Monday, December 15, 2014

My radio silence has a name...

And it is Baby Bear. Born healthy, full term and with a head full of dark hair. Peanut and I are of course over the moon, although Pickle was skeptical at first.

We are settling in as a family of four. Hopefully I will be back to budgeting soon!

Monday, November 10, 2014

October Spending


business ($25.58)
car jeep ($61.47)
car mazda ($784.11)
Cell phones ($100.00)
charity ($10.00)
clothing ($99.99)
electric ($99.89)
Entertainment ($178.49)
food - groceries ($402.80)
food - other ($243.61)
gas ($30.22)
gifts ($52.08)
Helicopter/Robot ($10.67)
house ($1,401.71)
household ($18.78)
internet ($75.57)
medical ($17.00)
Water & Trash ($70.00)


Things of Note: 
We're sort of keeping up our trend of spending less in most categories, although we had some big expenses this month, too. We replaced the tires on our Mazda (sorely needed, and just in time for winter!) and I entertained myself quite a bit in October - I went to a musical and got a great Groupon deal for prenatal massage. We also saw some increases in household expenses due to the projects we've been finishing up. 

We sure are being average with our food spending though - we were only off by $2 month to month!

Let's not talk about what the stock market is doing to our retirement accounts, though, eh? At least we were able to put some money into savings this month, on top of our expenses!

October Recap/November Goals

October Goals
1. Take a look at retirement savings.  Success - we've figured out a plan to try to max out our Roths for this year, despite being on a single income.

2. Finish my big nesting projects. Well, things aren't finished, but they are well underway. There are some things that aren't going to get done before the baby comes (or probably ever), and that's okay, but I got a surprising amount done and I feel good about it. 

3. Take time to enjoy it. Working on it. When raising a toddler, the days are long but the years are short, and that goes doubly so for raising a toddler while pregnant. I've been reading a lot of interesting parenting books lately, and that is helping me appreciate what a finite period of time this really is. 

November Goals
1. Stay pregnant and/or have a baby. Whatevs. Baby's coming out early in December whether he wants to or not, but I'm almost at the point of being okay with him coming whenever he'd like. In fact, I'm almost at the point of begging him to come out. 

2. Take it easy. I realized today that my calendar is just way too freaking packed for the next few weeks and I need to cancel some things. I've been kind of making frantic plans with friends for "one last outing before baby" type stuff, and really it just has to stop. There are also some appointments for both me and Pickle that could be canceled with pretty much no harm done. It feels like failure to me to quit before I "have" to, but slowing down before the baby comes will probably be less traumatic than suddenly having a baby and sitting on the couch for two weeks. 

3. Eat some pumpkin pie. 'Nuff said. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Financial Impact of Pregnancy, the Second Time Around

Comparing my first pregnancy to my second pregnancy is almost impossible for any number of reasons, but one interesting aspect is financial. Everyone talks about how much babies cost, but the second baby hardly ever costs as much as the first. Part of it is that you already have a bunch of stuff, but also you're more likely to know what actually IS necessary.

Pregnancy
I did not have a chance to wear maternity clothes last time around, so I didn't have any. I've received some hand-me-downs and bought mostly secondhand stuff, and I'm definitely set until baby arrives. I've got four pairs of maternity jeans (only two really fit well), three pairs of maternity leggings, one pair of maternity yoga/pajama pants, two maternity dresses (one summer, one winter), one tank top, four t-shirts, two 3/4 sleeve shirts, and three long sleeve maternity shirts. I won't buy a maternity coat because I'd only need it for a few weeks in really cold weather, and I'm such a furnace being pregnant I don't think I'll feel that cold without one. I'll wear a lot of my maternity clothes post-partum, and either pass them to a pregnant friend or consign them.

Due to Pickle's ongoing medical needs, we have reached our out-of-pocket maximum for health insurance for the year, so I've had almost no prenatal care costs (most prenatal care is covered in full anyway, but some labs and things are subject to patient cost sharing).

I have also bought random things like prenatal vitamins, DHA and calcium supplements, lotion for the bump, and pantiliners (pregnancy is weird). I have caved to fast food cravings only a handful of times.

Baby Preparations
I did buy some baby boy clothes (yay consignment!) as well as a secondhand Ergo carrier and a used double stroller, but not much else is needed for a second baby - we've still got the big stuff from the first time around and I know myself much better in terms of what I am likely to use and need. I stocked up on disposable diapers during Target's sale, and have been slowly restocking our cloth diaper stash as well. In terms of buying stuff, we're as ready as we're going to be for him to arrive.

