Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saving Cash – Need to Review Frequently to Stay on Track

It's been two weeks now since we ended our experiment – the two weeks of no spending any money. In the last two weeks, I think we have done much better about spending our money more carefully. But, have we really done a good job of saving cash? I can't say for sure, because we haven't been monitoring things closely. We can go back over our receipts for the last two weeks to check it out, but to be most effective, we need to review daily, or at least once a week. Tomorrow, on December 1, I plan to do a month in review for November, which will include our 2 weeks of experiment, and slightly more than 2 weeks of spending "normally." Stay tuned for the spending truth of November.

Most of our purchases are done through credit cards that we are paying off monthly, which earn us cash back or points for "rewards." Credit cards are easy to monitor, and various software or online programs like Quicken, Money or Mint give us nice feedback through pie charts and all. Tonight we will probably sit down and do some damage control, by reviewing where we have been overspending, and pat ourselves on the back where we have been saving cash! Oh, and while we're at it, I think we're going to see what credit card points we can cash in for various holiday gifts for friends and family. That should help us save money!

Tonight we splurged, and went out to dinner. My husband and I recently talked about how we feel it is important to support our local businesses while the economy is doing so poorly. (Not that we are going to eat out a lot, but when we do, we want to keep it local.) So we have made the conscious decision to avoid dining in chain stores, and to eat out in locally-owned restaurants. Ideally, I would like to do my holiday present shopping at unique, independent stores and boutiques, but I would also like to make things easier for myself by shopping online. Online shopping usually means national chains… I guess I'll wrestle with that issue later this week as I start my holiday shopping. Yes, I'm one of the few who did NOT do ANY holiday shopping on Black Friday or in the following days. I could regret having missed the big sales, but on the other hand, I didn't have a plan in place, which would have led to overspending, I'm sure.

Anyhow, back to dinner tonight. We went to a local Vietnamese restaurant less than 2 miles from home. We shared appetizers, and then got the weekend specially-priced Pho (soup with noodles, vegetables, and meat). Typically, a bowl of Pho is abundantly large, even in the "medium" or "regular" size, and we have found that we can share and leave full without being stuffed. So we got two of the Pho, and shared between the 4 of us. We all drank water with our meal. Since we all had a little room afterwards, we splurged and got three slushy drinks for all of us to share.

In the end, we ended up with a bill of $38, including tax and a generous tip for our server who happily accommodated all our requests for sharing . A typical dinner at our favorite independent Mexican restaurant has cost us $20 - $30 more per dinner, and we often share meals there with our children as well. Something to consider in the future…

Friday, November 28, 2008

Saving Cash on Black Friday

I know this is the day to save cash while you spend it. If you can wake up early, and get out of your turkey coma, you too can be among the many Americans waiting in line to enter stores before the sun comes up. What time did you leave to go shopping? Did you get any great deals? What did you buy? Please write and tell me, so the readers of my blog have something to read! I didn't do ANY holiday shopping today. In fact, I didn't spend a penny.

My husband did go out to buy a tire for the car, since the spare was in use from a recent unrecoverable flat. Unfortunately, the tires for that car are quite expensive. After a bit of shopping around via phone, he find one for $10 less than he thought he'd spend. And the service to change the tire was included.

We also filled up our diesel car here in Pennsylvania, and saved about 40 cents per gallon.

Next he went to Wegman's in Pennsylvania, a great grocery chain which has amazing prices. We stocked up on lots of beef and pork, paying anywhere from $2 - $4 less per pound than we typically see in the DC area stores. Our freezer is still largely empty since our two weeks of spending no money so we have plenty of room! Yea!

My big project today was humanitarian, rather than economic. A high school friend, Kelly Deardorff-Palumbo who owns Salon Halo in Mechanicsburg has heard over the years about my Senegalese friends, and offered to sell handmade African handicrafts in her store to benefit my friend Ngone. Today we created a price list, and she display handmade necklaces, wooden carvings, fabric bags, and a variety of other items in her shop. 100% of the proceeds will go to Ngone. She is trying hard to save money to become a co-owner of a beauty shop with another woman in Dakar, Senegal. Although she is struggling to buy even basic staples like rice for her family, she still holds the hope of owning her own business and contributing meaningfully to the family's finances.

I give thanks that my family is secure, and that people like Kelly are willing to help out people whom they have never even met. I hope everyone had a very nice Thanksgiving yesterday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Saving Cash - Day Whatever

The last week has been a long one for lots of health and personal reasons, pretty much rendering me brain-dead by the time there's enough peace in the house to think about blogging. We are definitely spending money again, but we haven't been monitoring it too closely. That could be terrible, I know, but I don't think we're really doing any "rebound" spending. After we get back on our feet again, and into some more normal routines, we'll take a look at everything. Maybe Thanksgiving morning will be a good time to catch up on our finances and we can give thanks that we stopped spending money for 2 weeks earlier this month!

I am still working on planning meals and sticking with the plans. Shopping lists are getting better organized.

We went out to dinner spontaneously with friends on Friday night, and spent way more than we really wanted. Have to say though, it was a big deal for me to be able to eat normal food again, after two weeks on the low iodine diet. And it was fun to be out with some friends!

Some of my upcoming blog ideas:
Holiday shopping - budgets and ideas for gifts with websites to make it less costly
Can we pull off another two weeks of not spending money?
How are we REALLY doing on saving cash?
What is the CVS game? Can I really get stuff for free regularly?
Can we really trim costs on our regular expenditures like insurance, utilities etc?

If you have anything you would like to see me blog about, let me know.

And after bringing up the thyroid issues over the last two weeks, I wanted to make sure I let you know that all the tests came back negative, meaning there's no sign of any cancer right now. Yea! Now if I can get my regular thyroid meds to get me over being hypothyroid, I could actually write a clever blog, clean all the clutter in my house, get the holiday shopping done before Dec 1, and still have time to eat bon-bons on the sofa... One thing at a time, I guess!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Saving Cash – Day 4 – Habits: Saving Money is like Dieting

Woo hoo! Without even making a conscious effort, my husband and I compared notes at the end of the day, and neither of us spent any money. I wonder how long it takes to make a habit… I think the two week experiment was a good way to kick-start a good habit (of not spending money) and also to be conscious when we do need to spend. Not spending any money for two weeks was a bit like the first two weeks of a new weight-loss diet. The beginning is very hard, and you have to think about every time you open the fridge. What will you eat? For me, there's a sense of loss at first, because bad habits must be faced and splurges must be curtailed. You have to be honest with yourself.

But then, there's the honeymoon stage. A high, of sorts. Every few days you see that you are losing weight. For a few days, you think, I can live without spending money. Look at the money I'm saving! This is awesome!

And then you hit a wall. There's something you must have, and whether it's saving money or losing weight, in both cases, I think what you want is FOOD. Not just any food. It's not something especially crucial to healthy living. It's probably a high-fat, high-calorie comfort-food. What will you do? Will you buy it? Will you eat it? How much willpower do you have? This is when I think it is important to have a goal in sight. Know WHY you have taken this challenge. Have some small goals, and have some big goals.

