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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!
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 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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
October 7th, 2020 at 10:58 pm
Today on the way home from work I was tired and tempted to get takeout, but it seemed daunting to order online ahead of time from my phone and I didn't really want to wait around a bunch of people.
Came home instead and ended up making a quick, comforting (and frugal!) grilled cheese with veggies inside and a cheesy French toast to use up a leftover slice of slightly stale bread.
This is why I usually save takeout for specific cravings or social occasions...can usually make something just as satisfying in half the time in the comfort of home.
July 30th, 2020 at 07:23 pm
This is inspired by East Coast Saver’s August grocery challenge, but will be modifying it a little. My goal isn’t a certain number, it is just to track things closely to get an accurate picture of my actual grocery food spending. It’s hard to tell because I do a lot of socializing with food (less since Covid, and only in an outdoor distanced manner) and also tend to pick up small gifts at the grocery store, like doughnuts for the office or pet treats, that skew my tracking. I don’t grocery shop on a set schedule either, so that makes it even harder to tell what my actual spending is. It feels like groceries have gotten more expensive during the pandemic, but without hard numbers, may just be perception.
My goals this month: track all spending on food for me (household of 1). Will not include gifts, cards, household cleaning products, etc and will not include any takeout if I get some. Eat almost exclusively at home, pescovegetarian. Do splurge on pricier animal products, like free range eggs.
I did a huge stockup today because I needed to do some other errands near/in a few stores anyway and have been putting off grocery shopping for a while. Hoping I will just need a small fill in trip here and there. Some of the cost is a little misleading because it will last longer than a month. I got:
Jumbo family pack rice noodles
Rice sticks x 3
Frozen wonton wrappers
Large sliced water chestnuts x 3
Bamboo shoots x 6
Mixed vegetables can x2
Jumbo coffee creamer x2
Mushroom gravy mix x2
Annie’s boxed mac and cheese x2
2 lbs butter
Garlic salt x 2
Instant mashed potatoes x2
Large bottle olive oil
Assorted pastas x 6 (on sale)
Jar garlic alfredo pasta sauce x2
Regular grocery store:
Bag of shredded cheese x 2
Block of cheddar (small, on sale)
2 dozen eggs
Frozen cauliflower x3
Frozen french fries
$1 veggie frozen pizza
6-pack ramen noodles
Bottled dipping sauce
5lbs jasmine rice
Earl grey tea (50 ct)
Louisana tea (100 ct)
Whole fresh cauliflower
2 lbs whole mushrooms
Total stock up: 151.54
The teas, rice, noodles, and cheese will definitely last more than a month.
I won’t be posting detailed meal plans, but will try to post updates that include what my diet is like with this shopping. Today was coffee with creamer, unsweeted iced tea, rice noodles with vegetables and egg, and a little leftover frozen breaded cauliflower. Have not been super hungry with the heat, but may have grilled cheese or egg on toast for dinner to use up some bread.
April 1st, 2020 at 09:15 pm
The state is under a stay-at-home order, so apart from going to work (considered an essential industry) and infrequently to the grocery store, I’m at home. Have worked a couple extra shifts and there will probably be more overtime as people get sick/quarantined and need to be replaced.
Financially, I don’t spend a lot on going out anyway, but of course that is down to zero. I have been avoiding the cafeteria at work as part of social distancing (that’s one way to cut out unnecessary coffee spending!) Also cancelled a trip to see friends and would have otherwise spent money on date activities, but being in a long-distance relationship means no travel = no dates.
Areas I’m spending more:
Groceries! Picking up extra things to leave on the porch for my parents when I do shop to minimize how often they have to go out. Also bought a few extra things that I usually wouldn’t due to shortages of my usual products or to avoid making a second trip to another store to get something more cheaply.
Gifts: Sent some gifts or gift cards (ordered online) to friends and relatives who are furloughed right now or on fixed incomes
Donations: Pretty worried about the food banks and animal shelters, both due to not having their regular fundraising activities and the increased demand they will probably see in this tough economic situation.
