Thursday, June 28, 2007

July Goals

Much as I set a few goals for June, to break things down into small, achievable units and keep myself moving towards my larger goals, I'll set a few for July.

1. Add $250 to the Freedom Fund
This is $150 over my autodrafts. It shouldn't be too much of a problem, but it's not a low bar, either. This would bring the account balance to $2,550. My hope is that by the end of the summer, when I've added my matured CD to this account, the balance will be edging very close to $4,000.
2. Add an extra $20 to the Travel Fund
I don't usually add extra money to the Travel Fund, beyond my biweekly $25 autodrafts. But especially now while I grind away at GRE math, it's nice to think about going somewhere amazing.
3. Submit the things I need to submit
This is a financial goal because they're financial things. I need to submit an invoice for the last two months' freelance work, and apply for reimbursement on some medical bills. I hate doing this stuff, and I find it intimidating because I don't really know how to do it. I have to overcome that this month, especially because I'm going to want to pay for the GRE, and the whole point of the freelance gig is to do that, which it will not do if I don't get paid.
4. "Eat down" my current food supplies, buying groceries judiciously
I've got a ton of food in the house. That should mean spending less on groceries this month, and having a little slack in the grocery budget as well as in the eating out budget.
5. Buy that darn Feist album already!
Seriously, planned spending.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June Goals: Update

So, I set a few goals for June. Here's a check-in on how I did:

1. Add $175 to my Freedom Fund balance.
I beat this bar—I added $275, for a balance of $2,300. I was super-aggressive with my savings this month.
2. Add $50 to my Travel Fund balance.
3. Cashflow purchase of the Oxford Companion to English Literature.
After learning that swapping for personal-use books isn't totally verboten, I swapped for it, so no money was necessary.
4. Buy sandals and Feist's new album.
Check on the sandals—they're cute white strappy Hush Puppies with real stack heels—but I haven't bought the Feist album yet. I'll roll this one over to July. Seriously, I have a problem with planned spending.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Rent Hike

My rent is going up. The check I write in a couple of days will be about $35 higher than those I've been writing. Problem is, I forgot that "July's rent" means "end of June," so I hadn't really budgeted for that increase. I also hadn't budgeted for the parking ticket K and I got this morning on my parents' car ($45--thankfully, not too steep). Luckily, I can cover most of my half of the parking ticket out of the spare money in my "eating out" envelope, and I'll manage to scratch up the money for the extra rent, but it still remains to rejigger my budget so that the extra rent money is there at the end of each month.

It's less than $20 per pay period, so I think what I'll do is pull $5 each from several envelopes, so hopefully I won't notice too big of a difference. I really do find that reducing spending in a certain area, even by a little, is way harder than starting off at a low level--I just always feel myself coming up against the new limit and having to constantly remind myself of it. Hopefully, I'll get a raise in September (I'll have been here a year), and then I'll be able to use the "spend half, save half" theory of raises to bump myself back up to the spending limits I'm currently used to.

I know it's not a big deal, but it's a bummer. One gets used to certain expenses, and when they go up, it just kind of throws everything off a little.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Frugal Food: The Backlash

While doing my frugal food experiment lately, I've rediscovered how much I love cooking. I've been spending internet time reading food and recipe sites (I baked two loaves of Orangette's cinnamon-and-sugar-crusted banana bread yesterday, and it's amazing) and thinking about the cool things I'm going to make, and...I just went way overboard this week. I did a sensible round of shopping at Trader Joe's on Friday, but yesterday K and I went to beautiful, wonderful, amazing Uptown Fairway, and...kablooey, you know?

While my parents are in Italy (May-September; retirement must be nice), K promised to start their car every couple of weeks (I would, but I don't drive), so we took it out for a spin yesterday afternoon, through Washington Heights and Inwood and up around Fort Tryon Park. It was really lovely, and then when we got to Fairway, the sun was setting over the river—Uptown Fairway is right on the Hudson—and I guess I just sort of got overwhelmed with the aesthetics of it all, because I had this little list of like seven things, and it just went entirely out the window.

K was beside me the whole time, occasionally going, "Whoa...capers? Do we need capers? Um. Do we need starfruit? Do we need white asparagus?" He did reign me in from going entirely supermarket-insane, but we still got a lot of stuff we didn't need for this week, really—like, I'm not sure how we're going to use the shrimp. I had planned to make shrimp quesadillas on the couple of evenings I'm going to be in this week, but now I'm not sure—but I will have to use them, or they'll go bad and I'll have blown $10 (well, $5, because K and I split the grocery shopping).

