points and a $10 Amazon Gift Card!

Monday, March 21, 2011

So Much For Last Groceries

I posted this morning about my "last" grocery trip of March. Then, I got an e-mail from Amazon Fresh that I just couldn't resist. As a new customer they offered me $30 off my order of $50 or more using this code - KLFUYF9VW6 - now through March 23rd.

I just can't ignore an offer like that!

Ever since I raided all the change jars in the house and rolled $26 in coins, my husband has been bugging me to buy him a 12 pack of beer with his portion of the bounty. Undeserved! At least in regards to his contribution to the coin rolling. But I will admit my husband is a hard working, good man who is handsome to boot and deserves a cold beer now and again ;-)

I've been dragging my heels nonetheless (but what about the budget! and all) so I knew this gift from Amazon was the perfect time to buy beer guilt free. I also decided to stock up on flour since, you know, I'm now an expert bread baker and all. I perused The Frugal Girl to find out what brand she likes best, and it was also very economical. I got a 10 pound bag of Gold Medal unbleached and a 5 pound bag of Gold Medal whole wheat.

Then I had to fill in the gaps. Popcorn? Don't mind if I do! More expensive per ounce than Costco, but I figured I could treat myself to a small bag to tide me over. Quaker Oats - our staple breakfast on the weekends, and great for making oatmeal cookies/bars for weekday mornings - a no brainer. Two bags each of frozen corn and peas (won't have to restock those next month!) brought me to just under $50, so I put it over the edge with 3 apples. I think I'll make my really, really, ridiculously good looking delicious pork chops with apple and onions later this week.

Total Spent: $51.80 + $5.99 delivery fee minus - $30 coupon discount = $27.79

Bringing my FINAL March Grand Total to $187.70. Still happy!

If you give the discount code a shot (remember, it expires March 23rd!) leave me a comment and let me know if it worked for you - and all about your bounty of goods!

Last Of The Groceries

Here's to hoping yesterday's shopping trip was the last of the month.

3 1/4 oz Yeast - $2.75
Organic Milk - $5.19
Carrots - $1.89
1 lb Canadian Maple Ham Lunch Meat - $5.65
Total: 14.98

Franz Bakery Outlet
2 Loaves - $5.29

That would bring my grand total for the month to...(drum roll please)...$159.91! To say I am proud of that number would be an understatement.

This morning I sent my husband off to work with homegrown sprouts in his lunch! The jar is so full I had to split the yield in two in order to allow light to reach them all and turn them a beautiful green. Let's gaze at the glory, shall we?
If anyone would like to gift me a Canon Rebel or equivalent
on account of it being a Monday, I would be much obliged.
Aren't they beautiful? I can turn the jar upside down and they don't even budge they're packed in there so tight. Lesson learned - less seed next time. I am definitely going to be regularly stocking up on sprout seeds. Growing your own sprouts is just too easy!

Speaking of easy, The Mrs also inspired me to take a stab at bread baking. She is working her way through 200 different bread recipes. It got me thinking of how she must have a whole range of flops and successes, but the point is she's trying. Too often, I let perfection get in my way - it's part of the reason I bought sprout seeds in January and didn't try to grow them until March!

So I picked up yeast (enemy number one) yesterday and came home and just did it - I baked bread. And it turned out delicious!

My Italian Herb Loaf - a success!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Meatless Recipe

In the past week or so I've come around to the idea of cutting back on our meat consumption. My husband has pretty emphatically told me in the past that he is a carnivore - there must be meat in every meal. Nevertheless, I started thinking maybe I could twist his arm once a week, or even once a month!

Last week I made "spaghetti and meatballs" using sausage and spaghetti squash. My husband isn't a big fan of squash (while I love all squash) but he really liked this unique recipe. His biggest problem with squash is the texture, and spaghetti squash isn't really your typical squash.

Since he commandeered my Italian sausage I decided to try my recipe again as a totally meat-free meal.

First I cut up a portabella mushroom into long strips and set them marinating in the fridge. I marinated them in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Italian seasoning, and powdered garlic. I also chopped up the stems into smaller pieces - no reason to let them go to waste!

I sautéed some chopped red bell pepper and then added in coarsely chopped red kale and a ton of chopped garlic. I stirred in some hot cooked spaghetti squash and removed from the heat so that the kale wouldn't cook itself into non-existence.

Then I sautéed my portabellas. Not too long - you want to keep them meaty! I served these over my "spaghetti" and it was delicious!

