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Archive for the ‘budget’ Category

What Would You Do For a Free Coffee?

Posted by flsquared on February 1, 2010

You don’t need to do much, apparently.

I just got the news that this month there will be free coffee all over Manhattan–a godsend for a tired mama of 2!

Thanks SeamlessWeb!!!

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Budget Update: Success in 2009!

Posted by flsquared on January 10, 2010

Looks like the budget went well for the last 5 months of 2009:

August: saved 9.7%
September: saved 13.4% (!!!)
October: overspent 1%
November: saved 12.4%
December: saved 1%

An average of 7.1% savings!

I’m pretty pleased as it always takes a while to figure out a place and learn how to get the most for your money. 🙂

Our highest costs, bar none, are estimated taxes, rent (duh! we live in Manhattan!), and groceries. Since the first two won’t be changing any time soon, I am going to have to get a handle on the food….It’s just not as easy as it was in Pittsburgh!

The good news does not come without the bad, as we have had to pay a number of bills already in January (remaining hospital, down payment for Victor’s school, among other things) and I know we are going to be a bit over. But we’ll continue trying to do the best we can!

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Budget Update: We’re Back on Track!

Posted by flsquared on December 16, 2009

I am happy to report that we are back on track with our budget!

August:          saved 9.7%
September:  saved 13.4% (!!!)
October:        overspent 1%
November: saved 12.4%

Hooray!  And this includes some major sick time with my littlest man (3 days in the hospital and a slew of follow-up doctor visits) as well as an awesome Thanksgiving.

I predict that this month will go well.  We haven’t bought Christmas gifts yet (urp!) and we do have a few additional obligations this year (tip to the super, a gift for the boys’ teacher, etc).

I’ll post an update soon and let you know how we do!

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #5: Almost-Vegan Butternut Squash Soup (a footnote)

Posted by flsquared on November 14, 2009

I will add a link to this post, but I wanted to let you know that I made the soup again and it did not turn out so well. Since I had forgotten to take photos (and because it was so yummy), I decided to make another pot this week.

It was absolutely delicious.

But it wasn’t as “pretty”.

The first soup was orange and just looked like the inside of a pumpkin.  Absolutely beautiful.

This soup was brown like apple butter.

I racked my brain and realized my failure and then I realized–I forgot to add the lemon!  (and, worse yet, I forgot to add it into the recipe!!!)

Whenever you cut up apples, they oxidize and turn brown.  But a splash of lemon helps prevent this.  Here’s an interesting article from the Washington Post that explains this phenomenon.

So lesson learned:  add a half lemon worth of juice into the pot along with the apples and you will have a beautiful soup!

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Budget Update: It’s working!!!

Posted by flsquared on November 2, 2009

As you may remember, my family started living on a budget shortly after moving to Manhattan.  This has been a tough adjustment for us as we are not at all used to tracking expenses, but it has definitely been eye-opening.

In the budget, we only included my husband’s base salary as we are hoping to save his bonus outright.  Our hope is to save 10% of the post-tax base salary, but we will be happy if we just break even and don’t touch our savings or his bonus.

Here’s how we’re doing:

August:          saved 9.7%
September:   saved 13.4% (!!!)
October:        overspent 1%

NOOOOO!!!!

On the upside, we are net saving about 7% which is not too bad.

Additionally, we also made some big purchases this month like a membership to the Children’s Museum and NYC Rec Center as well as a big $225 application fee for Victor’s preschool next year.  We should definitely save some money this month as we went crazy buying food (nearly $600 this month) at the local grocery store’s huge Columbus Day sale.  Our cupboards, fridge, and freezer are bursting at the seams.

On the whole, I do think that tracking our expenses and being accountable to them is working. It’s difficult to spend money consciously, but it sure does help!

Wish us luck that we get back into the black next month!!

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Meat as a Side Dish Recipe #5: Almost-Vegan Butternut Squash Soup

Posted by flsquared on October 26, 2009

First of all, let me explain the “Almost-Vegan” in the title.  I think that, as a life choice, being Vegan is terrific.  I will never choose to be one as I love my meat and dairy.  I also find cooking for Vegans a bit stressful (please don’t flame! I love you guys!) as I tend to improvise during my cooking and I freak out thinking that I will throw in the wrong ingredient and de-veganize the dish.

