Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cheaps eats and shame...

Today, besides the second batch of yogurt that I began, I took a day off from being productive. I had a fairly productive weekend other than today involving repainting walls splashed with red paint from my bookshelf project and working on my business plan.

My unproductive day wound up involving the discovery of cheap eating out options and discussions revolving around the way humans spend money and emotions surrounding the spending of this money. My friend Mary and I had made plans to spend time together earlier in the week. It was an "unplanned plan," meaning we said, "We'll get together and do something." By later in the afternoon, Mary was texting me asking what we would do. A few suggestions were exchanged including ski waxing, a walk, going to sell books and finally we settled on dinner. Additionally, I made the requirement of a stop for coffee as I hadn't had one yet today and it was my one day I wanted to treat myself to a coffee know, the fancy kind...with syrup and whipped cream on top!

Mary and I ended up at Cafeteria in Uptown.

Cafeteria's Bar Area
Hallway at Cafeteria
It was within walking distance to where I live and we both had never been there and wanted a new experience. Mary had also taken it upon herself to look at the prices beforehand and she informed there were a lot of options under $10. We got to the restaurant and I discovered they had no fancy coffees with syrup. I opted for water and decided I could wait a while longer before divulging in a coffee. As it turned out, Mary had a gift certificate as well which she graciously decided to share with me. We were informed that it was happy hour time and the happy hour menu was fair game. We both asked for fried egg sandwiches. We were told by the waitress that it was fairly basic, egg and bread only. To our delight, the sandwich came out on texas toast with egg AND cheese. There was also a small handful of french fries underneath! We couldn't have been happier. How much did this basket of joy cost? $3...and man, was it worth it! I scoured over the other options on the menu and also discovered an all-you-can-eat pancake plate for $5 after 10pm. I may have to try that sometime if I am wanting to go on a late-night pancake bender. It made me realize one other thing about going out that I was questioning when I went out to my previous birthday bash and had pangs of guilt. I can go out. I can also do some research and seek out coupons and happy hour specials prior to making plans to get the biggest bang for my buck! It IS possible to still have a social life and be thrifty!
Fried Egg Sandwish
Only $3!
Mary and I began discussing a topic, a topic that it seems  no one EVER wants to discuss. It is private, it is shameful, it is impolite to ask about, it

For the majority of people, money and how they spend it is accompanied with the dynamic duo of guilt and shame. Why? Because perhaps we feel shameful of the way we spend our money, guilty about choices we have made on how we do or have spent our money and we would like to keep this hidden from the rest of society fearing judgement and scorn. I posed the question, "Wouldn't it be best though, if we all spoke more about how we utilize our money? This would make us more conscious of how and why we spend money and allow for self-reflection." Mary agreed. I spoke openly with Mary about my own spending habits and one of the many times in life I realized I was making unhealthy money decisions.

Enjoying a french fry!
A few years back, I happened across the website This website no longer has the options it prior had available but was one of those websites where you could manage your bank accounts and view your spending categorically. (I recently signed up for a website similar to Wesabe, called It has many of the same features Wesabe did but I do miss Wesabe and felt that it was a website that worked better for me.) I utilized the website for a while but eventually I stopped logging in to view my spending habits. Approximately a year ago, I felt that I had been spending a lot on going out to eat and coffees out. I don't frequently spend my money on objects, but experiences and outings with friends was where my money went. I was good at paying my bills first, putting some aside and then using the rest for the outings. My work was overwhelming and I often returned home with no ambition to cook. The outings were an escape, a moment of excitement and pure bliss where I could satisfy whatever negative feeling I was having from that day with a bit of pizza, brunch foods, ice cream or whatever it was that I chose to go out for that particular day. Upon pondering my frequent outings one night, I signed back into Wesabe. I was horrified to see that I was spending anywhere from $300-$400 per month on dining out and coffee! I decided I needed to curb those habits, STAT! For about a month or so, I did. I was really good about making my own coffee and dinners but shortly thereafter, work became overwhelming again and my ambition waned. I fell back into my old habits of eating out. Perhaps this was also due to the nicely padded paycheck I was receiving, even though I knew that if I didn't spend that much every month I could be saving it for other experiences that I wanted to have!

Admiring the dessert display.
Mary and I
So, there you have it. My scary money habits out for the world to see. Am I ashamed? No. Have I worked on changing and am actively in the process of becoming better at my spending? Yes. Do other people have bad habits just as I do, and maybe we all need to judge a little less about other people's habits and focus on our own and why we have these habits? Most certainly! We can also lend a listening ear to friends, one without judgement, when they are having some money problems and need to hash it out with a support system. Ideas can be exchanged and encouragement can be provided. After all, we all have our faults and what better than some help to change our ways?

