Desperate Sales

Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, all sorts of decorative items (and useful ones, too) are put on sale to make way for post-Thanksgiving’s “Black Friday.” The sales seem to have intensified this year. Due to inflation’s impact on the cost of necessities, customers have turned wish lists into wait-and-see lists. Stores are pulling out all the stops with incentives and gifts-with-purchase.

I had a (rare) day off Monday because of a morning appointment in Port Huron. I used the drive home as an opportunity to shop before crowds took over.

(NOTE: If you are on my gift list, ahead are SPOILERS. No peeking, Carlos!)

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Of Books and Budgets (with Asides)

My two-months-early birthday present will arrive today.

Aside #1: My parents wisely and generously give cash gifts with orders that the recipient buy something for yourself. The Old Man issues caveats which, depending on his children’s age, have included “Don’t spend it all at the bar” and “You could use a new set of tires” and (my all-time favorite) “Don’t buy a marriage license.”

I bought three books by Ciaran Carson: Collected Poems and his translations of The Inferno and The Tain.* I had read few poems of his, but an acquaintance told me he translated Dante Alighieri’s work without the prerequisite academic background. She thought it was a fine, fresh translation.

Aside #2: When I was a measly undergraduate, I translated portions of Rosalia de Castro’s El caballero de las botas azules for the pure joy of getting inside her beautiful words. My Chilean profesor encouraged me; the profesora from Spain, no.

When checking on my order, I discovered Amazon has started a points-earning program for booklovers. Or, as I like to call us, book-stalkers.

Aside #3: Although I regularly borrow books, I buy books that I might write in. Poetry gets a notes in the margins, but prose gets more. When I study plotting, foreshadowing, and the like, the gloves come off!

Alas! I cannot take part in Amazon’s latest scheme. I’m bracing for winter and increasing costs. It’s especially sad to read the electric company’s report. It shows how successful my conservation efforts were; however, kilowatts are more expensive, so the bills are the same or higher. I have kept the furnace off as much as possible and continue to air-dry most of the laundry; the gas bills are manageable for now.

Aside #4: I don’t wish to be political, the label applied to seemingly every philosophical difference. However, readers may be disappointed by the following paragraph:

I’m pro-human rather than anti-fuel. No one should be left cold and hungry when the power fails. I was happy when my English friend announced that her husband had successfully installed a wood-and-coal stove in their centuries-old cottage. My friends celebrated, too, when I found an indoor-use radiant heater that runs on small propane tanks.

Aside #5: Michigan has the largest residential sector consumption of propane in the nation.

To be blunt, budgeting is a nightmare around here. We pore over grocery store flyers like gamblers with racing rosters. The sale on pork rib looks good, but what about the unmentioned staples? What are the odds of winning the superfecta of bacon, cheese, coffee, and cooking oil?

Aside #6: Although some family members add milk and sweetener to coffee, we drink tea without it. However, we enjoy “flavoured” tea, which seems to horrify my favorite European home-and-garden YouTubers. My current preference is a mix of orange peel, dried cranberry, and loose black tea. It brings back fond memories of tea with my grandmother and my great-aunt Lorena.

This week, I set a limit of $60 for holiday foods. I won’t bore you with the blow-by-blow (especially if you were kind enough to read this far). I walked out of the grocery store with cash in hand and immediately went to the $1.29 store (formerly a dollar store). I scored two four-packs of Faygo cola and Faygo Twist, which can be used for drinks or to flavor cake.

Final Aside: This is the Faygo Song, the jingle accompanying ads for the Michigan’s most popular pop. (The correct abbreviation of “soda pop.”) I think it came out in the ’60s, but my friends and I sang it decades later, along with the Oscar Mayer wiener song.

La Casa de Tontería: Mine!

Having debt bothers me. A mortgage loan for a house is called “good debt,” but I never thought so. Consistent monthly payments were better than the arbitrary rent-increases that set me packing, but the niggling thought of foreclosure was always there. The more I improved La Casa de Tontería (aka The House of Nonsense), the more I wanted to own it outright.


With penny-pinching and do-it-myselfing, I planned to pay off my mortgage in December.
At the beginning of work-from-home, I turned the inside of the front door into a central planning center for tasks and bill deadlines. The up-to-date loan statement, posted next to the calendar, often caught my eye. The dropping interest portion pleased me – except when I compared it to other monthly expenses.


