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Pantry challenge refocus

February 21st, 2024 at 02:38 pm

The pantry clean-out challenge I started in January has slowed down recently due to having guests and other life events. While there has definitely been noticeable improvement in my freezer and cabinets being less packed, it was definitely not done, so I am recommitting now. I stopped at the grocery store yesterday and did a $35 stock up that was mostly vegetables, which I was out of, and I plan to make these into meals by using up the other things in my pantry

Shopping haul:

2 small green cabbages

1 4-lb bag frozen broccoli

1 smaller bag frozen cauliflower

1 smaller bag frozen corn

1 sleeve of 5 garlic bulbs

Tomatoes on the vine (on sale for 1.99/lb)

1 6 pack ramen noodles (keep these on hand for the occasional quick comfort food craving)

1 dozen eggs

Large coffee creamer


Last night I made shredded sauteed cabbage with noodles from the pantry for dinner. For a bedtime snack I had some chocolate covered pretzels left over from Christmas.


I don’t eat traditional breakfast foods most of the time and tend to cook regular meals for the AM, so this morning before work I made garlic noodles using the last very expired serving of udon noodles from the pantry with broccoli, tomato, and an egg.


Other possible meals from food on hand include potato/cauliflower curry over rice, broccoli sesame stir fry, okonomiyaki (Japanese style cabbage pancake, ), fried rice, eating the last chick’n patty in the freezer, potato wedges with whatever dipping sauces are open in the fridge, quesadillas with tomato/corn filling, Japanese curry with vegetables, cheesy grits, pantry tortellini with some kind of jarred sauce, cereal with milk, and toasting a couple leftover bagels with butter


Writing this all out makes me realize I should DEFINITELY be able to get through a week (or more) without grocery shopping again! The only exception will be replacing coffee creamer and eggs as needed- coffee is definitely necessary to maintain my sunny disposition…


I don’t track my grocery spending closely, but I looked back over the month so far and I have spent $230 in February, which includes getting some chocolates for the BF, some nicer snacks/items when I hosted relatives, and some treats for students I was teaching at work.  

Car replacement success, pantry challenge less successful

February 21st, 2024 at 02:13 pm

Just a quick check in – the month is flying by! I bought a car 12 years ago with 100,000 miles on it and drove it for another 100,000 miles, so really can’t complain! Because that car lasted so much longer than I expected,  I have had many years to save up for a new car to buy it in cash, so technically it’s not monthly spending since it came from the expected earmarked car savings. The old car has been needing increasingly expensive and more frequent repairs, and it finally developed an issue that would probably have required significant engine disassembly ($$$) costing way more than the total car value. There will be an increase in my car insurance, but that should go back down after a couple years as this car gets older.


The pantry clean-out challenge took a step backwards when I had some relatives visiting. I did stock up on various food options to have on hand in case of different food preferences and some dietary restrictions. Now that everyone left, I am back on the wagon and working my way through some leftovers. I also brought leftover cookies in to work, because I don’t need to be eating a whole tin of cookies solo!

Freezer Inventory

January 29th, 2024 at 07:04 pm

Fell off the wagon with the pantry challenge a little bit this last week due to an busy work stretch. I picked up some groceries (will try to find the receipts to add up for the challenge). This includes some extra jars of Indian simmer sauce that were on a great sale. I debated on that because I still have a ways to go in the pantry, but I haven’t seen a good sale like this in a couple years.


Today I did a partial freezer inventory (the stuff in the door and top compartment, without fully emptying it out):

1 bag riced herbed cauliflower

2 half bags of frozen cauliflower (oops!) plus another full bag unopened

Package of shrimp

Container frozen pesto

Loaf of frozen bread

Tupperware of frozen split pea soup

1.5 packages cream cheese

Small package plant-based fake crab cakes

Serving of butter pecan ice cream I transferred into a small container to save room

2 plant based chicken patties

Bag of shredded cheese

Package of ravioli with plant based sausage


The two open bags of frozen cauliflower will probably go into a casserole tonight. The frozen bread will be either French toast or a French toast style breakfast casserole. Will use the chick’n patties for random lunches at home. I am thinking of making pink sauce with the cream cheese to serve over the ravioli ( ). The shrimp I am not planning to use up now- it’s pretty new and I have company coming in February, so I will keep it on hand for that time.

Pantry Challenge Update

January 20th, 2024 at 12:43 am

General pantry challenge wins, since I’m not posting in detail every day:

-Made mushroom stroganoff from a cup of leftover sour cream from the fridge

-Ate most of a noodle meal packet I was gifted months ago, although the seasoning was quite odd

-Took some vegetable stir fry that past me froze in Tupperware at some undetermined date to work for lunch

- Finished 5 plant-based chicken nuggets and a small microwave bag of pre-sauced vegetables from the depths of the freezer

-Working my way through a large frozen tomato sauce tub that didn’t turn out very well. I have been incorporating this into other strongly flavored dishes such as curry, etc to improve the taste

- On the last box of old cereal, though this one is very sugary and so I am going through it slowly in small portions


And I have used up various other odds and ends. My fridge is emptier and the freezer is starting to have more space in it. I have made a couple stops to pick up groceries here and there on different days, which I will summarize here:


Frozen broccoli: 3.49

Stroganoff sauce mix packet: 2.19

Mushrooms (for stroganoff): 3.35

Giant total: 9.03


Grocery Outlet

Two cans of baby corn at 1.29 each: 2.58

Egg noodles: 1.39

Rice noodles: 1.59

GO total: 5.56

I kind of fell off the pantry challenge wagon on that one; I wasn’t out of canned vegetables or rice noodles yet, but was getting a little tired of making myself eat down less favorite items from the kitchen and decided to splurge and make a nice plate of pesto noodles after a long work day

Back to Grocery Outlet today

Tortilla chips (for nachos) 2 for one deal: 4.98

Broccoli crowns (fresh) 1.8 lbs for 3.66

Tomatoes, 1.15 lbs for 3.44

Block of cheese: 3.49

2 bags of shredded cheese at 0.78 each: 1.58

Coffee creamer: 3.49

GO total: 20.64

I am going to freeze that shredded cheese because that was an insanely good deal and I will use it. I’m on my last bag of pantry shredded cheese from the freezer now. 

Total grocery spending for the challenge: 35.23 listed above plus 34.55 previously = 69.78 so far, day 23 of the pantry clean out challenge.

I’m not counting coffee, snacks I buy at work, or eating out (rare). That’s not bad for one person and sometimes a second person joining me for meals (boyfriend, he also takes turns cooking for both of us on days we spend together). The real goal for the pantry challenge is to make sure I use up what I have to minimize food waste from things going bad, and this had definitely made me more mindful about checking what I have first before shopping. I plan to continue working on this

Pantry eating continued

January 8th, 2024 at 05:30 pm

Looks like the site lost my last update post- oh well. I continue the pantry challenge but did get some groceries Friday ahead of winter weather.


1 dozen eggs – 5.18

12-pack of microwave popcorn – 4.82

8  packets of ramen noodles – 2.40

1 box chocolate pudding mix  1.57

1 quart of milk – 5.32

2 bags of frozen broccoli cuts at 0.88/each – 1.76

Pack of 5 garlic bulbs – 2.50

Total this trip: 23.55

+ $11 from last trip = 34.55 so far.



The eggs, frozen broccoli, and popcorn are core staples of my diet. The jello mix and milk are for a  dessert recipe to use things up, and the milk will also go with the cereal.



Friday I had udon noodles from the cabinet with some sesame oil, frozen peas from the freezer, and sauteed cabbage with an egg late morning. At work I had tea, a banana from home, and  an ice cream sandwich (I caved!). For dinner, I found about a cup of what looks like sushi rice in a little jar that I inherited when a friend moved a couple years ago, so I made this into fried rice with some odds and ends of older vegetables from the fridge. It actually made enough for two meals.


Over the weekend I hung out with friends for some meals, but managed to use up from the pantry: a can of sauce, a box of dough mix, a can of soup past the best buy date, a can of olives, and half a box of crackers. For dinner last night I made udon noodles (pantry) with frozen broccoli and some sesame oil (pantry) and an egg, then later had some microwave popcorn as a snack.


Today I didn’t feel well in the morning and am working from home, so I didn’t try to eat until lunchtime. I thawed some frozen pasta sauce from the freezer and had that with some gnocchi, also from the freezer.  This batch of sauce was not great when I made and froze it over the summer, but it's perfectly edible. One thing I have definitely noticed from this challenge is that some things hang around in my pantry because I didn't love them on the first try, but this is a good reminder to make the effort to try to fix them (different seasonings, etc) instead of wasting food.


Eat from the Pantry Challenge and grocery store stop

January 2nd, 2024 at 07:06 am

I’m sure I won’t do a post every day, but will add updates as life allows!


Today I ate pasta with an egg, Greek dressing, and some bamboo shoots from a can in the pantry before running out the door. Had some unexpected issues pop up so I didn’t have time to pack a lunch for my shift and ended up getting a foot long Subway sandwich, which lasted for both dinner/second dinner, along with a banana I had on my desk. I also finished the last bite of hummus from a container in the fridge after work. Drank homemade coffee and tea, as usual.


I think I will track the groceries I do buy during this challenge, just for interest/comparison purposes. So far I made one stop to get a replacement canister of coffee and a large creamer to keep at work plus 4 bananas for healthy snacks. With the donation round  up at the register, this came to $11 and the coffee supplies will last quite a while.

Eat from the Pantry Challenge – Days 2, 3

December 30th, 2023 at 07:08 pm

Yesterday breakfast was cereal with milk. Lunch was green peas (freezer) and an egg with some curry spices and cayenne for heat. I brought some pasta with broccoli, green peas, and an egg mixed in from items I had with me for dinner. It was a late shift, so around 1 am I was hungry again and ate some ramen and a mini bag of ritz crackers with peanut butter from my work stash. Brought my own tea and coffee as usual.



Today I started with a small bowl of cereal and milk. Around lunch I ate leftovers from Christmas (these are almost finished). Had the disappointing coffee with the last of a vanilla creamer from the fridge and a splash of half and half left in the fridge from holiday baking. Working late tonight (past midnight) and I usually get pretty hungry running around all evening. I made a pasta and cabbage dish to bring in and found a few leftover mini cocktail samosas in the freezer to bring as a snack. Also found a bag of borderline stale tortilla chips in the kitchen, so I will top some with shredded cheese and capers (from the fridge) for a homemade nacho snack also. I can easily do 8-10,000 steps/shift, so I definitely want to eat again after work regardless of time. If I don’t plan for that, I will be tempted towards chips or candy because that’s what’s available there after hours.