Working on using up things in the pantry, to minimize food waste AND shopping trips. Today I focused on a big bag of dal that’s been languishing in the cupboard for a couple years. Made something similar to this recipe, but added half a cup of rice as well: https://myheartbeets.com/instant-pot-green-moong-dal/ The bag is still about 1/3 full, but it’s a start! It wasn’t amazing, but it was certainly edible and filling! May freeze part of it for later.
Anyone up for a use-up-the-pantry challenge?
Student loan balance (3.21%):
Principle: $114, 229.67
Daily interest: $10.04
February 15th, 2020 at 08:27 pm
It’s about time to do review recurring monthly expenses. I try to do this at least once a year, to see if better deals are available and try to keep fixed monthly bills in check. Auto insurance is a great deal around here and should stay the same (I was mildly injured by another driver this year, which weirdly goes through your own auto insurance per our state laws, and Geico was very helpful. Great customer service. Can’t say the same for the medical billing people at the ortho clinic, but that’s another story). Renters insurance is bundled. Medical, dental, and vision insurance premiums are determined through work. I locked in a promotional $40/month rate for home internet for two years a few months ago. Disability insurance will go up a little because I’m adjusting my policy, but that’s worth it. Need to look into getting a better deal on my cellphone plan, but I’m nervous something will get messed up with my keeping my current number, which is essential. Honestly the headache of that has been putting me off. My regular monthly student loan payment went up by around $400/month when I refinanced, but when you factor in the lower interest rate and the fact the term switched from 10 to 5 years, this was a savings overall.
Other financial housekeeping goals for this year: Need to sit down and figure out/change how my 401K is allocated. They automatically put me in an age-based fund when I was hired, but the mix is probably too conservative (too many bonds) for me. I should also probably move some of my savings into the market to earn better interest, but I’m pretty conservative about having a liquid cash cushion for emergencies.
Recently sent some extra money that had gradually built up in other budget categories toward my student loan.
Consolidated student loans:
Daily interest cost: $10.65
February 5th, 2020 at 12:17 am
Really loving this new "daily interest" display on the student loan website. I sent in the $550 cash back bonus as mentioned before, and also $3354 from extra shifts/side work in the last several months. The daily interest cost is now $11.26, for a saving of 33 cents per day/$9.90 a month. That's more than my Hulu subscription!
February 3rd, 2020 at 07:19 pm
As I mentioned in my last post, I refinanced my federal student loans with CommonBond. They disbursed the check to Great Lakes at the end of January, but I am still waiting for the payoff to go through on the website. The estimated payoff period for that is Feb 4-mid February because they physically mail a paper check and it can take some time to receive and process it. Meanwhile, my new private loan is officially active, so I’m updating my loan chart:
Consolidated Student Loan:
Principle: $131,916.00 Interest: $46.36 Total balance: $131,962.36
As part of the refinancing deal I got a $550 signup bonus, which I’m submitting as my first extra payment. This company clearly focuses on a certain type of borrower, because my daily interest cost for the loan is listed right there next to the balance on my account statement. ($11.59/day, ouch). Looking forward to watching this go down!
January 20th, 2020 at 04:09 pm
I finally pulled the trigger on refinancing my government student loans. My application was approved and the scheduled date for everything to go through is in late January. My current servicer, Great Lakes, takes forever to process payments, so I don’t expect the process to be finished until early Feb. I have one final payment to Great Lakes in process right now for $1,944 (usual monthly amount), then in February I will start paying the new company. This will lower my interest rate from 6.55% to 3.2% fixed, which will obviously be a big help. The new loan is on a 5 year repayment term. There are no penalties for making extra payments to the new servicer, so I plan to continue to pay it down aggressively. I should really have done this sooner, but I was hesitant to lose the option of going to IBR if something happened like a job loss, etc when my total balance was more like $250,000.
