Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Hurricane Knocked Me Down

My lovely and loyal LDL readers. . . boy oh boy what a week I've had.  Between the normal stress of everyday life, I've been dealing with the stress of the hurricane which hit much of the East Coast this past weekend.  I'm sure you've heard of her. . .she was a mighty large and ugly gal who went by the name of Irene.  I remember her cousin, Isabel, who visited our area almost 8 years ago. . . she was equally as large and ugly.  Nothing against large ladies.  Or ugly ones.  I don't mind their visits, I just wish they wouldn't leave so much destruction in their wake. 

Anyways, in all seriousness (is that even possible for me?), the hurricane was a pretty nasty event.  Trees and power lines down everywhere.  Luckily, my house didn't sustain any lasting damage but my power was knocked out on Saturday and I've yet to regain it.  I was very very fortunate that my son's father didn't lose his power so I've been able to go over and stay with him until my power gets restored.  However, a HUGE tree got knocked down in his backyard and literally flattened his deck and shed.  Total loss of everything that was on the deck or in the shed and a GIGANTIC mess to clean up.  So, between constant trips back and forth to my house to check and see if the power has been restored and to take care of the dog and grumpy cat, cleaning up the mess in his backyard, and cleaning out three, yes THREE (Depression meds are likely going to be necessary to recover from this) freezers FULL of food that has spoiled (*sniffle*), I've just been so out of touch here on the blog.  I ask that you bear with me just a few more days so that I can try to get everything back on track and then I PROMISE I'll start getting into more of a regular groove around here. 

How did everyone else fare during the hurricane?  Anyone else still without power?  Certainly makes it difficult to do blog surfing when there is no power! 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thrifty Thursday: Back to School Supplies On The Cheap

In the spirit of Back-To-School season, today's Thrifty Thursday is dedicated to getting all those necessary back to school supplies as cheaply as possible. 

Getting back to school supplies to start school in the fall really isn't that hard.  Most every big box store in the country discounts their school supplies to crazy low prices in the 4-6 weeks immediately prior to schools in the area starting back up.  Therefore, a notebook that might cost $1 in any other month of the year can be purchased in August for 50%-75% less.  However, most people don't take advantage of these incredibly deep discounts and stock up appropriately. 

As with most of my "On The Cheap" posts, you'll find that one of my biggest and most successful tips for frugal living is planning ahead.  Yes, it might take some effort, but it's actually easier than you might think.  Any good chess player will tell you that the key to winning the game is being able to anticipate your next move before you even have to think about making it.  Okay, maybe that's a total fib.  I know nothing about chess. . . but it sounded good, right? 

In that vain, here are my tips for getting all those needed back to school supplies on the cheap:

  • Before even setting foot into any store to actually purchase any school supplies, you should go through the list of what is needed for the upcoming year and see what supplies from that list you can find around your home.  Items like pens and pencils can usually be found in junk drawers and craft supply boxes all around the house.  For kids in younger grades, items such as quart size Ziploc bags, Purell, baby wipes, boxes of Kleenex, Anti-bacterial wipes, etc could even be taken right out of your stockpile if you have one already built up.  So, first things first, check your own home first!  You might be surprised what you can find lurking around without having to spend a dime!
  • Look over kids' supplies from last year to see if they really do need to be replaced before rushing out and purchasing new items.  Backpacks, lunch boxes, pencil boxes, etc don't come with an expiration date.  Unless they truly do need to be replaced, don't spend the money.  Squeeze an extra year out of it, if possible.  For my little guy (just starting Kindergarten this year), I purchased him a backpack that he can grow in to over the next few years.  True, the backpack is going to look quite large on him this year, but it's not like it will ever be loaded down with books or homework so I'm not all that worried about it being too heavy for him.  By buying one on the larger side, I'm getting a little extra mileage out of it.
  • For those items that you do end up needing to replace, go for higher quality over something that's super cheap.  I know that might seem somewhat counterproductive, but it's actually not.  Take a backpack for example. . .sure, you could get one at Walmart for about $10 this time of year but high quality retailers like Lands End or LL Bean have historically started running deals on their backpacks each year in the July/August timeframe.  By purchasing a higher quality backpack on sale for $20 or $30, you might pay double for a nicer backpack than you would otherwise have at Walmart, but you will get SOOO much more use out of it.  Trust me, I've had it both ways.  By time Christmas break rolls around, the Walmart backpack is falling apart at the seams and needs to be replaced.  LL Bean and Lands End both have crazy awesome warranties on their backpacks and they are extremely durable.  I've honestly known kids who have used the same LL Bean or Lands End backpack all the way through high school (and we all know that the high school years truly ARE the best test on backpack durability!) and have never had any problems with their backpack holding up.  Same thing goes for lunch boxes.  For something that is going to be used every day, you really do need to go the quality of quantity route.  Higher $$ now may mean far less $$ down the road on these heavy use items.
  • For supplies that are left over from last year, really analyze what you can do to give them new life.  Unused pages in spiral bound notebooks can be ripped out and put into three ring binders to be used as a fresh notebook or note taking paper.  I am currently in school pursing a degree at a local university and at the end of each semester, I remove the pages from my spiral bound notebooks that I have taken notes on or used for assignments and place them into a folder and store them with my old textbook in case I ever need to reference them later.  Any unused pages are now left behind in the spiral bound notebook and I can use it again for a new class in a different semester.  In all honesty, I have probably only used a total of three spiral bound notebooks in the last year of my classes.  Two classes a semester, three semesters a year. 
  • Next, and this is veeerrrrry important. . . TRY AS HARD AS YOU CAN not to allow yourself to get pulled into the hype.  There are about forty-two bazillion different back to school gadgets and supplies lining those aisles in the very front of each store right about this time of year and it is very easy to fall victim to thinking that you need each and every one of them.  That's what the stores WANT you to think!  However, those nifty school supply lists that are given to you have been created by the people who really know what you need: the teachers.  Stick to the list and you'll be fine.  If you need to, just repeat my mantra "Trust the list."  Easy squeezy!
  • Here's where planning ahead comes into play: when you get the supplies list for what your student (or yourself!) is going to need this upcoming year in the way of school supplies, also get the supply list for the grade one year ahead.  That way, you have one full year to slowly gather the school supplies that you will need to have ready for the following fall.  True, the list could change before next year, but it's not likely to change a whole lot.  The list that you get this year might request 8 glue sticks and your student may actually end up needing 12 by next fall but at least you can get a head start on getting the majority of what your student will need.  Not only do I have the list of what my son will need to have in order to start Kindergarten next week, but I also have the list of what the First grade teachers are asking their students to have this year.  There may end up being a few additional items that I'll have to get next year but now I have a full 12 months to slowly and frugally collect the items on the First grade list so that this time next year won't be a drain on my wallet. 
  • My last tip may seem a little controversial but I'm trusting those who have walked the path before me and choosing to heed their warnings.  I'm being told by all of my very wise Mommy friends that this is the time of year to stock up on those cheap school supplies because apparently, they typically run out mid-year.  Several warriers (i.e. Moms) who have already lived through the elementary school experience have said that throughout the year, teachers will send home notes saying that their children need more XYZ (glue sticks, notebooks, crayons, etc.) and said parents are forced to run out and buy these items at full price during a time of the year where these items are most certainly not at rock bottom prices.  Because of this advice, I have essentially bought double the items that the Kindergarten list is requesting.  For example, Tyler's supply list is requesting 12 glue sticks, I bought 30.  Seeing as how the glue sticks were $.40 each now, and they are usually $1.99 during the year, I am willing to take the chance that I overbought and he may not need them throughout the year at school.  Worst case scenario, they can always be used during summer vacation (when we'll need all the craft supplies we can get our hands on to combat boredom!) or I can just send them back to school with him next year.  At least this way, I have a mini stockpile at home of school supplies that I know have been requested for his classroom and I won't have to rush out and buy them at full price if he ends up needing something at some point during the year. 
So, what about you?  How do you get your school supplies on the cheap?  Anyone else out there feel the same way I do and swear that school supply lists have DOUBLED since we were in school? 

