Monday, February 8, 2010

For the Love of.... Dollar Stores

So Valentine's Day is coming up and my family takes every holiday seriously. We always look for a reason to cook dinner and give things to each other. Along with Valentine's Day is my Mom's Birthday (yes, she was born on Valentine's Day, and her maiden name is Love.) Oh, and Jay's birthday is Feb 12th. So, a pretty busy week, along with stuff to buy. I had to get Valentines so I went to my local drug store, and that wasn't great, so I ventured over to the Dollar Tree, and what a find! Now, I admit that in the past, the dollar stores were full of crap, but they have really stepped it up a notch. Go take a peep for yourself, especially if you need to pick up your valentines. I got Jay some cool stuff. I found this 32 ounce glass beer mug, and found twizzlers, jelly belly's, and hershey's kisses to fill it up with. I found some really cute cards for all of the valentines and birthdays. They may not be your $3 Hallmarks, but still just as adorable. I got full-sized, clever cards for 2 for $1. I even picked up some valentines for my friends. My mom get cute valentine too. Oh, instead of spending the $3 for a gift bag for my mom's gift, I found this adorable purse-looking cloth bag to wrap her gift in. She can use it later to keep trinkets or makeup or something in.

Jay and I collect wooden "treasure chests" and wooden carved boxes. We have one from India, and a bunch we found at the flea markets and yard sales. I think one dates 170 years old or something. I found a carved wooden box at the dollar store to put his birthday gift in. It may not be old or from another country, but it still looks pretty cool.

If you haven't been to the dollar store lately, take a look sometime. They carry known candies, wrapping stuff, and cards for all occasions now. Really, there's too much to list, but most of all, the quality is so much better than it was years ago.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Eat Fancy... Very Cheap..

So Jay and I are into good food, just like everyone else. Jay is a natural chef, and (hopefully a future trained chef) and he loves to cook. We do the whole grocery store thing, along with the coupons. However, it's no surprise that it's very hard to cook for only two people, when food is available to cook for at least four. Meat is sold by the pound, and everything comes in "serves four" portions. If you're cooking the pound of meat and making the "serves four" portions, there's both a lot of leftovers and a lot of waste. I hate waste, especially knowing that there's starving people who would offer a body part for the contents of my fridge. In fact, when Jay and I used to work in the pubs at the airport, we would take boxes of sandwhiches and "expired" food that would end up in the dumpster and put them underneath the bridge in Covington, knowing that someone would eat these sandwiches that our company charged $7 a piece for. We live in the city and have people who go through our garbage for aluminum cans, so at night, we've started placing stuff we won't or can't eat by the garbage cans, at the end of the buildings. Usually it's gone by morning because we know some homeless person is hungry. I'd rather they eat it than the garbage man take it. I always feel bad when we don't have something to put out there now.

Anyway, who eats a pound of cooked chicken or a pound of taco meat between two people? It's not possible, and the pounds of meat are expensive. I mean, chicken breast is on sale every other week at Kroger, and it's buy one, get one free. So usually the chicken cost is around $7 for two pounds. If we are only eating half of that in a cooked meal, we are wasting $4.50. Ground meat is $2 a pound, but half that in waste is $1. If we're cooking only a pound of beef a week, that's $4 a moth, and $48 a year in waste. Double that for the year for chicken breast waste. Mercy, I'm not even going to consider bread or veggie waste costs.

We stumbled across something at Kroger that's phenomenal in our opinion. They opened this new super Kroger down the street, and their butcher has the greatest meat choices, and they cater to our portion needs. Let me tell you about it. It's all fresh, prepared with spices and such, and ready to cook. They save you the time and create these high eat dishes, and offer them at stolen prices. Here's what we've been munching on for dinner for the last few weeks and the prices we paid:

Feta-Stuffed Chicken breasts: $4 for two

Bacon-wrapped seasoned flank steaks: $6 for two

Metaterrian seasoned chicken breasts (wrapped in bacon) $3 for two

Lemon-Pepper Salmon steaks: $3.50 for two

Stuffed pork chops: $3 for two

Cajun seasoned Tilapia: $3 for two.

