Saturday, January 30, 2010

Adventures in Extreme Budgeting - Day Two

Not much to report today as I had no discretionary spending.  Yay!  Keep this up and I might be able to survive this challenge in one piece.

I did, however, do the household grocery shopping and made out like a bandit.  I went to Smart and Final, a local non-membership warehouse store, for the bulk of the shopping.  I normally go there to purchase big packs of meat, double sized boxes of cereal and cleaning supplies.  Our monthly food budget is $200 (for two adults) and I'm a serial food stretcher.  I've been known to throw some cooked rice into some scrambled eggs to stretch them.  Or toast some bread ends and make bread crumbs for meatloaf instead of buying a canister of bread crumbs. And I never let anything go to waste.  A half a pound of meat or fish is just as good as a full pound to me.  I just bulk up the meal with vegetables and rice (we basically eat rice everyday although I prefer brown while DH likes white).

Anyway, my goal was to spend under $100 for everything on the list.  I ended up spending $81.18 and got double the amount of meat I normally get (which included 6lbs of chicken legs, 2 whole chuck pot roasts, 3lbs of stew meat, 1lb of ham, 3lbs of polish sausage, 2lbs of boneless beef ribs, and 3lbs tilapia) We now have enough meat, rice and vegetables to last for about 2 weeks or more, depending on how I stretch it.

I'm not a big coupon clipper.  But I do take advantage of savings cards, always on the look out for manager's specials (particularly on meats that I can freeze and store) and scour the weekly ads beforehand for the best deals and do the bulk of my shopping at that store.  Since Smart and Final is a warehouse store, they often don't have everything I need so sometimes I end up clipping some coupons for the supermarkets for the few items I need to get from there. 

Since I'm laid up with neck strain from sleeping funky last night, my husband went to go see some scary movie by himself.  Good thing because the smell of popcorn would have messed with my resolve to eat better and not spend frivolously. 

Day 2
Amount Spent: ZERO
Remaining: 30.19

Adventures in Extreme Budgeting Challenge - Day One

Well, today was payday.  Under more normal circumstances, this would be cause for a small celebration but I'm furloughed (meaning, my salary has been cut by 10% each month) even though my expenses haven't changed.  I had already put together a spending plan for the month which included my normal bills: mortgage payment and food, car note and insurance, credit cards, student loan payment, cell phone bill, gas for car.  But I also had to add to this list, repayment ofnthe credit card that my husband used to pay for my car repairs in November.  I also have to double up on a credit card payment this month because I maxed out the card on basic expenses like gas and food.  So yeah, I'm up shit's creek right now and my side hustle doesn't begin until March.  In the interim, I will be living off of $40.00.  What this means is that my discretionary spending for the month of February is $40 total. 

I've never spent less than $100/month on discretionary spending so this is really going to be an adventure in extreme budgeting.  However, if I can survive this test, I will be back in the black again and my side-hustle earnings will help boost my payment on my credit cards and allow for some money to go into savings.

I must admit, I've been nervous about this particular challenge because it is forcing me to re-evaluate how I spend, how I organize my time and what's most important to me.  I do know that most of my discretionary spending has gone to eating out.  I am planning to take the bull by the reins and cook  I have a good sized Crock-Pot so that eliminates the need for me to slave over a hot stove all day long.  I have plenty of Gladware and Tupperware containers so portability of my meals to work will never be an excuse and quite frankly, home-cooked meals are better for my health.

I did make two separate discretionary purchases today.  The first was for $5.12 from the Dollar Store.  I needed to purchase some cassette tapes so I could record an interview I was conducting for an article I'm working on.  I found the tapes for $1.60 but the store I was in had a $5 minimum purchase policy in order to use a debit card so I also got some Ziploc bags (which we needed), and a bottle of rubbing alcohol (which we also needed.   The second purchase could have been avoided had I not let myself get hungry.  I spent $4.69 at Jack-in-the-Box on food I have no business eating.  This has to stop.  The reason I have no savings and living pay-check to pay-check (besides this furlough mess) is that I'm not planning ahead which in turns means I'm living by default instead of by choice.

Even though I look forward to coming out of the end of February, more financially stable and happy, I've got a feeling that with this challenge, February is going to feel like the longest month on record.

Day 1  
Spent: $9.81
Remaining:  $30.19

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Closet Shopping (aka Clothes Shopping on an Extreme Budget)

The new semester starts back on Monday and I really need to change my look.  Here in California, professors can sort of get away with more casual dress than our counterparts in other places because we have the weather and a "go with the flow" attitude.  The problem for me is that my casual look made me look like a student that just doesn't give a damn.   It doesn't help that I look no older than 25 years old anyway.  But I'm on a EXTREME BUDGET on crack so I also can't just run out and paint the town Nordstrom's, New York and Company or even Old Navy! 