Delivery
The delivery and hospital stay will be covered by insurance entirely. Assuming, that is, that we don't get any surprise out-of-network bills for people I don't have a chance to shop around for, like the anesthesiologist. I'm not expecting this to be a problem, though, since I'm delivering at the same hospital as last time and we didn't have a problem then. We'll incur some costs for Peanut's meals and parking while I'm in the hospital, but that should be about it.

Postpartum (me)
I still have to buy my postpartum supplies. It was such a shock last time that I didn't even do my own shopping for pads and stuff, so I don't remember what I had or what I needed. I do remember that they send you home from the hospital with a bunch of extra stuff, which I actually just threw out like minutes before I got knocked up this time. I'll probably just buy a pack of the biggest pads they make next time I'm in Target and call it good.

I am on the fence about high-waisted underwear - I didn't have any last time (the hospital provides mesh panties that are gentle on the incision, and I just used those until I didn't need to avoid the incision area). My only concern is that since I actually got a bump this time it might take longer to get to that point, but I figure if I really need some granny panties, someone can go get them for me. And if I don't, that's money I didn't spend on unflattering underwear.

I think I also need lanolin for breastfeeding, but again, I know the hospital provides samples and that can get me through at least the first couple days. The tubes of lanolin at Target are $10, so I'm going to try to hunt down a coupon in the next few weeks - for some reason, that's my threshold for not being willing to just try a product I'm not sure I'll need.

I've got several nursing tanks from my pumping days, and many of my maternity shirts can work as nursing wear as well. I have a nursing cover and a breast pump already, and just need to get some new tubing.

Postpartum (baby)
I bought a lot of diapers but I still think I underestimated how often babies poop. My mother will be staying with us and probably making lots of food, but we might be ordering out a bit more than usual for a while. I am not really doing a lot of freezer meals because I don't have any good recipes that have stood up to being thawed and reheated. Instead, I'm stocking up on chicken breasts, taco meat/beans, and nonperishables so that we always have the makings of one of my usual throw-together dinners. It's not that much more work than thawing and reheating something, but it will taste a lot better and that will make us less likely to order food.

I will be baking some batches of banana and zucchini bread, though, and probably a couple batches of lactation cookies as well.

Aside from that....this is going to sound kind of funny, but most unexpected pregnancy expense has probably been Starbucks. Since I'm high risk, I've been getting a shot in the bum every week since June to prevent pre-term labor, and these shots are TERRIBLE. They give me hives at the injection site and I have to wear an ice pack in my pants for two days after each one. So to make up for it, I treat myself to a soy chai latte after every shot. I managed to get Starbucks credit from a survey site that took care of more than half the drinks, but I've had to use real money to pay for them the last few weeks, so I think I will wind up spending about $40 on Starbucks by the time the baby comes. Who'd have guessed that would make my baby spending list?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thinking about couponing...again

It's been about two years since I started my coupon challenge, and I figured it's a good time to take stock and see how things are going.

After creating a price book and figuring out where the best deals on my regular purchases were, I started splitting my shopping trips between three stores (Costco, Aldi, and a regular grocery store that had double coupon days). I plan meals weekly and shop with a list, which I adhere to pretty strictly. I have a newspaper subscription (which, naturally, I got using a coupon) and clip coupons every week. I only print coupons that I specifically go looking for. I try really hard to match sales, store coupons, and manufacturer's coupons, but it doesn't happen as often as I was hoping. More recently I've been using the Target Cartwheel app, although I haven't started doing a ton of grocery shopping there. Peanut and I were thinking about signing up for a Target credit or debit card to get the extra discount, which might be worth more than our credit card rewards for just that store (we need to dig deeper into this).

So, what's the state of the union?

Well, overall I am spending MORE than I was before, but we are spending less eating out, and I would argue that we are eating better at home than we used to. Then, I was shopping for two working adults. Now I shop for two adults and a child. There are people eating at home all day instead of just two meals. I am a better cook than I was, there is less food waste, and my kitchen is stocked differently - I am often able to throw together a meal to feed unexpected extra people with no trouble.