My husband was slightly less enthused than me. He gave me that look and said "You know I need meat." But does he? Do we really need meat with every meal?

He still loved it, and I'm so happy with the way he's come around to mushrooms since we first started dating. I'm also pretty sure he didn't wither away, but he does claim they didn't fill him up. I don't want dinner to be a war, and it got me thinking that I can easily cut down on our meat consumption by cutting down on my meat consumption. I can eat meatless meals (like this one) and still cut up a sausage for my husband's meal.

I can also use half the meat I normally would and beef a meal up with mushrooms or beans or other protein substitutes, with both of us eating meat but half of what we normally would. This will be both easier on our budget, and more environmentally sustainable!

Wish me luck ;)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday NO Spend

I stuck with my goal this week of not spending any unnecessary money. Besides the phone bill, groceries and gas (which are all in the budget) I didn't spend any money! Pretty proud of myself.

Nevertheless, I am cruising Payless. As I focus more and more on being frugal, I keep finding cute things at prices far less than I've typically paid. I'm a little scared this is a dangerous path to be walking down, though. I don't want to spend money on things I really don't need - even if those things are cheap!

The one thing I do have to spend money on (technically part of next week's spending) is my sister's birthday. But this is also worked into the budget - pretty easy to predict the coming of a family birthday!

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Different Kind Of Food Waste

My husband offered to make meatloaf for dinner this week on a night when I was a little busy and stressed out. He made a really delicious meat loaf for the first time last month - but of course even a half recipe ended up being far too much food for the two of us.

I had halved a pound of ground beef and frozen the big half, so I told him to go ahead and take it out of the freezer. I explained that it wasn't a full pound, but would be plenty for us, and that if he wanted he could use half of the mushrooms to "beef" it up a little...so to speak.

I then left him to it. When I came down to dinner I found out he'd defrosted two of the Italian sausages I'd earmarked for future meals, de-cased them, and added them to the beef. He was very proud of himself. He'd also used half of the mushrooms. The meatloaf was even bigger than the first one.

I was...frustrated. I have my meals this month diligently planned out around 1) cutting back a little on our meat consumption, and 2) not purchasing anymore meat this month. Technically, we're fine - even without running to the grocery store. I can still make a meal out of the canned tuna or salmon that I hadn't planned on using. He also ultimately ate (most of) the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Still, just as I start to try to curb our meat consumption we end up with a meal that consists of no less than beef, sausage and bacon. Plus half my mushrooms! This screams wasteful to me.

And like I said, only most of the meat loaf was eaten the next day at lunch. The rest was left in a Tupperware container for me to discover the next day. Ick! I didn't get a picture of it before it went down the disposal. You're welcome ;)

There are certainly worse things. I have a loving husband who is not only a great cook but is also willing to help out when I'm feeling overwhelmed. Nevertheless, I felt a little derailed from the no-waste track and my budgetary and dietary goals.

Changing my husband's eating habits might be harder than I thought!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Referral Extravaganza

I have no idea if this will work (I'm definitely no famous blogger with any regular readers to speak of) but I'd like to give it a shot. One of my favorite frugal things is earning money online, and one of my primary sources of extra income is Fusion Cash. To have a check mailed to you from Fusion Cash, you need $25 in your account. I was just barely short in February, so I made it my goal to cash out $50 in March.

It's easy to slack off when you miss cashing out because you have all that "extra" money from the month before. By just doing the daily e-mail and paid to click (which I spend about 3 minutes doing every morning) I already met the $25 minimum.

But, taking into account the daily tasks I complete each morning, I'm still going to be $15 short of my $50 goal unless I earn extra somewhere. I qualified for a survey today, and I'm going to keep taking surveys - but since there's only half a month left, I'd have to qualify every day to reach my goal, which probably won't happen.

So, if you're enjoying this blog and want to throw me a little love, click HERE and sign up for Fusion Cash. By clicking that link and verifying your e-mail for Fusion Cash, I'll earn a $1 referral bonus and you'll help get me closer to my goal. You'll also earn a free $5 just for signing up. If you complete an offer or take one of their surveys, I'm sure you'll see how easy the site is and can work your way up to a $25 check of your own in no time!

And if you'd like to earn a little referral love yourself, post your referral link to your favorite sites in the comments. I'll happily check them out, and other readers can, too.

