Thursday, May 10, 2012

C'mon get Happy!

So admittedly, I’ve been to very few happy hours in my life. Despite being a member of the working world for almost 20 years (eek!) and being able to drink alcohol for 15 of those, I’ve tended to avoid the 5 o’clock somewhere crowd and done other things instead. Recently I attended a happy hour that was planned for a board that I’m a member of. We met at a local restaurant/bar that had a special happy hour menu. I had one cocktail and a personal pizza, spent about $15, and was home by 8. Perfection.
It got me thinking about how and when I socialize. I’ve been in a committed relationship for almost 2 years now and have no desire to be out late on a Friday night. For a while my friends and I had “pay day” Friday dinners out but I found that I was spending about $100 a month that way. Then it dawned on me…happy hour! I think it’s a great way to spend time with your friends and not spend a lot of money – here’s why:

1. Special Happy Hour Menus or discounts – Many establishments have a special Happy Hour Menu. There are places locally that offer a few items for $5 – usually appetizers or small plates. There’s a fancy steakhouse where you can get a great steak house burger for $6…and it’s a whole lot better than Burger King! Other places have half off appetizers which can also be a great savings. Share a half off plate of nachos with a friend – super inexpensive.
2. You don’t have to drink alcohol – There is no rule that says if you go to happy hour you have to drink alcohol. Order a soda or lemonade…or even water and still benefit from discounted pricing on food.
3. It doesn’t have to be at a bar – Many restaurants have a small bar in them and offer a discounted happy hour. If you are uncomfortable sitting in the bar section, ask if you can still get happy hour pricing in the restaurant. Many places are o.k. with that.
4. Some places offer FREE food! Donovan’s Steakhouse offers complimentary Prime steak sandwiches during their “martini” hour, as well as half priced drinks. One local Mexican chain has a free happy hour buffet with chips, salsa and other items.
5. It’s over early! I don’t know about you but I like to get home before my significant other. I will usually straighten up a bit, make sure there’s something for him to eat, make us a couple of cocktails. It’s rare that I want to go out for the whole night and miss spending time together before bed. This way I’m home just before he is (he works a later schedule) and I’ve had the opportunity to socialize without missing out on personal time together.

How about having a cheap date with the hubby or wifey? Secure a sitter for a couple of hours and meet up for a drink and a bite to eat after work. I would head to Yelp and put “happy hour specials” in the search field. Read through some reviews for deals other people scored or go directly to their website.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Dollar Store Diva

On Sunday a few unpleasant things happened to me…like waking up to find that someone had egged my car. I suppose in most parts of the country this wouldn’t be AS big of a deal. I don’t know if the egg would ruin your paint the way it does here. Unfortunately in a place where the temperatures get into the hundreds, egg baking into your paint job is a catastrophe. I did my best to get it off using the window cleaning solution at the gas station but I needed something stronger. Trying to be budget friendly I decided to head to the dollar store.
I’ve never really been a dollar store shopper. I was actually surprised at all the things you can get there! I had some household items (storage bags, Tupperware type containers, dishwashing liquid) that I knew I needed to get. Dollar tree ended up being the perfect place! I walked out with 4 bags of things for about $20. My boyfriend wasn’t thrilled with the dishwashing liquid I got; it was a bit thinner in consistency than our usual Palmolive but when I did the dinner dishes it worked just fine. Considering it was two times the size of the one I usually get AND only cost a dollar – I’m not complaining.
We managed to get most of the egg off my car. It’s one of two that I own personally and I consider it my “beater” car and it needs a new paint job anyway. It’s just disappointing to me that someone would do that. To be so destructive to another person’s property is beyond my comprehension. Too bad I don’t actually believe in Karma…
Another unpleasant thing that occurred was that the store where I was going to pick up the ham , The Honey Baked Ham Co., was closed which threw off my whole menu plan…I’m still recovering. Normally I wouldn’t spend so much on a ham but I have a gift certificate I need to use. I did score two “cheap” food finds:
A box of instant oatmeal packets for $1
2 half gallons of milk for $1 apiece
If the milk is still on sale when I go back to the store tonight I’ll pick up a couple more.
What items do you like to buy at the dollar store?

