Seven Snippets

Whatever blogging muscle I had has gotten completely flabby from nonuse.  I had several posts started and waiting on my dashboard but could never manage to finish any of them.  So I’ve condensed them in list form below.  Even this list took multiple attempts which is why #1 is probably no longer timely.  But I didn’t want to change the title to Six Snippets, so there you go.

1. Taxes.  We’re done!  And, heaven help me, we’re not moving states mid-year again if I can help it.  January start dates are going to be our new jam because that was way too many W-2s and calculations for my liking.  Because of the move we got a nice little refund that went right back to the government in the form of a student loan payment.
2. Travel.  March was nutty.  I am back from a work conference and boarding a plane again in just a few hours.  Literally hours after that plane lands our visitors will be disembarking their own flight to New England and staying for the holiday weekend.  And after four quiet weeks at home we’ll travel three more times this spring for commencement ceremonies.
3. I’m old. I think I experienced “throwing my back out” for the first time. It was awful. Forget the gray hair I’ve found. This was the worst part of ‘getting old’ yet.  I could pathetically be described as an amoeba-like creature on the couch for most of last weekend.
4. Snow.  This is a thing that seriously impacted #2 above.  Gotta love the unpredictability of March. It didn’t help that the places we were traveling to/from had crazy winters.  I’m not normally a nervous traveler but something about snow just makes me extremely uncomfortable with being away from home.  However, now that it’s mid-April I think we might actually be able to say that we’re done with all of this nonsense for another year.
5. Moving.  We are!  Most of my free time lately has been spent laundering, cleaning, organizing, packing and hunting for things that we need for our next apartment.  I actually do have a longer post penned about why we’re moving but it can be summed up by saying we’re downsizing to increase our rate of saving for a down payment.  We are those oddballs who want to put down a very large downpayment (at least 50%) so it will still be a long while.
6. Health and wellness.  My main resolution/goal for this year was to really focus on my health because it’s something that I’ve taken for granted for far too long.  I was never a sickly kid – I was either perfectly healthy or needed surgery/immediate attention and so I’ve been lucky (?) enough to get by without any focus.  I’m really trying to change that because, to be blunt, my health is a really dumb thing to take for granted.  I still sometimes have coffee and cookies for breakfast, but I have established care with a primary provider, have had blood work done (all good!), set up an appointment for a precautionary skin check with a dermatologist, and have joined a gym.  I still need to find a dentist and an eye doctor but it’s only April so I’m feeling pretty good about my progress thus far.
7. Books.  I have been in such a reading slump this year.  I have given up on every single fiction book that I’ve started.  Have any good suggestions?  Right now I’m reading Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com’s book and while I’m positive that plenty of it is going over my head I’m finding it a fascinating introduction to Big Data and the analytics field.

Clothing Budget: Q1 2016

In January bought five items and I spent $79 of my $600 budget. Everything was from Gap, and has been perfect for work.

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I bought this lace-sleeved top in both black and white for $12 each.  They just work really well for my office paired with pencil skirts or dress pants.  As of this writing I’ve already worn the black one several times!

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1969 Resolution pull on legging jeans.  These were $14 and I loooooved them right out of the bag. I have a feeling that these are going to stretch out and become totally unwearable after six months – but for the price I’m okay with that.

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Merino wrap cardigan in beige and black.  $18 each.  (I grabbed the screenshot of the gray one because it shows the cardigan the best.)   Reviewers don’t seem to like these but I love them!  I bought them because I wanted something more casual to wear over dresses in my office.  I have a few shift dresses that would work better with something soft and flowy topping them.  I was initially just going to buy the black one but thought that might be too wintry for the warmer months, so I got the beige as well.  The beige is also going to help me wear a summer-weather dress for Easter this year.  I was going to buy a new dress but then everything I liked wound up being very expensive.

In February, I spent $0.  This was the first month that we went back on a strict budget and I knew there wouldn’t be any extra money being added to it (no overtime this month) so I held off.

Last year I recapped January and February together here. I wore that trench coat all spring and fall and can’t wait to pull it out again. That navy dress is now sitting in my mom’s closet because she wound up liking it a lot more than I did.

In March, I spent $170 of my budget on five dresses and two skirts. Last year’s recap is here. I wore that dress into the ground and am sad I don’t have it anymore. The ring gets worn lots as well, but only during warmer months because it gets stuck in gloves and scarves. This month I bought three dresses and a skirt from ThredUp, an Anthropologie skirt off of eBay and a dress from Gap.  And while that did come out of my monthly spending money, I was called in to work extra hours this month so there was a nice boost to my spending allotment.  Here’s the dress from Gap ($20, after a gift card) which I’m completely in love with even though this picture made me nervous before it arrived.