Whether you count calories, fat grams, Weight Watchers points, grams of carbohydrates or protein, the accountability involved is quite a bit like tracking your spending. Lucky for us, debit cards, credit cards, and checks can all be downloaded with great ease to software like, Quicken or Money. All you have to do to see how much you spend is look at the pretty pie charts and bar graphs. However, you can live with your head in the sand if you never look at your finances… If you can keep paying all your bills, you don't feel the pain so badly. If you spend a lot of cash though, you have to track it the way you track food that enters your mouth when you're dieting. You have to write it down. I think we all know that it's easy to lose track. Three dollars here at the coffee shop, six dollars here for lunch or $19.99 for some new clothes doesn't seem like a big deal, until you add it ALL up. And then, you realize all of a sudden that you have spent $1300 on things you could have done without! Or if you are not watching what you eat, it's an extra spoonful of sugar here, pouring some random amount of oil into the pan, eating the bagel your son didn't finish at breakfast… It adds up. A lot of extra calories turn into pounds. There's no avoiding it. Or at least that's what happened to me.

So when you want to trim the fat, you have to do it consciously. Most of us won't save money by accident, and it seems that few of us will lose weight without doing so consciously. I guess I'll leave it there for today…

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saving Cash - Day 3 - Meal Plans and Grocery List

Before I start today's blog, I wanted to post the picture we finally downloaded of our freezer on Day 14 after spending no money for two weeks. Thought you might appreciate it. Usually, our freezer is quite full.

It's been an easy feat saving cash today. My husband spent no money today since he ate free cheese and crackers at work. I ate breakfast super early with a double espresso at home, only had a $10 co-pay at the doctors, mailed some letters with stamps I already had, and then went and bought our first two bottles of red wine since we started the "no spending money for two weeks" experiment. The wine was a splurge, for sure, but it tasted delicious with our homemade beef stew for dinner.

Speaking of dinner, I realized I never posted our meal plans for this week and next, and I also forgot to share my shopping list with you all. I'm still stuck with tougher meal choices this week because I have to continue eating a low-iodine diet for an upcoming body scan on Friday. Hopefully Friday night I'll be given the "ok" to resume eating normal foods. I had chicken on the menu for this week, but had to change it around because it was outrageously expensive at the store. I'll work more chicken and fish into the menu next week. (I can't eat any fish this week because of the iodine and have to make sure any chicken is salt and broth-free.)

By the way, my first big shopping trip to our local grocery store on Monday was a disaster. The kids were not at all patient with me as I carefully checked coupons and specific products for purchase. They spent a lot of time picking on each other, while I was trying really hard to follow my list, and find good deals. After we got through about 2/3 of the store, I gave up on my efforts at discipline, and checked out. I didn't buy everything I wanted to get, and I forgot to give the salesclerk my coupons worth about $7. At least most of the items were also discounted with my store fidelity card, which I did have on hand. Next time I do the "big shop" I will not take both kids for my sanity and to save money.

Two- Week Meal Plan: (I bought most everything we need for these meals)
Monday - Steak, salad, homemade vinaigrette and sweet potatoes.
Tuesday - Meatloaf, orzo rice, and sauteed mushrooms
Wednesday - Beef Stew with potatoes, turnips, celery, carrots, tomato sauce, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar
Thursday - Kids will eat at our neighbor's house (I'll probably have stew)
Friday - Kids and husband will eat at International Night at local elementary school
Saturday - Going out to dinner to celebrate a family birthday in Baltimore (This will be our first meal out since we started the experiment!)
Sunday - Grilled Sausages, Potatoes, Salad, Sauerkraut

Monday - Chicken, sweet potatoes, veggies
Tuesday - Lasagna with veggies, Bread, Salad
Wednesday - Leftovers
Thursday - Thanksgiving - Take wine, cheeses, vegetable side dish
Friday - Dinner with family (my mom cooks...)
Saturday - Fish, rice, veggies
Sunday - Homemade chicken soup with corn, noodles and sandwiches

My husband helped me figure out how to post a link on the blog, so if you want to download my shopping list, you can! (We had trouble finding a way to post the link, so we are using a site we found; please do NOT pay any money to download it. As far as we can tell, it should be free. If you have any problems, send me a comment, and I'll try to solve any issues.)

My grocery list is more or less set up by aisles, so you can cut and paste it to suit your favorite grocery store. I also have notes on good prices I've found; feel free to edit them to your stores and region. It's one of my personal goals to note the best prices for all of these items, though some prices, especially for produce are seasonal. And of course, you should add in your own favorite foods and staples. Hopefully this will help you organize your trips to the store and save you some time with your planning. Typically, I try to have a few printed out at a time, and as we need items I'll just circle or highlight them on the list. Anything unusual that I buy which isn't worth typing, I just jot down in the margin. I do the meal planning on the back as I plan the shopping list or vice versa. At some point, I also try to put the final meal plans on a blank calendar and post it on the fridge. It makes me stay focused and I feel good about being organized!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Saving Cash – Day 2 – Where can I find some free money?

You might ask yourself, "Could my family give up spending money for two weeks?" I would encourage you to give it a try. While it wasn't fun running out of staples splurges like olive oil and espresso and staples like onions, store-bought bread, and sugar, it wasn't nearly as hard as I would have thought. Who can deny how great it is to succeed in saving cash quickly- about $1300 in 2 weeks??? I admit, it's getting tougher to attempt this experiment with Thanksgiving and various December holidays coming up, including many birthdays (including my son's and mine) (editor's note: Ah ha, that is why we only did 2 weeks!) But then, the rewards could be even greater! And as I stock up the basement bodega, it'll be like shopping for free at home. Saving cash. Free money.

So if you don't want to try the two week experiment of no spending money, what else can you do to achieve the desired goal of saving cash? If you don't know any millionaires who give free money, here's one way. Look for unclaimed property, including money from uncashed paychecks, lost stocks, bonds, dividends, utility deposits, insurance claims and more. For most names, they tell you whether you are owed an amount over or under $100. That's money for nothing! I filled out my form for Virginia but you could do a quick Google search here in the search box on the right with the name of your state and "unclaimed money database." It actually does look like I am owed an undisclosed amount of money! I wonder what that means; they said they would let me know in 8-10 weeks! (With my luck, it's probably less than the cost of mailing me a check) Anyhow, after I did the search to find the Pennsylvania database, I found a link to Missing Money which also has a very extensive database of people with unclaimed money. They even state whether it is over $100 or under $100. I'm not really sure how it all works though, so please be sure you trust the site. I would be wary of that!

I got pretty drawn in by the idea of finding free money, so I checked out a variety of last names including my maiden name, my mom's maiden name, and a couple of relatives. On one site I found unclaimed money for a cousin, and at another site, I found possible matches for one of my mom's cousins and his mom! Geez! I was really surprised. Then I found my father-in-law was owed money from a state he hasn't lived in since the early 70s but I am quite sure it is for him! I recently read somewhere that 1 out of 7 people have unclaimed "property" and I hope many of you are that one! I'll write more about it when I hear how much the undisclosed amount is. And hopefully I'll hear whether my relatives are getting any free money soon too. So now you can stop asking yourself, "Where can I find some free money?" because maybe it's just a click or two away.

(I can't stop humming money for nothing dire straights…)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Saving Cash – Day 1 - The Two Weeks are Over. What now???

We are dedicated to holding onto the $1300 we saved in the last two weeks, so that means we have to be careful as we re-enter the spending scene!

I know you probably want to know whether we went overboard. Old habits die hard, so my husband stopped for a coffee on the way to work. He also desperately needed to fill his car up with gas. I'm not sure if he took his lunch today, or if he will buy it.

