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Archive for May, 2008

Simple recipe for Non cooks -Stuffed Acorn Squash

May 30th, 2008 at 08:15 am

Figure I would put this out for people who consider themselves very untalented in tke kitchen. It's good, very easy and is a great take to work lunch. Don't let the list of steps intimidate you. Once you do it once, you usually don't need the recipe thereafter.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 C).

Take 1 acorn squash, cut it in half from top to bottom and remove the seeds.

Take a fork and poke the inside flesh a couple of times to allow the ingredients to seep in.

Put a pat of butter (about 1-2 tablespoons) into the bottom of each half.

Sprinkle a tablespoon of brown sugar in each half.

In a bowl mix up about a 2 cups of bread stuffing mix with enough chicken broth to get the mixture moist (~1 1/2 cups).

Stuff the acorn squash halves with the stuffing.

Wrap with aluminum foil and bake for 60 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Pull off aluminum foil and bake for 5 more minutes to crisp the stuffing a little.

(If you pull it out too early, you will be able to see on the sides that the orange part is two different colors, you want the darker orange to go all the way to the edge of the green rind.)

Even my husband who thinks squash is a dirty word will eat this. I do cheat though and use Stove Top instead of making my own stuffing.

Cooking from Scratch

May 29th, 2008 at 10:06 am

It occurs to me that I have only really mentioned this in passing and mostly on the forums so I made a category for it and will add some of my favorite recipes here for people interested.

One of the things I am doing to save money and to eat healthier is learning to cook from scratch. I still have a few items I haven't fully replaced and the big category is dressings. In fact, the only dressing I have successfully replaced is Catalina dressing and I only use it for taco salad.

I think this weekend I will explore making yogurt based salad dressings. I have seen a couple of recipes that look delicious and it should be fun experimenting.

Basically, I need a good italian, a good thousand island, a good creamy french and a ranch type dressing so I can work on 3 of the 4. Eventually I should learn to do a substitute mayo and whipped salad dressing but that can wait until I am ready to do potato salad.

So if I do find some good ones, I will probably do it as one post on salad dressings.

A little weird but kind of nice...

May 28th, 2008 at 10:08 am

I mentioned awhile back that was I was going to experiment with using a credit card for bills and cash expenses and see if it was appropriate for me. I have had a credit card number stolen locally in the past which makes me nervous about using a debit card.

So far so good. I treat it like my atm card except I don't have to be quite as paranoid about when things clear.

Point two in its favor is the vast simplification of my budget. Part of that is I have paid off two credit cards and part is that I have bills autopaid by the credit card.

Current budget

CC1: Paid in Full
CC2:$95
CC3: $2200
Electric: $70
Student Loan: $194
IRA: $150
Savings $25
Rent: $730

Way easier to follow than the 14+ item one I had before. Mind you CC1 has rules for use like how much for me, how much for groceries, etc but those are sort of instinct by now and the real bills just pay themselves. I have to worry about missing a bill a lot less. In fact I only have to schedule 4 bills anymore since everything else is automatic. And pretty soon that will be down to 2 since 2 of the cc's are going away very quickly.

I really was afraid it would be easier to spend given my previous expenditures but it seems that somewhere along the way I actually learned some discipline. Imagine that!

I even periodically double check the budget overall to make sure things stay on track.Can't wait to change my ticker to a savings tracker instead of debt tracker.

Good news for me

May 22nd, 2008 at 08:07 am

My friend managed to get a contract job for about 2 weeks. This means $600 less dollars I need to give her. WooHoo! She has also been doing a good job of staying within budget which is better than I did with my first budget. We will probably do a quick talk about next month's budget this weekend since I should deposit the money into her account then anyways.

She has the budget printed out and on her frig so she won't go over so she is definitely committing to this whole budgeting thing. Its still difficult for her to imagine a budget that actually covers everything but time will help with that (her previous concept of a budget had no place for groceries, gas or personal expenditures, not very useful).

Now I just have to wait impatiently until next month for my next debt payoffs. I hate waiting...

Why I need a budget

May 21st, 2008 at 10:15 am

Figure I would put this here to avoid taking up a lot of space in the SA blog comments. That and I believe this is a little subjective.

I need a budget because it shows me how I am spending my money. It gives me a way of measuring whether or not I am meeting my goals and allows me to see if there is something that I need to change.

Money doesn't just buy things, it allows you to buy experiences as well. I realized at a very young age that most people like to accumulate things while I like to accumulate experiences. I like to travel, to read, to hike, to bike, to listen to music, to play video games, to eat and to watch movies.

Some of these things are more tangible than others but these are the things I truly value. Almost all of these valued experiences require material stuff so by no means am I claiming to be non-materialistic. In fact, these enjoyable activities can result in the accumulation of too much stuff if I am not careful so I work hard to keep the clutter down.

My point with all of this, is that I want my budget to reflect what I enjoy. I don't want to waste a lot of money on clothing, jewelry, transportation, housing, decorations or knickknacks. I don't care about these things, they are fairly irrelevant to my happiness and can get in the way of something I do care about.

