Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weekend Spending

This weekend I spend $18.99 on a fur-lined hooded fleece jacket and $10.97 on a Gamecock's t-shirt to wear to the game.  The jacket is wonderful - it's lightweight but warm and it will be great for when I go home to visit at Christmas.  I don't own a "winter" coat, I usually just wear a Columbia zip front fleece jacket that I got at JC Penney last year for about $15 - it serves the purpose well.  I also picked up a $5 pair of fleece gloves while I was at Walmart for the trip home - I brought them to the game but only wore them for the first hour or so until it warmed up quite nicely!  I still can't get over what a great experience that was, and how generous of my boss and his wife to give us the tickets.  They work at the gates each game and often don't make it up to their seats, but it was still a very generous thing for them to do for us.

I moved to SC with only my van full of stuff - I left most of my belongings behind in Wisconsin in a storage unit that is costing me $120/month.  I basically transferred here on short notice and I couldn't afford to pay $1200 - $1500 to rent a truck or ship my stuff here without knowing if I liked it enough to stay.  I moved here in August so this is my fourth month down here.  To be honest, I really miss home, so my goal for the near future is to try to transfer nearer my home in Michigan.  Luckily I work for a company that provides the opportunity to move around.  I have a $400 voucher from United Airlines that I'll use to fly home for the week of Christmas, assuming I can get a few days off.  I'll need both the jacket and the gloves when I go home to visit.  While I'm home, I'm planning a quick trip back to WI to get my stuff.  I haven't yet worked out the details of it but I'd rather donate whatever won't fit in the van than continue to pay a fee to store it. 

The t-shirt is actually well-made and I wore it to sleep in last night, so it will do double-duty for me over the winter months.  It says "Go Fight! Go Cocks!" on it which my nephews will get a good laugh from - I know I did!

Tonight for dinner I made homemade "pizza".  I try to eat gluten free but I fall off the wagon often.  My idea of homemade pizza is using a store-bought thin crust from Bi-Lo's deli.  They run about $3.50 and I get 2-3 meals from it so I feel that's a reasonably priced meal.  Tonight I cut up some fresh green pepper slices and put them on top of some leftover spaghetti sauce that was already in the fridge.  I topped it with some slices of fresh mozzarella from the fridge and popped it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. 

I ran to Bi-Lo today and did a quick shop for a few groceries.  I'm not sure what I did with my receipt but I know I spent just about $30.  One of the things I plan to really watch closely over the next few months is my grocery spending.  For a single person who rarely eats out, I think I spend too much money each month.  I don't waste much food, but I do have a pantry that is pretty stocked with the basics - that's good, but I find myself randomly spending money on fresh fruits and veggies and I think I could do better if I planned my meals in advance.  Today I bought half-and-half (I like a little in my coffee and I don't want to use Coffeemate or something similar - again, read the label!  It's full of hydrogenated this-n-that and it's not good stuff!), a Lean Cuisine pizza for a work lunch on a day I that I know I have meetings, two packages of a Chinese pepper-chicken dinner that I've had before - each was on sale for $4.99 and had a $1 peelie on it, so for $3.99 I get two meals of spicy chicken and peppers.  It's a dinner that is low fat, low carb, and relatively low in sodium, so I don't feel too bad buying a "convenience" food like that.  I also bought 2 two liters of diet Coke.  Yes, I'm giving it up but it's not easy!  I've been drinking it since I was about 10 years old and it's a tough addiction to break.  I'm doing very well, though - I'm not mindlessly cracking open a can every couple of hours and I'm limiting myself to one (or two...) glasses of it a day.  Nice to know I spent $3 today and that's all I'll spend on it this week.  I used to drop $15-20 a week on Diet Coke easily.  I also got cat food today so I'm stocked on that for a couple of weeks.  I bought two bags of shredded cheese, too - it was $2 a bag which is a great price, and two big bags of frozen veggies that were B1G1 free.  I also got a free roll of paper towel because I answer the survey that is at the bottom of my receipt each time.  I also spent $4 on a skein of yarn at Joann's - I printed a 40% off coupon for it from their website.  They pretty much always have a coupon for one item available so I print one anytime I plan a trip there.