100% Angus beef, seasoned burgers: $5 for two

That's not even the tip of the iceburg for the choices they have. It all ranges from $2 to $7 depending on the meat used and how it's seasoned or stuffed. Usually they come in either a butcher foam or a aluminum pan that you just pop in the oven and cook. Some of them you have to go to the butcher counter and they wrap it in butcher paper for you. The trick is that you only buy these fresh, and cook them fresh. DON'T FREEZE THEM. The quality is okay after thawed, but not as great. So, you have to frequent the store a few times a week. But, so you know, we are the only country that STOCK PILES FOOD. In other countries, people stop at the market everyday for fresh meat, veggies, and bread for dinner. And, they weigh less. Don't stock pile food.

To complete the meal, Kroger offers a wide selection of fresh veggies available in steaming bags. They come with a seasoning or sauce packet that cooks along with the veggies. Asparagus with sauce, Snow peas, baby corn cobs, red potatoes with rosemary garlic sauce, the list goes on and on. They usuall run $1.50 to $2.50 and the portion is generous (but not wasteful) for two people.

Then, you can get a fresh baked baguette or french loaf for around $1.

Are most expensive meal so far was cheaper than a trip to Subway for $5 footlongs:

Bacon-wrapped steak fillets: $6

Red potatoes with rosemary garlic butter $2

Fresh baked French loaf: $1

Baby spinach salad, around $1.

Total: $10.00 and some change. However, we did split a bottle of the finest $5 Cabernet for a personal celebration.

Not bad, steak dinner with wine for two, around $15. Plus, NO waste.

The pic I included was a snapshot of the butcher box where the fresh seasoned/prepared meat was located. So many choices!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is weight loss hurting your wardrobe? Try the thrift store!

During my undergrad years, not only did I gain the "Freshman 15" but I was in the accelerated class, and I gained 30+ pounds. I never noticed/cared until I saw my graduation pictures. Ouch, I wasn't even in the "cute" chubby class anymore, or the "healthy" weight class. I did a free BMI online and found out that I was hurdling the line of overweight/obese. OBESE!!! What the hell?!?! I couldn't have gotten that fat. So, I started going through all of my clothes and pictures. Yep, I was now a "full figured" girl. Now that I was finished focusing on my bachelor's degree, I needed to start focusing on my body. Not only for image, but I realized that all the extra weight was making things a bit difficult. I had a sleeping disorder, and I new my blood pressure was out of line because I flushed in the face really easily these days.

When I was 19 and in between boyfriends, I briefly dated an older guy who made a comment to me once that stuck. He said, "You're a pretty girl now, but I bet you'll be a total knock-out when you're around 25." Unfortunately, when my 25th birthday and remembered that, not only was I NO KNOCK-OUT, I was OBESE, and most of all, had HEALTH CONDITIONS RELATED TO OBESITY. UGH!!! I had to put that in uppercase to remind myself again, because I need to be reminded DAILY now. After all, those of you struggling with weight problems know it's a daily battle...

So after some changes, there was no soda, no fast food, more walking, and more water...

Here's the deal though, when you have way to much weight for your frame (which I was kicking around 175+ pounds, standing at 5'2) the first bit comes off very quickly. I made the whole promise that everyone does, about not buying new clothes until I hit my "goal weight" (140lbs realistically). However, goal weight does not happen fast. My friend at work made a comment about me "swimming in my jeans" and I knew I needed some smaller clothes.

However, if you keep dropping weight, you keep needing smaller clothes. They (the internet gods) say that to go down in a pants size you have to lose 6-10 pounds. So I'm facing AT LEAST 4 to 5 size fluctuation before I'm finished. I couldn't keep buying a few pairs of new jeans at $30 a pop every month....

So I started hitting up the thrift stores. Now, I'm no stranger to thrift stores because I come from a long line of thrift store shoppers. My mom frequents the Goodwill at least once a week, and finds some pretty amazing things. My dad goes every Saturday morning, (early, so everything isn't "picked through") and finds antique art and trinkets for his house. He buys some of the coolest paintings and I don't know how both he and my mom do it. As they say, most trips are "scoreless" but you have to frequently go, spend some time, and dig. Dad has a valuable, personal art collection now, and some pretty neat antiques. It's amazing what people give away...

Back to clothes. Sunday, on my way to wash clothes, I decided to stop at Village Discount Center in Newport to peep at some new (to me) jeans that actually fit. I was a bit disappointed at first, but then I remembered to take my time and dig.