What is it that people say about best laid plans? Yesterday, I planned my two-week menu plan, wrote a shopping list, organized my coupons, and then got online with Safeway, one of our grocery stores. I could get free delivery since it was my first on-line order with delivery, and through I could earn another 1% in cash back. Great, I thought. I spent well over 2 hours carefully examining the best deals by price per ounce, or price per pound, and then comparing store brands with those for which those I had coupons. I thought I was being so savvy…until I finished around 11:45 pm last night, exhausted, and watched my computer freeze up. No chance to print a list, no nothing. And in the blink of a bloodshot eye, all my work was lost. Calmly I went to get ready for bed, and checked back with the computer, and sure enough, everything was still frozen and gone. How frustrating! I thought I was being so frugal, clever, and time-saving to place my order for delivery later on Monday. Oh well.

You all probably thought the first thing I would do today would be rush to the grocery store. After a breakfast of homemade bread with no-salt almond "butter" for me, and a bowl of cereal with milk and bread with butter for my son, we finally got him off to pre-school. I rushed off to my pre-paid training class at the gym. I got in a good workout before heading to the doctor's office. On the way there, I realized there's a small supermarket with great prices on fresh produce, so I stopped in and zipped through the produce aisles. On the way to the checkout, I saw some good steaks for $5.99 a pound, so I grabbed a pack for dinner tonight. That was an awesome quick trip to the store; I was in and out in less than 12 minutes, and spent less than $30. If I wasn't so annoyed about my computer freeze-up last night, I would probably go and compare prices, because I am 99% sure I saved quite a bit by going to International/Grand Mart. If I get inspired later, I probably will check it out.

In the meantime, I checked out the weekly sales flier for another grocery store, Harris Teeter, and made a quick and easy shopping list based on sales items we need to buy. I printed it quickly after finishing this time, and after my daughter is home from school, we'll head to the grocery store.

Lastly, here's a printable tide coupon to share.

We are completely out of laundry detergent, and I think the Tide brand is on sale at Harris Teeters, so hopefully I'll get a good price with the coupon too! I just signed up for the coupon, which is going to be sent to me in a few weeks… In the meantime, I did find a Tide coupon from the Sunday supplements, but I'm not sure if that was this last Sunday or the one before. Hopefully you can find one before you are out of detergent too!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Day 14 – Two Weeks of Saving Money (Saving Cash)

It was two weeks' ago this evening when we decided to try to not spend any money for two whole weeks, beyond our regularly scheduled bills, utilities, and our mortgage. Although it wasn't easy, we did quite well in the end. Check out my post on Day 7 for the mid-week review. Here are the results of the second week of the experiment. Drum roll, please… TOTAL SAVINGS FOR THE TWO WEEKS – about $1320. Talk about saving cash! Wow. And we still have a lot more work to do. The experiment is NOT really over. Stay tuned to see where we go from here with a goal of saving cash. In the meantime, here's this last week's breakdown.

Money saved this week = $720 (estimated, of course):

  1. Food and dining expenses (including going to coffee shops, husband's lunches at work at restaurants, Farmer's Market) - about $370 saved
  2. Retro Black Tie Event in our neighborhood - saved $105 for tickets + $100 for a "retro" dress (I really would have loved going to this event.)
  3. Ladies' Night In with friends- saved about $30 by not going out (They knew I wasn't spending money, so they offered to stay in!)
  4. Electronic Gadgets $50 (My husband longingly went to Best Buy twice to look around)
  5. Clothing $50 (I'm planning to hit a consignment store and Salvation Army to check out the clothing bargains)
  6. Out of area YMCA $5 (husband was going to work out near work one day, but waited, so he wouldn't have the extra fee)
  7. I-Tunes music downloads $10
  8. Cut up a high interest rate credit card – priceless

Money Spent:

  1. Gas – Bought only 5 gallons for Beetle, and filled up the Toyota since the price per gallon was good (I could have gotten by on 5 gallons or less, though)
  2. Salt-free snacks – Spent under $6 for salt-free almonds and salt-free rice cakes, not entirely necessary, but greatly desired due to my low-iodine diet
  3. Co-pay at doctor visit - $10

What helped us through the two weeks:

  1. Regularly scheduled home delivery of half gallon of milk and dozen eggs
  2. Our last delivery of our pre-paid Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share of vegetables – which lasted us through the week, with lots of salad and various greens
  3. Netflix and Cable – Instead of going out, we have interesting shows and movies to watch (I know we could have cancelled them, and we're negotiating that now)
  4. Our fridge, cupboards, and storage – dried goods like pasta and rice, frozen meats, canned goods

The top ten things we ran out of, in alphabetical order, because it's hard to decide which made us suffer the most (editor's note (husband): lack of espresso was the most painful):

  1. Bread (but we made it from scratch instead)
  2. Espresso, caffeinated
  3. Fruit of all kinds, canned and fresh
  4. Gas for the cars (but we did buy some)
  5. Honey
  6. Jam
  7. Laundry detergent (husband says there are a few drops left, enough to eke out half a load, but I don't believe him)
  8. Meat and fish (beef, chicken, lamb, fish, pork)
  9. Olive oil
  10. Onions

The other staples we ran out of:

  1. Pasta
  2. White granulated sugar
  3. Cream cheese
  4. Yogurt
  5. Dried thyme and bay leaves - which we seem to use in every other meal
  6. No-salt tomato paste, no-salt Dijon mustard, no-salt tomato sauce, no-salt diced tomatoes – all necessities for my low-iodine diet
  7. Celery, White Potatoes
  8. Cheddar cheese
  9. Eggs (but we got more every Monday morning)
  10. Cheerios, Rice Crispies
  11. Plain popcorn and pretzels
  12. Scotch Brite Scrubbies (certain pans have not gotten cleaned very well for a week!)
  13. Believe me, there are plenty of other little things on the list, but I'm not going to write them all here!

What are the top purchases requested for tomorrow?

  1. Tomatoes and cucumbers – 4.5 year old son (Believe it or not!)
  2. Tomatoes! – 7.5 year old daughter (And even after pressing her for more ideas, that's all she wants tomorrow, she says, with salt and pepper)
  3. A good steak and beer – husband (Guess that's dinner for Monday night)
  4. Anything and everything that is salt-free and therefore ok for my low-iodine diet, but especially everything listed in #6 above, and red wine. - Katy

I know we can't keep eating out of our cupboards forever, but it is tempting. We need some better sources of protein and some fruits, in particular! But it has been a great experiment and an eye-opening experience. Tomorrow I'll share my master shopping list, my two-week meal plans based on what we already still have in the house, and some of our ideas for cutting more costs. Saving cash is our goal. What about you? What are you doing to save? What are your cost-cutting techniques? I'd love to hear what you have to share. And if you have stopped spending money too, send some comments to share with everyone! And let's hope that I don't spend all of our hard-saved money tomorrow at the grocery store!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Day 13 – Almost There!

The Pizza Hut car was on our street twice today. I longingly wished for a pizza… Buying one is out of the question. Although we're not spending any money, we could scrounge up the ingredients for the pizza dough, but the pizza sauce would have to be half a can of no-salt tomato paste. That's about all we have. And about 3 tablespoons' worth of a chunk of cheddar cheese. Could toss some greens on top. Or some black radishes. But no pepperoni, no green peppers, no mushrooms. Doesn't sound too appealing. And so we will wait until next week.

