Sunday, December 14, 2008

December Half Month Pulse Check: All set to break the bank

Photo courtsey: Mysza831

The bad news - We're spending a lot this month. In fact, at the time of writing this post, we have already spent the equivalent of our monthly budget.
The good news - The expenses were expected, planned for and didn't slow us down on our saving goals.

So yes, December has been an expensive month around here. The biggest expenses had been the gifts for friends and family and some of the preparations for the trip we're going to take during the Christmas break. It also helped that we had been planning this trip since September, so some of the costs were spread over the earlier months. It also helped us find the best deals for the gifts that our family members had asked for. Now that we have purchased the gifts and some other stuff for ourselves that we'll need while traveling, I hope that second half is not as expensive.

Other than the gifts, rest of the expenses have been fairly routine. In fact, in rest of the categories we actually spent lesser than usual.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hydrate and protect skin the natural way

This is a recipe that my mom uses in winters to keep skin clean and hydrated. It also repairs the skin that has been exposed to the harshness of cold winds.


Glycerin: 2 Tbsp
Rose water: 2 Tbsp
Lemon Juice: 2 Tbsp

Pour all these ingredients in a glass bottle and shake well. Keep this mixture with your skincare kit and apply a little whenever you've some time. It will feel a little sticky because of glycerin, so its best to use it when you're not expecting company, and have time to keep it on for half to one hour. In fact, I apply it right before sleeping so that I wake up with soft supple skin. Do apply it on your neck and arms as well.

Note: It okay to have a little tingling sensation in the beginning, it happens because those parts of your skin have been exposed to harsh weather and has been irritated already, the lemon juice in the mixture causes this tingling. If you continue to apply this mixture the skin will get repaired pretty soon and this irritation will go away.

If you try it, do let me know in comments how it went.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Weekend project : Dress for my niece

I love the small sewing projects, there's something gratifying about spending 2 hours with needles and fabric and scissors and getting a little something made by myself at the end.

This weekend, I carved out a few hours to make this dress for my niece. We'll see her this Christmas for the first time, so I thought I'll just get her something handmade along with all the store bought stuff.

I just had to share it with you all.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Improving skin complexion with saffron

Winters are harsh on skin and if you have a dry skin like me, the cold dry winds can wreak havoc on the skin. I usually apply some extra measures to take care of my skin during cold weather. I have seen visible changes in my complexion over the years I have used this recipe.


Saffron: 3-4 leaves(petals)
Milk: 1 teaspoon
Sugar: A pinch
Olive oil or coconut oil: 2-3 drops
Water: 1 teaspoon
Plain bread: 1 slice


Pour water in a small vessel and add saffron leaves in it. Keep it overnight. By morning the water will turn yellowish, add milk and sugar to this water and then pour coconut oil drops in it. Now take a small piece of bread, dip it into this mixture and wipe your face with it. You might be left with bread crumbs on your face, Don't worry, just rub your face with your hands, they should be easy to get rid of. Try to not wash your face for 15 mins after applying this, then follow your usual cleansing and moisturizing routine.

Note: You can also do it in the night if that suits you better. Just know that you have to soak saffron for about 12 hours before you can use it.


Saffron is a time tested ingredient for improving complexion. The only catch is that it is considered to be a hot element, so using it in hot climates during summers results in small breakouts over facial skin. Its best to take advantage of this boon for skin during winters.

You can skip oil if you already have an oily skin and don't face any dryness problem in winters.

Ingredients Availability:

Except saffron, all other ingredients are usually present in your pantry. I found my pack of spanish saffron at Trader Joe for about $5. If you can't find it anywhere else, an Indian store will definitely carry some.

If you do try it and have some feedback on how you liked it, do let me know in the comments.

Friday, December 5, 2008

November Budget Report : Fallen off the bloggerwagon edition

This was one of those incidents where you just can't get around to doing what you would very much like to. I was under the weather for most of the thanksgiving weekend and so many things got piled up that I couldn't get to blogging even after getting better. Finally I got rid of this writer's block/over-activity and came up to share my budgeting results for the month of November.

Surprisingly, this month has been really good for budgeting. Despite spending money on several extra ( both needful and discretionary) items, we still managed to stay under our targeted budget and with the way things are going for last 3 months we have also decided to lower our targeted budget and to try to get there in 2009.

In November we also managed to hit two of our long term goals. Here are the highlights of the month which I can't wait to share with you.

1) Hit our target of saving 10% of down-payment for our home. Yaay!!!
Over to saving 20% now to avoid that no-good PMI.
2) Hit my targeted weight for the first time in 6 months. Although I couldn't stay there for long, I'm hoping that its a positive step towards attaining it in the long run.
3) Sewed two dresses for my niece and a reusable bag. It has been a long time since I last sewed anything and my last project was a disaster. This time I remained very careful with measurements etc and made sure that I go exactly by the book. I'm so looking forward to trying them on the baby. We will be meeting her on the Christmas.

As for the spending categories this month, we saved a lot in gas, thanks to gas prices. We also managed to stay well under budget in Groceries and Dining out, Personal grooming and auto maintenance. The only category where we went well above budget was the expenses on family. Although it showed up as an extra expense on our worksheet, we had actually known this expense and had accounted for it while planning the expenses for this month.

So in all, a good month for budget and the great thing is that it has made us keep high hopes for the coming year.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Best places to eat Indian Vegetarian Food in Bay Area

When we were relocating from India, food was at the top of my long list of concerns. Only after landing in the bay area did I discover how unfounded my fears were. Because of the high influx of immigrants, this area has a large number of thriving ethnic restaurants and there's no dearth of Indian restaurants either. Being a vegetarian, we needed a place which had a lot of vegetarian options. Soon enough we were able to locate many such restaurants nearby, now it has come to the point where in some of these places we don't even bother with the menu. We just order our favorites as soon as we are seated. If you happen to be in the bay area, you may want to visit one of these budget friendly eateries for a taste of India.

Chaat House
Some background here - Chaat in Hindi is usually a melange of various things with the final version being pleasantly spicy, sweet and tangy. There're various versions - often featuring one particular dish as the main item with a lot of garnishing and condiments often customised to suit the taste buds of the person eating it. It can have potato pattis, chick peas, sprouted beans, puffed rice as the main ingredient and these main ingredients are then mixed with a number of sweet, sour chutneys, yogurt, red chilli powder, green chillies, chopped onions etc. Often the quantity and variety of ingredients results in each cook have its signature dish when it comes to chaat.
The name Chaat House suggests that they are big on these Chaat varieties but actually they have a decent offering of Chaat as well as other usual Indian fare like Chapati, Daal, Curries etc. Since the owner is from North India ( State of Punjab), the menu leans heavily towards north Indian dishes. Ironically, Chaat is not very recommendable at Chaat House. I find it a little too raw ( contains more raw veggies, lacks usual condiments), but then we go there for a full meal and not snacks.
There are quite a few restaurants on El Camino Real with this name. We love the one on the intersection of N. Mary and El Camino Real. They are not great with the fancy stuff, but we can trust them to supply us with home like food on the super busy days. BEB loves their "Makki ki Roti, Sarson Ka Saag" ( Bread of corn flour with Entree of Mustard Leaves combo with a choice of Chai or Chaas for dink), While I order anything from Daal (Lentil soup) and Chapati ( Wheat flour Indian bread) to Rajma (curry of beans) and rice. For the first timers I recommend trying something from their combo meals. It would give you a meal with nicely matched side dish and entree and will be easy on your pocketbook too. We spend in the neighborhood of 25$ for a dinner for two here.

Background - Udupi is a place in Southern India which is famous for its preparation of Idli. With time, the south Indian restaurants sprang up in the rest of India and were commonly referred to as Udupi restaurants. In India these are lean mean working machines, serving inexpensive south Indian dishes in a clean, hygenic and efficient environment. In India, these places are often frequented by employees of nearby establishments during their lunch hours.

Udupi Palace in Sunnyvale ( On El Camino Real near Wolfe) is a restaurant born from that tradition. It has all the usual fare offered by traditional Udupi restaurants like Idlis, Vadas and a variety of Dosas. Along with it they also offer all the regular North Indian options like Paav Bhaaji, Chhole Bhature etc. But if you do go to Udupi, I would recommend ordering traditional South Indian fare, its their area of expertise, its delicious, its healthy ( well, for the most part), so why not? If you are not watching calories, try their Rava Masala Dosa, its the best I've ever had. If I'm going to Udupi, I'm going to have Rava Masala Dosa. Period.
One thing thats free, and that you must try while at Udupi is their after dinner mouth freshener, they prepare it themselves from coconut and its amazing. I usually pickup a handful everytime I'm leaving. I would also recommend grabbing a Paan(Betelnut leaf with a garnishing of rose petal jam among other things) on your way out. It is not complementary though ($1.5 apiece), but it will be a nice way to finish your dinner.
On a typical visit we usually spend between $20-$25 for a dinner for two ( including tips and taxes).