From the mouth of a babe

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to interview my son.  Yes, I interviewed my 5 year old son.  Why?  I'm not sure. . .I guess we were both bored.  In fact, I know we were bored.  We were waiting outside of a store for his dad to get finished with something and we ended up waiting for quite a while.  So, I randomly started asking my son a bunch of different questions.  I suppose I was just interested in hearing the answers from the mouth of my babe.  My little prince.  I hope you find this as funny as I did.  If not, you have no sense of humor!  My questions are in bold.  My son's responses are written word. for. word.  Seriously!

What's your name?  Tyler

Do you have a nickname?  I don't know

What's your age?  Five

Just Five?  Yes, just five

What's your favorite toy?  Transformers, Mask, Ben10

I asked what your favorite toy was.  That means only one.  Sorry, all of them.  I can't pick just one.

What is your favorite thing to do?  Chuck E Cheese

What's your favorite pet?  Pete and Bruno (his dad's dog)

Okay, who is your favorite-ist?  Pete

Why is Pete your favorite?  Because his ears are big and funny.  He looks like Batman.

Who is your favorite person in the whole wide world?  Nana Alice (if it isn't me, I guess I'm fine with it being my mom!)

Why is Nana Alice your favorite?  She has toys at her house (yes, apparently my son can be bought!)

I have toys at my house too.  She has better ones.

What do you want to be when you grow up?  The Mayor

Why?  Just because. . .

What kind of house do you want to live in when you grow up?  The White House

A white house or the White House?  THE White House

Why?  Because it's the biggest house in America.

What kind of car do you want to drive when you grow up?  The Mayor Car

And what kind of car is that?  A Limo

Do you want to get married when you grow up?  No

Why not?  Cuz. . .

Do you want to have kids?  Yes

How many kids?  Seven (Holy BAJEEZUS!)

Seven kids is a lot. . .do you know that?  Yes, but that's my mind made up. (Oookayyyyy)

Do you have names for those seven kids?  Yes: Jack, Mary, Tyler Jr, Jake, Popper, The Great Wizard, and Lexi

How do you get a job as the mayor?  You just be it.  You come from a different town and be mayor.  Like George Washington. 

Do you want to play sports?  No way.

Why not?  Because you have to run alot and get sweaty.  It makes me tired. 

Where will all those kids come from if you don't have a wife?  My fiancee (oh God, what have I done?)

Hmm. . .interesting.  Okay.  What will your fiancee look like?  Mommy, I don't want to talk anymore.  I'm tired of your 20 questions.  Can I read quietly now? 