On the plus side, I'm really excited about the things we're going to make—we got the shrimp, and some little eye round steaks, and lots of great apples and walnuts and gorgonzola for a salad. And the capers. And a six-pack of a nice-looking summer ale. This morning K made omelets with gouda and cherry tomatoes and spinach, and hash browns, and then I made balsamic-macerated strawberries with vanilla ice cream. And we had mimosas. And we will never need to eat food again.

On the financial plus side, the excess on the grocery bill is easily paid for by the slack in my eating-out budget. I've suddenly got an extra $40, which is great.

P.S. Sorry for the low post rate lately, you guys. I'm studying hard for the GRE—as Barbie used to say, math is hard!—and I've been extraordinarily crunched for time.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Here's a New One: Inter-Salary Etiquette and Lunch

My friend A is a first-year analyst at one of the big financial firms here in New York. I haven't seen him in a long time, both for some social reasons and because, you know, first-year analyst. He sent me an email the other day proposing that we get some lunch, given that we both work in Midtown. I agreed that we should get some lunch. Here's the problem: where will we get the lunch? I can't imagine that A, who makes three or four times what I do, is undertaking any frugal food initiatives in his (sparse) spare time. My guess would be that he would be inclined to go out for lunch. I'm not at all concerned about telling him I'd rather meet somewhere outside where we can just sit down and have a chat and eat whatever we please (i.e., I'll be able to bring my lunch), and I'm not concerned about him sussing out my salary, but I am concerned that any mention of my reasons would sound like hinting around that he should buy me lunch, which I absolutely do not think he should.

It's different to say to a friend who makes just about what I do, "Dude, let's brown-bag it and meet in the park; I can't afford to buy lunch today" than it is to say the same thing to a friend who makes far, far more. I don't want to induce any kind of guilt, and I really don't want to seem moochy.

This is a new one for me, because most of my friends do make pretty much what I do--or at least they have budget restrictions. That might be the problem here--assuming that because he makes (what is by my standards) a ton of money, he doesn't have budget restrictions or financial goals. Then again, I don't want to insult him by assuming he does. I don't really know what to do. I guess I'll just continue to do what I've done, which is avoid all mention of my reasons but make the suggestion anyway.

They always say that money can come between friends, but I guess this is the first time I've really encountered this kind of awkward situation about money with a friend. I hope it's not an omen of things to come.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Frugal Food Wrap Up II: Frugal Recipes

Quite a few people have asked me what I've been cooking, so I thought I'd post a few of the recipes I've used over the past couple of weeks and into the week to come. If you're interested, expand the post.

Pasta Salad with Chicken and Edamame
I meant to make this with peas, but substituted edamame (frozen, shelled) when Trader Joe's was out of peas. I liked it better this way (plus, extra protein), but making it again, I would add some extra greenery (maybe broccoli florets?).

  • Cut about 1.5 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs into approximately one-inch cubes. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar over them on a plate or in a sealable plastic bag, let that sit for a few minutes (ten should do).

  • While the chicken is marinating, boil the edamame in a pot of water for five minutes. Drain them and set them aside to cool.

  • Sautee the chicken in a tiny bit of oil and as much minced garlic as you like.
    Add the chicken and chicken juices to a cooked (not overcooked--keep it al dente, or it gets yucky in the fridge) pound of bowtie pasta; toss.

  • Add the cooled edamame and a crumbled block of feta cheese. Toss.

  • Add the juice of 1/2 lemon (or to taste), a little balsamic vinegar, and a little oil if necessary (it probably won't be). Add salt and pepper to taste. You're done!

  • Optional: a diced red onion might spice this up a bit, and again, if I were making it again today, I'd bulk it out a bit with some broccoli florets--you can get them frozen.

  • Figuring you already have the oil, vinegar, and garlic, the basic version of this salad costs about $11 for the batch (I paid about $4.30 for the chicken and $.69 for the pasta, and had the edamame and feta at home--so I'm guesstimating their prices). We got 8 servings out of it, I think, so that's a per-serving cost under $1.40. Not bad.

    Black Bean Salad
    This one's super cheap and easy--but I think of it as a side dish, not a full meal. I'm eating it this week, paired with some turkey meatloaf. This is a particularly great batch dish, because it gets better as it continues to marinate.

