Post-Mortem: November

Two weeks ago, I did a rough review on how we’re doing with food spending. It’s the biggest variable spending we have. There were months when we spent more than $1,000 just on food. That’s a LOT for 2 adults and 1 pre-schooler.

So we had to take a look into ourselves and figure out what we were not doing right. I blamed myself mostly for not being motivated to do anything. I forgot how therapeutic cooking to me was. I re-discovered my love for cooking this month. I made simple meals that one day I hope to share with you.

We have spent $750 on food this month. We only dined out and bought take-outs twice each, both done with no excessive order taking at cheap places. We also spent $133 on prepared Thanksgiving meal, which we believe was a wise decision.

I also realized that I just can’t be very strict about the “extras”. I seem to have a difficult time fully trimming the fat, and I’m not sure if one can realistically do that with a child. I mean, my child recently discovered hot cocoa when I bought him one at Starbucks on Macy’s Parade Day. Of course I don’t intend to buy him hot cocoa at Starbucks often, so I decided to grab a tub of hot cocoa and 2-for-$5 whipped cream at the supermarket for the fun of it.

Using November as a baseline, it looks like the food budget could be about $650/month (after deducting Thanksgiving dinner) for the 3 of us. This would need commitment from me to cook at least 4 times a week. I’m sure you know that I work full-time, so dinner preparation usually occupies my mind by noon. This aspect of cooking is something, I believe, a lot of non-cooking folks don’t get but that’s another post to come. 🙂

Overall, to bring down food spending from $1k+ to $750–with prepared T Day dinner purchased at that–deserves us pats on our backs! I’m so happy to have experienced this month.


Re-using coffee holders

I like to recycle and re-use things. I don’t know when it started because despite growing up with parents who re-use everything including foil, it didn’t come natural to me.

Maybe it was feeling bad about the coffee holder being chucked into the recycle bin that did it. Though recycling is good for the planet, it still requires energy and effort to be recycled, right?

I’m a regular at a café close to my toddler’s pre-school. Once I told the owner that I re-use coffee holders, she said “I love you for that!”.

Imagine if ALL take-out coffee drinkers re-use their coffee holders, a small effort could:

– save businesses money
– less use of energy and other resources to recycle paper
– keep cost down for businesses and the government, and for us coffee lovers

It was a conscious effort at first but now it comes natural to me. I keep 2 coffee holders in my bag if one of them breaks and I’m stuck with a hot cuppa.

My mom re-uses old tattered clothes as dish rags. My dad re-used wood and nails when he and mom decided to build their retirement house — a project that they managed themselves. When finished building, they gave away wood. They also bought old iron gates from a junk yard and re-designed and painted them to look different and new.

What do you re-use?

One week of no dining out or buying take-outs

I can’t write enough about how pleased I am about this progress. I like to cook, it’s therapeutic, but there were days that I just can’t be bothered. I know that there WILL be days that I won’t be bothered cooking, and I’m hoping that those will be few and far in between. I think I got my cooking groove back.

Every day since last weekend, I have reflected on the reasons and circumstances why we ate in. I can account the change to planning better and having the determination to achieve our $15k emergency fund goal ASAP!

We have a plan to visit my family in Christmas 2012 and to save money on airfare, we HAVE to buy them in summer. This plan is budgeted for (at a minimum the budget can afford at $50) but because it depends on the completion of the $15k, it only has $100. 😦 We need at least $6k by August for airfare. That’s why I’m in a hurry to reach $15k to give us breathing room while saving for $6k. Just so you know, $6k is a liberal budget. I over-budget for things because over time I realized that there are things I just have no control over.

So far, we have spent $170 on groceries with some of the food bought still waiting to be cooked. Yesterday I cooked 2 entrees that will last us until Tuesday night I bet. 🙂 The good thing about Asian food is that the older they get, the better they taste. 🙂 I’m on a cooking roll and they are all delicious!

It’s true that budgeting, and anything money-related, is psychological. I don’t know why I didn’t feel like having Sunday brunch in a café when I typically think about it from Saturday afternoon. The house felt such a cozy place to be in yesterday morning. Our toddler went to a playdate for the most part of the afternoon, and J and I decided to watch pay-per-view movie. Instead of spending $20+ (not including gas, parking, and who knows what), we only spent $5. It just felt right to be home yesterday, but we had talked about going to a movie theater all week. We just decided on it an hour before play date started.

We’re going camping this weekend. We’ll sleep in a yurt. I’m actually looking forward to it and I’m not the camping type. We’ll be spending 3 nights in it and we’ll obviously need to pack food to cook and eat. That should be fun! I’ll try to remember to post pictures of camping when we get back. Below are links to very informative videos that even kids should watch I think.

Funny SNL folks.

Have a lovely week!

Cash helps my determination

It sure feels different handling money. Because I have this need to be organized, I make sure that my notes are folded in a pile in my tiny purse. I cringe when I think about pulling folded notes and counting my money in front of strangers. I’ve seen people do it, I don’t think it’s weird, but when I do it I think it’s showing people my money regardless of how much I have. I have this thing about pulling out money, like it’s tacky or something.

