Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Big 1 day sale at Money Saving Mom

Crystal at Money Saving Mom is holding the biggest ever sale of her e-books and other digital content today. Her blog is one of the most visited for the fabulous deal ideas and coupons that she shares with her readers. These e-books are about how to make the most of your Walgreens, CVS and other Supermarket trips. She is offering a fabulous package deal on these e-books just for today and you certainly don't want to miss it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I made it

Yay!!! My post on sprouting mung beans made it to the "Make it from scratch cranival #74" Novel Experiences has hosted this carnival and was nice to select my entry. Check out the other fabulous entries, while I celebrate my very first entry to a blog carnival.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The best events and activities to do in your city for under $5

Take a big city, combine with a lot of small cities bubbling with activity, 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.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sprouts: Easy, quick ,healthy, versatile and yummy

Its rare to get all the qualities in a single food and mung bean sprouts easily qualify for this elite club of foods. Rich in Vitamin A, B and C, proteins and many minerals these sprouts could be your shortcut to getting wholesome nutrition.

Available in any Indian grocery store (and in health food store probably), these beans are super easy to sprout and very light on stomach.

I usually soak about a cup of beans at a time. Keep them in a bowl with 1 cup mung and 2 cups of water, the beans usually get about 1.5 times their initial size after soaking, so the bowl should be big enough to hold them.

Within 48 hours you should be able to see tiny white sprouts from the beans and at that point you can drain the surplus water. The sprouts are ready to eat now, but if you give the sprouts a couple more days to grow ( about 48 hours more) they will be tastier.

Depending on the quality of dry mung beans sometimes there are seeds that just don't sprout and remain hard even after all the soaking. if you see some such seeds you might want to pick them, or they will be hard to eat in whatever you prepare with the sprouts. An easy way to do this is to put all the sprouts in a big plate and then inclining the plate at an angle. Because the sprouted mungs are no longer round they will hang on to their place, but the unsprouted ones are still round in shape and they will slide of to the other end of you plate. From my experience I have seen that the bigger the size of dry mung beans, the better their chance of sprouting.

These sprouts can be eaten in variety of ways, and to me they're yummy in all their avtars.

You can eat them raw, or toss a handful in a salad.

You can microwave them in a bowl and add some lemon juice and salt ( and maybe pepper) and they are good to go. ( I personally love this version).

They can be roasted for a minute in a skillet.

You can stir-fry them with some pepper. Add some cilantro on top as shown in the picture. (BEB loves it)

Whatever you do, you can't go wrong with sprouts. Although mung beans are the easiest to sprout, once you get the hang of the things, you could also try chick-pea, grams and other beans.

This is a very inexpensive and easy way to pack more nutrition in your meals with less effort.

We're back in the game!!!

About 2 weeks ago it seemed practically impossible to meet any of our budgets and I even toyed with the idea of tweaking our budget for more allocation in various budget breaking categories. But we practiced some self-restraint for a while. We started observing no-expense day where we'll have zero cash-outflow.And now it looks that we will be able to meet our realistic budget at least. We still have 5 more days to go in this month but I think unless some emergency comes we should be able to contain our spending within our realistic budget. Although I would love to remain within our targeted budget and can't wait to be in August to start it all over again.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Expense Days

To make up for blowing our budget in first half of the month. Me and BEB decided to put some restraining order on our spending. So we observed no spending days on 16th and 17th. And know what? We did it. We didn't spend anything on the whole of Tuesday and Wednesday. If we keep at it, like this, we just might able to go in black this month. despite the expenditure we'd incurred already.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

July: Half month pulse check (Not looking good edition)

July: Half month pulse check (Not looking good edition)
Ok so, we are halfway through July and the first half of July is not looking good as far as budget is concerned. We have already spent all the money allocated for the month in our targeted budget, and I would be happy if we match our realistic budget. My concern is not that we exceeded our budget, because whatever we spent on, we paid in full already, we are not in debt of any kind.My concern stems from the fact that this is the second month we will not be meeting our budget and if that continues to happen we'll have to revise our budget which would mean that we wont be able to meet our savings targets. That is something I won't like to see happening.
Biggest budget breakers:
Furniture - We bought most of our furniture between last week of June and first week of July. That had put an additional 1200$ on each month's balancesheet. These were the things that we had been putting off buying for almost an year. These expenses would have happened within this year anyway. It is just that I rather budget and save for them but I happened to find a couch and tables set that was too cute and inexpensive to pass up. ( sigh!)
Automobile - Some unexpected expenses on our car, again both in June and July. Hope we won't have to allocate this money every month. Ahh! the joys of owning a car.