I think couponing definitely contributed to the increase in spending, to some extent - it's true that the coupons are for the more expensive name-brand products, and unless you pair them with a store coupon and sale, you're still often paying more than you would for Aldi brand. Sometimes the quality is worth it, and sometimes it's not. I am sure that I also ended up buying things that I might not otherwise have purchased at all, just because I had a coupon. (That's actually more of a risk for me at Aldi, because things are so cheap that it's much easier to stray from my list.)

Most of the things that have changed in our grocery expenses were out of my control, though. Prices in general went up. My local grocery store chain was sold to a chain that does not double coupons, so there goes all that extra savings. We go through two gallons of whole milk a week, which is not available at our Aldi ($8/week x 52 weeks is $416 a year!!!!). I buy quite a bit of baby food, which is pricey (still cheaper than formula!). (I do make a lot of my own baby food, but the consistency of commercial baby food is perfect for Pickle's feeding tube blends so I fall back on that a lot for convenience.) I also buy more meat than I used to (I didn't until I got pregnant, and I'm curious as to whether my cravings for extra protein will go away when I give birth).

All in all, couponing has been helpful in getting me to examine how I was shopping, but it's not clear that it's saving me a lot of money anymore. Renewing my newspaper subscription will cost me three times what the last renewal did, and I'm not biting. Instead, I'm going to take a slightly different tack, and see if I can set a budget limit on what I spend on groceries each week (something I haven't done since I was living on a shoestring budget in NYC). I'll start at $400 per month, $30 below my current average, and see how we do. It'll take several months for this to start happening, since I'll be having this baby soon-soon-soon and that will shake things up for a while, but I am interested to see how it turns out.

Here's my new plan:

1. Update my price book. New grocery store chain, new prices - and I noticed that Target has changed their prices on baby food, almost certainly in response to the competition. It's probably time to take another look at where the bargains really are for the things that I am particularly brand-loyal on.

2. Streamline my stocking up at Aldi. Aldi is in the opposite direction of everywhere else that I ever go, so while it's not far away, it is out of the way. Right now I'm going 2-3 times per month, but I'd like to winnow that down to just once per month and do a big stock-up trip then. I have not liked the quality of the produce at my local Aldi, so most of the things I get there are shelf-stable and this shouldn't be hard to do with a little bit of planning.

3. Investigate the Target Red Card. An extra five percent off anything purchased at Target might be a better deal than we're getting from our regular rewards credit card, especially if I work on matching Cartwheel deals.

4. Work on my pantry stocking strategy. I've spent the last few months finding recipes that work well in a variety of ways - easy to have on hand, easy to prepare, easy to reheat. This means that with a little reorganization, I should be able to have a visibly stocked pantry for the meals that I make most frequently. Then if I stock up when those things are on sale and do a regular shopping trip only for produce and perishables, I should be saving myself a lot of time and money. This has worked really well for my deep freezer, and I think it will translate to cans and boxes fairly easily - it'll just take some thinking.

5. Take a break from actual couponing. Just for a while and just for general coupons - I'll still go hunt down coupons for specific brand name things when I need them. And I'll use the store coupons that get sent to my house and from the circular. But no more of this multiple-coupon-envelope thing each time I go to the store for a while.

Let's see what this does to the grocery budget!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Squeezing all the pennies

Peanut and I have decided that we'd really like to max out both of our Roth IRAs for 2014, which is a fairly tough proposition for a family of three (imminently to be four) on one income. In order to have $11,000 in hand by April 15, we'll need to slash our expenses. I think we're fairly frugal already, but here are some ways we are planning to scrape together that cash:

* Cancel our newspaper subscription. I subscribe for the coupons, but I'm not going to be doing a lot of couponing in the next couple months. In addition, I'm up for renewal at the end of this month, and the price is THREE TIMES what I paid last time I renewed, so, um, no, thanks! This probably will be a wash between the coupons I won't be getting and the subscription fee I won't be paying, but it's money I'm not shelling out, so I'm counting it.

* Putting our NPR membership on hold. I'm kind of torn about this one, as I love our local public radio, but the reality is we're not listening much right now (Peanut's vehicle doesn't have a radio and he takes the bus in the winter anyway, I won't be driving anywhere with two babies in the snow and I don't listen at home, so...). We'll resubscribe someday.

* Lower our internet costs. We have only one option for high speed internet and everyone knows it, but I'm still going to call and ask them to reduce the cost. It's $75 per month, and if I could save even 25%, I'd be happy.

