Thursday, September 5, 2013

Consumerism Thursday: The Incredible Shrinking Woman Drowns in Brisket

I ordered three briskets from FreshDirect. In my defense, they were on sale, one is for a party in October, I had free delivery and my mother was planning on buying one of them from me. I threw in some ground pork and veal to make bolognese sauce, checked out, and scheduled delivery for this morning.

The meat never showed up.

I called FreshDirect in frustration, and they informed me that my meat had been left with the doorman, which their drivers are not supposed to do. What? I headed downstairs, and sure enough, my meat had been hanging out downstairs for an hour and a half. I hustled it upstairs, threw it all into the freezer, and called FreshDirect to give them a piece of my mind.

They're replacing all my meat, and delivering it tomorrow as an apology. So now I have SIX briskets, and enough ground meat to make bolognese for half of Italy. It's a good thing I'm a huge brisket fan, and score one for FreshDirect's customer service.

I weigh 20 pounds less than last year. Hooray!

Unfortunately, now that I'm interviewing, I've realized all my "nice" clothes are too big for me. I've gone from barely fitting a size 10 to and 8. All my skirts can be salvaged by a visit to the tailor to take in their waistbands, but my one button-down blouse is vaguely tent-like on me.

So the other day I had a job interview, and I felt so fat, frumpy, and lumpy-bumpy that I ran into a nearby Banana Republic and bought a new button-down in the correct size, paid full retail, and swapped shirts in the changing room.

That's possibly the silliest impulse purchase ever, but it was worth every sent. I felt fantastic, and the interview seemed to go well. I'll hear more after Rosh Hashanah.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Domestic Wednesdays: I Made More Socks

I finally roped CodeMonkey into making pictures for me, because it's hard to photograph your own feet! These are destined for my mother:

My knockoff Boden sweater has been stalled because it's hot, the sweater is getting bigger, and I don't want to run the A/C to make holding a giant pile of wool comfortable. So for now, socks.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Monday Sundries: Terrifying Midwestern Cookery!

I visited my grandmother and parents last week and we made four boils of sour cherry jam. Three jars are mine, all mine! *cackles*

Amazing Vintage Midwestern Cookery

We also dug through my great-grandmother's recipe file and found some truly amazing examples of mid-century Midwestern cooking. I particularly like this one. I mean, it never would have occurred to me to combine lemon Jello, canned corned beef, onions and mayonnaise! I'm almost tempted to make it because it's so disgusting sounding.

I'm also comforted to know that I have a recipe to make potato soup for an army, should the need arise. I love any recipe that lists ingredients by the gallon rather than the cup. My grandmother has no idea why she or her mother had this recipe in there, and no-one in our family has a Cheaper-by-the-Dozen scenario where one needs to whip up 4 gallons of soup in one go.

Thrifty Food Plan Challenge

I went to BJ's and some other stores and did my monthly grocery stock up: cod, chicken drumsticks, pesto, ground beef, chicken breasts, flour, ham, mozzarella, milk, pasta, butter, eggs, parmesan, spinach, kale, cheese tortellini, Haagen-Dasz ice cream bars, sweet Italian sausage, hot Italian sausage, red wine, white wine and onions. The goal is to not shop any more this month except for fresh fruits and vegetables and milk, which seems doable, given that the freezer is currently groaning with food. I've spent $255.18 of $380.20 toward my Thrifty Food Plan Challenge.

My Mother Saves the Day

Despite being a fairly serious baker, I do not own a complete set of measuring cups or spoons. I've been relying on eyeballing things and metric recipes where I can use my kitchen scale. Out of frustration, I texted my mother and asked her to please buy me a set of cups, spoons and liquid measures for my birthday, and she was sweet enough to hit up the dollar store and buy my all three, and doubles of everything. Best. Present. Ever.

Cooked Lately:

Beautiful burger buns: Subbed half the white flour for whole wheat, omitted the sesame seeds, and made a double-batch. Shaped half the dough into hamburger buns and half into hot dog rolls and got 8 of each. Very tasty, though next time I'd make something crustier for rolls.