Personal grooming - I have just finished my budget for the month in a single spa session. This was for something that was very important for me and although I didn't feel good while forking out the money, but I know that I didn't have many options here. The good thing is that it is still within the budget.

So, we are all set to do miserably for the month of July as well.The good thing is that BEB is on board to try our best for the rest of the month and keep spending in check wherever possible. We'll see.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Transunion offering free credit report monitoring for 9 months

While surfing this Technology Credit Union website I found this.
I am no lawyer, but apparently, Transunion was held responsible for selling the credit card holders info, and as a result of that they are offering to provide free credit monitoring ( you've the option of free credit monitoring or the money from lawsuit settlement. Go here). We found the 9 months credit check a better option and signed up for it. Worth checking out!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My first month with budgeting...And the budget goes out of the window :(

I can't believe that half of 2008 is already gone. So June bids adieu and with it my first attempt at budgeting flops badly.
As I had mentioned earlier we had two sets of budgets: realistic and targeted, during the first half everything went fine, it seemed that we'll just remain pretty close to targeted budget if not meet it. And then came those big ticket purchases, the food processor, navigator the bed and a couple of other items ( not to mention the spillover expenses of India trip). And the expenditure left not only the targeted but also the realistic budget far behind, the final blow came yesterday when suddenly there was a promotion at a newly opened Indian grocery store. The prices were really good so we stocked up on many of our essential groceries.
This has been our most expensive month in the US. It almost looks ironical because this is the first month when we try to live with a concrete budget and also made positive changes in our expenditures to meet our targeted budget.
The silver lining in the cloud was that we got back some of our outstanding money, so our bank balances don't look quite as bad. I'm just hoping that this is an exceptional month and other months will be better. I'm not going to adjust our budget yet because I think it is fair and am hoping that our expenses will closely match it in the next months...we'll see...
But as expensive as June has proved, it was also the month of positive changes in personal finance. Some highlights:
  • Made budget(s) ( *tries to pat her own back *)
  • Opened a high yield savings account and started an emergency fund in it (brownie points)
  • Got enough money from surveys to lend it on Kiva - First borrower - A couple from Indonesia ( I'm lovin' it). Collected about half for next lending.
  • Opened an account to try my hand at P2P landing. We'll see whether it was a positive change.
  • Trimmed the fat from our telephone bills. Got the family back in India on board on Skype. Everybody is happy.
  • Cut back on eating out, entertainment expenses.
  • Pared down our gas usage
  • Cut down on our laundry expenses. (awesome!!!)
  • Started stitching again ( my current project is a skirt )
The ones below are not strictly finance but a healthy mind and body would definitely have a positive impact on finances, or so I believe:
  • Tried jogging instead of biking, accomplished my goal for the month.
  • Lost holiday fat (hmmph...boy! am I glad)
  • Tried to get (slightly) better at maintaining my beauty regimen
  • Trimmed down the intake of caffeine.
Even I am amazed at what we achieved this month. Even with all the expenses I think June was a really good month. However, a big credit goes to BEB for trying hard to save even when I was thinking that we should be writing the money off in certain cases. So I'm glad that we made all those changes and I'm also glad that I took the time to write them down so that I can see the half full part of the glass.

So I say, bring on the July, we have worked hard here in June, and hopefully we'll reap the benefits for it in the months to come. Some things that I want to be done in July:

  • Ask baby brother to complete the paper work in India
  • Ask sister-in-law to apply for her passport.(Power of persuasion...:D)
  • Pay attention to oral care. I'm not quite happy with the way I'm taking care of my teeth right now. I need to make sure that I take good care of them so that they last me a great many years.
I'm sure there will be many more things to do this July but I'm just happy that I'm here...

PS: By the way, we could recover some of our money from that impulsive food processor purchase. Last saturday we got back our 35$ after a price match from Sears.