As I was scouring clothing websites last night, I saw a pair of gray trousers on sale at Target and decided that first thing in the morning, I'd go see if I could find them.  The price was right at $17.99.  So off to bed I went with visions of hitting the bargain clothing jackpot.  But when I got up this morning the closet door was open for some reason when I noticed a pair of my navy trousers that I hadn't worn in ages because they had become too snug in the waist.  But I lost 15 pounds and 15" overall last year (4 of which came from my waist) so I decided to give them a try.  Lo and behold, the trousers zipped up easily and they still looked great.  Excited by my discovery, I pulled out a pair of red trousers and got the same result.  Voila!  Just that quickly, I discovered two pairs of dress slacks that I can wear to work.  I decided to see what else I could find since I was tired of rotating the same 3 pairs of pairs (two of which were jeans; one pair obviously way too big now that I've lost weight).  I ended up finding 3 skirts, 3 slacks, and 5 blouses that I could wear to work.  Yipee! 

I also pulled out my "Imelda Marcos ain't got nothing on me" selection of black shoes and found a pair of kitten heels that I bought while on vacation and never wore; rediscovered the pointed toe ankle boots that my husband bought for me in 2004; and found a pair of Bandalino kitten heel slingbacks that I got for $30 from Marshall's a little over a year ago.  All I really need is a new handbag but I can wait until March to get a new one.

This has to be one of the best shopping sprees ever.  I didn't spend a dime.  I didn't have to stand in a line or hassle with the dressing rooms or deal with unorganized crap that looks picked over a thousand times over.  Some pieces will need to be altered because they're a bit too big in the hips (I'm top-heavy) but I go to a fantastic local cleaners that does amazing alterations and I use coupons to save on my tailoring costs. 

This whole exercise taught me that I really need to slow down and think about the stuff I buy before I run off to the shops fully steam ahead without some thought and a plan.  For now though, I'm just happy I saved the $17.99 and gas and still came out ahead.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Blessing in Disguise - The FIRM VHS Challenge

After nearly a week on my duff, I decided I needed to exercise.  I go into my garage where I normally workout only to discover that my uber-cheap DVD Player will not turn on.  I fiddled with that thing for about an hour before I gave up in frustration.  Knowing that I wasn't in the mood to hop on the treadmill but desperate to get back on the wagon, I turned to my collection of exercise VHS tapes.  I pulled out the FIRM's Basics Sculpting with Weights workout with Master Instructor Tracie Long and got busy.  After 45 minutes of lat rows and grapevines, lunge/squat combos and some ab work, I decided, "why not see what kind of results you could get with just your FIRM VHS tapes and 2 runs on the treadmill?"  I've avoided those VHS tapes not because the workouts are outdated or anything, but those particular workouts kick my butt!

The last time I did FIRM Volume 4 - Time Crunch Workout, my thighs and butt was sore for at least two days.  My pecs and shoulders got serious DOMS from The FIRM's Maximum Body Shaping.  Surely, if I don't have to spend the money on a new DVD player right away, why not use what I've got to see how far my VHS workouts could take me.  Given that my miscellaneous spending budget for next month is less than $75 bucks, I think it only makes sense to focus on tough, effective workouts that work with my good and faithful VCR.  Here's the list of the FIRM workouts I have on VHS that I plan to work my way through for the next couple of months (with 2 runs interspersed in between):

1. FIRM Volume 1 - Body Sculpting Basics
2. FIRM Volume 2 - Low Impact Aerobics
3. FIRM Volume 3 - Aerobic Interval Training
4. FIRM Volume 4 - Time Crunch Workout
5. FIRM Volume 5 - Abs, Hips and Thighs Workout
6. FIRM Volume 6 - Complete Aerobic Weight Training
7. FIRM Not So Tough Aerobics
8. FIRM Tough Aerobics Mix
9. FIRM Standing Legs
10. FIRM Upper Body
11. FIRM Tough Tape
12. FIRM Tough Tape 2
13. FIRM Tortoise
14. FIRM Hare
15. FIRM Cardio
16. FIRM Strength
17. FIRM Fat Blaster
18. FIRM Maximum Body Shaping
19. FIRM Better Body and Buns
20. FIRM Basics Sculpting with Weights completed 1/21/2010
21. FIRM Basics Fat Burning
22. FIRM Basics Abs, Buns and Thighs
23. FIRM Total Body Shaping Mix
24. FIRM Cardio Burn
25. FIRM Cardio Sculpt
26. FIRM Body Sculpt
27. FIRM Abs Sculpt
28. FIRM Cardio Sculpt Blaster
29. FIRM Body Sculpt Blaster
30. FIRM Super Cardio Sculpt
31. FIRM Super Body Sculpt
32. FIRM Lower Body Sculpt I
33. FIRM Complete Aerobics and Weight Training completed 1/28/2010
34. FIRM Maximum Cardio Burn
35. FIRM Total Sculpt Plus Abs
36. FIRM Upper Body Sculpt
37. FIRM 5 Day Stretch* (will use as an add-on only)

