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Archive for September, 2012

End of Month Reckoning, also RIP Saving Dinner

September 30th, 2012 at 11:37 pm

I must have done well at not eating out this month because I fantasized this afternoon about fish'n'chips and tacos, none of which is a mainstay menu item at my house. We used to go out for fish'n'chips when the English lived with us (my stepfather and his mother, from Liverpool).

Leanne Ely's Saving Dinner paperback died in the car. I braked, my purse and its contents plummeted to the floor, the paperback in several pieces. I relied on it a lot! It had nutritional data: protein, carbohydrates, fat, and suggested side dishes, and weekly menus that always included one vegetarian dish, and some slow-cooker recipes. I need the more durable spiral-bound edition. My Canadian cookbooks are decades old and still in use because they are spiral bound. Tangentially, I notice every Canadian cookbook I have has a recipe for butter tarts and for Yorkshire pudding, except for my ultra-regional Vancouver cookbooks.

We did eat out for lunch twice: once because my spouse earned a leisurely lunch through enduring enough stress that he felt entitled to one at our favourite cafe; another because our friend from British Columbia was visiting. And we ate Chinese food takeout from the supermarket: got two meals each for two people out of $20, and that time earlier at Billie On Burgers.

We ARE going out for my son's birthday next Friday. And I have enough food in the freezer and pantry now to last at least a week.

Outfitting boy for his field studies is DONE, with an exception of a 2 ounce bottle of Dr. Bronner liquid soap for his toiletry! I thank JC Penney for coming through with flannel jammies and bathrobe for less than a third of what I would have paid at Land's End.

Serendipity: $15 haircut for boy today in an instant walk-in, instead of $25 at the hipster two-hour-wait-on-Sundays barbershop my husband likes to go to (truth: my husband gets buzzcuts for about $15). So that is $46 saved from haircuts this month.

Food was probably around $700. Gas only $55 for the month (including scooter). Coffee we cheated, probably $46 instead of $40.

Car Fund: $278 less than August 18 balance
Stocks: up $150 from September 1
Debt: down $916.43 from September 1


I need a challenge for October.

The World of Suzie QPon

September 29th, 2012 at 05:18 am

99.44% of this is contributed by Aubrie Olsen for Happy Woman Magazine. Sharing it here until the cease-and-desist comment shows up. Attribution has been given: no screams of plagiarism can be taken seriously.
*********ARTICLE BEGINS**********

Hi, my name is Suzy Q, the creator of the original money-saving blog created in 1985.


I have been couponing for the past 35 years and I have saved a grand total of $1.2 million dollars. I am about to divulge some of the best-kept secrets of the couponing world. Now—with this classified information—you too can join the elite 26.4% of shoppers who save 72.8% on their groceries every year.

The very first, most important thing that you must understand, that you must cherish, that you must fully respect, is the triumphant treasure of a coupon. In this world of survival of the fittest—trust me—coupons should be your life. The Golden Rule of couponing is: “Treat all coupons like bricks of gold.”

Now, in order to discover the missing love of your life, all you have to do is follow a few simple steps for beginners:

Step 1: Get a three-ringed binder; a 12-inch binder will do for now. Also, make sure to buy plenty of sheet protectors and a couple of hundred baseball card holders. Put all of these in your binder.

Step 2: Buy sixteen Sunday papers, maybe seventeen…or eighteen, nineteen, twenty… Pull out all of the coupon inserts—Smart Source, Red Plum, P&G, and so on—and the store ads from the newspaper. Throw the rest away. Repeat every week. For even more coupons, visit your local recycling centers to dumpster dive and scour for inserts.

Step 3: Sit down and clip out every single coupon. You must never throw an unexpired coupon away—never. Once they are all clipped out, it is critical to sort them out by product type and expiration date into the sheet protectors and card holders. Fold coupon if necessary. Repeat every week.

Step 3b: Make sure to squeeze in a few minutes to feed and water your plants, 12 children, and husband. You can stop pumping your husband if you have twelve children: ignore what the elders and bishops tell you.