With this soup, for example, I did throw in (without thinking) about a cup of chicken broth.  So it’s obviously not vegan or even vegetarian anymore.  Normally, I would also finish it off with a dollop of plain yogurt on top.

Anyway, the soup turned out delish–so yummy and sweet that it could almost be a dessert.  Okay, not quite, but it was awesome!

The recipe was adapted from The Angelica Home Kitchen (it is called “Squash Potage”)

Ingredients:
* 2 tbsp olive oil (I used extra virgin)
* 1 large onion, coursely chopped
* 1 tsp sea salt
* 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
* 2 tsp cinnamon (the recipe asks for a stick)
* I added in a tsp of nutmeg (the recipe also asks for fresh sage, but I didn’t have any on hand so I skipped it)
* 3 cloves garlic, chopped
* 2 apples, chopped (the recipe asks for apple cider but I have a bunch of apples on hand)
* juice of 1/2 lemon
* large, already roasted butternut squash, probably about 4 or 5 lbs (recipe asks for a raw winter squash, chopped, but I already roasted mine)
* 2 or 3 chopped carrots
* 4 cups water or veggie stock (I used the chicken stock–oops!)

Directions:

Warm the oil over medium heat, add the onions and stir for about 10 min.  Add ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and garlic for about 5 min.  Stir in apples, lemon juice, and carrots and the water/stock.  Bring to a boil.  At this point, I popped on the lid of the pressure cooker and let go until she hit full steam.  Then I turned off the heat and let it sit for about 10 min. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, I would cook about 40 min – 1 hour.  You would also want to add your raw squash at this point).

After the pressure was released, I threw in the cooked squash, cooked it for about 5 min, and pureed it using a handheld mixer.

Soup-er easy (ha-ha, sorry).  Enjoy!

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Never Give Up: Recovering our Security Deposit

Posted by flsquared on October 26, 2009

As you know, this summer presented a number of life changes for us, primarily my husband’s graduation from MBA school and our family’s move to NYC.  We had never moved with a baby before, and now we had 2 boys under 2 years old…. and only 2 weeks to pack and “get out of Dodge.”  We threw our stuff into boxes, loaded up the UHaul the best we could (with help from a couple of friends who were still in the city), and left with 2 sleeping babies at 4am.  After getting stuck in traffic and lost a number of times, we finally arrived at the new apartment–5 hours late!  We were so late that the moving men had left!  We were able to bribe one to come back and help unload, we returned out car and UHaul with minimal penalty fees, and we were in our new home!

Hurrah!  The worst was over, or so we thought.

Pittsburgh is renown (probably not unlike any “college town”) for dishonest management companies who refuse to fix the heat and return security deposits.  After all, tenants rarely stay longer than a year or two and then leave town.  Many are undergrads who party hard and don’t take care of the apartment.  We felt lucky to have a nice, private landlord who was somewhat responsive to our needs but who was, more importantly, a “nice guy”.

Or so we thought.

Shortly after giving notice we realized something was up.  He did not stop by the apartment (which he normally did a few times per month) and he did not return emails or phone calls.  We were unable to schedule a walk-through with him, but didn’t think much about it as we had such a nice relationship with him.  He had, after all, just written a shining recommendation for us to use in our NYC apartment hunt.

After a few weeks, and a few more unanswered emails (and no sign of our deposit), we began to worry.  The State of Pennsylvania gives the landlord 30 days to send a letter returning the tenant’s deposit and/or a letter stating why the deposit would not be returned.  30 days came and went.  Then 45.  No check, no letter.

With my husband working 12 hour days in his new job, my taking care of the babies all day, and no family in the area to help pick up the slack, the last thing we wanted to do was battle this out.  Logistically, going back to Pittsburgh to fight this in Small Claims Court would be a nightmare.  And depending on the transportation costs, when we counted my husband’s vacation days, we may only break even.  But the feeling of being “duped” and powerless did not sit well with us.

So we wrote a certified letter demanding the deposit back.

1 month passes.  No answer.  (big surprise).