But we ate well tonight. We ate the last of our frozen chicken, two boneless breasts dredged in flour, non-iodized salt, paprika and ground black pepper, sautéed in canola oil. Everyone but me also had freshly shredded parmesan cheese on top since we still have a hunk left. I baked last week's gift of brussel sprouts spritzed with olive oil, and salt and pepper. Again, the others had parmesan cheese melted on top. My husband even decided to mix up some biscuits (from scratch) which they enjoyed (but alas, no butter for me, so no biscuits).

Due to arrival of international leaders for the G-20 Economic Summit in DC, it took my husband a frightening 2 hours and 15 minutes to get home from work yesterday, as compared to his typical 35-minute drive. That wasted quite a bit of gas in our Beetle, I was really disappointed to see when I was driving it today. So we'll have to stick with my car tomorrow if we want to make it through the day without getting gas yet a-gain.

My cell phone hasn't been able to hold a charge on the battery for several weeks, so finally we looked up our plan, and saw I am eligible for a new phone. My husband, who is a great lover of new technology, asked me which model I wanted. I replied that I would take the best one that's free. He asserted that no such phone exists. In the end, I don't even see a point in getting a "nice" phone. I just want something that will get good reception, and can be hands-free. As much as I might like a Crackberry, I probably don't need that addiction to add to my current list of weaknesses. We'll decide before Monday which free phone I'll get. We also looked at my fees for text messages. I pay about $10/month now, and I can probably get and send as many messages or more by getting a $5/month plan. That's $60 saved for the year, which is certainly some sort of family splurge – maybe one nice dinner for the family at a restaurant. Or maybe that's money for one week's grocery bill ;) We plan to review our plans in more detail to see if there's more fat to trim. My husband has a pretty extensive plan for his phone, but most of that is reimbursed since he uses his phone so much for work. Still, we want to review this, because telecommunications is one area where Americans tend to spend a lot, and often way more than they intend to. Intentional, not accidental spending, is one of our new goals.

We're getting intentional. Deliberate. Cutting coupons. Making a 2-week menu plan. Checking out what's on sale at our local stores. Determined to spend way less than two weeks ago. Researching the cheapest prices for the items we want to have in our basement bodega. We're getting ready. We're almost there!

Thanks for Reading and Commenting!

I really wanted to say thanks to everyone who has been following our endeavors the last few weeks. Blogging about not spending money keeps us honest. It's one thing to admit to my husband that I bought rice cakes and almonds last night, but what if I had gone crazy, spent much more, and then had to blog about it?! Well, I guess that would make me human, but embarrassed too! The accountability is good for me. And I like writing anyhow!

Your comments are right on. All of you have good ideas, or support ones we have considered or read about it. I wish the comments were more visible for everyone to see easily, like they are on some blogs, but since I'm new at this, the mechanics fall to the way-side a bit! All you have to do is click on the comment icon to read the others, or write your own.

I have a dorky fascination with the map of readers on my blog. Maybe it's the side of me that is "Planet Perspectives" but I love seeing the flags all around the world. If you know someone in a country or state that doesn't have a flag, send them the link for me. My kids really enjoy looking at the map too, and they're starting to learn their countries and flags as well. My 4-year old read "Kansas" the other day - so a shout-out to all of you in Kansas who keep the flag flying!!! ;)

There was request for me to share my shopping list. I think I can do that with an attachment; I'll check that out later today.

Thanks again to everyone for following my blog, and good luck with your own spending!And for those of you interested in the Africa-side of my blog, I hope to get back to that as well in the next week.

Day 12 - Slowly the Spending Starts

This is really yesterday's post, reporting how Friday went. I had a doctor's appointment about 40 minutes from home in the morning. With rush hour traffic out Route 66, it took a bit longer. Reluctant to put gas in my car earlier in the week, I noticed the empty light fading on and off on my way out of town. I could have called AAA for free to bring me a gallon of gas if I ran out, but it just seemed like it was time to put gas in the car to make it the 25 miles or so back home. For $2.29 a gallon, I decided to go all the way, and fill up the car. Gas in my neighborhood was running at least 5 cents more per gallon, so I decided it would be a good idea. Why is it that we are willing to go out of our way for gas that's 2 or 3 cents cheaper a gallon, but many people won't clip a few coupons that would save them $10 or more on a visit to a grocery store? I put $24.25 worth of gas into my car, and drive home worry-free.

For dinner last night, we finished out last frozen ground beef, a taco seasoning packet, our last frozen soft corn tortillas, our last shredded cheddar cheese, the last of our salsa, and the last of our olives. I couldn't eat any of it because of my low-iodine diet restrictions. The kids and husband had decent soft tacos. I ate leftovers from earlier in the week and a big salad with mixed greens from our farm-share. We never could have made it through the last two weeks without our fresh veggies from our Potomac Valley Farm.

The two-week experiment in not spending money is still going pretty well. What is getting to me is my special no-iodine diet that I must follow for two weeks. We still have some canned goods left in our pantry, but all of them contain salt, so I can't eat them, assuming that the salt is iodized. In the fridge, there are no condiments I can use, except the teaspoon left in our no-salt added Dijon mustard, which I use daily to make a vinaigrette. I'm telling you all of this to soften you up for our first non-essential purchase of the two weeks.

I met friends last night for a "Ladies' Night In" where we watched a movie and had a chance to hang out without kids. Everyone was very conscious of my food limitations, so we planned some snacks I could eat as well. But on the way to my friend's house, I was craving a crunchy, non-vegetable snack. Options were limited, so I stopped at the grocery store and bought plain, salt-free rice cakes. I also got some unsalted almonds. Total bill $6.96. I could have contented myself with the snacks my friends brought: delicious dairy-free, soy-free chocolate which was amazingly decadent and raw veggies. But on the way over, I wanted something else. I figured that it was a forgivable splurge, because I really haven't had many food choices this last week on this annoying diet!

On our last day of the experiment, I'll detail our plans for the next week, where we hope to spend as little money as possible except where we can get good savings on our purchases, and start "stocking the basement bodega" as Gregory Karp (Spending Smart, Living Rich) calls it. And, we must set a holiday spending budget…

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day 11 – The Cheat-Sheet

So we're in the home stretch. Just a few days left. Will we rebound out of control, buying everything our little hearts desire? Funny, but I'm not really desiring much, except to stockpile some fruit!

I'm preparing for next Monday when I actually go to the grocery store again. I have a typed up master version of my typical shopping list, and I've been looking it over. In the book I borrowed from the library the other day, Living Rich by Spending Smart, by Gregory Karp, he suggests that we should stockpile food on sale for our best savings. He asserts that most people can save up to 20% by stockpiling on food and non-food items. (Based on our guestimations, 20% saved on grocery store purchases would be $1500 - $3000 a year!) In the world according to Karp, we should buy items on sale, use coupons, stock up, try store brands, and even consider a second freezer which will pay for itself over time. It's important to know the best prices for the items one tends to buy, so you can snatch an item when it's a great deal. Or buy as many as you are allowed to, or can afford!

I am goal-setting now. Making a plan. I don't want to go crazy. I'm still feeling miserly and we still have a fair amount in the cupboards…

First, I want to buy the things we really want, or need. So far, that list includes fruit, espresso, extra -virgin olive oil, onions, bay leaves, eggs, yogurt for the kids, no-salt added diced tomatoes, no-salt Dijon mustard, applesauce, and gas for our two cars. The kids want cream cheese for their bagels again; we were completely out when we started the experiment and they have been good sports about giving up their "favorite" breakfast item. (Their "favorite" changes about every four days.) I also want to head to the post office to mail a gift to a friend who recently had a baby.