* Cut down on eating out. This is kind of hilarious, since I know how things are going to be for a few weeks after the baby comes, but Peanut's going to cut back on how much he goes out for lunch (it's been 1-2x per week) and so am I (a few times a month, but I spend more when I go out so it's fairly even).

There are two areas where I don't think we'll make much progress.
* Cell phones. I don't think there's much we can do here. We just got new phones in April and managed to cut our bill by 5% so I think we're sort of stuck.

* Groceries. I think our grocery bill is pretty reasonable for a family of three (average $430/month) and while it could absolutely be lower, scrimping makes it easier to spring for takeout.

We need to save about $1,000 per month starting now in order to get to our goal. Between the cash we already save at the end of each month and what we can do between now and April (plus our newest little tax deduction), I think this is a reachable goal. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: I love this article over at A Practical Wedding and the series that sounds like it's going to develop from it. It's a bird's eye view of how one couple's merged finances have shifted over the years and why. I love seeing how other people run their lives!

Thing the Second: Sometimes I get bogged down in all the things I could be doing as a SAHM, and this post from The Frugal Girl about things she doesn't do was very inspiring to me. When I worked full time, I had to make concessions about what to spend my time on, and the same is true now that I'm staying home. The reality is, there is no award for Most Frugal or Most Resourceful or whatever, and it's important to focus on the things that you can and will stick with long term. Me, I don't do much freezer cooking, and I don't bake my own bread or make my own yogurt or laundry detergent, and I cloth diaper only about half the time. But I spend a ton of time with my kid and I read a couple books a week and I am learning to be a better cook, and frankly, I'm pretty happy with where my life is.

Thing the Third: This post from A Gai Shan Life was a good reminder that I am not really prepared for a disaster. We've got insurance to cover a lot of things, and we don't live in a high natural-disaster prone area, but I could do a little bit more to make sure that we have enough water per person and food that could be prepared without cooking for all of us. Mainly our disaster plan is really Get Out of Dodge, which works well in situations like a furnace going out but not so much for things like a tornado or earthquake where travel might be difficult. Something to think about.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Petty cash?

Here's a question for the readers:

I planned to make chili this week. As I was chopping up the peppers, I noticed that while they looked fine from the outside, they looked kind of iffy on the inside, with black spots (but no fuzz, which I've sometimes seen before). They smelled okay. I actually looked online to see if they were okay to eat, and then Pickle woke up from her nap and then we were running late and next thing you know I've tossed everything in the crockpot and gone on my merry way. Thank you, baby brain, for forgetting to remind me to taste one of the pepper pieces before tossing them in with all the other food.

Because of course, those peppers were not okay. The entire pot of chili tasted like rotten vegetables and was a complete waste.

My question: is it appropriate to ask for a refund on the peppers at this point, given that I have no evidence of their non-freshness? They were about $.79 each, so it's not like it's a ton of money - about $2.50. However, I'm also out three cans of beans, one of tomatoes, and a few cents worth of various spices and other ingredients, but I feel like I can only ask for the money back for the bad peppers, and it would mitigate the total damage. This would also alert my grocery store to the fact that their produce is not the quality that I'm used to getting from there. I think I still have the receipt somewhere.

Under these circumstances, would you ask for a refund on the peppers during your next shopping trip?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

September Spending


business (3.89)
car mazda (53.11)
cat (16.39)
Cell phones (100.00)
charity (10.00)
clothing (132.61)
dental (142.40)
electric (128.49)
Entertainment (24.60)
food - groceries (439.27)
food - other (204.87)
gas (21.77)
gifts (73.01)
Helicopter/Robot (8.98)
house (1401.71)
household (365.92)
Hygiene (81.42)
internet (75.57)
medical (12.00)
transportation (50.00)
Water & Trash (76.46)

Things of Note: 
In almost every category, we really spent less in September than we did in August. I'm not entirely sure how to explain it - it wasn't a conscious thing, but I guess it's just one of those things that happen, a vagary of the market. 

One thing I did notice is that we have bought clothing every single month this year. That seems outrageous to me! It's not quite as bad as it seems, I think - one month it's stuff for Pickle and the new baby at a consignment sale, another month it's maternity stuff for me or replacing socks that are (*cringe*) five years old, another month it's stuff for Peanut, so it's not like we're all stocking up all the time. Also, I think at some point diapers were being categorized as clothing, which makes sense for cloth (I think?) but maybe less so for disposables. 