There you have it.  I'm raising a smarty pants politician who has the desire to procreate outside of marriage and who tells his Mama when to shut it! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Living on the Cheap

I named this blog Living On a Dime or Less for a reason.  Because I really do try to live as cheaply as possible.  It's not so much a choice as it is a necessity.  I have champagne tastes on a (very very cheap) beer budget.  Simply said, I seriously skimp on the areas that I can and try to make every other area as cheap as possible while still being as fulfilling as possible.  For example, I flat out refuse to allow myself or my son to leave the house on any given day and look like our wardrobes came from the bottom of the bargain bin at the local Goodwill.  No offense to anyone who does buy their wardrobe from Goodwill (Don't get me wrong, I do buy clothes from Goodwill. . .I'm just very picky about what clothes I'll buy!), but I just don't want it to be obvious that we've bought our clothes from Goodwill.  Does that make sense?  I suppose the term "Dress to Impress" says something to me.

With that being said, I'm going to try to really analyze my way of living and take what seems so second nature to me and put it into words for all of my (FABULOUS!) readers.  I'm going to try to break each Living on the Cheap post into specific topics rather than just throwing out random tips here and there.  What I want from each of you is to let me know if or when there is a topic that YOU want more information or advice about.  That way, I can dig down into my LivingonaDimeorLess bones and share with you how I do it.  Now, that doesn't mean that how I do it is the only way or the right way. . .it's just the way I do it.  Someone else might do it a different way.  That's great!  Hopefully, we can all learn from each other.  Most (if not all) of my own tips have come from other people. . .so, share what you know when a topic is posted that you have feedback about!  I welcome it, encourage it, want it, and love it! 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What do you do when it rains at the beach?

What are you supposed to do when it rains at the beach?  I have the answer.  It requires the following:

A glass of good (but still budget friendly!) wine. . .

A snack. . . .those are smores Goldfish for anyone who might have been wondering. . . .

An age appropriate toy or activity which takes enough time to put together/complete for the wine and snack to be consumed in a slow and satisfactory manner. . . .

And a child to go along with the age appropriate toy. 

During one particularly rainy afternoon at the beach last week, I managed to squeeze about an hour and a half out of that Lego toy and convinced Tyler that putting that set together while Mommy enjoyed a beverage and snack was a great rainy day activity. 

So, while he did this:

I snacked and drank.

DISCLAIMER: The glass of wine and snack mentioned earlier were for ME to consume, not the kid.  I do not advocate giving underage minors glasses of wine.  No matter what the weather is outside.  And the snack?  I never mentioned there being an age appropriate requirement on those.  Yes, I ate Goldfish. . .don't judge me.  Or do, if you must.  They were good.  Real good.  Especially with that glass of wine! 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Smell Something Fishy

While at the beach this week, we took a trip to the local aquarium and it was actually really cool!  Lots of really awesome things to see.  I'll warn you now, this is one of those posts that goes WAYY overboard with pictures.  I can't help it.  I just couldn't choose only a few.  Everything was too cool!

We started off with the obligatory photo op outside of the establishment.  As you can tell, Ty had other things on this mind.

Excited to finally be inside of the aquarium. 

Tyler and Nana acting silly.  It took FOREVER to convince him that the alligator wasn't real.  He thought we were lying to him.  Apparently, my kid figures I'd think nothing of having him stick his head inside of a live alligator's mouth.  Yes child, that's exactly what your mother would do. 

Looking in the tank of big fish.

And the diver who was in the tank with the big fish.  Strange. . . .

This one was no fake alligator.  Nope, that guy was 100% real. 

This is probably one of my favorite pictures from the entire trip. . .this guy worked at the touching tank where the kids can put their hands in and feel horseshoe crabs, starfish, and other creatures which creeped me out quite a bit.  But, the combination of seeing this (really cute!) guy pick up my kid to get a better look in the tank and the terrified look on my kid's face is something that I find insanely awesome.  And, again, the guy was really cute.  I'm partial to pictures of really cute guys.  Sue me.

There they are again. I told you, he's cute!

Touching a horseshoe crab tail. . .

And then it's shell. . . .

Moving on to a star fish. 

Ty was in heaven at the touching tank.  Truth be told, Mommy kinda was too.  That guy was super cute!

Yes, I made my kid stick his face in there just so I could take a picture.  He's young and hasn't totally figured out how to rebel yet.  I'm taking advantage of that right now!

Moving on to things that really give me the heebie jeebies. . .I hate snakes.  Hate them.  Uggggh.  Hate snakes.

Isn't that a gorgeous picture (even if it is a little blurry)?  That's a jelly fish.  Another thing that gives me the willies.  I've been stung by one of these monsters before.  After that horror, seeing this one in a tank kind of made me a little happy.  I'm vengeful. 

More jellyfish related things.  Don't really know exactly what they were. . .but I was glad they, too, were in a tank.

And a beautiful, graceful sea turtle.  I don't know why, but there's something about sea turtles that I find very calming.  Ahhhhhh. . . .

Moving to the outside of the aquarium, we found this cute little box turtle just hanging out on a log. . . .

And the rest of his homies were hanging out on this other log.  Guess he took a wrong turn on his way to the party.  Poor little fella. 

And that, my friends, was our trip the aquarium.  Hope you enjoyed the photo tour as much as I did watching the cute guy with my son.  Did I mention that there was a cute guy at the aquarium?  Well, there was.  

Monday, August 15, 2011

August Challenge--Week 2 Update

So sorry for the delay in getting the Week 2 update up.  Between traveling for work last week and traveling down to North Carolina for vacation this week, I've been totally busy.  Okay, I've been totally lazy.  Take it or leave it! 