Today I spent most of the day at home.  I slept late - for the first time in a few weeks - and worked on an eternity scarf that I'm trying to knit for my niece.  It's taking longer than it should because I tend to get bored with the simple pattern.  I'll post a picture as soon as I finish it.  I did one load of laundry for $1.25 wash, $1.25 dry.  I used my washer balls (about $8 each at Amazon - you use them instead of detergent) for the first time and I have to say I'm happy with how clean the clothes look.  They were incredibly soft, too - without the use of any fabric softener.  I dried the load because it was full of socks and those don't dry well in my apartment, but usually if it's tops and pants I just hang them to dry in my closet doorway - drying in a dryer can wear your clothes out faster than air drying, plus air drying is an energy saver that's easy to do.

I chatted with my family a bit this weekend - the brother of my uncle passed away unexpectedly.  I use a cell phone that is a second line on my brother's account so it doesn't cost me anything - he pays the entire bill, which is really nice for me.  When I left Michigan to work in Wisconsin a couple of years ago he gave me the phone and calls between us are free, plus it's a local number to all my friends and family back home.  Before that, I used a Tracfone - I'm not a big user of minutes.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day at work - I have several meetings and a number of items I need to get done so I plan to go in earlier than normal.  Hope you had a great weekend!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Welcome to Some Serious Saving!

Welcome to Some Serious Saving!

Join me on my journey to pay off my debt, save a few bucks, and truly enjoy life while I'm at it!

It's a football Saturday in November and I just enjoyed some football!  I'm not a die-hard sports fan by any means, but when my boss offered me and a coworker his seats at a USC game, I took him up on the offer!  Gorgeous day for football...started off a bit chilly but by game time the sun was out and spirits were high!

The Gamecocks won 24-7 and my friend and I enjoyed the experience!

Dinner tonight was a bowl of leftover chili - the perfect thing for a nice fall day.  I made it night before last so the leftovers will be going in the freezer for quick lunches.  Here's how I made it:

Turkey Chili
1 lb ground turkey (Bi-Lo had a good deal on it this week, I think it was $2.99?)
half a leftover green pepper, diced (49 cents)
2 cans diced tomatoes (Sam's Club, about $1 per can)
2 small finger peppers, seeds removed and diced - careful, these are hot to the touch! (26 cents, really!)
1 small can green chilis, in the Mexican food section of the store (99 cents)
1/3 bag dried red beans (33 cents)
1/3 bag dried black beans (33 cents)
4-5 t. chili powder (35 cents)
1-2 t. cumin  (10 cents)
1 t. dried cilantro (10 cents)
ground pepper flakes (5 cents)

I browned the turkey in a pan and tossed in the spices and diced peppers.  To dice the hot peppers, I put my hand in a plastic lunch baggie so that I don't touch it.  Slice it lengthwise and use your knife to remove the seeds and white stuff inside the pepper, make sure you toss the stem end, and then dice it up - it's very hot and will burn you if you have a small cut or crack in your skin, so scoop up the diced pieces using the baggie.  I actually got 3 small peppers and only used 2 of them so I put the third in the baggie to store in the veggie bin in the fridge.

Let the turkey cook completely and then drain it well.  In a 2-qt pan, add the cans of tomatoes,  the green chilies, and the turkey.  I usually throw in a little extra chili power because you will lose a little when you drain the turkey.  I know spices are expensive, but here's a tip - along with the green chilies from the Mexican food aisle, buy your spices there, too!  A container of cinnamon will run you $2-4 in the spice aisle, but I found a larger bottle for less money in with the Mexican brands - and to me?  Cinnamon is cinnamon - I'm not at a point in my life to buy $50/pound Madagascar cinnamon or anything, so the less expensive option works for me.  I found many common spices are available there - cinnamon, cumin, chili power, nutmeg, etc. - you will be surprised at the price difference.  Most of them are under $1 per container!