    Rinse and combine two cans of black beans and one can of whole-kernel corn (I actually used one very large can of black beans, and one normal-sized and one tiny can of corn, but it's about a 2:1 ratio that you're going for). Dice a large red onion and add it to the bowl. Add a package of grape tomatoes, halved (cherry tomatoes would work just as well). Add fresh parsley or cilantro (your pick). Add a little splash of olive oil, a big splash of vinegar (whatever you've got on hand, though probably not balsamic), and the juice of one lime. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    This cost me about $7 for all the ingredients (again, assuming you have oil and vinegar at home already), and I expect we'll get at least 8 side-size servings out of it. Cost per serving: about $.88 or less.

    Dinner-on-the-go Wraps
    These definitely have the highest cost-per-serving of any of the recipes I've been using lately, but they're also totally unbeatable for eating in a hurry, and certainly cheaper than buying a sandwich.

    Cover a tortilla (you could also use a pita, or lavash) with a thin layer of honey mustard (or regular mustard, or whatever you prefer). Cover that with a layer of baby spinach leaves (if you've got them or can buy them by weight--don't buy a prepackaged bag for this purpose alone; you won't use enough). Cover that with 3-4 slices of sliced meat (I use ham and turkey, alternately) and 1-2 slices of cheese (I like Muenster). If you like, you can add half a sliced avocado in the middle, or some slices of onion, or whatever. Roll it up (this is the hardest part; I can't really describe how it goes, quite--I sort of roll the whole thing, then pull the middle tortilla edge out from the rolled fillings and pull it around the whole thing--the mustard helps it stick) and pack it in aluminum foil.

    Without the avocado, these probably cost about $3 per--it's the presliced meat and cheese that make them a little pricier. Nevertheless, I'd spend three times as much on a sandwich and a drink if I stopped at a deli (plus, these are really good, and really nutritionally balanced), so this is okay by me.


    Credit Piggybacking

    Today's Liz Pulliam Weston MSN Money article is a reminder that credit bureaus are closing the "authorized user" loophole, where the credit history of an account transfers to the authorized user's credit report. That's how I developed credit--I've been an authorized user on my dad's Visa since I was like 15. It's an old account with a high limit, and it was a big boost when I applied for credit on my own. Now I've got my own credit, so I don't mind that the information is going to disappear from my credit report--in fact, I'm glad, because my dad's become a little erratic with payment schedules (he's just retired, and he's not used to not having a secretary). I'll get the benefit of hanging onto the card (I hardly ever use it--only when buying groceries for my parents or airline tickets that they're buying me but that I need to schedule) but without the downside of a) taking a ding if my dad sends in a payment late, or b) having this huge line of credit on my report, upping my debt ratios.

    On the other hand, this means that K needs to apply for a card in his own name right quick--we were doing a piggyback thing with one of my cards. The article reports that the new FICO formula will be introduced at one (to date, anonymous) bureau in September and rolled out at the other two over the course of the following year, so I'll just remind K to apply for a card in early August.


    Thursday, June 14, 2007

    Frugal Food Wrap-Up: How to Eat for Fun and Profit

    I feel like I learned so much from my frugal food experiment of the last two weeks, I don't even know where to start wrapping it up!

    The benefits of this project were substantial: I managed to save enough money to successfully cashflow a purchase I wouldn't have been able to afford (out of my last paycheck) otherwise, without even reducing my savings allocations (I ended up tranfering about $50 out of my eating-out and work-lunch envelopes, as opposed to needing to transfer money in, so I'd say in terms of concrete savings: at least $75 over the past two weeks). I saved myself time and energy during some frantic days. I (mostly) ate tasty, satisfying, nutritious food.

    What are the keys to frugal food success?

  • Planning
    You have to know how many meals you're going to need to pack, so you need to know where you're going to be. Part of the reason this experiment worked out well for me is that my time is suddenly very regimented, which makes planning easy. You also need to decide in advance what you're going to eat over the next unit of time (whatever unit you grocery-shop for: for me, that's a week). A grocery list derived from a meal plan that takes your schedule into account is the ideal of efficiency and frugality here. That's not to say that you can't do it if you can't hit that mark--what I'd do is guess how many meals you're going to want to pack, plan that number of meals, and do your shopping based on that plan. You can always tweak the plan--it's still a crucial starting point.