Step 4: Now, in order to prepare for your shopping experience, it is of the utmost importance to scour the internet for any and every single coupon deal available. As you begin to compile your list, make sure to pull out the coupons that are required for shopping and sort them into individualized envelopes. Your task is not fully complete until you scavenge every store ad that is available for the current week for any possible coupon match-up that one of the few hundred coupon blogs may have failed to mention.

Step 5: Make a map of the stores in your city and plan a simple route to include every store to guarantee there is no unnecessary backtracking—time is money. Make a section in your coupon binder for all this information along with every store’s coupon policy, manager’s name, assistant manager’s name, and the corporate phone number—for when a tough situation arises.

Step 6: It is now time to leave your house and go shopping. Don’t forget your coupon binder—or your children.

Step 7: When you arrive at each store, make sure to go up and down each and every single aisle, twice, just in case there is some sort of unadvertised special. Don’t forget to pull out those candy bar coupons to calm the savage beasts while you are on your adventure.

Step 8: Once you have gathered all of your items and have double-checked that a deal was not missed, make your way to the checkout lanes with your 8-12 carts full of merchandise. Be sure to scout out the prime victim for your best hopes of a smooth checkout; the best unsuspecting cashier is male, age 16-24, and preferably has a carefree air about him.

Step 9: While waiting for 5-6 hours for your glorious stack of coupons to be scanned, it is necessary to stand tall with a gloating smirk on your face; this is sure to gain the attention of all those around you. As envious stares and the compliments about how great of a person you are for saving such a shocking amount of money come rolling in, make sure you mention my website and all of the wonderful information you have received from me. You must save your receipt from every transaction you complete.

Step 10: Repeat Steps 7-9 until you have visited every single store on your route.

Step 11: Upon returning home, put your minions to work by having them unload your trailer full of your purchases and put them away; remind them about the importance of rotating your stockpile. As they are putting your groceries away, make sure to capture pictures of your purchases so you can post them on your blog and show off your savings for the whole world to see.

…Only 137 hours later…

Step 12: Take out all of your saved receipts, taking care to keep them in mint condition, and lay them out in previously purchased picture frames. If necessary, use old picture frames that contain baby pictures. Hang these framed receipts up on the wall—preferably in your front entryway or living room—right next to the photos of your purchases as well as photos of your gorgeously stocked garage.

At the end of this extremely simple process: your three-car garage should be fully-stocked from floor to ceiling with a grandiose stockpile of toilet paper, mustard, boxes of cereal, and so much more; your walls should be plastered with frames filled with your receipts—proof of your expertise; you should be falling to sleep counting the savings on your receipts and dreaming of hundreds of bottles of barbeque sauce, tubes of toothpaste, containers of dish soap…

If you have yet to reach this state of pure happiness—full of joy and bliss—with an extreme affection for your millions of coupons, you can purchase my DVD—Suzy Q, Coupons, and You—for a limited time price of only $29.99. And remember, this price will never amount to the savings you will experience.

©2011 Aubrie Olsen
********* ARTICLE ENDS ***********

Small miracle today

September 29th, 2012 at 12:11 am

Expected to pay $140 for cut and colour, only charged $60. I tipped $15, as I did have a bang trim. But now, ha ha! we have enough left over to have both the males of the house get their hair cuts and to tip.

Saw a 1962 McCall's issue today at the styling salon. Man, those magazines were large! And they were more general interest, with top-shelf fiction, and humour from Johnny Carson (one month before he replaced Jack Paar on _The Tonight Show_) and Art Buchwald. But we can't have nice things like that now. Would love to dress the way Suzy Parker did, but good luck finding size 10 or size 12 vintage...

Spending lots today

September 25th, 2012 at 01:55 am

Fatwallet.com allowed me to take 10% off already discounted outerwear (parka, mitts) for the boy's upcoming field studies. REI allowed me to buy wool socks on special, so I bought a fleece hat and capilene midweight thermal underwear to qualify for free shipping. REI taxed me, because we're both in Washington. $240. And I haven't even gotten around to the pajamas and rain jacket and fleece layers. Despite the outlay, I am not feeling sorry for myself -- half the children in my son's grade are low income. I would not mind so much if he did not already incur expenses for medical evaluation and dental extractions. He wants to work at some babysitting onsite at the school to earn a break on tuition.