This is the one problem I have with our tracking system - we both participate, so sometimes we categorize the same thing differently (or heck, sometimes the same person categorizes a purchase differently from one time to the next) or there's no good way to categorize it but it's not worth adding a new category in the middle of the year (like separating out baby boy's purchases from Pickle's). Ultimately, this data is of no interest to anyone but ourselves so it's fine, but every year when we look back it's like "WTF were we thinking there?!" for some small percentage of the information. This has helped us refine our spreadsheet year after year, so the data is getting better, but it also means that it's very hard to do true apples to apples comparisons. 

At any rate, September was a good month for us, despite the unpleasantness of the stock market. How'd it go for you?

September Recap/October Goals

September Goals
1. Move savings account, close old one. Done! The money is moved and earning interest in the new account, and the old one is just hanging out (it stays open for 60 days automatically, so I am just waiting to verify that it closed). 

2. Lower grocery spending. Success! We spent nearly $100 less on groceries this month, and it didn't translate into the eating out category (we spent nearly $150 less there!). I, uh, am not totally sure how I accomplished that, but I'm happy it happened. In an upcoming post, I'll detail how I'm changing my grocery strategy in the next couple of months. 

3. Get some nesting done without spending $$$. Success, although I've also thrown money at some of my to-do list items as well. Peanut built my bathroom cabinet, which I am really happy about (it cost about half what it would have cost new, and although it's not fancy or anything, it certainly gets the job done). I bought fabric at half-off to make crib sheets and we donated a bunch of stuff to thrift stores. I like clearing things out to make way for new stuff - I keep reminding myself not to go through my clothes, because I would end up getting rid of all my non-maternity stuff, and it's entirely possible that most of it will fit me again....someday. Even though it doesn't feel like it while I am approximately the size of Shamu. 

October Goals
1. Take a look at retirement savings.  Peanut and I have been maxing out Roths whenever possible for a long time now (we skipped a few years in order to completely pay off our student loans), and whenever there was an employer match, we contributed at least that much to a 401(k). We're doing okay, I think, for our ages, but we have never sat down and actually looked at what we think we might need to save for retirement - we have no goal in mind, besides "as much as we can". And this is fine - we're not going to change our savings strategy right now, mainly because there's no additional money we can funnel towards retirement with only one of us working. But it might impact when I decide to go back to work, so it's something I'd like to think about. 

2. Finish my big nesting projects. While I've technically got two handfuls of weeks left in this pregnancy, I feel pressed for time. Frankly, I'm shocked that I'm still pregnant because I was really expecting another micropreemie, and now I'm starting to think that I might make it all the way to full term, which is awesome, except that it's a busy time of year! Some of the things I want to take care of sooner than later are Christmas shopping and personal projects - not baby-related stuff so much as stuff that I will probably not get back to for months. 

Christmas shopping won't be too difficult - we stopped exchanging gifts with the adults in our families a few years ago, so it's just an infant niece and a teenage nephew that I'm shopping for (and the nephew is getting a Minecraft quilt, which I've already started). And we agreed to do a white elephant gift exchange with my husband's family, so that will be one adult to buy for (which reminds me that I need to have my MIL have people draw names early!). Oh, and I guess we'll probably get Pickle something to open - she started to get the concept of gifts at her birthday party last month, and while we won't be going overboard on her, I saw a cute pretend kitchen set at a thrift store the other day that I think she would love. 

3. Take time to enjoy it. We have no idea if this is our last baby, although we're leaning towards yes. What I do know is that these are the last few weeks that my amazing daughter will be an only child, and I'm trying to remind myself that these are literally the last moments during which she will be my baby. I'm taking advantage of the fact that she will still let me rock her fully to sleep and I have the time to do so during the day. I'm trying not to make her wait when she wants my attention - she'll be getting plenty of that soon enough. I'm trying to be happy to read the same book six times in a row because it makes her so happy. And I'm trying to enjoy the kicks and squirms of the baby that's about to join our home, as this is the last time that I will be able to protect him from everything and provide for his every need by the act of merely breathing. 

I never expected that motherhood would make me so sentimental, but it's really a magical time. It's so easy to lose that in the frustrations of a toddler having a tantrum or the discomforts of pregnancy, but my life has so much meaning that it didn't have before, and I love it. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Three Thing Thursday....er, Friday

Thing the First: I have talked before about being a maximizer vs being a satisficer, but I didn't really have a good link to an explanation of what that means (or at least, if I did, I can't find it in any post now). But this week the Wall Street Journal did a bang-up job of explaining the concept and how it affects happiness - and why it always seems like your partner makes decisions the opposite way.

