Monday, February 23, 2009

My mind on my money
and my money on my mind...

With all the depressing economic news and awesome things like pay cuts and job losses going on all around us, Noe and I have obviously been looking for some ways to save money. Seems like money saving is all the rage right now - every day on CNN or MSNBC there seems to be an article from a financial expert of some kind telling us how to cut costs, protect our savings, etc.

I did a post a couple months ago on cost-cutting and money saving. In it, I mentioned Noe and I carpooling to work. That has indeed proved to be a money-saver and we have kept doing it, even though Noe is no longer working, because it's still only a two-mile drive and it's more worth it for him to get up and drive me than it is for us to lose the $55/month (particularly after my pay cut). The good news is the job I am starting in a couple weeks is even closer to my house and it's almost warm enough/light late enough to be bike riding weather.

The never-turn-down-free-money-by-contributing-to-the-401K plan proved to be successful for several months, until our company match went away. Now there is no free money, just my contribution. Luckily, after several months at the new job I'll be eligible for another plan with a match again.

I started using recently to track my spending and maybe help me budget a little bit better. Mint is a great website that pulls info from all your accounts (you can have it pull any checking/savings data; 401K and investment account data; credit card accounts; student loans, etc). Because it is pulling data directly from your accounts, any bills you pay automatically or any check card purchases are categorized and accounted for with minimal work on your part (sometimes you may have to re-categorize, as Aaron Beiber and I figured out - A&P was getting categorized as 'groceries' when Aaron and I both knew it was booze being purchased there). This lets me see very clearly the appalling amount I spend in bars and restaurants (and grocery stores) as well as how little money I actually have, and offers suggestions for allocating and budgeting the funds. It also breaks it down by month so you can see spending trends, etc. I have always kept a very balanced checkbook, but being able to see all this data and break it down into charts, graphs, etc is much more helpful in my mind.

So, once you see where you are spending, it becomes time to find places to cut. Noe and I both liked the This Young House (great blog; check it out!) "Dollar Dinner" suggestions. At any given time we have cheap items like boxes of spaghetti, jars of Newman's Own sauces, and packages of hot dogs and biscuit dough in our cupboards and refrigerator. We figured we could easily adapt one night as "dollar dinner" night, or simply "make dinner out of stuff I already have" night. Part of the reason I spend so much on groceries is I tend to spend the day dreaming up some elaborate dinner and head straight to the store after work to buy the ingredients. I don't mean to imply that Noe and I are wasteful with food - we are not. We always eat our leftovers and use the things we buy eventually. But we definitely plan on a one-meal-at-a-time basis, and if we cut just one or two of those out per catch my drift. By just using leftover stuff or stuff we already have one or two nights a week, we could probably save some dough.

In fact, I'm going to be ambitious and do a little experiment: I am going to attempt to make EVERY dinner this week out of stuff we already have in the house (this has more than a little to do with a car repair bill that unexpectedly set me back almost $700). We started last night by making homemade chicken noodle soup in the crockpot. Here's the ingredients breakdown:
  • Carrots and Celery - leftover from bolognese sauce (almost to the point of wilting, but since we were cooking them for eight hours, we used them anyway)
  • Half a White Onion - leftover from Pork Adobo
  • Two Chicken Tenders, cut up - unused from Friday night's Chicken Cutlets Meuniere
  • Six or so cups of Chicken Stock - leftover frozen stock from when I roasted a chicken a couple weeks ago
  • Cup or so Egg Noodles - left over from some casserole LONG time ago
  • Various herbs and spices from the spice cupboard
The result? Pretty decent tasting homemade soup. I'll probably make simple drop biscuits tonight and Noe and I will finish this up for dinner (he has basketball, so I wouldn't have made a super-elaborate meal tonight anyway). I'm thinking tomorrow's dish may be spaghetti with fresh cracked pepper and lots of grated Parmesan (leftover from bolognese and alfredo sauces). I'll keep you posted on how my week of economical eating progresses!

1 comment:

Alison said...

I've found that the best way to save money at the grocery store is just to make a shopping list and absolutely refuse to allow myself to buy something that's not on it. I've just started doing that within the past few months, and the amount I save each week is amazing. Not only do I avoid buying things that we don't need, but it also forces me to take inventory of what's in our pantry/fridge every week so we're making sure to eat what we already have.

Also, a lot of the nice restaurants on here have deals on their websites for buy one entree, get one free on non-busy nights like Sunday and Monday. So we've limited our eating out to once a week, and try to do it on those days. It's actually kind of nice to have something to look forward to on a day of the week that is usually depressing!