Also bought boy's birthday present. I too often make the mistake of thinking the price I see on target.com is the price I will find at the store.

A bread-and-milk excursion ended up being more, to take advantage of some specials at Safeway. Thinking of doing vegetable soup and bread on Tuesday, and skipping off on the scooter to go see a film about Simone Weil.

Menus for this coming week

September 23rd, 2012 at 04:35 pm

Black beans have soaked in a pan for two days now. Still looking for a recipe to use with nishiki short-grain sushi rice, leftover from my sister's stay.

Saturday (last night): Swordfish Salad on watercress with soba noodles and Oriental dressing
Sunday: Mexican Black Beans and Rice Salad, or Black Bean Tostados, not sure yet
Monday: Tri-Tip Roast Beef w/Yorkshire Pudding, Triple-A (Arame, Almond, Avocado) Salad
Tuesday: Nori-Wrapped Salmon, Quinoa, Beet Salad with Pumpkin Seeds
Wednesday: Lentil Soup with Paprika with homemade dinner rolls
Thursday: Vegetable Soup with homemade Beer Bread
Friday: Baked Salmon, Brown Rice, leftover soups if any

What I spent money on today

September 22nd, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Yesterday I made a freezer inventory, a list of entrees for this week, and needed ingredients, plus a list of items we are low on.

Early this morning the beau and I went shopping. Today is Mayor's Day of Concern, when food bank drives dominate most supermarkets, even the ones just outside our city. We bought 80% of what was on my list, three impulse buys of salami, cheese, and olive oil. $111.43 prior to the box of oatmeal for the food drive. Most of it was vegetables: I plan for a lot of juices, soups and salads this week. What was nice: the checker was patient while my beau scouted for a food bank item, and she deducted the cost of the five bags we brought (25 cents) even though we used three.

We cheated on the coffee budget and had espresso at the supermarket. I wanted to spend less than $100, but that wasn't going to happen with the impulse items.

The bulk Spike (seasoning salt) went up in cost from $11.49 to $17.69 a pound. Yikes!

Then I started early on Christmas presents shopping, and bought a CD for myself, which I hardly ever do. I did in this case because I would like the artist, who won a music award in the UK, to see royalties, and from what I heard on our local listener-powered station, the cuts on this album are more cosmic and less melancholic. The boy received a MAD Magazine. Who doesn't love MAD?

Also bought weedblock fabric pegs and mulch/bark cover. Did not take as much time as I thought to spread.

Went to the corner supermarket to see what they had for coconut oil and apple cider vinegar, but was distracted by chips on special, and yet another group collecting food for food banks. Bought two cans of vegetables to donate, and kept chips for myself.

So that is about nine days' worth of dinners in the freezer and pantry and refrigerator. I do not normally purchase groceries in excess of $100 anywhere but Costco, but at this rate, I only drive for groceries once a week.

So-called Average American Debt Statistics

September 21st, 2012 at 07:06 pm

Parameters:
A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York pegs total debt for all Americans at $11.44 trillion in the first quarter of 2012.

2011 US population estimated at 311,591,917.

The average American has a total debt of $36,714.69.

Approximately 68% of people in America own homes (or have titles to homes that they pay mortgages on). Some have huge mortgage balances while others are nearly paying their homes off. The total mortgage debt per homeowner would be $38,874.38.
Average mortgage size in my city this year is $302,220.
Average home price in my zip code is $317,000.

So I can choose to feel bad about owing $124,161.26, way above the average American mortgage debt per homeowner, or I can feel great about my mortgage size being well below average in my city. Let's see what the average home price is in the US: $204,187 according to Standard & Poor w/Census Bureau for January 2012. So average equity would be: $165,312.62.

Average house price in my city is $377,000.
Average equity for people purchasing this year would be $74780, so lots of people putting down 20%.