Image from

It’s irrational, I know. There are plenty of irrational reasons why I spend. I mean I want to know where our money goes but I don’t have a strict self-imposed limitation on how much to spend. Yes, I do budget but it has always been a guiding information but I don’t feel shackled when I run out because I know I can rely on savings if I need to.

The money manager is me. Jonno asks me if we could buy this or that because he doesn’t touch the budget I set monthly. So, I bear the weight of budgeting and I feel I let down myself and my husband. Of course he has no idea that I feel this way, because he would think that I’m doing great. After all, we have $10k saved within 4 months.

That was my turning point, the savings. The plan is to have $15k by end of December. It has been $10k for more than a month, maybe even 2. We lost so much time and money spending aimlessly. So that’s where we are now, at least where I am. And it’s not even wasted spending. We went to San Francisco for 3 days not only to visit it but to also meet a friend from NZ who traveled to the States. We bought a car for $1,500 and bikes that we enjoy.

At the rate of saving $1k a month (at least), February 2012 is the projected month to reach the $15k goal. I’m beating myself for that, hence the determination to truly reduce eating out and non-budgeted spending. Like I said in an earlier post, we believe that spending in cash would truly keep me determined. I’m getting there. I haven’t thought of ordering food for a week now.

Do you spend cash? If you do, what for and how often?

Conversation in my head at the grocery store

Is it guilt? I found myself picking up (what appeared to me) a good chocolate cookie mix. I held it, thought about when Conor (my toddler) and I would get our hands dirty this weekend and bake it.

Oops, it required a mixer. I began to put it back to the shelf but I remembered that we have a mixer, that’s good enough. Wait, it’s more like a smoothie/baby food hand mixer, idiot.

But that should do it! Even hand mixing could do it.

Really? Do you need endless supply of sugar at home? You still have tons of candy from Conor’s trick or treating and 2 small tubs of ice cream that you already eat a few spoonfuls of at night.

Fine. But it’s cookie! Conor would love making cookies! The batch could sit in the jar for a few days. We’ll consume them just like we do with small tubs of ice cream–bit by bit.

And again, you really want endless supply of calories that you don’t burn?

I’m gonna run 3 miles this weekend.

How are you gonna fit that in between chores?

Sunday! We usually take lazy Sundays.

You’re going on an afternoon date with Jon after dropping off Conor for a playdate, remember?


And I placed it back in the shelf and walked away.

Chinook book for $10, minus the book

I found out about it when I attempted (and succeeded) to update my Chinook Book coupons on my iPhone.

I’ve decided since summer to get next year’s book when I found out it was only $20. Our first book was a Welcome-to-PDX! present from a friend. We saved good money using Chinook Book and we’re all for supporting local businesses.

So, that’s $10 used on my Visa that must be paid as soon as it appears in the account. I have OCD — I check my bank accounts online every day. I take pride in knowing how much is left in the bank on a daily basis.

The first coupon ($5 off) was used yesterday when we bought Hotlips Pizza for a couple of neighborhood kids that we invited over to play with our tot. There are plenty of coupons in the pack that I know we’ll not use so if you have any particular product or service you’re after, let me know. I can gift coupons via email.

Orange, x.

November in cash

After so many years of trying to be really really frugal, it looks like there is a need to change the way we spend. Don’t get me wrong, we do save ($10k in the bank saved in fact) but I’m not very happy about our spending habits with the extra money we have after bills are paid.

I mean, we have student loan to pay off. We have goals, like retirement and college, to fund for. Obviously we could do better than the current situation. I’d be much happier, and pleased with myself, if we really stick to the basics of spending and eat food that we cook.

Jon prefers that we eat at home, so that’s not a problem. My toddler has no opinion obviously, but I have grown up eating really yummy food at home cooked by my mom. Eating out back in the days was not the norm, it was mostly tied to an occasion. My point is that I’m (still) used to eating yummy food, so when there’s nothing yummy at home I resort to restaurants.

Of course I cook, but I don’t cook as much as I did compared to, say, a year or so ago. I keep thinking that if I didn’t get home at 5:30pm that I’d have more motivation to cook, but that’s just lame.

The idea of spending in cash only was something Jon and I had talked about. I have been so used to using my debit card for 6 years now that to revert to old style will require brain re-adjustment.

Oh well, we’ll still try it. Good thing I bought Ziplocs sometime ago, we could use them as envelopes. I budget $700/month on groceries but when I think about how much it would cost our family a week’s food, I can only justify $100. So how did I come up with the extra $300???

On November 1st, I will withdraw money for our food budget (including take-outs), personal allowances, and transportation. If we have extra, we can always deposit the money in the bank.

I don’t have notions that by end of the month we will have saved $x, but I hope that we will. It would be different to hand over REAL money at the check out when I buy groceries. I also plan to leave my debit card and Visa at home. My Visa has no balance, yet I feel like cutting it in half and pound it with a hammer. Where is my angst coming from?

Let’s see how it goes…