I've just barely gotten started as a blogger, and I know I don't have that many readers, so it will be interesting to see if I get any comments or referrals at all :) But I'd love to pass on the love, so if you're out there let the referral extravaganza begin!

Update: I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU! I am already closer to my goal, and it means a ton to me that there are real live people out there reading my writing!

Mason Jar Sprouts

I am so excited that I finally started my sprout experiment. I remember my mom growing sprouts in a mason jar when I was a kid, so when the salmonella outbreak hit at the beginning of the year and I couldn't find sprouts anywhere, I took a look on Amazon for the seeds.

Before I actually purchased them, I got lucky - Living Social offered up this deal for an Amazon gift certificate. I hope you snatched yours up!

I ended up buying two 1-pound bags to use up my gift certificate. I figured even if that was more seeds than I possibly needed, I could share some with my mom!

Of course, I'm a huge procrastinator, so queue a month of not growing sprouts.

I finally got around to it this weekend. The instructions call for the seeds to be soaked for 6-8 hours first. I was worried that I was going to end up with a whole lot of ungerminated seeds unless I followed the instructions perfectly, so I waited until the weekend when I'd be home and could soak them for the perfect amount.

I found these instructions for growing sprouts. I've been rinsing them twice a day - once before work and once after. I don't have a sprouter (or cheese cloth) so I've been using a little piece of gauze fastened with the mason jar lid ring. If you put it under the tap with some good water pressure, the water goes through the gauze. Then I swirl it around a little, and then pour it out through the gauze. I don't know if cheese cloth would be easier, but it takes a little effort to get the water out. I have to really shake it, and I was worried that might affect the little seeds but...

I have sprouts! (And a really crappy camera) Can you see their little white sprout-y tails? I love these little babies! I can't believe how easy it has been to grow them. They're still in their hiding from sunlight phase. I store them upside down at a slight angle so that water can drain out of the gauze if it wants to, and keep a towel over them. I think they'll be ready for the window on Friday (I started them on Sunday). 

I think they should be delicious and green and ready for sandwiches on Monday. I'm so excited, I want to start another batch right away! I'm considering buying a proper sprouter with a draining lid if the gauze becomes too much of a hassle. I didn't want to spend the money before I experimented and found out if this was going to work, but now that it is I don't see any reason to buy sprouts from the store again! And those two pound bags are going to last forever - this is just 2 tablespoons of seeds!

Cheap, and salmonella free :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Costco Versus The Budget

I stopped by Costco today for the previously mentioned bacon. By this point, my husband had cleaned me all out so any fantasy I'd had of those last few pieces making it into a quiche were gone. I also had just a few other items to pick up...

2 Dozen Eggs - $3.35
Bacon - $10.99
Pepper Jack Cheese - $6.89
Butter - $9.99
Balsamic Vinegar - $10.99
Italian Seasoning - $2.55
Tollhouse Cookie Dough - $7.79

Total - $52.55

My receipt is so short, my box so small, and yet Costco still took me for over $50! I couldn't believe it, particularly since I left with less than what was actually on my list. I started adding items up in my head and thinking about how I was about to blow the budget.

I put back pastrami lunch meat. It was almost $12, and I can easily buy lunch meat from Safeway for less than that and get through the rest of the month. I'm sure the pastrami would have lasted into next month, but it is still a pretty expensive lunch meat and I think my husband has been quite enjoying the (cheap!) ham.

While putting it back I remembered that I really did need cheese. I am loving the block cheese! Sure I have to slice it myself, but for the same price I get half a pound more and it's lasted me an incredibly long time. You know why? Because I slice it a lot thinner! One block lasted me a month and a half - plus cheese for two quiches! It's a cheese miracle.

I also put back the $11 tub of popcorn kernels. Popcorn is a great snack - inexpensive, healthy, and easy to dress up (I'll have to post my delicious popcorn ideas in another post) - but until now I've been buying the microwave bag kind. Buying kernels will be a ton cheaper, especially since I don't go for that fake butter stuff. Nevertheless, I decided that March is not the month to try out the tub. Even though it was a ton of popcorn for the price, $11 is a lot of money. Too many Costco purchases will ruin a budget, even if you're getting great deals.

After all, I was already replenishing my butter and balsamic vinegar supply. I haven't purchased either of those since starting this blog, but when replenishing purchases all fall in the same month it can get tricky.

I've decided I need a plan for next month since I will literally have eaten our house out of meat. I'll post that soon...