The average American has HELOC debt of $1,835.73 ($3,671.47 per family). Ours is about seven times that. I keep telling myself that when I reach $16500 in liquid cash (money market account, CDs, savings accounts) I will pay down the HELOC in earnest. I was better about paying the HELOC before we adjusted my spouse's withholding. I have no regrets about adjusting the withholding: writing four-digit cheques to the Treasury Department was turning my hair white prematurely. We are at $15305 liquid cash (not including savings bonds, the mortgage and utility payment due the first of October).

The average American has car loan debt of $2,202.88 ($4,405.76 per family). No debt here.

The average American has credit card debt of $2,202.88 ($4,405.76 per family). I checked the Federal Reserve Bank of New York graph: equal percentages of car loan and credit card debt. I have about $600 due on upcoming statements, but no interest nor finance charges.

The problems with averages are how skewed the wealth distribution is in the US (and here, we have a coupla billionaires), and how long people have owned their homes. Also, the Case-Shiller graph, which I did not use, has about twenty Metropolitan Statistical Areas only, and not the rural houses which would cost much less.

Off-topic day: dead people, weight loss

September 21st, 2012 at 04:44 pm

101 days until my list is due for Fantasy Celebrity Cemetery 2013. When I see the competing lists I see five that I perceive to be stronger than my list: that is, I would throw away three of my lingering picks for any three on their lists.

Secondly, I have lost fat! I have not weighed myself, but I can see my toes even when I look down past Mounts Baker and Rainier, I look only three-four months pregnant instead of five when I view myself in the mirror, and my waist is a half-inch smaller. I attribute this to the coconut oil and the qigong exercises where I stretch and redistribute my energy. I now take 2-3 tablespoonsful of coconut oil daily, in coffee and tea.

I picked up Dr. Joel Fuhrman's _Eat to Live_ but it owes so much to the now-discredited China Study by T. Colin Campbell, its quickie weight-loss diet is low in protein and healthy saturated fat, and there is no mention of coconut oil, or hormone rebalancing to stabilize the cortisol and blood sugar so not so much fat is created. Also nothing about magnesium.

Problem is, highly caloric nuts and seeds have lots of magnesium; so do spinach and cocoa powder. But I could wean myself from caffeine by doing half-coffee and half-cocoa with coconut oil in the afternoons, hmmm...
The nuts and seeds have lots of fiber and very little sugar, so that is helpful. My vitamin and mineral supplements skimp on the magnesium: not sure why, supposedly the majority of people in this country are magnesium-deficient.

Credit Card Not Reinstated Instantly, What Now?

September 20th, 2012 at 11:36 pm

I was thinking it would, quite frankly, as F.I.A. Services regularly monitored my credit, and my credit utilization ratio is below 20%. But no, I had to reapply for my credit card to be reinstated. It was my only credit card, I had it for twelve years but did not use it for eight, on account that the bank who bought out the original card-issuer did nothing to make the card competitive with the credit union credit card -- the foreign transaction fee was not low, the grace period was briefer, the terms and conditions changed more rapidly than a telecommunications provider. I even asked twice to be transferred to someone in Credit Review, but apparently that is "going off script."

I wonder what effect the denial of reinstatement would have on my car insurance. I also wonder where I should apply for credit, if anywhere, considering I do not have a job at present. If only there were a general use credit card that was preferable to using cash, like the Target RedCard, with a decent grace period, and that I could use pretty much exclusively while I was in Canada (i.e. no 3% foreign transaction fee). The limit does not have to be high: the cancelled card had a limit of $15200. It would be disappointing and anomalous if, considering we get decent rates and rapid approval for all the credit lines and mortgages we have opened for the past nine years, Bank of America denied me the reinstatement of the credit card.

What credit utilization ratio is preferable? With the Signature Visa our credit utilization percentage is 13.6%, without, it is 16.7%. Should I be paying down the HELOC? Should I ask for the HELOC limit to be upped past $50K so it is not seen as a revolving account? Or should I be saving up $$ for the higher insurance premiums I would pay despite my pristine and lengthy payment history on my other credit accounts and driving record?