Overall, Week 2 wasn't too horribly bad.  Well, I suppose it's going to be painful to put down on paper but there isn't too much that went on this week that I had a whole heck of alot of control over.  Here goes:

Tee Shirt at Target (I already explained this expense in this post): $4
Trinkets for Tyler to bring home after my traveling for work (again, explained in earlier post):  $10
Kennel for Pete while I was gone all week for work: $84 (yeah, that's painful. . .ouch!)
Gas to fill up my car which was left at the airport literally with only fumes in the tank: $70.81 (yep, painful too)

I guess when I look at the big picture, it wasn't too terribly bad.  There weren't any grocery expenses to deal with since I was out of town on business.  Although, that kennel expense for the dog totally killed that one. 

Unfortunately, I'm only a few days into Week 3 and that one's already shaping up to be pretty rough.  Yikes.  I thought vacation was going to be pretty easy on me.  Apparently, I was wrong.  I'll try to get that update posted at the end of the week. 

How about those of you who are challenging yourselves along with me.  How are y'all doing so far?  Any successes or failures that you care to share? 

My Family is Nuts!

Seriously!  My family is one crazy patient shy of an institution.  I suppose I can get away with saying this because both my Mom and my step-dad work in the mental health field.  It's also incredibly ironic that we're all about as crazy as they come.  Naturally, when any of the family gets together, silly things happen.  

This week, Ty and I are at my mom's beach house in North Carolina with my Mom, my Nana, sister, almost brother-in-law, and my nephew.  And that's just the two legged creatures.  We've also got my dog, Pete, and my sister's dog, Diogi (yes, when you pronounce it, you have spelled D-O-G. . I told you. . .my family's crazy).  This is an interesting site in itself.  My pitbull is in love with my sister's chiuaua.  Diogi doesn't exactly feel the same.  In fact, I venture to say that Diogi would like nothing more than for Pete to disappear forever.  That just adds to the interesting-ness that is sure to happen this week.  

For instance, here is what happens when you give a five year old a camera:

   Okay, the five year old didn't take this picture.  But, it's cute so I added it anyways.  This is my nephew, London.  The cutest little chunky monkey I've ever laid eyes on.  He's got some serious chipmunk cheekers going on and I just want to squish them and smooch them.  Oh yeah, and I'm constantly amazed at how much food he can store in those little saddle bags on either side of his face.  It's amazing.

This would be my sister, Lily.  I warned you that we were all crazy.  She just happens to be crazy AND funny looking.  Poor girl.  It's a rough life for her.  She also happens to be Mommy to the chipmunk cutie mentioned previously. She's also going to kill me if she ever finds this blog. 

This would be my Mom, Queen of the Crazies.  She's also known as Nana to the little folk.  She calls them her Nanasons.  So cute.  Another one that's going to cause me physical harm when she sees this post.  Oh well, it's worth it.  Mom, consider this payback for laughing when I got lemonade in my eye.  I still can't see clearly out of that eye. 

Another pic of the little food squirrel.  He also happens to be a bit bossy.  Here he is screaming at us to feed him.  Of course, he isn't forming full words or sentences yet but he has a squeal that travels faster than the speed of sound.  Somehow he seems to get his point across. 

We didn't respond quickly enough so he went for an alternative form of nourishment.  Apparnetly, Pack-N-Play side rails are gourmet fare these days.  Who knew?  

So, we're missing a few key players in the crazy mix, but rest assured, before the week is up, I will find a way to spotlight them.  We're all here for an entire week in this three bedroom beach house.  There's sure to be a story or two worth sharing this week.  At the very least, you'll get to see recaps of our various field trips. . .there is no way we can all stay cooped up together in the house all day long.  Someone would ultimately perish.  And it would likely be painful. 

Do you have crazy family members too?  How about any crazy family stories to share with us?  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Success and Failure. . .

I'm still out of town for work so while I've been spending money like crazy on eating out, it's all been on the corporate card so that doesn't exactly count against me in my monthly challenge.  I just love it when I can eat out three meals a day and someone else pays for it!  My waistline doesn't necessarily agree. . .but who asked for its opinion anyways? 

However, that's not where the success or the failure comes from.  I have experienced one of both in the last 24 hours.  Since the former feels better, I'll discuss that one first.

I'm traveling with a colleage from work and she and I decided that it would be a fantastic idea to hit up the outlet mall which is located terrifying close to where we're at for work.  I tried to convince myself that the only reason I was agreeing to go was because I still have a few items that I need to get Tyler for his school/Fall wardrobe.  Yeah. . .right.  Good story.  Anyways, I have a serious. . .no, that doesn't describe it close enough. . . . SERIOUS weakness for a Banana Republic Factory Outlet store.  So, while my co-worker was browing another store, I walked into the BR.  As I walked in, I immediately got a rush.  A strange "YEAH BABY. . .that is what you've been waiting for" type feeling.  Almost as instantly as it came, it went.  It was the strangest thing I think I've ever felt.  Aside from childbirth.  Anyways, I swear I heard a voice in my head that distinctly said "You aren't ready for the amount of money that you'd end up spending in here if you don't turn around and leave immediately".  It was a horrifying thought.  But, that's what I did.  I immediately turned and walked out.  Looking back on it, I know it was totally the right thing to do.  No amount of new clothes would make up for how much I would have dreaded having to write that post.  So, SUCCESS! 