What to do?  Did we really want to take him to court?  We learned that we had 3 years to do so and felt a bit better.  We gathered all of the evidence (phone calls, emails, letter of rec, check stubs, etc.) and put it in a folder.  We also talked to a friend who knew a lawyer who may be able to help us.  She said that for $25 she would write a letter.  We decided that it was worth another try.

1 week passes.  Surprise!  We get a certified letter in the mail.  Our landlord had not been kidnapped by aliens after all.  Unfortunately, I am out with the boys and not home to receive it.

The next afternoon, I walk down to the post office, sick to my stomach and just wanting this whole situation to be over.  Would it be a threatening letter?  Would it be the check?  Would it be a form letter from his lawyer saying “bring it on”?

There was no line and I walked right up to the window.  After waiting about 20 minutes for them to find the letter, we walk outside.  It is thin (bad for college applications, but good in this situation!) and I open it.  A check!  For 75% of the amount that he owes us.  I guess he wants to negotiate, but we’ll take it!

Honestly, this was a fight that we really did not have the time or energy to have.  We pushed ourselves and got it done.  It felt good to know that he could not take advantage of us and our situation, and perhaps he would think twice about doing so to another tenant.

And part of that $700 will go towards a nice bottle of champagne to celebrate!

I would love to hear from you–have you fought a “battle” (financial or otherwise) that you felt good about?  Did you “win”?  How did you celebrate?

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Mama’s Challenge: Can I buy a baby gift without purchasing anything else?

Posted by flsquared on October 22, 2009

Gymboree is having a 60% off sale on baby and kiddie clothes.  And I have a 20% coupon that a friend gave me to further discount the sale!

Awesome, right?

Except we don’t really need anything right now.  Well, that’s not exactly true–I could stock up on next fall’s clothing for my oldest.  However, my in laws will be in town in just 2 months and have already mentioned that they would like to buy the boys some clothes.

So we don’t need anything.

Except my Super just had a baby boy last weekend and we need to buy them a small gift.  Since they already have everything from their oldest (except in pink!), I thought I would get them a little outfit.

I entered Gymboree, kids in tow, impressed that they were actually content to hang out in the stroller while I shopped.  I found the PERFECT little outfit for the new baby, as well as a few things for my boys.  Luckily, I forgot my wallet, so I put ONLY the gift on reserve to come back later and pick it up.

The next day I stroll by and am welcomed by a huge line.  However, this is the only time that I can pick up the clothes so I stick it out…  And I start checking out little outfits here and there while in line.  Oh, the agony!!!!  Seriously, what is it about baby and toddler clothes that makes you want to buy everything even when you have more than you need?  I even check out the girls’ outfits and fawn over them!!!  (I sometimes wonder if they spray hormones in the air to make you baby-crazy).

I am happy to report that I only purchased the gift and nothing else.  Not even socks.  Not even shoes for next season (my weakness).

Do you have any tricks to avoid purchasing extra items when you are buying a gift?  I would love to hear them (as I think I got lucky this time!!!)

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The New Frontier: Living on a Budget

Posted by flsquared on September 27, 2009

A lot of you will laugh, but I have always thought that there are two categories of people :  spenders and savers.  I was raised to be a saver and always find a way to save a good bit of my paycheck every month no matter what.  My husband also falls under that category.  I knew that living in New York City would be expensive, but I had no idea.

I repeat, I had no idea.

The first month I thought we were doing okay, but New York seems to be a “cash town” and I tend to rely on credit card statements to tell me what we’ve spent for the month.  So hubby and I sat down and did a budget.  Nothing fancy, just an excel spreadsheet that we found on Vertex42 and customized.  I highly recommend it if you are just looking for a high level “quick and dirty” view of your spending.

Well, that was one painful evening, but we got it done.  Our only constraints were not to include my husband’s signing bonus (we wouldn’t get that next year) and not to dip into our savings.  Ideally, we would like to save 10%, but it wasn’t necessary this year.

At the end of August I plugged in the numbers.  We barely squeaked by on budget (saving 9.7%–not bad!), but we hadn’t spent a dime on childcare or “date nights” and we did not go out to eat once.  However, somehow, we managed to spend just under $500 in groceries???  ouch!

Next weekend I will again plug in the numbers for September.  Stick around and I’ll let you know how we do.

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