Passage to India
I always thought of it as an Indian bakery until I actually went there to pick-up a cake. They have a cozy little dining room tucked in the corner of their shop and they do have a mouth-watering menu for lunch and dinner buffet. This is the place to be if Chaat is your piece de resistance - They serve really good chaats, and their tamarind chutney and coriander chutney is quite close to authentic. Although there are a bunch of other things in the buffet like burger, pizza, noodles, My recommendation would be to stick with Indian cuisine while you're there and you'll have plenty of them to try. If you're a vegetarian Indian like me you must be having a hard time finding eggless baked goods. If thats the case, you'll love Passage to India for their eggless pastries and cakes (although they are not part of the regular buffet).
The buffet here costs $10 in the evenings so we end up spending about $22 for the two of us here.

Low cost is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Rajjot. This is not a place to take your girlfriend on your first romantic date but if you're hungry and looking for cheap and good Indian food, Rajjot is the place to go. Their paranthas(kind of tortillas stuffed with different vegetables) are very good and I have also heard good things about their Puranpoli (again like tortillas but with a sweet stuffing of lentils). Like its peers it is also very conveniently located on El Camino Real and Wolfe. There are a lot of Indian families in the bay area which rely on Rajjot for their weekly supply of Chapatis (Indian meal staple). They make nice, big, well roasted Chapatis that will keep well for a week in the fridge. I'm not sure how much we spend on a typical visit but it has to be in the neighborhood of $15. Don't expect very good service here though, they even mix up the orders sometimes. So be sure to double check if you've ordered a takeout.

Milan Sweets
Located in Milpitas this is a vegetarian restaurant + sweets shop. The owners are from Gujarat. I think thats the reason that even the typically spicy dishes have a hint of sweet in them here. Its choice of sizzlers is hugely popular and after sampling two of them, I can see why. Those hot off the griddle dishes have found a striking balance between non-Indian foods like pasta, noodles and Indian delicacies like bhajia, kebabs and various sauces. The ultimate result is yummy. The small Kachories (Flour roundels filled with spicy lentil stuffing) is another thing that you must sample while you're there. People also love their Paneer Tikka ( Grilled Indian cheese with vegetables). While some of its snacks taste really good and are popular, it is more than what could be said of their curries and other dishes. We have ordered things like Thali (supposedly complete Indian meal, with Chapati, Dal, rice and curries) once and a few other dishes on other occasions and were disappointed with them. In my opinion, one should stick to the popular dishes while ordering at Milan. It a self service place, you have to place your order at the counter and pay up-front and they will call out your name when your order is ready. Our average bill runs up to $25 here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Whole Foods - A bright spot among cookie cutter stores

Disclaimer: This is NOT a paid review

Yesterday I had to buy some hard to find oils and other things, so we took this trip to Whole Foods. We usually don't go to Whole Foods that much becuase it is quite far from where we live and when I had last visited them I found it to be on the expensive side.

I didn't know that I was in for many pleasant surprises when I stepped in Whole Foods yesterday. Near the entrance I saw this big savings ad, apparently they had put some coupon book in the store, using which I could save some money. Being a couponaholic, I decided to get the book first. I couldn't locate it in its usual place near the entrance, so I inquired a store associate, he looked at the stand and he couldn't find it either, so he checked with the management and was told that it was at the back of the store. He told me the same, and I thought that I'll just shop first and grab the coupon book before checkout. Imagine my surprise when another WHole Foods store associate approached me while I was shopping and inquired if I was the one looking for their coupon book. When I said yes, she handed me one of the coupon books and said that she had only 3 left. Have you ever heard of a store associate actually locating the customer and handing them the store coupon book. At least I haven't.
Being a fussy vegetarian, I often find myself looking for hard to find products, in order to avoid any meat content. During this trip I had been searching for cheese which didn't have renet in it.
There were two gentlemen at their cheese shop, I reluctantly asked one of them if he could help me locate a cheese which doesn't have an animal content in it. Yeah, I phrased the question wrongly, All cheese has is animal content - it is made of milk afterall. But he guessed what I actually wanted to ask. He showed me how to find out from the label whether the cheese had any meat content (Renet) in it. He also recommended some varieties of cheese that might go well in the recipes I planned to try. I often feel intimidated by store associates and usually drop the plan to buy things instead of approaching an associate, but Whole Foods folks were really friendly.
Once I got everything I wanted we went for checkout. I was preoccupied with something else so I forgot to offer my reusable bag while the cashier was ringing up my items. When she begun to put my stuff in their paper bags, the employee next to her told her "She has a bag!" and offered to put my items in my bag. Now that was a first. I have been to stores where employees are reluctant to put things in reusable bags because it takes a few more seconds of their time. I don't know whether I should blame them, but I now try to put my things in the bag myself, so they don't have to feel that my reuable bags are extra work for them. Anyhow, it made me really happy that somebody else also cares for this.
While we were heading out my husband commented that its rare to have three good experience in a single trip to any store. I couldn't agree more with him. From now on, I'm an official Whole Foods fan :). Is it any wonder they top the list of America's healthiest grocery stores (thanks to Like Merchant Ships for the link)

My Post is in Make it From Scratch Carnival #90

Make it From Scratch Carnival # 90 has gone live and my post on DIY Passport pictures has made it. Go here to check out other interesting projects.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Novemeber Half Month Pulse Check: So far so good

I'd been expecting some big expenses this November. We had to get our car serviced and its AC repaired. We had to make some big ticket purchases ( for our home as well as gifts). Since we held off making those purchases until Black Friday and BEB didn't get a chance to research a good mechanic for our car, we haven't incurred any extra expenses yet. But I know that they are on the horizon and we'll be getting those things immediately after Thanksgiving. So November has been ok so far but I am estimating that it will turn out to be expensive than other months finally. We'll see.
Other than finances, there are a couple of changes that I have made this month, which I'm hoping will bring some zest into our life.
  • Instead of gunning for exercising everyday, now I try to exercise 6 days a week. The rest day can be any one of the days when I'm really hassled or we have something extra to do, or when I just don't feel up to it. After doing it for 2 weeks now, I find that it is much better for my sanity and now that I've officially included in the plan, I don't feel guilty about it. Really, everyday is too big a commitment.
  • I'm also trying to actively increase my stamina while exercising, this would help me to burn the same amount of calories in 6 days as I used to do in 7 days.
  • To bring back a little fun in the food, I have decided to allow myself to go a little liberal with oil and butter. Not that I'll be serving fries everyday, but once a week we can have something with a little butter on it or the vegetables that I cook can be seasoned in a little more oil to cook them well. I found that it greatly enhanced the taste of food and both of us look forward to our meals again. It had become too drab earlier, when we had tried to drastically cut-back on oil and spices.
  • In the same vein, I have decided to let go of our regular food of chapati and vegetables on weekend and replace it with some fun food. Mostly it is whatever we feel like eating, although I consciously try to control the amount of fats that go into that. I am also actively looking for long forgotten recipes, or easy to try dishes to add more variety to weekend meals.

Really, a few simple changes can make life so much better. Here's to the healthful as well as tasty November.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Review: Lombok - Eastern Inspired Living

Disclaimer: This is a paid review. However, I have tried to review the site in as unbiased manner as possible.

Lombok is a UK based furniture and home furnishing company. They make high-end furniture and home accessories and sell it all over the world through their website

Their website catalogs all their furniture home and decorative items in an attractive and organized fashion. I found that they have very unique offerings in decorative items like lighting, candles, decorative bowls etc. Although I found them a bit pricey but if you want to create a certain look for your home you might find yourself willing to spend the amount. Right now they are also offering 20% discount on selected items which makes them much more affordable.

The furnishing section is also intersting. Most of their cushions, throws and other furnishings are created with high end materials like silk, velvet and taffeta and are hand embroidered. This makes them attractive as well as expensive. I didn't quit like the fact that most of the furnishings are dry clean only but I do realize that we don't need to get furnishings cleaned as much as we do our clothes so that might not be such a big expense.

The furniture available on the website has more classic designs, with simple, yet stylish structures. The company claims to have built most of its furniture from reclaimed teak planks called "dinglik", imported from Indonesia. This makes the company and its products very eco-friendly because they are recycling wood, instead of cutting live trees to make their furniture. They also mention that this recycled wood is sturdier and less likely to be ruined by moisture. Currently the website is offering buy 2 get 1 free promotion for all of their furniture. Considering the fact that the furniture is genuine teak wood and the B2G1 free offer, the price seems to be about ok.


