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.
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?
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.
Trails 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.
Sausalito 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.
Nora at Wisebread does it again. I never thought powdered milk could be used in so many ways in cooking, let alone as a beauty aid and stain remover etc. If you do laundry, cooking, cleaning at your home, you have to check it.
This one totally cracked me up. I had to send it to BEB because it echoed his feelings about the whole couponing process so precisely.
Maria at Life on both sides of the pond has been hosting this week's Make it from scratch carnival #77. Do check out the interesting posts over at her blog. Besides having those yummy recipes for summer days, this edition also has interesting posts on handmade paper and making quickie compost. I'm happy to tell you that I'll be hosting the Make it from scratch carnival #78 next week. So bring on all the things you make and would like to share with fellow bloggers and submit them here.
Recently, there was a discussion about herbal hair dyes on one of my email aliases. Somebody suggested using Henna as a herbal hair dye for people who are allergic to chemical hair colors and dyes. I was like...."but of course, I don't have a lot of gray hair yet but I have been using Henna for hair-conditioning for years now". After applying Henna my hair feel really silky, shiny and healthy, but its a lot of work too. Just thought of sharing my recipe for hair-conditioning and some thoughts on what to expect while using Henna for the first time.
Henna has been used in India for centuries as a natural dye. Its most prolific use has been for henna tattoo mostly on palms and feet. No wedding is complete in India until the bride has a beautiful tattoo on her palms. Over the years as people got tired of applying chemicals to their skin and hair, Henna has also caught up as a natural hair-dye. It has a orange-brownish hue which lasts about 3-4 months. Since people in India normally have dark- brown to black hair, henna works well for dyeing gray hair there. The color of Henna mixes well with the non-gray hair and if the right additives ( more herbs) are added to Henna you can get dark-brown or black color as well. Although my experience has been that those herbs do not impart long lasting colors, and after a month the Henna color ( brownish-orange) becomes prominent. In India that's not a big deal because that hue is in vogue and people like it. However here in US, a lot of people have light brown and golden hair and dyeing them with Henna would change the color of all the hair and unless you wanted Henna color you may not like the color that it gives. If you have dark brown or black hair then you can also try Henna and enjoy its natural hair-conditioning and coloring. It may also work for brunettes, but I would suggest trying it on a discreet lock of hair before coloring all of them.
Here are a few ways I have used Henna:
For coloring hair (black color):
1 tbsp Henna 1 tbsp Gooseberry powder ( available as Amla powder in most Indian stores) 1 tsp Coffee
Mix all these ingredients in an iron skillet ( available in Indian stores, ask for the small one used for soaking Henna ). Add some water to get a toothpaste like consistency. After the paste is ready add some more water but don't mix it, this water will prevent the paste from getting dry. The gooseberry powder reacts with the iron of the skillet and produces a black color. Coffee powder also boosts the color of the mixture. Let the mixture sit for 2 days. After that mix the extra water in the Henna paste to make it slightly watery ( thinner then the toothpaste). Wear disposable gloves and a garment that you can afford to discard ( or use for Henna only). Use your fingers to take a small lock from the top of your head and cover it with this paste, once it is covered, try to fold it into a ring and let it sit at the top. Take another lock nearby and repeat the process with it. Slowly work your way through entire head. At the end, you should have a bun on top. Cover it with a shower cap. Keep your head away from any pricey furniture or curtains as Henna stains are very difficult to get rid of. Also wipe of any droplets that run down on your face or you will have a blemish on face that would last a couple of days. Keep it for one and a half hour and wash it with plain water (don't shampoo). Once your hair dries apply some olive oil to it. Oil boosts the colorant in Henna. Leave overnight and shampoo in the morning. I know, it sounds like a lot of work ( and mess) but I do this every single month because I love the way my hair feel after I wash them. Henna is a proven hair-conditioner and gooseberry is also said to be good for hair. If you have dry hair like me, you can make the paste with yogurt instead of water. For dull, lifeless hair add 1tbsp of Fenugreek powder ( Available as Methi powder in Indian stores).
If you want to condition your hair without changing their color you can try this:
Mix with yogurt in a regular bowl ( don't use iron skillet because that enables amla to impart black color). Let sit for a day and apply like Henna and also follow up with oiling. This should work wonders for dull looking hair.
Below, is a picture of the Henna tattoo that I made on one of my friend's hands. It has nothing to do with this post but I just love it.
Today's 15th August, In 1947, on this day a country was born after being a colony under Britain for nearly two centuries. It still has a long way to go, but the journey has begun and it seems to be taking steps in the right direction. Happy Independence day India. Happy Independence day fellow countrymen.
Back to the business at hand, finally some relief from the ever burgeoning expenses. Thanks to "No expense days" we seem to be all set to meet our targeted budget for the month. Although we have already spent two-third of our monthly budget already, I'm not too worried because majority of it went towards monthly bills which we don't have to pay next fortnight.