Long story short... I walked with 7 new zip-up hoodies, 11 clever t-shirts, and 8 pairs of jeans. I paid $37.49 for all of it. If you're into labels, I got Victoria's Secret PINK sweats line, Mossimo, LEI, Abercrombie, Levi, Aeropostle, Old Navy, etc. My best find was the vintage ladies 1977 aerosmith shirt that perfectly matched the rock star zip up hoodie. Village has colored tags on everything, and they pick two colors each day that are "half off." And they have a $5 off any purchase coupon in the paper occasionally. They also do 50 cent Mondays. (Cost, not the rapper!)

I liked everything so much that there's a good chance I would have paid full cost for some of the stuff brand new, if I saw it elsewhere and had the money. I knew I was in the right place when a rock-start dressed, professional shopper was quickly skimming through the shirts. He had a few vintage looking t-shirts in his hand, and the way he moved showed me that he did this a lot. He probably owns a vintage boutique somewhere, and charges $20 a pop for the shirts he paid 50 cents for. He saw my Aerosmith shirt in my cart, and told me he'd give me $5 if I'd hand it over. No way dude.

Out of pure delight, I went back a few days later and found 4 more shirts, 3 more pairs of jeans, and 2 more zipper hoodies for $11.37. So all in all, roughly $50.00 for about two weeks worth really neat clothes. And the best part is, if when I dwindle down in size more, it won't be such a big loss. I'll probably keep going to the Village after I reach my goal weight because $30 for a pair of new jeans is worth a week of new (to me) clothes there. So whoever you are, keep donating, and the rest of us will keep buying.

In the pic, it's a small sample of the massive jean rack, I'm just hoping you can see the prices ;)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Quick Pics for FREE

So my friend was a bit confused about how to download her pics from her phone to her computer. She was worried about not finding her USB cord, and having to install the software. She didn't have the internet on her phone, so there was no way to directly upload images to facebook, myspace, etc. She's been worrying about this for months, and asking people to take pics and upload them for her.

I offered a quick tip for her today, which was my way of getting around the USB cord, the software, or the INSANE cell phone internet charges that apply. (I don't know why anyone would have the internet on there phone with what they charge for it, unless it was a business thing or you're never around your computer.)

This is what you do: text message/picture message the photos to your email account. Do this by sending a message, but in the recipient number, type in your email address. The pics will be text messaged as an attachment in your email immediately. Then just download, save, and upload to your facebook page. It's free if you already have text/picture messaging, and it's an easy way of avoiding all those steps or cell phone internet charges. I don't know if this is old news, but I was excited to discover this worked a few months ago. No more software/downloads/or phone internet charges :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My fancy machine, cost me what?!?!?!?

I'm in my first year of graduate school, which is pretty surprising to me because it took me a long time to finish my bachelor's degree. I wasn't sure about grad school right away, but I graduated with the worst possible timing, which was during our "Great Recession." After spending the entire summer looking for that well deserved opportunity that would pay off after all the effort of a college degree, I started to freak out. I wasn't getting any leads for new jobs. Not surprising, considering that there were so many people with more experience who were in the same non-existent job market. So after a 3 month break from college, I dove deep into graduate school. Yes, the school loan total jumped considerably, but there were some new costs that appeared that I did not expect. One of these included a new computer. I had a laptop (is it labtop or laptop?) that worked okay, until I heard that ear-piercing sound of my virus scanner picking up a Trojan Virus. How the hell did this happen?

Anyway, there was no getting that Trojan out, and the computer was pushing its 7th Birthday. There wasn't even enough memory to run the "Sneezing Panda" video on youtube.

So, time for a new computer. I was excited about getting a new machine, but also developing a belly ache from the anticipated $1000 dollars that I would have to drop to get a computer that lived up to my expectations.

I'll cut to the end and then fill in the details.... I am the proud owner of the greatest laptop now, and I spent $300 dollars on her. She's an hp pavillion I think with 6 gig of RAM, along with other bells and whistles, including the full microsoft office suite, i-tunes, included music files, new comodo internet security, new drivers, and other things I have no idea about yet.

The greatest part, I have PERSONAL IT support. No calling overseas or being on hold for hours. My guy is a text message away.