This list should keep me busy and yield great results.  One way for me to think about my journey through the 30's is to look at life's little issues as opportunities to find a blessing, rethink an old pattern or come to terms with the mistakes of the past and move forward.  My DVD player is probably a blessing in disguise.  I'm just glad I was open enough to receive it as a blessing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Things Fall Apart

Right now, I don't feel like doing shit.  It's raining like cats and dogs, my husband is home sick and I'm moody and irritable from my monthly visitor.  Still, these aren't totally legit excuses because "excuses are the skin of the truth packed with lies" as my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Leslie used to say.  Nevertheless, I'm finding it challenging to get my head into the game.  After losing 15lbs and 15 inches last year, I thought I could jump back into this with the same enthusiasm and vigor.  But nope, I just don't feel like it.  I guess because my weight hasn't jumped up yet or because my clothes are still pretty loose on me, it hasn't hit me that I really need to get off my ass and move.  The other thing is that I'm rebelling against running.  You read right.

Running (or should I say jogging) was the primary reason for my weight loss last year.  But I hated just about every minute of it because my cardio endurance is low relative to my muscular strength.  Plus, I hate most cardio (besides dance and kickboxing) on a good day.   So why stick with what you hate, you might ask?  Well, my husband bought a new treadmill for both of us to use after I told him that I would most definitely use it if he paid for it.  Dammit!  I should have known he'd take me at my word and go buy the darn thing.  I used the treadmill pretty faithfully from April to October before the love affair died. 

From November through the end of December, I used the treadmill sporadically, only to keep my husband quiet.  I didn't want to hear him going on and on about how he spent this money for both of us or how I never follow through with my fitness goals because he has said things like this before.  He talks shit because he knows it will light a fire under my ass, in most instances.  But now, I really don't know if I give a damn what he says.  Nevertheless, things would be different if I was actually doing some form of exercise on a regular basis but right now, I'm doing nothing. Zilch, nothing, nada. I just haven't been in the mood nor have I been able to convince myself that I need to exercise right now.

I already have exercise ADD where I change my mind about the activity I'm doing every other day (or hour or minute) so this total lack of motivation is just making things worse because I know if I let things go too much further, it's going to be hell to get started again.  One of the lessons I had to learn in my 30's is that I have to be consistent with my diet and exercise program or else "things fall apart" even with the best intentions.  I think it's time to break out my before pictures for a little motivation.  This laziness trend cannot continue....

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Purge Project - Part I

I can recall as a kid/teenager that I loved receiving mail.  I thought I was so grown when I got a birthday card from my grandpa EJ who lives in West Virginia or a letter from my cousin Deni who was in college.  I thought getting mail meant I was special.  Little did I realize that as I got older, most mail meant I was special alright...especially prone to being sent tons of junk, bills and little surprises that could sometimes send me into a full blown meltdown. 

I hate receiving mail now.  It is the bane of my existence and often I let it pile up high until it's falling all over the place.  Now if I'm expecting money, I'm all over the mailbox but otherwise, I hold my breath each time myself or my husband opens the mailbox waiting for the imminent doom or depression brought on by more bills and more offers for a credit card I don't need.  So extreme is my angst over mail that my husband is the one to routinely get the mail for us.  Part of it is because I've been known to hide bills from myself only to have to make a mad scramble around the house for the payment coupon to pay our property tax.  My husband is good about putting our "community bills" in one place and then dividing our individual mail amongst us.

Nevertheless, I sometimes go months without opening statements, shredding credit card offers or filing my paycheck stubs.  But in order to get my financial house in order, I took a deep breath this morning and faced the pile of paper (which includes mail, magazines and work-related papers) on my nightstand that had taken on a life of its own.  It took me nearly two hours to come up with two piles: Shred and Save.

 This is the shred pile

This is the save pile

I currently don't have a filing cabinet available for the save pile until I purge my nightstand drawers.  This stuff was the paper sitting ON TOP of the night-stand.  Part II of the Purge Project is to clear out the night-stand drawers and make some space in my filing cabinet in the office.  Part III of the Purge Project is to post a new list of unwanted books on and finally Part IV will be to clean out my car trunk and backseat which is full of paper, books and coffee mugs (though I'm only a tea drinker). 