Thing the Second: Peanut and I found this website really interesting: income percentile calculator. It shows where you rank (according to 2010 US Census data) in income, by region, by education, and a couple more indicators. Obviously we are far from the 1% but it drove home to me how well-off we truly are.

Thing the Third: If your winter heat source uses natural gas, this article might be of interest to you. We live in a region where fracking is a big political hot button, so with all the talk of that and natural gas pipelines, I didn't realize that there's actually a natural gas shortage in the country, which drives prices higher. We have a new, more efficient furnace, but I'm not sure that will be enough to keep us from noticing an increase in prices, especially with a newborn at home and a cold winter predicted.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rate Chasing

I mentioned in a recent post that I was doing a little bit of rate chasing with our savings account, where we keep our emergency fund and short and medium term savings. Here's a rundown on why I did that and how it went.

Years ago, Peanut and I got a joint savings account at Capital One (where we also had a checking account and credit card). They offered 1% interest with a quarterly .1% bonus, and it was a pretty good rate for the time. A few months ago, when I was putting the interest earned into our spreadsheet, I noticed that it seemed lower than it should be. I checked, and sure enough the interest rate had dropped to .5%. We had either never received notice that this was going to happen, or it was buried in paperwork/email such that we didn't realize it, and it annoyed me. It's entirely possible that they weren't required to give us notice, I guess. Anyway, I couldn't figure out how long it had been like that, and it made me irritated enough that I decided to go looking for a better option.

I poked around The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly, both of which frequently do savings account round-ups, and found a number of options at marginally better rates - up to .90% with a huge balance (something like $50,000). I was looking mainly for a no-fee, easy access account with either no minimum balance or one that we wouldn't trip if we had to use our emergency fund for something big. I first checked with Wells Fargo, where we have our checking account, but they didn't have a competitive option. The online-only banks with the best rates didn't meet my requirements for no-fee or minimum balance, but Capital One 360 had an option with .75% that did. And that should be easy, right? Capital One/Capital One 360, what could be the difference?

Turns out, there's a lot of difference. Like, they are basically different institutions. Capital One 360 used to be ING Direct, which wound up being okay because I was an ING customer once upon a time, and they were able to simply get my old account up and running. Linking the accounts and verifying the tiny deposits took some time, and then I had to figure out how to get the money from one account to the other.

It's frustrating but there are federal laws that govern savings accounts, including how many withdrawals you can make during a month and other things. At any rate, for some reason we couldn't just transfer money between the accounts like I could if one of them had been a checking account, but a few phone calls and I was able to find someone who handled it as a wire transfer with no fee. Perfect!

Two days later, the money was in the new account, earning .25% more interest, and the old account appears to be closed (I will be keeping an eye on that - it was no fee, no minimum balance, but I don't like leaving open accounts hanging around). It was painless, if not exactly hassle free, and I'm glad to know that our money is doing a little more work for us.

This is not something I recommend doing on a regular basis. It's not worth the time you'll spend to do it even once a year - I think we will earn about $20 more this year than we would have if I'd left it alone. But every five years or so, or when things substantially change with the economy or the terms of your account, it's worth taking a look at. Hopefully we will continue to grow our emergency fund, so over time this work will be more valuable.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sous Chef: Butternut Squash Casserole

Click to pin the recipe!
I found this recipe at The Simple Dollar in a round up of cheap, healthy Dinner with My Family recipes, and I was intrigued. I love butternut squash and bought it every week at Aldi last summer - and this year we're growing it in our garden so I've been looking for ideas for what to do with it.

Prep: This recipe comes together quickly and pretty easily - the most difficult part was definitely peeling and cubing the squash, which is not my favorite part (I usually halve it and roast it to avoid that, actually). Even so, it didn't take long to pull together and

Taste: I'm not generally a huge fan of blue cheese, but I thought the combination might be intriguing. It was okay, though I will probably try a different cheese next time - feta or maybe mozzarella, which I always have on hand. I might also reduce the baking time, as the squash was very tender and I usually like it to have a bit more of a bite to it.

Reception: I'm the only one who ate this, so apparently I'll be eating the whole pan. Good thing I'm eating for two, har har. Pickle politely took two nibbles out of a piece of squash and Peanut looked skeptical at me at the very mention of it. I might freeze half of it and see if it keeps, because of course I used a GIANT squash so I have a ton of it left over.