Next, I want to identify the grocery store products that we use on a regular basis, and I will look for coupons and stock up on what we can. I intend to create meal plans around what we still have in the pantry, fridge, and freezer. Unless the item is very greatly wanted or needed, or very reduced, I don't want to buy it!

I started looking at the grocery store's circular fliers to find low sale prices and I'm noting them directly on my master shopping list. That way, we have a low-price goal, and if we forget what a good price is for a particular item, we have a cheat-sheet. Some people can just remember the best price per pound for 7 different cuts of various meats, but not us. We need the cheat-sheet!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Day 10 – Break-down

Yep, we had to give in before we actually had a real break-down. Not mental, mind you, but money. We bought gas today. Believe me; we debated it for quite some time before we agreed to put 5 gallons into the Beetle. My husband had to leave for work at 6:30 am today to attend a conference which was on the other side of DC, and then had a work dinner afterwards at a different location. He didn't have any carpooling options, so we considered the metro. Maybe we had some old metro cards somewhere in the house that he could have used for fares. Maybe I could have driven it up the hill to my son's pre-school, and could have put it in neutral to coast down the hill to save gas. Or maybe it was just time to spend a little money. Diesel costs more than regular, and our Beetle is a diesel, so I'm guessing he spent around $13. But he was getting a free breakfast, lunch and dinner today, so that was probably well-worth it!

Another near break-down almost occurred today when I realized my morning drink of choice will be no more. My lovely double-espresso with a tiny spoonful of raw sugar is finished. I must switch to decaf espresso or regular coffee. I can do either, but I do really like to have at least one double-espresso a day. (Yes, I hear the violins playing for me…)

Our fridge is looking very empty. I should probably clean the inside of it while there isn't too much to move around. I think that was a Fly Lady task for today, but I might not get to it until tomorrow.

On a healthy note, I'm getting back into the routine of making homemade bread in our Zojirushi bread machine. It's so easy to do; my 4-year old did most of the measurements independently today. The clean up is fast and simple, and best of all, we have hot bread every other day! Yum!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 9 - Getting creative, Looking for more Ideas

First, I was listening to radio station WTOP in the DC area this morning, when I caught the tail end of some frugal living news story. I checked out their website, and they have some good stories to read at I'll be checking those out as I have more time this week.

The Washington Post also had an interesting article in the Heath/Wellness section today. Free ways to work out... Apparently Lululemon, a clothing store, offers free yoga classes. Cool! I know there's one at Tyson's Corner mall; if I could ever get out for a long enough period of time without kids in tow, I might give it a go! And there's a woman's-only walk/run group that gives you a free shirt if you attend 4 times before Christmas, and all kinds of extra goodies - I might just go check that out some evening. There's another place in DC that offers free yoga classes to give back to the community. Sounds good to me! Karma. What goes around comes around, eventually! I think that's the way our friends, family, and neighborhood work as well.

Now we are running out of some items and need to figure out what we'll do. Sugar is getting low, which I need for making my homemade bread, which is a current necessity with my special diet. But I could probably substitute honey, so I think we can make do a bit longer. Or we could try one of my impulse purchases a few months ago - agave nectar - which I had read is a good sweetener subsititute for sugar. So I guess we're ok there.

Olive oil! We don't have much left. This is a crucial staple in our household. We make our fried eggs (and my boring 3-egg white omelettes) in it, we use it in our daily vinaigrettes, we sautee veggies in it. This is our liquid gold. Because I can't eat any dairy or soy now, I'm even drizzling olive oil on my homemade bread. I don't think drizzling canola oil would have the same effect! But we do have other oils on hand, so I tried a peanut oil for my vinaigrette, and it was different, but tasty. I think we can survive this one, but it will be tough!

Gas. My husband and I traded cars on Monday, so he could use my Toyota for his longer commutes, leaving me with the nearly-empty Beetle. This morning, the empty warning light came on. It's a long uphill walk to my son's pre-school, a walk which would probably take well over an hour with a little guy. He rides his scooter and two-wheeler well, but the hill is very long and steep. It would be dangerous in either direction. We can probably do one more roundtrip in the car, but I'm not really sure we should try to eke out many more miles than that. I probably have 1/2 gallon in the shed for the lawn mower, but that does sound a bit extreme. We will have to ponder this dilemma. We may have to give in to buying a gallon or two of gas to make it through to the end of the 2 weeks.

But... I am actually looking around the house for things to sell, so we can justify the purchase of gas or anything else that comes up. I found a few things that we could put on Craig's List - one is a great Le Creuset Square Grill Pan that retails at $150. I'm sure I didn't pay that much for it, but I think I can still sell it at a bargain for someone else, and still make some good money. I love the piece, but the only purpose it serves us is taking up room in the cupboard. We much prefer to use the grill outside or broil in the oven, so it's something we have only used once. Wish me luck!

As I look for items to sell on Craig's List, I am also gathering various Senegalese products I have on hand that a friend of mine plans to sell in her shop. Together, we'll donate the proceeds to my struggling friend in Dakar who is trying to save money to open her own shop in Senegal. I might try to get a picture up on the blog so you all can see what's we're working on.

I guess that's about all for now. I found some free coupons for our local frozen custard shop, so the kids and I are going to walk over so they can indulge in a kiddie cone. Then we'll head over to the library to drop off last week's borrowed videos, so we don't get any late fees! That's the last thing we need now!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Day 8 – Getting over the shock

Is it really possible that we saved nearly $500 - $600 last week by not spending any money? I am still finding it hard to believe. On one hand, I'm excited about the actual money we saved, and on the other hand I am embarrassed over how much we may have been wasting these last few months. We looked over our finances on our Mint account (which we love, by the way) and based on past spending patterns, it seems pretty accurate.

Bills continue to roll in. I got a $30 bill from a specialist I saw recently and need to check to make sure I didn't already pay it. And then I got whammed with a $251.31 hospital bill for the thyroidectomy I had done LAST November 26, 2007. Nothing like efficiency on the part of health care insurance… I don't know why they are trying to charge this to me now, so I am sure I will be spending quite a bit of time frustrated on the phone with our former health care insurance to try to figure this one out. Not my idea of a fun way to spend a morning.

On a brighter note, I culled through a bunch of piles of clothes that have been accumulating in my bedroom. My last two trips to Africa were less than three weeks apart, and I hadn't fully unpacked yet! So I got a neater and more peaceful room out of my efforts as well as some possible extra cash ---I decided to return some clothes. I have a nice travel skirt to return (too small), some J-41 shoes which I love but are too small, a pair of pants I bought last time I was at Target (not flattering), and a sports bra/tank (I decided I already have enough since I do laundry every other day anyhow). All in all, this should be a good way to put some money back onto our credit cards! Oh, and I forgot to report that last night we cut up our credit card with the highest interest rate, which was earning us nothing, and we hadn't had it for a super long time anyhow. While I'm on the phone with the health insurance tomorrow, I will also multi-task and try to score some lower interest rates on the credit cards we still have. I'll let you know how that goes.

On another blog, someone suggested that watching electric/heating costs is a good way to save money. I totally agree, and we're working on it. I think we need to start with the winter weather-proofing. Our house was built in the 1930s and it has its share of issues. In the DC area, temperatures are supposed to drop to near freezing tonight which is cold for us, so we better get started soon. In the meantime, I'm going to go out to our little backyard garden and pick the last of our green tomatoes and the basil in case it does actually freeze.