Do you have feelings of shame and guilt around money? Why do you spend your money the way you do? Who do you count on to discuss your feelings and need guidance to change your ways?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

"The New Frugality" by Chris Farrell

On Thursday, I attended a talk and question/answer session for the author of, "The New Frugality:How to Consume Less, Save More, and Live Better," by Chris Farrell. Chris Farrell lives in Minnesota and also is economics editor for MPR's segment, "Marketplace Money." Read more about him here. I came across an ad for this while I was at work with many of the other Dakota County information that I receive and review. It sounded right up my alley for the period of life that I am in and so I googled information about the book and thought it would be worth attending. 
"The New Frugality" by Chris Farrell

The discussion by Chris Farrell was quite interesting. He talked about some of the changes in history that have occurred with lending and borrowing as well as people's ways of living. Chris discussed how he thinks that the general public will be borrowing less and spending their money in more wise ways. They will be spending it on experiences rather than "things." This also made me quite happy as the business I am working on is involved in an experience, one on which I hope consumers will be willing to spend their hard earned money. 

After a question/answer session, he had books available to purchase and for signing. Now, it wouldn't REALLY be frugal to just spend your money without checking other sources. Therefore, before purchasing my book on CD there, I did Amazon it and with shipping, it was about the same price. I decided to go ahead and purchase a CD which is currently my listening entertainment to and from work. I spoke with Chris just a bit. I did tell him about my new frugal ways and that I am blogging about it, he took down the URL. He had other people still wanting to chat with him, so I got my CD and went home, immediately plugging it into my player to listen on the way home.

One of the first aspects that I really liked about his book (and I am only on about Chapter 7 at this point) is that he initially distinguishes the difference between being frugal and cheap. That frugal people spend their money wisely and focus on sustainability whereas cheap people focus on the cheapest item they can get, without accounting for quality. I was quite happy to see that he included a discussion about the environment as I've been making changes in this area as well that I plan on blogging about later, such as cleaning supplies. From hat I have heard of the book so far, I highly recommend it. 

With regards to my frugal ways, I was able to accomplish two goals at one time on Friday evening. I invited my friend, Jessie, over for dinner and she had wanted to see my new place. We decided that instead of going OUT we would stay IN! I made pizza utilizing a  Bisquick crust and we enjoyed that over a beer each that I had in my fridge. Jessie brought dessert, Ben & Jerry's. Yum! Finally, trying to reconnect with some of those friends that I've been saying I would connect with for a while now. Here is a recipe to the crust and sauce that I utilized. The only difference with my sauces is that I added some diced tomatoes as well as I used regular salt rather than garlic salt as I didn't have garlic salt available.

Homemade Pizza with Bisquick Crust
I was really glad to have been able to catch up with Jessie. I felt that we've gotten out of contact in the last few years and it was so fun to catch up. We had a great time chatting and discussing what is currently going on in our lives. It was the perfect ending to a busy week and I hope that Jessie and I can get together again soon. 

This morning, Saturday, I also received an early call for an interpreting appointment. I need some more income to help achieve my Sally goal, so I took the job. I am not 56% of the way to my goal for the Sally Jar! :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sharing the Love of Coupons

Today I finally got back to doing for others. It felt good since I've spent so much time focusing on myself. I met with the teenage girl, Karla, that I have been mentoring for about 2.5 years now. We spent a lot of time together in the first year and I was committed to meeting with her every week. However, as time wore on and I got busier I wasn't able to meet as frequently. We decided to commit to two times a month but it seems we haven't followed through with that and now that I am back up in Minneapolis close to here, I would like to try and fulfill that commitment.

I picked Karla up after work today and her and I did some grocery shopping together. I suppose this wasn't just a good mentor duty then, however, I did feed her. :D Had she not come with me, there wouldn't have been any food. Also, I thought it would be a good lesson in life for her. To see the cost of food and how quickly money can go.

After coming home and eating, Karla and I did some craft projects. Mine...did not turned out as planned and I took it apart. It's something I'll have to work on again later. Karla worked on those plastic bead projects that you make into a shape on a board and then you iron and melt the beads together. She made some for her friends for Valentine's Day and I helped her to iron them. We had a good time and discussed that we would be trying to meet two times per month now. I've been trying to work on getting her into a job shadowing opportunity one day as part of the program we worked with is to be focused on college and future profession. I will have to organize that for her as I've been trying to “get to it” for months!

Another lesson that I hope Karla took away from today's get together? Couponing. (Okay, maybe she's too young to care.) Yes, folks! I'm committed to couponing now. You were probably wondering why I took Karla with me and why grocery shopping was so urgent...well, it's DOUBLE DAZE at Rainbow Foods! Manufacturer's coupons are doubled! How can you go wrong? I created a list of all the coupon items I wanted to buy and all the other coupons and set out to shop with purpose. Some items that were on sale, such as shredded cheese, I had to buy two of but they were all items I could freeze.

I've also been utilizing a really useful tool called, A woman who is MUCH better at couponing than I, that helps people to use the coupons in their areas, most efficiently. Combining them with other coupons to get the best deal possible. One thing I also love about her site is that it tells you what percent of savings there is on the certain items, so you can make the most of your purchases. Also, my FAVORITE part is that when an item is FREE due to the couponing, she marks them for charity to donate to food shelves! YES! :) I recommend you all check her site out.