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After the first quarter of the year I’ve spent $250 of my $600 budget.  That’s high, but we generally have such cool and short summers that I don’t anticipate spending very much more for quite some time. I do “need” a pair of chino shorts, as I don’t have any at the moment and maybe a jersey dress for the few uncomfortably hot days but that’s likely it. I’ll be back in June to let you know whether that was the case.

Thoughts on the quarterly recaps ?

Meal planning and budgeting

Our budgeting system has been all over the place since we relocated.  In order to get everything back in order we have been focusing on one or two categories each month that we try to keep tight control on.  This month we tackled food and spending money.  Here is a rundown of how the food category went.

We are a family of two adults with no known intolerances or allergies. I’m not a big meat eater and L prefers to go easy on pasta.  Other than occasional alcohol, we drink water, coffee, tea and seltzer water. Seltzer water is definitely an unnecessary indulgence, but it’s better than regularly buying pop or sugary teas, which we try to avoid.

Liam loves shopping and cooking, but he also makes very expensive and elaborate meals. When we’re more conscious of our budget I’m the one that does the shopping and planning because I rely on simpler foods that we like just as much. $50-$60 per week is not impossible, but it does require a fair bit of advanced planning and number crunching. I generally shop only at our regular chain grocery store, but occasionally I’ll also need to drop by Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for the odd ingredient. Trader Joe’s is both a money suck and saver; I have to be really careful to go in there and stick to a Very Specific List otherwise I completely blow the budget.

With a few exceptions I stick to the store brand variety of most things I’m buying. Liam is very brand loyal, which is another reason why I take over the shopping when we lower the budget for the month. Admittedly even I stick to a certain brand of milk and eggs though. I toyed with the idea of shopping at Wal-Mart one week this month for the price comparison. Wal-Mart was late in coming to New England and the grocery sections were especially late, so I don’t know whether they have bothered to be competitive on groceries up here.  From what I heard from coworkers, the food selection is really poor and quite expensive so we decided not to visit this month.

Our first week of groceries was actually bought in January, but we spent $155.  $155!!  Because we were shopping for two weeks I was hoping that would be more like $110-$115.  But again, I brought Liam and he is impulsive.  At that point I was pretty confident that there was no way we were going to come in under my goal of $300 in groceries for the month.

Another bad sign for our budget was that for the first time in forever we tossed out a several servings of a meal.   It wasn’t a particularly expensive soup, but I hate wasting food so that was really disappointing.  We got pizza on a night we weren’t planning on doing so but in the end everything wound up working out just fine.  We did go slightly over budget ($303.45) but I’m considering that a success for our first month of our new budget.

Week of February 1st: Ignoring the ill-fated soup, our meals were pizza (takeout), salsa chicken and rice (x2), and Italian sausage with macaroni and cheese.  We were away from home the first weekend of February and because we bought several meals for other people I don’t count that in our normal budget.

Week of February 8th: We ate spaghetti and meatballs, a Southwest-inspired “lasagna” (meatless),  a meatless pot pie, baked chicken and roasted broccoli, and more takeout pizza because somehow Liam had a free one.  Oh, and we had Indian takeout one night.    Total spent on groceries $3.50 (milk).

Week of February 15th: We ate a ravioli lasagna that was totally inspired by something in the ready-made section at Costco (that fed us for three nights!), shrimp with roasted potatoes and broccoli, and another meatless pot pie.  Total spent on groceries: $78

Week of February 22nd: I made a chili that we ate over egg noodles one night and baked potatoes the next; red beans and rice, and another pot pie.  We also had salmon and green beans one night.

The cool thing was that after the first week’s huge shop we were able to work around what was in the pantry for the most part.  The salmon and green beans was the one meal where both of us were not feeling anything that we had in the house.   I should add that my breakfast was always baked oatmeal and that Liam had either hardboiled eggs or toast.  I always have peanut butter and jelly for lunch, and L will either have leftovers or I’ll make another meal for him to have at lunch all week.  While it’s so hard for us to say no to dinner out, we never have a problem with bringing lunch.

I had to buy most of the ingredients for the ravioli lasagna, but that was on the menu because we had an open jar of sauce from the spaghetti and meatballs.

March is going to be an insane month in our house and for our budget.  I’m traveling for work, we’re traveling together, and we also have family coming to visit.  Excluding when family visits, I’m going to try to stick to under $300 again.

 

January 2016 in Review

Days of Note

It was weird to write down notable dates from this month because the only thing notable about the beginning of January was ringing in the new year with my family…and then turning around to come back to our city.

January 12: New England winter bucket list item crossed off: we ate dinner in a beautiful restaurant with huge, wide-paneled windows that overlook a cobblestone street (and the ocean!) during the most beautiful snowfall of the year.  Norman Rockwell would have been impressed.

January 16: A Nor’easter kept us inside for most of the day.  We made beef stew and snow ice cream and enjoyed going for a bit of a walk during a break in the precipitation.