Now, this next paragraph is going to be somewhat painful to write but nothing as painful as it would have been had I not left Banana Republic last night when I did!  Since I'm on a business trip, I only packed business related clothing except for the one casual outfit that I wore out here on the plane.  Normally, I would just wear the same outfit back, but since I wore that outfit on our (what I'm slyly deeming Operation Successful) shopping trip, I am finding myself somewhat short handed for the flight back tomorrow night.  So, I made a trip to Target.  I gave myself a very stern talking to before walking into the store and reminded myself that I was there for one thing and one thing only.  A tee shirt.  Yes, I plan on wearing pants on the plane too (I think the FAA requires it.  Don't they?) but they're jeans.  And jeans can be worn three times without being washed.  Because they roll like that!  Anyways, I walked in.  I grabbed an $8 plain tee shirt and I walked (somewhat briskly) toward the check out line to minimize the risk of having my eye caught by anything else.  This only partially worked for me.  As I passed the children's section, a sign caught my eye.  Kids' size tee shirts.  $4.  That's when I had what I think could be the best idea that I've had in quite some time.  I'm an adult size small.  It just so happens that a child size XL is equal (or darn close) to an adult size small.  So, I figured that I could essentially buy the same size tee shirt (they were both a plain solid colored shirt anyways) for HALF PRICE!  So, that's what I did.  That's only a half failure, right?

Unfortunately, it does get a wee bit worse.  On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at Walgreens with my co-worker because she needed to get something.  As I was killing time waiting for her, I saw a bunch of cute little trinkets that were branded with the city that I'm currently in.  Since I always bring my son home a little surprise from my travels whenever I'm out of town for longer than two days, I felt compelled to pick up a couple of items for him.  My only defense here is that I got him three little trinkets for less than what I would have paid for only one item had I waited until I had gotten to the airport to buy it.  So, again. . .I spent money that I didn't want to spend, but I did it in a frugal way. . .right?  I mean, how was I going to show my face to my little man and be empty handed?  That would make me a bad Mommy.

Overall, I spent $4 for the tee shirt and a little over $9 for the trinkets.  I'll admit that it was a fall off the right track but I don't feel completely guilty for it.  Should I? 

Monday, August 8, 2011

On the Road Again. . .

You'll have to cut me a little bit of slack this week as I'm out of town for work.  No, not blogging work (this is a hobby. . .I connect with all of you in my spare time and I do it absolutely for free!). . .my real work. . .my "day job", if you will.  Therefore, both my brain power and my will power are being tested this week.  I've only been on the road for a day but I'm already exhausted.  Therefore, my posts may be a little more few and far between as they normally are and my content may be a little on the light side.  Who am I kidding?  I haven't even really gotten into the meat of my blog yet.  I've named my blog "Living On a Dime or Less" and have yet to write any posts that live up to that name.  I ask that you hang in there with me. . .they are in the works!  I'm just quickly realizing how difficult it is to take what seems to come second nature to me and put it into written word in a way that not only clearly expresses my thoughts but also doesn't boring the ever livin' daylights out of you all!  Try taking personal finance and frugality and put that into terms that won't make you want to jab your eyes out with toothpics.  No small feat! 

Anyways, I'll try to come up with some humorous posts to entertain you all until I get back in town later this week.  In the meantime, hang in there and I hope you are all having a great week! 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

It Was Love At First Bite!

Tonight, we tried something totally different.  Well, at least for us.  After years (yes, years) of trying to get my picky kid to eat a vegetable other than french fries (I don't care what anyone says. . .they're made out of potatoes. . .they're a veggie.  Don't argue!), I have FINALLY found something that works.  OMG.  Bring on the happy dance! 

My utterly fantastic friend, Sharon, gifted me with some zucchinis when I went to visit her in her new home (which includes lots and lots of vegetables growing in her very own garden) last weekend.  When I inquired on what in the world I was supposed to do with this crazy looking cucumber (that's what I always thought zucchinis were. . .a type of cucumber), she laughed at me and told me to fry it.  Umm. . .okay. 

So, after pondering this preparation method for the last few days, I decided to give it a go.  Afterall, we love fried stuff in this house and if it means I can sneak some veggie in under that lovely fried goodness, I'm game. 

So, we started with a fairly large zucchini.  Take it from me (because I'm an experienced pro at this now), don't use a zucchini this large unless you're making this dish for alot of people.  I ended up throwing out half of the uncooked zucchini (I know, NOT a good example for Living on a Dime or Less.  I'm sorry!) simply because I had too much of it. 

Slice it up into thin slices. . .but not too thin or else you'll end up with zucchini chips.

Some of those slices are too thin.  Just throw those out.  It's not worth cooking them.  Really!

Then, mix up your coating mixture.  It's SOOO easy squeezy!  Just flour, seasoned salt, and pepper.  See, easy peasy! 

No measurements.  Just throw some flour onto a plate, sprinkle in some seasoned salt (not too much or the finished product will be too salty) and some pepper.  Mix it all together. 

Crack an egg or two into a bowl, add a splash of milk and fork (mix) it up. 

After your prep work is done, heat some veggie oil in a large frying pan.  Dredge (that's the fancy term for dip and coat) the zucchini slices in the egg mixture and then the flour mixture. 

Place the coated zucchini slices in a single layer in the hot oil and fry until golden brown. 

Once the golden brown goodness is done cooking (really, just fry until your desired level of golden), remove fried slices of heaven and drain on a plate covered with paper towels. 