Today for food, personal products and household products I purchased an amount worth:


How much did I save in coupons today?


For a grand total of: $62.55

That's a savings of nearly 30%!!!

I did see some err in my ways which I will rectify for my next grocery shopping trip.

Double Days only lets you double 5 manufacturer's coupons. The checkout lady doesn't really care which ones she scans first or what their amount is, she just cares that she gets them scanned and does it in order from top to bottom.

Lesson learned? Organize my coupons by the greatest amount saved to the least so that the coupons with the most value are on top and therefore doubled.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I wasn't as productive as I hoped to be tonight. I was out having some fun for a friend's birthday. I did have a really good time and I was glad I got out and celebrated with him for his birthday because I missed it last year. 

I am quite conflicted though about it. It led me to a new question today, how much thrifty behavior is too much? Why do I feel guilty about having gone out and spending $13 ($5 on entry and I left $8 for a drink plus tip)? I don't think that this thrifty behavior should impede on my social life, but why I am I left feeling pangs of guilt for a beating on my bank account?

I've devised some plans for outings with friends for other circumstances. I normally would invite people out to eat for a drink or a meal in the past. Now, I think I will try and invite friends to my place to make breakfasts, brunch or other meals. That way I can still be social yet thrifty. For parties, I can try and make homemade cheaper items (I have an interesting book that shares some good recipes).

I've been able to resist a lot of temptation to spend money over the past week. Overlooking cafes, trying not to look as I passed by bakeries or old favorite hangouts, walking straight through stores to exactly what I need so as to not be tempted by other items. 

However, what do people do when it comes to events such as birthdays, barbecues, going away parties, or whatever other circumstance there may be? When is being thrifty...TOO thrifty?

This left me pondering what solutions other people might have for going out with friends to a restaurant or a bar for these types of occasions. Does anyone else have any suggestions? 

What is your way of having a social life, yet still being true to your thrifty ways?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Big D's Master Plan

Ok readers, I'm back! No, I wasn't slacking all weekend or "out in the club gettin' tipsy." I was quite productive actually! I can't blog EVERY day of the week if I'm to accomplish my goals. ;)

This weekend was Big D's Master Plan weekend. My Dad, (Big D as I sometimes call him), developed a plan for bed frame that I was needing to utilize space more efficiently in my apartment. I had this brilliant idea for a bed frame that would slide in and out. As a couch when pushed in, as a bed when pulled out. Basically, I was the creative thinking and my Dad was the genius behind this bed frame that we spent most of this weekend constructing and putting into action. I'll run you guys through the steps:

Step 1
Devise your master plan. If ever my father will be building you something, there will be a master    plan. I'm not criticizing. This is what has avoided mistakes time and time again. One of the many things learned from my father? Always draw it out and make a plan!

Big D's Master Plan
Step 2
Cut it. I'm pretty sure measuring fell somewhere before here but I have no pictures of that. ;)

Step 3
Screw it. And I don't mean in the, "Ah! Screw it!" kind of way.

Step 4
Lay it out and make adjustments.

Step 5
Install it.

Step 6
Enjoy the vision of your work.

Step 7
Have a beer! I really should have invited Dad to one but Mom was in a hurry to leave. Next time, Dad! (Oh as a side note, the beer cost nothing. Had it leftover in my fridge from NYE! Yippee!) The bed still has some minor adjustments to be made. Handles, a paint job and a couple of other things. When that is complete, I'll post a final pic. Also, I did do a lot more helping than what it appears in the don't go feeling all bad for Big D.  ;) Someone had to document it though! Big Momma (yep, I call her that sometimes too) was our cheerleader. Don't worry though, she's more than willing to dive in and help. She took my curtains with her and is hemming them up to the length I need and is going to help me hem my pants up later. Thanks Mom and're the best!

I realize that making this bed frame took some money, but this was actually a wise investment and the money may be returned. My landlord indicated she may like me to leave this here when I move out so that the next person can use it. I agreed on the condition that she pay for the supplies. I am keeping the receipts and should she wish that I keep the frame here, the investment in the supplies will later be returned to me! 

With regards to food, I still have not had to go grocery shopping. I have stock frozen that I'll probably make a soup with tomorrow and today I used the cheapest food available for meals: eggs. Today was cut up onions and green peppers with eggs. I also made some quesadillas to go with it. I made the tortillas from scratch which I've decided to do from now on as when I buy whole packages, I never finish them and they go to waste. Additional bonus? No plastic bag to toss out. Tortillas are super easy! I'll explain below.

Tortilla press

Cooking a tortilla up

To make your own tortillas you'll need:

Tortilla press
1 bag of Maseca (you can get this at any Latin American market and most Cub Foods and other grocery stores carry it as well)
Valentino's hot sauce (if desired)

Mix the Maseca and water. I don't really have any certain quantity I put, it depends on how many tortillas I need to make. You just need to mix them with your hands (I start with a fork then move to my hands) and make sure the dough is neither too sticky or too dry. Should be just in between. Sometimes at this point, I'll add some Valentino's hot sauce for a little extra kick. Sprinkle a small amount of Maseca on each side of the tortilla press so the tortillas do not stick. Make a small ball of dough and place in the tortilla press. Close cover and press down. Voila! You have a tortilla. Cook it on the stove, each side until it appears cooked (not too cooked though, should just turn white and be a little stiff).  Hope some of you can try this! I love fresh corn tortillas!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Today was the day I did not eat a Hershey bar.