The website will be a good resource for people who have a certain look in mind for their home furnishing and furniture and wouldn't mind spending a bit more to create that precise look. Since the raw materials used in the products are quality I would think the items would last. One good thing about the furniture and accessories are that they have a classic look about them so they won't go out of fashion soon. If you're outside Europe then you may have to consider the shipping costs too, which may be substantial. I tried doing a dummy purchase to find out how much shiping would cost me in US but the website says that I'll have to call to find out shipping charges.

Since we have bought most of our furniture used, I found the prices on the website to be a bit high for my tastes, although I caught myself drooling all over their silk cushions and the quilts.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A good problem to have!!!

Recently, I ran into this puzzling issue. BEB is big on drinking water. He drinks water before he sleeps, after getting up, Before tea, after tea, while heading out, as soon as he comes back...and every 10 minutes in between.

Wow! you would say...I wish I could have this habit! so do I. Drinking plenty of water is good for health and I'm also consciously trying to cultivate that habit myself. So often, while I'm franatically fixing dinner for us, I get this "Honey! could you get me a glass of water". Now getting that glass of water would mean, leaving whatever I'm doing, washing my hands, drying them, finding a glass, filling it and handing it over to dear husband. It looks like a small thing, but when I'm already in a hurry, it used to become an annoyance.

So I had a nice problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

I would have continued with this state of affairs if I hadn't come across this deal. A pitcher and 4 glasses for $8 at Macys. Suddenly the pieces of the puzzle fell in place. Now every morning I fill the pitcher and keep it in the living room. Whenever I get a chance I refill it, while BEB drinks to his heart's content. Having a pitcher in the room even encourages me to drink more water. Isn't it an elegant solution to a nice problem!

Friday, November 7, 2008

An Idiot's Guide to DIY Passport Photos

When we got BEB's passport photos for his visa, I realized for the first time how steep the price of passport photos are in US. In India it was a no brainer - need a passport photo, go to a studio, get one clicked and for less than a dollar you will get 4-8 nice passport size photos of yourself.
But here, $16, No Kidding!!!

So this time, when I had to get my passport pictures, we decided to try doing it ourselves. I think it would be interesting to share with you my efforts and the results. If you do it the right way, you can get your passport photo for about a dollar.

The things you'll need:

1. A digital camera in which you can turn the flash on/off.
2. A computer with Windows, you should have permissions to download and install softwares on it.
3. A pen drive to take your edited pictures for printing. Other media will also do.

For my pictures we went to my office and used the white-board there as a background for clicking the pictures. Since the room was well lit, we clicked pictures with flash switched off.
Next we came home and downloaded the pictures from camera to our laptop.
To edit the pictures we looked at paint, picasa etc. but they didn't suit our purpose. So we downloaded gimp to edit the pictures.
After downloading and installing GIMP, we opened my pictures in it and selected the one we found most suitable to turn into my passport picture. Then we looked up the required dimensions for the passport picture. In our type of visa it was 3.5 cm X 4.5cm.
Now that we had everything ready, we wanted to get the picture in precise dimensions. The trick is to shrink the picture to the required size without changing its resolution. Lesser resolution will result in grainy pictures. This was probably the most difficult part of the whole project, because we didn't know what options were available and what the final effect will be, unfamiliarity with GIMP also contributed to spending more time than what was required. But you don't need to worry because I'm documenting the precise steps to follow in GIMP, to get perfectly sized passport pictures.

Step 1: Cropping the picture to select the right area to be printed.

If the picture that you have taken has more background than a passport picture would need you will be required to crop it. Cropping the picture is also required to get it into the required ratio. 3.5 : 4.5 in this case.
From the GIMP toolbar select Rectangle selection tool. Below the toolbox, there's an option "Fixed [aspect ratio]" put 3.5:4.5 here. Now use this tool to select the portion of the picture you want to use. When you're incrementing the cursor to fit the picture portion of your choice look at the bottom of the picture window. It will show you the pixel size of the frame, in my case it is 604X777. Note it down. Use Ctrl+X to cut the required picture.

Step 2: Saving the picture in proper ratio and resolution
Use File->New to open a new image file. Before opening Gimp will ask the size of the file. Use the number you noted down earlier (808X766). Ctrl+V to paste the image you'd cut earlier in step 1.

Step 3: Scaling down the picture, while keeping the resolution intact
Use Image -> Scale Image. In the dialog box first choose the metric as milimeter and then specify the picture's true size in mm. First specify width 35, hit Return key, the height should automatically be adjusted to 45, or else you haven't done the first 2 steps properly.
Now save this picture. Check Image -> properties, its resolution should be the same as original image. Lets call this Image1.

Step 4: Making a standard print size picture(4X6 inches) with the true size image
Open File->New. In the File size dialog box, Now select the unit in inches (width =6, height = 4 ). Now Ctrl-C on the true size image that you'd saved in step 3 (Image1) and paste (Ctrl-V) it in this new file, lets call it Image2. Once you have the image in Image2, drag it to the top left corner. Now again press Ctrl-V, and you will have another Image1 on top of first one, drag it and arrange close to the first one. Repeat this until the whole image is tiled with the pictures from Image1. Save it in jpg format. Gimp will ask you the permission to export it. Say yes!

Voila! you have a 4X6inches image with 8 passport pictures on it. Copy it into the pen drive and take it to your nearest print shop. Select the picture size as 4X6 and print out 8 nice passport pictures in half a dollar.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Random events of this October

  • We celebrated Karva Chauth. In this Indian festival married women fast through the day until moonrise. This fasting is for the longevity of their husbands. We also celebrated Diwali, although I doubt BEB enjoyed it a lot ( he's swamped with work in his office and finding it hard to take interest in anything thats not work)

  • We skipped the gym for 3 days in a row, and I almost burst into tears when I stepped on the weighing scale afterward. My sulking stopped when the weight returned to normal 2 days later. I have skipped gym for 2 days again...gosh! how I dread that scale :(

  • Me and BEB both were almost buried under work at our respective offices, we just somehow managed to get through the week...and I had a big presentation this week. It went fine and I got lots of appreciation *smug look*

  • I have learned to whip up meals almost out of thin air this past week. Even I'm surprised at how efficient I have become.

  • I had earlier talked about how we'd stopped coming home for tea from work. Ok, we couldn't keep up the resolve and its back to twice a day for us and I dont see it stopping anytime soon. To add insult to the injury, we have also begun to have our lunch at home :-/ Actually, it is working out quite nicely, we come home for lunch, and before we sit down for our meal I place tea on the stove on low flame. Tea is ready by the time we finish our lunch, and then we can have it before leaving for work again. Goodbye drowsy afternoons! Goodbye lunch box cleaning. My dish cleaning time is half now, I spend no time in packing lunches in the morning and I don't feel guilty leaving the office in the afternoon. It IS lunch time after all!

  • I think I have finally found my groove with coupons and mail-in-rebates and freebies. I have finally found a right system to manage all the pending mail-in-rebates and now have taken to carrying forward last months rebates to the next month. Its not perfect yet, but I am finding it much easy to manage all the chaos that occurs from having 100s of coupons, multiple stores to match them with and multiple months of sales. Now if only I could find a way to get my hand on the 'on sale' items before they fly off the shelves...

  • October gifted us with a big bouquet!!! Don't believe me? See for yourself.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

October budget report: Do you want to cut your expenses by one third

No really! Do you want to do that?
First let me ask you some questions. Do you have any kids? No? Good. Are both husband and wife working? Yes? Good. then this technique is suitable for you.
When you reach your office tomorrow, see your boss the first thing ( I know how this ruins your day, but is this day more important than your one-third budget?) and when you see him/her tell her how well do you like your current job-profile ( doesn't matter that you don't, in fact the more you dislike it, the better, just don't tell it to the boss). Then ask him if you can have some more of it...the work. At this point your boss may become suspicious about your ulterior motives...salary hike, replacing him, promotion etc. gently alleviate his fears. Just explain that you currently have a lot of free time on your hands and you'd like to get some work done in it. Hopefully this will result in your being swamped with work.
Once you have it try and get into a position where you have some impossible to meet deadlines. That's it! Believe me, these simple steps will lead to a healthy bottom-line.
No more time for grocery shopping - no expense on food, no time for meandering into that mall and spending money on fashionable clothes, after-all you'd be sweating it out in the office on weekends you will barely manage to keep up with the laundry. While you would be busy analyzing that data, you wouldn't even realize that the new batman movie has just released in the movie theaters. You get my drift...
Well, this is the long and short of what happened to us this month...except for asking for work. We booked our tickets to Europe in the beginning of this month and after this ~2000$ expense it seemed that our monthly budget with shoot up to an all time high this October, but then we started getting busier, and busier. Since we had no time left after work, we didn't go shopping, and didn't spend money. So apart from those tickets, which have to come from our separate travel budget, we had finished this month considerably lower than our targeted budget. Although this could be a cause for celebration, I'm not really happy. I guess, our time is as important as our money, sacrificing one may result in saving the other but I don't want to go down that road. I'd rather hover around our targeted budget and have some more time to myself and hubby. Hopefully November would be more balanced!
Our savings had increased a bit this month. Now we have about 96.66% of our 10% down payment. While we are still far from actually buying a house, it feels kind of nice to have money for it. I want to pull that number up to 20%, so that we can escape the mortgage insurance and also be more in control of our mortgage time of course.