Tapering off, Paying off, Sending off

September 20th, 2012 at 02:17 am

1. Beat Caffeine Addiction - Lifehacker. I found $10 in a pants pocket and blew half of it on coffee. Without this, I am still $3 away from my $40 limit. After 12 noon, I switch to tea, to get the coconut oil melted in hot liquid. I have a tin of Teeccino which I cannot bring myself to use in the french press pot.
Sometimes I ask myself if I want a second coffee or if I want protein, and sometimes I go for protein.

2. About debt paying: I have read that possibly the reason for the slow economy in the United States is that people are paying off their debts. That seems too easy/pat an answer. I did not and still do not understand how banks and consumers would agree to get the consumer so mired that an increasing amount of money would go to paying off debt and not to keeping the economy going. Certainly now with gas costing over $4/gallon in the majority of stations in my city, and the gas prices and drought affecting how much food people can buy, the retail spending will be even less.

3. My tot is going on a two-night learning expedition to the Olympic National Forest. So right after I pay off the credit card I am embarking on my cyberexpedition to outfit him for under $300. We are not camping people, but I do not want my tot to get hypothermia. We went to Lake Louise, Alberta (Canada) one August and it was flippin' 3 degrees Celsius. We did NOT pack for that.; instead we packed like we did on our drive into America's Heartland. So I'm outfitting him like he was to stay in the Rockies. Parka, thermal underwear, fleece hat, warm socks, pajamas...

Save here, spend there, reap anywhere

September 18th, 2012 at 09:49 pm

I made chicken stock last night: not the big 36-hour production Sally Fallon does, but the quickie 90-minute version neighbour Cynthia Lair makes. Another use for those jars is to freeze and store the stock. I like the stock for quinoa and rice. I kept the chicken shreds for lunches.

We also visited the university surplus store at lunch and sprung for some desk chairs. I was using one of those folding chairs used for public meetings for typing little mental mastications (bet you thought 'urb' would be there instead if 'ic') like this. Another wooden folding chair seems chewed at one of the joints, so getting a slightly stained foam cushion high-backed triple-levered office chair for $15 seems like a real bargain. DH took a red one with armrests for $25. They were released into general sale on Monday, the store opens only on Tuesdays: office chairs go fast at the surplus store, as ours were the fifth and sixth chair to be sold within a half-hour.

Neighbour gave us Italian prunes. I am tempted to try a prune spice cake and offer him a few slices.

Small, fun kitchen hack

September 16th, 2012 at 11:04 pm

I have several 16-ounce clean jars that used to contain coconut oil. I learned I can screw the top of one of those jars onto the black container cushion. So I placed the gasket, then the blender blade, on the container cushion, and put my smoothie ingredients in the 16 ounce jar, enough for one serving. Then, yes, screwed the container cushion onto the jar top, turned the whole thing over, put it on top of the blender, and plugged in.

100% Success without the Mess!

I also like to use those jars for storing seeds, nuts and grains.

What I will try next, now that the temperature is getting colder, is use one ice cube tray to freeze buttermilk, so we can have pancakes, blueberry muffins and other baked goods in the winter.

I am slowly starting on tidying up the house. I am supposed to call the agent in three weeks and start looking for rentals, but all I want to do is dump out the ugly furniture, put the rest in storage, and be like Eloise in some ExtendedStay America place until the house sells. Maybe I will go relearn what a contingency loan is. My son's best friend is moving to one of the islands. We would not go to an island: still considering somewhere just directly north of Seattle, or maybe even just north of the lake if my husband goes back to a large aerospace company. I like Bellingham but I may be the only one.

Passing notes

September 12th, 2012 at 03:39 pm

$256.97 spent on groceries and meals/treats out this month so far. Half of the groceries were purchased at a Big Box warehouse store as mentioned: pantry items like canned tomato products, quinoa, brown rice, sugar. We buy a lot of fruit, apparently, as I need to refill our fruit bowl every five days. Sadly, we saved on average 23% per purchase too. So keeping a price book, planning meals, using coupons, making inventory lists of pantry, refrigerator and freezer still are not sufficient in helping me meet my goal to bring food spending down. Without the eating out, the grocery spending is $198. But we are still $5.00 away from meeting our $40/month coffee quota!

I also bought a cheap bottle of Riesling for poaching trout, used a cup of it and then brought it to book club, where it found several good gullets to go to. For fellow book nerds, we discussed _Anna Karenina_.