Homemade Teriyaki Sauce: I omitted the mirin because I didn't have any, and made a double batch. CodeMonkey felt that it was too sweet. If you make this, halve the cornstarch because this gelled up like mad. Soy Vay and Trader Joe's Soyaki (pretty sure these are the same thing) are both much tastier, though unavailable in my area. I wouldn't make this again.

Fast and Easy Puffed Pastry: I made this so I had wrappers for some spinach, feta and ricotta bourekas I decided to make. (To use up some frozen spinach and milk.) It's cheaper than buying puff pastry, particularly if you want one of the high-end brands that uses real butter. Very easy, though nowhere near as flaky as a real laminated dough. I doubled the recipe, but needed another 4oz of yogurt besides that to make the dough come together. A double batch was enough to wrap 32 bourekas.

Margaret's Oatmeal Hotcakes: After I made ricotta cheese to go in the bourekas, I had four cups of whey left over. You can substitute whey 1:1 for buttermilk in most recipes, so a double batch (Notice a pattern here? I never cook single batches). My mother has been making these for years, and they're fantastic and SO easy, since you mix the batter the night before. I skipped the dried fruit because we didn't have any. They freeze beautifully, so I froze them on cookie sheets and I've been thawing them in a skillet and serving with maple syrup for breakfasts. They're very hearty, so you don't need more than one.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fiscal Friday: Poor, Sad Net Worth

I think our net worth is going to increase by a whopping $100 or something this month, if at all. (Still waiting to get info on our investments before doing the final tally.) And the irony is, we had a pretty decent month, income-wise.

But then our health insurance bill was high because CodeMonkey had to add me at the last minute, so we paid my premium for August plus the September premium for both of us.

And then, like an idiot, I misunderstood the person helping me at the insurance company and paid the high premium twice. Whoops. They're giving us an account credit, but I ended up spending $1450 this month on insurance instead of $475. That $475, by the way, gets you a plan with a $10,000 per person annual deductible, which means it basically just covers the risk of something really expensive and catastrophic happening. We'll need to cashflow any medical expenses until I get a job that (hopefully) offers decent insurance for both of us. The current plan is: don't get sick.

I had a medical emergency back in February and used an ambulance to get to the hospital. Lesson learned: do not let the nice 911 people (I called to ask if I should be going to the hospital given the symptoms I was experiencing) send an ambulance unless you are hemorrhaging in multiple places. TAKE A CAB. Because, holy shit that ambulance costs. Yes, this is stupid and naive and I should have known better. That was a $900 bill*. Insurance covered $300. After multiple rounds of back-and-forth with the hospital's billing department, including using a medical negotiator to try and get the bill down (it failed), I finally just paid the $600 outstanding. Bah, humbug.

Then we overspent on groceries, just to top everything off.

*For comparison: the cab ride home from the hospital was $10, WITH TIP. The ambulance was not 90 times better at anything. Obviously an ambulance is different than a black car, and is staffed by two people with significant qualifications rather than a single fellow with a driver's license, etc. But we were both floored to realize it was 90 times more expensive.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The USDA Thrifty Food Plan

Another day, another soul-sucking stressful round of job-hunting. *sigh* I'm forcing myself to do one thing at a time rather than looking at the big picture, because otherwise I get overwhelmed and sink into the Despairing Pit Of Doom. Seriously not helpful.

Also, is it just me, or do tiny tasks become much bigger when you don't have enough going on? This morning, I was grousing to myself that I had to fold the laundry AND cook breakfast, which was JUST TOO HARD TO MANAGE AND NOBODY HAS EVER WORKED AS HARD AS I HAVE. I'm sure this is a symptom of not having enough to do in general, so I sort of yelled at myself to put on my big girl panties and deal with it.

Back when we lived Upstate, I used to extreme coupon. In a fit of domesticity, I recently reorganized our cabinet of household supplies. When the apocalypse comes, we will have plenty of soap, that's all I'm going to say. We can barter that and my hand-knit socks for useful supplies, I guess. Yeah, I don't foresee us lasting long in this post-apocalyptic scenario.