Review - MoveMe - Renting or Buying, Reconnect your life

Disclaimer: This is a paid review. However, I have tried to review the site in as unbiased manner as possible.

MoveMe is a site that provides users move related services and tools. The first thing that I noticed about the site was its neat interface and intuitive presentation. They claim to take the stress out of moving. While my experience says that it may not be entirely possible, I'll hand it to Move me that it offers a lot of nifty tools and services that can relieve you of a lot of move related worries.

The first thing that I found instantly appealing is their move planner. Using it, you can create a step by step list of activities leading up to your day of move. I've a thing for lists so maybe I'm just being too happy, but they have a really neat list of "to do" things that we need while planning a move, like informing our banks and other institutions about our new address.

The web-site has been made to become a one stop shop of all move related needs and it seemed pretty comprehensive. It has lot of resources depending upon your particular situation (e.g. buying, selling or renting, moving with children etc). I felt that the checklists provided and the suggestions given can be a good starting point for anybody considering a move in the near future.

MoveMe has a big section of referrals for various services and move related products. Since the advertisements are practically absent ( there are some but they are not prominent), I guess the website earns some referral bonus for its recommendations. You can request quotes for practically everything that you would need during a move - Movers, Removal quotes, Insurance etc. They even offer financial ( mortgage quotes, credit report etc), legal services for people who're considering buying/selling houses. You can request free mortgage quotes, Home Survey etc here.

I haven't tried getting quotes for any services because I don't need any right now but they have categorized the services nicely. I remember that when we had moved last time I had a hard time getting quotes from movers. I had posted an ad for moving help on craigslist and all the calls I got were by big movers whose minimum was too high for me. At that time we had very little stuff and all we needed was a mover with a truck who would haul our stuff to our new place. Move me has a special "Man and Van" section for such needs.

It is a relatively new site and it shows in its interface, some of its input forms show errors when there are none, but I'm sure they will be able to remedy that with time. The site has advertisements on its homepage but I found them unobtrusive. MoveMe has also been awarded Yahoo! People's choice award and Yahoo! Innovation award for the year 2007.

To summarize, here are the things that I really liked abut the website:

  • Easy to navigate interface
  • Comprehensive resources and nifty tools
  • Unobtrusive advertisements

Few things that I didn't like/don't know about:
  • The input form had an error on it.
  • Don't have an idea about the client base that it has. It is fairly new so its possible that it doesn't have as many vendors in its database, although I didn't request for quotes so I can't comment on that.
  • Doesn't have a special section for students moving to dorms. I strongly feel that this particular group of users needs to be targeted with a special section tailored to their needs.
All in all, MoveMe is a resource worth checking out if you're planning a move of any kind in the near future. It even offers a free moving box as a promotion.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why I celebrate and why you should too!

Photo courtsey: Swami stream

As the festive season comes knocking in the US, In India its already upon us. We are past Dussera and Karva Chauth and its a couple of days to Diwali, the biggest festival of Hindus. As the big day approaches I just thought of sharing what I'll be doing and what I did last year.

Diwali is celebrated in the honour of Ram, the prince of Ayodhya. This day marks his return from exile after 14 years.

When I was young we used to celebrate Diwali with our extended family and everyone tried to be at home on this particular day. We would light clay lamps and wear new clothes. There would be a feast and lots of pictures and then we would worship Godess Lakshmi, the godess of prosperity. Just the mention of Diwali brings back such precious memories. Well, then I grew up, and for my studies I had to stay away from home fo quite a while. Athough, living in dorm and doing on my own taught me a lot and made me very independent, it also made me very practical. Sometimes too practical for my own good. I now think of everything as how well it fits with my current life, if it doesn't, it goes. And now that I am married and working, time is at a premium and I have scores of things that I want to do everyday, this strategy seems to be best.

Since my husband is also happens to be on the pragmatic side, sometimes together we become too blinded by the reason and logic to notice that there's a part of life that's slipping past. Take last Diwali for instance, it was a working day and must have been little hectic. We had bought some stuff to celebrate, but by the time we came back from work, we were just too tired to celebrate and went on with life as usual.

Its only now that I realise that since we don't have our parents here, its our responsibility to keep up the traditions. I just tried to imagine, what it will be like if we just didn't celebrate Diwali
any year...and shuddered at the thought. My parents had been busy too, but they took time out to celebrate festivals and showed us there importance and in process created lots of sweet memories. Missing a whole year's worth of ocassions would be just letting those opportunities to create memories slip by and wouldnt it be just letting the life slip?

So I commit to celebrate all the occassions that I get an opportunity to celebrate and I urge you to do that too. Doesn't matter whether you're away from your loved ones, living alone or just with your spouse. Look up the calendar, and mark all those festivals that once excited you in red. Bring on the decorations, the nice dress, the food ( doesn't matter if its just the grocery store cake or even bread). Raise a toast to life! Even in the worse of time, if you just look around, you will find a lot to be thankful for.

Live it up! Carpe diem!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Online Earning Opportunities

Youdata is an innovative website with a sleek interface and a brilliant concept. On signing up they ask you to watch the ads from their clients and in return award you money. You will need the following for sigining up - A cellphone number and an email id. Every week they deposit the amount you earned into your paypal account. That means you'l need a paypal account as well to earn money on youdata. But it is a neat way to make some money. Thanks to Bella Casa for telling me about it.

1000 Mypoints:
Blockbuster usually offers 1000 mypoints if you sign up for the trial AND become a paying member, but this time I'm told they are offering selected members a chance to earn 1000 mypoints just for signing up( you don't need to become a paying member). If you haven't yet used any trial offer from Blockbuster, watch out your Inbox carefully for this cool offer. I'm normally wary of trial offers but a reputed company like Blockbuster shouldn't be a problem in that regard, just don't forget to cancel your account within the 2 week trial period.

Start Sampling is a nice site if you'd like to get some cool samples. I've used them to get many samples and magazines. Its easy to sign-up with them, and you can request any of the available samples. The only constraint is that you can request only one sample a day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October Half Month Pulse Check: No news = Good news edition

October has been uneventful month so far. We have had all the usual expenses and then some for my gym clothes. This time we also spent all our entertainment money on a movie at the theater. This month also included more than usual trips to restaurants but since they were relatively inexpensive and I had some coupons we didn't spend a lot. I am about to concede that we consume ( and keep consuming) more gas than I thought we would. Our gas expense is all set to hit a new high this month as well. I'll try one more month before setting up a higher limit for it.

Thanks to Walgreens our toiletries and other household expenses have been kept in check. So if nothing untoward happens we should be hitting our targeted budget this month.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My post included in Carnival of Personal Finance

I had submitted this post quite a few days ago and was a little disappointed( and surprised) that it didn't made it to the carnival...or so I thought. I always used to get an email whenever my post was included in the carnival and the carnival went live, since this time I didn't get that regular email, I just thought that my post fell through and got on with life.

Lately, when I started getting hits from BankerGirl I decided to check out the source and was pleasantly surprised to find that my post indeed made it to the carnival. Read my post here.

Like they say, better late than never.

Big Deal

There's this money-maker deal going on for Sure Deodorant. Sure Max Clinical Power is free after Mail-in-rebate here.

When I searched through my coupons, I found that I have a $2.5 coupon for this same product. I don't remember which insert it was in, but it was in one of the Sunday inserts and it is still valid. So you can expect to make $2 on this one after taking into account your mailing expenses.

Bootstrapping: Motivating yourself towards your goals

Many years ago I heard this during a conversation "You just can't maintain status-quo, you either make progress and improve yourself, or you go backwards and downgrade yourself, you just can't remain the way you are.The catch is that making progress requires a lot of effort but going down doesn't. If you don't do anything to make progress you will fall, it may be a slow process( if you're lucky) but it happens for sure." I don't remember anything of the conversation that led to this, but these words remain etched in mind because they are so true and profound. And therefore, I always strive to become better than what I'm today. I keep trying to develop better habits, to maintain a positive attitude.