Prius MPG - $3.79 Per Gallon!

I keep track of the gas I put in my Prius and my mileage every time I fill up. You can read about how I became a Prius owner here. I last filled up on February 23rd. Here's my latest miles per gallon...

Distance Driven: 339 Miles
Gallons Filled: 9.39 gallons

Average MPG: 38.06

I paid a whopping $3.79 for gas yesterday! I'm so incredibly happy with my decision to switch to a smaller car with great gas mileage. My SUV cost double to fill and I filled up twice as often - I can only imagine how much these gas prices would have hurt!

Actually, I can sort of imagine. My husband drives a big guzzler because he needs it for work. As far as trucks go, it probably doesn't do too badly on MPG, but it's been really painful to see him putting $85 worth of gas into it every week. It hurt enough when it was $75! 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Produce Purchases

I took another inventory of the freezer today and decided that I definitely can make it through the rest of the month without buying any meat. I have frozen chicken breasts, flank steak, beef chunks, shrimp, ground beef, shredded chicken, matzo ball soup, a pork chop (fat enough to be split in two) and a couple of pie crusts.

I will need to buy some more bacon if I want to make those quiches, and my husband often has bacon on the weekends, so I guess I'm not completely meat free. But then again, I have a bunch of tuna and canned salmon, so I could probably get by without even buying that!

I stopped by Safeway to pick up Jalapeno chips for hubby's lunches and to buy a bunch of produce. Since I made my no-meat purchase goal for the month, I figured it might be the perfect time to try to work in some alternatives to meat - huge no-no for my husband! So, instead of jumping straight into meatless meals, I'm going to incorporate mushrooms into some meals and cut the meat in half.

I made a delicious "spaghetti and meatballs" tonight using spaghetti squash, sausage and portabello mushrooms. Not only were there no complaints, my husband declared it delicious!

So, here's what I purchased:

Organic Milk - $5.19 (twenty cents higher than last week!)
2 Bags Jalapeno Chips - $8.98
Spinach - $1.99
Red Chard - $1.99
Portabella Mushrooms - $2.87
Shitake Mushrooms - $2.80
Spaghetti Squash - $6.33
Spaghetti Squash - $6.81
Organic Onions - $5.02 (only twenty cents more than regular, so I went organic!)
Total = $41.98

I also ran past Trader Joe's on Friday and bought a couple bottles of cheap wine and some lemonade/tea as a  treat for the hubs. Total = $8.73.

That brings my grand total for the month so far to $87.09. Pretty good since we're almost half way through!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rotisserie Chicken Leftovers

One of my constant challenges making meals at home is that there are only two of us in my household. I do a lot of shopping at Costco buying things in bulk because it is so much cheaper. I wrote the other day about how I make at least two meals out of every flank steak, and search the fridge for the cheapest (i.e. lightest) package available.

On days when I don't have time to cook from scratch I sometimes pick up a rotisserie chicken from Costco. This works out perfectly with grocery shopping day since I usually don't have the time or energy to cook after shopping and then putting groceries away. It's easy - and inexpensive - to grab a chicken.

I've only roasted my own chicken once, and decided that for $4.99 it actually made more sense time-wise and cost-wise to just buy the pre-cooked chicken. Food doesn't often work this way, but this makes my life a lot easier!

I'll make a salad or some frozen veggies and usually some potatoes to go with the chicken. My husband and I each have a breast and usually indulge in the delicious crispy skin. I know, shame on me.

This leaves me with almost an entire chicken left over! For a family of two, I get down and dirty with the chicken and turn it into at least three more meals.

I do mean down and dirty. Once dinner is done, I pick all the usable meat off the chicken. Typically, this goes into Gladware and straight into the freezer so that I know it won't go bad before I use it. If I'm feeling extra motivated, I'll boil the chicken carcass to make some homemade chicken stock. This can be frozen, also.

One of my post-rotisserie recipes is matzo ball soup, so the broth comes in extra handy. I usually add some low-sodium broth to my own, or just use store bought broth entirely. Broth is inexpensive, and organic broth is readily available at Costco.

To make my matzo ball soup, I bring the broth to a simmer while chopping up carrots, onions, celery, parsley, or whatever else sounds good. I always have carrots and onions on hand, so these are always in my soup. If I have fresh parsley in the garden I'll often use it, otherwise I sometimes just toss in Italian seasoning. I also pull out my shredded chicken, and toss everything into the stock.