I got soft quotes from several of the major companies before ultimately choosing CommonBond. The fixed interest rate quotes I received were all the same, but CommonBond’s customer support really impressed me, they had the best “what if you run into unexpected life emergencies” policies, and they had the best referral bonus, which is sent out 3 weeks after your loan is disbursed and you make your first payment to them. That said, friends have used Laurel Road and Sofi and also been happy with them. Amazing how customer service improves when you are the actual customer, rather than the Dept of Education being the customer and you being the annoyance they have to deal with to keep that sweet government contract money...
August 5th, 2018 at 03:07 pm
There has been a lot of uncertainty surrounding my budget with my job ending, so I haven’t been posting much. I’ve just started a new job and should be able to start working on my financial goals again soon. Moving to a new state and renting a new apartment definitely requires cash up front, so I’m glad I had a large savings cushion for this kind of thing!
The new budget is starting to come together. My old rent had gone up to $1195, and the new place is $1225/month for two bedrooms instead of one. The one-bedroom apartments in the area I found that were nice without major problems were around the same price, and it would be nice to have a guest room for friends. My internet bill went from $75 (Comcast monopoly) to $40/month for Verizon, although I did have to buy a special router. Honestly, I would have paid slightly more just to dump Comcast- the way they treat customers in areas where they have a monopoly is infuriating. Waiting to see the actual cost of utilities at the end of this month, but I’m going to budget $150 to start.
It looks like my car insurance should drop substantially now that I have dedicated parking in the suburbs instead of street parking in a major city. It’s already pretty low compared to my friends – I was shocked by what some of them pay without a major accident on their record. Based on the initial online quote, I’m looking at saving $290/year.
My new job comes with a significant raise, but I won’t see the exact take-home number for a while because they pay once a month. It also comes with a retirement match of 5%, which I’ve never had before and definitely plan to take advantage of.
I have some unusual spending planned in the next few months- a few pieces of furniture for the new place and some wardrobe updates, since I need to dress very professionally at my new workplace. Otherwise I am looking to keep spending low and start working on my next student loan target: my only private loan. It had negligible interest for 5 years, but it went up to 6.4% recently, making it similar to the federal loans. It is also by far the most annoying to deal with, as you have to mail in payments by check and address updates, etc by mail. The starting balance is $26,589.54. The monthly payment plan is $222/month for 10 years, but I obviously don’t want to be paying for that long!
March 18th, 2018 at 10:49 pm
I’m still here and reading the blogs, but took a break from posting for a while because my current job will be ending this summer and I’ve been job hunting. Until I have a new contract, I decided to slow down the extra payments to my student loans and to stockpile some extra cash on top of my current emergency fund instead.
There have been a few expenses related to this -got a new interview outfit and shoes, since I hadn’t bought a suit in years and they were looking a little dated. Looking professional and feeling confident was definitely a good investment though, and I did get it on sale! I’ve also paid $2230 in professional and licensing fees so far this year, which are not negotiable for my position and are required for any future jobs as well. A tax refund of $500 went toward these fees.
January 21st, 2018 at 08:39 pm
Current IRA contributions are at 2,500. I decided to just put in the $150 in side income that’s pending, since they always pay eventually. I’ll pay my savings back when I get the check. $350 to go. Barring unforeseen expenses this month, should be doable! I tried to start doing my tax return this morning to get a sense of whether I’ll be getting a refund (my withholdings are usually appropriate, but the amount of interest I pay on student loans has produced a refund the last few years). My W2 hasn’t been issued online yet, so no success. Need to file taxes as soon as possible to submit my IBR renewal by early February.
Today should be a no-spend day, eating at home and working on a bunch of stuff with looming deadlines. Yesterday I spent about $38 on drinks/appetizer and a show with friends. I don’t feel too badly, since I’ve been too busy to socialize much earlier in the month and don’t want to be a hermit! Don’t anticipate going out in the coming week due to multiple project deadlines. Must be getting old, because I slept super hard after just one mixed drink.
Does anyone have any experience with Xfinity Insights surveys? Signed up after receiving an invitation email, but have only done the introductory survey so far. I do like the idea of taking some money back from Comcast, but not sure if they’ll send enough surveys for me to actually cash out a giftcard (requires a minimum of 50 points, not sure how many you get per survey).