This year I had made the following changes:

1. Trying to stay fit( read lose weight)
2. Saving for our home down-payment
3. Eliminating plastic bags from our life
4. Work on generating some extra income
5. Maintain a small container garden with some flowers and herbs.
6. Live on a budget

I believe all these things will improve our life slowly but surely. And I'm already seeing the changes, in our financial position, in our outlook, in our priorities, basically everywhere. Some have a smaller impact and some bigger, but the impact will be positive. It wasn't easy to do all these along with a full-time job and all the household work. Here are a few things that worked for me while developing new habits and achieving my goals.

Set microgoals
Losing 30 pounds would seem like a huge undertaking, but working out everyday may not. I broke the goals into tiny microgoals and tried to achieve them instead of trying to achieve that big goal all at once. It has worked well and while I eventually saw myself moving towards the bigger goal, the smaller successes in micro-goals kept me motivated.

Work out a routine
Try to make a routine of whatever you need to do to achieve your goal. Try to save a little bit everyday, try to workout everyday, carry the reusable shopping bag in the car even if you think you're not going to use it. Even if you've little time, try to devote just one minute to actually doing something towards the goal you've been trying to achieve. Do at least a little bit everyday or as frequently as possible. While trying to insert exercise in my busy schedule I promised myself that I'll exercise everyday, while I kept at it most of the days by biking down the trail or working out in my office gym there are days when it is simply not feasible. So I bought a skipping rope and now on busy days, I just workout for five minutes in my home by skipping. It may not be burning all those calories, but what it does is it helps me keep up the good habit. It encourages me to go to the gym next day.

Write down / track progress
This is a big morale booster, don't ignore its power. Keep a close tab on what you've achieved (or not achieved) so far. Tracking my weight almost daily, looking at the plants in my garden and clicking snaps in their various stages, tracking my bank account for any increase in my net-worth, give me some sort of high and leave me more motivated than ever to follow through. With the web2.0 applications available today, this goal tracking has been easier than ever. Here are a few things that I do :
Write a blog : I write about my monthly goals and how did I do with respect to those goals on my blog. This makes me accountable and keeps my spending in check.
don't break the chain : This is a nifty website, which makes tracking the goals super-easy. The concept is very simple, if you're trying to do something everyday ( or weekday, or once a week), it tells you whether you broke the chain this time around. For every time you completed your effort, it lets you mark with color. So you'll know in a single glance how many times you dropped the ball. It will take at most 15 seconds to make an entry in it. I have been using it for 8 months for tracking my exercise, "no-expense days" and my skin-care regime.
zoho sheets : These are simple worksheets like MS-excel, but they store your docs on internet so you can access them anywhere. There are many such services, but zoho is the one that I have used most. I use them to write down my daily weight, store my grocery list etc. Once benefit of tracking my weight with them was that I became aware what was stopping me from losing weight. I used to exercise well during the weekdays, but on weekends I worked out very little and usually ate a lot. So my weight was consistently shooting up on Mondays. Once I became aware of this fact, I joined a nearby gym, and now I sweat it out on the weekends as well, and I'm seeing some improvement in just 2 weeks.
So I would recommend tracking your progress, even if there's none. Just don't fuss over it too much. Its ok if you can't log it for a day or two, or you don't track it using the niftiest tools available. Doing it in an old notebook will have the same effect as doing it in the fanciest of the organizing gadgets.

Don't worry too much about the results
I know, easier said than done. I'm a strong believer in Karma, I believe that if the efforts are in right direction the result will be right. Of course, it may happen that the results may not be in the form that we had expected originally, but the hard-work has a habit of paying for itself miraculously. You have to try it to believe it

Don't worry too much about setbacks: Minor or major

Life happens and with all that I have said above, there are still those crazy days when I can't work out, there's a pebble that hits the car's windshield and wipes down the savings for the month. While its easy to get disheartened with these events and lose sight of your goals, you can choose to do otherwise. There's always tomorrow to work double as hard, there's always next month to save even more, look forward to that. And then there's the other side of the things to see, what could have happened if we weren't saving already, instead of wiping our savings that pebble could have thrown us down the path of debt. If I compared those two, saving money and paying from the savings for emergency definitely looked good. It's been eight months since I have started working out, and I haven't lost any's very easy to get discouraged and think that exercise just doesn't work for me, but I choose to think the opposite, if it hadn't been for my workout routine I would have become really fat by now.

Evaluate your goals periodically for relevance

Some of your goals may need to change over time. You may exceed the goal in lesser time than you initially allocated, and you may need to think about the next step. For us it happened in the house down payment category, because of the falling real-estate market we had to re-evaluate our goal and decide to leave the money aside for next year, instead of buying a house this year. It could also be in the form of a change in priorities, for example having a child may cause generation of alternate income to take a backseat. Nobody can make that decision for you except yourself. But a periodic evaluation of your goals will save you a lot of frustration and disappointment in the long run.

Bring your spouse/children on-board
I can't emphasize this point enough. Talk to your children and spouse and other family members about what you're planning to achieve. More often than not, you'll find out how supportive they are of your ideas and how helpful they can prove to be. I used to fret upon saving money until I talked about it with my husband, together we worked out a plan and once he was on board our savings went upwards very quickly, he worked on reducing our insurance premiums, our phone bills and that made a big difference to our bottom-line.
Even if you're met with an initial indifference or resentment, be patient and try to show by example. My husband never believed in coupons, that is, until he saw them in action. Now he asks for them for his toiletries and jokes that if I pay anything more then zero for any of our toiletries we're not getting a good deal. He even came up with the idea of no-expense days to save money.

Be with like minded people
If you're trying to go frugal, it wont help if you go out everyday with a friend who believes in retail-therapy. Either you'll end up resenting her for spending callously or you'll feel inferior for not having that much extra money. Neither is a very pleasant place to be. Same is true for anything you're trying to achieve. Being with like minded people helps you stay focused on your goal and encourages you to go that extra mile. As bonus you also get to share a lot of tips and tricks and meet interesting people and potential friends. If you find it difficult to meet such people personally, you can always do it in the virtual world. Join a community of bloggers, become a part of mailing aliases. I have learned a lot from "Frugal Hackers" community of bloggers and you can too.

Try to make things as convenient as possible for you to achieve your goal
Making yourself better doesn't mean that you've to fight with yourself, you deserve rest, happiness, leisure, me-time as much as anybody else. While you try to work on your goals be on the lookout for things that are making you miserable and things that can make your life convenient. When I first started working-out I tried to do it in the morning and my already busy mornings became nightmare. After a lot of tinkering with the schedule, I found that evening workouts work best for me and thats what I'm sticking with now. I was always forgetting to water the plants in my container garden, until my husband bought a timer based watering system. Another thing was constantly forgetting to bring my reusable bags to the car, and ending up getting plastic bags. So I bought 2 more of those reusable bags and kept them in the car always.
Get creative to make yourself comfortable, you're trying to enrich yourself, not harassing yourself.

Celebrate success (but dont break the bank)
Achieving your micro-goals is a step towards your bigger goal and a just cause for celebration, make most of it. Even if an elaborate celebration is not in order, just prepare your favorite dinner, go on a picnic, fly a kite. Do something different from the routine and let the feeling of achievement sink in.

Cut yourself(as well as others) some slack
Don't feel guilty or resent yourself for falling behind on one of your goals, take a look at your past achievements and other goals that you've achieved and reassure yourself that you'll achieve this one too. Also keep in mind that the other people in world may have different goals and values than you and that doesn't necessarily make them any inferior. Don't try to judge people on the basis of your achievements, thats a sure way of losing friends (quickly). Celebrate your achievements and try to be supportive of what the others trying to achieve in their respective lives.

