I’m As Optimized As I’m Going to Get (for now)

So for those of you who don’t follow my twitter, some of the random budget angst from last week turned out to be a little premature. Turns out — ha ha! — I had accidentally hidden a category in YNAB, which happened to have $250 in it, so when I found it I relaxed some and also moved the $$ into my down payment fund, which now stands at $5250. I’ll just have to hustle back the $750 that went into my Roth IRA last week to make it back to the $6000 it was at.

Wait a minute, why hustle?

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Homemade Apple Butter: The Only Post You Need

zero food waste challenge 2015There’s no grocery list this week, because I’m away visiting some friends over my university’s fall break. Instead, I’m taking this opportunity to write up the results of my big apple butter experiment. And because I did so much research, reading, and batch-testing, I’m declaring this The Only Post You Need to Read, because I’ll tell you all about what I learned reading everyone else’s :)How big, you ask? Well, this is a picture of the apples I brought home from the farmer’s market:

IMG_20151010_105403525The egg carton is for scale. That’s a half-bushel of apples, which is, uh, a lot of apples. Many, many, many apples. The thing is, the entire bag cost me $6 — yes, six American dollars — and it was perfect for making butter: it was a mixed lot, and it was full of seconds, which are apples that are totally fine except they have some minor cosmetic flaw or else are a little bruised. As long as you cut out the bruised parts, they’re totally great for cooking. Continue reading “Homemade Apple Butter: The Only Post You Need”

Zero Food Waste, Week — I’ve totally lost track! Plus black bean soup.

zero food waste challenge 2015A little surprisingly, given how much else about my life has been out of control the last couple of months (again, mostly in good ways), I’m still on the zero (or rather very little) food waste track. The only things I can remember throwing away recently are half a bundle of mint that I didn’t get around to drying, and two chunks of feta cheese that went bad before I used them. I had some minor victories, too; I opened a can of pureed pumpkin to use for cupcakes a couple of weeks ago, but only needed half of it. I ended up using some of the leftover in lieu of apple butter in a scone recipe I made, and stirred the last of it into this week’s oatmeal — which is the first oatmeal of fall! I’ve been eating cereal or toast or fruit for breakfast all summer. But now that it’s chilly, I’m excited to make oatmeal again, now with the addition of blueberries I picked myself in June and froze. Continue reading “Zero Food Waste, Week — I’ve totally lost track! Plus black bean soup.”

Checking In; And, Being Minimalist Does Not Equal Being Frugal

I’ve been so tired the last couple of weeks — not in a bad way, necessarily. Things at work have just been really absorbing, to the point where, when I don’t have an evening event (we’ve had several since the semester started), I tend to just stagger home and fall over with the dog. Also, I’ve been reading a really fantastic book that a friend gave me recently, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza. It’s beautifully written, fast-paced, and even made me meditate on some classic PF topics, like the value of “stuff.” The word geniza, as the authors explain early on, can have a lot of different meanings, but it came to mean a hidden place where Jewish communities would put worn-out sacred books, something like an above-ground burial. For some reason, around 1000 AD, the Jewish community of Cairo started to store not only scripture, but anything written with Hebrew letters, and when the geniza was emptied out in the late 19th century it turned out to contain a thousand years’ worth of letters, business records, and other documents that in and of themselves were nearly meaningless in their own time, but now tell us modern people what it was like to be a medieval Jewish resident of Cairo like nothing else could. (The geniza also contained sacred texts like the original Hebrew version of Ben Sirah, which people had thought for centuries did not exist.)

Historians tend to rely on pack rats of various kinds to do their work, but I am not a pack rat by nature at all; I’ve actually intentionally destroyed things like the letters I wrote back and forth with friends as a teenager, because I’m terrified I’ll turn up in a history book hundreds of years from now sounding like an idiot 🙂 But sometimes I do think I have a tendency to let things go too easily. I kind of like the idea of the geniza — you can get all the stuff out of your own house and just pile it up in a hidden room at the synagogue….

The other problem with my natural minimalism is that it really does not equate to natural frugality. I’ve been struggling with this a lot this summer. Take my skin care routine. I have pretty sensitive skin, and have never found a drugstore product that didn’t feel too rough or make me break out a bit, even supposedly gentle lines like Burt’s Bees or Neutrogena (though I do use Neutrogena sunblock.) I never wear makeup, of any kind, so that’s pretty frugal! But I do plenty of damage to my bank account with what I spend on a facial cleanser, a facial moisturizer, and an eye cream. I get them all from Fresh (well, actually, I get them from Sephora these days, using ebates to spare myself a little financial pain (<–affiliate link for ebates, just in case anyone isn’t using them yet, seriously, they are amazing and I can’t believe I didn’t sign up earlier) but they’re made by Fresh) and they are pricy. They do last a long time, but still, $38 for a facial cleanser? $42 for a moisturizer? It’s a lot. My medicine cabinet is nearly empty with just a tube and two jars in it, but I could have basically half the drugstore for that.