As much as I enjoy eating out, at one point it was eating up too much of my money and not allowing me to spend on my other hobbies. I also let clothing get out of hand because I don't enjoy shopping so instead of hunting sales I would buy what I needed when I needed it. I couldn't see that until I had a budget. That doesn't mean I need to be a slave to it, but I do need to be able to occasionally look at my numbers and make sure I am still doing what I want to be doing.

My favorite poster as a child said "If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else." A budget is my way of knowing where I am going.

10 Things I Regret

May 20th, 2008 at 02:36 pm

Okay, I will take a stab. I have tried to live my life having the goal of no regrets but I have made my share of mistakes.

1. I regret taking chemistry my first semester of college. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have lost my scholarship and that would have saved me 20k in student loans.

2. I regret not discussing money issues with husband before marrying. If I had, I would have discovered that my husband didn't really know anything about personal finances and we could have saved ourselves at least 10k of credit card debt, if not more.

3. I regret that we expanded to fill our income and then some when we moved out here. Its as if I forgot everything I already knew about money simply because I suddenly had more of it.

4. I regret that I didn't restart my retirement savings until last year. Poor financial decisions on my part resulted in my retirement savings starting over at age 26 when originally I had started at age 23.

5. I regret that I have a spender mentality. I am not sure why I have a spender mentality but its definitely been something I have had to work around.

6. I regret not trying to talk my friend out of buying a car at a dealership on her own. I have paid dearly (enough to buy a decent car outright) for her mistake because I wasn't actually willing to let her lose her apartment and wreck her credit further. While she still probably would have bought a car, I might have convinced her to pay attention to the total cost instead of focusing solely on the monthly payment.

7. I regret that I didn't realize immediately that my husband was incapable of telling me no. Simply being aware of this fact would have made me examine his side of the finances more closely. Now I know to interrogate my husband if I want to do something beyond what is budgeted.

8. I regret never having a written down budget until this past year. I always tried to keep monthly bills low but never had an overall plan.

9. In relation to number 8, I regret never having saved up for my really big ticket items. Its only been in the past year that I have actually saved in advance instead of taking a couple of months to pay off the financing. While I never paid a lot in interest, it was still a very bad habit to get into and lead to higher debt in the long run.

10. I regret that I let my obsession with food consume so much of our disposable income. I don't even want to consider how much money we have spent on food over the past 7 years together. I will never stop being obsessed with food but I can restrict it to a reasonable portion of our income.

General Update on Life

May 17th, 2008 at 01:01 pm

I have a credit card that tracks my credit score and the latest was 729, woohoo! Unfortunately and fortunately, that will probably be the last update until I go to buy a house because you have to have activity on the card for it to track the score. And since I just paid it off completely, no more activity.

My stimulus check is no longer going to go to debt. The $1200 check from the gov will go towards my friend's living expenses to keep her afloat through the upcoming month since she still hasn't found work. The good news on that front is that she has an interview on Monday for a full time job in her field. Its less money than she would like but she can't afford to be picky with her lack of experience.

Hopefully we will know more in about two weeks.

Minor Setback but it doesn't change anything yet

May 13th, 2008 at 11:34 am

First the good news, as of 5/16, I will be down to only 2 credit cards with balances (1 of the 2 is 0% apr).

Now the bad news. My friend that had been doing well finding temp work hit a dry spell and needed money so as to not crash and burn. It was only $800 but that is money that was originally scheduled for debt repayments so my payoff this month will be lower.

I am getting her more comfortable with the idea of budgeting and I am helping her track it more frequently. I think once we get her used to the idea of an allowance, she will not do the starvation/binge cycle that she always does.

Its still slow progress getting her used to it since her parents taught her nothing about finance and she never took any classes on it either (in fact, her parents are the worst examples ever so don't want her to emulate them).

However, she is starting to be a bit more savvy and the constant exposure to our budget is helping her grow more comfortable with finance. She is beginning to really want to develop an emergency fund so she isn't in constant panic mode and she is willing to work to get herself to that point.

Her big holdup at the moment is steady employment. Mind you, if she had ever built an emergency fund I wouldn't have to bail her out but baby steps, at least she is going to try living on a reasonable budget. I have even gotten her to agree that she isn't allowed to spend more than $20 on a person till she has an emergency fund set up (yes this is an issue).

I am still on schedule to payoff in August but a couple more setbacks like that could start to impact the payoff date. Hopefully she gets a contract or a full time gig soon. She has definitely been applying for stuff.

I've shocked myself

May 9th, 2008 at 03:51 pm

If you knew me, then you would realize how unbelievable this is. I actually went this entire week without buying myself an out to eat lunch. Everything was leftovers (even if it was leftovers from eating out at night which was bought and paid for using husband's b-day money).

I wasn't even doing it on purpose until Thursday when I realized it and then decided I would not eat out that day.

I don't even think I can remember the last time that has happened. It been at least a couple of months.