However, there are still a few things that I'll be working on in the rest of August and September:
-Reduce the amount of food that gets wasted. -Declutter home. We did this when we moved in to this place in March, but it looks like we again gathered some unwanted stuff. -Lose weight. Its been a work in progress since the beginning of this year. My India trip did much damage and I'm still recovering from it 3 months later. Can you imagine what 3 weeks of no exercise can do to your weight. I've been exercising throughout the year, but its only now that I have found a right balance of exercise that works for my body and my schedule. Lets see if it shows up in my waistline.
Erica at Erica.biz argues that extreme frugality is not really worth it, and I finally find myself agreeing with her side of the argument. check it out here.
Lynnae at Being Frugal writes an intriguing post about bartering. Something that's been overlooked by most but can provide a really good mileage for our ever shrinking dollars.
Nora Dunn is my favorite author on wisebread. She's back with her stash of 'tasty' posts after a long gap. Here's one more gem from her treasure trove : Fun with Soybeans. Can you guess what my weekend project is going to be?
Last weekend was the nicest weekend in a longtime. What did we do? Nothing. Thats the whole point.
I can't begin to tell how very relaxing it was, not having to get up early, not having any social-do, travel plans or any other activity lined up for the weekend. I just got up late, tended to the plants in my tiny garden, had a leisurely tea with BEB, then we went to the farmer's market and library for a while ( I dozed off while BEB browsed the books :o). At home I just lay down on the sofa and watched the day turning into afternoon, just chatting with BEB about nothing, watched movies on my laptop without really paying them much attention. Whenever we felt hungry I just got up and made us some snack that we both love. Thats all that we did this weekend and boy! was I glad. I was so content and happy and ready for the weekdays.
If I have my way I'll just spend every weekend like that. The problem however is that world is full of radical "travelers" or "cool hangout" fundamentalists..well...at least our friend circle is. Our friends think that its weird that we don't feel like "doing anything" on weekend. In their opinion, on weekends (on all holidays for that matter) one is supposed to go out, hit the road, go to some 'destination', do some 'activity', its not 'cool' to just stay home and chill...even if you have to chill-out you better do it at some bar or club. I know, I can just ignore their advice and have it my own way, but after a while it really gets you. This is a kind of peer pressure that is not much different from what you experience in high-school. After a while I have really started introspection of myself, is it really abnormal that I don't want to go to all those tourist places ( who cares if I'm not outdoor kind of person, thats un-cool anyway), are we missing out on something really big by being within the confines of our good old neighborhood (Yosemite here I come!), are we really living ( and smelling the roses, soaking in the sunshine...the works) or merely getting by ( never mind the rushed two day trips 500 miles away, thats living). These kind of questions keep me awake at night and I grudgingly agree to trudge along with the friends wherever they are going next for 'living'.
I am not saying that traveling is not good, that hitting the bars is bad, but maybe...just maybe..its not for everyone. Maybe I'm one of those who are still 'alive' and happy when they are home, or maybe I really am weird.
Yoghurt cups are just perfect for reuse and recycling. Nice tumbler like shape, they usually come with a cap and are sturdy enough for most household storage. I use them atleast 4-5 times before I say goodbye to any of those. Here're a few things I use them for:
For storing leftover dough, cut vegetables or leftovers in the fridge.
For keeping lentils and beans for germination. (Go here for my post on sprouted beans)
For storing knick-knacks like buttons, coins etc.
For mixing my various homemade hair and face masks. They are handy because lot of these recipe call for yoghurt and I just use a yoghurt cup with last bit of yoghurt in it and then just toss it after I'm done. That way I don't even need to wash the cup before reusing it.
A lot of my yoghurt cups end up in my container garden, I use them for growing seeds or just plant a couple of small plants with smaller life span. The picture I have shows fenugreek plants in the cups. Fenugreek is a popular Indian herb which is used a lot in Indian cuisine.
Carnival of Personal Finance #165 is up here at No Debt Plan. My post on savings has been included in this edition of carnival. Check it out for great articles on Personal Finance as well as a $50 giveaway from Kevin.