Today I went into the bank and, after comparing mortgage and savings account balances, paid it off. Finally La Casa de Tontería is truly mine.

Putting the Middle-Man Back In

Please forgive the delay between posts. I was in a lovely place with spotty WiFi and, at the best times, WordPress had endless loading patterns.

This past week, I returned to brick-and-mortar stores. Having items delivered to my doorstep wasn’t saving money nor helping my community. Plus, it’s difficult to judge something like color and fit online (although fitting rooms are still closed).

It was a rather strange experience to have no Canadian visitors, to avoid other people like the literal plague, and to smile despite a mask (“invisible” smiles are high on my list of Things I Hate About Covid-19). The current coin shortage has forced me to use a credit card, putting a new wrinkle in budgeting. But there was the clearance rack (replacing workout clothes was $4.35 cheaper than anticipated) and the book I wanted was in a logical spot despite the rearranged, distancing-pattern shelves.

As for The Young Human Factory, we’re waiting to hear from the governor about what stage we’ll be in for the reopening. We are using a “middle man” regardless: lessons via live chats and online assignments). Ugh.

Year of (gulp!) No Shopping

It’s that time of year again. The season of Black Friday sales and the slow trickle of tax documents.

And a horrible urge* to try a Year Without Shopping (YWS). according to my field notes, it consists of the following “rules”:

  • No new additions to the wardrobe
  • No new _______ until current supply of _________ is used up
  • No entertainment purchases with the exception of experiences (This seems to be popular loophole; for example a learning experience or roadtrip.)

If anything breaks or wears beyond prepare, there is a process:

  1. Substitute.
  2. Borrow.
  3. Buy used

I have already incorporated some practices into daily life. However, I’m daunted by the idea of committing to no sales or no stocking up.  And there’s the haunting sense that once I commit to it, sinister stars will align to break various necessities…

But I’m going to do it anyway. This coming week, I will make a list of five (5!) planned expenditures.  Wish me luck.


*By “horrible urge,” I mean a horribly sweet Puerto Rican has been urging me to follow his footsteps, if not hus vagabond ways.

 

The Veggie Jar

Between garden supply runs and appointments, I’ve been driving around quite a bit. Last week I found myself looking for someplace to have a quick-and-cheap bite to eat. Of course, my budget doesn’t allow for fast food.

So I cheated without cheating.

I often drove by a grocery store between two fast food joints. Neiman’s Family Market has an in-store cafe that allows you (or me in this case!) to nosh on goodies in between grocery shopping.*

One delicious offering was sliced raw vegetables – not just carrots and cucumbers, but radish medallions and brightly-colored pepper slices. The produce sections of most grocery stores carry large plastic bowls of prepared vegetables or fruits, particularly in the summer. Nothing beats the heat like refrigerated snacks.

It occurred to me that the appeal of these bowls – besides the avoidance of cleaning, peeling, and slicing everything oneself – is their beauty.  The variety of colors attract the eye like a jar of hard candies on the counter of a sweets shop. It’s much more tempting to “eat your vegetables” when they’re enticingly pretty.

And the convenience of popping the lid and reaching in for a handful of snacks can’t be beat. Unfortunately, the price of convenience can be steep.

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My version of a vegetable medley with the freezer container of “odds and ends.”

I decided to make my own version using the Anchor Hocking 7-cup container. I used celery, carrots, radishes, and two bell peppers. Not counting the amount I didn’t use, the cost is less than $5. I could have made it cheaper by using cucumbers and eliminating the celery, which is more than $3 a bunch.**

Not only is it less expense than the store-bought version, it had the added benefit of using all the “ugly” parts like the thick, whitish sections of bell peppers. I threw oddly-shaped pieces into a freezer container for vegetable soup in the autumn. A separate glass container holds sliced celery leaves ready to toss with salad.

Related

This celery soup recipe by The American Moms is easy and delicious, and they give an nice overview of how Michigan farmers created the US celery industry.


*Grocery shopping while hungry can destroy a budget. However, some people become hungry after handling or smelling food. An independent grocer offers free coffee or tea for adults and free fruit to children. Putting food shops inside a store is a genius idea; just ask Michigan old-timers about the Purple Cow.