We bought Guinness Stout cans at 75% discount, to be used in some FANTASTIC beer bread.

DS goes on a three-day outing to Olympic National Park in November. I must find the handout he brought home and check his wardrobe for needed items, then budget for them.

DH's grandmother died last night but as we were over there last month, when she was confined to her room and unable to recognize her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, we get a pass on returning, especially as there is no service, only one of us could go during the school year (obviously the husband) and she was cremated hours after the death certificate was signed. I nudged my husband into sending flowers to his parents, in sympathy.

I don't know that there is a lot of grief left in the in-law household: two septuagenarians, one working full-time, the other recovering from knee surgery, spending shifts at her bedside, getting little sleep. They got to go together for coffee once the body was carted away, something they used to do daily before the lengthy languishment, and that they did once while we were there. But now they can rest and sleep and order danishes and nonfat lattes.

I need a new pair of walking shoes that do not crush nor fracture my toes. Also in need of replacement: our chairs -- I can get a desk chair for $10-$25 at the university surplus store. In the meantime, I shave off my VISA balance.

Already behind on the food budget

September 8th, 2012 at 02:46 pm

I told my family we would be on a strict food budget: $720. As we have enough vegetable and animal protein to last us two weeks, I figured this would be easy. But I did a Costco run, and even though I missed about four items it came to $106.84, with $15.24 of that being vitamins (that should save me the $15 I would have spent on B-complex separately). So we have spent $182 so far in the first seven days.

With the Costco run we have $10 left in the month for coffee. I went to Cash&Carry for whipping cream and saw that the price went up by 10% since my last visit in July, and butter went up by 20%. These are the lowest prices around, according to my price book. So my coffee now looks like early Michael Jackson instead of later. I may have to run to the supermarket on the pretense of buying a doughnut and slip some half'n'half from the Starbucks kiosk into my drip.

We also ate out last night, as I was occupied creating a stock comparison worksheet, but at a highly-rated burger joint with very inexpensive offerings. $29.08 for three, and that included fresh and hand-dipped milkshakes.

So today I buy vegetables, fruit, luncheon meat and a little more dairy, and hope to spend less than $23, with a $5 coupon from a weekly circular.
Update: $40.11 I spent, but got $5.00 back. The males went with me, and we bought frozen vegetables. Other than eggs, I should not require any food items this week.

Debt so far:
VISA $583.66 due Sept. 27
Signature Visa: $61.24 due in mid-October (I did enable online bill payment, so I anticipate this will be paid on time)
Target: $120.93 due Sept. 21

What I spent money on so far in September

September 5th, 2012 at 05:42 pm

$30 school supplies for boy
$37.10 Safeway (saved $13 through coupons)
$55.85 electricity bill
$3.00 shell account

Annual insurance for motorcycle, plus license tabs taken care of. Also Signature Visa card thankfully paid five days before the due date. I learned that if I do not use the return envelope Bank of America sends me, my payment can be delayed, even though I print the correct address in a highly readable typeface at 11 point or larger size on a properly stamped #10 envelope.

Now only $703.56 left on the credit union VISA, and $61 on the Signature Visa, and $120.83 on Target RedCard. Apparently my husband uses our credit union for PayPal on occasion, and as PayPal monitors credit card usage, its algorithm-controlled PC decided that the spate of charges for our vacation expenses was reason enough to suspend my husband's account. He should have used the Signature Visa, I agree, as we use that once every two years. So don't go on vacation on the credit card you have linked to PayPal, because OMG! Gas Fillup! Fraud!

Payment for boy's teeth extraction went through. I have about $210 remaining until Friday.

Giving us $40 a month coffee budget. This includes beans we buy for personal use, as well as replenishment of coffee card, and tips. That is for two people. I would like to cut down a bit, so I can afford a Virtual Private Network that can give me a Canadian IP address.

Learning (or rather re-learning) statistics. Scores for end-of-year statewide student testing released, but individual scores not. I have told boy that if he scores outside one standard deviation for both reading and math, he can have dinner at his favourite pizza place.