How did I do it? I started asking people, not salespeople, about my anticipated purchase, and I found my computer guy. Everyone knows someone who is that techy/computer savvy type, and they will tell you where and how to get a good cheap computer. In fact, they probably own a few machines themselves. In this case, Jack had one he "wasn't really using." And mentioned he could sell his if I was interested. I was a little skeptical buying someone's used laptop, but he agree to loan it to me and let me try it out for awhile.

Wow was I surprised! This laptop was clean inside and out, and looked like it was brand new. I was stunned to find out that it was a couple of years old because of the excellent condition that it was in. I agreed to buy it because it was more than I could have ever asked for. I didn't even want to give it back, but he insisted on reloading all the drivers, updating it, and even installing some programs that he thought I would personally need. We have some similar music tastes so he even left a taste of his music files on the hard drive for me. Here's the personal note he left me on the desktop:

"i installed microsoft office 2003 pro, DO NOT UPDATE IT. You may need to do a couple more
MS OFFICE updates, there shouldn't be too many left. otherwise enjoy the laptop.
If you have any problems please don't hesitate to contact me."

How great was this. He even download a clean i-tunes for me because of how addicted to my i-pod I am.

All in all, a great buy, and I saved $700. So if you're in the market for a new computer, ask that guy you know that is the computer savvy type. He might have a few "lying around." I've included some pics of the new machine, and yes, there are some xbox stickers on the top. I think the stickers give it character, plus they remind me of my friend. He's my favorite. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

All About the Benjamin's...

So why a blog about saving money? I started to notice that one of the habits that I consciously developed over the past year was my attempt to pinch my valuable pennies. I am aware that this is not a new idea, and in fact, everyone around me is religiously practicing frugalness. We are all aware that the economy is a cold dirty river, and we are just a bunch of awkwardly swimming rats, trying to keep from drowning in the turmoil. We don’t want to swim, and we don’t want to struggle, but we all have to keep our heads above the water.

However, I’ve come to realize that out of the certain types of families in our society who are swimming through the economy with me; I’m probably one of the luckiest of us rodents. I’m not married, I have no kids, and I’m in grad school. I have a stable, part-time job in heathcare that is under no threat of layoffs, and is very flexible with my class schedule. I probably won’t lose my job unless it’s through some fault of my own. (By writing that down I just realized that I should learn not to be late for work so much.)

What’s the point with the personal details? I hope to illustrate that I am part of the group who has the most room to choose where my dollars go. I’m not saying that I have loads of “disposable income,” but do live comfortably, for the most part. I have a decent place to live, vehicles to drive, food in my pantry, and enough clothes that allows avoid laundry for a month. It all seems peaceful and comfortable, and so I thought….

About a year and a half ago, the outside influence of our beaten economy, started to bruise my peaceful existence. Jay lives with me, and he started losing some of his income. He works at Applebee’s, and when people don’t have money, they don’t eat out at restaurants; therefore, there was little need for Jay to cook at the restaurant. Jay’s hours at work were cut, and in turn, so was our sustainable income. Then, I got in over my head during my senior year of college, and I had to voluntarily give up some of the hours that I worked. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to meet the demands of senior projects, tests, and papers. Therefore, through both of our lost hours at work, we ended up with a 40% decrease in income, and everything was threatened.

So, we followed the bandwagon and started to think of ways to cuts costs in our lives. Jay and I began to think of creative ways to buy, save, make, and create both the things we needed, and the things we wanted. The results are not fantastic or life changing, but more realistic than anything. There’s this sort of phenomenon that I’ve noticed, and now the movement is that it’s cool to be cheap. Everyone is swapping stories and ideas about how to save money in their daily lives. It’s not about “keeping up with the Jones’s” or Kardashian’s anymore, its hosting potlucks with the Smith’s or shopping at the Johnson’s garage sale.

My entire attempt at cutting costs in the past 18 months or so has been challenging and rewarding, but also a lot of fun. In this blog, I hope to share not only my golden ideas, but the ideas of others because no one can think of every good idea themselves. I will give credit where credit is due though. I will not focus on just my single, 20-something demographic, and I will provide ideas for everyone. I may have kids, but like everyone, I know people with kids. I may have a job, but I know people who don’t have a job. I may not have a mortgage or a car payment, but I know people with them. Therefore, this blog is for everyone, unless you’re a Hilton. But then again, even Paris might like to make her own dog toys.