Anecdata: Cheap, easy to have pretty much everything on hand, easy. Not much to dislike about this! 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kill Those Watts!

Peanut and I have noticed our electric bill creeping up lately, not so incrementally. Both our bill cost and kilowatt per hour usage is up somewhat significantly over last year, so we decided to go on a search to figure out why.

First, we checked whether the rates had increased over last summer. This information is printed on the bill, but we don't get a paper bill so we had to go digging on the website to find it. We learned that the cost had increased by about $.005 (half a cent) for electric and $.003 for delivery per kwh (we're not totally sure what this is, but we think it is the cost to get the electricity to us, so is charged by the kwh just like the electricity itself). It explained part of the difference in our total bill, but not all of it. Plus we can see right on our bill that our kwh usage is up compared to last year.

Then, we rented a wattage meter from our local public library. You plug this in to various electrical devices in your home and it tells you the energy draw in kilowatt hours, the same increment charged by the electric company. We found it really interesting which of our appliances were the biggest energy hogs.

Our #1 energy hog: the toaster oven. Really! If we ran the toaster oven continuously, it would cost us $107 per month (and it would burn our house down). The culprit of the biggest actual cost, though, was the dehumidifier - about $33 per month. Next up is our upstairs computer which runs a server ($20 per month), then our downstairs computer ($9 per month). Our deep freeze is a bargain at just $4 per month. We only checked appliances for which we might actually change our usage depending on their cost, so we didn't check the regular fridge/freezer or things like lamps or the baby monitor. And we couldn't check the air conditioner since it doesn't just plug into the wall. We did discover that a phone charger plugged in to an outlet with no phone on it costs nothing per month, and when you add an uncharged phone, it costs $.40 (that's if it charged the phone for the whole month, not each time you charge it). If you leave a fully charged phone plugged in, it would cost you $.09 per month. Interesting stuff. 

Third, we tried to figure out where we had increased our energy usage over the last year. We came up with a couple of theories - first, I'm pregnant during this summer and I wasn't last summer, and I have been feeling a lot hotter than usual. We keep our thermostat at 78 degrees, but I have had to turn it down to 76 on occasion when I just couldn't get comfortable, and each degree is about a 1% difference in energy use (I haven't run the math on that, but I'm sure it adds up to a dollar or two a day if I leave it cooler for eight to ten hours at a time). Second, after our basement flooded last summer, we've been trying to keep it drier down there to prevent mold, and have been running a dehumidifier quite a bit - like, 2 out of 3 days in a month. We got an older dehumidifier at an estate sale for $20; it's worked great but we are now considering whether it would be worth it for us to invest in a more energy efficient model that might have lower energy costs. Probably we'll shelve the idea until next summer because we're about to run into the time of year where our house is way too dry instead of too damp.

At any rate, it was a really interesting experiment to figure out why our energy bill was so much higher than we're used to - I get really peeved when I can't figure out why I'm paying more for something. In this case, it's pretty clear that I'm getting more of that something - electricity - even though it's hard to directly see the increase in our consumption. I now find myself turning off lights, or not turning them on to begin with, thanks to our little exercise, and I'm not so grumpy about paying the bills.



Thursday, September 11, 2014

Also better late than never - September goals!

1. Move savings account, close old one. More on this in a different post, but I'm doing a little bit of rate chasing and just need to clean up some odds and ends to get it all done.

2. Lower grocery spending. Our food spending has been a leeeetle bit out of control lately. Our increased grocery store prices and loss of double coupon days is making an impact, but most of it is just buying whatever I want when I'm in the store, I think. Time to do a little better with planning and listmaking (and tamping down on the nesting urge to stock up - the grocery store will still be there after the baby is born, and I know now what a treat it is to get out and go somewhere alone in the early days!).

3. Get some nesting done without spending $$$. My honey-do list is long, long, long, and most of the things on there could be accomplished if we spent out on it. But I'm trying to find cheaper ways to cross things off. Example: I want a johnny-wall cabinet for our bathroom. I've wanted one for years, pretty much since we moved into this house. I found one at Home Depot for $90 and told Peanut that I'm going to buy it in one month, unless he makes me one before then. He likes doing wood-working stuff and this is a project I will be happy to lose him to for an afternoon, so we both win.