Once cool, call over your little taste tester and bribe him/her to try their new favorite food.  A tip from the master: don't tell them that what they are about to try is a vegetable.  It just ruins the experience.

He looks scared, doesn't he?  Can you tell that I force him to try alot of foods and refuse to answer his question of what it is?  Poor kid. 

SCORE!  Kid likes it.  I will never look at a zucchini the same way again.  Seriously, I ate fried zucchini for dinner.  ONLY fried zucchini for dinner!  

Friday, August 5, 2011

August Challenge--Week 1 Update

This week's update comes with both some happy and some sad.  I haven't been quite as good as I could have been this week when it came to cutting out everything but absolute necessities.  However, I committed to sharing both the successes and the failures with you all, so I'll do just that.  Plus, this first week's update looks all sorts of out of whack since I had to pay all of my monthly bills.  I just got done doing that 20 minutes ago.  Money. . .gone. . . :( 

As for regular bills, aside from my Mortgage, here is what I paid:

Electricity: $132.00--I'm on the budget plan so this is a fixed amount.  However, this month's bill would have actually been $173.47.  I'm still on a mission to lower that bill.  Guess the AC needs to get turned down another notch or two. 
Water Bill: $58.10--this is a bill that I only pay every other month.  $58.00 for two months of water and sewer isn't too shabby, I guess.
Gas Bill: $19.36--heat is the only thing that is gas in my house so the thought of paying for any gas during the summer just burns me up (no pun intended!) but I suppose that's for the hot water or something.  Going forward: cold showers!
Comcast: $104.31--this is actually double my monthly bill.  There was a big screw up at Comast last month (totally their fault, not mine!) and they billed me over $300.00 (yeah, imagine my heart palpitations when I opened that bill!).  In the midst of getting it corrected, they actually rejected my monthly payment (again, their fault, not mine) so this month's bill was double the normal bill.  Since they never actually took the money out of my account or charged me any late fees for "not" paying last month's bill, I won't harass them too bad.  Plus, I'm SOOOO tired of talking to Comcast.  Long story.  Makes me angry.  Brings out the throbbing purple vein in my forehead.  Not pretty.
Sprint: $173.99--again, another bill that is MUCH higher than normal.  I got a new cell phone in July and rather than making me pay for it upfront, they just billed me for it.  So, my August bill looks atrocious. 
USAA: $55.94--this is my car insurance.  Not too bad, I guess.
CITI: $9.26 -- paid off the last of that nasty credit card.  I made a HUGE payment to them in June (Thank You, Uncle Sam for sending me my tax return!  Finally.) and this is, I guess, the last little bit of interest or fees or whatever other ridiculous charges that credit card companies always get you for when you try to pay them off.  Burn CITI, Burn.  I hear it's hot where you belong. 

Now. . .on to the less pretty of the weekly spending (yes, apparently it does get even uglier than above!):

Gas: $25.09--I really can't complain about this.  Normally, it takes over $60 or $70 to fill up my SUV but this week I didn't really have to fill up.  Plus, I'm leaving to go out of town for work on Sunday so I don't have to use any gas (at least, none paid for out of my own pocket) for most of next week either.  SCORE!
ATM Withdrawl: $40 -- I hang my head in shame.  I went out with some friends on Wednesday night and was coerced (yes, it was their fault. . .that's my story and I'm stickin' to it!) into pulling money out of the ATM.  I guess the bright side is that I still have $32 in cash left.  So, I guess I only spent $8.  I'll probably deposit the $32 back into my account the next time I get a check or something that needs depositing. 
Eating Out: $49.55 -- go ahead.  Say it.  Whatever it is, I deserve it.  I fell off the wagon and landed hard on my. . .well, you know what.  Part of that amount is the $18.63 that I've already admitted to spending when going out with my girlfriend for dinner that had already been planned prior to taking on the challenge.  However, I went out twice, yes twice, this week with friends.  Once was for dinner Wednesday night and the other was for a birthday lunch for a work friend of mine.  I suppose the only thing I can say in my defense is that I didn't spend anything on groceries this week and don't really anticipate having any grocery bill next week either.  Does that do anything to redeem this fall from grace? 

What about you?  What unexpected bills/expenses did you have pop up this week?  Have you ever made a commitment to do something that you quickly realized was going to be very difficult to accomplish? 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August Challenge: Day 2--Failure Strikes! :(

So far, so good on the spending front.  Well, maybe not entirely.  Remember when I mentioned in my challenge reveal post that I had already planned a dinner with a friend where I was going to end up blowing my challenge just this much? Well, that dinner was last night.  Nothing like blowing the challenge right out of the gate.  However, it goes a tiny step further.  Yeah. . .I'll admit it.  I screwed up.  I thought I had been all smooth by going out and scoring a coupon to the place where we were going to be eating.  Until the moment that I drove up to the restaurant.  My girlfriend had given me the name of the place.  I had plugged the same name into my GPS and it had led me right to the front door.  However, there was a different name on the sign/front door.  Same type of food, just different name.  So, I figured I wasn't going to be able to use my coupon.  Looking back on it, I totally should have asked them if they would accept it, but. . .alas, I just sucked it up and paid the bill.  Grand total spent: $18.73.  Ouchies. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

August Challenge: Getting Back to Basics

The long (okay, only a few days) awaited for August Challenge Reveal is upon us.  *Drum Roll Please*. . . .