Friday, May 4, 2012

5/4 Pay Period Menu....Sorta

As I mentioned in my previous post I am going to be on a tight budget, out of neccesity, for the rest of this pay period. I have a set budget for groceries/spending money - $140. Out of that spending money I need to pick up 2 prescriptions ($20), get my nails done ($20 including tip), and go to the chiropractor ($15). That means my grocery budget is $85. I believe I am up to the challenge and really...I don't have a choice.

I've seen so many blogs where people post weekly menus but usually those people have a family. For the most part it is just me and every once and a while my boyfriend. I decided to take a different approach. I inventoried what I have available at home and then thought of inexpensive items to buy to make those things into meals. Rather than create a hard and fast menu I'm going to post a piece of paper on my fridge with the list of meals that I can make. The designations are r - refrigerator, p - pantry, f - freezer, meaning I already have them on hand. The ham is being purchased with a gift certificate I have for the Honey Baked Ham Co.

Eggs (r) scrambled with salsa, fruit
Waffles (f), fruit, milk
Cereal, milk, fruit

Cowboy Caviar (black beans, corn, salsa, onions) with tortilla chips
Cold Tuna Noodle Salad (tuna (p), macaroni (p), onion, celery, mayo (r), italian dressing (r)

Snacks for Work:

Peanut Butter and Celery
String Cheese and Fruit

Dinners: (will serve a salad or steamed veggie on the side)
Ham, Corn on the Cob, Peas and Rice (Sunday dinner)
Black Beans and Rice (use ham)
Red Beans and Rice (box of dirty rice, can of kidney beans (p), sausage (f), ground beef (f)
Tacos (tortillas (p), ground beef (f), taco seasoning (p), corn (leftover), salsa
Ham (leftover) and Scalloped Potatoes (box, P)
RHONJ Pasta dish (pasta (p), peas (f), ham)
Crock Pot Chicken Supreme (chicken thighs (f), 2 cans cream of chicken soup, onion, 4 slices of havarti, bacon
Meatless Spaghetti (spaghetti (p), sauce, breadsticks (f)

My goal is to get all the items for the meals above for $35. I have more than that to spend but I'd like to do it as inexpensively as possible. It will help me use up more of my pantry items too. Here's to eating cheap for the next two weeks :)

If I've Learned One Thing It's That....

Budgeting is a process. I keep setting goals for myself, failing, and then looking at the situation and asking myself why. I was near tears yesterday regarding my finances. Despite making an effort NOT to overdraft my bank account - I did. And unfortunately it was with several little purchases that caused me to get hit with 5 overdraft fees of $34. I was devastated. My first question was – how the he** did this happen?? I looked over my account and realized that I’d bought gas for $30 and forgotten about it. It took several days for it to post. It over drafted my account by $13. I had also gone into the gas station after pumping gas and bought a bottle of water and a soda – 2nd transaction. Then I had 3 small purchases that I had made earlier in the week – one was for only $1 in ITunes which makes me sick – and voila…my account is in the negative.
Words cannot express how tired of this I am. Not being in control of your finances is exhausting. While I’m sad that since I started this process I’ve made ZERO progress, I feel like I had to get to this point. Now I know that I really have to CHANGE to make this change – period. So here’s my plan going forward:
1. Keep it simple! No more elaborate goals – at least not for the time being. Pick one thing and focus on it until I succeed.
2. Switch to cash for my grocery and spending money. Take out the amount I’ve budgeted on Friday, payday and when it’s gone…it’s gone.
3. Use a designated bank account for gas. I have a 2nd Chase account I rarely use. My gas money for the pay period will be transferred there. The reason for doing this is so I can still “pay at the pump”.
4. Track my spending – not just by looking at my bank account but by keeping a notebook with me in my purse and writing down every penny I spend.

Therefore my goals for this pay period are pretty basic:
1. Use cash for groceries and spending – budget $140
2. Use a designated account for gas – budget $60
3. Track my spending every day.
That’s it! Wish me luck!!