I typically make a big stock pot full of soup that can then be frozen for one or two more meals later in the month, but you can make just as much or little as you want. Plan your ingredient amounts accordingly.

Matzo balls are so incredibly easy thanks to the matzo mix found at Safeway. Depending on how big you make the matzo balls, you should get about 9-12 out of each packet. I usually go for 12 since I'm trying to make three meals for the two of us.

Mix a couple of eggs and a quarter cup of vegetable oil with one packet of mix. I put the bowl in the fridge for 5-10 minutes, and then with wet hands form balls the size of walnuts. Drop these into the boiling stock, and then reduce to a simmer and cover. It takes about 20 minutes to cook. If you've never made matzo ball soup before, keep in mind that they double or triple in size. I never have much trouble making 12 from each packet!

I serve with a salad and some crusty croutons or a side of bread. Sometimes my husband makes his famous focaccia bread to go with.

Typically I have enough leftover shredded chicken to make at least one more meal, but I'll save my other ideas for rotisserie chickens for another time. All in all, I get at least four meals out of every chicken - how's that for a great deal!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Spending

I don't have a whole lot of spending to report for the past week. Mostly I've just paid fixed bills, and also have a couple charges at the post office and my first invoice at eBay for 9% of all my sales. I don't see those charges as "spending" though since I ultimately brought in money I wouldn't have otherwise, and the buyers are the ones actually paying for shipping.

My one personal charge was a $25 Groupon certificate for a 3 hour acrylic workshop at Daniel Smith art store in Seattle. I have always been fairly artistic, although never threw myself into it much. I recently started painting with acrylics when my sister in law pointed out she could easily paint me the wall art I was considering purchasing from Crate & Barrel for a lot less money. Instead, I had her teach me how to use acrylics, and have fallen in love with it. Art supplies are expensive, but certainly not as expensive as art! I'd even like to see if I could earn some side income from my art once I get a little more skilled and prolific with my works. I only have so much wall space of my own, after all!

So, that's my spending for the week. All in all, my budget is looking pretty good and repairing from our weekend in Portland last month. If I can limit my miscellaneous purchases to this art class this month, and keep my grocery purchases a lot smaller than usual, I might even be able to catch up with the extra splurge last month!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Food Waste Friday - The Lost Tomatoes

I've been doing really well using up the food we have in the fridge and minimizing food waste. I did have to chuck a couple strawberries as I sliced them up for the freezer, but for the most part they were rescued before falling to utter demise. I also had to toss an entire heirloom orange, and chop parts of a couple others, but I really can't be blamed for that one. I picked up my free bag on Friday and was composting oranges on Sunday. I'd be really annoyed if they hadn't been a giveaway from Metropolitan Market, but I won't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Other than that, I've been working my way steadily through a bag of red peppers and been pretty pleased with my efforts. Unfortunately, I didn't realize they were hiding the last of my tomatoes. They don't look so bad in this picture, just a little wrinkly. But they were flat on the bottom. Not to mention, I didn't even buy tomatoes in February. All in all, I think these tomatoes hung on as long as they could for me, but I still failed them. Sorry! It's the compost bin for you.

I haven't even done a big grocery shop yet (and it's already the 11th of the month!) so I'm pretty sure there's no more produce hiding in the back of my fridge. I should do pretty well minimizing the food waste this month, and making sure I use up everything in the fridge and freezer is also doing wonders for my food budget!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Frugal and Sustainable - A Link Smorgasbord

One of the things that I love about being frugal is that it often goes hand in hand with sustainable living. I'm battling some kind of plague today, so here are some of the ways frugality equals sustainability and a smorgasbord of links to go with!

Buying used, whether it be through antiquing, Craigslist and eBay, or Goodwill is cheaper and keeps things out of landfills. The Brick House is a great design blog showcasing Morgan Satterfield's beautiful and thrifty finds.

Keeping things until they wear out - not just until they're outdated - is not only easier on your wallet but, in the words of Last Year's Model, you're "saving the planet through sheer laziness".

Living in smaller spaces is cheaper and easier on the planet than a brand new McMansion. While the size of new homes is beginning to shrink, some people take small living to the extreme. Check out the space airplane interior engineer Steve Sauer calls home!

Using less energy, whether it be saving on your electricity bill or driving a hybrid to conserve gas, is a great way to save money and live sustainably. WalletPop takes a look at the best light bulb choice for saving money.