For the entire month of August, I'm committing to myself, my wallet, and all (three?) of you regular readers that I am going to buckle down and get back to basics.  What do I mean by this?  I share. . .

While I am a self proclaimed thriftster, I also like to shop.  Alot.  I can't help it, I was born with it in my blood.  Blame my mom.  So, I found a therapeutic way to handle my shopping addiction by turning to thrift stores, yard sales, flea markets, etc to feed the shopping addiction.  Don't get the wrong idea, it's not like I'm a candidate for Hoarders or anything (well. . .maybe just in my purse!),  I shop for what I need but I do it in the most thrifty way possible.  However, after a hard look at the June and July expenditures, I came to a stomach churning realization: I'm spending more than I bring in.  Essentially, I'm living beyond my means.  I have a very very tight budget right now and I haven't been doing my part in abiding by that budget.  I fell victim to the credit card scheme.  You see, I have this really low rate credit card (0% for 6 months and even a low rate after that) which has a tremendous rewards program.  I got this special gem through work (I work for a bank) and I've been a little too lax in putting things on the credit card here lately since: 1. I'm paying no interest on the purchases (right now) and 2. I'm totally racking up the rewards points which will come in handy at Christmas time for gift cards and what not.  However, after looking at what I brought home vs. what I spent over the last few months, I realized that I just simply had to do something.  Otherwise, I'm risking the situation spinning too far beyond my control.  This self-proclaimed control freak can't have that happen.  Oh the horror!

So, here's the challenge:  cut out essentially everything beyond the absolute necessities for the entire month of August.  No extra shopping (well, read the conditions below), no extra DIY supplies (again, read the conditions below) or renovation projects.  Nothing.  I have to make a budget and stick to it.  I'm hoping that by sharing this challenge with all of you, it will help me to stick to it a little better than simply keeping it to myself.  Much easier to cheat if I'm the only one that knows about it!  Additionally, I'm committed to sharing if I fall off the wagon at all.  If I mess up and step outside of my committed challenge this month, I'll share and you can all flog me publicly (via the comments option below) for it.  Help me to stay honest.  And on track. 

Here are the nitty gritty details:

Mortgage: Try as hard as I might, I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to get out of this one.  My mortgage company just doesn't seem to agree with me that I should be able to "get back to basics" and thus eliminate their payment.  They want their money.  Actually, they seem to have this whole crazy process that happens if you don't pay them their money and I hear it doesn't end well.  Control Freaks!  So, I'm kinda stuck paying this one and considering it a "basic". 

Utilitities: Much like the mortgage, this one seems to need to stay in the "basic" category meaning that it needs to get paid.  However, unlike some others that I know, I cut down my utilities to the absolute minimum a few months ago so there really isn't anything left in there that's a "want" vs. a "need".  In my utilties category, I have electricity (No amish living here!  This girl needs to charge her cell phone and use her hair straightener!), gas (the heat kind), trash pick up (actually, cheaper than taking my garbage to the dump myself. . .and it doesn't make my car stink afterwards!), internet (an absolute must have since I'm in school and I use the internet to find all my grocery and other deals.  Plus, I wouldn't be able to update you all on my successes and failures without the internet!), cable (most basic package they have.  $17.50/month.  I guess this one could be considered a "want" rather than a "need" but I shudder to think how much I would spend to entertain myself if I didn't have cable on at home.  *Shudder*), cell phone (no home phone. . .that's a "want".  Cell phone is a "need"),  and water bill (apparently showers and baths are highly recommended.  Who knew?!)

Car & Gas: I have to continue making my car payment.  Since I don't live within walking distance to my job, grocery store, son's school, or really anything, my car is a "need" vs. a "want".  As for gasoline, I am currently budgeting $250/month for it.  That pretty much cuts me down to doing very very little extra driving other than to work/school/home.  I do what I can already to combine trips and use as little gas as possible.  However, this month I'm going to try to really stick to it.  I do have a vacation scheduled for the middle of the month where I'm driving about 5 hours each way so that will obviously increase my gas usage for the month.  BUT, I also have a work trip scheduled where I will be out of town for a week and not using any gas that week.  I'm hoping the two will kind of balance out.  However, I will really have to watch where I go when I am home to try to keep the budget under the $250 amount this month. 

Food: Luckily, due to my stockpiling and couponing (I promise, I'll get some more info surrounding this up here soon!), I do have a fairly decent stockpile already existing.  This is going to really come in handy this month because I'm trying to scale back on everything that is negotiable at all.  Since food isn't a fixed expense, it's somewhat negotiable.  Don't worry, Mom. . .I will keep feeding my kid!  My plan is to limit my weekly budget to $50/week.  This may mean that stockpiling comes to a halt for the month of August and that I can only buy the essentials, but that's fine with me.  I can start building up my stockpile again in September or October.  I've been stockpiling for about four years now and know full well that stockpiles rise and fall over time so I'm accustomed to handling my stockpile running a little short since I know there will be months where it seems like my stockpile will grow faster than I can keep up with it. 