  • Batch cooking
    It's way easier to fill a container from a big bowl in the refrigerator than it is to make something from scratch in the morning. Batch-cooking is essential--I do it mostly on the weekends, and only rarely do any actual cooking during the week. So yes, this does absorb time--but for me, it was rquite pleasant time. I'd hook up my computer in the kitchen and listen to an episode or two of "This American Life" while I cooked.

  • Considering portability
    It's essential that you pack food that travels well. A banana or an apple is easier than strawberries or grapes (I bought grapes on my last shopping trip, but have never packed them--because I'd need to put them in a container). Another one of the troubles I've had is having to stuff everything in my regular bag--I think that, if I really do keep packing my own food this often, I'll have to buy some kind of lunchbox or lunch bag. I need the purse space!

  • Covering your bases
    Don't forget to pack snacks! My favorites this week were things that were pre-packaged, like cups of applesauce or individually wrapped string cheeses, but it's also quite easy to take carrots and hummus, or some cut fruit. And I keep dried apples, dried cranberries, and some trail mix in my desk drawer at my office. That way if I need a snack and I haven't packed one, there's something tasty and nutritious to munch, and I don't have to spend my money at the vending machine.

  • A sense of adventure
    This might be the most important at all--I really do feel like the key to my success in this experiment was looking at it as a challenge. I got interested in it from a problem-solving perspective and from an aesthetic perspective. I started looking for recipes that would suit my specific needs, and ended up sort of rediscovering my enthusiasm for cooking. That's part of why it was so important to me to focus on packing delicious, healthy food--I felt like I was doing something wonderful and enjoyable and nurturing for myself (not just sacrificing to save money) and for that, I was willing to put in the time and effort. It's weird to say about an experiment in frugality, but this felt really luxurious to me--when I was packing up this morning, I looked at the food I had in my hands, and realized that that was what I'd be eating today, and it was all really good. It was pretty, and tasted good, and was nourishing, and I was pleased about that, and proud. Plus, I thought about how I wouldn't have to stand on any lines or think about going to an ATM or replan my whole week of discretionary spending based on my lunch choice, which was just such a relief.

    In conclusion, planning and packing your own meals is awesome. It's healthy and it saves money, but the most important and most genuine thing I have to say about it is this: it's really fun. I encourage you all to try your own frugal food challenges.

    Some of my regular readers seemed really interested in continuing to see updates on the frugal food situation. I'm happy to provide those, but I think I may bump them down to weekly updates--from now on, I'll check in of a Thursday or Friday and do a quick update on how I'm doing on this front. I'll continue doing frugal recipe posts, too--so watch for those! And most of all, thanks for all your support with my experiment!


  • Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Inspirational PF Blogs

    This comprehensive list at Credit Card Lowdown calls itself the 100 Most Inspirational Personal Finance Turnaround Stories Online. That might be a misnomer--not every blog there is a "turnaround story" kind of blog, really--but either way, this is a great directory of some very worthwhile blogs (psst! I'm #78!), and you just might find one that's perfect for you. Check it out.


    Frugal Food Day 10: Victory!

    On tasting my pasta salad with balsamic-marinated chicken, feta cheese, edamame, and Trader Joe's vinaigrette, K declared me his best girlfriend ever. Personally, I think it could use some diced raw red onion, and maybe some cherry tomatoes. Either way, I packed it for lunch today. Breakfast was the usual, and for snacks, I packed a string cheese and the last of the banana bread I made on Saturday. I'm not planning on being out as late tonight as I am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I'll get dinner at home.

    I get paid tomorrow--so I really have gone a whole pay period without buying any food during the workday! (Okay, there was that iced coffee on Friday--so it's not quite a perfect record.) Yesterday, I set up a transfer to cover the IKEA purchase on my credit card. I would never have been able to cashflow that purchase if I hadn't reduced my work-lunch and eating-out expenditures so much this pay period! If I hadn't been able to cashflow it, it would have run over into this coming pay period, which might have jeopardized my ability to meet the savings goal I set for myself for June. So really, the frugal food experiment was a stitch in time.

    I'll do a wrap-up tomorrow with some of the stuff I've learned during this project, but to answer Krystal's question: I absolutely plan to try to duplicate these results in my coming pay period--I'm just going to do it under-the-radar, and not bore y'all with it.