I still have about a quarter of a red cabbage and a large green cabbage in the fridge, and I think I saw a few loose carrots rattling around in the back. Need to do a more thorough inventory of my fridge/freezer/cabinets  at some point, but this week is crazy at work, so it will have to wait. Focusing on stuff from the fridge early in the challenge makes sense anyway, since those things generally don’t stay good as long.

I will need to stop at the grocery store soon because the instant coffee and creamer I keep at work is almost gone. I can deal with the grosser coffee at home until it's used up, but I am getting more good store brand for work. I save a ton of money by keeping my own coffee and creamer at work instead of buying it. I don't mind instant coffee. There's also a kuerig there I could use, but I just get hot water from it because the amount of plastic waste it creates makes me crazy. 

Eat from the Pantry Challenge Day 1

December 29th, 2023 at 03:29 pm

Yesterday I started by finding two forgotten boxes of cereal on the top of the refrigerator, so I had some wheat flakes with dehydrated berry pieces from 2021 with milk for breakfast. Not bad. Clearly the top of the refrigerator should store kitchen equipment in the future.



Lunch was leftovers from family Christmas feasting.


Dinner was pasta (pantry) with green peas (from the freezer), Greek dressing (from fridge), and an egg for protein.


Drinks were tea from the tea stash at home, coffee from home (using the coffee I bought on a trip over the summer that I don’t like as much as my usual store brand).

Eat from the Pantry Challenge

December 27th, 2023 at 08:56 pm

I tend to keep a lot of food on hand from picking things up on sale and so that it’s never urgent to go to the grocery store on a particular day if life happens. Even fairly shelf stable food doesn’t last forever, so I think it’s time to use up some of the older stash to make sure nothing gets wasted. I am planning to make this a January challenge (though may start now), if anyone wants to join me. The rules will be:


I can buy coffee creamer, eggs, and vegetables and replace anything I run out of that I am going to keep using (pasta, coffee, a particular spice, etc). I can also replace snacks for my desk stash of food, because I am not trying to get hangry at work on long days. I usually bring in a tupperware mid shift meal and the challenge rules will apply to that.


I can buy grocery items to make a recipe/meal that uses up ingredients that I already have (such as if a recipe to use up a bag of beans I have calls for a certain type of cheese)


Eating out socially is okay, this challenge applies to eating at home, which is 95% of my food intake. I mostly use eating out as part of maintaining social relationships and don’t see a need to upset those kinds of plans for this challenge, especially because I have several family birthdays in January.

Today I am eating some leftovers from the holidays and will be having dinner out with some visiting relatives.

Costco trip #2 savings

December 3rd, 2023 at 03:16 pm

Costco update- trip # 2 (November)


This entry is a little delayed, but better late than never! I went to Costco once in November, mostly to get easy snacks to donate to a community event, although I did pick up a couple items for myself that were good deals. I was very pleasantly surprised by their pesto, it is EXCELLENT and comparing it to the store brand as a I do here is probably incorrect. To get a similar quality you would probably need a premium brand. Prices here are for my go-to local grocery store chain, store brand when available, unless specified. Let’s look at the savings:


Large 22 oz basil pesto: 9.49 (3.99 for 8 oz at store, so 10.97 for equivalent amount, saving of 1.48)

Cliff Bars 26 count 12.97 (16.99 for 12 count at the store, so 36.81 for equivalent amount, saving of 23.84)

Easy mac large 6 count 10.49 (17 for an 8 pack at Walmart, so 12.75, saving of 2.26)

Large black olives, 6 cans, on sale for 7.99 (1.89 each, 11.34 for same quantity so 3.35 savings)

Shin black microwave ramen, 12 count, For 12.69 (7.98 for 4 pack at Walmart, 23.94 for 11.25 savings)

30 frozen spinach frittatas for 12.99 (6 for 5.98 at Walmart, 29.90 for 30, savings of 16.91)

Basmati rice, 50 lbs for 19.69 (18.97 for 20 lbs at Walmart, or 47.42 for 50 lbs, savings of 27.73)


Total savings this trip: 86.82  Year to date: 162.96


As you can see, the largest savings are from buying premade and individually packaged processed foods, which I rarely eat myself but occasionally buy for certain family or community events. If I only compared the costs of my own personal use groceries, the cost savings would be much less dramatic. It’s also fair to question if I would have actually paid the sticker price and bought the same goodies for these events at the regular store, and the answer in some cases is probably no, or I would have bought less of them. That said, I really did get the value of being able to contribute more to these events for the same price, so I think this is a fair way to calculate the value to the Costco shopper.

I still haven’t gotten gas at Costco yet, because the first trip I didn’t need it and this time I went with a friend who also wanted to go and they drove, but I will definitely include this if I can time a future trip with a fill up! I don’t use that much gas in general as I drive a small car and live near work and the grocery store.

There has not been much food waste so far, which is one issue I am specifically trying to avoid as a single person. Will also say that one downside of Costco is that there seems to be a lot of packaging and plastic on everything compared to the regular local grocery store chain. 