So I made my debut to the fantastic world of couponing in February. While I was a little skeptical and afraid of the whole process, BEB was downright petrified. He couldn't believe I was willing to spend so much of my time and energy to save those itsy-bitsy 50 cents. I continued anyway, not because I believed in the savings from the coupons, but because I enjoyed the challenge of working the system to my advantage. Sometimes, it worked and sometimes I failed miserably. However, it earned me the moniker of "Coupon Warrior", nevertheless. Hubby, who initially absolutely hated the idea, made his peace with the fact that he was married to an absolutely "coupon-crazy" women. Slowly and surely, I learnt better ways of organizing my coupons, finding great deals and learned which deals were not really worth it and which ones I absolutely had to have. So, now after many a Saturdays, when I asked BEB that we HAD to go to Walgreens today to make most of a couple of amazing deal they were having today, I didn't have to deal with his usual resistance. Not only did he get ready to go with me, he also helped me with find the right brands to work with the coupons I had. Once we were done with the Walgreens business, I meekly pointed out that I wanted to go to Rite-aid too, because they too had some amazing deals. To my surprise he agreed. At rite-aid I told him that they are having this deal on Gillete shavers. He didn't need a shaver then but he just checked it out, and sure enough, it was a really good one. He asked me how much is it going to cost us. When he learned that with coupon and Single check rebate he can have it for free, he was amazed. He took the razor, but pointed out that what he really needed was a shaving gel. Okay, I said, I have a coupon for 1$ off on Gillete shaving gel which we can match with 1.79$ travel pack and have it for 79 Cents. He was awe-struck, he mentioned that he couldn't have it for such a bargain price even in India. The best was yet to come though, I showed him the Revlon nail-polish money maker deal. The nail-polish was free after single check rebate, but since I had a coupon of 1$ off, I could make a dollar on the price of nail-polish. Ever since we have come-back from that trip BEB has been asking for more Gillette coupons so that we can get more shavers for him. My pointing out that we don't have anymore Gillette coupons and that we can only get one shaver on rebate isn't working. What can I say, its a nice problem to have. And Oh! If you have someone in the household who doesn't think coupons work, but could use a Gillette shaver, make sure you take him to Rite-Aid before Sunday. :-)
Last month while we were driving on a freeway a stray pebble hit our windshield and left a big gaping hole. It cost us 225$ in repairs.
Last month was also the month when we saved roughly 10$ by increasing the gaps between our laundry cycles and line-drying the clothes in our yard. We also saved about 10$ in movie subscriptions by borrowing dvd(s) from city library instead of paying for a streaming service.
It was easy to laugh at these savings in the face of this mishap which cost us almost equal to the yearly savings we'll get from these two changes, provided we continue to keep doing them through the year. I used to despair at these happenings and think that "There goes all my effort and time...in one single awful event..." I used to consider abandoning all these snow-flaking ideas and also abandoned many of them until I begun to put things into perspective. It finally dawned on me that snow-flaking or not, that pebble could still hit our windshield and it would still cost 225 bucks. The only difference would be that right now I have 20 bucks of snow-flakes stashed somewhere, which will soften the blow a bit for me.
Life happens, and so do things. It doesn't matter whether you've been saving or blowing money like the currency will be discontinued tomorrow. Even if your savings wont be always enough to bail you out of the situation, it will help soften the blow, at the very least you can take comfort in the fact that you did all you could to avert the situation. I think the effort and time invested in saving money is well worth it.
So we are onto August now and I'm desperately hoping that the marching forces of expenditure take a break for a couple of months and let us touch our targeted budget for the month. But before that happens I have to go through the painful process of slicing and dicing our expenditure for July and from whatever I know of it, it ain't gonna be pleasant.
We finished 157$ below our realistic budget and 527$ above (???) our targeted budget. We had about 1400$ worth of unexpected expenses this month. So I can blame them for this spike in our expenses. What I want to see in the coming months is, "whether there's really some such thing as 'unexpected expenses' or whether I should allocate a big chunk to unforeseen expenses. We'll see.
Anyway, right now I feel that I have got the magical key to bring our spending down. As I have mentioned earlier we have decided to observe at least 3 "no expense days" where we try to spend no money at all on that day. It was BEB's idea which I adopted in no time. It was surprising to see how many "needs" just disappear, when we just wait them out for a couple of days. Specially doing it on weekdays was so easy and it saved time too. Earlier we used to stop at the grocery shop on the way almost every other day, now I try to get all the groceries on the weekend and avoid going to store during the week. I found that it saves a lot of time, and that one ingredient wasn't all that necessary after all. Biggest advantage was that BEB didn't get a chance to fall for that unhealthy snack every other day. Earlier when we used to go to grocery store every other day, then more often than not we ended up getting those fried Indian snacks, just because BEB got the opportunity to buy it. Later on, he felt guilty about eating those unhealthy snacks. Now, by avoiding going to the store we have reduced the chance of getting it.
If you really want to cut down your spending, just try it once, try not to spend any money, and I mean ANY money that day. You will really see how much difference it makes to your bottom-line.
Hi, I'm Anshu. I love to sew. I have created this page to keep a running list of my favorite sewing tutorials all in one place. If you find some interesting pointers here...awesome. If you like to submit some awesome links to your favorite sewing tutorials email me at bloomsandbugs (gmail)