Yes folks, last night when I laid down to sleep, contemplating my busy day and the busy one that I had ahead of me, I was thinking about the things I had accomplished. Suddenly it occurred to me! I had 2 Hershey's chocolate bars in the fridge...AND I hadn't touched one of them. What did I eat? 

An orange!

This wasn't anything that I did on purpose or consciously. I simply had bought oranges and after I ate my dinner, I wanted something sweet. I was thinking that I have a whole bag in the fridge and I should move fast before they are wasted. It wasn't till I was processing in my bed that I realized: I, Alyssa, had in fact chosen an ORANGE over a CHOCOLATE BAR!

In my world, this is huge news!  I am a notorious choco-holic. I love anything chocolate and usually will gobble entire bags of it up without a second thought. I couldn't believe that I had forgotten about chocolate! I'm pretty sure my sweet tooth was an inherited trait. My father has been known to frequently "hide" (that's that I like to call it) chocolate bars in his fridge or freezer, car and has a jar of chocolate candies at his work. My grandfather is the notorious ice cream eater (he likes all sweets do I!). Genetics are definitely to blame! Oooooor it could be that huge sugar high that drives me to serotonin overload in the brain. I'll still blame it on my relatives though, it's way easier than being accountable, right? ;)

The realization of my oversight of the chocolate bars gave me a thought. I have been eating better since I've been cooking my own food. The last couple of days since I've got more of my apartment arranged, I have been back to some physical activity. When I get home from work I avoid using my car and try to only walk places. Hmmm, I wonder if I've lost weight? I remembered that my work pants did feel a bit more comfortable the other day.

In the morning, I stepped on the scale...155lbs! (Yes, I am a woman and I am not scared to announce my weight to the world! It's just a number! "Weight ain't nothing but a!" 

Where did I start at? 160! In the last 2 weeks of hard work on my apartment, no television, walking to places I need to go and new introduction of eating at home and working out again, I've lost 5 lbs! I was so excited, I tried on my skinny jeans and THEY FIT!!
Me and my "skinny jeans"

Prior to moving back to Minneapolis, I was living in the suburbs. I worked out 6 days per week however I was at home and would get bored. Inevitably, I would eat. Admittedly, there were also vast amounts of time spent watching TV. I struggled to make it to 157 lbs when I was living there, even with working out so much. Just goes to show how much of a difference eating at home and walking versus driving will do for a person. It reminds me a lot of when I was living in Australia and every time I went, I would dramatically drop weight. I would eat better there as fruits and vegetables were more readily available than chips, pop and other junk food. Fruit stands in the street were easier to get to than go into a convenience store and buy chips. 

My goal is to lose 15 lbs, back to the 145 lbs I was when I came back from Australia. I'm 1/3 of the way there and I didn't even try! It's likely the next 10 will be much more difficult and I'll have to reintroduce more strength training and exercise into my life than I have the last couple of weeks, however I am proud that the food and lifestyle changes have shown some other great benefits! 

One other small story for the evening. Tonight I had a major brain fart. I did make my stir fry and it turned out wonderfully. When I began, I was missing a couple ingredients. One was non-sweetened apple juice which I went and bought but I forgot to get one of the other ingredients. I got all of the way home and, "Ah crap! No brown sugar!" I thought I would walk to the convenience store nearby to see if they had any. I also failed to remember that just 1.5 blocks away in the other direction there was a supermarket. Supermarket location now noted and logged in memory. Nope. No brown sugar at the convenience store. I saw some other gas stations a few blocks down. There was also a grocery story right near there so I decided I'd walk a little further and just go there. Now mind you, this wasn't a casual stroll. There are winter advisories here tonight because it is SO COLD! I'm talking your boogers freeze and nostrils stick together cold; the kind of cold that when you get back inside, you can't REALLY tell if you are moving your face or not because you most certainly have not felt it for the last  4 of the 5 blocks you have been walking. 
I walked into the grocery store and stood in front of the brown sugar. Once again, "Ah crap!" Yes, I remembered:



I do have molasses at home because I made some Christmas cookies with it once upon a time and I certainly have sugar. Then there was my internal debate, "It's only $2.19. There's no tax in MN. It's way more convenient this way." The angel said, "But that is $2.19 you can save and you spent nothing but TIME to get here and many cold blocks. You are going to have to walk home anyways. May as well as NOT spend your money." I turned around and marched out of the store for the short but what seemed like a long non-face-feeling journey. 

I went home and did just that; I made my own brown sugar and it resulted in this delicious dinner:

You can find the recipe here: Take out stir fry at home

I used fresh veggies in mine and she actually doubled the recipe so you should half all of the ingredients if you are cooking for one. This came from a magazine originally and I couldn't find mine but saw she had posted it on her blog but just doubled the recipe. It's the best stir fry recipe I've ever eaten at home!