January 18th: MLK Day was a holiday for both of us.  Though we were housebound for three days (see above) the long weekend came at a perfect time.  We did homework, cleaned house, baked cookies and relaxed after the hardest work weeks of the year.  (Coming back from the holidays is rough!)

January 24th: Oss Bed and Breakfast in action!  Friends from out of town crashed here over the weekend.  Even though visiting with us wasn’t the purpose of their trip we got to catch up and hang out a fair bit.

January 31st: Dinner with friends at a new restaurant

On the whole, January was notable for its relatively mild temperatures.  Liam started a new school term at the very beginning of the month so it was mostly work-school-house work for both of us.  I really enjoyed the month at work and it seems like I started to get into a groove by the end of it.

Books read

The 1950’s Kitchen.  This was probably someone’s thesis, but I thought it was a fascinating read.  Granted, I thought there was going to be a little bit more socio-cultural analysis of the role of women in the 1950s but it even as just a discussion of kitchen designs, placement and materials kept me interested.

I tried to read The Husband’s Secret.  I really did!  I got past the first few pages and realized that I was annoyed by the main character and really didn’t care what the husband’s secret was and whether or not he was cheating, which I think is what you were supposed to be assuming at that point.

Miscellany 

This month I taught myself how to crochet!  I’m not saying that I’m very good at all, but it’s really enjoyable to do while watching television, and I think I would like to make a granny square quilt for our next place.  I mean…we could use it in our current place too, but I doubt I’ll finish it any time soon.

On another note, I applied for a few new jobs this month as well.  I love my current job and am very happy there for the time being.  Heck, I only started in October and feel very much like I’m still in the learning phase.  However, it has been several months since I have applied for anything and I like to keep my resume fresh and in circulation.  So I applied for a different job that is very related to what I do now.  Another few jobs that I applied for were part-time retail jobs.  Budget-wise I do not need to work another job, but at the moment I am happy to trade my time for a bit of extra money.  Have I mentioned my ten-minute commute?  That’s a big part of why I have free time.  Also, the downside of renting a furnished apartment is that we are going to need to purchase several big-ticket items once we leave this unit.  It would be nice to not have to use our “normal” money to do that.  More importantly though is that I would feel better with an additional income stream.  Maybe it’s the Millenial in me, but I don’t know that we will ever feel completely secure in our jobs without a bit of extra money coming in on the side “just in case”.

Other than returning to New England there wasn’t any traveling in January. We might try to take a weekend or day trip in February but I’m totally okay with that not happening.  March is going to be crazy busy and February is so short that it’s over in the blink of an eye.

2016 Budget: Clothing

This would be one of those posts that got stuck in draft status when I was having my computer woes.

For the past several years my clothing budget has held steady at $600 for the year. It is a number I’m completely comfortable spending and one that lets me purchase pretty much everything I want while having to keep an eye out for sales. I’ve decided to keep the same budget for 2016. I toyed with dropping it down to force me to be more creative in secondhand shopping, but because of where I live I’m forced to rely on online secondhand shopping and I find it far more expensive than in-person.

One thing that’s going to change in 2016 is recapping my purchases on the blog.  Even though it may make for some lengthy posts, I’m going to switch from monthly to quarterly recap posts.  Personal style is a fun hobby of mine but I think that writing monthly recaps leads me to focus more on the acquisition than the styling.  So my next recap will cover everything I’ve purchased from now until the end of March.

I have already bought a few new things this year.  In the after Christmas sales I found a pair of legging jeans and two lace-sleeved shirts (that trend is probably over but I bought them for work anyway) at Gap.  I would also like to buy a new dress for Easter (and work) but I won’t be looking for that for a little while.

PSA: Back up your computers!

I was so excited to choose a word for 2016 (support). I had a great post in my drafts about why it was my word and what kinds of things I want to focus on this year.

You didn’t miss it because I was never able to post it.

That post (and any others) were put on the back burner when my laptop went on the fritz right after the new year. I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to back up everything I can and providing whatever life support to my poor old co that I know how to do or can find on Youtube. After a few weeks of doing everything i can, I fear that the end is nigh.

I cannot use any of the Microsoft Office programs and I get that Mac rainbow wheel of doom every few minutes. My computer is fairly old (5.5 years) and it was used daily for 8-10 hours a day while I was in grad school so I’m not surprised that it’s coming to the end of its useful life. Even though I probably will buy a new Mac somewhat soon, because I cannot use my work computer for anything personal, I think that the immediate solution is just going to be a keyboard and stand for my tablet.

Anyway, the whole point of posting the saga was to hopefully encourage you to back up your computers! I put all of my pictures and grad school files on Google Drive and was still able to come in well under their free storage limit. YMMV, but I have thousands of pictures and lots of photo-heavy notes, so I was pretty pleased with how much space they give for free. Dropbox is another option but I had problems trying to set it up because my computer was remembering an account I used in school and no longer have access to. I know I would have been completely crushed to lose everything on here, and was so relieved when it almost-but-didn’t happen to me.