    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    Frugal Food Day 9

    K's company party last night was a little more "here! have this free frozen margarita!" than I was anticipating, so let's just say I was in no mood to fire up the stove when I got home. So in the absence of pasta salad, I packed a parfait, a wrap, and a bunch of snacks this morning. It's not quite three square meals, but I have some trail mix and dried cranberries at my office, of which I'll take some to GRE prep. I'll make it home to make pasta salad--I'll probably just be a bit hungry when I get there.

    It's amazing to realize that tomorrow will mark an entire pay period--two weeks!--of packing breakfast and lunch. Awesome!


    The Joy of Personal Finance

    A couple of great recent articles (here and here) address the pleasure to be found in taking control of your finances and actively working to improve your financial position. I couldn't agree more. I wouldn't be able to keep doing the little things I do each day (let alone blogging about them) if I didn't enjoy them. I think cultivating this enjoyment is really key to aligning one's financial mindset in a healthy way, because otherwise you really are just marching yourself through the paces of some hated drill-team exercise, and that doesn't sound like much fun.

    For me, being on top of my finances provides enjoyment in two major ways:

    1) Peace of mind. I never have to worry that a bill is coming that I can't afford. I don't have to worry that I won't be able to buy groceries because I have to pay my credit card bill instead. Basically, I don't have to endure financial fear. Now, I'm an anxious type, and I do devote a fair amount of energy to my finances at the moment, but the worst-case scenario of my day-to-day financial decisions is more along the lines of "I won't be able to save extra" than "I'm going to bounce a check and go over my credit limit." I can't imagine living with those kinds of consequences hanging over my head, and, because I'm on top of my finances, I don't have to.

    2) Sacrifices become stepping-stones towards my goals. Turning down a movie and drinks with a friend, or even just choosing to skip the popcorn and have one drink instead of three, is a pain in the ass. It's no one's favorite thing. But when I choose to do those things, they're choices that I make because they bring me a benefit: when I make a sacrifice like that, I can see my savings account growing toward a goal I want to achieve, and that excites me. The situation becomes sort of win-win: either I spend money I know I can afford to spend to do something I'll enjoy, or I opt to save that money towards a goal I want to reach for myself. This creates a decision that's less about shame, guilt and obligations (i.e., I know I'm not supposed to do this, but...) and more about a free choice of what I want (i.e., would I prefer to have a couple more drinks or save an extra $25?). Those choices don't come with nearly as much baggage, and either way, I'm doing something nice for myself, whether that thing is "buying another of these delicious mojitos" or "moving closer to my savings goal."

    I'm also kind of a nerd and slightly numbers-obsessed (odd for an English major?), so I really do enjoy the minutiae of tinkering with my budget and projecting my financial future. I don't think you have to enjoy that angle, but I do think that enjoying establishing a system that works for you and setting and meeting financial goals is a big help. I think we can all benefit from learning to take pleasure in our own progress and ultimate success. That way, we have more fun and make more progress.


    Monday, June 11, 2007

    Frugal Food: Day 7, the Weekend, Day 8

    I slipped up last Friday, and got an iced coffee from Starbucks with a colleague when she invited me out. I suppose I should have said I wasn't interested in the coffee, but was interested in the walk--since that was basically the truth--but I shelled out the $3.

    A relatively food-frugal weekend was a nice surprise, and let me put extra money from my eating out budget towards my IKEA purchase of last weekend, so that's a plus. I ate in on Friday night and all Saturday (also on Saturday, I made banana bread with exclusively ingredients I already had in the house, which was a great addition), spent $10 on coffee/brunch with friends on Sunday morning, and ordered sushi with K on Sunday night from a relatively cheap local place (I actually don't even know how much it cost; he paid).

    Today, all I had to do was wake up, make a yogurt parfait, and roll on out the door--both of my other meals are subsidized (lunch by my boss, dinner by K's production company). I'll make a big pasta salad tonight when I get home, and then I'll be pretty well set for the week.

    Lesson learned: once you've got a plan and have done corresponding grocery shopping, execution isn't particularly difficult.


    Friday, June 08, 2007

    Meal Planning

    Given that I have remarkably little to do at work today, I spent some time this morning planning this evening's grocery shopping so that I'll be set for next week.