Costco experiment

October 15th, 2023 at 01:46 pm

I have long resisted Costco membership as a single person, but recently decided to give it a try because I big entertaining event and they have some of the best large-group options for bakery items, cakes, vegetable trays, etc. The cost is $60/year up front, so I decided to track my use to see if the savings differences are worth it for a single person. For reference, I will also count any money saved that goes to family members or friends who might come along, because extra money for others is also worth it to me. For reference, I will compare to the estimated cost of getting the same/similar items at my favorite local grocery store where I usually shop, and I will try to note any waste that occurs from getting larger items.


I won’t be listing all the items where the cost was the same as a grocery store, just more or less expensive. For example, 8 lbs of Barilla spaghetti for 9.99- this was a savings compared to the same brand but not compared to my usual store brand, which it was equivalent. I also probably won’t count things I would not have considered buying at the usual price, if that comes up.


Did a big shopping trip for my event to start out:


3 bottles of coffee creamer for 7.99- these are currently 3.50 each on sale, so 2.51 saved


4 lbs of butter for 12.49. These are 3.79/lb for store brand, for a savings of 2.67


30 frozen spinach frittatas for 12.99 vs 6 for 6.49, savings of 19.46


Frozen spring rolls for 10.69 vs 7.99 for 12 count, savings of 13.28 for the quantity


1 quart half and half for 1.99 vs 2.69 store brand, savings of 70 cents


4 packages of ravioli for 22.98 vs 8.49 each, savings of 10.98


Large vegetable tray for 11.99 vs 18.99, savings of 7.00


4 lbs of shredded cheese for 14.99 vs 17.16 store brand, savings of 2.17


Breakfast pastries for 5.99 vs 14.58 store brand, savings of 8.59


Cake for 16.99 vs 22.99, savings of 6.00


2 loaves fresh bread for 5.99 vs 7.38 for store brand, savings of 1.39


2 jars of olives for 11.99 vs 13.38, savings of 1.39


Total saved: 76.14

So far pretty good- these are not things I would buy normally, but I probably would have bought a similar list for entertaining for this many people at the regular store. Definitely the best savings seem to be on prepared foods, which are not what I usually eat. The frozen vegetable prices on what I normally buy didn’t seem much better than store brand sales and I don't have enough freezer space for giant packs. That said, I think this will be a good place to go for holiday shopping too.

Expensive month

August 30th, 2023 at 12:32 pm

August has been an expensive month for car repairs! For reference, I drive a 20 year old car that has been “new to me” for about 10 years. It was purchased in cash for somewhere around $7-8000 at that time.  With inflation, an online calculator says 8K would be around $10,400 today (which is crazy!). This has been a very reliable car which now has about 180,000 miles on it. I have not had to put much into the car over the years beyond routine maintenance.


This month it developed some electrical and oil leakage problems, which ended up costing:

207 for a battery replacement

494 for electrical system repair, fixing the oil leak, and an oil change

27 to replace a burned out headlight a week later

360 in rental car fees since I had to keep driving to work at dawn’o’clock with no public transportation


And some uber fees to drop off/pick up, which I consider more the cost of being single


In total, $1,088. A lot for one month, but a lot less considering the 10 years of reliable transportation with no car payments. Hoping to get at least another couple years out of it. And as my mechanic pointed out, I couldn’t buy the same car for that today. Driving an older car for 10 years, I have had plenty of notice to save up in my car  repair/replacement fund



Summer savings

June 10th, 2023 at 06:24 pm

Appreciating things that are cheap or free in summer lately!


Exercise- Hiking, walking, swimming at state parks, gardening, yard work- if it wasn’t just $10/month already at Planet Fitness, I would cancel my gym subscription for the summer and still have tons of free options that are better than being cooped up in a windowless building while it’s nice out.


Entertainment- It’s easy to meet friends for a hike or a picnic at the park with their kids to hang out instead of always meeting for a restaurant meal. A lot of communities also have free outdoor concerts or events in the summer. Drivable day or weekend trips with a lot of outdoor activities in new places make me feel like I’m getting away without paying a ton of money for flights and fees to pricey indoor tourist attractions


Produce- not free unless it’s from the garden, but definitely cheaper and higher quality in-season, and I live in a very agricultural region with a lot of farmers markets/roadside stands.


Utilities- I use fans and save air conditioning for the super hot days, so electricity bills are much lower in summer compared with months I use the heating. When I wasn’t home much during the day and lived in a hotter city, I also used a window air conditioning unit to cool just my bedroom overnight, which used MUCH less electricity but still let me sleep comfortably


Household stuff- it’s yard sale season and more people are moving or doing spring cleaning, so it’s a good time to buy or sell household things like lamps, kitchen gear, furniture, etc. Many libraries also have summer book sales where you can buy cheap books by the bag and stock up for the year.


Cleaning- it’s a great time of year to be able to wash and line dry bigger blankets/comforters/bedding. Spending a couple bucks in quarters at the car wash to really empty out and vacuum the car while it’s nice out also makes it feel so upgraded for almost no money!


I’m sure I’m missing things.

Repair win!