Have you ever gone to the store only to realize that you could make what you are looking for easily at home and have all of the ingredients but just need the enthusiasm?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cooking day.

Many projects are in the works today. I will touch briefly on each of them.

I was going to make stir fry but my external hard drive doesn't work with my laptop because it's too old and I keep forgetting to email my recipe to myself at work! I came home tonight trying to find a computer to use and I couldn't. So I went for a run and got back. When I came home, undoubtedly, I was starving. So I thought, "Hmmm, what can I make?" I didn't want to go and BUY something but I had some stuff at home I could try and cook up with my chicken. I came up with chicken chili and here it is:
1 can dice tomatoes
1 can white beans
Shredded chicken
Diced green peppers
1 small onion diced
3 teaspoons chili powder
Shredded cheddar cheese as desired
I didn't realize how much chicken those three breasts would make! I'm concerned I may waste some food! However, I will freeze a container of chili tonight for another time and then bring the other part to lunch tomorrow. On the agenda for tomorrow? FINALLY...stir fry! :)

Other projects in the last 24 hours: Making my own greek yogurt.

Plain Yogurt
It's really simple to do and EXTREMELY cost effective. I can't say how mine has turned out yet because I haven't eaten it. I bought some frozen blueberries to puree and add to each batch. 

To give you a better idea on the savings of making your own yogurt at home, I'll go into more detail. I love Chobani Greek Yogurt which is about $1.59 per container. Ouch! That's an expense of $49.29 per month and $580.35 per year! How much does it cost to make your own? 

1/2 gallon of milk: $3.00 approx. (I threw out the receipt! Ah crud!)
Starter yogurt: $.99
Dried non-fat instant milk: $9.00
Frozen blueberries: we'll estimate $3.50

Total cost: $16.40 (initially)

This is for the first time around. Next time I will not have to buy the instant milk (probably for a while as I have a whole box and it only calls for 1/4 C each time) or the starter yogurt as I will use my own. 
Turning it into greek yogurt

If this batch lasts me a week and from here on I pay only for the blueberries and milk once a week, that's approximately $26 total per month. A savings of $23.29 per month and $279.48 a year! Not to mention all of the yogurt containers I WON'T be throwing out. If you are interested in trying this yourself, I got my recipe here: Greek Yogurt

Back to my chicken roast dinner from the other night. This evening was stock time. As I sit here typing, it lies boiling in the pot...easy as pie.  Refrigeration as I snooze and dividing it into containers to freeze for future eating tomorrow. 

How about the rest of you? Do you have any other recipes or ideas of food items you can make on your own rather than purchase them, thus saving you money as well as making less waste?

One more for me comes to mind...butter. The word is, it's not so hard to make. Followers, let your creative ideas flow onto my blog. :) Even if you have a challenge, I just MAY be up for it!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cooking? For Myself?

Last night I embarked on part of my new adventure of being more thrifty. Yes folks, I actually cooked dinner for myself! To many, this may not seem like much of an amazing feat, however, for those that know me best, they understand that this is a giant step for Alyssa, giant leap for mankind.

What giant meal did I craft? A Chicken Roast!

This chicken roast fed me last night, for lunch today and for dinner this evening. I also clearly underestimated the size of those chicken breasts because I have a whole dish of chicken leftover.

"So what?!" you might be saying. Well, I will tell you what. I am not just eating the chicken dinner to throw the rest away!

So here is what I am doing with the rest of it:

The chicken juices were utilized to make an easy gravy that is made with just flour, water, salt and pepper. Lesson learned: do not put in too much flour. It may look like it's not thickening up at first...oh but it will! Then you will have this lovely chunkiness! (I had a picture of the good stuff and of the meal itself but somehow it got deleted and I no longer have them! Boo! I'll do better on pics next time! :D)
Bad gravy and crazy hair! I just finished showering! 

The ends of the celery and carrots as well as the bones of the chicken, I will utilize to make chicken stock. I will portion into 1 cup servings and freeze it to use for a pasta or a soup someday. I will throw in some potatoes and onion in the stock as well, both of which I bought on sale yesterday at the local grocery store and I bought in "bulk". Not only will I be utilizing all of the meat and bones, however I will be eliminating waste (no broth box or can to throw away!)

I've shredded all of the chicken meat and I put it in a container in my fridge for sandwiches and I think that tomorrow, I will whip up some peanut stir fry, adding some broccoli to it as I also purchased a bunch of that on sale.

The remainder of the carrots and celery I cut up into sticks to take to work with me for lunches.

I was thinking about it today, and I realized that today I had what I like to call, "a zero spending day." Yes, I technically did spend money (gas back and forth to work), however, I did not make any other unnecessary purchases. I must admit, I haven't had a day like that in a while. Usually, I might have a daily coffee at a cafe, a goodie from a local bakery or another sweet, and most recently, new items for my apartment.