Growing your own food can help save on the grocery bill, particularly as food costs continue to soar. Even in a small space and for people without a green thumb, an herb garden can be an easy and convenient addition, and often provides the most cost savings. Plus, growing food in your own back yard (or windowsill) is about as local as it gets, and you don't have to worry about how your food was grown.

I'm not a parent yet, but I'm bookmarking The Frugal Girl's guest post on cloth diapering - far cheaper than disposable Huggies, and keeps all those diapers out of the landfills!

So there you go, just some of the ways in with frugal living is also sustainable living!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

March Grocery Madness!

...or not, because actually March has been extremely easy on me grocery-wise. I have been making a concerted effort to use up all the frozen leftovers and meat in the freezer, and I guess it turns out I had way more than I thought, because I am still in good shape on the meat I bought new last month that is sitting in the deep freeze.

I made a mental list of meat the other day, and I'm pretty sure I can get by on entrees without buying more than a couple flank steaks and a 3 pack of organic ground beef from Costco.

So, I haven't done my usual big first of the month grocery shop yet. I do have to keep my husband in lunches, so I made a small trip to Safeway. Here's what I left with:

Organic Milk - $4.99
3 Apples - $2.00
Virginia Ham Lunch Meat - $7.41
Salami - $6.68
Rotisserie Chicken - $6.56 (after tax price)
Fresh Spinach - $1.99
Skinny Cows - $4.99

I also stopped by Metropolitan Market to pick up my free bag or heirloom oranges (yay, coupons!) and I also found parsley for just 99 cents and sprouts for $1.99. Metro Market can be pretty expensive, but nobody around here is beating those prices. I still haven't found sprouts at Safeway since the great salmonella scare, and I've been too lazy to get around to growing my own. This weekend, I swear!

I do need to stop in for more chips for hubby's lunches, onions (desperately) and Italian seasoning. We could also use some more eggs and bacon, but all in all I think I'll be blowing the food budget out of the water this month! If only I can stay away from the wine aisle...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Lately, every time I get a new catalog or e-mail I start coveting things. I recently posted about the Tory Burch espadrilles that sucked me in. Ultimately, I didn't keep them (and even made a little money off them!) but initially I thought I needed those shoes.

Do you know what I don't need? 4" espadrilles that go with literally nothing in my closet and might get use in sunny San Diego, but not so much up here in summer-is-seven-minutes-long Seattle.

Then I received an e-mail in my inbox from Coach. I immediately started coveting a Kristen satchel for around $400 after tax. After all, my purse is old and the straps are kind of worn. After searching eBay for the bag, I caught myself seriously considering a $350 option. So cheap, right?! I backed away from the computer and reeled myself in.

I've also written before about canceling catalogs to avoid temptation. I've canceled a lot of catalogs, although clearly Nordstrom needs to be added to that list and maybe I need to start unsubscribing from some e-mail lists. These are clearly where temptation gets into my house and under my skin.

The extra money I made on eBay has been fantastic and unexpected, but it is not my intention to replenish my still large closet with that money. I want to set it away. In fact, I've even put it in a separate high interest savings account, and am working on paying the eBay fees out of my own pocket. I'd like to see if I can fit it all into my budget while keeping that chunk of savings wholly intact.

But apparently I want my cake, and I want to eat it too...

The goal this year is to save and then save some more and not touch it! And just because the bank accounts start looking really pretty, does not mean I have to spend that money haphazardly.

Monday, March 7, 2011

TradeKing - $100 Bonus!

My Roth IRA is with Fidelity, and I've had a regular brokerage account with Schwab for a long time, but lately I've been searching for a cheaper option. Fidelity charges $7.95 a trade, and Schwab charges $8.95. I'm happy with both platforms, but those fees can really whittle away at profits.

I initially was drawn to Zecco, but just as soon as I'd made the decision to open an account they dropped the free trades! There are a handful of options for trades in the $5 range, so I didn't rush to open a new account. I figured somebody would offer some kind of new account incentive soon, and I didn't have to wait long!

TradeKing is offering a $100 referral bonus for referring friends, and will also give the friend $100 for opening a new account by March 31st. All you need to do is get a referral to open an account, fund it with $1000 within 30 days, and make your first trade within 180 days. The $1000 minimum (minus any trading losses) must remain in the account for at least 180 days or you will lose your bonus.