March 31st, 2023 at 01:22 pm

I am obviously interested in saving money since I have a blog on this site, but a lot of my decisions these days are also driven by hating waste. So many of the things in our society now seem so unnecessarily wasteful and disposable.


Recently the cord on my vacuum cleaner got partially cut (right into the wires while I was using it- sparks everywhere!) This vacuum was a gift about 5 years ago, and when I googled replacement cords, they recommended replacing it if the cost of repair would be more than half the cost of a new vacuum. The vacuum costs about $160 new, and when I called two repair places, they wanted over $100 with parts and labor. I decided to call one more place that is small and family owned but further away, and they guessed maybe $70-80. Even though it would have been faster and easier to go 5 miles down the street to pick up a new one, I just could not bring myself to get rid of a perfectly functional machine because the electrical cord was damaged!


When I got there and they saw it, the owner told me that I didn’t really need to replace the cord, they could just cut about a foot off and attach a new plug at the end, which would mean they didn’t have to disassemble it and the labor cost would be very low, just a few minutes of work! I ended up paying $14 and it works just fine!


I am grateful there are still places out there that will repair appliances!

Been a while!

January 12th, 2023 at 04:07 am

It has been a while since I posted, although I've still been reading the blogs. Work has been busy, life has been busy, time flies.



Financial updates: I finally took the step of working with a financial advisor at Vanguard to start investing beyond my 401K at work. If you have been participating in the stock market at all in the last couple years, you know that….has not been going great. But I am just continuing to dollar cost average and trying not to look at short term performance of long term investments.


Will probably post more later as I think more about my 2023 goals

Pantry cleanout challenge update

April 24th, 2022 at 08:31 pm

Pantry challenge update so far:

-Used up some odds and ends of leftover sauces by making homemade fries from a potato and having a dipping sauce buffet for them

-Rescued a cup of leftover disappointing crepe batter from the fridge, jazzed it up with various seasonings, had a nice savory pancake

-Mixed in the noodle pack from another weird instant noodle flavor with my own seasonings, egg, and some vegetables and a packet of leftover soy sauce from old takeout


I love trying new spice mixes on sale, but not all spice blends are created equal, so I am also going to try to use up my more disappointing seasonings, and replace them with better ones next time. So far on the list I have a surprisingly lackluster harissa, a blandish creole seasoning, and some very corriander-heavy curry powder that came in a large bag forever ago. These are still useable, it just takes more effort to blend them in with other flavors. I have started a list in my personal recipe binder of preferred brands of certain spices where I have found it matters. The expensive ones are not always the winner!

Checking in, Food waste challenge

April 21st, 2022 at 07:48 pm

Hello everyone! I am still around and reading the blogs, though it has been a while since I posted.


Financially, I have switched my focus from student loan payoff to retirement savings catchup.


My kitchen (er, whole apartment) has been in serious need of some spring cleaning, which I finally got around to starting this week, and I realized that I have a lot of food items that I have been kind of ignoring. Some were pandemic buys, some I was gifted, some were purchased to try a particular recipe, a few things were inherited when my cousin moved away because they would otherwise have gone in the trash. In the spirit of reducing food waste, especially with food prices so high, I will be trying to use some of this up over the next couple weeks. I started this AM by using an old, gross-flavored microwave noodle packet, discarding the seasoning, and mixing the plain cooked noodles with some tomato and scrambled egg for breakfast. Delicious!


Now you could certainly argue, why plan to use up your pantry staples when food costs are high and the world is still uncertain? One is that I don’t find that even shelf-stable or frozen foods really stay good forever, so if you hold onto things too long they tend to get wasted more for various reasons. Likewise seasonings go stale or tasteless over time, etc.  I would rather things it up and intentionally restock every so often, because I feel like it’s less wasteful. I also have limited storage and freezer space, so using up older or random less-favorite items will make space to stock up on other things when they go on sale.


I stopped at the grocery store today for a quick bare bones trip, and I might pick up a little more supplemental produce sometime this weekend at the farmer’s market to help round this out. I bought:


Package of 16 fluffy white dinner rolls – 2.99

18 count cage-free eggs – 4.89

2 sleeves of garlic bulbs at 2/$5 – 5.00

With tax it came to $13.00 even


The rolls were a weird impulse purchase because I rarely eat bread, but I am thinking I will use them for mini slider sandwiches, snacks just with butter, and maybe mini French toast. Garlic and eggs are serious staples in my cooking. I probably won’t try to post every meal, because I eat a LOT of stirfry with random different seasonings and you will all be bored, but I will try to check in with the highlights.


If anyone else wants to join me and share their best creative use-it-up triumps, let me know!

August Spending and Life Stuff

August 17th, 2021 at 09:34 pm

This has been a spendier month so far. $250 for car repairs, 6 month car insurance payment came out, and I have scheduled an eye appointment to get a new Rx so I can order more contacts. Also have a minor medical procedure coming up in late August that I am sure will involve some out of pocket cost, though not sure of the exact amount yet.


On the fun spending side I finally decided to get a bicycle, to see if I can run more local errands on it when I don’t have time to walk several miles round trip and for another exercise option this fall if delta keeps getting worse. I found a basic used bike in good condition for $100 online and spent another $30 for a helmet and bike lock. Pretty sure I haven’t been on a bicycle since I was 12, but it came right back! Was not expecting how much it uses the butt muscles though, so I will probably need to do more practice rides closer to home before I venture too far into town.