Prior to starting this blog, I was thinking a lot about, how much money for food, can I live off of in one month's time?  I knew that I would now be living on more of a budget so it was a thought I had been contemplating for a while. This hit very close to home today when I was working at the food shelf and a young woman, not too much older than I, came in for some food. She had recently received $200.00 in food stamps. Being an intake worker, part of my position requires me to review a client's finances with them. I asked her about having recently received the food stamps and she told me that they just didn't last. "Impossible!" I thought. However, I did not say anything with regards to the food stamps as she does not come to the food shelf frequently and I sent her on her merry way. During my drive home, I was pondering that woman and her $200.00 per month in food stamps. I questioned, "Could I live off of $200.00 worth of food a month if I budgeted wisely?"

Pondering the food purchases that I had made yesterday, I purchased approximately $60 worth of items at the grocery store (granted about $20.00 of this was spent on a cooking thermometer and strainer for some other projects). This doesn't include the chicken breasts that I ate, which I had previously bought on sale (a family-size package of 2 for the price of one), as well as many of the other food items that I have in my house that I've previously purchased while they were on sale (cans of diced tomatoes, pinto and kidney beans).

So how can I ultimately determine if I can live off of $200 worth of food for a month? I don't know if I have the exact answer, but I AM going to keep track and try to do so. I am going to begin tracking my food expenses as well as any other expenses that I have for every day. Not only will this help me curb my spending habits, however I think it will give me a new perspective on budgeting and food with my clients.

This also brought another thought to mind. I have had frequent discussions with a coworker on the way home with regards to our clients and the events of the day. One of the many topics that we discuss is how many of our clients, "Simply do not know or do not have the education to budget wisely." Recently, one of my bosses asked me if I could think of any other programs that we could utilize in the food shelf. I did discuss with her an idea of a job placement program. However, I think that I've just thought of one more. How come I so frequently spoke about the topic saying, "They just don't know how or have the education," when perhaps they simply don't have the means to learn how? Maybe no one has sat down with them or led by example that, "Here, this is one method by which to save money." I recognize that I come from a background where I've been blessed to never have to utilize food stamps, have always been provided for and had more than I needed. Who am I to judge if I've never had to do this and though I've never had to, have been given all of the skills and tools to do so?

I know that I am on the beginning of my journey on becoming more thrifty, however why not use the journey for the common good?  Especially now, when I am in the perfect position to do so?  Tomorrow, a chat with my boss is in order. After all, if I can cut my spending, anyone can! I am bound and determined to try and make the majority of my days, "zero spending days."

I would love to know, how many other people of you out there have "zero spending days"? How much do you think that you pay for groceries in a given month? Could you live off of $200 per month?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Paint Spill

The last 24 hours have been, well hellacious. My "simple" project of painting a bookshelf turned into an all night project when I tipped over the paint can. Oops! While this does not involve eliminating objects or being thrifty, to me, it's part of my being organized project. I would like to be happy in my new home. I painted my bookshelf, radiator cover and a back wall to a built-in unit. It's going to look really nice when I get my photography hung up there!
I also accomplished a few more things in the process today. I eliminated more clothing, my closet is organized so everything will be kept inside (see pics below) and I also was able to sell more books today! It makes me enthusiastic to know that even this clothing will be cut down when I make edits with Sally.

The above mentioned Sally project is still and progress and I did some work on it today as well. I realized I have clothes that actually have been waiting to be washed for approximately one year. Yes, I said ONE year! Why? They are hand wash only and I could never bring myself to do it. I always had so many other things going on or by the time I got home from work, I simply did not have the motivation. That said, today I cleaned my one year old dirty clothes. They had been sitting in a laundry basket for all that time. From now on, I will avoid hand wash only clothing. It's just not very easy-maintenance friendly.

More ambitious projects are lined up for tomorrow: heading to the dry cleaner and tailors. I have buttons from coats that need to be sewn on. Now, that is not very thrifty but I will say this: one of them is pleather, I prefer not to mess with that when it comes to sewing on a button. The other coat I have attempted to sew the button on once before and it just fell off within a week or so. I think  it needs a heavy duty sewing, I'll leave this to the professionals.

With respect to the Sally project, I would like to get my clothing looking in order before we do an edit of it. The new skill to be learned? Hemming pants. My sister-in-law recently took a jab at me because this is the Alyssa method of hemming pants:
Hemming - Alyssa Style

SAFETY PINS! I know she is right but I lack the skills (not to mention the sewing machine), so safety pins it is! She did tell me about this glue-type stuff they sell at Walmart for this, I just can't bring myself to do my clothes though. I'm pretty certain, however, that I have an Aunt or Grandma that can teach me these skills. I need to get this taken care of before Sally discovers my safety pins!

There is a lot on the plate for tomorrow so I shall bid you all a farewell as I will need my energy for the day's work ahead of me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reorganization and Elimination.

This week, my time has been occupied with moving into my apartment and reorganizing/eliminating items that I do not need. This is progress in the way of getting organized/living minimally. Along with all of the belongings that I purged when I left my old place, I decided that moving in time would be another opportunity to go through all of my belongings and make a second edit.