I rinsed off the pan I cooked the ground turkey in and threw in the dried beans.  Pick out anything that doesn't look like a bean and give them a bit of a rinse.  Cover the beans with fresh water and turn up the heat til you get a nice simmer.  In the meantime, turn the heat on the tomato & turkey mixture and let that simmer.  The beans, since you didn't pre-soak them, will take a couple of hours to soften and you'll want to watch the water to make sure they don't go dry - I added water 2 or 3 times while they cooked.  Eventually, once they soften, drain them and throw them in with the tomato mixture.  And that is all there is to it!  I let it continue to simmer.

You'll want to give it a taste test (or two) along the way to make sure the spices are the way you like them.  You can always add more heat by adding a little more cumin, or some extra peppers, or red pepper flakes, but you can't take the heat away once you add it, so definitely give it a taste while it's cooking.  If the mixture is too thick, you can add water as needed.  I like mine thick and saucy so I tend to cook it uncovered, but you can cover the pan if you want to hold in more of the liquid as it cooks.  I'd say it took about 3 hours to get the beans to the level of done-ness that I like.

I stopped using the packets of chili seasoning because if you read the packet, you will see it's mostly salt!  It's so much more economical to buy the spices and mix your own, and it's so simple to do - the bottles I bought for $1-2 each will make several batches of chili.

I've started a "food-lifestyle readjustment" (it's not a diet!) and I'm eating more whole foods, natural foods, and less sugar, salt and other stuff that's made me fat over the last few years.  I'm working hard to lose that extra weight that I've gained since college, and I'm finding it's much easier if I just cook my own meals.  I've virtually given up eating out, unless it is to socialize, and I'm having a great time rediscovering how good food tastes when it's not deep fried, coated in salt, drowning in fat, or otherwise made unhealthy!

Why do I used dried beans for my chili instead of canned beans?  Wow, that's a great question - I'm glad you asked!  First, and foremost, start READING the labels of the food you are buying!  Most canned beans have added sodium or other things I don't want to put in my body anymore.  No more MSG for me, no xanthan gum, etc.  If an ingredient starts with "poly-" or "mono-" then it was probably made in a laboratory.  Um, no thanks, I'll pass!  There is nothing wrong with sprinkling a little salt on something if it truly needs it, but for the most part, when you stop adding salt to your food you will start to notice the flavor instead!  Give it a try.  Hide the salt shaker for a week or two and see if you notice the difference.  Trust me, you will.  And your body will thank you!

The second reason I prefer using dried beans?  They cost less.  I can get a big bag of kidney beans for 99 cents.  In the dry form, they last a really long time.  I'm not an expert, so you'll have to do the research on your own, but I'm pretty sure dried beans can be kept for at least a year.  I put my leftovers in a mason jar and screw a lid on, but to be honest they never last more than a month in my pantry because I eat them a few times a week.

They are a "good" carb.  They fill you up and have tons of fiber.  Instead of having a burger and a bun, try a bowl of this chili and see how good you feel while you eat it - no refined flour, no added fat, just really delicious chili!  If you aren't setting out to lose a few pounds, try a dollop of sour cream on top, and serve it with some rice (try brown rice, or basmati - I'm not a fan of Minute Rice) or sprinkle a little cheddar on top. 

For a grand total of $7.99, if I did my math right, I ended up with two quarts of chili and you know every ingredient in it.  I'd guess I'll get 8 bowls from it, so a dollar a bowl?  Can't beat that!  And I'll enjoy it for lunch at work once a week for the next few weeks, so factor in the time savings by making 8 meals at once and you'll start to find that not only is home cooking fun, but it's economical, too!