On the saving side, I have started investing in a few Vanguard ETFs in addition to my 401K deductions, using the budget category that was previously going toward student loans.  (Also reallocated some of that budget item to donations). I decided to just start on my own, and I will probably get around to finding an advisor to help rebalance things down the road when the world isn't so weird. I am splitting things between the VTI (whole US stock market), a large-cap ETF fund, and this month I am also adding a Vanguard small-cap fund.  Down the road I might try to find a dividend-focused fund as well, but these three seemed like a reasonable way to at least get started in the market. My 401K is managed separately and can't be transferred to Vanguard.

Those of you who do your own investing- what do you choose? How did you decide?

Spending snapshot

June 30th, 2021 at 02:08 am

I did some spending today on clothing – I very rarely shop, but now that we are going back to in-person life I knew I would need to update some pieces that are just plain worn out. I am still wearing a fair number of clothes I had in college, and that was over 10 years ago!


I spent a total of $96.36 on a cute work-appropriate summer dress, two pairs of basic shorts, and 4 short-sleeved shirts. All of these items were on sales or clearance, but are basic pieces that will work well with other things I already have. I am working on being more brutally honest with myself and paring down on clothing by donating things that don’t fit right, are unflattering, I don’t really wear, etc.

Spending and grocery snapshot

June 26th, 2021 at 11:25 pm

While I figure out my new longer-term budget and goals, thought I would do some spending snapshot posts, since I am always curious about other people’s day-to-day spending.

 Today I spent about $4.50 at the cafeteria at work for eggs and hash browns for breakfast and a banana I saved for lunch. Brought coffee.


On the way home I stopped for groceries:

1 dozen pasture-raised eggs- 4.99

Sharpie markers- 2.89

Earl grey tea bags (50)- 7.09 (This is my fancy splurge tea!)

18 dishwasher pods- 2.79

6 pack of ramen noodles- 1.59

2 noodle packs- 1.29 x 2

Salsa- 3.52

1.5 lbs loose mushrooms- 5.95

5 garlic bulbs-2.50

1.2 lbs ginger root-3.50

0.15 lbs small hot peppers- 0.60

1.85 lbs tomatoes on the vine- 3.68


Total: 42.03

 Except for the sharpies, these are all regular staples that I will definitely use up. I ususally grocery shop once every 1.5-2 weeks or so. This is a lighter haul to push me to be creative in using up things I have.

Planned meals (groceries combined with things on hand)

Vegetable pie with Indian spiced sauce

Vegetable stir-fry with egg (default weeknight meal)


Recipe link:

Possibly potato pancakes with a side of mini oranges

May try to make a bean-based "meatloaf" with things from the pantry on a day off

Reflections on Student Debt Payoff

June 15th, 2021 at 04:14 pm

I paid off my student loan! I should receive an official letter within 20 days, but the payment has already been deducted from my account and the balance on the web portal is listed as zero. Somebody posted asking how I paid this off, so some reflections on the process:


First, I have been very lucky. My parents helped me with undergrad tuition and I have worked part time jobs for other spending money since high school, so I never had any other debt prior to entering professional school. I always knew I would be paying for that myself with student loans and spent years saving up. Growing up, my parents worked very hard and drilled into me that having debt is NOT a normal part of life and paying non-mortgage interest is a waste of money, so it never occurred to me to take a car loan for example. When I bought my used car I had X amount of money to spend on it and that was my budget, period. I was going to get the best used car I could with that amount of money, but ONLY as much car as I could with that money, no matter what a junker that might be. I know it’s a privilege to be able to operate that way since some people have to take a loan to be able to get any transportation at all to get to work, but I do think it helped me that my parents made it clear that as far as possible, if you can’t afford something you change your lifestyle BEFORE you change your budget. I did not have to help support my family financially, which is obviously also a huge advantage.

I am also lucky that I have not run into any major health emergencies, major car accidents, etc during this process. Everyone has car repairs, etc that pop up from time to time, but I have been able to direct most of my financial effort to loan paydown. My family members have also not needed any major financial assistance during this time. I don’t have any expensive chronic medical problems right now.


After 4 years of school I spent another 5 years in paid training, where I made between $48K-almost $60K by the end with yearly raises and some opportunity for limited moonlighting in the last few years. I was living in a medium cost of living city. That is not a bad salary, but definitely not enough to pay the full payment and interest on 200K+ in debt, so I was on income-based repayment during that time and my balance was actually increasing after my monthly payments due to the interest rates. All of my loans were federal. After building my emergency savings back up for a year or two, I moved to a place with cheaper rent to free up more of my budget for repayment, joined this website, and got more focused on paying down my smallest higher-interest grad plus loan by squeezing some extra money out of my budget categories every month.