So far, I've purged many items that have not been used for such a long time, that it's very likely I will not use them...why am I hanging onto them when someone else can benefit from them? I've filled a larger box with belongings that can be donated to the food shelf I work for and I also separated a box of books that I could take to bookstores to sell. More about these books later.

Going through all of these belongings really got me thinking about the consumerist culture that we live in. I am in no way criticizing people and their consumption as I am guilty of it myself. This is quite clear as I wouldn't have the need to purge if I wasn't. What is it about humans and our society that gives us the drive to consume? Why do we equate more things with further happiness?  As I was going through all of my belongings to be tossed or donated, these thoughts crossed in my mind:

Why, when completing a race or winning a competition, do we get medals and trophies? I understand that it is to honor your performance and keep as a remembrance. Wouldn't it be more beneficial however, just to get the t-shirt, which at least is functional? How about rather than a medal, we get a gift certificate for something that aids in the ongoing development of whatever we are practicing? Why a medal? How many people keep these and how many eventually go to the trash?

I was analyzing many of the items that I decided to keep. I have determined that there is one theme for most of the things I am keeping: they are objects that allow me to continue my creativity and development or are simply memories with sentimental value; a box of craft items, a box of sporting goods, a box of letters and cards from family members and videos taken of my old sporting events. I had previously thought about getting rid of these letters and perhaps just scanning them rather than keeping the letters themselves. I couldn't do it. They are invaluable. The physical item actually means that much to me and I think one day, when I am old, I will be able to share these with a spouse, perhaps my own children and grandchildren. However, I have limited myself to a very small box and will not get a bigger box. If I need a bigger box, some will have to be eliminated. The tapes will also be fond childhood memories. However, condensing these to perhaps one DVD will be a project I would like to get underway someday soon when I have the funds.

With regards to clothes shopping, I am going to try and buy primarily from second hand stores. I would like to curb a lot of spending with regards to clothes shopping in general (as well as shopping for other unnecessary items). I've noticed that when I am shopping with people who are impulse shoppers, I tend to start buying as well when I really don't need anything. I may need to discontinue shopping with some people. This is not because I dislike them or think they are rotten people, but rather it will help to put a stop to my own impulse buying tendencies. Boundaries must be made!

Regarding my books: these tie into other goals. Many of my goals have multiple elements so it is not simply completing one and moving to the next. I indicated in my list that one of my goals is to dress better and find a style. This goal has several different elements:

1. Dressing better and feeling put together, for the majority of people, makes us feel better. I know it does for me! Feeling better about myself in the way I appear, drives me to continue feeling better about my own body.

2. Utilizing clothes and getting put together each morning, will also hopefully help to drive me in my weight loss goal. When I feel happier with me, I am more likely to want to continue down that path.

Now, I am certainly no fashion diva, so I have enlisted help for this goal. My friend, Mary, had told me about her friend, Sally, who is a style consultant. Sally has her own blog, (, that discusses feeling good about you, no matter your size or shape and how the right clothes on your body can make a difference. Sally has a great fashion sense and as luck would have it, she's a stylist and does closet consultations! I wrote Sally, telling her about my goals that also include eliminating some clothing to live more simply. I told Sally that my objective is to create outfits that work for my body from the clothes I already have, eliminate clothing that doesnn't flatter my body and I should discontinue wearing, and figure out which basics I may be missing and what I need to look for. Sally told me her prices for the consultation and we have set a date.

There is one problem. I am certainly not made of money and I don't presently have enough to pay for the consultation. So what does a goal getter gurl do?! I started "My Sally Jar."

My Sally Jar is a jar that sits on top of my fridge where I put money that I get from extra interpreting jobs, selling items I no longer need (books, clothing, furniture). The other day, I sold a heap of clothing that I no longer needed. Whatever wasn't bought by thrift stores, was donated. Today, I sold $13.50 worth of books bringing the Sally Jar total to $36.50. I also am selling my dresser on Friday to a woman on Craigslist. I can see my Sally Jar fund is growing quickly and I know I will soon make enough money to meet with Sally on our appointment date that we have set for February 6th.

What did I accomplish today?

Not only did I minimize, I earned more money towards my clothing and personal appearance goal!

Do you look around your place of living and see unused items that could be sold and utilized for the purpose of pursuing a present goal? What goals are you working towards?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Goal Getter Gurl!

Yep! I've now branched out into 3G – Goal Getter Gurl!

Recently, I spent some time creating a 'goal board'. When I have discussed this with people, many have asked me, "What is a goal board?!" A goal board is many things. To me, it is a tangible piece of foam board with magazine clippings haphazardly pasted to it displaying, in visual form, the goals that I am aspiring to accomplish. To others, it is created on a computer, a cell phone, lists, and I'm sure there are a billion other forms of this so-called goal board. I am writing this blog to document my new quest to fulfill the goals that I have set for myself. My hope is that in writing this blog, I will be able to look back on it and view the goals I have accomplished, inspire people to make change in their own lives, and create conversation and mutual encouragement amongst others sacrificing and working hard to achieve their goals! 