It’s not just the skin care stuff either. I’ve been struggling all summer with the cost of buying all the fruit and vegetables and interesting other ingredients I want, and the cost of doing things like going out to dinner a bit more and buying tickets to shows, but I haven’t been doing a great job and it’s really caught up with me now. For the last few months I’ve been borrowing ahead from the next month’s budget, vowing to be really cheap the following month and get back to baseline, and every month I’ve failed to be cheap enough to do that — plus I’ve been frustrated by putting off purchases like face cream and a few other things. It’s just annoying. I started September $140 in the hole, and I think I’m going to end it about $100 over budget.

Sigh, I dunno. I really wanted to make it to the end of the year with a 50% savings rate, both because this is supposed to be the Year of Saving and because, hello, I want to save up a down payment by early next summer, why am I buying $42 face cream on the internet???????????????????????????? I’m at exactly 50% right now on the year, and it turns out that secretly I really wanted not only to “officially” save 50% of my income in savings accounts and retirement accounts, but also to “unofficially” rack up slush reserves. And that’s just not happening as of right now. I know I should be really happy with my “official” savings rate, but somehow it’s hard not to want to blast that out of the water with a 60% or even 70% savings rate.

Blah blah, you are all at FinCon, probably nobody is even reading this right now 🙂 Back in a couple of days with a more cheerful post about my visual motivation for the down payment savings.



Being Thrifty and Eating Right in New York Was Really, Really Hard

So I’ve lost a little weight recently — not a ton, maybe five pounds — and I was thinking today about why that never happened in New York, when I was younger and also probably getting more exercise (just from walking around more.) Also, as you may have noticed, I’m a lot better at sticking to a budget and saving money now than I used to be 🙂 And I think the two things are actually interconnected, not just in the way that financial and weight metaphors often work together, but because the pattern of living in New York is practically designed to disrupt weight control and money control.

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How much “blow money” do you budget, and why?

As I try to make up for March’s unexpected expenditures, I’ve been pretty cheap this month. I’ve been trying to mostly stick to my $300 cash draw — I even went to Chicago for the weekend and funded it entirely out of my monthly cash. So far, if I don’t go crazy and break out the credit card over the next two weeks but just use the remaining $100 in cash that I have, I’m on track to spend less than $1000 this month! (Right now, with all the bills paid and a full tank of gas, I’m at $952 for April. And yes, that includes rent.)

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The Bare Bones Budget + How Big of an E-Fund Do I Need, Part 898678050

I feel like I just keep circling back around to this topic! For a while last year I was wondering if I needed an e-fund at all — after all, I have no dependents to provide for and if financial disaster really struck, I’d be able to give up my housing (which is just a rented room with no lease to break) and move in with friends or family. Everyone shouted me down on that, and I was convinced 🙂 [Side note: at that time, five comments was a huge number on one of my posts. On a day to day basis I don’t feel like I’ve made huge progress at growing the blog, but looking back at those early posts they look so lonely! Thanks for reading and commenting, y’all, every single one of you makes my day.] Continue reading “The Bare Bones Budget + How Big of an E-Fund Do I Need, Part 898678050”

Zero Food Waste 2015, Week 5: Ordering Less

zero food waste challenge 2015I’m pre-writing this post because I’ll be traveling on Wednesday. Actually, I’ll be traveling most of the week! As a result, I wrote last week about stretching out my normal weekly shopping trip to cover nine days instead of seven. That went quite well, although I had a few dicey moments; I barely managed to get through the last of the kale and avocados before they went bad, but I did it (only tossed a few slimy kale leaves) and I also used up all of the pearl barley I’d had in my pantry for a year or so, per Alicia’s clean-out-the-pantry project. Having moved this barley twice I thought it was really time to eat it before I potentially might have to move it again this summer! Continue reading “Zero Food Waste 2015, Week 5: Ordering Less”

How To Save Money on Drycleaning with Washable Dress Shields

[Previously, in “how to avoid paying professionals for routine wardrobe care”: I repaired my own boots with a leather needle and some waxed thread.]

Recently, I started back to a part of my job that has me wearing my four suit jackets more frequently (I’d been wearing nice sweaters, which are washable as long as you don’t put them through the dryer, all through the fall, but I need to be a little more formal on a semi-regular basis now.) This sent me back to a project I’d picked up the supplies for in the fall, but hadn’t implemented yet, because admittedly it’s a pain: it requires the aforementioned upfront investment in materials, and the job itself is boring and a little finicky at the same time (only when you’re putting things together initially; after that maintenance is trivial.) [Note for the completely sewing-challenged: you could also probably pay someone to do this for you pretty cheaply.] However, it’s going to save me a ton of money since I now won’t have to dry-clean the jacket every time I wear it — possibly no more than once a year. Continue reading “How To Save Money on Drycleaning with Washable Dress Shields”