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Archive for January, 2008

Uh-oh. CVS is my new hobby.

January 25th, 2008 at 06:03 pm

After hearing/reading about so much CVS savings action, I couldn't help but get ready to jump in. But how? I was lost in a swirl of ECB's and "stacking". I figured, the best way to figure it out was to actually dive in and see what the fuss is all about.

Fortunately, I scored big on a deal: SoyJoy "health" bars, which look ridiculously unappetizing to this self-proclaimed foodie snob. But, they were advertised in last Sunday's paper AND there were coupons. $4 for 4 bars + $4 ECB (that's Extra Care Bucks, for you fellow CVS newbies) effectively taking the cost to be "free". Extra Care Bucks are just like little slips of register tape money that can be applied to your next purchase at CVS within 30 days.

Then came the coupons. $2 off $10. $3 off 10 bars. 1 free SoyJoy bar.

12 SoyJoy bars later, I walked out the door shelling out $6.09 out of pocket with $12 of ECB's in my pocket.

What a rush! I just took CVS for a ride, and no one was the wiser. The lady at the counter seemed suspicious at a 20-something young professional strolling in and buying a barrage of soy health bars with a fistful of coupons - but took no action to stop me. I meandered across the parking lot to my car, envisioning scenarios where CVS management would bolt out of the door and call me back on a drastic mistake on their part, igniting a freefall plummet of their stock to destroy the American economy. Alas, no such event occurred. I sat in my car, satisfied and content, knowing that CVS just paid me $6 to help take these revolting SoyJoy bars off their shelves.

I still have 11 and 3/4 of them left. Can I interest anyone in a brick of dried sticky crunchy joyful soy?

A Brief History of My Credit Cards

January 23rd, 2008 at 04:54 pm

I just transferred/consolidated $7000 worth of credit card debt to my Citi AmEx. It costed me $200 (ouch!) but I'm effectively dropping my APR by about 16%. I figure I'll make that $200 back in mere months. This is one of the first "pre-game" steps in getting this mountain paid off.

I don't really like to think about how I amassed this debt. It wasn't strictly all bad decisions and impulse buying, a lot had to do with the situation. When I was in my last couple of years in college, my mother severed me financially out of the blue one day. Okay, so we got in a fight. But with not much savings, unqualified for a educational loan, and an out-of-state tuition to pay plus books and such, I didn't have much of a choice but to turn to my trusty plastic card(s).

Then, after I graduated, I sold my car, paid off a lot of the debt with that, and headed out to California for two years. Things financially weren't exactly happening for me, as I didn't have much income and not nearly enough to really live on too much. Again, plastic saved the day (as well as grandma and grandpa, but that was only to help stop the bleeding temporarily) - and I crossed the fabled $10k credit card debt mark during this period.

Finally, I landed a job back here in Atlanta and I decided that it was time to take hold of my finances - $18k of credit card debt was insane for someone in their mid-20's. But I came back empty handed - no furniture or anything of that sort - just my car (that was and still is in dire need of replacing), my clothes, and some books, all of which fit in the backseat and trunk of my Nissan.

If anyone remembers having to start their first apartment from scratch, you'll know how damaging it is financially. I slept on the floor for months, and had an empty living room for just as long - until a dear friend donated a couch. I still had to keep a semblance of "doing okayness" as a show for my dad and grandparents, because as my only family left that haven't disowned me, the last thing I want them to do was to take care a 20-some year old me financially.

So I'm making progress. Step by step. For being raised in an environment where a love of money consumed the woman who bore me and in turn destroyed her family, I think I've gained a lot of financial sense in these past 6 months. Much of it has to do with so many blogs that many of you write and articles on different sites. I even started contributing into my 401(k), with the meager money I have left after dishing out to all those credit card bills. The goal is to get this all paid off by the end of the year, when I will reward myself with a new-to-me car.

This means, all you readers/writers, keep doing what you're doing, and just know that you've made a difference in at least one person's life.

Never made it to the store...

January 21st, 2008 at 07:04 pm

After all that talk last week of not having any food left, I meant to go grocery shopping this weekend. I really did.

Let me explain...

On Saturday morning, after hitting snooze more times than I remember, the first thing I did was inventory what I had left in stock. I try to do this before knowingly big shopping excursions lest I wind up with 4 jars of spaghetti sauce. While this was going on, I opened my blinds to watch the snow fall (that's right - SNOW. IN THE SOUTH.), flipped on Food Network, and fired up my stock pot for some chicken stock.