I guess you would like to know what is my status on my goals, here is the breakdown:

1. Trying to stay fit( read lose weight) - Worked out 75% of the days since last December. Lost the holiday weight that I put on during my trip to India in May. Other than that the loss in weight has been...err...slim ;-) But I feel more fit than ever.
2. Saving for our home down-payment - Have about 7% of the down payment in savings right now. This is besides the property we bought in India recently, including which it would become about 20%.
3. Eliminating plastic bags from our life - Done. :-)
4. Work on generating some extra income - Generated about 100$ in surveys and using mypoints. My blog is also climbing up in popularity slowly.
5. Maintain a small container garden with some flowers and herbs - Its a work in progress, but I was finally able to see some plants in the arid soil in our tiny yard. The flowers (calendula, mums, poppy) and herbs (mint, basil, fenugreek) in my container are doing well.
6. Live on a budget - Made (and broke) budget in June. And we look all set to hit our targeted budget this month.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Oct 12 - 18: Notable Walgreens deals


Arm & Hammer Laundry Detergent: 26 - 32 Loads: $2.99 - $1 MIR - $1 Coupon here = 99c

Bounty Basic Paper Towels: 89c - 25c = 64c

Walgreens Heavy Duty Plastic Cutlery: B1G1 = 2 for 99c

Bic Comfort 3 Disposable Razors (4 pk): $3.99 - $1 (Easy saver coupon) - $2 coupon = 99c

Kotex feminine care products : 3/$9 - $3 = 3/$6

Aquafresh Toothpaste: 2/$3

Ban Antipersipirant Deodorant: 2/$3 - 2*75c (Oct 12 Newspapers) = 2/$1.5

Crest Whitening or Nature's Expressions Toothpaste, 6oz: 2/$6 -$2 RR - 2*$1 (P&G coupons) = 2/$2

Oral-B Advantage 1-2-3 or Toothbrush: 2/$6 -$2 - 2*75c (P&G coupons) = 2/$2.5

Always Infinity Feminine protection 14 - 18 pk: $4.99 - $1RR - $2 (P&G coupon) = $1.99

Jane and Jane Be Pure Mineral Cosmetics: B1G1 - $2 coupon

Glade Plugins Scented Oil Refill with Warmer: $1.99 - $1(MIR) - 99c

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Night Link Love

What's holding you back: This post from This wasn't in the plan hit home. I myself can think of many things that I should be doing or should have done, but didn't do because of some psychological reason. I didn't have any logical reason or excuse of not doing it, and when I did get down to do it, I was surprised by how simple those things were.

Ten things I wish I'd Done Differently While Buying a House: The Simple Dollar explains in this lucid post about his experience of home-buying and what we can learn from it. Since we are in the market for a house right now this post had a lot of value for me.

How to avoid a good deal gone bad: Money Saving Mom has this guest post by Spin the Deal. She gives great tips on how to snag that perfect deal with all those coupons. How I wish I had this post to read and follow when I had just started couponing. I have learnt many of these things the hard way. Follow her tips and you'll never face that post-deal regret.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Some new money making opportunities

Photo courtsey : Daniel Starrason

I have gone over my experience with online money making opportunities in my guest post over at Wide Open Wallet. I was trying out some of them at the time and hadn't redeemed any prizes so I had refrained from talking about them in the post. Now that I've had some experience with them I thought I would share it with you.


This is a search engine that claims to use Google and under the hood. It awards you one or more points on some of your searches. My experience has been that it awards points once everyday. It looks like they are keeping track of ip addresses, because when I have tried searching from my home PC and office PC on the same day, I got points for both. Since I anyway do a lot of searches it made sense for me to start using Swagbucks. It took me about a month to get enough points for my first $5 gift card. Since the prizes start from as low as 30 points ( or less if you're into gaming or collecting baseball cards, which I'm not), its a rather painless way of getting some gift cards. Although, like other online earning opportunities, it wont be a life changing amount ( or even substantial)...but hey with the holiday season approaching soon, I'm not complaining some 'Free' gift cards. If you're planning to join them I would appreciate if you go through my referral link on the sidebar.


Been there, done that, didn't work. Most of the offers were trial offers and I'm not really into trying out things for points/cash and canceling them later. I find it too much of a hassle. So I quietly bid adieu to cash-crate.


Now this is a novel concept that I absolutely love. You register here and fill in some details about your general health. They promise to keep it confidential but I would still recommend exercising some caution while filling in some sensitive data like a life threatening ailment or some medical condition that you wouldn't want to be popping up in Google searches...after all you never know in this world of data leakage and internet scams. Its not wellness360, its the general state of the world, I always take things with a pinch of salt. Once you're registered you can log-in your daily exercise data and food intake. They award you points for practically everything you do on their website, fiddling with their tools, clicking on their various links and filling in details about your exercise and diet. I haven't redeemed any money yet, but they mention that I can claim the money after 15th of every quarter, provided that it is above $25, which seems quite achievable so far. Along with this, you also get 25% of the amount that the person referred by you has claimed. So I hope that it is another decent way of earning some money. I used to log in all these details in a worksheet earlier, so its basically the same thing for me, except that now I get paid for it and they have some snazzy tools to show my progress using charts etc. As earlier, if you plan on joining it, I would appreciate if you let me earn the referrals using this link.

Bzz Agent Jono:

This was something that I had registered for and forgotten about but was reminded of them when they'd sent me an offer to join Sweet Tomatoes campaign. Incidentally I had been bugging BEB to take me to Sweet Tomatoes for a dinner, so the timing couldn't have been better. I jumped at the opportunity and soon enough , I received a kit from them which had One dinner voucher from Sweet Tomatoes and lots of Buy 1 Get 1 50% coupons. So this has been a pleasant surprise. So I recommend Bzz Agent Jono highly.
By the way, I liked Sweet Tomatoes, because they had plenty of vegetarian options and the food was yummy. One bonus of joining BzzAgent is that all the points you get there can be credited to your MyPoints account.

Things that I've been trying:

This is something thats in the pipeline. Its a nice girly forum to voice your opinion on anything and everything related from health and beauty. I had been writing some reviews of the products that I've used personally. They let you join their tester panel once you've contributed 5 reviews. I haven't done that, so we'll see how it goes. By the way, this won't give you cash or gift cards but I have heard that they send great products your way to test and provide feedback on.

Disclaimer: I'm not getting paid for any of these reviews. Although, I might get some points if you join one of these using the referral links I have posted.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Kite flying: Frugal family fun

Have you ever tried flying a kite? I had been wanting to try flying one for a long time, this weekend we went to Fry's for something and there were beautiful kites on sale there. I couldn't resist buying one, BEB was initially reluctant to the idea but warmed up later as I assembled the kite at home. So this Sunday we went to Half Moon Bay and there, BEB started off the kite and once it was flying he handed me the string. It was so much fun. I even named it Nemo - because it was in the shape of a fish. On the return trip we were treated to colorful pumpkin patches throughout our ride. It was a truly funday , sunday. Here's Nemo flying high - who said fishes dont fly?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

September budget report: It wasn't that bad really

So I'm back with my results for September. This month was a month of some extra expenses which I should have planned beforehand, but didn't, and that resulted in our going above budget. Also we decided that we wanted to spend some money on our fitness and paid a substantial amount upfront, which was also unaccounted for so that led us to go over-budget this month.

So our major budget breakers this month were: Personal grooming ( this included gym membership fees) and gifts for friends and family. Besides these, we relapsed into our habit of coming home from our offices for lunch+tea and that combined with some picnics, so we paid almost 2X for gas this month. Apart from this we did really well in all other categories.

After all is said and done we ended up going 64.13$ above our targeted budget. I also expect to get $57 back in mail in rebates, so it is actually $7 deficit. So I think it is not so bad after all and I just need to be more careful about irregular expenses next time.

So that was the lowlight for the month, and now about the highlights:

1) I am pretty excited about the new fitness regimen that we have been following. Recently BEB and I completed 50 days of uninterrupted daily exercise. Now that's a first and I hope we'll have many more such milestones.

2) My efforts to generate alternate income have been gathering momentum, slowly but surely. I have gotten really good at handling coupons, snagging deals. I have had many freebies and gift cards coming through various survey and test-drive opportunities. BEB was initially ho-hum about the whole idea but now he has become open towards it. This blog has also seen some progress in terms of new opportunities, although I haven't been able to devote the kind of time I would have liked.

3) I've also become much better at taking care of my appearance. I have been updating my nail-polish frequently, paying more attention to my clothes and trying to look better in general. And you know what, it shows...I got many complements from my colleagues about my clothes :)

4) I've paid more attention to the upkeep of our home as well. Now I try to clean it more frequently so that I have to spend less time on the weekends in cleaning. I think this is working out well but we'll see...

5) We have made great progress towards saving for the down payment of our house, but we still have a long way to go before we reach that "No PMI" mark, i.e. 20%.