Lastly, for anyone following my thyroid issues and current low-iodine diet, I am proud to report that even on this diet where I have to avoid so many foods, I have not yet gone to the grocery store. I really thought I would need to, or worse yet, I would use it as an excuse to go shopping. At least now, I think when I really absolutely do need to go, I will be able to keep it to the bare minimum needed.

Another day down. Thanks for your support and comments. And here's a shout-out to my cuz who is planning to stop spending tomorrow. Glad I could be of some inspiration!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Day 7 – The Two Week Experiment Is Half Way Done, Or Is It?

A week ago today we decided to stop spending money for two weeks. In the end, if my husband's work expenses are reimbursable, we spent no money beyond the usual "bills" and we didn't even mooch much off our friends. I know we have saved a lot of money, but more than anything, I think we welcome the chance to reevaluate our spending habits and enjoy the challenge.

Tonight we asked the kids what we could do to save even more money. They suggested we start selling things to earn money – such as lemonade, cookies, and cupcakes. In the middle of our dinner-time discussion, we all ran off to turn off lights – and found six lights throughout the house to turn off. We all need to be more aware of saving electricity. The kids know we need to save resources, so they mentioned saving water. Our older daughter suggested we refill our water bottles with tap water (which we already do) but to only do so when we are really, really thirsty. We assured her that we will not be thrifty about drinking water from the faucet, but we could think about other things. She proudly announced that she took a 3-minute shower this evening, which was true. The conversation turned to heating the house. It was suggested that we shouldn't use the heat "unless we are freezing".

To stay warm in a freezing house, the kids suggested we could do the following:

  1. Wear socks.
  2. Wear a sweater or sweatshirt.
  3. Sit criss-cross (so your feet are tucked under and stay warm)
  4. Rub your feet, both with your hands, and by rubbing your feet together, because rubbing makes things hot.

Here's what we spent:

  1. Business lunch and parking – husband – probably reimbursable
  2. All normal utilities and mortgage as they were due
  3. Son's pre-school tuition and daughter's music lessons for the month of November
  4. "Discretionary" expenses that are paid for in advance – cable, cell phones, TIVO, Netflix, YMCA membership, Vegetable CSA Farm-Share, Milk and Egg Weekly delivery, etc.

Here's what we probably saved – about $500-$600 for the week:

  1. Daily lunches at work for husband – average $5 - $10 a day – so let's say $35 for the week.
  2. Dinner at our favorite local Mexican restaurant – around $60.
  3. Trips to Dunkin Donuts (for coffee only, believe it or not) – around $10 for the week.
  4. Double espresso with whipped cream – a few times a week – around $7 for the week.
  5. Grocery store purchases – I was going to do a "big shop" last Monday when we got this started, but didn't – saved about $200 probably.
  6. Pedicure – I love to have one after a trip to a hot, dry, sandy West African country - around $25
  7. Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings - $15
  8. Buying wine for company - $25
  9. Buying special food for cooking for company - $50
  10. Buying extra milk since we ran out early- $4
  11. Buying fruit (we actually bartered some kale and collard greens for fruit) - $3
  12. Buying eggs (we actually owe someone some greens for the eggs we got from them) - $3
  13. Clothes purchases - $50?
  14. Electronic gadgets - $50?
  15. Downloading music from I-Tunes - $10?

Scary. Depressing. But there's still hope for us... I hope!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Day 6 - Didn't Spend a Cent!

Today was a typical Saturday, except we didn't spend a penny. I avoided walking to our neighborhood Farmer's Market; we're already pretty well-stocked with green vegetables, squash, and sweet potatoes from our CSA farm-share. Our children had extracurricular activities in DC and closer to home. Usually, one of us will grab a coffee at Starbuck's. Not today! My husband actually went to check out the DC YMCA to get his exercise in, because our family membership allows us to go to other YMCAs for FREE! Yea! But the pool was full with Saturday-morning swimming lessons, so he just headed back to wait for my daughter's class to end.

We managed to find some frozen chicken in our freezer that shouldn't have been packaged with salt, so we made a simple dinner: chicken in garlic and herbs with non-iodized salt, roasted sweet potatoes and roasted butternut squash. Our neighbors and we sometimes share meals, so we joined them at their place. I stuck with the food we made, because of the iodine issue (salt, butter, Parmesan cheese, sausage were all a "no-go") but everyone else ate a bit of everything. My husband was happy to be offered a beer with dinner, since we don't have any!

Must Admit: Nothing. It was an easy day for me.
Savings Surprise: We easily spend $15-$20 when we go to the Farmer's Market.
Note: I'm eating a low-iodine diet (LID) for about 2 weeks now. It's going to challenge our spending habits in a few days, I suspect. You can read Day 5 Part 2 if you want all the details on LID.

Day 5 - Part 2 - Thyroid Cancer Stories, The Dreaded Low-Iodine Diet, and Still Determined to Keep Saving Cash

I know this might be too much information for the average reader, but hey, you are not the average reader. You know I love Africa, you know I am crazy enough to try to not spend money for two weeks, and you may know that I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer early last December. Long story short if you're not up-to-date on the thyroid cancer part: everything is going very well, and does go well for most people with a small tumor of papillary cancer, which is what I had removed last November.

When I was at the doctor yesterday, I got two pieces of unexpected news. Neither was earth-shattering, but for some reason really set my head spinning. First, I found out that my thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) was WAY above normal levels (mine was 26 – normal is .5 to 5.0). A change in my prescription should solve the problem in a few weeks. In the meantime, I can expect to have symptoms of hypothyroidism: fatigue, being tired, getting bloated, slowed metabolism, gaining weight, and others which are equally annoying. Not a huge deal, but I was surprised my TSH levels had changed so much since I was last tested about a month ago. The other bit of news was regarding the dreaded low-iodine diet (LID). As I mentioned in another recent post, I have to do a Whole Body Scan (WBS) as part of a check to make sure that no thyroid cells are found in my body, because if there are some, they could be cancerous. (Mine were removed in my thyroidectomy, and then zapped with a radioactive pill in early 2008, so I shouldn't have any at all.) So anyhow, the low-iodine diet prepares your body to want to suck up the radioactive iodine they will give me in a pill, so they can then scan my body and look for uptake. Ok, if this is too medical for you, here comes the day-to-day part of it. I thought I needed to start this diet in a week or two. The nurse said, nope, you should have started a few days ago to be on the conservative side. So…

I can't eat any iodine. Well, officially I can eat miniscule amounts, but basically, I have to avoid it all. Iodine does NOT equal salt. But that said, salt in the USA has iodine added, unless you specifically buy non-iodized salt. Pick up any pre-packaged products in your house. Most have salt. You have to assume it's iodized. All dairy products also contain iodine. Potato skins contain iodine. Rice has iodine too, although basmati rice apparently has very low amounts. Many dried beans have some iodine. Store-bought meat usually is packaged with some broth or salt. And on goes the list. I'll be doing this LID for about two weeks. Last time I had to do it, I started shopping at least a month in advance, because it is so incredibly hard to find products with no-salt added. Even sea salt naturally contains iodine, as do all products from the sea (fish, shrimp, algae). Soy has iodine too. And soy is in so much of what we eat as well! Ugh! So when I found out I was supposed to start eating low-iodine products immediately, my head started spinning. Could I go home and eat anything besides greens? What would I make my friend for lunch? Would I be able to eat the same thing too? Would I have to buy a lot more "necessity" items to do this diet?