By the time I was done, I decided it was much much too cold to go outside to go grocery shopping, and decided that Sunday was going to be the day - especially since I've got Sunday newspaper coupons coming my way.

Then Sunday came along. I did my grocery shopping pre-game, which entails searching through my coupons and grocery store ads and matching them up with each other for maximum value. I'll go to 2 markets - each market gets its own index card shopping list with its own set of coupons clipped to it. The rule is - nothing more than what's on the list unless it's a life or death emergency. Okay, maybe that's over-exaggerating. But you get the point.

But the problem this time was two-fold. First, it was still cold. And second, football was on. Lots of football. We're talking 7.5 hours of it. And they're really good games. AND a bunch of people came over. Grocery shopping was officially shot.

Here's to Tuesday. Because I'm busy today. =D

All Good Things Must Come to an End

January 18th, 2008 at 06:08 pm

Today, for lunch, I went to McDonald's.

I know it's bad for me, but after the scarring from last looking at my bank account balance, $2.14 for 2 double cheeseburgers for lunch seemed like fast food's gift for poor kids. Health benefits of lunch will not be discussed here - as it has been referenced in a previous (and rather popular)

Text is post and Link is http://lesspoor.savingadvice.com/2007/12/13/i-cant-afford-to-be-skinny_32822/
post. My only redeeming thought is that I went to the gym 3x this week already.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand. My dining at McDonald's has ended a streak. 8 consecutive meals were by my culinary hand, prepared lovingly in my little apartment kitchen as creative thoughts of epicurious muses rang in my being. By last night, the food supply was running quite dry, and I had to resort to bread and peanut butter. So this morning, I was rummaging away in my kitchen, realizing that 8 lunches and dinners later, I've exhausted all my food. So I came to work empty handed. It was quite a weird feeling.

So this weekend will be extremely frugal grocery shopping weekend. Yes, I will get supermarket flyers. Yes, I will use coupons. Yes, I will make a list. Just because I had McDonald's for lunch doesn't mean I've lost ALL sense. =)

Being Good

January 15th, 2008 at 05:04 pm

Just a day after posting how broke I was, I was oh-so-tempted to charge a big purchase on a credit card. I even made a point to take my credit card out with me today. Instead, I walked out empty handed. Go team George!

If I had figured out this whole $20 challenge thing, I guess theoretically I could drop $500 into it? Maybe not, since it was all going on the card anyways. I'll compromise and drop in $1. =)

Here's to a no-spend day - as opposed to the pre-planned heavy spend day. Yay for bringing lunch to work!

What a Bad Month...

January 14th, 2008 at 06:41 pm

...and it's not even half over.

Took a quick peek at the bank account this morning, and I'm a digit less than I thought I was. But HOW?!

Digging through my transaction history, I realized that I have an abnormally large amount of atypical purchases this month. Don't ask me if they were non-necessary purchases - I refuse to delve into THAT kind of thinking. =)

On top of that, Dallas lost last night. I don't know what that has to do with anything financially, but it didn't help things, that's for sure.

On the up-side, I did stash away an extra couple hundred for the EF this month.

Anyways, looks like I'm going into super frugal mode for at least the next two weeks. Bring on the rice and beans.

Leftovers Left Over No More

January 8th, 2008 at 03:29 pm

I love finding creative ways of using leftovers. Being single, leftovers always abound my fridge. Then I just wind up with all these little bowls of bits of this and that, and I never really know what to do with them.

Enter George's leftover omelette/frittata. Depending on what's left over, it gets all thrown into a pan and covered in egg, either to be folded in half or tossed under a broiler and sliced.

Last night's dinner was such. Sauteed some diced onion and tomato, added in some chicken shreds, and sprinkled with some magic spices. 3 beaten eggs joined the party, and as it was solidifying, a layer of cheddar/monterey jack/parmesan bechamel (leftover from homemade mac and cheese) went on top, to be nestled inside when the omelette was slid out of the pan and folded over. The kicker was the ladle of homemade chili on top, sprinkled with a bit of shredded cheese, and I nicely emptied a good deal of fridge leftovers all in one meal.

Most importantly, it was delicious. And somewhat healthy. I should write this into a recipe.

What do YOU do with your leftovers?


January 7th, 2008 at 10:10 pm

I'm a pro at procrastination.