A few years ago I fully finished training and received a huge salary jump with my new job (more than doubled), which is when I really started making progress. I moved to a new area but was able to keep my core living expenses, such as rent, essentially the same. I increased my personal budget a little, such as buying nicer gifts and pasture-raised eggs and springing for a WSJ subscription, and upped my charitable giving a little, but my monthly personal spending is overall pretty similar, under 50K a year before debt repayment.  I drive the same used car (the blue book value is around $1300 now). Most of my furniture is from craigslist. I buy a lot of my clothing and household items used not just to save money, but because it seems better for the environment when there are so many perfectly good items already available without manufacturing more.  I don’t eat meat and mostly cook at home, which keeps the food budget low. Possibly because I spend so much time working and spent so many years as a cheap student, I never really developed any expensive hobbies- I am happy just cooking at home for a date or going hiking, going to a museum, etc. Books mostly come from the library. I don't take expensive vacations. Basically, this allowed me to take my entire salary increase and direct it right to my loans every month. My increased salary also helped me qualify to refinance my student loans to get a lower interest rate. I had a very good experience going through CommonBond, but there are a lot of similar refinancing companies out there.


At my new job I have also had opportunities to pick up extra shifts for overtime, etc which went to my loans. This is the first job I have ever had that offered any retirement matching, so I did start contributing enough to get the full match.


I am very grateful to have paid this off. It will give me a lot more flexibility career-wise not to have to worry about how to make a huge loan payment every month, although I like my current job and don’t have any plans to leave right now. There’s still a big psychological benefit in knowing you don’t HAVE to stay if things change in the future. I am planning on using some of the money that is freed up to increase charitable giving and retirement savings. It is also a relief to know that if I do get married in the future, I won’t have to have the “guess how many hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt I have” talk!


Finally, I will say that although there are some things I would do differently ( refinancing earlier, etc), I would take out these loans again in a minute if I went back in time.  Money isn't everything, and the experiences I have had because of my education and the ability to do a job I love for my entire life was totally worth the financial discipline of repayment. Realistically I would not have been able to do this career without taking out these loans for school. I know that is not true for everyone and many people regret their educational debt, but for me it was totally worth it. 

Loan update

May 30th, 2021 at 02:30 am

Current student loan balance:

Current balance: $12,867.40

Current interest: $32.77

Total: $12,900.17


I am looking seriously at potentially paying this off in the coming month. My usual payment is about $2300 and I already planned to pay another $5,000. Which would bring me down to under 5K. I am tempted to pay this off from savings. The market is really high now anyway to invest and it would be a big psychological milestone to finish paying off this debt!


Otherwise work has been pretty busy, which means less time for spendy projects/hobbies at least! Today I spent about $45 total for groceries at the farmer’s market and grocery store and saved 10 cents/gallon on gas with a grocery points reward card.

Getting closer!

April 10th, 2021 at 07:09 pm

After April payments were applied, my student loan balance is down to just under $20,300! (A previous post with exact numbers got eaten by the website and now the lender site is down for maintenence, but close enough!)


I am tempted to throw more money at it to get below the $20K mark, but have a big tax payment coming out of my account April 15, so may just be patient. I am not sure why my employer withholdings are so wrong when I request zero exemptions every year. 


I had been toying with the idea of buying a small place locally this summer or fall, since things seem to be going okay with the job and in this area rents are no cheaper than a mortgage. However, I have decided to just rent for another year when my lease comes up in July- the housing market has gone crazy and I am not willing to overpay. I'm not in a hurry. I suspect in another year when the world is fully reopened, a lot of people who freaked out and panic-bought houses with outdoor space during quarantine will realize they don't want to spend the time/money maintaining them when there are other entertainment options,  and I may be able to get a reasonable deal.

March spending snapshot

March 28th, 2021 at 06:40 pm

I’m not a big online shopper and with no in-person social events, most work meetings moved to zoom, and only my BF ever coming into my apartment, I have put off a lot of routine purchases. Since this is a personal finance site, I figured I’d post a few spending snapshots now that they world is slowing reopening with vaccination.  These don’t include regular budget categories, just variable expenses. I’m not a spender by nature and have stopped budgeting discretionary categories strictly as my income has gone up. Occasional spot checks show it averages out to about what I would have budgeted. The time spent to track it closely honestly just hit diminishing returns, and I think that time would be better spent figuring out how to reduce recurring fixed expenses or invest better, etc.



March spending snapshot:


Grocery spending- 210.73 (does not include occasional takeout)

190.73 – grocery stores

 20? - farmers market. Not sure exactly because they take cash


121.29 – Replacing a flat tire


38.99 – baby shower gift from friend’s online registry


55.80 – clothing category. $25 to have a winter coat I like repaired by a local clothing shop (torn in 2 places) and $30.80 for a work-appropriate spring/summer dress and a nice shirt I can wear with dress pants or a skirt.


I think I am going to try to buy most of my clothing second hand. It seems better for the environment to reuse things that have already been manufactured, and since I donate my unwanted/ill fitting clothing, it seems logical to support the same system by buying from those sources. Secondhand clothing in my area also supports local-owned shops and individuals making a couple extra bucks on ebay. I also like that there’s more variety available that way, especially during seasons where the fashion of the moment is unflattering or unappealing. It is a mental adjustment to pay secondhand store prices for used clothing rather than yardsale or Goodwill prices though, even though I know it’s still a huge savings compared to buying it new and the difference is necessary to support the overhead of the business.