By the way, I celebrated my birthday in September. In a way it felt like all those freebies, new opportunities and rewards were some sort of birthday gift for me because I have been working on them for such a long time with little returns and suddenly this month it all started falling into place. I just hope this wave of good events continues and with that, I look forward to October.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Clutter corner

Today the bathroom is squeaky clean, except for the corner where I keep my swiffer stick. The kitchen is cleaner than it has ever been, except for the corner where I keep my cleaning rags. Somehow at least one corner always remains cluttered at home and ironically its the corner where cleaning supplies are kept. I'm sick an tired of looking at the corner and thinking "Oh how I wish..". So I turn to you today, there's got to be a way of keeping those nasty areas clutter free and pleasing to eyes, like other do you do it...please share your tips on how you keep all those dusting clothes brooms and mops out of sight.
PS: I don't have the luxury of a broom closet yet.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Looking back: Did I really use money wisely or was it just my imagination

I had been reading Trent's blog The Simple Dollar, when the idea of doing this exercise struck me. Over the last year I have grown to be much more careful with my money and wary of wasteful expenses...or so I think. I am going to put this notion to test. I'm going to look at all the things that I bought this year, that are over 50$. And see if I have just bought things that are useful, or I have also collected some junk. I can already see that it is going to be fun. It will be easy to do this exercise because I usually jot down all my expenses, with a short note on what item that money was spent on. If I have time, I'll also try to evaluate the expenditures between $25 and $50, but for now, I'm sticking with $50 limit. Let's see...this is going to be interesting.

January expenses over 50$

Breakfast bar - being used almost daily
my shoes - used almost daily - now worn out
BEB's hoody - impulse buy - but used quite a few times


BEB's jacket - Used it a lot last winter, took it to Lake Tahoe trip
My training pants - Currently using them a lot in gym
BEB's Jeans - Has been wearing them day in and day out


My bag - BEB bought it as a gift for me, the most expensive bag I've ever had. I had used it a lot during India trip.


Patio set - Have not used it as much as I would have liked and summer is almost over.

Sewing machine - Not used it a lot, although I sew a skirt and a bag and repaired a couple of clothes. So its not a total waste but could have been used better.


My clothes - I consider it money well spent. I have never felt the dearth of clothes after that shopping. And I love the clothes I bought then, am wearing them everyday to work.


Food Processor - This was a long pending item, but we still bought it on impulse. Although we use it daily. I still feel that we overpaid on this item. Lesson learned - never go to a store when you're to exhausted to compare and check.

GPS - the verdict is still out on this one. We do use it when we travel out of the city and on those rare ocassions its a life-saver.

Bed - It was a delayed purchase that we should have made an year ago. But I couldn't be happier when we finally bought it. Its good.


Sofa - This may get the award of best purchase of the year. We bought a very lightly used one and the price at which we'd snagged never fails to amaze people. We spend most of our time at home on it and we just love it.

Biking gear - We used it for a month but then we started going to the gym, instead of biking and now it is not being used that much.


My clothes - These were solely want based purchases, but I have been wanting to buy these kind of clothes for almost 6 months, and now that I have them, I just love wearing them. Pls I got them at a super low price from the clearance racks. I can't classify these as bad purchase.


Gym membership - so far so good. We have been going almost daily.
Bathroom accessories - This is also one of those "nice to have" purchases. We didn't really need them, but then I got tired of our dull looking bathroom, so we just went ahead and got them.

The verdict - Except for the patio set, there isn't much that I can classify as bad investment. So I can pat my back on this one and can reassure myself that I have gotten better with money.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

September half month pulse check: Sweat it out edition

Hmmm...we have been doing ok, but not as good as I would like to see us do. We made use of all the wiggle room we had already. A Gym membership, some gym accessories and bathroom makeover later I see that there's no way we are going to hit our targeted budget in September.

The good news however is that we have been making full use of our gym memberships, this is our fourth week in the gym and both of us are really happy with our decision to get a membership. We have been going there everyday ( touchwood! ) and now that we have become fairly comfortable with their cardio equipments, we have been trying some weight training as well. So yes! Its one extra expense but this is something I would like to keep despite the expense.

Coming back to the expense report, we have already spent about 70 percent of the month's budget and we still have half a month to go. The biggest mistake we made was being a little lax in the beginning of the month. We didn't observe "No expense days", ate out twice and spent on purchases that could have been postponed, and before we knew the 'total' went through the roof.

So now we have to be more careful with our purchases for the rest of the month and try to get away within our targeted budget - its not going to be easy.

By the way, the bathroom looks really good and inviting after adding new curtain, and matching bath set. I might just ignore the budget mismatch for once.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Frugality is not about cheap, its about the choice

I like the frugal way of leading life. I like living light and having less stuff. I like the money in the bank and peace of mind that comes from being debt free. But even with all this I had a very difficult time explaining to myself why should I look after every penny I spent, why can't I buy a few things ( inexpensive) on impulse, why don't I feel right whenever I spend even a single dollar that I could have saved. Very recently I got the answer to this question through a personal experience.

Me and my husband used to go to a nearby trail everyday for biking. It was a great workout, we got to spend some quality time together and it was nice to breathe in the fresh air. It worked out really well from December to April but as summer approached our routine began to change. In summer, the sun would shine even before we could get up and get ready. Most of the days I began to avoid going out once it was even a little hot. Growing up in India and that too in relatively hotter parts of the country, I have this habit of avoiding sun as much as possible. Now the habit has become so ingrained that I can't stand even mildly hot sunshine. I experience headache, parched skin, breakouts and get really jumpy and irritated if I have to remain outside in full sun.
So during summers our workouts became smaller, because I just didn't want to remain outdoors for long. Now, that led to another problem because I was desperately trying to lose weight and reducing workouts was not really an option for me. To solve this problem I started going to the gym at my workplace. We have a nice one at my office and it is free for employees. I got a great workout and could see the impact on my weight. Still, a small issue remained. After tracking my weight for about one month, I noticed this pattern - my weight would steadily decrease during the week, but would climb back to its original place on Mondays. It was easy to see the reason for this - no workouts and an increase in the calories consumed. I realized that my weekends were undoing the whole week's workouts. Biking was not possible on weekends because we would usually get up late and by that time, sun would be shining brightly, making it difficult for me to remain outdoors for an hour or so. I had an obvious choice - taking membership of one of the gyms around here. So we tried a couple of gyms in our area and have finally settled on joining one of those. We're currently in the seven day trial period, but as soon as it ends, we are going to become paid members here. What has it got to do with frugality? Everything.

Had it not been for leading a frugal lifestyle, I wouldn't have been able to isolate needs from wants. Once I had known that I needed a gym membership for my physical well being, it didn't take me any time to make up my mind and add this expense to my monthly budget. Contrast this with the situation when I already had subscriptions of n magazines that I never bothered to even flip through, had paid for the fees of 4 classes that I had left after 2 days, had numerous unfinished craft projects stowed away here and there, I would have had a difficult time convincing myself that this gym membership is different, I really need it and will use it.

Frugality is not about sacrificing, its about choosing and prioritizing. Frugality makes you sift through unending list of expenses and come up with a few that are really important to you. I feel that it unclutters your view so that you can focus your time, resources and energy on the few things that really matter. With this thought in mind I add another twenty dollars to our monthly budget. Here's to a healthy life...!!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Guest post - Making money online

I have written a guest post about online money making options over at Wide Open Wallet. Check it out and share your experiences if you've tried earning money online.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

August budget report: YAAY!!!

We passed the August budget test with flying colors. *Screams loudly* YAAAY!!!

Yep! We finally made it to the end of the month significantly under our targeted budget, and there were very few categories where we actually surpassed our allocated budget and quite a few, where we were below it substantially. After adding all the expenses, we're still $200 under our targeted monthly budget. Now thats what I call a phenomenal success.

So now it seems possible that we can live on less than the targeted budget and I don't need to bump it up to meet it. That sounds like good news to my ears.

Highlights of the month:

1) A few calls saved us almost 400$ yearly. I still can't believe we were paying so much for the insurance.

2) I finally started seeing some substantial money from my online money making efforts. This month I got about 50$ through various survey sites, I had been working on. It may be an exceptional month, or it could be such that these efforts have really gained momentum now. We shall see.

3) We have finally decided to take renter's insurance and a gym membership. In fact, we have already taken renter's insurance and we're trying a gym right now for a week where we want to enroll if it works out well. I am just amazed at how much effort it takes to cut down expenses and how easily the new expenses add themselves into our life. Well, this was a bullet I had to bite, I'll write another post about why I found it necessary to take a gym membership.

4) We looked into buying a house once again, we came across some decent homes, but so far it looks like they are not really within our budget. I think the right time hasn't come yet. We'll have to wait for a while, it seems. The good thing is that we're very close to 10% down payment for our housing budget. I would like to bring it to 20%, but it is not going to happen for a couple more months.

5) We again lapsed into the habit of coming home from office during the break. Our gas expenses took a serious hit because of that. We need to drop that habit.

6) I have also written into many carnivals and even organized make it from scratch carnival here at Learning the ropes. This blog has really become a big part of my life now.

Goals for the coming month:

1) Reduce waste: I feel that we could reduce our grocery bill significantly if I can reach that sweet spot where my refrigerator is properly stocked with the staples, but nothing gets wasted.
I've worked towards that in August but have more to do in coming months.