I procrastinate pretty much everything. Stuff at work, paying bills, doing laundry, cleaning my apartment, eating... You name it, I've procrastinated it. I like to think that my single-ness is also a result of this. Yeah, that's it. I'm single because I'm procrastinating. =)

I think I do it because I like the stress. I like the pressure. I like knowing that it's do or die. I've got 24 hours to do something and it's time to put the game face on. Flip on the afterburners and the coffee machine. I'm in for a long night.

Then comes the sense of accomplishment - or the rare case of failure. Being able to do a week's worth of work in one day? What a rush! On the converse, utter failure means utter defeat. Nothing left to do but to man up and face the consequences. I'm getting what I deserve for having procrastinated this long and running out of time to do what I need to do. Scold me. Fine me. Tease me. Fail me.

Am I really that abnormal though? I'd like to think that procrastination is an innate human trait that's just dying to get out of everyone. I, subconsciously, embrace it with open arms. Even when I consciously choose not to put everything off to the last minute, it inevitably happens. I just can't get anything done unless the clock is ticking. Loudly.

So, readers, enlighten me on your thoughts on procrastination. Do you secretly do it and refuse to admit it? It's time to fess up.

3 Places to Avoid on No-Spend Days

January 6th, 2008 at 01:36 am

1. the mall
2. supermarket when you're hungry
3. Costco

Guess where I went today. I'll give you three guesses.

That's right, all three.

Okay, so today wasn't really a premeditated no-spend day. I guess I had intended it to be more of a no-spend weekend. But alas, to curb the boredom, as well as to appease any thoughts that I actually needed to buy things, I went out.

But I'm proud of myself. I did good. Here's today's damage report:

2 jars of peanut butter from Costco - $7
some utensils from Ikea - $7
2 hot dogs from Ikea - $1
DVD from Redbox - $1

Maybe it was worse than I thought now that I listed all this stuff out. But on the upside, I returned something at the mall for $27. So I came out on top! I like my rationalization. =)

NEXT weekend will really be a no-spend weekend. This time it's premeditated.

Working from Home

January 4th, 2008 at 08:49 pm

A slightly boring/less entertaining post for today:

I'm working from home today!

It sounds a lot better than it really is. I was feeling kinda sick when I woke up this morning. After collapsing on the ground initially, I pulled myself back into bed for round 2 of sleep.

By the time I've rested enough to gain enough strength, I wrapped myself in my blanket to head to my desk where I e-mailed out some of my favorite words: "I'm working from home today."

So, in turn, this becomes what is known as a "no-spend day". I made another dent into clearing leftovers from my fridge for lunch.

And! I sold my TV on craigslist. That's some extra money coming in. What a great day.

Apart from being in constant communication via IM and e-mail all day, and pretending to really be doing work, I'm beginning to think that working from home isn't the best for me. I get bored too easily. And that's a bad thing.

The Importance of Measuring

January 3rd, 2008 at 07:19 pm

Last night, I did a terrible job of defying my post-paycheck whims and went to Target.

I needed some more shelves for my apartment. Really. It was a NECESSITY, I tell you.

So I walked out with one of those metal shelving units (on sale!) and headed back to put it in the designated spot in the kitchen, where I can stack all my small appliances galore instead of having them ready to pounce-attack me every time I want to get something from the pantry. Though, in hindsight, I guess they were doing me a favor - I shouldn't be digging through my pantry for something to eat all the time anyways.

Assembly was a snap. Literally. You snap these little plastic things on and throw the shelves on, and you're done. I did it in the time of one commercial break.

Standing back, I gazed at my handiwork. Matte, black, and forged from the cheapest metal that our dear Chinese factory workers can get their hands on to assemble such a fine easy-to-assemble product.

I proudly lift it up and carry it into my kitchen, and positioned it in its reserved location. The end of it jutted out half an inch. Hm. Well, I can live with that.

Nothing left to do now but to grab a bottle of water from the fridge and sit back and enjoy all my hard 3.5 mins of work.


The fridge door slams into something upon opening.

Looking down, I realize that the stupid metal shelving unit is about an inch too deep to clear my swinging fridge door. It only opens about 75% of the way, then...WHAM.

Let's hope that I never need to open my fridge door more than 75% of the way. Maybe it'll keep me eating only 75% of the food in there.

Carefully crafted illustration of my awesomeness:

Baby, it's cold outside...in the south.

January 3rd, 2008 at 02:21 pm

This morning, I woke up shivering under my down blanket.

I thought to myself, "Maybe southern California wasn't so bad after all."

Why in the world is it so cold in Atlanta? After I mummified myself in my blanket, I spring-hopped over to my computer to see what the temperature was.