Everything at the doctor's office took much longer than planned. At 11:30 I was still in line to get my new prescription so I was forced to cancel my lunch. I came home and made myself a salad, and found no-salt Dijon mustard leftover from last LID, so I made myself some vinaigrette. (Store-bought salad dressings are out of the question.) Eating low-iodine, is eating healthy in general. The safest way to go is with real foods, whole foods, made from scratch. Because this is the most important test for me to check on any active thyroid cancer, I have to take it very seriously. My head was spinning for a few hours while I contemplated my fatigue which I thought was caused by jet-lag from my trip to Senegal last week. Guess not.

We were having company for dinner, so we got out the non-iodized salt, and started coming through the fridge. We had already defrosted a small boneless leg of lamb, and planned to bake it with some herbs, garlic and sweet potato slices from our veggie farm share. Some delicious mixed greens with my no-salt vinaigrette, and we were ready for dinner. I pulled out a bunch of our favorite appetizers, including olives, salted corn nuts, baked pitas, and chorizo. (Appetizers were NOT LID). Both guests brought a bottle of red wine, which was a welcome addition to a meal with lamb, especially since we didn't have any on hand!

One of our guests was the friend who initially told us about his friend David Hochman who did a similar experiment for one month and wrote about it in Reader's Digest. I did finally find the story for free online, so here it is: Maybe it will inspire you too! We had a delicious dinner and even managed to end it with some dessert, Turrón, from Spain. It's a honey almond nougat-type sweet. Oh, and did I mention we not only got some red wine from our guests, but also a huge stem of fresh Brussel Sprouts?

Must admit: I'm considering what I need to buy at the grocery store for my LID, but I really want to keep it essential and minimal.

Savings Surprises: Normally we would have gone out to buy plenty of groceries for company and red wine. I'm sure we saved at least $50 by eating and drinking what we had on hand, and probably another $50 worth of groceries we would have just bought, just because.

I had some down time between dropping my son off at pre-school and my doctor's appointment. Normally I would have stopped in at Starbuck's for at least a coffee, and maybe a treat as well. Must have saved around $5.

I didn't think I would make it through the day of low-iodine eating with food we had on hand. If we weren't doing this experiment, I probably would have gone to Trader Joe's, Giant, and Whole Foods, and I guarantee I would have spent at least $50 - $100, probably at each place.

Day 5, Part 1- Saving Cash, By Not Spending Any

With no free wireless internet at the doctor's office waiting room, I watched the bleak job stories on CNN. I think they said something like 1.7 million jobs were lost since the beginning of 2008. We have seen our retirement savings drop, like everyone I guess, and have watched the rising prices of food in our neighborhood grocery stores. It seems almost fortuitous that we decided to stop spending money for two weeks. We're only on Day 5, and so far it hasn't been too hard. Though we live in a small house, with a small kitchen, we still manage to have a stash of food throughout the house. I'm realizing now we were better prepared for a hurricane, major snowstorm or terrorist attack than I had previously imagined. And today, we plan to have friends over for lunch and for dinner, using what we had on hand. No special purchases for guests!

Ok, so this is not impossible, eating our way through the food we have on hand. But in a sense our "experiment" is made much easier by all the automated costs we already have in place. Beyond utilities and our mortgage, we have automated payments for all kinds of discretionary expenses. Our gym membership at the YMCA is charged automatically each month. We pay for the Washington Post two months at a time. Most of our magazine subscriptions were earned through frequent flier miles about to expire on an airline we never use any more. There are a few other subscriptions we pay for, but once you pay for the year, it's easily forgotten. What about the other miscellaneous monthly or even the more hidden yearly expenses that we should examine? I guess this will be our next big project in the weeks to come.

Must Admit: I spent about $26 today on 90 days worth of a necessary prescription.

Savings Surprise: The routine physical exams with our internist doctor were free for my husband and me: no co-pay! I also got a free flu shot at the office. Despite getting a prescription filled, the generic for 3 months was $26, vs $60 or $90 for the brand. The parking garage at the doctor's was free.

Note: This was the morning of Day 5, Friday November 7. The afternoon and evening created some challenges which I'll write about for my next post…

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Day 4: To Gas, To Bike?

Day 4, Evening, of the Two-Week Experiment

Well, we made it through another day of no spending, with only a little blip in the plan. The planned business lunch and necessary parking took place as planned in downtown DC for my husband, and I'm feeling confident I'll be fine whipping up something decent for my friend to eat at lunch tomorrow. Since we didn't plan on doing this 2-week experiment, we are starting to wonder about some upcoming desired expenses. I don't drive much in a typical week, and my car was pretty full of gas on Sunday evening when we spontaneously decided to start our spending blackout. My husband, however, drives about 20 miles each way to work, and then often has to go into DC for meetings in the middle of the day. He can sure put a lot of miles on our Y2K Bug in any given day. Luckily he gets great gas mileage on our little diesel Beetle. He actually considered riding his bike to work, but he's not necessarily a big biker yet, and with the back and forth with meetings, it could be nearly impossible to do. Car-pool? Not likely to find someone in his small firm who lives nearby. Public transportation? Doesn't exactly get you out to the suburbs near Dulles easily - no metro out there – and then getting back into DC would be tricky. So I guess we'll have to decide what to do. Maybe we'll just trade cars when he starts getting low, but the point of the experiment is NOT to run out of gas while taking the kids to school. So we'll have to keep an eye on the gas situation.

Hey, and just a reality check here. I know we are quite lucky to have a very decent stash of food on hand to keep us eating without resorting to dumpster diving. (I saw "normal" middle class people doing it on Oprah one day.) When I'm in Africa, whether it's Senegal, Benin, or Burkina Faso, I am always confronted by poverty, every day, several times a day. I don't live very far from it in Alexandria, but I am not confronted by it in the same way. Although there will certainly be personal financial rewards from our frugal living for two weeks, it is also a reminder of what it means to have, or not. I have already noted on my calendar when I can resume spending money to buy several dozen cans of beans and corn for my daughter's elementary school Thanksgiving food drive, which goes to families whose children attend school with her on free and reduced lunches. It will definitely be nice to spend some of our saved money on others who need it more than we do.

Day 4: Upcoming Lunch dates

Day 4 – Mid-Morning Musings…

I had a really great workout today at the YMCA. Our membership is pre-paid, so we can go without forking over any money on a daily basis. Certainly raises the frugality question though – if we are walking or running, couldn't we do that on our neighborhood streets, rather than in a gym? On the other hand, my husband and I are training for a sprint triathlon in Spring or Summer of 2009, and having an indoor pool in Virginia is pretty crucial. I am also a long way from my ideal weight, strength, or stamina, so having other people around is helpful to keep me going. The membership is something we'll reevaluate at some point, but for now, we're keeping it.

Before leaving for work, my husband went through the list of his meetings, including one with a friend at lunchtime. He'll have to spend money at a restaurant for this one. It's work-related, he assured me, and has been planned for a while now. It certainly brings into question the "working lunch" which is so common in Washington D.C. Everyone is desperate to eke out every minute of the day, especially when so much time is lost in the commute! And it is kind of hard to say to a friend who works elsewhere, "Hey, let's meet at my office and I'll nuke some pre-packaged Indian meal for you." That just doesn't fly in the professional world, does it?