2) Find a way to maintain the leather furniture we have. We have off white Italian leather sofa, but I don't know what cleaners to use that can clean it without harming its texture.

3) Need to simplify my life a bit. I am now feeling that I have a lot more going on that I can comfortably handle. One big thing towards that is to plan a menu that I can get going easily during those crazy weekdays. Sometimes just getting the food on the table becomes such a big hassle.

So with a pat on our back, we look forward to September.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A different kind of insurance

A friend of someone I know has been diagnosed with blood cancer, just thinking about his young children and aged parents breaks my heart. His friends have planned to organize a bone marrow drive for him. Now, I'm as selfish as the next person but I'm still considering going there and getting tested for a match and donating if there's a match. Why?
When something like this happens to someone you know ( if only vaguely), its difficult to remain impassive to it. Cancer is not something that you can opt out of, sure you can try to exercise, eat well and steer clear of unhealthy habits and it may help to a certain extent, but a deadly disease like cancer is still a jackpot of bad luck where anybody can be dealt the card that entitles him and his family to all the suffering that follows. When I try to put myself in the shoes of that person, I find it difficult to breathe, what if it were to happen to me or worse, a loved one of mine. If I were to ask a practically unknown person to donate something as vital as blood to save my life, can I really do that while looking into his eyes. If I haven't helped anybody who's doing it right now, what defense will I have when my time comes? Will I be able to say to myself that "Well, I did it for somebody else, there's no reason why somebody else won't do it for now." Of course, I won't be able to force anybody into helping me out, but at least I'll have the strength to ask for help. And I'll have the comfort of knowing(hoping), that ordinary people like me would come forward and help me.

So you see my reasons of being in a bone marrow drive on a Sunday are purely selfish, but if my selfish act can give somebody a fighting chance against cancer...well...why not?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The activities and events in bay area under $5

Take a big city, combine with a lot of small cities bubbling with activity and innovation, add some year round good weather, throw in a couple of nice beaches for good measure, toss it all up with multi-cultural potpourri, stir-fry with a sizzling culinary scenario, the heady mix you get is what we know as San Francisco bay area. Listing just 10 activities in this region is going to be difficult (although the $5 limit does help). Here's what my list got down to:

Farmer's markets
Since bay area has a great climate, it is rich in produce and every town has its own brand of Farmer's Market. Santa Clara, Sunnyvale farmer's markets are small and very family friendly, especially in Santa Clara, on a Saturday you'll see a lot of kids playing around the fountain on Franklin Square, while their parents sample the delicacies and shop for produce.
Go there with some time on your hands as you won't want to leave the scene soon. Sample the spinach crepe from the Russian stall or taste the Samosa from Indian, or buy delicious organic produce.
If you just mean business, go to a rather big Mountain View Market. Adjacent to Mountain View light rail station, it has a lot of vendors coming to sell produce as well as baked goods. It doesn't have a lot of seating area around it, but it has a lot of variety in produce.

Flea market
San Jose's flea market is where you go when you want to shop but don't want to spend money (well ok, lot of money). For two bucks you could get a big pineapple, or for 5 bucks you can take home a spaghetti top. Located in Berryesa, San Jose. The flea market has maintained its own identity against all the malls that have popped up everywhere. I could buy some nice satin cloth for just 2$ a yard. Whatever you're interested in buying, just give flea market a try. You will keep coming back to it, if only for the eclectic atmosphere.

Bay area has miles and miles of trails for joggers and bikers. With the sunny Californian weather they're nice place to workout for free and have fun at the same time. Go along with bike strollers and pets in the tow. Some easy family trails around bay area are West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, Point Reyes - Bear Valley Trai and Calaveras Big Trees South Grov . To learn more about the level of difficulty and uniqueness of these trails visit two heel drive, a comprehensive resource about the bay area trails.

Gay parade
An annual event at San Francisco, it is an spectacle in itself. You can share the glee and joy as hundreds of gay and lesbians express themselves in their very own parade.

Mystery spot and Redwood Forests
Located near Santa Cruz Redwood forests, mystery spot is a must see because this place doesn't follow the laws of gravity. 5$ would buy you a ticket to the tour where you would see amazing things happening that would happen when you take gravity out of the equation. Children below 3 get free admission here.

San Jose Tech Museum
San Jose Tech Museum offers hands on learning experience for students and some very good exhibits that would interest adults and children alike. The general admission ticket is 8$ per person but the museum offers a number of discounts to enable everyone to access its exhibits. For those who cannot afford this price on tickets they have open access policy where you can go and talk to the museum staff to get the fee waived. Besides this they also offer passes through San Jose and Santa Clara libraries, from the museum website it seems that they are hugely discounted, although the final price is not mentioned here. The best option for parents with school going kids is to have the school participate in the "Free field trips to tech museum" and volunteer as an adult chaperon.

Golden Gate bridge
A major landmark of San Francisco, this bridge is free to walk on for pedestrians and you will get yourself some really cool views of San Francisco skyline and Pacific ocean.

If going to a scenic place and doing nothing for the rest of the day relaxes you, you will feel at home in Sausalito. Located to the north of San Francisco, this sleepy town on the shore gives you fantastic views of Golden Gate Bridge. You could spend your day sipping coffee at the deck of a restaurant here, or sit near the fountain at the downtown and watch the hustle and bustle of the tourists.

Cherry picking, Brentwood
Brentwood is about 2 hours drive from San Francisco. The best time to visit Brentwood is May-June, when the cherry trees are laden with fresh, ripe, delicious cherries. Although Brentwood boasts a healthy produce of Peaches, Nectarines, Corn, Strawberries and many other fruits and vegetables, Cherries seem to be the most popular among the visitors. Bring along your straw hats and sunscreens and spend the day sampling fresh ripe Bing and Rainier cherries. You can eat all you want, although you'll make the farmers happy if you buy some too. At 2$ a pound, its difficult to leave Brentwood without your hand-picked cherries. This will also be a fun way of showing your little ones that fruits don't grow on grocery store shelves after all.

Open air movies
At courthouse square in redwood city every Thursday around 8:45 pm, Redwood City organizes "movie under the stars" movie showing. You have to just be there to experience the atmosphere, sharing your movie watching experience with hundreds of other viewers under the skies.
If you live near San Jose, you don't have to go all the way up to Redwood city, because Santana Row hosts Picnic, Popcorn & Picture Show every Wednesday during summers ( through sept 24). You'll have to bring your own popcorn though.

Santana Row
This high end mall may be selling stuff that's way beyond your frugal lifestyle, but if you can ignore those pricey items, there's a lot of activity going on at Santana Row that doesn't really cost you anything. Besides the snazzy ambiance and the glamor, Santana Row is bursting at it seams with frugal fun activities like Free Music, stand up comedy shows, culinary demonstrations.

Intel Museum
For the geeks this could be a really interesting journey through the history of Intel as well as Silicon Valley Admission is free here.

Maker Faire, San Mateo
Held annually in bay area, this fair offers an eclectic potpourri of various things made by human beings, and gives visitors a chance to witness the makers in action. The fair is free for children under 3 and youths can obtain a day pass for $5 by ordering their tickets early.

Santa Cruz beach and Half Moon bay
Take a leisurely walk along the sunny beaches of Santa Cruz or half moon bay. You could even witness para-sailing and para-gliding activities. Santa Cruz beach has a boardwalk which offers a number of fun-rides starting from 2.25$ each. Jump into the oncoming waves or take a joy-ride or two or both.

Pier 39, San Francisco
If the hustle-bustle of a city is more your kind and you enjoy the glitz and glamor of city, hang out at Pier 39 on San Francisco. Take a peek at the ever noisy Sea Lions or window shop or just sit and get soaked in the verve and energy around you.

17 mile drive
17 mile drive near Monterey Bay is famous for its beautiful views and scenic route. You need to pay $9 per car so its still way less than $5 per person. This buys you great views of the coast and nature's splendor with seals, deers and pelicans along the route.

Santa Clara county fair
Santa Clara county fair has recently waived its admission and parking fees and now its completely free! The fair boasts of live performers, pony rides, livestock auctions and animal judging among other activities. There's also interactive booths and petting zoo to get your little ones familiar with the animals.

Free activity with strings attached:
Bank Of America offers this freebie almost every year, its called Museums on Us. If you're a bank of America customer (i.e. have a credit or check card), you can go to the featured museums on certain days and get a free admission. San Jose Tech Museum and San Jose Museum of Art and many museums in San Francisco offer free admissions on certain weekends. With the big client base of Bank of America, I figure that a lot of people would qualify for this promotion.