Monday, August 17, 2009

A Day Off and Meal Planning

I am so thankful to have a day off after my vacation (which was wonderful, by the way.) I am so lucky to work for an agency who gives me adequate vacation time. I don't think I've actually taken a paid vacation since 2006! It makes all the difference.

Today is everything one would want or need to do after a vacation--relax, snuggle the needy kitty who missed me, and GET SHIT DONE. This involves going to my favorite coffee shop, running errands, and doing laundry.

My first step is to do some meal planning for the week. I have been failing at this lately. I was doing it monthly, as you may have read about before, but honestly it was stressing me out way too much. So I went to big monthly grocery shopping trip for the staples, and then filling in the gaps where needed. Maybe not the most cost-efficient way, but the stress reduction helps a lot.

This week I decided to write all my meals in my calendar so it would be right there when I looked at my appointments for the day:

Notice it says "curry". Yep.

The rest of the week:

Tuesday: Stir Fry--I have veggies to use up

Wednesday: Hummus Plate--going to try it with dried garbanzo beans

Thursday: Quesadillas

Friday: Pizza (I am babysitting my god daughter at my house, and I can make a vegetarian pizza. She can help, if she wants!)

Saturday: Enchiladas--having more lovely vegetarians over.

Sunday I will figure out.

Today I will also fill up my car with gas, and do other little odds and ends. I love San Francisco, but I am still happy to be back at my lovely home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

For Those Of You Who Were Curious...

Normally I don't like to put whory pictures of myself on my blog, but I think I look pretty.

My wine bottle savings account (RIP) contained $360.

I have started automating savings for next year's vacation, but will also do another one of these. For vacation or maybe for something else, like getting my couch reupholstered. (Yes, I know it would be cheaper to do it myself, but I would prefer to not have a couch that I reupholstered myself, because it would look terrible.)

Finding a Cat Sitter

I am going on vacation tomorrow. I need someone to take care of my precious Darby, as pictured above.

This always poses a bit of a problem. My friends are all lovely cat sitters, but they are busy. They do not always have time to come and give Darby maximum snuggles. I am not crazy about taking him somewhere, due to the cost and his stress level.

So I turned to the community where I live.

One of the things that drew me to a co-op style home is the idea that there is a community here. Unfortunately, it is not quite as cooperative as I had hoped. I have met some lovely people in my building (which contains around 100 units) but I have also met a lot of really fucking grumpy old people. Well, maybe not a lot. And I might have deserved it (**cough**pool party**cough). But still.

When I moved in, the one of the board members, who is quite lovely, told me that the manager, who works in the office, will sometimes watch people's cats.

I went to him, and he said that he will. For free! Score. Although, he did mention that he takes tips. So in an effort to not be cheap, I got him a gift card to the grocery store that is just up the hill from our building. I wanted to buy him chocolate, but what if he's vegan? Or diabetic?

I typed out some directions, too. Luckily, Sir Darbus is pretty low maintenance. I'm hoping that him and the manager will have a good time together.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Wine Bottle Savings Account

The above picture is of my wine bottle savings account. This is the second time I have had one of these, and it has proven to be quite awesome.

Yes, I am aware that I am not earning interest on this. I am also aware that someone could break into my home and steal it at any time. But you know what? It's worth the risk, for now, at least.

As a professional child care provider (aka babysitter) on the evenings and weekends, I often get paid in cash. Normally a lot of that cash goes out the window--toward alcohol, dinners out, coffee, etc. It's fine--I am diligent about saving an appropriate amount of my normal paycheck, so this is my fun money. I get to be young and slightly frivolous.

But, I don't want to blow all of it. It's important for me to have some put away for a rainy day. Although, if I spent my wine bottle savings account each rainy day, I wouldn't have one, since I live in Seattle and nearly every day is a rainy one.

So, I save for vacation instead.

Vacation is a great time for me to have cash on hand. My current WBSA amounts to approximately $300. My last one was about $150. Given my current situation and my situation at the time I broke open my last one, I think that is a good amount to spend on vacation without feeling guilty.

I do, sometimes, spend more on vacation. I do things I normally wouldn't. I buy some clothes, some shoes, some little extras. I may go a bit over my current $300, and that's okay. But it's nice to have it there for little odds and ends. It's nice to be able to sit down in a San Francisco Starbucks and get a chai AND a pastry.

Basically, I do the following:

1. Start with an empty, clean wine bottle. Rinse it and LET IT DRY. (I didn't let it dry thoroughly enough the first time I did this and ended up with a moldy five dollar bill.) THIS IS THE FUN PART MY FRIENDS: IN ORDER TO GET AN EMPTY WINE BOTTLE YOU MUST FIRST DRINK THE WINE! PARTY ON!

2. Contribute a certain amount of cash every time you can. (I was doing $20 each time I babysat for a while, but then the babysitting died down, so I scaled back a bit.)

3. Keep track. Or don't. The first time I did this I did not keep track--and it was fun to be surprised. This time I have kept pretty close track and am also pleased with the results. Because you can't count it without breaking the bottle, I wrote what I contributed each week on the side.

4. Break it when it's time--but be careful.

5. Enjoy. This is mostly just a lot of fun. So.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Hot Dogs in a Thermos"

Yesterday at a work function I was explaining my cell phone strategy to another person that works for the agency that I do. While I described how I would actually be paying less out of pocket for more service, she said

"It makes sense. You are the girl with the hot dogs in a thermos."