**Not heart of celery, the tender and leafy center, which is even more expensive. Michigan has had a late start this year in many crops due to cool rainy weather. I haven’t seen any local celery, just California produce. This doesn’t bode well for the price offrozen mirepoix packets, a winter staple.

Bringing Down the Food Budget

The last time I tracked my everyday expenses, I realized I eat out a lot. It’s not just restaurants. I frequent the Factory cafeteria. I stop for coffee whenever I am on the road.

These frequent food-fests don’t even include planned outings, like a recent farewell dinner for three seniors. It’s a given that I eat out at least twice a month because of the ever-changing restaurant landscape in the Bluewater Area.*

But if I want to take down The Mortgage (more on that later), I have to cut some more corners. An average lunch costs $3.75 and an average dinner over $10.

At Simple Dollar, Trent Hamm wrote about how the average American spends $7.64 a day on food, including both homemade and restaurant meals. He encourages bringing it down to $2.50 a day by using six staples as the backbone of meals: rice, beans, oatmeal, on-sale fresh produce, dry pasta, or eggs.

That seemed a little low to me, but I’m going to try it. The annual shut-down of the Factory and my mandatory retraining for new requirements mean I will be spending a lot of time at home for almost two months. It’s much easier to experiment with recipes when I will have enough time to read them and even cook elaborately.

Wish me luck!


*For example, I had been wanting to try the updated menu at The Cadillac House since its renovation. Baby Bro, as usual, was my excuse for going. Lunch was delicious, and it was startling to see the difference in the floor plan.

August 2018 Progress Report, part 2

black calculator near ballpoint pen on white printed paper

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is the budget report.  Some people of my acquaintance consider discussions of money to be vulgar, so they are free to skip this.  Others have started debt-free living, minimalist budget challenges, and similar projects. I hope my readers might find it interesting or (I hope) give me constructive criticism.

I took a “baseline reading” of my usual monthly expenses in preparation for a so-called year of no spending. I didn’t curb my spending; the expenses would show typical spending. However, as soon as I started writing everything down, it seemed as if all sorts of expenses popped up.  Continue reading

My Year of No Buying… April Fools!

Sorry about that. Also, Happy Easter and Felices Pascuas!**

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Last week my favorite puertorriqueño gave me a couple of suggestions, including that I jump on the “Year of No Spending” bandwagon and give details.

“It is going to be very funny if you do,” he wrote.

After considerable thought, I decline. First, I have a tendency to focus on a task to the exclusion of everything else, including sleep and common sense. Second, I foresee having to spend a bundle on certain home replacements in the future.

Case in point: I awoke one night thinking cats were fighting outside my window. No, it was the fan of my furnace screeching. It has subsided, but it’s only a matter of time…

However, I am intrigued by the idea of tracking my expenses. I did that 2013 in order to create a better budget on a “frozen” salary.

I have done a month of low-spending.

And a few years ago I followed a Canadian blogger who challenged herself to live as cheaply as possible. Each month she posted the results as a spreadsheet as well as a tally by category.  As I recall, she ended one year with less than CA$5,000 in expenses. I admired her experiment and wished she’d left her blog up for future reference. She had some oddball tricks that couldn’t be done by just anyone, such as moving across Ontario one summer to an off-season dorm room and being paid in food to babysit a young relative. But she also had great tips on simple one-bowl meals and entertainment.

So maybe I could track my spending and add it to my monthly updates. (And yes, I know the March update is due. But it’s a holiday!)


** Note to anyone thinking of telling me that “Easter” is derived from a pagan goddess called Esther (the nemesis of a god named Fred Sanford):

Everyone knows the English liked to apply their old words to new things; e.g. the North American orange-breasted robin is a delightfully musical thrush named after a shrill, squeaky flycatcher native to Europe and Africa.  (The photo above is of a North American robin’s nest and its distinctive blue eggs. It’s a free-use WordPress photo because the nearest nest appears to be in the upper reaches of my maple.)

Outside the Anglocentric view, the words for today’s holiday are variations on “Passover”,  such as Pascua in Spanish.  Even in English, the Resurrection of Christ is called “The Paschal Mystery.”

If you feel the need to argue, let us focus on food names. We can ramble at length about squashes known as either courgette, zucchini, calabacita, OR zapallito. But do NOT get me started on turnips, Swedes, and rutabagas!