One way I plan on sticking to the $50/week food budget is by menu planning.  This will not only force me to figure out what I already have on hand in the house, but it will force me to have a plan.  If I have a plan (i.e. something already cooking in the crock pot or thawed out in the fridge just waiting to be cooked up), I will be less inclined to sneak through the drive thru at McDonalds and slyly add a Happy Meal to the dinner plan for that evening.  I'm totally guilty of that.  The kid loves Happy Meals and I love a night off from cooking.  However, since I'm out of town for work for one week this month and we're out of town for a week, I am hoping that I'll get my fill of not having to cook on those nights and this won't be such a huge deal.  I do know of one night this month that I will be going out to dinner with a friend but it was planned weeks ago and this is a friend who I very rarely get to see due to scheduling conflicts on both our parts.  Rather than cancel our dinner out, I have instead taken it upon myself to find a coupon to the restaurant that we will be meeting at.  See, compromise!  Other than that, my goal is to ensure that at no point during August will I need to pay for my meal out anywhere.  I will pack my lunch each day and cook dinner each night. 

Clothing: This won't be such a difficult category for me, but with my son starting school the first week of September, trying to avoid buying any clothes during the month of August will be a stretch.  Since I typically buy clothing a season ahead and stash them away until needed, I proactively pulled out those clothes, took stock of what I had (actually, wrote it all down piece by piece) and then made a list of what I needed to get for him in order to have a complete fall wardrobe to start school with.  Once I made that list, I went back through the list and refined it even more.  I took a hard look at how many days during the week that he was with me and how many days that he was with his dad.  I tried to figure out how many outfits I was able to make with what I already had and what I was going to need to really go out and buy in order to make it through the fall.  I actually have a pretty short list!  I went a step further and made a list of what items that we have that we absolutely CANNOT have any more of.  Somewhere along the way I lost count of how many pairs of underwear, socks, and pajamas he had.  The kid could literally wear a new pair of underwear (and by "new", I mean taken straight out of the package. . he always wears clean underwear!) every day for a month and a half!  There's no reason why anyone needs 45 pairs of underwear. . .unless, of course, they don't own a working washing machine.  Then they might need a lot of underwear!  Anyways, it's good to have the "Never Buy" list because it keeps me from geeking out over that package of Superman undies (for TYLER. . .Not me!  I prefer Wonder Woman!) that I find on clearance for $1/pack. $1 for a 3 pair pack of undies is a tremendous deal. . .not so much when you already own 45 pairs!  So, in order to reasonably round out the fall wardrobe for the little man, I'm allotting $50 to purchase whatever I need during the month of August.  I think that should take care of it.  If I stay out of the retail stores and stick to yard sales and consignment sales ONLY for clothing, $50 to get what I need for him shouldn't be a problem. 

DIY Materials: I hope this isn't cheating, but I don't have to entirely cut out my DIY for the month of August.  I just have to make sure that I don't spend any money on it, right?  If I can't complete a project using the materials that I already have and I can't wait until later (like September?) to finish the project/buy the materials, then I do have $100 in gift cards to Home Depot that I could use.  However, once that's gone.  It's gone.  So, I will use it sparingly.  For instance, I do already have it on the schedule for my new kitchen countertops to be installed in August.  They have already been paid for, but I'm not sure if I will need to get any additional materials in order to demo the old countertops which will happen later this month.  I'm reserving that $100 in gift cards for situations like that.  Not the "ooh, I like that project, I'll just use my HD gift cards" situations.  No, those will have to wait. 

Vacation Concession: We are going down to my family's beach house in North Carolina in the middle of the month.  Since I'll be with family, I doubt I'll have a need to spend much extra money.  Luckily, my Moneybags Mom typically takes pretty good care of us kids when we're around and we don't go broke eating out or buying food.  I'll probably throw in my weekly grocery budget to try to help her out with the grocery tab that week, but I'm guessing that we won't be eating out a whole lot that week.  Plus, my Nifty Nana will be there too and no one wants to eat out when Nana is cooking!  Because we'll probably take a trip down to the board walk or some of the cute little shops in town, I've already tucked away a $20 bill in my wallet for Tyler to enjoy an ice cream cone or something small like that while we're on vacation.  I can't totally deprive the kid of those kinds of memories! 

Other Rules/Concessions to the Challenge:

* I am able to use gift cards that I already have in my posession for items that I need to buy.  For example, I have a couple hundred dollars in Target gift cards (my dad always buys them for me for my birthday and Christmas--LOVE IT!) that I can use if the need arises.  This is probably how I will pay for Tyler's school supplies.
* Any medical attention or medications needed by me or Tyler are completely exempt from the challenge.  I'm hoping that this won't be a problem, but I refuse to forgo or prolong medical treatment or necessary medications for myself or my son just to stay within this challenge. 

In order to stay true and so that you can follow my progress, I will post what my necessary expenditures are beyond my mortgage, utilities, and car.  For instance, I will post what my gas, food, etc, costs me for the week.  I'll post when a need to "buy" something comes up and how I either handled it by being resourceful and using what I already had or whether I ended up caving.  At the end of the month, I'll try to post what kind of savings I estimated to have realized simply by cutting out all of the "extras" for an entire month. 

Now, this kind of challenge is not necessarily something that can be sustained every single month.  Month after month.  I just happened to be lucky enough to find a month where there isn't a major expenditure coming up, a gift giving holiday, or any other looming financial burden that was already known about.  My goal from doing this challenge is to realize that I can/cannot live without.  Like I mentioned earlier, I was getting a little too lax about what I was buying and how often we *really* needed to be eating out.  Unfortunately, the "need" vs. "want" area was starting to become gray and now it's time to put it all back into perspective. 

So, can you/will you join the challenge with me?  What suggestions to you have for me to make it through the month?  What questions do you have that maybe I can try to answer for you?  Let's get through this together!