I have my own lunch date coming up. I checked my calendar yesterday, and realized I had scheduled a tentative lunch date with an old high school friend I haven't seen for about 6 months. In an effort to stay legit on my "no-spending money" I invited him for lunch at my house. My husband seemed mildly entertained as he questioned what I would serve him. Uh, yeah, good question. I have some canned kid's macaroni and cheese, some pasta but no pasta sauce, cheddar cheese but no lunch meat, very few slices of bread left. But I will meet the challenge if he is able to make it over. And if he is reading this blog, he shouldn't worry; I'll feed him well. I can still make homemade bread, we have fresh-from-the-farm greens, I make an awesome vinaigrette, and we have frozen chicken. With Jacques Pepin's "Fast Food My Way" and a little creativity I'm sure I can feed him well. And I make a pretty good espresso.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Day 3: Barter for the bubbly widow?

My husband was looking to barter for an old, bubbly widow last night after the election results came in. It was our first debate over the intricacies of not spending any money for 2 weeks: Could he sell something in order to buy a bottle of French Veuve Clicquot champagne? I held the hard-line. Even if he sold something to get the money, he would still be spending money. So I said no. And, after all, we did actually have two bottles of champagne in the fridge already. Actually, I think he is still open to making a trade, though what he would give in return, I'm not sure! Send me an email if you can help us out…

Fasting, we both went to get routine blood-work done this morning. Ugh. We both had to leave the house without our morning coffee. And we wouldn't be able to buy any when we got there. In the end, I never made my normal double-espresso. I don't know any more what is making me the most tired: staying up watching the election results, jetlag from last week's trip to Senegal, or skipping my caffeine today. Likely, it's a combo of all three. I packed a variety of snacks to eat between the blood work and my appointment, and avoided the temptation to buy a muffin at the snack bar. So far so good.

Next, I had a visit to my new endocrinologist to follow-up on last November's thyroidectomy and not entirely surprising diagnosis of thyroid cancer. All is going well, but I had conveniently forgotten that soon I would have to do another Whole Body Scan (WBS) which will check my entire body for any signs of thyroid cancer. Without getting too far into it, I'll tell you the parts that impact our pact. To prepare for the scan, I have to take a low dose of a radioactive iodine pill. To prepare for that, I have to eat a low/no-iodine diet for several days in advance. (Thyroid cells are the only ones in the body which absorb iodine, so if any thyroid cells are "hungry" for iodine, they will absorb the radioactive iodine and then will show up on the scan.) Iodine is in a surprising amount of foods. First off are all the salt-added products, which is fairly obvious, but also shrimp, other seafood, milk, certain vegetables, packaged meats, etc. So now my wheels are turning, because I will almost certainly have to go shopping if I have to do my low/no-iodine diet. I don't know yet if I will start the diet this Sunday, or the next, but I guess you will hear all about it in time!

So I did charge the co-pay for the visit to my doctor. Parking in the garage was free. The doctor visit falls under necessities, and was planned.

On the way home from pre-school today as we approached our neighborhood library, my almost 5 year old son asked wistfully if the library was free, or did we have to pay? I assured him that it is free, as long as we return our books and videos on time, so we went in for a while before lunch. We borrowed videos, and I got a book on reusing stuff to make new stuff. Thought I might find a new project to do even though I can't buy anything. We'll see about that.

Tomorrow should be a normal day, so hopefully not too many temptations to spend.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Day 2: Frugal Living?

Taking a vow to stop spending money for two weeks when our home is already so full of food, clothes, toys, and other amenities almost seems ridiculous, when I know that people like my Senegalese friend Ngoné are truly struggling for survival. Ngoné goes to the local market to buy cooking oil as needed, maybe a cup at a time. If she needs tomato paste for a meal, she'll purchase only the few tablespoons she needs, rather than a full can. Daily visits to the market help her to ration her money, while in the here in the US, daily visits to the grocery store seem to result in impulse buys, simply adding more to the already well-stocked cupboards and pantries at home.

Sure, I know there is something to be said for African way of shopping – you can't buy much if you have nowhere to put the food, nowhere to refrigerate perishable goods. They must be bought and promptly eaten. There's also something to be said for European-style shopping, going to various specialty stores (the butcher, the fish shop, the fruit and vegetable market, the bakery, etc) to get the freshest food daily. And while this style of shopping might be more time-consuming, I think that compared to those who go to the giant supermarkets in the USA, the shoppers are less tempted to "impulse-buying." I've done my shopping all three ways – in African markets, American supermarkets, and from store-to-store in Europe. I think I always spend the most in a grocery store, and the quality is usually inferior to the other options.

How does my friend Ngoné survive in Senegal with her husband earning about $30/month??? According to the CIA World Factbook ( the average Senegalese GDP in 2007 was $1700. Her husband is earning MUCH less than that! (It was $45,800 in the USA, by comparison.) I imagine Ngoné probably counts among the 54% living below the poverty line, and I know she is in the 48% who are unemployed. She has been seeking a job outside of the home for years and years now. It really is hard for me to justify expenditures sometimes, when I know how much other people struggle in this world. Living frugally for two weeks will hopefully be a daily reminder of how good we have it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Day 1: Saving Cash: The Two-Week Experiment

What's the best way of saving cash? Don't spend any money for two weeks. That's what we're doing. Starting last night. Well, we have agreed to continue to pay our bills and to buy toilet paper if we run out. But since it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, it's not as if we stocked up on anything to make it through the two weeks. We plan to eat our way through the cupboards, freezer, and fridge. Fortunately, we have a pre-paid farm-share of vegetables that we get every Wednesday, though I think that may be ending soon. Also, we have decided to continue with our weekly delivery of fresh farm milk and eggs which we pay for weekly. So right off the bat we're fudging a bit.

We talked to the kids about it this morning, and even more tonight at dinner. They are pretty interested in the idea, on this first day, anyhow. We have agreed to pay for any necessary medical costs, but so far that's about it, aside from regular utility and the mortgage. Are we being unpatriotic on the eve of elections to freeze our spending? I am sure some in our capitalist society would say so. But I think it's a great experiment, and will likely be good for our savings account as well.

I didn't think it would be too hard to begin. I dropped my son at pre-school, and was ready to head to the YMCA where we have a monthly membership, so no need to pay. But I realized I forgot my water, and though my first thought was to go directly there and buy a bottle at the Y, I realized I had to go home to pick up my own free water bottle. On the way back to the house, I was also tempted to stop in at Caboose Café to grab a muffin, because I somehow had forgotten to eat breakfast. Since I was headed home to get the water, I knew I had just enough time to make some breakfast at home. I was pretty surprised that I had been tempted by purchases 2 times before 9am.

The rest of the day involved no temptations. A friend came with her children and shared her delicious homemade apple pie, while I made espresso for us. Thus, we avoided buying a snack or coffee. We talked a bit about the plan, and I admitted that I was a bit worried about the fruits, since I thought we probably only had a can or two of pineapples and mandarin oranges. She kindly and wisely offered a trade… Her family had been apple picking a few weeks earlier, and she still had a little stash of apples, and I had an overabundance of greens (kale, swiss chard, etc) from my veggie farm share. A deal was quickly negotiated.

My husband and I picked up the idea last night when a friend in visiting from Seattle told us about another friend who vowed to purchase nothing for a month. He wrote about it for Reader's Digest, so I'd like to try to check out the article. In the end, he apparently did spend about $100 for the month on groceries. I also read about a family recently who bought nothing new for a year. A whole year! They did buy second-hand items, though I assume purchases of food and toilet paper weren't used… I'll have to read up some more on this. Anyhow, I found both stories fascinating and worthy of a try or consideration, if for nothing else, then to reevaluate one's spending habits from time to time. One day down, 13 more to go…