    The thing I've learned in the experiment so far is that planning is key--if I wake up without a sense of what I'm going to eat for lunch, I will end up buying something (either that or end up with a hunger headache). Prepping the night before is ideal, but even just an idea helps. The thing I really need to keep in mind is my schedule: how many meals do I need for a given day? How late am I going to be out? Am I going to have access to a refrigerator? The other big thing, the thing I need to focus even harder on, is making sure that each of my meals hits the carbohydrate-protein-fat trifecta. A meal that has all three is the best for filling you up and providing lasting energy, and my meals are often lacking protein altogether and are occasionally too low in fat. I need to work on this, and also on packing snacks.

    This week, breakfasts are going to be the usual (protein, fat, carbohydrates--ding!--and lots of fiber as well). I'm going to make a big pasta salad with chicken and vegetables (protein, carbohydrates--I'll do a dressing or add some cheese or avocado for fat) that should deal with my lunches for the four days next week I'll need to pack lunches. For the dinners that I need to be able to eat quickly before GRE prep, I'm going to make little wraps, with some sliced ham or turkey and cheese with spinach and honey mustard on a tortilla or wrap (trifecta? check), and maybe some dried cranberries or avocado in there if I want to get fancy. I'm also going to make sure to get some good snacks (things that are filling and easily packable): string cheese, applesauce, carrots & hummus, and avocados are all on my list. Maybe some granola bars, too. And eggs, for hardboiling.

    Basically, I don't have room in my head for thinking about this with all the rest of the stuff that's going on right now. If I can plan, shop, and batch-cook on the weekends (Friday afternoon counts as the weekend!), I can save myself a lot of energy that I really don't have to spend right now. Not to mention money--I can save that, too.

    I'm loving the whole lunch-packing experiment, though. I genuinely feel like I'm changing my habits (financial habits and planning habits) for the better, and of course I like the resultant savings. The only problem so far? It makes me want this really bad. In teal!


    Thursday, June 07, 2007

    Frugal Food Day 6

    In some ways, starting this frugal food experiment this week has been very poor timing. I've suddenly become frantically busy--I'm prepping for the GREs three days a week (2 at my prep course, one with friends for the subject test, plus the required hours of at-home prep for the prep course), working my freelance job, still tutoring at one of my two tutoring organizations, finishing a big-deal independent project at work, training a new intern, and trying to maintain my sleep schedule and social life. I've been truly pressed for time to cook--it would have been far easier to just have bought my lunch--and I haven't had time to shop, either, so the whole thing's been sort of based on what I have in the house. Supplies are now dwindling--I'm out of yogurt for my morning parfaits, and pretty much down to plain pasta and canned soup in other respects (though there are still the supplies for the spinach salad, which I hope to make for tomorrow--I didn't get to do it today; I made a pasta salad with chicken sausage instead). I hope to get to Trader Joe's tomorrow.

    I'm glad I'm doing it, overall--why else would I just have extended the term?--and I've got a much better sense now of what I need to have in the house to ensure that I can bring delicious, interesting, well-rounded meals. I've been great at just packing a lunch this week, but for the rest of the challenge's term, I want to aspire to pack awesome lunches, and my next round of grocery shopping can help me do that. I have a very thorough shopping list written out already.


    Wednesday, June 06, 2007

    Further Thoughts on Monetization

    Yesterday, I received the first advertising solicitation that has ever piqued my interest. It was from a student loan consolidation group. I've previously received solicitations for ads and paid content from payday lenders, weird social networking sites, and seminar gurus. I've turned them all down without a second thought. This one, on the other hand, comes from a service that seems to operate in an aboveboard fashion (I searched for negative reviews six ways from Sunday before responding to the email) and be a viable option for people who are looking to consolidate their I don't really see any reason to turn it down. This is exactly the kind of thing I had in mind when I wrote about monetization back in January. So I wrote back, and we'll talk terms, and maybe an ad for a student loan consolidation company will pop up on my sidebar.

    I'm thinking I might give a little monetization a try. My eventual hope would be to monetize to the level of $500 per month with individually-negotiated ads for companies that provide services that aren't detrimental to my readership (even Dave Ramsey approves of student-loan consolidation!). Why is my goal $500/month? Well, because it would just about cover my Roth contribution (remember, the maximum is going up!) plus taxes while I'm in grad school, assuming I continue to blog. I was very much affected by the commenters who generously shared their experiences with me, and the consensus that indeed, taking on additional work is liable to negatively influence one's academics. But this blog doesn't feel like "work" to me--it mostly feels like something I do for fun, like something that provides the benefit of kicking back and watching a movie. If I could manage to cover my Roth contribution (and thus, keep investing while in grad school) out of money I get for working on a hobby...well, that would be pretty great.