This project didn't just begin with a goal board, so let's rewind to the beginning. In 2006, I finished my masters degree in interpreting and translation. I had high hopes for becoming a legendary translator/interpreter/subtitler. Then...reality hit. Upon returning home, I discovered that interpreters were easily taken advantage of by agencies who charged a lot and paid interpreters little. Hospitals wanted you to work "casually" (aka: up to full time) spending your time amongst the ill and yet offered no benefits. Additionally I realized that, at that time, I didn't have near the amount of connections necessary to be a freelance interpreter and translator.

Fast forward to 2008. I began a new career working in worker's compensation for a small company providing rehabilitation services. The pay was great (which I desperately needed at the time as I was up to my ears in debt), it offered me the ability to utilize my language skills, and frankly, it was a job! I began working, diving right in and learning as I went. I also learned a few other things: 1) It doesn't matter how good the pay is, dreading going to work every night is miserable. 2) Small companies have their advantages but also realize that your boss IS human resources. You better like him or her. They can make or break the job. 3) Stress is no fun.

Now to the present. After two and half years of hard work and paying off debt, I had enough. One Sunday night, while suffering the usual dread of thinking of returning to work in the morning, I happened across a Facebook link to a blog called, “Zero Dean.” It was about a seemingly cool guy who made a drastic move to change the direction of his life. (Check out his blog at Frequently, in my own life, I had days where all I thought about was leaving and going to the airport to grab the next flight to anywhere. This along with many other events, really got me thinking about where I also was heading in life. Was I going to become complacent like so many other people I had met? Complacent about my OWN life?! I have the fortune of not being tied down to anyone or what was stopping me?

So, I took the leap of faith. I had many days of crying (having to do with the mental debate of what to do, despite the answer being quite clear) and discussions with close friends and family prior to jumping. My sister reminded me that God did not put me on this earth to feel miserable and that He wanted me to use my talents. My close friend, Mary, told me that if I jumped, God would have a safety net there for me.

Guess what? They were right!

Prior to the leap, I went home one night to have the difficult discussion with my parents about leaving my job as I was too emotionally stressed, overburdened and felt that I was putting my goals and passions behind for a job that was ultimately making me unhappy. I asked to do what every 28 year old dreads, "Mom and Dad, can I move back home?" I feared seeing the looks of disappointment on their faces. I didn't want them to think that I was a 28 year old screw up who was bailing out of adult responsibilities. I was well aware of the generation that they came from: the baby boomers. The generation where even the prospect of leaving a job without having another was, quite simply, something you just didn't do.

I didn't get that returned look of disappointment. The response was of love and concern. Yes, they were concerned that I didn't have another job but they also realized that my emotional well-being was more important. I was blessed with the words that every child longs to hear, "You will always have a home here." We had a discussion that perhaps I would never find a job that makes me happy, that some people never find that job. The conclusion was made however, that I would be supported to pursue something new and start over.

I still debated for a couple of weeks. My wheels were already turning about my future plans. Financially, I had paid off most of my debt. My car was paid off, almost all of my credit cards were paid off and what was left to pay, could be paid by selling my belongings and vacation pay.

Slowly, I began to craft my letter of resignation. The day came to turn it in. My boss was not an easy man to deal with and invoked fear in the toughest of individuals. Feared and loathed by many, and unfortunately for him, I think loved by few. Did I hate him? No. I felt sorry for him. Sorry that someone leads such a lonely existence. Sorry that someone takes his misery out on substance abuse. Sorry that due to the work environment he created, he would be losing a valuable employee: me. I handed in my resignation letter...and yes, needed some urging from coworkers. I had a short discussion with my boss about the events to come and it was easier than I thought it would be.

I felt reborn. A new piece of clay ready to be shaped into whatever the artist intended.

I finished my month of work, tying up all the loose ends. During that time, my personal life began it's new transition. I gave up my lease for the first apartment I ever had on my own, sold many of my belongings which paid off my last debt, moved home and began a job hunt. Thus began the shaping of my new piece of clay. A new piece of work where I pursue my passions and dreams and hopefully accomplish them.

I began working, just a few hours a week, for a most generous employer that I was introduced to by my friend. I was having interview after interview, but nothing was resulting. Out of the blue, I received a call from an old employer. They wanted me back! I began to work part time with them. Later, I was offered more work hours.

Now, I am working 4 days a week with this employer; a non-profit where I get to help those that are less fortunate, have time to pursue my other passions (including a business) and am blessed to have a wonderful boss and coworkers!

Safety net in place, I could now work towards my passions and goals. I recently found a tiny hole-in-the-wall apartment that even with its slanted floors and awkwardly inclined ceilings, I happen to love. The moment I stepped foot in the door, I envisioned its potential. It is exactly what and where I needed to be to pursue my new life goals.

I just moved into my tiny piece of the world this week. 'Construction' is currently under way. As such, my plans to pursue these life improvements can begin.