This bonus is a great way to get started investing for people who have started a savings habit and reached $1000. Even if you're an experienced investor, it's a great incentive to try out a new and very discounted brokerage. TradeKing charges only $4.95 per stock trade. I can't find anything cheaper than that - if you can, let me know!

I'm excited to get  started with them, and don't plan to close my account after 180 days. For $4.95 trades, I definitely plan to stick with TradeKing.

If you know someone using TradeKing, ask them to send you a referral e-mail. If you don't know anyone, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at pigpenniesblog@gmail.com and I'll e-mail you a referral.

The best part? Once you're signed up, you can refer friends and earn another $100! Just remember, the promotion ends March 31st.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

START Saving at USBank

I've been a USBank customer since about the tender age of...oh, eleven or so. This weekend I opened up a S.T.A.R.T. savings account, and if you're looking for a hassle free way to get started on a small emergency fund and earn a little extra in the process, this is a great way to do it.

You need to have a banking package with USBank to qualify. I have a Silver Banking Package meaning I have a no fee checking account and have now added a no fee money market account. If you don't already have an account through USBank, you can open a checking account with a minimum $50 deposit. There are no fees, and no minimum balance requirements.

The S.T.A.R.T. program is very simple. Add a money market account to your banking package and set up automatic deposits from your checking account. Once your balance reaches $1000, you get a $50 Rewards Card. I've set up twice monthly transfers of $250 so that I can reach that $1000 as quickly as possible. If you maintain a balance of at least a $1000 for a year, you receive another $50 Rewards Card.

That's a 10% return over a year plus however long it takes you to reach $1000.

Say you're just getting started saving, and don't think you can afford to put much away. Don't put it off! Start paying yourself first now, even if it's only a little bit. If you keep putting it off until you think you can afford it, you might never start saving. It takes time to form a habit, so getting into the habit of saving now - even if it's just a little bit - puts you in a better position for the future.

Think you can spare $50 from each paycheck? Setting up a $50 transfer twice a month will get you to that $1000 level in ten months. After ten months, you'll get a $50 Rewards Card, or a 5% return. That's better than you'll get in any CD or high yield savings account right now! Save that money (you can keep adding to it!) for another year, and you'll earn another 5% on your money.

I like getting cash rewards, but I'll take a Rewards Card. I can always pay a monthly expense with the card, and put the $50 extra cash I'd have into savings.

USBank is known for being conservative, approving only the best borrowers for loans and credit cards at really low rates, but also offering very conservative rates (i.e. low) on their savings and checking accounts. Once you've maximized your rewards from the S.T.A.R.T. program, I recommend looking into moving your money to a higher yielding account like Ally Bank, ING Direct or SmartyPig.

Think you can't get started with even a little every month? Sign up for a pay-per-action site like FusionCash. I easily earn around $25 a month without exerting much effort using FusionCash. With a little extra effort, you could easily make that $50 a month and turn that into $600 savings a year. Get started, even with baby steps!

Spare Pennies

I'm sure you'll all be very impressed to hear about my exciting Friday night - rolling coins! Yes, this is how I spent my evening.

While my husband went night skiing with friends, I caught up on the shows he refuses to watch with me and organized my purse. Cue counting the bag of coins I keep in my purse.

Now, I never use cash for anything. I'm a credit card rewards kind of gal. How I end up with any change at all is beyond me, but I had so much change that I went looking for more!

After I'd cleaned out the coin tray that hubby keeps by the bed (and then never does anything with) I searched the house for more change. I ended up finding a jar I've had since college full of pennies, along with a small box full of coins. I've been moving it from school to apartment to house all these years and stowing it in the back of a closet. Go me?

When I was done, I had $26 in rolled coins! Okay, actually $25.25. I need to find 3 more quarters to finish off my quarter roll. Only $9.25 of that is in quarters. Can you imagine rolling $16 in pennies, nickles and dimes? Not that easy, but totally worth it.

Once again, the pennies really do add up!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Food Waste Friday - Brie and Frozen Flank Steak

I'm extremely happy with how my food waste has been going ever since I started partaking in Food Waste Fridays. Posting once a week helps keep waste in the forefront of my mind, so I've been very conscious of using up leftovers and finding ways to incorporate veggies that are looking like they're on their way out.

The only thing I have to report this week is an old piece of Brie - mostly rind. It's been in there...awhile. I'm pretty sure someone brought it over during a potluck get together, and the last little bit was thrown in a plastic bag and into the deli drawer of my fridge, never to be seen again until today.