    Of course, I would never, ever sell content, I'd never advertise a product that would be harmful to my readers, and if any of my readers could show me that one of my advertisers was shady, I'd drop the ad immediately. does that sound, as a policy?


    New Voices in the PF Blogosphere

    Over the past couple of weeks, I've found a few newer PF blogs that I've enjoyed reading--I thought I'd point my readership towards a few of them. Most of these blogs are truly personal finance blogs--you get to know the bloggers as you read about their finances. That, as you may have inferred, is the kind of PF blog I like best. If you share that taste, or just want to check out something new, I recommend you take a look at these blogs:

    Story Girl writes about just what you'd think, at My Money and My Life.

    Olga gives us a taste of cross-cultural personal finance at Finance of a Russian Girl. It's really interesting to see how economy and culture affect individual finance.

    At Kim's Kitchen Sink, finance is only one part of trying to establish an independent life in a big metro area.

    The blogger at Her Every Cent Counts was a socialist--until she graduated from college. Like many of the quarterlife-crisis PF bloggers, she's trying to fit her financial goals into her general life planning.


    Frugal Food Day 5

    Yesterday was a big success: I was out of the house from eight in the morning to ten at night and didn't spend a dime on food. Not a snack, not a Diet Coke, not a bottle of water or a pack of gum. I returned home with a sense of triumph and a headache.

    Today, I suffered a bit from lack of time in the morning: I had an early meeting and also overslept, so I was in a big rush and didn't get a chance to make the salad (spinach, edamame, a couple of hardboiled eggs) I was planning on pairing with a small serving of TJ's mac & cheese. I had the pasta ready in a container, and I grabbed an applesauce to supplement it, which is protein-deficient again, but should get me through the day (I have some trail mix in my office, and, if worst comes to worst, that ramen). I'll make the salad for tomorrow before I go to bed tonight, and probably add some feta cheese to make it a full meal. I do have to figure out how I'm going to get dressing to work with me, though.

    I have a coffee date with two friends today (the girls with whom I'll be studying for the Lit GRE), and I'm happy to spend $5, but no more.

    I think I'm going to extend the frugal-food effort through to next Thursday. It's really only three more workdays: my boss is taking me and our new intern out to lunch on Monday. I'm doing it partially to free up money for my IKEA payment and partially because I really think I'm starting to build a new habit, and repetition is how habits are built. I'll probably do my next round of grocery shopping on Saturday, and I'm already making a list--packing my lunch for five straight days has given me a better sense of what I need to have around to do this successfully.


    Tuesday, June 05, 2007

    So, IKEA. We meet again.

    Actually, this was the first time I'd ever been to the IKEA in Elizabeth, NJ, which might betray my inexperience. I was pretty much thinking we'd get in, get our $70 dresser, and get out.


    The layout, in which you progress along a pre-mapped course through a showroom, on pain of getting irrevocably lost and dying of starvation without even a Swedish meatball to sustain you, is very, very conducive to a) finding something (more expensive) that you like better, and b) picking up a bunch of little things on your way out. We did both.

    Instead of the $70 dresser, we got a $129 bookcase. It has four rows of four cubbyholes each, and we got four wicker baskets sized to fit in the cubbyholes to serve as the "drawers," mostly for clothing like underwear & socks & whatnot. It gives us a lot more storage than a dresser would have, and it's prettier besides—I do like it better. And it also cost more: $129, plus $13 each for the baskets, plus about $10 total for a couple of trivets, a little set of tupperware, a set of salt & pepper shakers, and a set of little dishes for soy sauce. And then I'd forgotten about the whole "cars need gas" thing (we borrowed my parents'; they want it started while they're on vacation, we want a way to get to places like IKEA, so everyone wins). So I'm pretty seriously strapped this week, trying to come up with about $130, which was about $90 more than I'd imagined I'd be spending.

    I'm not sorry we bought it (I love it!), and I will manage to cashflow it—the frugal food week will be helpful in making it work—but it's going to be a tight week until my next paycheck.


    Frugal Food Days...3 and 4?

    My numbering system got weird, here. Whatever.