I've been looking at the USDA's food plan costs for July 2013. In the interests of keeping the grocery budget under control, I've decided to adopt a little challenge. I'd like to keep our grocery costs of September at or below $380.20, the "thrifty" food plan for a two-person household. I'll use any food in the house (mostly chicken, eggs, greek yogurt, condiments, rice and baking supplies. Note to self: go shopping), but I won't spend any more than that. Since I paid my mother for my share of a bulk order of Italian sausage that will be delivered Sunday, I'm down $50 already. This should be a fun plan. I'm also exempting any meals purchased for business networking purposes because hello, I'm job-hunting here.

The current plan is to go make a giant stock-up trip to BJ's on Saturday night and count that toward the Saturday total, since I have a giant grocery list pinned to the fridge. I'll try to post any good menus or recipes I come up with.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fiscal Friday: A Money Order of Preference

CodeMonkey gets paid twice a month; I collect UI every Thursday, and we both freelance. All these taken together mean we can have 15 or more deposits in a single month. Since our income can swing wildly from month to month, I like to have only one financial goal to focus on at a time. After a few years of trial and error, I've settled on a system for managing our income. Whenever new income comes in, I go through the following mental flowchart.

  1. Money goes into the checking account from freelancing, paychecks, unemployment, tax refund, birthday gifts, whatever.
  2. Replenish the checking account balance to $700 for direct debited bills and ATM withdrawals. Is there money left over? If YES, proceed to step 3.
  3. Set aside next month’s rent money. Is there money left over? If YES, proceed to step 4.
  4. Pay off the credit card balance. Is there money left over? If YES, proceed to step 5.
  5. Check savings account balance. Is there six months* of living expenses in there? Add money until there is. Is there money left over? If YES, proceed to step 6.
  6. Check your Roth IRAs. Have they been fully funded for the year? Add money until they have. Is there money left over? If YES, proceed to step 7.
  7. Check books for self employed businesses. How much has your business netted after expenses this year? Do you have all that money set aside to put into your solo 401ks come tax time? Add money until you do. Is there money left over? If YES, proceed to step 8.
  8. Do you have a down payment for an apartment? Add money until you do. Is there money left over? If YES, proceed to step 9.
  9. Treat family to a moderately priced dinner out and invest whatever is left.
Every month my goal is to have the credit card zeroes out and next month's rent set aside by the 15th of the month so that the other half of our income can be saved and invested, though this doesn't always happen. Right now our big goal is step 7, but come the beginning of 2014, we'll be back to funding our IRAs again.
This system has a number of advantages. Because I’m only focusing on one goal at a time, I see progress very quickly. When we were paying off my student loans, it was really empowering to see the balance drop by a couple thousand dollars a month. If I’d been splitting that money toward multiple goals, it wouldn’t have had the same psychological impact.

*I'm really not sold on the six month emergency fund thing, as I've never had an emergency that comes close to that. Right now we have medical insurance plans with $10,000 per person deductibles, but come January 2014, I may take enough out of this fund to meet our 2014 IRA contributions in one go.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I Kind of Hate My Life Right Now

I'm one of those people who likes plans. The hardest two years of my life were after college, when CodeMonkey and I were newlyweds living apart while he finished college and did a fellowship and I lived with my parents and worked. It wasn't the separation that made it painful, but rather the constant feeling of being in transition, as though we were waiting for our real lives as husband and wife to begin.

Right now is another such transition. CodeMonkey is transitioning out of being a CodeMonkey into another field entirely. He's doing a great job, still supporting us, and everybody seems confident he'll be a smashing success in his new career, but it's still hard to be waiting. I'm unemployed and I honestly have no idea what I want out of my life, personally or professionally. All of this is ruining my motivation to job search as I get wrapped up in trying to figure out what the heck I want instead of just applying to jobs and getting out there and talking to people to learn more about my options.

I'm not coping well with the reality that I don't know what either of our lives will look like a year from now. I don't know what the solution is aside from trying to put the anxiety out of my mind and doubling down on my job search.