Pantry Challenge, Loan Update, Interest

March 4th, 2021 at 07:37 pm

The pantry challenge did make me use up some stuff that has been hanging around the cabinets a while! It wasn’t all successful- I ended up throwing out ¼ bag of dal that was contaminated and one of the old muffin mixes I made had gone bad somehow and was inedible, but better to find that out and clear out the space.  I did stock up pretty well the other day when it ended- I realized I like having plenty of staples so it is never urgent to grocery shop if work runs late, weather is bad, etc.


March payments posted to my debt.

Student loan update: 

Principal: 27,533.85

Interest: 0

Total due: 27,533.85

Interest rate: 3.21 %

Daily interest: 2.42


I am waiting to hear how much I might owe for taxes, but if my withholdings are closer to the mark this year and I don’t get a big tax bill I will probably throw some cash I am holding for that at this loan.


Some of you may remember I refinanced my federal loans last January to lower the interest rate from 6.8% to 3.21%. According to my tax documents this year I paid $2,532 in loan interest in 2020. This is a savings of $2832 compared to continuing to pay the old rate.

Pantry challenge progress

February 13th, 2021 at 11:56 pm

So far I have been using up the casserole I mentioned from my last post, a couple slices of leftover pizza from the fridge, a loose packet of instant oatmeal, and a fancy Asian ramen package from the back of the cabinet. Tonight I made a curry with potatoes, cauliflower, and rice. The potatoes are definitely approaching their use-by time so I see more potatoes in the future. The curry will make a meal for tomorrow too. I also found a box of chocolate popsicles crammed in the freezer for the occasional random chocolate cravings.

Pantry challenge

February 11th, 2021 at 11:13 pm

I am not doing a tradtional eat-from-the-pantry challenge, but I would like to focus on using up things I already have to rotate stores and avoid waste. Today’s grocery shopping included less overall food but was not super cheap because I took the opportunity to stock up on some longer-term items instead, like sesame oil (on sale!) and some spices that will last a long time. I will try to post occasional updates on what I’m making/eating. I did forget cornstarch and they were out of the coffee creamer I was looking for, so I will probably do a small stop for those things at some point before the next big grocery trip. (Notes- pescatarian/mostly vegetarian, and I do intentionally pay more for pasture raised eggs and oat-based coffee creamer)


Today’s shop:

6 pack of plain bagels- 2.00

2 dozen Happy Eggs- 9.38

Coffee creamer- 3.50

8 oz light cream- 1.39

Sunflower oil – 3.79

6 pack ramen noodles- 2.89

Sesame oil – 3.00

Bay leaves (dried)- 3.79

Garlic chipotle seasoning mix – 2.79

Garlic salt- 1.59

2 star fruits on super clearance- 0.46!

2 small yellow onions- 0.70

Ginger root- 1.29

3 lb bag mandarin oranges- 4.99

1.85 lbs tomatoes- 4.86

1.85 lbs mushrooms- 7.38

Total: 56.00 after round up donation


Tonight I am making this:  but with just mushrooms, leaving out the shrimp. I also added some carrots I had in the fridge. Already had rice, butter, dill, lemon juice, garlic, and stock cubes. I cut the recommended amount of butter in half.  The recipe will make leftovers for lunch.

I did not buy things I would usually pick up - frozen vegetables, tea, pasta. This should motivate me to dig a little deeper in the freezer/cabinets to use what I find

Debt update, taxes, and a surprise bargain

February 4th, 2021 at 08:33 am

My regular payment and extra payment posted to the student loan for February, and the current balance is $34,849.90.

Daily interest is down to $3.06/day. According to my tax documents, I paid $2,532.49 in interest for 2020. Ouch, but this would have been WAY more if I hadn't refinanced last January from federal loans at 6.8% to a private loan at 3.2%. At this time last year I was paying $11.59/day in interest. It is starting to feel like an end is actually in sight.

I have been doing some extra work that should be $500 before tax, but will be paid out quarterly (in a few months). 

Speaking of taxes, I suspect I will have to pay something, but am hoping it will be less than the $8K tax bill last year! I have been saving some extra cash for this year just in case, so if I don't owe a lot I may be able to move that over to debt. 


In other news, my laptop suddenly died, as in wouldn't turn on at all. I took it in and something in the charging mechanism broke, which they said would cost so much to fix it wouldn't be worth it. Being computerless was definitely not an option with multiple pressing work deadlines, so I went to Best Buy to look at laptops. I found a reasonable model that had what I am looking for there for $620, but they didn't have it in stock. Since I couldn't afford to lose a day of work time waiting for something to be shipped, I decided it was worth at least checking at another local store that carries a very small number of laptops and found the same model there on clearance for $420! It's not damaged, it was on clearance because they are making room for this year's newer model that is coming out. 

Library savings

February 2nd, 2021 at 05:32 am

I have been on a library reading spree in January using their ebook option through the Libby app. To buy the same ebooks on Amazon, I would have spent $105.83 in January alone!

Debt update, 2021 goals

January 4th, 2021 at 03:32 pm

Student loan update 

Principal: 43,128.76

Interest: 0

Total due: 43,128.76


Interest rate: 3.21 %

Daily interest: 3.79

I have been thinking about my goals for this year, but it's hard to plan without knowing how things will go in the world. Keeping my current 2021 financial goals simple:

-Pay off student loans

- Start investing in non-retirement accounts (have been investing in 401K concurrently with debt paydown)

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