    Yesterday, I brought breakfast (the usual) and lunch (the remaining tupperware of penne with pesto) to work, which would have been fine had K and I not decided, in an impromptu fashion, to go see a friend's show that evening. So I bought a snack to tide me over until we got home: $5. Damn.

    Today, I brought breakfast (the usual) and lunch (turkey meatballs with mushroom marinara), as well as a couple of snacks (carrots & kalamata hummus, a free sample of some granola-adjacent snack product). I have my first GRE prep course today, and it's a diagnostic test, so I really don't want to be thinking about being hungry rather than thinking about the test, so if I'm really hungry, I'll buy a snack. But I also have a (slightly squashed) Luna bar in my bag, so I think I should be okay.

    I'm considering doing some grocery shopping on FreshDirect, because of how busy I am at the moment and because they're running a special where you get 25% off your first two orders (I've never ordered from them before). But when I checked out the site last night, it looked way more expensive than my regular grocery stores (Trader Joe's and Fairway). Four bucks for a clamshell of spinach? Nine for a frozen pizza? Really? Maybe I can get some reasonably priced staples, though.

    Anyway, the frugal food project putters along--I definitely feel more comfortable in my food budget than I have in previous weeks, and I think the results are somewhat skewed by my IKEA anxiety (i.e. my desire to come in significantly under budget, rather than right at budget), and I think I'm starting to learn some new habits that I intend to continue to cultivate.


    Monday, June 04, 2007

    Frugal Food: The Weekend

    I didn't have any specific goals for pursuing my frugal food program during the weekend, which was foolish, perhaps, because it's when I do the majority of my unfrugal food. But I kept the goal in mind and did relatively well nonetheless.

    Saturday K cooked us a beautiful breakfast: homemade hash browns and omelets with smoked jack cheese, olives, and tomatoes. Yum. And I had some leftover pasta before we left the house for our evening plans (which were free), so that took care of dinner. We also cheaped out by bringing booze with us--not a violation of protocol in this particular situation, and we did buy something at each party we went tofor politeness's sake. We ended up spending about $5 each, which K covered for me because I was (as I so often am) without cash. We also decided to forego that ritualized activity, the after-partying snack, in favor of crashing, so the food-and-drink expenditures for Saturday were at a bare minimum. Yay!

    We spent Saturday night at my parents' apartment for reasons of convenience, and because they've left for their vacation, what used to be a very frugal choice is now quite the opposite. We woke up to the prospect of going out for breakfast. I spent $23 for the two of us at a little local chain (K had also picked up the cabfare the night before, so it evened out). We picked up a pizza and drinks on our way home from IKEA because both of us were too hungry to wait to cook (and also we wanted to spend our time putting together our new aquisition rather than making dinner), for $20. So for the two of us, we spent about $53 on eating (and drinking) out over the course of the weekend. Not bad, but not great--I would have preferred to have had something in the freezer for when we got home from IKEA, so dinner could be speedy and cheap.

    Because the IKEA purchase was far more expensive than planned, it's particularly important that I make the frugal-food thing work this pay period, so I'm attacking the project with renewed vigor this week.


    Friday, June 01, 2007

    Frugal Food Day 2

    Definitely an improvement over yesterday—I took some time while making dinner last night to make some penne with pesto and Pecorino cheese (a cheap and pretty tasty, if not particularly nutritionally varied, lunch: about $1.75 per serving). I was hoping I'd have leftover spinach-apple salad to pack, but K and I ate it all up and I didn't want to open the other package of spinach lest the rest of it go bad. So there were more carrots. I'm still working on the variety (and some protein would have been nice, too), but Trader Joe's pesto is really delicious, and I was happy with my lunch. Breakfast was the usual—I had brought a banana to eat with breakfast or as a snack, but then I gave it to a homeless guy on the train.

    So not bad: I brought a reasonably tasty lunch and didn't spend a penny on food today. I can still do better, though, in the "interesting" and "delicious" categories. And come Monday, I will.


    May Net Worth

    May saw quite a bump in my net worth, which is mostly attributable to the fact that it was a three-paycheck month. I got an extra paycheck's worth of 401(k) contributions and also an extra $300 (the amount that normally goes to rent) to stash in the Freedom Fund. The bottom line increased 12.4%, from $14,275 to $16,045. The graph is at NetWorthIQ and in the sidebar.

    I'm not expecting nearly as big a bump next month, but hopefully it'll keep going up!


    PF Lolcats!

    Don't worry, kitty, I feel that way a lot.