Brie is pretty much my most favorite thing in the world, so I said a few words before regretfully tossing it.

The hubs bought strawberries two-for-one last weekend when he got a hankering for Belgian waffles, so I have a ton of strawberries in the fridge that probably won't last much longer. I think I'm going to add some to my homemade yogurt. I'm wondering, do strawberries freeze well? I need to get on it, or these will be part of next week's post.

The other thing I've been doing a lot of lately is using up frozen leftover flank steak. I buy a two pack of flank steak from Costco every month. I'm that girl sorting through every package of flank steaks in the fridge looking for the lightest, cheapest one. Hey - there's only two of us! Even though I usually don't spend more than $15 on two small flank steaks, they're still far too big for the two of us to finish, so I throw the leftovers in the freezer.

If I don't, they will go to waste. I've learned this about myself, and accepted it. Leftovers go straight into the freezer, none of this fridge business.

Next time I decide we're having red meat for dinner, I take out the leftover flank steak and make it into Beef Stroganoff! It's actually a bonus that it's already frozen, because many stroganoff recipes call for you to lightly freeze the beef before chopping it up. Here's how I make my stroganoff:

Heat up a little oil or butter in a skillet while you chop up a medium sized onion. Toss the onion in the pan, and slice the leftover flank steak into bite size pieces and then dredge in flour. When the onion is looking pretty translucent (cook it on pretty low heat) toss in the dredged meat. I season with salt, pepper, and some Italian seasoning or thyme. I usually add some freshly chopped garlic or powdered garlic as well.

Once that's all tossed together and heated through (remember, I'm using cooked meat - if yours isn't, make sure to cook it all the way through) I add about a cup of chicken broth. Many recipes call for beef broth, but I never keep that on hand. I think the chicken broth is just as flavorful. I let that cook down just a little, and then stir in about a cup of sour cream. Oh - don't forget to cook your pasta at some point! I like to use linguini. Egg noodles are the usual choice, but I don't keep them on hand.

I stir the sour cream in for just a few minutes, adjusting the seasoning to taste and the thickness with either broth or a little more sour cream. You can also add a little flour if it's not thick enough. Then, pour everything from the skillet over your pasta and serve. Voila! Another meal from my frozen flank steak.

If you're wondering where the mushrooms are, my husband stands steadfastly against button mushrooms. He's worked his way into liking Portabellas, but hasn't opened up his palate to any other fungus...yet. I'm trying. If I don't feel like serving my stroganoff with a salad, I usually add some cooked peas instead. Delish!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Super Delayed Spending Saturday

I've been procrastinating about looking at my spending for the past week because I was afraid to confront it, but after taking a gander I'm actually not doing so bad.

I've made way more money than I thought possible selling my lightly worn clothes on Ebay. As with any unexpected windfall, spending that money is far too easy. Of course, the Nordstrom catalog showed up around the same time and I fell in love with a pair of Tory Burch espadrilles. I rushed to my computer to see if they were even in stock still.

(I was fairly certain they'd already be sold out, torturing me like the sparkly Enzos I didn't get to wear at my wedding whateverwhocaresoverityeahright.)

They were still in stock! And selling in only whole sizes. I immediately purchased 2 pairs.

By the time they came, I was feeling sort of like they were an unnecessary purchase (duh). I had sort of talked myself into them by deciding I'd list some of my lightly worn and worn-no-more shoes and if they sold for a reasonable amount I could keep the new ones. But when they came, they looked only about 75% as adorable as they did in the picture. Okay, they were adorable, but also kind of impractical, and so looked less cute in my bedroom than they would on a models feet strolling around St. Tropez.

So, I decided to Ebay them. By now they were sold out online in both sizes. I figured if I could make a profit, all the merrier, and if not I'd return them. When the pair that actually did fit sold, I was a little sad, but at that point there was no turning back, and I'm very happy with the roughly $60 profit I made. It helps ease the pain.

Other than that, it turns out I didn't really spend anything this week except a little at the post office saying goodbye to old clothing and a new roll of packaging tape.

And yes, I purchased it online through Ebates before picking it up at Lowes and earned 2% of the purchase price back. It's what I do!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

LivingSocial Deal - Two Movie Tickets for $9!

If you're looking for a cheap date night, it's a great idea to snatch up LivingSocial's deal today. They are selling two movie tickets through Fandango for $9! And now I'm going to go feel old because I remember the days when that wouldn't have really been a deal...
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