As you can tell, I have some pack-rat tendencies even though I try to purge at least twice a year.  I think more than being a pack-rat, I bury my head in the sand when it comes to clutter.  It's like the clutter can be so overwhelming that it takes something important for me finally face it.  Well, currently being broke as a joke is important enough for me to face my fear and deal with my mess. Fortunately, the upside to dealing with Part I of the Purge Project is that my mood instantly lifted because there is order now and I have a good sense of my financial picture.

I'll keep you posted on my progress. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Stress Management Technique: Read a Good Book and Have a Glass of Wine

Last year I became enthralled with Alexander McCall Smith's  The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series on HBO.  I absolutely loved Jill Scott in the lead role of Mma Ramotswe and I adored Mr. Smith's simple but refreshing storylines.  So naturally, I was curious to find out more about the author only to discover an entire series of books that I was unaware of.  Knowing that most film adaptations of books are pretty weak in comparison, I decided to give the first book in the series a try.  OMG, I became hooked and started stalking bookstores for copies of the next installment.  The only problem for me was that each book cost nearly $20 a piece and on my scaled down budget, I couldn't buy the books as quickly as I would have liked.  That's when a friend mentioned a site called  Basically, you list your unused and unwanted books (including hardbacks and audio books) and other people request what they want from the list.  You pay for postage but in turn you can request books of your choice and they are sent to you at no charge. 

I immediately set about getting more No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books.  Within a month or so, I got all 8 of the remaining books to get the full collection.  At no cost to me.  I estimate that I saved about $160 not including gas to drive to various bookstores.  I also picked up some cookbooks, trashy romance novels and an exercise book.  Swwwwweeett! 

When I'm not working, I try to carve out a couple of hours to read these delightful, intriguing and funny books with a glass of cheap (but still tasty wine).  I figure if I don't have the cash to spend money on a big vacation with my husband or trip to the spa, a glass of wine (or two) and good book is the next best thing to take my mind off of bills, deadlines and my noisy neighbor with his obnoxiously big, loud truck parked in front of the footpath leading to our front door.

Money Mistakes of the Past Bite You in the Ass

We bought a home in January 2009 - a stunning tri-level townhouse through a short sale.  I personally didn't think that I was ready to take on the commitment of a mortgage payment because I still have so much credit card and student loan debt.  But my husband insisted we needed a home to off-set our upper-middle class tax bracket.  I understood this logic but fear that I would somehow be responsible for missing a payment lurked in the back of my head.  See, my husband has no debt from college because he was educated in England and served in the British Army.  So he came out of college without one iota of debt. 

Me, on the other hand, ended up with well over $100K in student loan debt.  I didn't go to a fancy Ivy League university.  No, instead, I was the perpetual student who wanted a Ph.D. but didn't have the family support to cover my educational expenses.  So over 4 degrees I have a ton of student loan debt, not to mention over $13K in credit card and personal loan debt.  How did I get in so far over my head is the question I grapple with almost daily.  Actually, my personal finances contributes so much to my anxiety that I believe that most of my emotional eating binges are brought on by money stress.

I never learned good money management from my parents.  I remember getting my first credit card thinking how much power I had.  It felt good to be able to buy gifts for family or go out to dinner with friends.  But I never understood that paying only the minimum payment was akin to "death by a thousand cuts".  What's crazy is that I've had at least 3 instances where I've come into a lump sum of money only to squander it all away on junk while my credit card bills remained unpaid.

Now that I'm well into my 30's, the enormity of my financial mistakes is hitting me hard.  Then about 9 months after we got our home, I was hit with a 10% paycut due to state budget cuts.  This meant I'd be losing a big chunk of cash each month - equivalent of my car insurance and cell phone payments as well as my gas and hair/nail budgets combined.  My husband stepped up and picked up the slack paying for our HOA fees and our groceries.  But when this paycut occurred (we weren't given notice exactly when our paychecks would be affected), I didn't have much in savings and ever since I've been living paycheck to paycheck.

I have a side job starting hopefully in the next few weeks but if there is some delay, I want to have a plan in place.  I've already mapped out my budget for February and I had to do a double take.  After I pay all of my bills which includes an $800 car repair bill, I will only have $54.88 to get me through the month.

$54.88 to last me for 28 days

After I regained my composure (it took a while, trust me), I decided to view this as a challenge to take on.  Starting February 1st,  I am going to blog daily about living on $54.88 without a loan from hubby, my momma or those payday loan folks.  Now if some unexpected cash comes my way, I will apply it to one of my credit card bills.  But if I want something from McDonald's or a magazine, it has to come out of this $54.88 budget.  Part of me is scared but another part knows that if I can do this, this will serve as a springboard to a more frugal and ultimately less anxiety-ridden lifestyle.