What? You may ask? Hot dogs in a thermos? Let me explain.

Earlier this summer I was at the park with my friends. Boy, was I hungry. There is a small hot dog stand at the park. A hot dog with a bun and condiments is $4. It is a yummy, high quality hot dog. I could probably eat two of them each time I go to the park. But I don't. Why? That's approximately $80 a summer on hot dogs, assuming I eat two a week for ten weeks.

I came up with a strategy that will now be known as "hot dogs in a thermos."

1. Go home. Boil hot dogs in some water on the stove until they are nice and warm.

2. Put hot dogs in a thermos. (About five fit in my thermos.) Pour boiling water over them. Seal lid on.

3. Pack buns and condiments.

4. Bring to park. Share with your friends. If you are super stingy, charge them 50 cents per hot dog. (I don't do this--yet.)

5. Revel in the joy of saving money.

On sale, a 12-pack of hot dogs costs about $2. Sometimes less. A pack of buns? About $2 on sale for 8. I keep both on hand. Sometimes I freeze them.

At almost any event or activity that involves being outside for a long day, you will find me with a big bag or basket. This bag or basket normally contains hot dogs. If you are nice, I will give you one.

Picture: My thermos, along with my condiment containers made cleverly from old vitamin bottles. I wrote words such as "Mustard" and "Fancy Ketchup" on them.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Two Days.

I ate lunch out two days this week.

I am kind of bad.

Normally I am so good about bringing my lunch. Mostly leftovers. Make a big dinner for myself, save part of it for the next day. Good? Good.

But this week, things were dragging. I don't even know how it happened. On Tuesday I brought a lunch--some of last week's chili from a huge batch that I made.

Then my coworker interfered. He invited me to McDonald's. I had to go. I mean, I didn't HAVE to, but I love me some McDonald's, as long as it's every once in a while.

It was good, too. I savored my burger, and my chicken nuggets, and my fries. Well, maybe I didn't SAVOR the burger--I guess I ate it kind of fast. But it was good.

Wednesday came and I ate Tuesday's chili. It was good.

Then Thursday came along and I forgot a lunch again. Wednesday night was busy--acupuncture, vegan soft serve with a friend, and then drinks out with more friends. I gave in again and had some KFC.

Today, though, I did well. Last night allowed no time for anything--I worked all day and then had a babysitting job all night. At the babysitting job I had some lovely dinner, but of course I couldn't bring any home. (Well, I guess I COULD have, but that's just tacky and wrong. Pretty much stealing.) So today I took my favorite combination of ingredients and threw them in a bag for work:

1. Tortillas
2. Spinach
3. Avocado
4. Mustard

I then bought some lunch meat at the store and made my favorite wraps. They are yummy, simple, and very nutritious.

There is no moral to the story, exactly. Some weeks are better than other. Most of my weeks are excellent when it comes to lunch packing--I think this is the first time I've ever had lunch out more than twice in a work week. I would practice next week, too, but I'll be on vacation! That's when it will be time to splurge with my vacation fund. I'll tell you all about that soon.

NOTE: That is not me in the photo. But I wish it was. Yum.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Oh, Internet Phones

I've been really into the idea of an internet phone for a while. Being able to have the internet whenever I need it is really very appealing to me. Having a GPS or even just GoogleMaps available when I am on the go is a huge perk for me, as I am constantly getting lost, for my job and otherwise.

But, paying an extra $25 a month plus buying a phone did not sound appealing. Especially since it wasn't something that I really NEEDED. Then, something came along to help me change my mind.

Currently, the agency that I work for provides us with work cell phones. We have a cell phone and they take care of all the billing for it. It's nice. It's convenient.

But, after this month they are switching over to a stipend-only policy. Instead of paying for our cell phones, they will give us a stipend of $60-$100 per month based on our usage.

That got me thinking.

Currently, I pay around $40 per month for my phone on a family plan with my mom, my step-dad and my brother. That includes a certain number of minutes, which I rarely exceed and unlimited texting, which I added after I started exceeding my old text limit. A $60 stipend per month would cover that easily, so I could potentially just use my current phone as my work phone.

That option, unfortunately, would not work for me. I work in social work and often have to give my phone number to the families I work with. I currently have a work number for this. Using my personal phone would be a little close for comfort when blending personal and professional life. I also have a phone number that is in my hometown's area code. My work families would not be able to call me on this unless they had phones with long distance. Many do not.

After MUCH negotiation and calls to the phone company, T-Mobile, I was able to arrange the following with my lovely step-mom's help:

1. I will add a line to our family plan. This will bring our total for the five phones to $90 a month. I will be responsible for 2/5ths of this.

2. The line I am adding will be switched to a local area code for Seattle.

3. I will buy an internet phone for around $150 and a data plan for $25 per month.

4. I will continue to pay $20 a month for texting.

After all is said and done, my portion of my family's cell phone bill will be approximately $81. With work paying for $60 of this, the total cost to me will be approximately $21, which is $19 LESS than I am currently paying for cell phone service.

Smart? Yes. Ruling at life? Perhaps.

I am aware that I could've chose another path (I was strongly considering using Second Voice but didn't want to deal with calling their voicemail number every time I needed to call out) that would allow my to pocket some of the stipend money from my agency, but really, this is pretty sweet.

Now all I have to do is wait for it to come in the mail.