15 degrees.

For you northerners, I'm sure you're laughing so hard that you're about to pee your pants. But in our defense, as someone who has never lived in a state that didn't border Mexico (is it fair to count Florida as Mexico?), 15 degrees is absurd. It didn't even get this cold when I was in Beijing in the dead of winter last year. I'm surprised the entire Bible belt didn't shut down from sheer panic. I can already see ministers standing on soap boxes on street corners reading passages out of Revelation and urging repentance.

Anyhow, being as absurdly cheap as I am sometimes, I refused to turn on the heat in my apartment, rationalizing to myself that two big blankets was sufficient to keep toucans comfortable in the Arctic. I watched the thermometer in my apartment drop to about 60 last night and went hibernating.

The thermometer read 54 this morning. I should really be less cheap, for the sake of my own health.

And I'm starving. I thought about ducking out of work this morning to go find something to eat, but it's still sub-20 temps right now. Sigh.

George's Cheap and Easy Crockpot Chili Recipe

January 2nd, 2008 at 08:49 pm

By request from mom-sense:

After making this the first time, I realized that it was so easy that I never bought canned chili ever again. Who knows what kind of crazy is in those cans.

George's Cheap and Easy Crockpot Chili Recipe

Servings: 2-3?
Prep time: 30 mins + cooking time

1.5 lbs of ground meat (beef, turkey, italian sausage, or a combination)
1 cup chopped onions (frozen is easy)
2 14 oz cans of tomato sauce
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes (I like petite diced or even crushed, personally)
1 ~12 oz can of chili beans or pinto beans
3 heaping tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper

Optional seasonings:
1/2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp herbs d'provence
crushed garlic
cayenne pepper (for heat)
secret ingredients

shredded cheese
sour cream
chopped onions (both sweet and green)

1. Empty all canned goods into the crock pot, along with spices, and flip it on.
2. Cook the onions (and optional garlic) in olive oil in a saucepan until just brown. Add in the meat, and cook until just about cooked through. I like to cook the meat/onions with some chili powder and salt and pepper, but it's not that necessary seeing that the meat will absorb flavoring from the sauce.
3. Drain the meat and stir into the crock pot mixture.

Cooking time: high for 2-3 hours or low for 5-6 hours.

I like to have the sauce cooking for a few hours before I cook the onions/meat and stir it in, then cook for another hour or two after. I've found that if you're using somewhat cheap meat and you let it cook in there for 5-6 hours, the meat becomes somewhat gristly and powdery. But either way works.

Also, chili is not an exact science! Feel free to play around with measurements and such. When writing this recipe down, I had to make approximations, because usually I just pour in spices until it looks "right". I just like to maintain this ratio (personal preference):


4 cans of tomato sauce to every 3 lbs of meat to 2 cans of beans and 2 cans of tomatoes.

I refer to the 3:2 meat to bean ratio as the "MBR" to my friends. So they'll request chili with a high MBR (meatier) or lower MBR (more beans).

Then, of course, every good chili cook has a secret ingredient. I can tell you what mine is, but then I'd have to kill you. =)

And homemade chili always tastes better the next day. It thickens up some, and all the flavors meld together. I always make a lot and freeze it.

Estimated Costs:
Because it's a finance blog. =)

1.5 lbs of ground meat - $2
onions - $1
2 cans tomato sauce - $1.50
1 can tomatoes - $0.75
1 can beans - $0.75
chili powder - $1?

Total: ~$7.00
Per serving: ~$2.50

Thoughts on Microsoft Money

January 2nd, 2008 at 04:19 am

Does anyone else use Microsoft Money?

I decided as part of my soon-to-be-short-lived new year's resolution/plan to set up a budget - for all of 2008. Yes, it sounds ambitious, and now that I'm in the thick of it, I too agree on the ambitiousnessosity (yes, it's a word) of it all.

I thought that the assistance of this Redmond-produced product would streamline my big plans and magically give me the numbers to write on my checks every month. I thought it would handle all of the little nuances of my meager financial life and pat me on the head and tell me everything will be okay. Even a small part of me hoped that it would be able to fix me lunch for the week so I wouldn't pretend to forget and wind up eating something cheap and junky out somewhere.

But alas, my expectations for this little (not really) piece of software were a bit high for what it does. It just neatly put everything I needed to know in one place, so I guess that's okay. But Mint even does THAT for me. Maybe I'll get used to using it the more I use it. But for now, maybe I'm just too simple-minded to make use all that Microsoft Money has to offer.